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Some Peoria council members call for a moratorium on development of carbon capture pipeline on the South Side

WCBU file photo of the BioUrja ethanol plant at the foot of Edmund Street. The Cedar Street Bridge can be seen passing by the facility.
Tim Shelley
WCBU file photo of the BioUrja ethanol plant at the foot of Edmund Street. The Cedar Street Bridge can be seen passing by the facility.

Some members of the Peoria City Council are calling for a moratorium on a high-pressure carbon capture pipeline that would run through the South Side — at least until they get more information.

Wolf Carbon Solutions and ADM are in the early stages of planning a high-pressure pipeline to transport carbon dioxide emitted by the ADM ethanol facilities in Clinton and Cedar Rapids, Iowa to a permanent sequestration site in Decatur.

A trunkline from that main pipeline would potentially run up to the BioUrja Renewables ethanol plant in South Peoria.

“As part of Wolf Carbon Solutions’ effort to help decarbonize industries throughout the Midwest, we are currently having discussions with several companies, including BioUrja, on providing CCS services for their facilities," Nick Noppinger, Wolf Carbon Solutions senior vice president of corporate development said in a statement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports the ethanol plant at the foot of Edmund Street emitted 358,328 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021. For comparison's sake, the former E.D. Edwards power plant in Bartonville emitted more than 2.6 million metric tons that same year. The Alto Ingredients ethanol plant in Pekin emitted 325,262 metric tons.

Carbon capture advocates say it's a viable method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, by storing the trapped carbon underground. But environmentalists often deride carbon capture as a form of "greenwashing" that distracts from better climate change solutions.

First District council member Denise Jackson, whose district includes the South Side, said she's opposed to the project.

"I have some grave concerns. It's not just the South Side. But a project like this, with the potential for any type of problems could affect not only the South Side, but we've got East Peoria, we've got we've got downtown Peoria. It just depends upon the weather, and things of that nature," she said.

A February 2020 pipeline rupture near Sartaria, Miss. led to the evacuation of more than 200 people. Forty-five people sought hospital treatment, though no one died. High concentrations of odorless, colorless carbon dioxide leaked during a rupture could have devastating effects, warns Tracy Fox, a member of Illinois People's Action and the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance.

"Heavy air will just hang there. And so you've got an asphyxiation blanket, where people can't breathe, cars won't start," she said.

Second District council member Chuck Grayeb said it's important to make an informed decision about the pipeline.

"We need to start developing a body of information. We just recently have seen what can happen down with the BioUrja mess," he said, alluding to the May 2022 explosion at the plant. "And the potential problem is there. And I think this has to be front and center."

South Peoria's 61605 ZIP code is one of the poorest in the nation, with a majority Black population. Therecent annual report released by the Peoria City/County Joint Commission on Racial Justice and Equity also ranks the South Side near the top nationally on 11 of the12 Environmental Justice index factors. That includes high levels of air particulate matter that health researchers have linked to health problems, ranging from asthma to cancer and cardiopulmonary disease.

Jackson said she would like to see a moratorium until the city council can get more information about the pipeline project. Wolf Carbon Solutions and ADM haven't yet filed a permit application with the Illinois Commerce Commission. That means the available information on the project is limited at best.

"The administration, quite frankly, hasn't taken a position yet on it, because we don't have that much," said Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich at Tuesday's council meeting. "And we've only got a little bit of information that's been presented by the companies themselves to us. So we don't have a lot of information yet to make a an informed decision."

At-large Peoria City Council member Beth Jensen said she also supports a resolution opposing the pipeline, and a moratorium until the council has more information.

Peoria Park District board member Alex Sierra, who represents the South Side, said also needs more information on the project, but he's concerned about some aspects.

"For me, specifically, I am looking to gather facts on not only why the CO2 pipeline could potentially cause risk and harm to our community, as in terms of residents, and then our soil and crops, but also what are the benefits that can be done and then from there, move forward with the cost/benefit analysis on whether or not it's worth it," he said.

Noppinger told WCBU in an interview last September the pipeline will avoid high concentration population areas like homes, churches, and schools. He said the company also has an emergency response plan, and will coordinate with first responders.

"I will say it's a very safe and proven type of pipeline transportation. And so we just need to make sure that the community and the response teams are educated on how to handle it," he said.

A presentation on the pipeline project also was made at Tuesday's Peoria County executive committee meeting. County Board Chairman James Dillon said the county will file as an intervenor once the permit application is filed to ensure they are in the loop.

BioUrja has not responded to phone and email requests for comment made to their corporate headquarters in Texas.

Jackson and the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club will hold a press conference on the pipeline project Thursday morning at the Peoria Public Library's Lincoln Branch.

WCBU's Collin Schopp contributed to this report.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.