Should ADM Co. be allowed to store an air pollutant under the city of Decatur?
On Monday, March 20, the Decatur City Council will be considering a proposal by ADM that would permit the company to store millions of tons of carbon dioxide under the city. The storage of this air pollutant will likely spread under Decatur residences and the city’s drinking water supply, Lake Decatur. In return for permission, one of the largest food processing companies on Earth is proposing to give the city a one-time fee of $450 per acre of space that the carbon dioxide is stored in.
Global warming is an existential threat to humanity and some of its consequences are now considered unavoidable. Today’s children and young adults are the first generation to experience human-intensified environmental disasters on an annual basis potentially resulting in decreased mental health and increased uncertainty about their future. It is critical that action be taken to address our climate crisis. With that said, it is unclear that storing millions of tons of liquified carbon dioxide under a city of ~70,000 residents is the best answer. In fact, the underground storage of an air pollutant may result in an increased health risk to current residents, and the perception that the city of Decatur is a dumping ground for the waste of for-profit companies who are receiving incentives from the federal government for the dumping.
NO INFORMATION HAS BEEN PROVIDED ON WHERE AND HOW MUCH POLLUTANT WILL BE STORED UNDER THE CITY
Many entities have argued that carbon sequestration is a safe technology with limited risk to residents. After all, the liquified carbon dioxide will be ~6,700 ft. under the ground with a large shale cap and two smaller shale caps between the pollutant and city residents. However, the proposed ordinance the city council is considering does not include specific information about where under the city the pollutant will be stored, nor does it include information about how much pollutant will be stored. In fact, the ordinance as written allows the city manager to negotiate and execute the easement without additional approval from the elected members of the Decatur City Council.
It would be irresponsible for the city council to permit the injection of a pollutant underground without knowing how much of the pollutant is going to be stored, where it is going to be stored, and who is liable in the event the pollutant is released. If there is an environmental disaster, does the Decatur Fire Department have the ability to respond to a high-pressure, liquified carbon dioxide leak? If not, what capability is needed, and will ADM pay for it? If there is an environmental disaster 50 years from now is ADM solely responsible for paying damages and for cleaning it up? Even if ADM agrees to be fully liable, will the company be here in 100 years? One thing is more certain, the pollutant will be.
WILL CARBON SEQUESTRATION PROVIDE RESIDENTS WITH FINANCIAL SECURITY?
Many entities have argued that carbon sequestration within the city limits will be an economic driver with multiple companies choosing to establish plants in the city if larger-scale carbon sequestration takes place here. However, increased economic growth for large companies does not always translate into prosperity for the city and its residents. For example, ADM Co. may claim that Decatur is its biggest asset with over 4,000 employees and significant infrastructure. However, while ADM may have grown its global presence in recent years, Decatur’s population has shrunk and remains one of the poorest cities in Illinois. In addition, despite the recent promises of economic growth and new job creation, the city’s labor force has declined by over 2,000 between 2019 (n = 31,724) and 2022 (n=29,649). Thus, economic prosperity for companies does not always lead to financial security of residents.
THE DECATUR CITY COUNCIL SHOULD POSTPONE ITS VOTE
While it is appropriate for ADM Co. to give a presentation to the city council about why it proposes to store an air pollutant under the city of Decatur, it is equally appropriate for the city council to postpone voting on this matter until citizens are given a chance to learn more about the proposal. The city council recently postponed a vote on new boating regulations to give boaters a chance to review proposed changes. The same courtesy should be given to the 70,000 Decatur residents whose health and safety may be impacted by this vote. Furthermore, the elected members of the city council, not the city manager, should be the ultimate decision makers on the terms of any easement.
There is no reason to make a hasty decision. Federal and state safety regulations need to be refined to ensure the health of those living above the stored pollutants, and more information is needed about the safety of carbon sequestration from organizations that do not have a financial stake in the outcome of the decision. Corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. Elected officials have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure the well-being of their residents now and in the future. The responsible decision is to postpone the vote.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT THE NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
The easement permitting the underground storage of carbon dioxide will be discussed and may be voted on at the next meeting of the Decatur City Council on Monday, March 20. Meetings take place at 5:30 PM in the council chambers located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance. Citizens are encouraged to attend meetings and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of each city council meeting. In addition, citizens can provide comments regarding one regular agenda item per meeting for up to three minutes provided they notify the city in advance (and prior to the start of the meeting). You can request to speak on a particular agenda item at a council meeting by filling out an on-line form at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/advance-request-to-speak-at-council-meeting/.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.