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Carbon storage makes for odd allies

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Read the first story of this series: Greenville opposes burying CO2. And the second: Public resistance threatens CO2 burying

by Sarah Gardner

Kerwin Olson is a dyed-in-the wool liberal activist. He believes in global warming and a tax on carbon. But last year he found himself helping residents in Greenville, Ohio, a small rural town dominated by Republicans.

Greenville residents had come to rally against a government-funded project to bury carbon emissions from a local ethanol plant. If the technology works, it could be widely used to clean up carbon emissions from burning coal too.

“The main thing I told them was that all politics are local,” says Olson. “And that you have a much better shot at killing this thing dealing with your local officials.”

Olson doesn’t often side with conservatives, but this time he found common ground, albeit for different reasons. Olson sees the technology as “nothing more than propping up dirty coal.” Many conservatives see it as unnecessary.

“I think it’s a boondoggle,” says Jim Zehringer, Greenville’s state representative. “I don’t buy into the whole belief that carbon’s bad.”

But carbon storage isn’t just making for odd allies. It’s also dividing traditional friends. Take environmentalists. The Sierra Club in Ohio opposes it. The advocacy group argues the money spent on CO2 storage should go to renewable energy and efficiency instead. But another green group, the Ohio Environmental Council, supports it.

“We feel as though the science is dire and we are focused on getting massive reductions on a very fast timetable,” says the council’s Nolan Moser. “And to do that you’ve got to deal with major emission producers.”

Moser says coal-fired power isn’t going to disappear tomorrow. So at least burying emissions helps slow global warming. But Greenville residents succeeded in killing plans to store carbon beneath their town. So now the government is looking to try it someplace else.

Listen to an audio slideshow of Greenville and its residents. Click to listen.

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