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PUEBLO — When Jamie Valdez was growing up on Pueblo’s east side in the 1970s, his family would head to the drive-in and pass the fresh slag heaps dumped outside the steel plant, glowing orange in the twilight of a long workday. 

At the time, he didn’t connect his childhood asthma to the carbon dioxide released from the mill as it turned iron into those molten blobs. Nor did Valdez link his respiratory problems then to the nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide and particulate pollution and ozone from the carbon-belching industries surrounding Pueblo, like so many torches. 

Comanche coal power plant, still sending 6.6 million tons of carbon dioxide skyward, annually. Pueblo cement plant, nearly 740,000 tons of carbon. Steel plant, more than 290,000 tons of carbon. Airport power plant, nearly 600,000 tons of carbon. Ray Nixon coal power plant near Fountain, 1.3 million tons of carbon. Fountain Valley gas power plant, just under 70,000 tons of carbon. Portland cement plant in Florence, another 680,000 tons of carbon. 

As Valdez stands on a hotter-than-normal 91-degree day at the place where the smokestacks of Comanche Generating Station meet the prairie, much of Pueblo’s carbon-heavy past and present is in sight: Coal heaps, cement kilns, steel forges. The sweat of climate change and 2.9 degrees of extra heat from global warming is on his brow. 

Colorado leaders say they can reconcile carbon’s century-long industrial assault on Pueblo citizens by capturing millions of tons of carbon dioxide and stuffing it underground in Pueblo, El Paso, Washington, Weld and other as-yet unnamed counties. A sequestration industry, they say, could create local jobs and send profits from State Land Board property to benefit public schools. The Land Board approved another carbon injection exploration lease Thursday, amid Weld County farming, grazing and oil production land. 

Where Valdez would like to tell them to stuff their carbon is unprintable, but “not here” will suffice. 

As a community organizer and as a member of a state-appointed environmental justice task force, Valdez helped shape recommendations saying that carbon capture and other modern industries should “not add more burdens to communities that have already been overburdened.” 

Whether hosting a drilling rig or a carbon sink 4,000 feet underground or a 30-mile high-pressure carbon pipeline, Valdez said, “Pueblo should just be off the table.”

Burying Colorado’s industrial age under the Plains 

The scientists, engineers and policymakers who dominate Colorado’s official climate change reports and edicts say halting global warming means putting human-made carbon underground. 

Yes, coal-fired power plants must go away, this thinking goes. Yes, cars must switch to clean electric batteries. Yes, oil and gas producers leaking methane must clean up their act. 

But that won’t be enough, according to this theory. Not all fossil fuel use — some to power vehicles or to fire the devilishly hot kilns to make steel and cement — can be replaced by renewable energy. Some pockets of the U.S. or overseas nations won’t turn off their coal plants for decades. A percentage of carbon will have to be captured from power plants or straight out of thin air, and stored underground.

A yellow circle on a black background.

Pueblo should just be off
the table.

— Jamie Valdez, Environmental Justice Action Task Force member

Storage or a favored alternate word, “sequestration,” imply someone will remain in charge of locking away the carbon until our global trial is over. 

“Effectively all climate science models now agree that if we’re going to end up limiting global temperature rise, we need to go beyond deep decarbonization and also achieve some level of removing carbon from the atmosphere,” said Daniel Pike, who leads nonprofit energy researcher Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI) carbon removal initiative. 

Two primary technologies are emerging for carbon removal. Direct air capture sets up a vacuum-and-filter machine anywhere — one of the first is in Iceland, and another was announced in an industrial area of Adams County — and pulls the ambient carbon into filters. 

A small portion of captured carbon can be used for industry, to inject into fracked oil fields to push more petroleum out and up. That kind of reuse, not surprisingly, is frowned upon by environmentalists. Other possible uses for the extra CO2 include piping it into greenhouses to promote plant growth, or making dry ice for industry.

An industrial plant in the middle of a field.
A proposed pipeline through Pueblo County would take captured carbon from facilities like the GGC Pueblo Cement plant and deposit them at the Chico Basin Ranch in El Paso County. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A second option is carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS. It refers to grabbing carbon from large single-point sources, such as utilities or cement kilns burning fossil fuel, and then piping it to a dedicated underground well, permitted through a new Environmental Protection Agency review process. National geologic research shows Colorado, for the same reasons it holds massive oil reserves in deep stone-capped vaults, has places thought to be ideal for sequestering carbon. 

The same Biden administration and congressional acts producing hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy are also dangling local incentives to create a carbon capture economy. Blue states like Colorado are joining with red states like Wyoming to pursue carbon capture “hub” status, which might land lucrative grants, tax credits and industry investment. 

On its own, Colorado won a $32 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to pay for a carbon capture test well somewhere in the southern part of the state. The grant and the research are managed by Colorado School of Mines, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the private startup Carbon America. More recently, Colorado also won a separate $3 million DOE grant to promote studies and marketing for a potential direct carbon capture hub centered on Pueblo.

School of Mines and state officials say they don’t want to place carbon in communities that don’t welcome the activity. But the slow-drilling machinery of official reports, enabling legislation and job incentives is lining up decidedly in favor of carbon domes growing under our feet. 

“It is important that CCUS be both enabled and appropriately regulated,” begins one summary in the state’s 2022 official assessment of carbon storage.

An air monitoring station on top of a building.
According to Jamie Valdez, air quality data is constantly collected by this air monitoring station atop Fountain Elementary School on Pueblo’s East Side for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but that its findings are only reported annually. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The future is already happening near Yuma and Pueblo

Fountain Elementary School on Pueblo’s East Side is where Jamie Valdez walked the halls, occasionally wheezing from asthma. Fountain, now a district-run international baccalaureate magnet, has a state-sponsored air pollution monitor on-site measuring lung-choking particulate matter. Valdez and others are negotiating with state officials for grants to expand Fountain’s testing to volatile organic compounds and other toxins. 

Fountain Elementary and the neighborhoods around it have a high percentage of low-income kids disproportionately impacted by historic environmental injustice. 

It’s exactly the kind of place the State Land Board says it wants to help with the revenue that may come from going all in for carbon capture. 

The board manages millions of acres given to Colorado by the federal government in trust for public schools. The board, which also leases land and takes royalties for oil, gas and coal among other paid land uses like grazing and farming, has now approved three exploration leases for carbon capture on state land. Two went to Carbon America. (The collaborative including Carbon America that is managing the $32 million exploration in southern Colorado, at Chico Basin Ranch, is called Project Eos.)

A map showing the locations of land leased for carbon capture.
LEFT: The southern Colorado test drill in search of carbon sequestration possibilities will take place on State Land Board property at Chico Basin Ranch, about 30 miles north of Pueblo, with the leased exploration property outlined in yellow. The ranch straddles Pueblo, El Paso and Douglas county acreage. (Provided by Stand Land Board materials) RIGHT: Colorado researchers are studying the Lyons Sandstone formation thousands of feet under the Pueblo area as a prime spot to locate the state’s first carbon sequestration hub. (Provided by Gulf Coast Carbon Center)
A map of Denver Basin and Lyons Sandstone map.
A map showing the locations of land leased for carbon capture.
A map of Denver Basin and Lyons Sandstone map.

ABOVE: The southern Colorado test drill in search of carbon sequestration possibilities will take place on State Land Board property at Chico Basin Ranch, about 30 miles north of Pueblo, with the leased exploration property outlined in yellow. The ranch straddles Pueblo, El Paso and Douglas county acreage. (Provided by Stand Land Board materials) BELOW: Colorado researchers are studying the Lyons Sandstone formation thousands of feet under the Pueblo area as a prime spot to locate the state’s first carbon sequestration hub. (Provided by Gulf Coast Carbon Center)

A well in Washington County, near Yuma, already has been drilled, as part of a deal Carbon America worked out with investors to put carbon from northeastern Colorado corn ethanol plants underground.

Private investors pay for the drilling and eventual storage setup, taking advantage of the $85 per ton of carbon federal tax credit allowed by the energy programs in the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Some industry estimates put the total cost of creating storage and capturing ethanol carbon, for example, at up to $55 a ton, leaving plenty of room for investor profit. The fact that a number of multinational oil companies are jumping into carbon capture is another point of fury for environmental groups, who note the same oil companies first profited from removing all the combustible hydrocarbons that have led to global warming. Bloomberg News has cited reports from Credit Suisse analysts and others estimating carbon capture entrepreneurs will reap up to $52 billion from the uncapped Inflation Reduction Act tax credits in the first 10 years. 

In setting up its lease protocols for carbon capture testing at public meetings over the past two years, the State Land Board split its approval process into two. Interested parties must first apply for an exploration lease on state land. If that work proves a geologic and financial basis for a storage site, and the plan passes local reviews, including environmental justice requirements, then the original drilling company or competitors can apply for an injection lease.

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The current Land Board contracts envision collecting fees that include $12 an acre in annual rent for the entire parcel, then about $2.50 a ton for the carbon injected to underground storage. Environmental groups have criticized the board in the past for agreeing to lower coal royalty rates on some properties in the name of supporting the local jobs economy. 

Climate change groups have asked the board to get out of fossil fuel leasing altogether, and say local economic development officials’ eagerness for projects should not override land protections. 

Land Board and Department of Natural Resources officials reject the argument that their approvals of a carbon capture framework and exploration leases indicate they will rubber-stamp actual injection leases impacting Colorado geology for decades. 

The Land Board staff often splits leases into two parts, each requiring detailed applications, staff reviews and public hearings, spokesperson Kristin Kemp said. Lease proposals can be rejected at any number of stages of progress: A staff-recommended solar farm lease in Arapahoe County was denied by the board after nearby farmers objected, Kemp said. 

“So the board as a group of people is comfortable with this model and the implications of that,” Kemp said. 

The Land Board does make significant revenue from fossil fuel extraction, state officials said, but the mission includes being a steward of all state resources in addition to raising money for schools. 

“Ten percent of the state’s solar and wind energy is produced on State Land Board land already,” Kemp said.

While carbon capture advocates frequently emphasize that the current phase in Colorado is exploratory, with many future moments where turning back is an option, the momentum is as clear and polished as the Project Eos consortium web page. There, the state’s leading politicians and clean energy businesses tout Colorado’s potential as a carbon sink as “when,” not “if.” 

Carbon storage “has enormous potential as a climate solution, especially for difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, and as an economic growth engine for our state,” reads a joint quote from Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.

An aerial view of an open field with mountains in the background.
Though an exact well site has not yet been determined, this is the area of the Chico Basin Ranch near Hanover where proposed carbon capture sequestration originating in Pueblo County could take place. This view is looking northwest toward Pikes Peak. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

After the Yuma-area storage exploration drill, the second exploratory drill at the Land Board’s Chico Basin Ranch may present a louder test of the stewardship and environmental justice questions. The sprawling prairie property encompasses 86,000 acres straddling the line between El Paso and Pueblo counties, and is a working cattle and guest ranch, in addition to being a favorite of Colorado’s dedicated birding community. It currently has no oil and gas wells, positioned too far south of the petroleum-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin.

The northern stretches of the ranch, where Carbon America is renting the land for carbon scouting, is an easy drive from Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and for the Denver-based groups that regularly weigh in on environmental justice and greenhouse gases.  

“It is imperative that we be mindful of how these projects are experimental, at the end of the day,” said Lorena Gonzalez, communities and justice campaign manager for Conservation Colorado. “And we need to be honest about the types of communities which we choose to experiment on.”

Seeking a sandstone sponge with a hard cap 

The same features that made Colorado a national leader in taking carbon from deep underground are the ones that make us a prime proving ground for putting some of the carbon back in. 

The carbon capture formations being explored by Carbon America, the School of Mines and others are layers of porous sandstone that start thousands of feet below the topsoil. Carbon America said the Washington County exploration site shows a promising injection zone at about 4,800 feet underground, sitting beneath a 100-foot-thick layer of hard rock. 

In oil basins like the Denver-Julesburg, the sandstone holds oil and natural gas like a big sponge, capped above by layers of hard rock. Fracking tapped once-locked American oil fields by drilling down below the hard cap, then horizontally through multiple long shafts into the sandstone. Water and chemicals are then forced underground at enormous pressure, fracturing the sandstone in thousands of places and allowing the oil and gas to flow back into the pipeline-straw, and out. 

Carbon, shipped from sources miles away in aboveground or underground pipelines, will of course go the other direction. Down into the sandstone to stay, and monitored for years under EPA well rules. Scientists believe the gas would react with minerals underground to form solid carbonate rock, though basalt formations may have an advantage over sandstone.

A diagram showing the different stages of coal formation.
This graphic by the Utah Geological Survey shows the range of carbon sequestration possibilities, including drilling wells and piping in single-source carbon from a nearby factory or power plant. Carbon can be stored in layers of porous sandstone or other materials, below a natural cap of rock called a “confining layer.” Excess carbon dioxide can also be used to speed plant growth, or infused into above-ground rock formations to become mineralized carbon. (Provided by Utah Geological Survey)

Carbon America says it could store 50 million tons of carbon over 30 years in a promising well formation. 

Environmental groups who are less enamored of carbon capture and storage note that Colorado alone produces 125 million to 130 million tons of carbon in greenhouse gases every year. 

Even if the carbon stays underground, Gonzalez said, pipelines leak, pipelines rupture, and the state’s precious drinking water stores have been contaminated in other disasters, whether they come fast or slow.

“It hasn’t been fully proven, and it comes with a big price tag that could be used to fund more tried and true decarbonization strategies that don’t come with as many risks to the community,” Gonzalez said. Carbon capture projects “are perpetuating slow violence” on the communities being promoted for the technology.

RMI and other experts say past research and the EPA’s rigorous system for permitting carbon wells offer assurances sequestration can be done safely. One of the most prominent worldwide experiments so far is a direct air carbon capture project in Iceland

“Everyone feels like this is a very safe and necessary technology that is going to be developed over the next 10 to 20 years,” said Michael Turner, director of strategic initiatives and finance for the Colorado Energy Office, which is Gov. Jared Polis’ clearinghouse for electrification and greenhouse gas issues. “And it’s not a technology that we want to start using 10 years from now without putting any investment into it.”

Some influential Coloradans express their doubts about solving the problems of past drilling in Colorado by drilling more in Colorado.

A black and yellow circle with a quote icon representing Nelson Holland.

It hasn’t been fully proven, and it comes with a big price tag …

— Lorena Gonzalez, communities and justice campaign manager for Conservation Colorado

Sixteen Colorado legislators wrote a letter questioning the Air Quality Control Commission and whether a rule scheduled for Sept. 20-22 vote would be going too easy on 18 highly polluting smokestack industries. Their objections extended to a proposed credit trading system for reducing or storing carbon that will depend on sequestration wells being completed across Colorado.

“Colorado has not established guardrails for storage that ensure the captured carbon remains stored indefinitely, or to prevent new environmental injustices related to the transport and storage of carbon dioxide,” the five senators and 11 representatives wrote to the air commission. 

One of those guardrails might involve answering a few simple questions: Who owns the carbon once it’s underground? Who’s ultimately responsible for ensuring it stays there 100 years from now, and to whom do Coloradans complain if it doesn’t? 

Details still to be determined, at least according to the State Land Board. 

“Carbon ownership may be dictated by future regulation that is unknown at this time,” Kemp said. A Colorado law passed this year allows state officials to seek approval to take over carbon storage well permitting — or “primacy” — from the EPA. 

“Regardless of who ultimately owns the carbon, the long-term liability will be regulated and the liability will be assumed by a responsible party,” Kemp said. Carbon America said the EPA regulations set up for carbon wells put liability for the carbon onto the permit holder for at least 50 years after injection. Companies doing the injection would have to put up a $25 million bond. Some states, not Colorado, have laws allowing the state to take over liability 10 years after injection, but transfer of that control is reviewed by the EPA.

An aerial view of a construction site with cranes.
Ongoing construction of the long rail mill at Evraz North America in Pueblo on Aug. 8. Rail production at the steel mill will be fueled by the nearby 300-megawatt Bighorn Solar array. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Carbon-heavy industries, not surprisingly, are enthusiasts 

The steel mill formerly surrounded by glowing slag heaps is one of the industrial powerhouses pushing Colorado’s exploration of carbon capture and storage, even while it probes a handful of its own alternatives. 

Evraz North America says it is not only thriving and expanding in Pueblo, with its rail mill utilizing scrap iron and steel, but the company believes it has become a leader in decarbonizing a historically dirty industry. 

The company’s electric arc furnace avoids using around-the-clock coal heating to melt iron, as traditional mills have done, said Evraz Vice President Jefferson Shaw. The colossal Bighorn solar arrays in southeast Pueblo allow the company to offset the tons of carbon it still emits while burning natural gas fuels. Bighorn’s solar electricity goes to Xcel’s statewide grid, but Evraz, as a big electricity customer, contracts with Xcel for the solar farm land, and for long-term demand and pricing that helps Xcel eventually retire coal plants like Comanche. 

“We have 75% lower emissions than the global steel average, and 50% less emissions than the U.S. steel average,” Shaw said. Evraz wants to become net-zero in greenhouse gas emissions, he said. 

Environmental watchdogs note that finding offsets for carbon emissions means Evraz and other industries are still emitting large amounts of carbon and other pollutants in their own neighborhoods. The “hard-to-decarbonize” industries, like steel and cement, must keep working toward reductions, they say. 

Evraz says it agrees, and backs the exploratory drilling for carbon storage in Colorado, among other ideas. 

“We’ve been a vocal supporter of that effort,” Shaw said. “And are hoping to see that infrastructure and the necessary steps being taken to assess whether it’s viable and feasible and safe.”


Be wary of governments bearing gifts? 

The various sides of the carbon capture debate seem to agree on at least one thing: Governments, corporations and science agencies intending to materially alter the ground — with long-lasting implications — should seek consent from neighbors impacted the most. 

Whether that’s actually being done is another source of dispute. 

Colorado School of Mines geophysics professor Manika Prasad, who leads the Mines Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Innovation Center, said the proposed drill site near Pueblo has been discussed in multiple forums, with more town halls planned. 

The plan, Prasad said, is to “go out there and make a broader connection, and make sure that you’re not doing things without consent and without engaging.”

A yellow circle on a black background.

We need to be honest about the types of communities which we choose to experiment on.

— Lorena Gonzalez, communities and justice campaign manager for Conservation Colorado

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar, who supports the exploration of a carbon capture economy for southern Colorado, said “I think they’re trying to get the word out about what they’re proposing with these pilot projects.” 

But Pueblo activist Valdez, who organizes for the nonprofit environmental group Mothers Out Front, said the push for a carbon capture hub is ignoring minority and low-income voices who have already suffered the consequences of decades of carbon-based pollution. 

“I don’t doubt one bit that they’ve done community outreach to our mayor and our city council and those kinds of folks, but they’re not talking to us, the people on the ground,” Valdez said. Mothers Out Front is the only environmental group with paid staff in Pueblo, and the Colorado School of Mines or others involved in creating the hub have not contacted them, he said. 

Pueblo is constantly sold on new technology or economic transition as a job creator and educational uplift for a historically poor blue-collar county, Valdez said. Some local officials have been pursuing a new nuclear reactor for Pueblo for years, long after the state’s only reactor, at Fort St. Vrain near Platteville in Weld County, was decommissioned. Xcel’s Comanche 3 unit was promoted as the height of new coal technology and a jobs bonanza, and now employs only a few dozen people “in a community of 113,000-plus” while pumping out enormous pollution, Valdez said. 

“When you’ve used a community like Pueblo as a dumping ground for bottom of the barrel polluting industries that other communities like Denver and Cherry Hills don’t want, it’s easy to continue doing. It  becomes just normal behavior to you,” Valdez said. “A lot of these lawmakers and state regulatory agencies, they don’t even think about it. ‘Oh, yeah, let’s just put it in Pueblo. That’s what we always do.’”

Mayor Gradisar represents those who don’t want to be left out of what could be an important new industry. Carbon capture could also be a way to support Pueblo’s historic jobs base at carbon dioxide-emitting industries, whether Comanche, or the cement plant, or the wind turbine factory that creates pollution while making parts, he said. 

“Carbon capture is an innovative way that has the possibility of allowing those industries to continue without doing damage to the environment,” Gradisar said. “I think you have to capture the carbon where it’s being produced. And certainly, these are the source of good paying jobs for citizens of Pueblo.”

Many federal and state laws passed in recent years shaping the global warming fight and the decarbonization of the U.S. economy have included explicit environmental justice provisions requiring consultation and mitigation for historically impacted communities. But those provisions are often ignored in Colorado, local environmental justice groups say.

A black and yellow circle with a quote icon representing Nelson Holland.

I think you have to capture the carbon where it’s being produced. And certainly, these are the source of good paying jobs for citizens of Pueblo.

— Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar

The pressure for new carbon capture hubs overran recommendations from the state Environmental Justice Advisory Board when the group was asked to do a hasty review of a state carbon capture, utilization and storage task force report, Valdez and Gonzalez said. Three members of the CCUS Task Force — the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and Western Resource Advocates — said they could not fully support the final report until the advisory board’s criticisms were thoroughly explored. 

The advisory board’s overarching critique was that carbon capture advocates need to be honest that sequestration doesn’t stop the carbon dioxide created by coal power plants or cement plants, nor does it reduce other pollutants from those smokestacks that fall on disadvantaged communities. 

And the capture and sequestration economy is not without its own big footprint, the advisory board noted. “While a CCUS operation may not emit additional pollution, it may have the ability for example to destroy habitats, consume excess amounts of water, and increase seismic activity,” they wrote. 

An aerial view of a cement plant near a river.
The Holcim Cement plant in Florence is one of the largest employers in Fremont County. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Carbon capture’s momentum already building

While Colorado and Wyoming collaborate to pursue carbon capture projects, they will be competing with other regions whose leaders say they see similar opportunity. 

RMI, founded as Rocky Mountain Institute, leads a group with a $3 million grant earlier this year to study potential for direct air carbon capture hubs in the Northwestern states. 

Researchers at RMI are consulted around the world for their expert opinions on climate change, alternative energy and decarbonizing the economy. RMI agrees with the international science consensus that large amounts of carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere to achieve climate goals, in addition to drastically cutting current emissions, Pike said. 

To do that, Pike said, the options include carbon removal and storage, altering oceans to soak up more carbon, and crushing basalt into rocks that absorb carbon. 

Or you could just plant more trees. 

“But it would be foolish to bet entirely on forests,” given wildfire and other land management challenges, Pike said. Just like it would be foolish “to bet entirely on direct air capture, as it’s quite an early stage technology” and costs are still unclear. 

RMI’s perspective is that “we’ve got to test everything,” he said. “Generate as many options for ourselves as possible because it would be foolish to bet on any one approach.” 

Gonzalez and other advocates echo at least part of what Pike is saying. But for all the talk of exploring all options, she said, Colorado is rushing ahead on a carbon storage economy “that hasn’t been fully proven, and comes with a big price tag that could be used to fund more tried and true decarbonization strategies that don’t come with as many risks to the community.” 

More trees would be a good start, Gonzalez said. 

Growing up in Pueblo, driving past the glowing steel slag heaps, watching Comanche’s smokestacks rise, seeing solar panels and wind turbines spread like irrigated crops southeast of his neighborhood, Valdez is well-versed in the mantra of job creation and a community building itself out of trouble.

An aerial view of solar panels in a field.
The Bighorn solar array just south of Pueblo in October 2021. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

From where he stands, the Bighorn solar farm and CS Wind turbine factory literally surrounding Comanche and Evraz, are like matter and antimatter poised on the edge of the future. Whether carbon capture constitutes antimatter, or more troublesome matter, is now the debate.

Valdez is asked what he would say about the dangers of a carbon capture economy to a Pueblo pipefitter or steelworker, hopeful for future work in building a carbon pipeline or a drill rig.

He pauses, wipes his dripping brow, and says he would ask them to think about what the people of the Iroquois nation believed from their concept of the Seventh Generation: Act now in ways that will benefit not just yourself, but families beyond your own in generations living more than 100 years into the future. 

“Those are temporary jobs,” Valdez said. “Once that pipeline is done, the work is done. And then you have to go figure out what else you’re going to do. And there has to be some balance between putting my own community at risk and going for my own financial independence or stability.” 

He flings a thumb over his shoulder at Comanche. 

“We’ve made bad decisions already. This plant, I think, was a horrible decision for Pueblo,” Valdez said. “It’s a perfect example where large swaths of the community came out against it and they put it here anyway. And I think we need to do better.”

When it comes to carbon pollution, Valdez said, “You’re not just making it disappear. You’re putting it underground.”

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...