California’s carbon capture bet
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

California’s carbon capture bet

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Good morning! California is offering incentives for carbon capture, but it’s a controversial technology that some experts say may cause more harm than good.

California’s carbon capture chaos

California approved several ambitious climate laws this week, including incentives that could benefit the controversial technology that is carbon capture.

What does the state’s framework say? It specifies that carbon capture and storage projects must minimize potential public health harms, especially in communities with historically polluted air.

  • It also bans using captured carbon for extracting oil.
  • Though the bill doesn’t allocate subsidies to carbon capture projects, it allows for local agencies to fast-track applications and permits for these kinds of projects.

But carbon capture projects have a checkered history: A report released yesterday by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that they often fail or underperform.

  • And the federal government’s watchdog found earlier this year that the Energy Department spent $1.1 billion on carbon capture projects that were either useless or never came online at all.
  • Carbon capture tech has also played a central role in the oil industry’s plans to stay in business. ExxonMobil and Chevron tout carbon capture projects as a means to reduce carbon intensity, a metric that sounds nice, but allows them to keep polluting. Meanwhile, the carbon that’s captured has been used to extract even more oil.
  • “Carbon capture and storage historically has been used in keeping the fossil fuel industry alive,” Victoria Bogdan Tejeda, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told me.

And the bill may open the door for more harm than good, given that carbon capture projects are often constructed near vulnerable or rural communities.

  • Leaks of captured carbon have already proven dangerous for rural areas. And fast-tracking these projects in California’s rural Central Valley may only multiply the danger, Tejeda told me.
  • “If California wants to rush climate action, it should forget hazardous, unproven [carbon capture and storage] and focus on the rapid phaseout of fossil fuels,” she said.

— Nat Rubio-Licht

The CMA gives Activision deal a closer look

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority isn’t convinced Microsoft should buy Activision Blizzard, for the sake of competition in the game industry. Don’t get it twisted, though: The acquisition isn’t even close to flopping, but regulators will likely keep Microsoft tied up in review until well into 2023.

The CMA is putting more pressure on the deal. On Thursday, the agency asked Microsoft to respond to its concerns over the acquisition within five business days.

  • If Microsoft isn’t able to appease the CMA by then — a tall task, given the scope of the agency’s concerns –- the U.K. regulator plans to start a so-called Phase 2 review that could last months. Keep in mind the CMA isn’t the only team of regulators looking into the merger; the FTC and the EU are conducting their own probes as well.
  • The CMA doesn’t want Microsoft to gain an anticompetitive edge over gaming rivals. It’s particularly concerned that Microsoft would put PlayStation owner Sony at a disadvantage, given that it would own popular properties like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, as well as other services like its Xbox console business and Game Pass subscription service.
  • Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and Xbox chief Phil Spencer wrote separate letters trying to address the concerns. Kotick told employees that he’ll hold town halls throughout the fall updating the company on the status of the deal, while Spencer reiterated Microsoft’s pledge to keep Call of Duty available on competing PlayStation platforms.

That additional review doesn’t mean the deal won’t go through; it could just mean the conversations required to get this acquisition cleared are getting more serious.

  • While Microsoft has pledged publicly to remain fair and balanced in its treatment of big Activision game series like Call of Duty, a Phase 2 review could involve much more in-depth negotiations with the CMA that result in formal commitments and merger conditions.
  • Microsoft set a June 2023 deadline for closing the deal, and it may need the next nine months to hash out all the fine details of the merger with the CMA, the FTC and the EU.
  • “We will continue to engage with regulators with a spirit of transparency and openness as they review this acquisition,” Spencer wrote in yesterday’s blog post. “We respect and welcome the hard questions that are being asked.” And at this point, Microsoft doesn’t have much of a choice.

— Sarah Roach

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People are talking

Amazon labor groups are urging Congress to bring Andy Jassy in for a hearing on warehouse safety:

  • “It is time for Amazon to learn, once and for all, that it is not above the law.”

Making moves

Reddit bought Spiketrap, an audience contextualization company, for an undisclosed amount.

Joe Faber is Dialpad’s new general counsel. Faber is a former AT&T and Google lawyer.

In other news

Google and YouTube's midterm election plans include recommendations to authoritative national and local news sources, as well as rules restricting videos making false claims about the election.

Amazon failed to overturn the Staten Island union decision. The company plans to appeal the decision.

Experts are already worried about Twitter’s edit button, saying it could pave the way for more misinformation on the platform.

House Republicans wrote to Mark Zuckerberg demanding that he hand over FBI communications that led Facebook to suppress stories about Hunter Biden.

Remember Axon’s plans for Taser-equipped drones at schools? Those ambitions are still very much alive, although its AI ethics board resigned in June to protest the controversial tech.

Celsius wants to return $50 million in crypto to users, just a fraction of the $200 million total that is frozen in the exchange.

Solar panels on Amazon warehouses exploded or caught fire at least six times in a little over a year, forcing Amazon to take all of its solar panels offline, CNBC reports. Amazon's warehouse solar panels are a big part of its climate goals.

Nvidia got a pass from the U.S. government, allowing it to continue AI chip development in China. It follows the company’s warnings that export restrictions could hinder its operations.

The AI masterpiece

Jason Allen submitted a painting and took home first prize at the Colorado State Fair’s fine art competition. Only problem? He didn’t paint it himself. The piece, showing an ethereal setting where light shines into a dark, Baroque hall, was generated by AI using software called Midjourney.

And artists aren’t happy about it. The news made its way to Twitter, prompting thousands of angry replies. One Twitter user said, “We’re watching the death of artistry unfold right before our eyes.” Allen says he knew it’d be controversial, but thinks it’s not fair to say that he didn’t have a hand in making it.

What do you think? Does art created by AI count as art? Let us know by replying to this email!

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