The U.S. Forest Service is seeking to change its rules to allow carbon dioxide to be injected and permanently stored on the nation's forest lands.

A draft of the rule and 60-day comment period is set for this fall.

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming, is a key part of the Biden administration plan to fight the climate crisis. Last year's historic climate bill appropriated about $12 billion in federal funding for carbon management technologies, according to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan group of more than 100 businesses, including fossil fuel companies, unions, and conservation groups.

If approved, the change to allow permanent storage may affect some of the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands that the Forest Service manages. It's too early to say whether Minnesota's two national forests — Superior National and Chippewa National — could be affected. The Forest Service said such a rule change would not affect the special environmental protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The change would amend the Forest Service's existing regulations to allow "exclusive or perpetual right of use or occupancy" of Forest Service lands to allow "permanent carbon dioxide sequestration," according to a regulatory notice published in June.

The proposed change has prompted consternation among some conservation groups. They claim it's wrong to store permanent waste under the country's most precious public natural areas, even to fight climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups recently sent Forest Service Chief Randy Moore a petition with 9,500 signatures and a letter opposing the move as "unnecessary, egregious, and could lead to serious, irreparable harms to forests, people, and wildlife." It's not a climate solution, they protested in the letter.

The Forest Service declined to discuss the proposed draft rule saying it's too early and would be "speculative." Forest Service spokesman John Winn said there will likely be "a robust public engagement process" if the draft rule progresses.

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory said Minnesota has no documented capacity for one of the most developed forms of permanent underground carbon storage, injection into very deep saline aquifers with brackish water.

Saline storage requires a porous rock layer a mile or more underground, below the water table, with impermeable layers of rock above it trapping the carbon dioxide in the porous areas, said Angela Seligman, senior Midwest regional policy manager for the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force.

"Minnesota is likely not at the top of the line for storing CO2 right now," Seligman said. "North Dakota has that key combination."

There are other forms of underground carbon storage that the U.S. Department of Energy and others are investigating. The agency gave $2.2 million to the developers of the proposed Tamarack nickel mine project in central Minnesota to explore carbon storage at the site, including carbon mineralization technology in which carbon dioxide turns to rock.

Seligman said she supports the Forest Service carbon move, given the urgent need to combat the catastrophic impacts of climate change already being felt.

So does Matt Fry, senior policy manager for carbon management at the Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, forest lands are open to multiple uses, he said.

"We've been extracting oil and gas from Bureau of Land Management lands and Forest Service lands for decades," Fry said. "If we're going to meet climate objectives, we're going to have to maintain that same paradigm."

"By law they're available for these uses," Fry said. "They're just not procedurally available right now."

Fry serves on a new permitting task force that the White House Council on Environmental Quality created this spring to examine capturing and storing carbon dioxide on federal lands. The group will provide recommendations to Congress on how to open federal lands to carbon storage in an efficient and effective way, he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has already agreed to allow permanent underground storage of carbon dioxide on some of the 245 million acres of public land it manages, mostly in the West.

Doing this on the nation's forest lands is wrong, said Hudson Kingston, legal director at the Montevideo-based, environmental nonprofit CURE. Kingston signed the opposition letter to the Forest Service. CURE has also opposed the construction of carbon pipelines proposed for Minnesota to carry away carbon dioxide emitted by the state's many ethanol plants for underground storage in North Dakota and Illinois.

"This is the public's land," Kingston said in an interview. "The idea that a private company, or the oil and gas industry specifically, can permanently spoil public lands that belong to all of us is just antithetical to the idea of a national forest."

Kingston said that the Forest Service has a longstanding policy of not allowing permanent use of its land. The potential change is shocking, he said, because many companies involved in storing carbon dioxide are not extracting anything of value but are simply using the land for permanent waste storage.

Minnesota may not be at the top of the carbon storage list now, but that could change in coming years as underground storage space runs out and new technologies for carbon storage are developed, Kingston said.

"The rule change is sort of forever," he said.

Bruce Anderson, a retired natural resource manager for the U.S. Forest Service and chair of the forest issues committee for the Minnesota chapter of the Wildlife Society, said he sees pros and cons. There are a lot of holes in public lands from old oil and gas efforts, mostly in the West, he said, and there may be an opportunity to repurpose them to help cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Still, he's concerned about the impact roads, construction and infrastructure for storage projects would have on forest land. And he doesn't want carbon storage to become a disincentive for industry, particularly energy firms, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Do they look at this like they can produce all they want now?" Anderson said.

Correction: Previous versions of this story had an incomplete description of the Carbon Capture Coalition.