Tag Archive | "Energy"

West Front of the Capitol. Photo Credit- Architect of the Capitol.

Secure Capital for Renewable Energy is Good for Wildlife and the Economy

The Obama administration has done a commendable job jumpstarting renewable energy development and is well on its way to achieving the president’s goal of providing enough renewable energy to power three million homes.  Although the administration’s efforts to boost the renewable energy sector have been successful to date, there is little doubt that concern for continuing access to capital –the result of the potential loss of the production tax credit and grant programs, the impact of cheap natural gas, and the failure to agree on a national energy policy that would spur investment in clean energy development — is undercutting the administration’s successful effort to move the clean energy economy forward. This uncertainty – especially for financing and a growing market for clean energy – will continue to thwart the growth of this energy sector.

Congress could address these concerns by extending tax credits (which could be paid for by redirecting current oil and gas production subsidies) and by passing legislation to establish a national goal for renewable energy production or by finally putting a tax on carbon pollution. These solutions would help spur private-sector investment in clean energy and reduce the industry’s dependence on federal subsidies.  The result would be good for economic growth, stimulate employment, and reduce the federal deficit (by reducing federal outlays and generating increased tax revenue over the long term).

Instead, Congress has chosen to do none of the above — leaving the market uncertain while complaining that the Obama administration has no energy policy.  At the same time, anti-environmental members of Congress choose to argue that regulations designed to protect human health and natural resources are thwarting efforts to promote clean energy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To the contrary, the conservation community has worked in partnership with the solar and wind energy industries to frame policies to guide solar development on public lands and promote responsibly wind energy projects.   With encouragement from the industry and conservation groups, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is poised to finalize a first-of-its-kind plan for responsible solar energy development on public lands, which should help solar energy projects move forward more efficiently by reducing risk to wildlife and natural and cultural resources.

In addition, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued guidelines for wind energy development that were based on the recommendations of a scientific panel (established, in fact, by the Bush administration) and fully-supported by the wind energy industry association and leading conservation organizations. This is ground-breaking progress for the energy sector that has never been seen before and a reflection of a common understanding of the need to develop cleaner, more environmentally-responsible and secure sources of energy.

But to keep the clean energy boom from going bust, our nation’s leaders need to act quickly to shore-up the nascent industry. Congress can start by creating demand for renewable energy, following the lead of some 33 states – most notably California, which has set the highest target aiming to generate 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 – and setting a national renewable energy standard. Although such legislation is currently pending, its prospects for passage are not good, to no one’s surprise.   Congress must also make financing for renewable energy development – solar, wind and geothermal projects – more secure as President Obama has called for time and again. The uncertainty of our nation’s commitment to clean energy discourages investment from the private sector. The oil and gas industry receives billions of dollars worth of incentives each year. For the clean energy industry to take flight, Congress must at least make a commitment to renewables on par with fossil fuels.

Last, but certainly not least, the Obama administration must put in place a national program for siting and permitting responsible clean energy projects. As mentioned earlier, the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed solar-energy program stands as an example of “smart from the start” clean energy policy. It was developed with input from conservation organizations, industry representatives, clean energy advocates, utilities, and investors. The program aims to accelerate solar energy development by guiding projects to low-conflict areas that are least likely to impact imperiled wildlife and sensitive lands. This approach reduces risk for investors and provides developers with greater certainty that their projects can move forward and conservationists with greater confidence that risk to wildlife and the environment will be minimized.

If the clean energy sector goes bust, it cannot be blamed on the Obama administration, the solar and wind energy industries, or conservation groups. The blame will fall squarely on Congress, which chooses instead to complain about the lack of a national energy policy, while blocking any effort to help advance our clean energy future and pointing a finger at others for their failure to lead.

Posted in Renewables, Smart from the StartComments (0)

Attacks on oil and gas leasing reforms continue

Attacks on oil and gas leasing reforms continue

Prairie dogs are among the wildlife species impacted by oil and gas drilling in the Western U.S. (Photo: Michelle Thomas).

The Obama administration initiated reforms to make the oil and gas leasing process on public lands work better for industry, government, taxpayers, and wildlife.  The reforms have received praise and  demonstrated results – environmental groups have filed fewer objections to leases in response to this more transparent process.  The reforms have also ensured full environmental reviews that examine the risks to wildlife and provide for mitigation measures whenever potential impacts are present or when previous environmental analysis has not been completed on a site.

Energy industry groups, however, have challenged the reforms from the beginning.  Reversing the reforms would mean a return to a closed system in which companies select public land acres they want to lease for drilling and proceed to development with almost no transparency, out of reach from members of the public that want to ensure wildlife, water, air quality and other concerns are fully incorporated into decision making.

Last week, at the request of an energy industry trade group, a Federal Judge in Wyoming vacated a segment of these leasing reforms.  The Western Energy Alliance sued the Department of the Interior over Secretary Salazar’s Instruction Memorandum 2010-118 clarifying the use of categorical exclusions (CX’s), which exempt certain activities from environmental review.  This memorandum is important because it responds to deep concerns about the misuse of categorical exclusions to fast-track oil and gas development projects on public lands without adequate environmental or public review.  IM 2010-118 resolved long-standing issues (highlighted by the GAO) by making the following changes:

1.      BLM would evaluate whether “extraordinary circumstances” were present that precluded use of the CXs to skip environmental review;

2.      BLM would require environmental analysis prior to permitting new drilling at a site where drilling had occurred, but might not have been analyzed before;

3.      BLM would require specific analysis of place-based development before permitting new drilling at a site that was part of a larger field (previously not required).

The judge’s decision to vacate these three targeted reforms found that the BLM’s process for changing its position on CXs was not correct – it did not find that the changes themselves were illegal or wrong.  Industry spokespeople, however, have already tried to use this ruling as proof that leasing reforms should be thrown out or ignored.  This is an incorrect interpretation of this narrow ruling.

The ruling expressed no opinion on the merits of the agency’s policies to ensure that oil and gas drilling will not proceed without necessary environmental analysis. The court’s decision means BLM cannot rely on its 2010 guidance right now, but it does not require BLM to return to a practice of endangering our wildlife and natural resources to permit drilling without any common sense limitations. The BLM retains ultimate discretion over both deciding what lands should be leased for drilling and if, how, and when they should be drilled – and the agency can and should continue to exercise its authority wisely.

Posted in Energy, Fossil Fuels, Public LandsComments (0)

Defenders fights coal to protect wildlife and the Powder River Basin

Defenders fights coal to protect wildlife and the Powder River Basin

Thunder Basin National Grassland

The Thunder Basin National Grassland (photo from the U.S. Forest Service)

There are many environmental impacts from coal production and use, from safety threats to miners, to the landscape-level impacts of mountaintop removal and strip mining, to the resulting carbon emissions that cause global climate change.  Wildlife is one of them.

Coal mining occurs on our public lands throughout the country, especially in the West.  Some mines literally consume thousands of acres of land and require a great deal of infrastructure and resource consumption (especially and most notably, water).  These land uses destroy habitat, kill individual plants and animals, drive away local populations of wildlife, and force wildlife to compete with each other for less space and less food.  These mines also create huge barriers between areas of healthy habitat, leading to a loss of connectivity that prevents wildlife from moving through the landscape in search of food and mates.

Unfortunately, even as the public and Defenders urge our leaders toward a clean energy future, the threat of mining is far from over.  Secretary Salazar recently announced that the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management would seek to expand coal leasing in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana with the addition of at least 2.35 billion tons of coal available for mining.

As part of our ongoing work on coal mining in the Powder River Basin, Defenders recently worked with a  coalition of local, regional, and national groups to develop comments on several large coal leases that will have large-scale impacts on the Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG).  These leases—collectively called the “Wright Area Coal Lease”—would result in the strip mining and otherwise degradation or destruction of more than 29,000 acres, 11,677 of which are on the TBNG.  The areas at risk, though close to coal mines that have already been developed, support a thriving grassland ecosystem, home to species like prairie dogs, mule deer, antelope, mountain plover, sage-grouse, and various raptors.  Sagebrush and grassland ecosystems like this are incredibly sensitive and can take hundreds of years to recover from disturbance, sometimes failing to ever reach their original state again—an unfortunate reality acknowledged by the agencies analyzing this lease.

Defenders’ contribution to the coalition comments on the leases focused on the need for the Forest Service (the agency in charge of our National Grasslands, in addition to National Forests) to follow its own policy to protect wildlife.  This policy requires the Forest Service to “[e]nsure that exploration, development, and production of mineral and energy resources are conducted in an environmentally sound manner and that these activities are integrated with the planning and management of other National Forest resources.”  This is a lofty challenge for coal mining operations that can have devastating and wide-ranging environmental effects.   Accordingly, complying with this policy would require the Forest Service either to reject the lease outright or at the very least to place limits on the lease, called stipulations, which require developers to take precautions and avoid damaging environmental resources.  Specific stipulations we requested for the Wright Area leases include avoiding sensitive species habitat and limiting activities during seasons when animals are breeding or migrating.

You can learn more from our Federal Lands program and our partners at the Powder River Basin Resource Council and WildEarth Guardians.

Posted in Energy, Fossil Fuels, Public LandsComments (0)

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.