Standing for Wildlife and Our Children’s Future

090608_hand_pumping_gas While the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 has critical extensions of incentives for conservation and renewable energy, it is fatally flawed because it includes substantial new subsidies for dirty fuels that will dramatically increase global warming pollution and threaten millions of acres of wildlife habitat.

The clean energy tax incentives have passed both the Senate and House several times. I applaud the Senate’s efforts to move these into law. Unfortunately, by including sweeping new federal subsidies for oil shale, tar sands and liquid coal refining, the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 no longer represents the kind of progress America needs toconfront global warming. Specifically, the following are critical flaws in the bill:

Oil shale development would put at risk millions of acres of wildlife habitat throughout the Rocky Mountain West important to hunters, anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts. Moreover, producing transportation fuels from oil shale and tar sands would increase global warming pollution.

Even the best emerging technology for oil shale production would result in 20-45% more global warming pollution per gallon as compared to conventional gasoline. Other technologies to develop oil shale can generate up to five times as much carbon dioxide as conventional gasoline.

The United States cannot change course on its rising global warming pollution levels while so dramatically increasing the carbon dioxide in the nation’s transportation fuels.

A viable shale industry would also have significant direct impacts on wildlife, and inevitably collide with consumer water needs in the arid West.

Shale production requires at least three to five gallons of water to produce one gallon of fuel, and the vast majority of shale is located in arid states with limited water resources. The federal government reports that a viable shale industry would consume upwards of 300 million gallons of water daily – 130 percent of the City of Denver’s daily water use.

Oil shale development will destroy two million acres of essential wildlife habitat that supports economies throughout Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. This area is home to an impressive array of wildlife including the largest mule deer herd in the country, mountain lions, black bears, bald eagles and elk. This is the heart of the American West. Oil shale development will leave this iconic area of America decimated.

The "Refinery Expensing" provision in the bill promotes the production of oil shale and tar sands fuels. This provision expands the Internal Revenue Code Section 179C tax credit to refinery property that is used to directly convert oil shale and tar sands into liquid transportation fuels.

Tar sands production is four times more carbon dioxide intensive than conventional drilling and gasoline production. Tar sands also threaten wildlife habitat as they are currently being mined from Canada’s boreal forest, and could be produced in the Western United States as well. Of the half dozen U.S. refinery expansions in the permitting stage, most are multi-billion dollar expansions to take more tar sands oil from Canada. Supporting these refinery expansions through the tax code will impose high costs on taxpayers when oil companies operating in the tar sands are making record profits.

The "Carbon Capture and Sequestration Demonstration Projects" and the "Extension and Expansion of the Alternative Fuels Credit" would promote coal to liquid transportation fuels. The production and use of coal-based transportation fuels would more than double the global warming pollution per gallon as compared to conventional gasoline. It would also increase the devastating effects of coal mining felt by communities and wildlife stretching from Appalachia to the Rocky Mountains.

National Wildlife Federation strongly supports provisions in the bill that would extend federal tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that have expired or will expire at the end of this year. These incentives must be extended immediately to avoid significant harm to the developing clean energy industries in the United States. The technologies produced by these industries play a vital role in reducing global warming pollution, creating new high-wage jobs here at home, and saving consumers and businesses money on their energy bills.

The extensions would blunt the impact of high energy bills by encouraging greater use of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and therefore decrease demand for natural gas. High natural gas prices are putting significant upward pressure on inflation and consumer energy bills.

However, the increased global warming pollution and destruction of important wildlife habitat that would result from the oil shale, tar sands, and coal-to-liquid provisions in the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 outweigh the benefits of these clean energy incentives.

Larry Schweiger

Published: September 22, 2008