Clean Energy: Working for Wildlife

Offshore wind turbines (Photo credit: London Array)
Offshore wind turbines (Photo credit: London Array)
It is well known that the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon and other pollutants into the air when burned, which directly contribute to climate change and pose a dire threat to wildlife, communities, and public health. Luckily, nonpolluting sources of energy can displace dirty fossil fuel use while offering a range of environmental and economic advantages. To avoid increasingly devastating impacts on wildlife and communities, we must take action through the support of clean energy tax credits and a strong Clean Power Plan to speed the transition to zero-carbon sources of energy.

The Deepwater ONE agreement works to protect right whales and other marine mammals. Photo credit: NOAA
NWF works to protect right whales and other marine mammals while supporting offshore wind. (Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/NOAA)

Clean Energy Solutions

Wind, solar, and sustainable biomass present affordable, responsible clean energy opportunities we must invest in for the future of wildlife. All three can produce renewable, emission-free electricity that can help reduce air and water pollution and carbon emissions and slow climate change. Responsibly developed wind energy offers a substantial, economically feasible, and wildlife-friendly energy opportunity for America. Onshore wind power in the U.S. is already powering more than 15.5 million homes and offshore wind – which has yet to be tapped – is estimated to hold four times the total annual U.S. energy demand!

Solar is another clean, abundant source of energy. Growing global demand for solar energy has led to the price of solar panels plunging 70% in the past 5 years. Sustainable biofuels and biomass can also be part of the solution. Biomass comes from fields, forests, industry and food processing, garbage, sewage, and animal manure. New techniques for growing and utilizing biomass resources make it a viable renewable fuel option for many parts of the U.S.

Recognizing that all types of energy development can have impacts on wildlife and habitat, wind turbines and solar panels must be responsibly developed and monitored to minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitat. For biomass to be sustainable and wildlife-friendly, it is necessary to maintain sustainable forest management that protects biodiversity and habitat values. Offshore wind can and must be developed with strong environmental protections in place, and NWF has played a leadership role in ensuring that happens, including securing a precedent setting agreement with the industry to protect endangered Right Whales off the Atlantic Coast.

Warmer water poses risks to salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Declines in salmon impact other animals that depend on them, like bears. (photo credit: Greg Tucker)
Warmer water poses risks to salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Declines in salmon impact other animals that depend on them, like bears. (photo credit: NWF Photo Contest/Greg Tucker)

Wildlife Depend on a Clean Energy Future!

Climate change poses an unprecedented threat to the wildlife and wild places we cherish. If we don’t take decisive action now to reduce carbon pollution, one-third of all wildlife species will face increased risk of extinction within the next century. Changes to our climate are destroying critical wildlife habitat, causing habitat ranges to shift, increasing incidence of pests and invasive species, and decreasing availability of food and water. Just as important as how our climate is changing, is that it is changing so fast that species may not be able to adapt or relocate fast enough to more suitable areas. Unless we and our leaders take significant action now, climate change will become the greatest threat to wildlife this century.

The benefits of clean energy go beyond protecting wildlife from climate change. A movement towards clean energy will reduce numerous additional pollutants and harmful byproducts of fossil fuel power that are damaging to wildlife, their habitats, and our health. By moving away from dirty fuels like coal, clean energy sources will also help protect wildlife from coal mining practices that destroy habitat, toxic air and water pollution that poison fish and wildlife, and destructive water intake systems at power plants that pose a direct threat to numerous aquatic species. Additionally, oil and gas exploration and drilling are seriously affecting species like pronghorn, sage grouse, and mule deer who depend on sagebrush habitat.

Strong Clean Energy Policy Benefits Wildlife

The good news is, we can take action today to advance clean energy solutions that will protect wildlife and reduce pollution. While there is much positive momentum in wind development, this growing industry faces tough challenges in competing with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. Federal financial incentives such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) are vital to strengthening the foundation of the American wind industry. Unfortunately, Congress allowed both tax credits to expire, once again, in 2013. Congress must act now to extend these critical tax incentives to continue expanding onshore and offshore wind development and sustain this job-creating, wildlife-friendly clean energy industry in America.

Pronghorn are threatened by both climate change and oil and gas development (photo credit: USFWS)
Pronghorn are threatened by both climate change and oil and gas development (photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/USFWS)
The Clean Power Plan (CPP) also presents a major opportunity to advance clean energy in America. The CPP is a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from our electric power sector. One of the solutions that states can use to reduce carbon emissions under the CPP is to increase reliance on clean energy sources. However, the EPA’s estimates about how much renewable energy states can deploy were very conservative, and even more can be achieved from clean, wildlife-friendly renewable energy. EPA must finalize the Clean Power Plan in a strong form that helps speed the transition to clean energy.

Take ActionSpeak up for wildlife: Tell the EPA you support limits on carbon pollution and action on climate change!