RESPONSIBLE ENERGY POLICY
FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Natural Resources Defense Council just released a balanced plan for U.S. energy policy that would meet the nation’s needs and save consumers billions of dollars annually -- without destroying pristine wilderness areas or rolling back environmental safeguards. The report also offers a solution for California’s electricity crisis that would not suspend state or federal air quality standards.
Among other things, NRDC’s analysis shows that President Bush’s proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to oil development would not lessen U.S. oil dependence, lower gasoline prices, or have an impact on the California electricity crisis. The president’s proposal will be the centerpiece of an omnibus Senate Republican energy bill that is expected to be introduced sometime this month.
"Drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain makes no sense from an environmental, economic or energy perspective," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC’s director of programs. "One can quibble over just how much economically recoverable oil there is under the coastal plain’s tundra, but there’s not enough to make a difference. The real solution to our energy problems is increased fuel efficiency. It would be faster, cheaper and cleaner than drilling in the refuge."
According to NRDC, drilling proponents grossly overstate how much oil could be recovered in the Arctic Refuge and understate the potential environmental consequences. The U.S. Geological Survey concluded that the area likely holds only about 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil -- less than what the nation uses in six months. Production would be spread over the 50 years of the field’s lifetime and would likely peak at 150 million barrels per year in 2027 -- amounting to only 1.5 percent of projected U.S. consumption that year. Given that current U.S. demand for oil -- which is more than 7.1 billion barrels per year -- is increasing about 2 percent annually, the coastal plain would contribute less than 1 percent of the oil we are projected to consume over the next 50 years. Moreover, even if oil companies started exploration in the Arctic Refuge today, it would take at least 10 years for the first oil to arrive at West Coast refineries.
The cornerstone of NRDC’s plan is increased energy efficiency relying on readily available and cost-effective processes and technologies. In the short term, the plan calls for increased reliance on natural gas as a bridge to renewable and environmentally sound energy sources in the future. Correspondingly, the plan calls for reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels -- oil and coal.
Key NRDC recommendations include:
"The United States cannot produce its way out of oil dependence," said Dr. Daniel Lashof, an NRDC senior scientist. "What we can do is dampen U.S. consumption, which amounts to about 25 percent of world petroleum demand. For example, increasing average fuel efficiency for new cars, SUVs and light trucks to 39 miles per gallon over the next decade would save 51 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years -- more than 15 times the likely yield from the Arctic Refuge."
NRDC does welcome provisions it expects to see in the Senate Republican energy bill providing tax incentives for energy-efficiency improvements, but the group rejects any legislation allowing oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge in exchange for energy-efficiency measures. "As long as the Bush administration and Senator Frank Murkowski insist on opening the Arctic Refuge to oil development, the positive elements in their package are nothing more than a Trojan horse," said Chuck Clusen, an NRDC senior policy analyst. "If Republican leaders are serious about enacting energy-efficiency provisions, they’ll have to come up with a clean bill."
Finally, the public does not support oil development in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. According to a Associated Press poll announced last week, Americans, by a 53 to 33 percent margin, oppose the plan to explore for oil in the refuge. (An additional 13 percent said they did not know.)
Written by: Natural Resources Defense Council
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