Energy & Environment

Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump's dirty fossil fuel agenda

As we clean up after Harvey and Irma and nervously expect more climate change-fueled superstorms, it is worth emphasizing that the United States currently has no global warming strategy.

That's right - despite a scientific consensus that greenhouse pollutants make us more vulnerable to extreme weather, the Trump administration has dropped out of the Paris climate agreement, refused to implement the Clean Power Plan and drastically increased support for coal mining and oil and gas drilling across the country.

The U.S. Senate could make it even worse. One bill in particular, S. 1460, introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) this summer, advances President Trump's dirty fossil fuel agenda in countless ways.

The legislation includes a gift for nearly every polluting industry. Its passage would take us exactly in the wrong direction at a time when we must transition to cleaner energy. Most egregiously, should it win approval, the country's first energy bill to pass in more than two decades outlines no vision for renewable energy.

The most obvious gift to Trump in the bill are its "carbon capture and storage" (CCS) provisions - a big component of the administration's ill-advised effort to rejuvenate U.S. coal production.

Although the federal government has already wasted billions on failed carbon capture attempts, highlighted by the recent decision by the Kemper Plant in Mississippi to abandon CCS, this bill would authorize more than $3 billion in research and development for coal carbon capture and storage. That represents a significant lost opportunity for investment in renewable technologies.

The bill also promotes natural gas fracking and the transport and export of this volatile and highly harmful greenhouse fuel. One provision effectively allows FERC to rubber stamp liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals by shortening the public's ability to comment and protest projects under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Another section would further rubber stamp FERC decisions by forcing all other federal and state agencies, which conduct their own reviews of LNG export projects, to "give deference" to FERC review. This would end local efforts by cities and states to contain harmful fossil fuel projects.

More LNG export plants mean more dangerous fracking and drilling across the country.

Yet another appalling proposal in the bill would authorize $35 million for the research and development of methane hydrates, a highly controversial new source of natural gas. Methane hydrates, a crystalline mix of frozen methane and water, contain an immense amount of methane. When burned, they will release vast amounts of this highly potent greenhouse gas.

Methane hydrates are found in currently inaccessible deposits on the ocean floor. Extracting them would cause major environmental harm. Given the availability of cheap, clean solar and wind power, strip-mining our ocean floors is incredibly foolish.

If this is not enough, the bill also foolishly authorizes the Interior Secretary and Bureau of Land Management to establish a pilot program explicitly designed to undermine environmental analysis and public input by rushing reviews and approvals for oil and gas development, furthering our fossil fuel addiction.

The program would allow for an initial pilot program of more than 2,000 oil and gas wells to establish an approval streamlining process. It will also fund more than 10 other equivalent pilot projects - some 20,000 more oil and gas wells - in other states. This gives the Trump administration and its renegade Department of the Interior the green light to do great damage to our federal public lands.

Thus, as our brightest scientists are demonstrating that a vast majority of the nation's power could today be generated by clean and renewable energy sources, the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 ignores this revolution.

Instead, this retrograde bill embraces coal, fracking and the development of insanely dangerous methane hydrates - all at the expense of public health and our global climate.

Kill this bill. We can and must do much better.

William Snape is senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity and an assistant dean at American University, Washington College of Law.

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