A day after the House passed plans to ease the offshore drilling ban, I spoke with prominent environmental lobbyist Martin Hayden on the legislation and his reactions. Hayden is the Vice President of Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice, one of the largest non-profit public interest law firms "dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment." Hayden represents Earthjustice on Capitol Hill and he and his staff have played a key role in fighting efforts to undermine protections for our air, water, national forests and other public lands.
Kuhn: What are the positives and negatives of the offshore oil drilling bill was just passed by the House?
Hayden: Bottom line is that Congress needs to put us on a path to a new energy future that will create clean energy jobs in the US, combat global warming and make it so our nation's energy policy is not held hostage by Big Oil in the future. The Comprehensive American Energy Security Act contained a number of policies that move us in the right direction, including tax credits for electricity produced from wind and solar, incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles and a National Renewable Electricity Standard (15% by 2020, of which 4% could come from efficiency). The last represents a deal reached in the House on the energy bill a year ago and current state RESs (Renewable Electricity Standard ) on the books are projected by the Union of Concerned Scientists to nearly surpass that goal. Unfortunately, the bill also has a number of policies that move us in exactly the wrong direction. The one everyone has heard about - opening up the Pacific and Atlantic coasts from 100-200 miles automatically and from 50-100 miles with approval by state legislature and governor. And the one you may not have -a last minute addition to provide for the elimination of the moratorium on the development of an oil shale leasing program in the Intermountain West. Oil Shale was the synfuels debacle of the 1980s and it is exactly the wrong direction for our nation as we face a warming world. Oil shale production produces up to 5 times the CO2 than conventional gasoline. The fact that is it located in the arid West and uses 5 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced only adds to the concern.
Kuhn: Arizona Republican Congressman John Shadegg wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the bill "will not produce a single drop of oil...because it does nothing about environmental groups that are suing to stop drilling."
Hayden: Mr. Shadegg's introduction last week of a bill that authorizes the President or his designee to "waive any legal requirement...to a covered energy project," (H.R. 6887) is perhaps the biggest insult to the millions of Americans who depend on these laws to ensure clean air, clean water and protections for our lands, oceans and environment. He ignores the fact that environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which include specific provisions for citizens to challenge decisions -- oil leases included -- to ensure their legal compliance, were enacted during the Nixon administration at a time when rivers caught fire, bald eagle populations were decimated, and beaches were flooded with oil spills and pollution. Congress, when drafting these and other environmental laws, recognized the reality that government often doesn't have the resources -- or the will -- to enforce laws that protect our environment and public health, and specifically included citizen enforcement provisions. Our legal and democratic rights in these environmental laws remain the envy of the rest of the world. It seems Mr. Shadegg would like to extend a similar free hand to Big Oil that the sub-prime mortgage industry enjoyed.
Kuhn: British Energy Secretary John Hutton stated on the BBC that energy security "now takes priority over everything, even climate change." As an environmental lobbyist, what do you make of Hutton's remarks?
Hayden: Our failure to address global warming is apt to lead us to far greater security challenges around the world than energy security. Projected reductions in aerable land suitable for food production, water shortages and population displacement from sea level rise will lead to far more substantial security challenges than energy if we don't make addressing climate change the world's and our nation's top priority. Military leaders are taking notice. See the following Pentagon report.
Another renowned Brit, economist Sir Nicholas Stern, has written what many believe to be the authoritative discussion on the future impacts of global warming. Stern has warned that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20 percent. Stern wrote: "our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century."
Kuhn: In regards to offshore drilling, what is next for the bill and how will Earthjustice play a role in this national discussion?
Hayden: Offshore drilling is too narrow of a view of what is going on in Washington right now. There are four energy proposals headed to the Senate floor in the next few days.
One would be worth enacting, the extension of the renewable energy tax credits for electricity produced from wind and solar that are set to expire this year, were it not for the last minute addition of incentives for liquid coal, oil shale and tar sands. The others are in various stages of drafting and they include proposals by "the gang of ten" (New Energy Reform Act), Senators Bingaman and Baucus, and a measure by Senator McConnell. All will have various degrees of drilling off our coasts, with the McConnell proposal having the most drilling. They will also be promoting dirty fuel provisions, like liquid coal. Some will have oil shale. The first two will have energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions, but the overall problem remains that these bills do not prevent our nation's energy policy from being held hostage by Big Oil in the future. It is very unclear that any of these last three proposals get the 60 votes they need to clear the Senate. Earthjustice will continue to fight for policies that put us on the path to a clean energy future and against proposals that keep us shackled to Big Oil and King Coal.