What We're Doing

Policy Solution

We fight dirty energy projects on all fronts—from offshore oil rigs in the Arctic to fracking rigs in people’s backyards.

Policy Solution

With the Clean Power Plan in place, we are defending its carbon pollution limits and making its goals a reality.

Policy Solution

From warheads to uranium mines to waste piles, we try to reduce the dangers of nuclear energy.

Policy Solution

We push the oil and gas industry to limit methane pollution, which traps more than 80 times as much heat on our planet as carbon dioxide.

Policy Solution

We help China—the world's largest fossil-fuel consumer—reduce pollution and move toward clean energy.

Policy Solution

We fight to shield the Arctic and Atlantic from the devastating hazards of oil drilling.

Related Priorities

What You Can Do

Protect your community from crude oil "bomb trains"

Are you one of the 25 million Americans who live along a crude-by-rail route? Here's how to find out and what you can do about it.

Tell your congressman to stop dirty fossil fuels

How to tackle fracking in your community

Urge your governor to lead on climate action

Tell Trump we won't stop fighting global climate change

Keep the KXL tar sands pipeline out of Nebraska

Experts & Resources

SAN FRANCISCO—The Natural Resources Defense Council today signed a historic proposal with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), labor unions, and other environmental groups to replace Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant with zero-emissions energy--including energy efficiency, wind, and sol

Solar and Wind Cheaper Than Biomass to Reliably Power the UK
Sasha Stashwick

A new study concludes that there is no economic or strategic case for coal-to-biomass conversion in the United Kingdom. While the biomass industry tries to convince you otherwise, new economic modeling shows that solar and wind can reliably meet the United Kingdom’s new electricity needs—and they can do so more cheaply than new biomass. Burning biomass for electricity thus not only undermines the United Kingdom’s climate change goals and actually makes the problem worse, it does so at huge taxpayer expense while diverting resources from cleaner and smarter economic investments.

The analysis, commissioned by NRDC and executed by Vivid Economics, a London-based consultancy with expertise U.K. energy systems, demonstrates that by 2020, total economic costs of biomass will be higher than onshore wind and solar, including the costs of integrating solar and wind into the grid. In 2025, in all cases, biomass will be higher cost than all forms of wind and solar. Biomass capacity that is already installed will be running at reduced capacity in 2025. This is due to high fuel and carbon costs for these facilities. Instead, it is cheaper to build new solar and wind capacity. If new biomass conversions were to be constructed, the results of the economic modelling indicate that they would become stranded assets—meaning uneconomic to run for any purpose—within the decade.

In 2015, the United Kingdom became first country to commit to a time-bound phase-out of coal and emerged as a global leader in the fight against climate change. U.K. citizens likely assumed this meant the country’s old dirty coal plants would be shut down. Unfortunately, the U.K. government has continued to rely heavily on converting old coal-fired power stations, like Drax power station, to burn biomass primarily through subsidies meant to meet climate and renewables targets. The result is more climate pollution and hundreds of millions in scarce taxpayer resources up in smoke. 

Underpinning the U.K. government’s costly embrace of bioenergy are two myths, frequently touted by the biomass industry and its proponents: first, that bioenergy is a “carbon neutral” or zero-carbon source of electricity, on par with other renewables like solar and wind; and second, that unlike solar and wind, biomass-fueled electricity ensures the reliability of the United Kingdom’s electricity supply and is therefore a necessary investment.

The industry has perpetuated these myths and recycled the same tired arguments for years. It’s not surprising, since their subsidies depend on it. According to its 2016 Annual Report, Drax alone earned £541.43 million in subsidies for its biomass conversions, all under programs intended to promote clean, renewable energy. That’s the equivalent of £1.48 million per day!

But both have now been debunked.

Debunked Myth #1: Biomass is a low-carbon form of electricity.

Multiple peer-reviewed studies (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example) have concluded that most forms of forest-derived biomass are a high-carbon fuel, even compared to coal. This is particularly true when the biomass is from whole trees and other large-diameter wood. Burning this biomass for electricity increases, not decreases, carbon emissions for many decades—far beyond the emissions reduction timeframes that guide EU or U.K. climate policy and are critical to avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

Faced with years of conclusive science, the biomass industry now disputes that their sources of biomass are high-carbon, claiming to use only lower-carbon “wastes” and “forest residues”. Years of on-the-ground investigations documenting industry sourcing practices show plainly that this is not true. In its recent report, the pre-eminent U.K. think tank Chatham House underscores the conclusions of previous studies, which found that about three-quarters of the wood pellets from the southern United States came from whole trees and other large diameter wood, while residues accounted for only a quarter.

Debunked Myth #2: Drax will try to scare the public.

They’ll argue that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, so the United Kingdom needs biomass as a “baseload” source of electricity generation or the lights will go out. And once you take into account the costs of integrating “intermittent” renewables like solar and wind into the grid, biomass is a cost-effective investment in system reliability.    

The new study directly addresses both these claims. First, it demonstrates that during cold, dark, windless periods, the U.K. electricity system can meet its needs for generation and reliability without needing to add new biomass capacity as it phases out coal. Second, the economic modeling shows that by 2025, even if already installed, biomass would be costlier to operate than building completely new solar and wind capacity, even when the costs of integrating them into the grid are fully accounted for. Biomass will be too costly to meet day-to-day electricity demand, and will also not be able to compete with least-cost options to meet the reliability requirements of the electricity system (i.e. to accommodate peak demand). In 2025, it is more cost-effective to deploy a combination of wind, solar and natural gas generation to meet the objective of reliability of supply than to deploy biomass generation, even in order to meet the United Kingdom’s legally binding carbon constraints. These results hold true even for scenarios that do not fully account for biomass carbon emissions and their associated costs.

There are a number of uncertainties that could influence the range of these outcomes - but not their overall trends and findings - most notably, biomass fuel costs and the rate at which offshore wind costs continue to fall in the United Kingdom. This week’s Contracts for Difference auction results reveal that offshore wind is now available to the United Kingdom at £57.50/MWh, significantly beating expectations. This is half the cost of similar auctions conducted only two years ago, and offshore wind prices could fall further in future. Thus, offshore wind in particular offers the United Kingdom a substantial strategic investment opportunity that could significantly reduce the overall cost of the U.K. generation mix and help achieve the country’s climate change goals. By contrast, the bulk of biomass costs (roughly 85%) remains fuel costs, which forms a floor on potential cost reductions.

To put this into pounds and pence, Vivid Economics calculated the impact on U.K. government subsidy expenditures if Drax received support via a Contract for Difference to convert its 4th coal-fired unit, a 645 MW boiler, to biomass. Vivid found that the total excess implicit subsidy [1] to Drax would be more than £360 million over five years if offshore wind prices are £60/MWh or lower, which they now are. This amount of money could buy the country roughly 1 Gigawatt (GW) of offshore wind generation.

The environmental and economic evidence is now clear. Not only is biomass a dirty form of energy, but any additional subsidies for coal-to-biomass conversions is money sunk into a dying industry, rather than invested in the smart, truly clean, and growing renewable energy sector—akin to investing in steam trains in the jet engine era.

The United Kingdom’s leadership position on climate action is now slipping because of debunked assumptions about biomass carbon neutrality, and its leadership on clean energy is at risk because of lost opportunities for investment. Continued investment in biomass would further this risk, and foreclose an opportunity for the United Kingdom to offer up a global model for efficient, strategic government spending in support of the truly clean, 21st century energy solutions we need.

In the fight against climate change, we have no time or resources to waste. Policymakers must make decisions based on facts, not tired old myths and industry fear-mongering. Today, a reliable, coal-free electricity grid dominated by truly clean wind and solar energy is not only possible, but is the smart economic choice.


[1] An approach to subsidy calculation that reflects the gap between consumer prices and economically efficient prices.

What's At Stake
Why We Must Stop the Flow of Tar Sands Oil
This dirty, dangerous oil, which is almost impossible to clean and affects the health of people, is bad news for our country—and the planet.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Anthony Swift, director, NRDC Canada Project: So right now, about two million barrels a day of tar sands oil is getting into the U.S., and most of it is coming in via pipelines.

The Canadian oil industry has plans to nearly double the amount of tar sands coming into the U.S.—by tanker, by barge, by rail, and by pipeline. These plans would be catastrophic for communities across the country, would increase the risks of tar sands pipeline spills and tar sands by rail spills.

We've seen even in our current situation over 400 spills on our pipeline system every year. That's over a spill a day.

Oil spills are always bad news, but many people don't realize that tar sand spills are even worse. When tar sands is spilled in water bodies, it will sink. Take, for example, in 2010, a pipeline ruptured and spilled a million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River.

Our responders found they didn't have the tools to clean or contain that spill, and the end result was a cleanup that cost over $1 billion, and over 40 miles of the river is still contaminated with tar sands, nearly six years after the spill.

Tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest oil in the world. One of the byproducts is petcoke, or petroleum coke. It's a coal-like substance that builds up in piles in refineries that process tar sands, and those petcoke piles pose major health risks to the communities that surround them.

We're finding tar sands also produces air pollution, which increases incidences of respiratory illnesses and asthma in communities that live around these tar sand refineries.

No matter what Big Oil says, the United States does not need more tar sands. Neither does Canada.

And you know, we've got new solutions that are cleaner for our communities and better for our climate.

If the public rallies together, we can stop these dangerous, dirty projects, and protect our future for decades to come.

Sign NRDC's solidarity pledge against the Keystone XL

Policy Primer

Yes, Trump has green-lighted the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But Nebraska’s got a slew of public hearings on the calendar, and legal challenges loom large.

Action Figure

The founder of Bold Nebraska has led the Cornhusker State’s years-long rallying cry against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.

Guide

How a single pipeline project became the epicenter of an enormous environmental battle

Midwest Dispatch

Meet some of the people who are striving to stop TransCanada’s dirty tar sands oil pipeline once and for all.

On Location

Residents of coastal Maine speak out against the dangerous transport of Canada’s tar sands oil through U.S. waters.

Personal Action

Are you one of the 25 million Americans who live along a crude-by-rail route? Here's how to find out and what you can do about it.

NRDC in Action

For more than a decade, we've fought to keep this filthy fossil fuel from being dredged up and piped through the United States.

onEarth Story

In Donald Trump’s war on the environment, Americans’ complacency is his greatest ally.

onEarth Story

Five years ago, a pipeline spilled a million gallons of tar sands crude into a Michigan river—and we’re still cleaning it up.

onEarth Story

A new study finds that even small smudges of oil can have huge impacts on flight and a bird’s energy budget.

Explainer

Tar sands oil is harder to clean up than conventional crude. Here are the reasons why.

onEarth Story

The strong, erratic currents of the Straits of Mackinac could make an oil spill disastrous for two lakes and a whole lot of coastline.

Harvey Exposed Oil Issues We Must Address
Jacob Eisenberg

The catastrophe of Hurricane Harvey is now shedding light on how climate change – manifesting in the form of stronger and more intense weather events – can bring enormous destruction to communities. Because the region hit by Harvey also serves as a home base to much of the country’s oil industry and infrastructure, there is another story to be told about the how the storm is unleashing toxic pollution to land, water, and air. It is too early to tell the full extent of the environmental impact of the hurricane as many of the impacts to the region are still unfolding.

The storm caused the oil industry losses. But we’re learning more and more about damage to industry refineries, petrochemical plants, and transportation infrastructure which also endangers the health of the already-beleaguered population in proximity. We’ve learned of dozens of toxic air emissions events, oil spills, and other instances where oil industry assets released pollution. In the short-term, Harvey should serve as a wake-up call for industry’s need to prepare for more climate-related severe weather. But the storm showed how essential it is for us to move away from a system so reliant on petroleum, both because of local toxic impacts and its contribution to climate change.

Fossil fuel infrastructure in Hurricane Harvey's path as a Category 4 storm

Map by Kira Minehart

On the ground, the concentration of oil processing plants and infrastructure in southeastern Texas has helped add toxic chemical releases to the list of issues residents and evacuees are already facing. Within 100 miles of Harvey’s path as a Category 4 Hurricane, there were 33 oil refineries with the capacity to process a total of 1,926 million barrels of oil per day, 2,751 miles of crude oil pipeline, and 1,443 offshore oil and gas platforms. Too much of it failed to fully withstand the extreme conditions faced during Harvey. And when oil infrastructure fails, human health and the environment are put at risk.

Government officials and the news media made dozens early reports of instances where the hurricane has allowed toxic pollution to be released into the air and flood waters. Houston residents had complained of an “unbearable” chemical smell and almost three dozen air emission event reports by 18 facilities precipitated by Harvey have been submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). An air emission event is an instance in which refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, or other facilities have released more air pollution than they’re permitted.

Emissions events as of September 1st. Data: TCEQ

Map by Kira Minehart

In some cases, companies opted to “flare” gases. Flaring is intended to be used by refineries as an escape valve when internal systems fail. In a well-designed and operated refinery, the process gases are recycled back into the refinery to power it. However, when a refinery has to abruptly and unexpectedly shut down, or sometimes as the result of a malfunction, there are excess process gases that have to be disposed of quickly. In those cases, the gases are flared, which sends hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere.

Other facilities released pollution after taking damage from the storm. A set of ExxonMobil refineries leaked hazardous gases; one after the floating roof of a storage tank partially sank under Harvey’s heavy rains, while the other saw damage to a component that captures sulfur dioxide emissions. The latter of those refineries has also released oil onto a nearby road. A set of tanks damaged by the storm spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil—a harmful release that we can only hope will be unique. And Skytruth, through analysis of recent satellite imagery, was able to identify onshore a handful of fracking sites where stored chemicals likely escaped into floodwaters, including one just 400 yards from a home. Fracking wastewater poses a variety of health risks to humans, including the ability to cause reproductive and developmental health problems.

Much of the pollution coming from oil industry facilities and infrastructure is toxic. Benzene, a carcinogen, was among the most common released into the air during Harvey, per TCEQ reports. But there are others that are known to be severely irritating to human respiratory and nervous systems released across the city. Similarly, the flood water has become, the New York Times described, “a sea of health and environmental hazards,” with a huge range of pollutants from oil infrastructure, superfund sites, and sewage.

It’s worth noting, however, that Hurricane Harvey’s impacts are not limited to the area touched by the storm. As described above, Southeastern Texas is the center of the oil industry’s refining and transportation infrastructure. The concentration of oil industry facilities is so high, in fact, that the Harvey-induced closure of oil refineries has reduced the United States’ total oil refining capacity by 24 percent at the worst point. Needless to say, the closures have started sending gasoline prices upward across the country. The shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries diesel and jet fuel from Houston to New York—40 percent of the South’s gasoline—doesn’t help matters. Where consumers and businesses need stability, the oil industry can only offer price volatility.

Hurricane Harvey will likely be counted among the worst natural disasters of our time. If policy makers truly want to address the underlying problem of climate change which creates these more intense storms—reducing oil production would be a great place to start.

We should continue pursuing policies to push higher automotive fuel efficiency, which reduces transportation sector emissions and buffers consumers against gas pump price volatility. Supporting a transition to electric vehicles through tax incentives and investment in EV infrastructure would go further, especially as our electric sector undertakes a parallel clean-energy revolution. And smart infrastructure planning can motivate citizens, particularly in urban areas, to take advantage of efficient public transportation options, walk, and/or bike more often. By reducing our dependence on oil, we can reduce the congestion of oil infrastructure in areas like southeastern Texas, where it will continue to threaten the health of Americans. Unfortunately, President Trump’s administration is working to curtail these very solutions.

There’s a process lesson here, too. President Trump’s administration has made regulatory rollbacks and the fast-tracking of energy and infrastructure projects a priority. But the President should think twice before attacking safeguards, like the Chemical Disaster Rule his EPA is delaying, put in place to protect Americans. And as he pursues a transportation bill, one of his legislative priorities, he should consider how it could be used to, among other things, shore up vulnerable infrastructure that places our communities and environment at risk.

Hurricane Harvey was worse than a worst-case scenario. But, as Times columnist David Leonhardt put it, “the severity of Harvey…is almost certainly related to climate change,” which means the United States could see more storms like it. Hopefully we can use this experience to better prepare our systems for the next one.

Watt’s It to You? Perks of Michigan Energy Planning
Ariana Gonzalez

Michigan wisely passed clean energy legislation back in December, but starting today that legislation is giving you a voice. The legislation kicked off an energy planning process where you can tell your Commissioners in person or in written comments what your vision of a better today and tomorrow should look like.

The Vision

When you envision the life you want, what do you see? Probably a picture where you and your family are happy and healthy. Where you are employed and financially comfortable. Maybe you see yourself hiking Empire’s Sleeping Bear Dunes or grilling at Detroit’s Palmer Park with the sun shining, the sky clear, and the crisp, fresh air easy to breathe. Or maybe you love the holidays and picture your family huddled around a lit Christmas tree, watching the snow fall from your warm, cozy couch.

The energy planning process currently underway can help create these moments. It keeps your air cleaner, keeps your home temperature just right, and keeps your money in your pocket.

How does this energy planning process get us to your vision? Think of it like cooking. You put something in the recipe and get something out. If you decide you want a certain result, then you will plan and be more selective about your ingredients. If you want clean, affordable, reliable energy today and tomorrow, then we must figure out what we want to put in our energy planning cookbook.

You Get Out What You Put In

What combination of inputs will put us on the path to achieve this vision? Two resources that have proven themselves as clean, affordable, reliable and job creating are renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Clean

Neither energy efficiency nor renewables use fuel that pollutes our air and water with harmful carbon, methane, or nuclear waste. Both instead lower the amount of pollutants and therefore lower the number and costs of pollution related health issues.  In fact, new analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that utility-scale solar and wind energy generation in the United States prevented up to 12,700 early deaths from 2007 to 2015, and contributed to as much as $112.8 billion in air quality benefits. If that feels too removed from your day to day, on the efficiency side, the Department of Energy found that enhanced energy efficiency upgrades have been shown to reduce indoor air contaminants linked to chronic illnesses, control environmental contaminants (dust mites, mold/moisture) that can trigger respiratory symptoms, and improve symptoms of asthma and other respiratory health conditions.

Affordable

Skeptics will say that affordable energy efficiency and renewables are only possibilities in the distant future. In reality, both renewable energy and energy efficiency are affordable now and show forecasts of continued cost competitiveness. In fact, the most recent Michigan Public Service Commission report shows energy efficiency and renewables together are more affordable than any new source, including new natural gas plants with energy efficiency and renewables combining for $37.43 per MWh versus $66.23 per MWh. Additionally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that wind and solar will be among the most competitive sources in the future compared to  natural gas.

Job Creating

Finally, both renewable energy and energy efficiency have spurred the growth of a strong clean energy economy in the state that employs over 87,000 Michiganders. These jobs include everything from welders for wind turbines to roof insulators and administrative assistants—they are for those with PhDs or no degrees.  

The Perks of Planning

By planning, we don’t leave our vision of a happy, healthy, and affordable today and tomorrow to chance. We can both dictate the Michigan we want, while ensuring there are no-regrets protections when challenges inevitably arise. Through the spring and summer, the state held meetings to get inputs to Michigan’s planning process. They drafted a proposal and are now asking for public comments including three public hearings across the state:

Date: Wednesday, September 6
Time: 1:00pm – 5:00 pm
Location: Schoolcraft College
     18600 Haggerty Rd
     Livonia, MI 48152

Date: Wednesday, September 13
Time: 1:00pm – 5:00 pm
Location: L.V. Eberhard Center
     301 West Fulton, Room 210
    Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Date: Wednesday, September 19
Time: 12:00pm – 4:00 pm
Location: Northern Michigan University
     University Center – Huron/Erie Room
     1401 Presque Isle
     Marquette, MI 49855

If you are unable to attend, written comments must be submitted by October 6 to Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, MI 48909.  Electronic comments may be e-mailed to [email protected].  All comments should reference Case No. U-18418. 

At first glance, the proposal may look pretty technical, but comments are not limited to specifics like forecasted natural gas prices and efficiency cost curves. The Commissioners also want to hear your overarching support for more stakeholder involvement, getting as much energy efficiency and renewables as possible, and pursuing carbon reducing scenarios.

Now is your chance to be heard. Mark your calendars and join us in telling the Commission what the Michigan you want looks like.  

This blog is part two of a series that will help you keep an eye on the recently passed energy bills and energy planning process. Just like a “watt” is a unit (like an inch or gallon) for measuring electricity, this blog will measure how Michigan’s energy legislation will impact your life. 

New York State Blocks the Valley Lateral Pipeline!
Rob Friedman Kimberly Ong

In a victory for all New Yorkers, the state has blocked a natural gas pipeline that would have threatened upstate residents’ health, water quality and communities, citing climate change concerns.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied the water quality certification to the Valley Lateral Pipeline today, a 7.9 mile, 16-inch diameter fracked gas pipeline that would have connected the existing Millennium Pipeline to the highly controversial 650-megawatt gas-powered CPV Valley Energy Center in Orange County, New York. To support its denial, DEC explained that the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to consider climate change impacts in its environmental review of the pipeline. Without this key certification, the pipeline cannot move forward in New York State.

Map of the Valley Lateral Pipeline

This decision comes just weeks after the DC Circuit ruled that FERC must consider a pipeline’s cumulative downstream greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of the natural gas transported by the pipeline as part of its environmental review. In its denial letter, DEC cites the decision as an impetus for its denial, stating that, pursuant to DEC regulations, DEC may deny a permit for failure to comply with any statute or regulation under which the permit is sought, including environmental review requirements. Because FERC failed to consider indirect effects of greenhouse gas emissions in its environmental review that will result from burning the gas that the Pipeline will transport to CPV Valley Energy Center, DEC has denied 401 certification to the pipeline.

NRDC opposed this project because it would harm New York State’s water quality by crossing 23 wetlands. Pipeline construction would have also cleared 117 acres of land, leading to increased runoff and erosion into nearby streams.

Moreover, the water quality impacts of this pipeline should not be considered in isolation—this pipeline is just a segment of a larger project that includes the CPV Valley Energy Center. Because both the pipeline and the power plant are just components of a project, their environmental impacts should be considered together. Notably, at this time, CPV will have no supply of natural gas without the Valley Lateral Project.

Grassroots advocates have been fighting the Valley Lateral and CPV Energy Center for over 5 years

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press

Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Basil Seggos should be commended for their bold decision to stop this pipeline from moving forward. Blocking this pipeline over its potential climate impacts is a historic breakthrough in our fight to move New York away from fossil fuels, and a hard-fought victory for grassroots leaders across the state that have been fighting these projects for many years.

This is a historic victory in the fight to protect people and communities from the impacts of fossil fuel pipelines in New York. The state is sending a clear message that we are building a future centered on clean energy—not dirty fossil fuels—in New York.

When we fight, we win. Onwards.

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