NRDC Proposes 'Responsible' Energy Policy for the 21st Century

Report shows that America can meet its energy needs without drilling in Alaska Wildlife Refuge or suspending clean-air standards in California

WASHINGTON (February 6, 2001) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today 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:

  • raising fuel economy standards for new cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other light trucks to an average of 39 miles per gallon over the next decade;

  • requiring replacement tires to be as fuel-efficient as the original tires on new vehicles;

  • expanding programs to weatherize housing for low-income Americans;

  • keeping development out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and sensitive offshore areas, including moratorium areas, Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico;

  • maintaining protections for sensitive onshore public lands and extend protection to other special places;

  • establishing comprehensive limits on power plant air pollution covering emissions of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and mercury;

  • ending subsidies for so-called "clean coal" technology and nuclear power;

  • providing incentives for the construction of energy-efficient buildings and manufacturing of energy efficient heating, cooling and water-heating equipment; and

  • planning a gas pipeline if needed to deliver Prudhoe Bay gas to the lower 48 states that follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Alaska-Canadian Highway, complies with all environmental laws, and incorporates the best pipeline safety and environmental measures.

"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.)