Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wind Power Catches a Break in Congress

The AP reports that Nick Rahall (D-WV), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has backed away from legislative language that would have effectively halted the development of wind power in the U.S. The requirement that the Interior Department regulate wind turbines to protect birds and bats has been removed from H.R.2337, the Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act of 2007.
Rahall was criticized for putting an unnecessary roadblock in the energy bill to protect coal interests from his home state. Overall, Rahall’s voting record on energy and the environment has been sound; he voted against the Bush energy monstrosity and against opening up ANWAR to more drilling. He wisely backed off the pointless wind regulation in the face of protests from environmentalists, wind energy industry and the lack of evidence that wind poses a serious threat to birds:
"We turned around what was a very bad provision," said Jaime Steve, legislative affairs director for the American Wind Energy Association, referring to getting Rahall to back away from his original proposal. It would have required the Interior Department to develop regulations affecting surveys, siting, operation and monitoring standards for wind energy projects to determine their impact on migratory birds, bats and other wildlife.
The industry cited a National Academy of Sciences study that said wind turbines accounted for only three of every 100,000 bird deaths. Domestic cats kill 1,000 times as many birds as wind turbines, Steve said, citing another study.
The proposed wind farm off the coast of Delaware faces enough hurdles as it is. If the Bluewater Wind project becomes the first of its kind to face federal regulators, it could be delayed simply because regulators don’t know what to do with a project that lacks precedent.
The energy bill, which is being marked up in committee today, contains some sound energy policy and some provisions that make little environmental or economic sense.
For instance the bill would tighten procedures for collecting royalties for the extraction of fossil fuels on public property. In recent years, oil and gas companies have managed to evade as much as $5 billion in royalties while Bush administration officials looked the other way.
On the other hand the bill would provide incentives for converting coal to diesel fuel, an expensive process that produces more carbon emissions than conventional diesel fuel.
At the heart of this confusion is the failure to distinguish between the often incompatible goals of energy independence and renewable energy. The U.S. could indeed burn more coal and reduce the demand for foreign oil, but the cost would be higher carbon emissions.

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