Toward a Clean Energy Future that Protects Our Water

by Lynn Thorp

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is being quoted about how unlikely it is that his Committee will pass the Clean Energy Standard (CES) – or even a bill to repeal massive oil industry subsidies – any time soon.

The White House’s March 2011 Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future lays out the fundamentals of the CES as introduced by the President in this year’s State of the Union address. “By 2035, we will generate 80 percent of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources – including renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower; nuclear power; efficient natural gas; and clean coal.”

Those last three appear on another list that we here at Clean Water Action use: a list of not-so-clean energy choices that pose particular challenges for our precious water resources. Clean Water Action’s approach to energy policy is based on the simple fact that climate change is already stressing our water resources and that this will get worse. Thus our nation’s policies to address global warming shouldn’t put additional undue pressure on those same water resources if it can be avoided. We think it can. We’ve got to make water impacts a top consideration when mapping out our energy future, and these three – nuclear, natural gas, and so-called “clean” coal – pose some serious challenges from that perspective.

The natural gas industry’s health and resource impacts are in the news these days, and they aren’t limited to the notorious hydraulic fracturing technology for extracting natural gas from shale rock. However, that “fracking” process is raising huge concerns for drinking water and other resources.

Long before the terrible accident at the Fukushima reactors in Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami there, we knew that nuclear power poses challenges to water quantity and quality with a price tag and such high risks that no private investor even wants to consider.

“Clean coal” refers to capturing carbon dioxide at power plants and storing it, most likely underground. As of now, large-scale commercial application of this idea is a long way off. Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund spent the last 18 months exploring the water, health, resource and policy considerations around this technology. We came to the conclusion that it poses serious threats to water resources, especially if the full life-cycle of coal is considered. You can see more about our findings and policy recommendations here.

It’s important to note that the White House’s Blueprint includes many positive recommendations including ending fossil fuel subsidies. It’s a sad state of affairs that a Senate committee can’t even move on that common sense proposal, let alone one that includes energy choices whose proponents helped block comprehensive global warming and energy policy in the last Congress.

Hopefully this time of delay will be used well by policymakers and the public to bring a smarter “just add water” approach to our deliberations about energy investment and policy going forward.

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Lynn Thorp is National Campaigns Coordinator for Clean Water Action & Clean Water Fund

Posted on May 17, 2011  | Filed Under Global Warming and a New Energy Economy, Protecting America's Waters | Comments Off

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