Bush Energy Policy Seen as Potential Threat to National Parks

Date:   May 18, 2001
Contact:   Andrea Keller, National Parks Conservation Association, 202-454-3332

Bush Energy Policy Seen as Potential Threat to National Parks

Washington - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is reviewing the Bush Administration's National Energy Policy with a measure of concern. Aside from extolling the virtues of modern energy extraction in uncomfortably glowing terms, it also seems a clarion call for weakened government regulation.

One of the most disturbing elements in the new policy is its call for revising or reinterpreting language in the Clean Air Act that requires federal review of power plant modifications that affect emissions. Tampering with this part of the law could yield increases in harmful emissions from plants already producing effluents harmful to national parks and to human health, particularly in the Midwest and Southeast.

The plan cites "a renewed interest in building coal power plants" and suggests that "statutory, regulatory, and administrative difficulties" posed by government regulations for the control of such pollutants as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide may be slowing plant construction. The report urges the president to direct the Secretary of the Interior to find means for altering regulatory controls on federal oil and gas leases and to direct federal agencies "to provide greater regulatory certainty relating to coal electricity generation through clear polices that are easily applied to business decisions."

Before NPCA can endorse altering these regulations, we will have to be assured that the Bush Administration is not planning to use accelerated plant construction as an excuse to undermine necessary government controls on pollutants that already are damaging national parks from Great Smoky Mountains in the East to Big Bend in Texas. NPCA is concerned that such alterations will hamstring needed protections for national parks and other protected public lands.

Similarly, we cannot rest easily until we know that the goal of making "the licensing process more clear and efficient" for hydropower is not industry code for gutting proper controls that may be needed for protecting national parks. We are particularly concerned that the policy's call for exploring "opportunities for royalty reductions" to the federal government for offshore oil and gas development is just a giveaway of precious public resources.

The policy report urges the president to direct the secretaries of Interior and Energy to "re-evaluate access limitations to federal lands in order to increase renewable energy production. . ." Coupled with the stated goal of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, this process sounds like the beginning of a wholesale plan to exploit public lands, a plan that ultimately could include drilling into national parks and monuments. We need clarification on this point. We will not stand idly by while America's parks become oil fields.

We are disturbed by presidential directives now being processed that will require federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on energy policy and development. This sounds to us alarmingly like a move to replace environmental impact statements that guard public lands and health from the excesses of development with energy impact statements designed to push development at any cost.

The energy policy continues President Bush's process of ignoring his campaign promises to address climate change-a serious risk to the health of our planet. The plan fails to address the necessary reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Scientists estimate that in less than 30 years, glaciers may disappear from Glacier National Park because of global warming. In addition, the South Florida/Everglades ecosystem, which the nation and the state of Florida have pledged to restore, is extremely vulnerable to global warming and resulting sea-level rise.

The Bush Administration's energy policy is woefully short on conservation measures, even though energy conservation in the United States has been one of the key means for reducing the impact of energy shortages in the past. The Administration appears to be geared toward energy production without environmental safeguards and energy consumption without meaningful conservation.

This energy policy was developed behind closed doors. The Bush Administration has refused to publish a list of those with whom Vice President Dick Cheney consulted in developing his plan. Press reports suggest that representatives of the extractive energy industries dominated the meetings. Closed doors and selective participation do not characterize a fair and inclusive way for developing a national energy policy and suggests a product designed for the benefit of an elite few over the interests of our national parks.

A smart energy policy would ensure at least the most basic protections for national parks and other wild lands for the enjoyment of the millions of people who will visit the parks this summer and for future generations. Our national parks need not be a sacrificial lamb to misguided energy policy.

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