Renewable energy vs environmental assessment

Congress has passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, providing $15 billion for renewable energy projects and new electric transmission lines. Although an amendment to bypass National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review for funded projects was defeated, an amendment calling for expedited NEPA review was approved.

The effort to eliminate or reduce NEPA review for industrial facilities is not new. As stated in a recent article in Environmental Science and Technology, the business community has sought to reduce requirements for environmental impact assessment ever since NEPA became law in 1970.

What is new is the alliance of industry and some environmental groups seeking to fast track the review process for industrial-scale renewable energy development. But some are warning that the rush to build renewable energy facilities is already creating potentially irreversible mistakes.

Excerpts from the article:

There are national groups that are so fixated on doing everything possible to stem global climate change as rapidly as possible that there may be a tendency to downplay other problems, that when we look back, could be seen as ecological catastrophes in their own right.

— Eric Glitzenstein, public-interest attorney

We need to have a streamlined process — and we absolutely must reduce our carbon footprint — but we can’t afford to create new problems in our efforts to address existing ones by adding to species mortality and habitat fragmentation . . . . Renewable energy has a dark side that is not getting enough attention in the push to curb greenhouse gases. The renewable energy industry likes to tout themselves as green, but killing birds and bats, hugely fragmenting habitat, and adding to cumulative impacts to species is not green . . . . There is a particularly evident lack of environmental oversight of renewable energy projects on private land, which predominates in the eastern U.S.

— Al Manville, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A tsunami of wind energy projects is being proposed for the East Coast . . . The best sites for wind energy development include Appalachian Mountain crests. Unfortunately, these are also prime locations for migrating bats and birds, including raptors.

— Taber Allison, Mass Audubon