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Liz Barratt-Brown’s Blog

A Victory for Clean Energy: Section 526 Stands Strong

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted September 24, 2008 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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Following nine months of assault on Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress decided today to keep intact a critically important fuel contracting requirement- marking a big win for clean energy supporters.

The provision-- known as "Section 526" to its adversaries and aficionados-- requires that the federal government not enter into contracts that would lead to the purchase of synthetic, alternative, or nonconventional fuels with higher global warming-related emissions than conventional fuels. The intention is to keep the government, which is the largest single fuel purchaser in the U.S., from using taxpayer dollars to buy high carbon fuels such as Canadian tar sands, liquid coal, and oil shale. This is seen as a big line in the sand for global warming advocates.

The drama played out over the last few weeks in the debate over the Defense Authorization Bill - a massive bill that is now on its way to the President to sign. Instead of repealing or weakening the language - as the Canadian government, the Department of Defense (DOD) and oil companies were aggressively pushing for - a statement accompanying the bill basically says that the provision can be implemented without change. The bill also requires DOD to report back to Congress on ways to reduce global warming pollution from these high carbon fuels.  Of course, we will remain vigilent against new attacks on Section 526, but this decision in the Defense Authorization Bill debate should carry great weight.

The Defense Authorization Bill also dropped all references to long-term contracting for these fuels that could have resulted in the development of new liquid coal plants and expansion of refineries to take tar sands oil.

The irony was that while parts of DOD were arguing against Section 526, other parts of DOD were emphasizing the growing link between the nation's national security interests and the impact of global warming. The production of unconventional fuels, such as tar sands, liquid coal, and oil shale, emit more than three times the global warming pollution per barrel as conventional oil. They also use up a huge amount of water and energy, and irreversibly scar regions that are huge reservoirs of carbon, like the Canadian Boreal forest. The massive commercialization of these fuels will make our nation less, not more, energy secure. As a result, Section 526 serves a key national security purpose.

The bottom line is Americans want their government to invest in new clean energy, not dirty fuels of the past. We hope that today's victory for this "little section that could" helps give a boost to all efforts for a cleaner energy future. In this tough political environment, where chants of "drill, drill, drill!" are not uncommon, this is indeed a bright moment.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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