To fight climate change, ecologists may have to abandon a fundamental belief


For decades, environmentalists have left their mark by stopping things. Oil installations that vent Toxic air pollution. pipe lines cut off indigenous lands. Oil drilling and Gas.

But climate change is about to change everything. To cut US greenhouse gas emissions to zero, experts say, the country will have to do something environmentalists have traditionally opposed: it will have to build Many energy infrastructure. And quickly.

Currently, many roadblocks stand in the way of building wind, solar energy and Transmission lines that can transfer their power to city centers. And while Democrats have a bill to speed up this type of permit, most environmentalists oppose it — because it could also encourage oil and gas development.

“We will have to build a lot of everything said Josh Fried, director of climate and energy at the center-left think tank Third Way. The United States is experiencing a crisis in infrastructure construction. We can no longer build anything big – let alone big and ambitious – in a reasonable time frame.”

To reach net zero carbon emissions, according to A study From Princeton University, wind farms must spread across the Great Plains and the Midwest, covering an area at least equal to the states of Illinois and Indiana. Solar panels will shine in an area at least the size of Connecticut. Thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines will have to be built to move all that energy from where it’s generated — mostly in rural parts of the country — to distant urban centers.

These projects need to be up and running soon. according to Analytics Through Project DecarbAmerica, solar and wind power in the United States should double in just the next eight years.

But for now, a glitch of confusing regulations and local opposition has frustrated many of these plans. Residents have held up a wind farm project off the coast of New England for decades, complaining that it could ruin their ocean views. Transmission line from Pennsylvania to Maryland was banned by landowners in Pennsylvania who argued that the line would not provide sufficient advantages for their state.

Now a deal between Senator Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) and Senate Democratic leaders Energy permits can be simplified. During negotiations on the Inflation Cuts Act, the giant health spending and climate bill passed by Congress in August, the Mansion Democrats promised to pass them separate invoice This fall, to speed up the licensing process for building energy infrastructure – both fossil fuels And the Cleaning.

Some environmental groups have criticized the deal, arguing that it will speed up a major priority for Mansion’s pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a 300-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia — and other fossil fuel projects. “Prolonging the fossil fuel era perpetuates environmental racism, significantly contradicts climate science, and hampers our nation’s ability to avoid climate catastrophe,” more than 650 environmental groups Wrote In a letter sent to Congress in late August. Meanwhile, a group of Appalachian activists Planning a walk in D.C. next week to protest permission to reform the Mountain Valley pipeline.

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But energy experts argue that, depending on the structure of the deal, allowing reform could help the United States switch to clean energy — and ultimately benefit renewables more than fossil fuels.

For example, Lisa Reed, Director of Research for Electricity Transmission, center right The Niskanen Center, a thinker, argues that building a more connected electrical grid is absolutely essential to lower carbon emissions. She points out that wind and solar energy are rarely found in the same place we need the energy. “We need to build the transmission very quickly and very, very big,” she said. “There are no two ways about it.”

Reed argues that the only thing that can help, is to give the federal government the power to approve Construction of large high voltage transmission lines. Currently, power lines must get approval from every state they cross, including states that may not benefit much from having giant power lines woven over their homes and buildings. The federal authority would allow the government to seal transmission lines without getting into the quagmire of domestic and international regulation. (similar salad already exists for natural gas pipelines.)

Romani Webb, senior fellow at the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law, says the law is critical to making sure that communities are not negatively affected by energy and pipelines. But, she added, “I think there are ways to simplify the NEPA process to make it work better for some of these large renewable energy projects.”

Green groups, however, still have reservations.

Whatever the proposed project – whether it’s a pipeline, a highway or a solar farm – should go through the same logical review process,” Mehyar Sorour, Sierra Club’s deputy legislative director, said in an email. “If we want these projects to move forward faster, we shouldn’t weaken environmental laws, but rather invest more resources in agencies and staff.”

It remains unclear what the licensing bill will say, and whether it will pass. You need 60 votes under Senate rules to pass, so some Republicans will have to join in. And some Democrats may not vote for it, because any reform deal it allows would leave the door open for more fossil fuel extraction.

“The devil is in the details,” Fred said.

Despite this, many believe that the transition to clean energy will not happen as quickly as the country needs without reform.

But this shift will be change for an environmental movement that has spent decades learning how to prevent, not build. It will require careful analysis of how the rapid expansion of wind power, solar power, and even nuclear power with the contribution of society.

“With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the environmental movement broadly supported the construction,” Freed said. Now the question is: How? “

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