Utech wrote in a blog post that the five-year extensions of tax incentives for wind and solar-power projects—the production tax credit (PTC) and the investment tax credit (ITC)—will help cut carbon emissions far more than any potential pollution bump from opening the taps to crude exports.
He called it one of the biggest investments in renewable-energy deployment in the nation’s history (and indeed the Joint Committee on Taxation tallies the wind provision’s cost at roughly $14.5 billion over 10 years, and the solar piece costs billions of dollars too).
“In fact, preliminary [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] analysis indicates that an extension of the PTC and ITC through 2020—a rough proxy for the bill in front of Congress—would help spur the construction of enough wind and solar to power 30 million homes in 2020,” he wrote. That would cut carbon emissions by more than 200 million metric tons in 2020, Utech said.
Utech then cited analysis from the federal Energy Information Administration about the effect on U.S. oil production of lifting the ban to conclude that, from a climate standpoint, the effect on emissions is likely to be “minimal.”
“EIA’s core case—the one considered most likely—projects that removing the ban has no impact on production or exports and thus no impact on greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2025. So our expert agency’s best estimates indicate the greenhouse gas impacts of removing the crude oil ban is negligible,” he said.
Utech is not alone.
Michael Levi, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, posted an analysis this week concluding that any increase in emissions from lifting the export ban is very small compared to the benefits of other White House policies: a big increase in auto-mileage standards and sweeping Environmental Protection Agency rules to force cuts in power-plant emissions.
But claims of a largely benign climate impact from lifting the export ban are not going unchallenged.
The environmental group Oil Change International is vigorously making the case that allowing crude-oil exports—which under some estimates could eventually boost U.S. production by up to a half-million barrels daily—will enable major carbon emissions.
The group warns against dismissing the impact of policies that push more fossil-fuel supplies onto the market. More broadly, environmentalists argue that climate policy must do more to choke off fossil-fuel extraction (a common rallying cry is “keep it in the ground”) in addition to measures that cut demand and help burn fuel more cleanly.
“Professional sceptics continue to doubt the importance to climate change of fossil fuel supply. In reality, the climate problem is caused by the quantity of fossil fuels, which can be addressed at either end of the supply chain, as the same amount is consumed as is extracted,” wrote Greg Muttitt, a senior campaign adviser with Oil Change International, in an analysis this week.