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Green Group Grows Emphasis on Clean Energy

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

photo of Amy Harder
January 24, 2014

A major environmental group known for its work with oil and natural-gas companies is redoubling its efforts to encourage more renewable energy over all fossil fuels, including natural gas.

Last summer, the Environmental Defense Fund launched its Smart Power Initiative, and since then the influential New York-based group has been ramping up its staff and focus, with between 35 to 50 staff members devoted to the effort including 10 new employees.

"This is the biggest energy initiative we've ever launched," EDF President Fred Krupp said in a recent interview. "It is larger than even our large initiative on natural gas."


That initiative on natural gas Krupp referenced is well-known throughout the fossil-fuel industry and environmental community. EDF is the leading environmental group that works collaboratively with oil and gas companies to ensure drilling is done safely and with as little environmental and climate impact as possible. Natural gas burns with half the carbon emissions of coal, so EDF and some other environmental organizations see it as the best of the fossil-fuel alternatives. But Krupp said his group is starting to focus more on getting the energy industry to shift from all fossil fuels to renewables.

"There is an opportunity to have natural gas replace more coal," Krupp said. "But, the bottom line is we have to accelerate to clean, smart power as fast as possible to avoid unnecessary shifts to natural gas, and that's why EDF has launched this Smart Power program to work in the states."

The initiative greatly increases EDF's focus on renewable energy. It has four pillars, according to its website: eliminating regulatory and market barriers to zero-carbon energy, including renewables and energy efficiency; promoting a smart grid friendlier to green energy; ensuring natural gas is "an ally of smart power"; and creating programs that attract investors to renewable electricity and energy efficiency.

"This new, dynamic energy approach spurs economic growth, cleaner air, and a safer climate," said Cheryl Roberto, EDF's associate vice president of smart power, in a statement. "Our power grid hasn't been updated since Thomas Edison invented it over a century ago, and electric utilities are at a crossroads. As they replace old, dirty power plants, they can either build more of the same or turn toward clean, flexible, low-carbon energy."

EDF has always been considered the most industry-friendly environmental group, and while its work on that front continues, this new initiative signals EDF's thinking on the shift to renewable energy is becoming more aligned with that of other environmental groups that oppose any shift at all to natural gas, namely the Sierra Club.

"It doesn't surprise me that they're putting more emphasis on clean energy," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "Over the next two years, you're going to see everybody [in the environmental community] doing that."

Unlike Brune, Krupp receives praise from oil and natural gas leaders for his work with industry.

"I'm not surprised or shocked that EDF would want to continue to look at opportunities in the renewable- and alternative-fuel space," said America's Natural Gas Alliance President and CEO Marty Durbin, noting that he had not heard of the new initiative. "To me, the positive thing is that they remain a constructive voice on how to safely and responsibly produce natural gas in a way that helps improve the environment."

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