Remember when environmentalists emphasized the importance of natural gas, accurately calling it a cleaner-burning fuel, the go-to resource for a greener environment?
This was just a few years back.
Times have, of course, noticeably changed, as these same environmentalists have morphed into all-out, anti-development, sometimes even violent, activists unwisely demanding the immediate end of all fossil fuel energy production and transportation – natural gas and its underground network of pipelines included.
“Keep it in the ground,” they say, without offering any sort of alternative method for realistically and affordably mass-producing the massive amounts of energy we need to power and charge our ever-growing electronic lifestyles.
But in recent years, the more shale energy we’ve produced, the cleaner our air has become, my organization’s latest fact checking shows.
Consumer Energy Alliance’s just-released report, titled “Increased Environmental Benefits from Pipelines & Energy Development for the Nation and New York,” details the record improvements in America’s air quality since the nation’s natural gas revolution began more than a decade ago.
For instance, federal air data reveals that between 2005 and 2015, sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxide sustained a 66, 34 and 20 percent drop, respectively. During that same time, the U.S. saw a 24-percent increase in natural gas use.
Meanwhile, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector are down to their lowest levels since 1990, and total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are also down 13 percent from 2005 levels. At the same time, overall demand has gone up.
Aiding the delivery of that natural gas has been pipelines, which, per every single analysis, remain far and away the best way to safely move natural gas, meet market demands, reduce bottlenecks, lower emissions, and decrease the chances of outages – particularly in the dead of winter or the hottest of summer days, when demand soars.
Pipelines, in fact, are 4.5 times safer at moving the same amount of energy across the same distance than other means, significantly decreasing the probability of a worst-case scenario anti-development protestors warn about avoiding.
What’s more, 99.999 percent of what’s transported via pipeline reaches its destination safely. They also decrease emissions by taking other forms of transportation off roadways and out of our communities. Without pipelines, the industry would have to resort back to these other modes of transportation with far less environmentally-safe track records.
In other words, using more natural gas and transporting it via pipelines does precisely what every American – of all political affiliations – stalwartly encourage: Defend the environment.
Yet anti-development groups continue to resist both. This resistance not only remains strong; it’s strengthening, hurting countless cash-strapped American households and small businesses in the process. And some of our state officials have hopped on board.
Case in point, New York, where governor Cuomo in recent years has thwarted several high-profile energy projects that would have delivered more natural gas to the state which is already hamstrung by a self-inflicted shortage of affordable energy resources, including the closing of local coal-power plants, and now, the imminent closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which supplies about a third of New York City’s power.
Not surprisingly, prices have consequently increased there.
According to an analysis last year by Consumer Energy Alliance, New York families paid 141 percent more than the national average for electricity the two years prior. For the 14.7 percent of residents living below the poverty line who spend a larger portion of their take-home pay on energy costs than those in other income brackets, these expenses hit harder. And in some more extreme cases, energy costs took up almost 50 percent of their take-home pay.
No family should have to make the kind of decisions that expenses like these lead to, especially when the solutions, which could have helped meet environmental goals too, were passed on.
More concerning is that such energy restrictions and cumbersome costs aren’t just isolated to New York. In New England, states there paid, on average, 151 percent more than the national average, climbing to 154 percent in Massachusetts and 161 percent in Connecticut – a pair of states with a too-long history of rejecting infrastructure proposals, even from renewable resources like wind and hydropower. In the Midwest, households in those states paid, on average, 104 percent above the national average for electricity.
Yet the rising wave of opposition against traditional energy and its infrastructure continues to pit our country’s natural resources against one another, when in truth, we need them all, conventional and renewable, to meet not only our energy needs but our environmental goals. The nation’s striking gains in air quality are a direct outcome of having such a balanced policy and a network of crisscrossing pipelines that bring energy to where it’s needed.
It’s a winning, proven strategy, one we used to better support not too long ago – and should today.
David Holt is president of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).
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