Energy and Environmental Consultant
U.S. carbon emissions are reducing at a faster rate than any other country thanks to using more cost effective, clean natural gas.
While debate continues on how to tackle carbon emissions, or what energy sources are best to do the job, U.S. emissions have actually plummeted to their lowest level in 25 years.
Electric power in the Carolinas, and the rest of the Southeast, is largely produced by natural gas, nuclear power and coal. But renewables such as wind and solar are favored by environmentalists, who are also busy fighting natural gas.
Greater use of clean-burning natural gas, thanks to fracking and the shale revolution, has provided utilities the means to cut carbon emissions while holding down or even reducing our electricity bills. Older, less efficient coal plants are either being converted to use natural gas or being replaced entirely by new natural gas units.
Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions when used to generate electricity in place of coal. The environmental impact of this shift has been considerable.
One might even say we have turned a corner on tackling carbon emissions in the U.S. But many environmentalists see our greater use of natural gas not as progress, but rather a problem. They’re using overblown, scientifically debunked fears about fracking or methane emissions to push an anti-gas agenda. Their insistence on fighting natural gas, and the progress it has afforded, is painfully counterproductive.
Consider that the U.S. is actually reducing carbon emissions faster than any other nation. Also, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently estimated that if the shale revolution had not happened, and we had not become the world’s largest gas producer, electricity prices would be 31 percent higher, and carbon emissions would have increased by 23 percent.
We have long been told that decisive action to reduce U.S. carbon emissions would come at great cost. Thanks to our shale gas producers, abundant natural gas has turned that assumption on its head.
Other industrialized nations – Germany is the best example – are seeing energy prices skyrocket as they try to reduce emissions. We are actually saving American consumers money and attracting new manufacturing investments that have been sorely lacking.
Germany’s approach to reducing emissions – a massive government-orchestrated undertaking that is funneling taxpayer dollars to wind and solar power – is expected to cost $1.4 trillion. German electricity prices are now four times what they are in the U.S.
It’s difficult – near illogical – to argue against greater use of natural gas and the benefits of shale development. And yet, there are too many people doing just that.
Environmental activists are now fighting new natural gas production at every turn. A major target is the construction of new pipelines – such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – needed to get gas from shale fields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to consumers in Virginia and the Carolinas.
And they’re even fighting the construction of new natural-gas power plants needed to meet rising electricity demand. They want a renewables-only energy policy, much like the systems that are proving so burdensome in Germany.
While wind and solar power are somewhat promising, they’re rarely market-competitive. Indeed, they are heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidies and need backup fuels when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind isn’t blowing.
Let’s integrate renewables where we can, but be honest about their limitations. Not every state is sun-drenched like Arizona or wind-swept like parts of the Great Plains.
We need energy policies – nationally and at the state level – that recognize the opportunity our abundant supply of natural gas has afforded us. Likewise, we need policies that balance environmental progress with economic health. The last thing our economy and consumers’ wallets need are soaring energy prices.
Finally, let’s not let fringe environmental thinking push us away from a cost-effective energy path forward. For the foreseeable future, natural gas provides us a remarkable tool to make environmental progress, while growing our economy.
Dr. J. Winston Porter is a national energy and environmental consultant, based in Savannah, Georgia. Earlier, he was an assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.