Natural Gas Getting Boxed Out of Climate Bill

Photo via kir

Natural gas prices are at a 7-year low, it generates less emissions than coal, and we happen to be in the middle of trying to reform our energy policies to make them cheaper and less polluting. Natural gas could be our last shot for getting a better climate bill this year, as John Laumer writes--it could prove a viable source of relatively low emissions energy while we transition to even cleaner sources like wind and solar. So why is natural gas getting boxed out of the climate bill? According to the NY Times,

The natural gas industry has enjoyed something of a winning streak in recent years. It found gigantic new reserves, low prices are encouraging utilities to substitute gas for coal, and cities are switching to buses fueled by natural gas. But its luck has run out in Washington, where the industry is having trouble making its case to Congress as it writes an energy bill to tackle global warming.
And the so-called roadblock sapping natural gas's luck? In a word--coal. And the coal interest-dominated politics of states like West Virginia. In the Times piece, a portrait emerges of lawmakers dedicated to preserving the coal-generated energy industry, by giving coal more pollution allowances and funding still-distant carbon sequestration technology instead of carving out room for a simpler, more immediate solution--natural gas.

Now, of course natural gas is far, far from ideal--it's a fossil fuel that must be extracted, still generates greenhouse gas emissions, and supplies will be depleted. But in the meantime, with a clean energy infrastructure still quite a few years away, it's a far superior alternative to coal. And the natural gas industry, knowing this, is beginning a push to get more incentives for gas (or less for coal) in the Senate version of the climate bill. From the Times:

The gas industry's leaders say they will descend on Capitol Hill in coming weeks to press their case about the advantage of gas, including that it emits about half the greenhouse gases as coal. The industry has formed a new lobbying group, and it is planning a national campaign that includes television advertising. Executives want fewer allowances for coal.
But coal is fighting back, and appears to be winning--they argue that coal prices are more stable, and enjoy far greater lobbying power and union backing.

Now, I wouldn't call myself a strict proponent of natural gas. But the EPA projects that if the House's version of the climate bill passes, natural gas production will increase only by 1% from 2015 to 2025, while coal generation would be unchanged. With coal powering over 50% of the US, there's a lot of room for readily available, lower-emissions power to take more of the US energy pie. If it could gain footing in the beltway, it very well could be part of the short-term solution in fighting climate change. But it's looking more and more unlikely that will happen.

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Tags: Clean Energy | Congress | United States