YES: Key oil and gas pipelines are on their last legs, and that's good news
By Basav Sen
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and as people rise up against entrenched racism, it's easy to forget that we're facing another global crisis.
Last year was the second hottest year ever recorded since humanity started recording temperatures, and nine out of 10 hottest years have been since 2005. Siberia, of all places, is going through a heat wave and wildfires that scientists attribute to climate change.
The scientific consensus is overwhelming: We have to transform our entire society and economy at a rapid pace to avert catastrophic climate change.
Given the facts about climate change, the only valid debates around phasing out fossil fuels are how fast we do it, what we replace them with, and how we ensure that the process of transition is just for all workers and communities.
The good news is that renewable energy can create far more jobs than fossil fuels in the places that need them most — while protecting our planet. That's why the recent news that three key oil and gas pipeline projects are either dead or on life support should be a cause to celebrate.
First, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) project, which would have transported natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina.
Next, a federal court ruled that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) must cease operations during a court-ordered environmental review.
Finally, the Supreme Court refused to lift an order by a lower court blocking a key permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported Canadian tar sands oil, an especially polluting fuel.
When pipelines shut down or don't get built, that means fewer fossil fuels can be extracted and sold. That's good news for the planet. It's also good for those communities — who are disproportionately poor and people of color — who are affected by toxic pollution at every stage of fossil fuel production and use.
That includes Indigenous peoples in Alberta, Canada, whose homeland has been turned into a hellscape by tar sands oil extraction. It includes the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, whose drinking water supply is threatened by DAPL. And it includes the historic Black community of Union Hill, Virginia, which would have been exposed to a polluting compressor station if the developers of the ACP had their way.
It's true that workers in the oil and gas industry need good jobs as the industry is phased out. They're not to blame for their employers' reckless greed. Likewise, communities who depend on the industry for their local economy and tax base must not be left stranded, but provided the resources they need to build a thriving new economy in place of oil and gas.
But the claim that these pipeline projects are good for jobs is disingenuous. The truth is, the fossil fuel economy doesn't create that many jobs, particularly when compared to renewable energy.
The nationwide total of energy efficiency jobs alone — for example, retrofitting buildings and manufacturing and installing energy-efficient appliances — is more than twice the total of all fossil fuel jobs (in mining and drilling, transportation, processing, refining, and power generation). It's also growing six to seven times faster.
Similarly, solar energy jobs outnumber natural gas jobs, and the two fastest growing occupations in the country are solar installers and wind turbine technicians. A systematic program of investment in renewables and energy efficiency will create many more jobs than pipelines — and pose far less threat to life on our planet.
We should be celebrating the loss of these pipelines. It's good for all of humanity, especially affected communities. And we'll have many more jobs overall if our government reverses its backward policies of subsidizing and propping up fossil fuels, and proactively transforming our energy system instead.
Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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NO: Zealous rush to renewable energy is hurting America's poor
By Paul Steidler
The cost of electricity is having significant, negative effects on the working class and poor. And recent court and regulatory decisions are likely to make the situation much worse.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 21% of Americans reduce spending on basic necessities — like food, rent and/or medicine — at least one month every year in order to pay their electricity bills. This comes to 25 million households, including 7 million that must make this rough decision every month. Most have incomes of under $60,000 annually.
In fact, the situation is getting worse. The EIA's study was from 2018, when the economy was much stronger than it is today. With many people staying at home due the pandemic, experts project that residential energy costs will be up by as much as 25% this summer.
It should not be this way, especially in light of America's energy boom. Over the past five years, the price of natural gas, which now accounts for nearly 40% of America's electricity generation, has fallen by 33 percent. Yet residential electricity prices are up 5% during the same time.
The costs of renewable energy projects are one reason. In New York, the subsidies for the state's first two offshore wind projects start at $2.2 billion. The Virginia Electric and Power Company on May 1 informed regulators that renewable energy projects could raise residential costs by $45.92 a month by 2030.
Renewable energy activists have used legal challenges to pipeline expansions to cut off natural gas to states and regions. This raises electricity costs in places that rely on natural gas but are far away from where it is produced. For example, residential electricity is 66% more expensive in New England than the rest of America.
On July 5, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy announced they are abandoning plans to construct an $8 billion 600-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina. This follows an earlier court ruling against the Keystone XL pipeline that could affect dozens of other pipelines.
Commenting on the July 5 announcement, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said, "The well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby has successfully killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have lowered energy costs for consumers in North Carolina and Virginia by providing them with an affordable, abundant and reliable natural gas supply from the Appalachian region. This project also would have injected millions into the communities surrounding the pipeline in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and created thousands of jobs."
Meanwhile, the United States is having an export boom of liquefied natural gas, providing a clean, reliable power source to many countries. It is especially beneficial that such shipments are going to Puerto Rico and our neighbors in the Caribbean, where much electricity is generated from oil-based and other highly polluting sources.
Whether used overseas or domestically, natural gas plays a critical role as a baseload power source. It generates electricity 24/7 making it among the most reliable of power sources. The other two primary baseload sources — coal and nuclear — are shrinking. Natural gas produces half the greenhouse gases of coal and its expanded use has led to a significant reductions in U.S. carbon emissions.
As wind and solar power are intermittent, having baseload natural gas is even more important. Unreliable electricity leads to power outages and higher costs like spoiled foods, lost work and accidents.
America, and especially our poor, are facing tough economic times. The expanded use of natural gas will benefit our economy and our environment. Perhaps most important, it will help those who are least fortunate.
Paul Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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