Read my latest response on the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Experts blog to the question, “Is Natural Gas the Answer?”
Here in Washington, D.C., we have been hearing a lot about congressional Democrats and Republicans “working together” recently – as evidenced by passage of the recent bipartisan tax extension legislation.
After taking stock of its bruising midterm election losses, Democrats insisted that it is possible to find some common ground with newly ascendant congressional Republicans. Meanwhile, those very same Republicans, mindful of appearing too partisan, have said the very same thing – there is some common ground; we just need to work on it.
As the president recently noted, natural gas is clearly one of those non-partisan, common ground issues on which both Democrats and Republicans should be able to come together. Indeed, there are a number of steps the administration and Congress can take to act on this critical issue. First, ensure continued access to our vast domestic natural gas resource base, especially the abundant shale gas that we are now producing. Continued, steady production from these shale plays is a key component not only in creating new jobs but also in helping to foster price stability, which will ensure this valuable domestic resource can continue to effectively meet the growing energy needs of our economy while reducing our dependence on foreign sources. Shale gas can be produced in a safe and benign manner with appropriate environmental safeguards.
Natural gas must also be a central part of any energy policy that the 112th Congress considers. If Congress moves forward on a renewable or clean electricity standard, natural gas should be included as a compliance option. And although discussions often turn toward the “smart grid,” our policymakers should pursue a “smart energy” grid that ensures the right fuel mix is in place to achieve the greatest emissions reductions and energy savings. At least for the foreseeable future, the fuel mix in such a “smart energy” approach will require the increased use of natural gas, especially its direct use in America’s homes and businesses.
Indeed, America’s natural gas utilities and their residential and commercial customers have long led the way in reducing carbon emissions. While the number of residential households using natural gas increased from 38 million in 1970 to nearly 65 million today — an increase of more than 70 percent — overall residential consumption over that time has remained essentially flat.
This decline in residential gas usage per household is due to better insulated homes, more efficient appliances and conservation/efficiency programs that are implemented by natural gas utilities. Future policies should take these facts into consideration when developing goals to increase the efficiency of buildings and appliances.
Natural gas contributes to America’s economy too, from the hundreds of thousands of jobs held by those who work for local utilities, to those who are responsible for finding it and bringing it to market, to those who ensure the infrastructure is in place to make it all happen. Overall, there are nearly 3 million Americans employed either directly or indirectly by the natural gas industry, to say nothing of the countless millions of manufacturing and service-related jobs that are dependent on reliable energy. Utilities also contribute significant revenue to local tax bases and provide historically solid dividend income to shareholders, who are often customers of the local utility in which they invest.
The time to act is now. We applaud the administration’s new focus on natural gas’ many attributes because we know that this clean, abundant, efficient, American fuel can make a real difference right now and for future generations to come. We hope that Congress and the administration can find common ground to ensure America accelerates the great progress we have already made thanks to the increased use of natural gas in this country.