With politics governing energy and climate policy, people must remain central. Half of U.S. homes currently rely on natural gas for heating, while over half of food services and 38% of the energy generated nationwide for schools, hospitals, and communities require natural gas. When pipelines are blocked, development is restricted. When natural gas is prevented from reaching the market, vulnerable people are harmed.
The harm caused by ill-conceived energy policy is borne chiefly by low-income earners, state program beneficiaries, union workers, and future generations. Restricted energy access can even penalize this group twice: through higher utility bills and blackouts.
Energy bills jump when utilities use higher cost resources or invest in expensive technology. Natural gas is cheap and abundant, and power can be generated at local plants. Abrupt transitions to renewables mean higher energy bills for the people least able to pay, as the cost of investment plus transmission from far away wind and solar farms is calculated into utility bills. Further, low wage earners are most vulnerable to blackouts if the grid cannot meet demand. Inevitable grid strain from heatwaves, freezes, or maintenance leaves food to spoil for families living paycheck to paycheck.
With restrictions on natural gas development, state budgets are hit next, poised for huge revenue losses. This is a second penalty on the low-income and disadvantaged, especially those benefiting from state programs. This harm may be seen through the faces of the working poor utilizing Medicaid, single-parent households, seniors, and rural community healthcare centers.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded that by 2025, fracking bans would mean, “tax revenue at the local, state, and federal levels would decline by nearly a combined $1.9 trillion, as the ban cuts off a critical source of funding for schools, first responders, infrastructure, and other critical public services.” Fracking bans are only half of the story, as obstructed pipeline development can mean revenue losses and harm to workers.
The next face experiencing loss is the local energy worker. Pipeline projects often utilize hardworking union laborers, like Laborers’ International Union of North America or Pipeliners Local 798, and canceling projects puts them out of work with no backup plan. Crushing job losses can even occur when pipeline projects are delayed, offering no work until courts resolve disputes.
Perhaps unexpected, the last face to see harm is the next generation. Their costs are both economic and environmental. If revenues fall, there are fewer resources to help younger generations prosper. If spending persists, harmful debt will be the next generation’s burden. Environmentally, rushing away from natural gas actually leads to greater carbon-intensive activity, which our children must face.
Natural gas is the cleanest carbon-based fuel available and can be dialed up to meet demand. Intermittency of wind and solar limit their capacity to satisfy real-time demand or generate in poor weather conditions. If natural gas is shuttered, dirtier fuel – very often coal – is usually needed for baseload. If emissions are the primary concern, favoring natural gas must be part of the equation, not forever, but as a legitimate and reliable transition.
Natural gas still emits, but an eventual transition away from fossil fuels will require abundant energy – vast amounts of power to mine, transport, and develop solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. Where better to derive this massive amount of energy than relatively clean-burning and abundant natural gas? And how better to transport it than the safest transportation method ever implemented in the U.S.?
Pipelines carry natural gas across the country with incredible effectiveness, losing only 0.001% of the product they carry. The 99.999% safety record of pipelines means more product gets to end users, keeping costs down and protecting the environment by keeping trucks and railcars from carrying the volatile loads.
Without natural gas, and without pipelines to carry it, dirtier fuels and riskier transport methods are used to meet energy needs. The U.S. needs time and innovation before a renewable revolution, but the bridge of natural gas is ready.
Blocking natural gas projects means higher bills for low-wage earners, it means slashes to state programing, it cuts good-paying jobs from hardworking laborers, and it sets the stage for more emissions and an inefficient energy transition. Reliance on natural gas is the answer for the poor and those hoping to escape poverty. Restricting natural gas and pipelines only leads to harm, and that harm is felt by real people across the nation.
Benjamin R. Dierker, Director of Public Policy for the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure.