As Congress continues to deliberate energy and global warming bills, President Bush’s new climate initiative has altered the debate, at least at the international level. Clearheaded analysis and accurate information is essential – or narrow political and economic interests could run roughshod over consumers.
The recent “Coal is filthy” ad campaign underscores this danger. Featuring misleading claims about pollution from coal-fired electrical generating plants, it urged citizens to tell government officials, “No more filthy coal plants.”
But the Coalition wasn’t another gaggle of environmental pressure groups, like those listed on its CleanSkyCoalition.com website. It was a cabal of natural gas companies, led by Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma. Their goal wasn’t helping Americans get “clean skies” and “live longer.” It was fattening corporate wallets.
The cabal hoped new laws would make it harder to build more coal plants, or retrofit old ones to meet tougher air quality standards. Utilities would have to switch to natural gas, supplies would tighten, prices would surge, and Coalition partners would get rich.
Every $1 increase in natural gas prices costs US consumers another $22 billion a year for heating, air-conditioning, food, consumer goods and services – many of which use gas for energy or raw materials – says the Energy Information Administration. Indeed, consumers paid $140 billion more in 2006 for gas and electricity than they did in 2000 – an extra $1900 a year for every family of four.
That hit poor families especially hard, and the US manufacturing sector lost 3 million jobs.
Chesapeake has 9 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves. That sounds like a lot, but US demand for natural gas has outstripped domestic production since 1985, forcing us to import the difference, largely from less than friendly countries and in competition with other nations. Substituting gas for coal-fired electricity would exacerbate these problems.
Geologists say the US Outer Continental Shelf could contain 420 Tcf – enough to meet current demand for 15 years. But over 85% of these areas are off limits to drilling. Onshore gas resources face similar obstacles. And eco purists want to keep it that way.
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