07/09/2019

PennFuture's Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Note: This editorial authored by PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo appeared in the July 8 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is Pennsylvania’s largest newspaper. 

Natural gas in Pa. is not environmentally sustainable | Opinion

Despite another year of extreme weather in Pennsylvania—including tornado outbreaks, violent flooding, and devastating storms—state policymakers are hesitant to protect people by passing much-needed climate, energy, and infrastructure reforms.

The problem with Pennsylvania’s elected leadership isn’t indifference to the well-being of its constituents, or the destruction caused by climate change. The problem is that the natural gas industry is standing in the way of any meaningful state action.

For the first time in our organization’s history, PennFuture is moved to take a stance against the actions of the natural gas industry, and the role it plays in propagating climate change.

The gas industry audaciously argues that it is the “cleaner” energy choice for the commonwealth. In a report to investors, Range Resources — a leader of the industry — proclaims natural gas as the sustainable choice moving forward. Pennsylvanians hear from lawmakers and natural gas insiders that if we just roll back regulations on the industry, weaken government oversight, and don’t make them pay their fair share for their pollution, we will all prosper.

Pennsylvania’s distinction as the second-largest producer of natural gas in the country has given the industry considerable influence in our state. Just over a decade ago, natural gas was a bit-player in our energy mix, but with the advent of fracking and legislative support through tax breaks and lax regulations, it is thriving.

Natural gas now provides over 30 percent of our energy generation, but because of the industry’s actions, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant is closing this fall, and the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant will potentially follow suit in 2021. Without state action, natural gas will monopolize the commonwealth’s energy industry and approach 70 percent of its energy mix in just several decades. If it’s successful in securing a petrochemical hub in the Ohio Valley, natural gas will also monopolize our manufacturing industry as well.

This impending future doesn’t stack up well against the science of climate change or the need for a diverse energy economy. The world needs to cut carbon pollution by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and then reach net-zero carbon pollution by 2050 if we are to have a reasonable chance at limiting even more dangerous global warming than we are already experiencing.

As the third-highest carbon polluter in the nation, Pennsylvania has an outsize burden toward helping reach this planetary goal. For decades, coal plant pollution dominated the state, opening the door for gas to claim it was a cleaner alternative by comparison. But there is a difference between “cleaner than coal” and “clean enough to halt the climate crisis.”

There is a fundamental truth about the natural gas industry and addressing climate change: Range Resources and its corporate colleagues are massive polluters and are contributing to dangerous climate change. Nothing about the natural gas industry as it is organized today is sustainable. For Range Resources to claim otherwise is simply not true. Natural gas is now a bigger climate polluter than coal in the United States and Pennsylvania.

For the first time in well over a decade, state legislators and the governor are indicating a real interest in addressing urgent climate and energy issues, including the demise of the nuclear fleet and Pennsylvania’s lagging renewable energy production. Yet the natural gas spin doctors are playing a masterful game to undermine important plays around carbon pricing, advancing the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, and removing legislative barriers to deploying more energy efficiency, wind power, and solar panels.

It is time to stop the gravy train enjoyed by Range Resources and other gas companies in Pennsylvania. Reforms to the commonwealth’s energy system are needed to avert a fossil fuel monopoly as well as locking in extreme weather.

A good first step is for the natural gas industry to pay for its climate pollution in Pennsylvania. State policymakers can do so by levying a carbon price so that carbon pollution is correctly reflected in the cost of industries’ actions. Pennsylvania has an opportunity to do so relatively easily by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which makes dirty power plants that burn gas and other fossil fuels pay their fair share for their climate pollution.

The revenue from the program can be used to rebuild infrastructure, incentivize zero-carbon energy sources, make our buildings more energy efficient, demonstrate carbon capture and sequestration, and support our energy workforce.

As long as the natural gas industry continues to push a policy agenda that fails to protect Pennsylvanians from its pollution and halts progress toward a net-zero carbon energy sector, we’ll effectively replace our coal monopoly with a gas monopoly, pollution included.

Don’t be fooled by the industry’s slick reports and sugar-coated narrative. We must stand up and stop it from dictating Pennsylvania’s energy policy. It’s a con our communities and climate can no longer withstand.

Jacquelyn Bonomo is the president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.