Bernie Sanders is wrong about natural gas
Specifically, Sanders — along with several dozen House Democrats — opposes the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run through West Virginia as it carries natural gas from western Pennsylvania to Virginia and to North Carolina. The bill is part of a so-called side deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin that was needed to get Manchin to vote on the Cut Inflation Act.
Sanders misses the bigger picture. Between 2007 and 2019, total emissions in the United States — not emissions per capita or per dollar of GDP — fell from nearly 7.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent to 6.5 billion. This decline was fueled almost entirely by declines in the electricity sector, which has shifted from reliance on coal to natural gas, which is both cleaner and more efficient.
Underlining how powerful the transformation of coal into natural gas is, Germany is on track to see its emissions from the electricity sector increase by more than 10% this year due to the reduced availability of Russian gas. Yet the return to coal was not enough to prevent record high energy prices, which fueled higher headline inflation and lower industrial production.
The United States has a chance of avoiding the same fate only because it produces a surplus of natural gas on its territory. Otherwise, inflation would be even higher than it is today, while the underlying economy would be weaker. In truth, however, the United States needs to produce more natural gas for three reasons.
First, the United States can help its allies in Europe and the Pacific be less dependent on potentially hostile regimes by exporting more natural gas. From 2014 to 2021, additional capacity brought into the US domestic market by US oil frackers offset intentional supply cuts by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Oil prices are now rising because producers are reluctant to add additional capacity in today’s uncertain environment.
The effect of gas fracking on international markets has not been as marked because the infrastructure for exporting natural gas is much more complex and expensive. By increasing its export capacity, the United States can provide relief to its allies – and by developing domestic infrastructure and production, it can ensure that domestic prices do not rise dramatically.
Second, the transition to electric vehicles will increase the demand for electricity. It seems like a simple point, but it seems to have escaped Sanders, who said it was “difficult for him to understand why anyone would vote ‘for such a pipeline’ especially at a time when we are moving to electric vehicles”. .
The transition is precisely why more relatively clean energy will be needed. If the United States does not want to end up going back to coal for electric vehicle demand, it needs more natural gas.
Third, increasing natural gas production and building new infrastructure will create jobs for some of the communities hardest hit by the coal decline. In West Virginia, the Mission Valley pipeline is expected to create some 4,500 jobs and inject $811 million into a struggling economy. This economic investment — far more than any lobbying by the fossil fuel industry — is why Manchin demanded the deal.
Remember that the climate-related provisions of the Cut Inflation Act, which Manchin voted for, will hit coal production hard — and rightly so. There is no way for the world to meet its climate goals without a reduction in global coal production. To get his constituents to support these cuts, Manchin had to offer them something. Its offering is natural gas infrastructure — which also helps the United States and the world transition to a secure electric economy.
More from Bloomberg Opinion:
• Natural gas is better than many environmentalists admit: Matthew Yglesias
• Europe’s natural gas crisis is worse than it looks: Javier Blas
• Energy pipelines shouldn’t be political: Julian Lee
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Karl W. Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. Previously, he was Vice President of Federal Policy at the Tax Foundation and Adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina.
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