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By Thomas F. O'Mara, Commentary
Published 6:05 pm, Tuesday, April 24, 2018 
 
There was a time not long ago that natural gas was hailed by environmentalists as a cleaner energy solution. During his first Earth Day speech as President, Barack Obama lauded domestic natural gas as a critical bridge fuel to a renewable energy future. Towards the end of his presidency, Obama credited the use of natural gas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reminding the audience of a climate change event at the White House that "we've got to live in the real world." Somewhere along the line that message got lost, and if we don't start remembering that we live in the real world, the cost of heat and electricity will be unaffordable for most New Yorkers. In the real world, demand for natural gas is at an all-time high — and that's been a good thing for the environment and the U.S. economy, particularly in our neighboring state of Pennsylvania.
Since 1990, U.S. natural gas production is up 37 percent and greenhouse gas emissions are down 17 percent. From 2005-2015, natural gas consumption increased 24 percent — contributing to dramatic drops in a number of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (down 66 percent), fine particulate matter (down 34 percent), and nitrogen oxide (down 20 percent). One of the important benefits of natural gas is the way it works in concert with renewable forms of energy. The main challenge with relying on renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar, is their inherent unreliability. Storage capacity simply is not ready for prime time yet and cannot meet our energy demands. Continued innovation and investment in this area is critical to the future viability of renewables.
 
Electric power needs to be used when it's generated, so if the sun's not out or the wind isn't blowing, a wind turbine or solar panel isn't much use to the electric grid. Natural gas is a strong compliment to renewables because it can be brought online quickly, ensuring reliability in systems when renewables aren't producing. A recent report released by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy highlights this important link between domestic natural gas and renewables. According to the report, natural gas and renewables together generated 50 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, up from 31 percent in 2008. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. power sector fell to their lowest levels since 1990. Furthermore, while we have made some gains in renewable electricity supply, our heating fuel remains at about 95 percent fossil fuel-based and natural gas is by far the cleanest of that heat source.
Unfortunately, a group of vocal activists refuses to accept the very real limits to renewable energy and are actively working to put a stranglehold on the development of much-needed energy infrastructure. Policymakers in New York State are blocking critical projects that are needed to supply energy to the entire New York and New England region — with very real world consequences for consumers who are cut off from access to affordable energy. The zealots may be successful in assuring that we don't freeze to death in the dark, but ignoring natural gas may mean that we freeze to death with the lights on.
This past winter, which seems to be dragging on and on, New England was faced with constraints to its energy supply caused in part by the blockade of domestic pipeline construction, which Governor Cuomo has singlehandedly blocked. Faced with harsh winter weather and limited access to domestic natural gas, New England imported liquefied natural gas from Russia just to meet basic heating and electricity needs. So rather than tapping plentiful gas supplies in nearby Pennsylvania, New England consumers were forced to depend on Vladimir Putin and a bunch of Russian oligarchs to heat their homes.
In New York, the Governor has laid out a very ambitious set of goals to transition the state to renewable energy. I agree that we should be leading the way in renewable energy development, but we also have to make sure that residents and businesses have the energy they need right now to live and thrive in New York. We can keep the lights and heat on and emissions down, but only if we stop this senseless opposition to natural gas and critical energy infrastructure.
State Sen. Thomas F. O'Mara, R-Elmira, is the chair of the NYS Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation.

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