What does desperation look like? New conservative energy-related bills at the state and federal levels are unabashedly designed to limit consumer choice and gut health protections in order to …
What does desperation look like? New conservative energy-related bills at the state and federal levels are unabashedly designed to limit consumer choice and gut health protections in order to perpetuate our dependency on fossil fuels.
In Texas, state legislators have proposed dozens of pro-petroleum measures. One prohibits state agencies from cooperating with federal agencies (read “the EPA”) in the enforcement of federal “statutes, orders, rules or regulations” unless they are already enshrined in Texas state law.
Another bars municipal governments from requiring beneficial electrification of new housing, and levies new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and any new electricity generators not fueled by natural gas.
Another proposes higher taxes on wind and solar projects; selectively imposes stringent environmental and permitting regulations on renewable energy projects; and even requires existing wind and solar projects to meet the new permitting requirements retroactively, while keeping oil and gas projects exempt.
Similar bills have been proposed in Kansas, Minnesota and Ohio.
This desperate defiance may be triggered by the EPA’s new focus on reducing methane emissions from natural-gas drilling, processing, transport and electric-power generation. Climate scientists have long understood that methane is many times more damaging than carbon—more than 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas in the initial 20-year window that is so crucial to slowing global warming. Health officials understand that methane pollution contributes to asthma, heart and lung disease. A 2017 study by scientists at Purdue University, using methane measurements gathered by the University’s flying chemistry lab, concluded that natural gas power plants emit as much as 120 times more methane than previously estimated by the EPA. In recent months, the EPA has also stepped up enforcement of methane regulations in Texas’ lucrative Permian Basin gas fields, imposing fines and developing new monitoring and inspection requirements.
In Kentucky, legislators have intensified their decades-long protection of the coal industry, passing a law last month that forbids the state’s electric utilities to shut down two outdated, uneconomical coal-fired power plants. In addition to locking in higher electricity prices for state residents and businesses, making the power supply less reliable, and causing a range of health issues related to coal combustion, the state has lost out on millions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs over the past 10 years by refusing to allow wind and solar development. Despite a decade of legislative protection, Kentucky’s coal production declined by 65 percent and the state lost nearly 7,000 coal mining jobs.
Wind power seems to be a special target of the fossil industry and the politicians in its thrall, perhaps because, with 141.3 gigawatts (GW) now in operation, U.S. wind power surpassed coal in March 2023. Developers plan to add another 7.1 GW this year, including large offshore wind developments in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. These projects came under attack last month as fossil fuel allies in the U.S. House introduced a bill to impose a moratorium on all offshore wind development.
The bill claims that recent whale strandings on beaches between North Carolina and New York were caused by these wind projects, despite the fact that none have begun construction. Both the Marine Mammal Commission and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have stated that these stranding events are part of a longer-term phenomenon called an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) that began in 2016—long before these offshore wind projects were even proposed. NOAA’s analysis points to ocean warming, which is causing whales to forage farther north along the East Coast in the winter months, coinciding with a dramatic increase in the volume of goods shipped through Atlantic coast ports. Vessel strikes and entanglements with fishing gear are major factors in whale deaths worldwide, and researchers report that almost all the whales stranded recently on beaches in New York and New Jersey showed injuries consistent with vessel strikes.
Demographics may also be pushing these irrational last-ditch attempts to derail the transition to renewables. The latest report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, Six Americas March 2023, characterizes our youngest adult generations—Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born after 1997)—as more concerned about climate change, better informed than previous generations, and more inclined to see climate as intertwined with social issues like poverty, racism, sexism, violence, environmental justice and educational and health disparities.
No wonder the old guard is blowing so much hot air! They have pitted themselves against science and medical knowledge; innovation is speeding us toward effective and profitable clean energy technologies; and a knowledgeable, highly motivated new voting block is about to accelerate the winds of change.
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