Gas Pains

I don’t know about you, but I could use some “liberal mainstream media” right about now–and no, Tea Partiers, the Boston Globe doesn’t count. Consider the paper’s love letter to fracked natural gas:

[E]ven fully integrating renewable resources into the grid won’t eliminate demand for natural gas; it’s not always windy or sunny. So while connecting to renewables must be a top priority to bring down costs, the region simultaneously has to tackle a second task: upgrading the natural gas network, which was never designed for the crucial role it now plays in New England’s electricity market. Congestion in the delivery network is one of the major drivers of this year’s price surge, and more pipeline capacity would lower prices. Several proposals have emerged. Yet pipelines are an even harder sell than transmission lines. They’re just as unsightly, and carrying more fossil fuels into New England seems like just the wrong approach when the goal is to reduce carbon emissions.

The task for policy makers is to combine the two goals in an environmentally sensible way, so that lower prices for natural gas will help, not hurt, the transition to renewables. The six New England governors have made some progress in that direction. Last year, they suggested offering financial support to a new pipeline into the region, paid for in part through an assessment on electric ratepayers, while at the same time pledging to also support transmission lines needed to reach renewables north of Boston. What the governors’ plan lacked, though, was an explicit commitment that the two would go forward in tandem. It will be much easier to convince a skeptical public to accept new gas investments if the arrangement also contains a firm commitment to help tap renewable resources.

If may seem odd to pair the two goals. But there’s recent precedent in Massachusetts for harnessing dirty fuels to encourage clean ones. In Salem [Massachusetts], environmentalists won an agreement to allow a gas-burning plant to open only as long as it agreed to a timetable to reduce emissions and eventually close. That agreement will bring needed electricity capacity online soon, contributing to the grid’s reliability, while also keeping the state on track to meet its long-term climate goals. On a larger scale, the region may need to strike just such a bargain to bring down its electricity costs while also helping renewables. New England needs new gas pipelines to prevent electricity prices from overwhelming families and small businesses, but can encourage them in a way that also builds a clean-energy future.

Of course, actual progressive media entities recognize the problem with embracing natural gas as a “bridge fuel.” As for the Globe, notice how the editorial doesn’t even bother to mention the severe climate risk of natural gas. It’s as if the paper didn’t really pay close attention to that big march in New York City in which climate hawks raised questions about the hazards of natural gas and other fossil fuels. It’s as if they cannot hear the voices of those who have raised questions about the fracking fetish.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a major newspaper declare that natural gas is not all that it’s fracked up to be, and that we need to move towards carbon-free energy ASAP? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had media entities that actually challenged conventional wisdom on energy, instead of deferring to it? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a “liberal mainstream media”?

UPDATE: More from the Conservation Law Foundation.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking of mainstream media entities and the natural gas industry…

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.