Republican politicians and talking heads including W. Mitt Romney have made a big deal lately of the Obama administration’s supposed “war on coal.” It’s a phrase that no doubt tests well with blue-collar focus groups in the states needed to win the election, and the evidence seems to match the attack line: across the United States, the fires of coal plants have begun to flicker out. Coal prices have increased substantially over the last several years. The construction of new coal-fired power plants has all but ceased. Part of this is due to the EPA, which has put into place a series of regulations that limit the emissions of mercury, acids, and small particles that come from coal plants and cause hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma in United States every year. But that’s not the whole story. The true culprit of the war on coal is natural gas. Natural gas extraction through high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing—fracking—has revolutionized the American energy industry, lowering both prices and carbon emissions. With the proper safeguards, natural gas extraction can help revitalize stagnant rural communities throughout the nation.
Some of you may know that my dad and I are working on a book about energy policy this summer. We’re not trying to write a textbook or tell you how we’re all doomed, partly because that would be depressing but also because we believe it’s true. This is supposed to be a book for a general audience. There is a lot of cause for hope where energy is concerned, and we’re hoping to bring some of these success stories to light (or life?). Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
. . . We so often hear depressing news about the environment: an oil spill that threatens the livelihoods of millions of people and the lives of millions of animals; industry practices that may contaminate wells across rural Pennsylvania; mountain tops disappearing so that the minerals inside can be extracted; a climate shifting under our feet. . . Do we have the technology, and the will, to prevent catastrophe while maintaining the lifestyles that we’ve come to take for granted? Is it years in the future, or is it out there right now?