PWIR: Natural Gas Debate Explodes

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder).

The arguments surrounding the future of Michigan’s energy supply are heating up and, in this case, they are fueled by natural gas. In the wake of a new report touting the economic benefit Michigan may gain from an increased adoption of natural gas-powered electricity, political fissures are sprouting as quickly as those in a newly fracked gas well. That, and more, in this week’s Political Week in Review.

Natural Gas Debate Warms Up

“Replacing coal with natural gas will create Michigan jobs, including 19,000 during the construction phase and between approximately 1,200 and 6,300 direct and indirect jobs as a result of increasing natural gas use for electricity." That is the takeaway message from a new peer-reviewed report on the impact of replacing coal with natural gas. It is great news if we can transition a significant segment of our power generation to natural gas, especially in light of the fact that coal costs us $1.36 billion annually to import and then another $1.5 billion in associated health care costs.

There are downsides to the report, though. Environmental groups that object to the study’s approach have a point in noting that the report does not take into account the impact of the insufficiently regulated fracking process. This is a major omission given that fracking is the point of greatest environmental concern in regard to natural gas. While the report provides fuel to keep this important conversation moving forward, it is crucial that we consider all relevant safety concerns as we strive to jumpstart Michigan’s clean energy economy.

On the other hand, ignoring the benefits of displacing coal with natural gas misses the full picture. Burning coal for power is a woefully out-of-date technology that releases mercury into our air and water as well as dozens of toxic byproducts. Even with the misnomer of “clean coal” technology, the impact of coal on climate change, health, and our economy is a deep one. Though it has its flaws, this report is a step in the right direction.

The job numbers in the report are certainly interesting for a state like ours, as is the difference in emissions between burning coal or natural gas. As much as I would love to make a transition straight from coal to purely wind and solar energy, our technology simply isn’t there yet.

In an ideal world Michigan would expand its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and then use natural gas as a transition to even more renewable energy in the future. However, we have a state legislature that is anything but supportive of an expansion of our RPS right now. A transition from coal to wind and solar with an underpinning of natural gas to take on the heavy lifting on the power grid, for now, would be great. It would allow Michigan to move away from our dependence on imported, polluting coal.

Make no mistake, at this point in time the question of natural gas is more of a political question than one of policy. Right now, a number of discussions are going on behind the scenes in Lansing. Republicans are slowly coming around to the benefits of natural gas over coal, but there is still insufficient attention to stronger water protections related to the fracking process. At the same time, I would warn Democrats against proposing any kind of knee-jerk reaction to the natural gas or fracking questions that would turn this important conversation into just another political football to be kicked around.

The good news is, despite the partisanship and lack of creative thinking in Lansing, there is actually the potential for a solid compromise that would include stronger regulations around fracking’s impact on our waters. Michigan LCV is working with a number of partners on all sides of this debate and I can say that I feel confident we can get to that middle ground; each day of debate is tricky, but we are moving forward

Congressmen Benishek and Walberg, by the numbers.

These freshmen Representatives are up to no good, and we have the evidence – their voting records – to prove it. (Well, technically, Walberg was in Congress two years ago, but he still acts like a freshman).

When Congressman Benishek told citizens at a town hall meeting earlier this week that the massively profitable oil companies are “paying their fair share” and should be able to hold on to their billions in unnecessary taxpayer subsidies, we weren’t surprised. We are always watching our Representative’s voting records and couldn’t help but notice that the northern Michigan Congressman voted six times to preserve oil companies’ tax breaks. Think that’s bad? He also voted 45 times to roll back protections for our clean air and water. Want more bad news? Click here.

The Most Important Seat Most Michiganders Have Never Heard Of

Since 2005, Monica Martinez has been making crucial decisions about how your energy is provided and how much it costs you. I’d wager that 99.8% of Michiganders don’t know the impact she’s had on their lives. They should learn quickly, as Martinez is stepping down as one of three members of the Michigan Public Service Commission, a body that governs utility rates, telecommunications, and regulation of the state’s energy sector.

Martinez’s departure creates an open seat, which is filled by gubernatorial appointment. It will be one of the biggest decisions Governor Snyder makes in regard to Michigan’s energy future.

Michigan’s Top Conservationists Are Getting Together. Will You Be There?

Ducks Unlimited. Trout Unlimited. The US Fish and Wildlife Service. National Wildlife Federation. Anglers of the Au Sable. Michigan League of Conservation Voters. The leadership of all these organizations will be joining the nation’s foremost conservationist congressman to address the impact that climate change is having on hunting and fishing in Michigan.

I’m very proud to be the moderator for this town hall discussion involving an outstanding and distinguished group of panelists. I hope you will join all of us on Thursday, September 1st, at the VFW Hall in Rockwood Michigan at 3:30 PM. Here’s the flyer with all the information. Hope you can make it!

Until next week,

Ryan Werder

Political Director

0 replies
  1. Charles Hausmann
    Charles Hausmann says:

    A study described in Volume 108, No 5 issue of AEE’s Energy Engineering compares natural gas firing vs coal at a North Carolina Textile Finishing Plant and concludes: “…the cost of labor and environmantal compliance is very significant with coal operation, but is almost insignificant with natural gas units. At current fuel prices, however, it remains uneconomical to move away from coal and install a natural gas-burning boiler system.”

    The CO2 comparison was 14,750 metric tons/yr for coal vs 8,134 metric tons/yr for nat gas if that lights your fire.


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