What's the best way to promote safer, cleaner energy?

Dependence on foreign oil, the energy economy, the environment, new technology – they all factor into the debate over America's energy future. So what's the best path forward?

Dennis Brack/Newscom
Pumping gas in Washington, DC. As November midterm elections approach, candidates and voters consider the debate over how best to meet America's energy needs.

Get government out of the way

The left proposes expensive, unreliable wind and solar power as our path to cleaner, safer energy. The right has visions of thousands of expensive nuclear plants in our energy future. But competitive energy markets are looking in a very different direction, as it turns out that the world is absolutely awash in natural gas that can be produced with current technology, increasingly cheaply and safely.

Unconventional natural gas (from coal beds, shale, and sand deposits) is a clean-burning fuel that produces fewer conventional and greenhouse-gas emissions, and can be produced and burned with far less environmental impact than alternatives such as coal. This natural gas could address not only our electricity needs, but a significant fraction of our transportation needs as well for decades, and perhaps centuries. It seems abundant and affordable, two cardinal values when it comes to energy.

What stands in the way? Environmentalists, of course. The greens have been hyping risks to groundwater from the hydraulic fracturing liquids used to liberate the natural gas trapped in sand and rock formations. At the local level, the greens are whipping up NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) resistance to nonconventional gas production, while the Environmental Protection Agency (ever the faithful servant of the green movement) has launched a two-year study of hydraulic fracturing, raising the threat of additional regulatory barriers to come. Regulatory overkill based on the BP spill might also hinder the production of unconventional gas.

Natural gas is not a panacea, but it’s more abundant and affordable than the alternatives. We should not let environmentalist fearmongering prevent our energy markets from producing a cleaner, safer, more secure, and more domestic energy future for America.

Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Invest in green jobs

With nearly 15 million Americans unemployed, recent energy-related workplace disasters, the threat of climate change, and our continued reliance on imported oil, we desperately need to promote safer, cleaner energy.

How do we best accomplish that? We can begin the transition to a clean, renewable energy economy that creates good jobs while addressing our biggest environmental and energy challenges.

First, we can build the kind of clean-energy economy that revitalizes the middle class and creates jobs at home. Setting a price on carbon and passing a federal Renewable Electricity Standard, as well as investments in manufacturing, residential, and commercial efficiency will jump-start the market for renewables and put us back on track to lead countries like China – which already has more than 1 million people working in the clean-energy sector.

Promoting safer, cleaner energy also means reforming the Occupational Safety and Health Act by passing the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act. Doing so will modernize worker safety by increasing the maximum amount and effectiveness of Occupational Safety & Health Administration fines, hold companies accountable to fix hazards, and increase protections for whistle-blowers and workers who refuse to perform in hazardous conditions.

It also means modernizing regulation of toxic chemicals. More than 80,000 chemicals are produced and used in the US. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency has tested 200 and restricted just five since 1976. Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act will give the EPA the power to ensure that chemicals are safe for our families and our environment. Congress must take action to promote safer, cleaner energy by embracing our clean-energy future now.

Yvette Pena Lopes, director of legislation and intergovernmental affairs, BlueGreen Alliance

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