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Clearing the air on natural gas

071917 norton oped photo
Natural gas is putting more money back into the pockets of millions of American households, accounting for an average savings of $900 annually on energy costs. (Alan Warren/The Messenger-Inquirer via AP)

For the first time in decades, the U.S. is leading the world in both energy production and the reduction of carbon emissions. Today, the natural gas industry is providing millions of Americans with safe, affordable, and reliable energy, which is also making us less reliant on foreign fuel sources.

Unfortunately, the critical role of natural gas as a domestic energy source is not always easily understood by many Americans or our policymakers. If we are going to continue reducing emissions and fueling our economy, we need federal, state, and local policies that support the development, transportation, and use of natural gas.

The stakes are high, which is why my organization, the American Gas Association, has launched its "Your Energy" campaign to discuss the benefits of gas and clear up misconceptions. To maintain our quality of life and grow our economy in the decades ahead, America needs safe, reliable, and affordable energy, while also continuing to make environmental progress. We must not let fear or misinformation guide our decisions when it comes to America's energy future.

Consider, for example, aggressive calls to shut down natural gas production and convert entirely to renewable energy. This is unrealistic, rooted in misguidance from those who don't understand the current integration of natural gas into society. Conversion to renewable forms of energy cannot happen and be affordable for most Americans without natural gas.

What is possible is to expand renewable energy hand in hand with natural gas. And this is already happening. Wind, for instance, can provide a significant source of energy, but it is not consistent. Sometimes, the wind dies down. Wind power needs to operate in partnership with a reliable energy source. The most practical solution is natural gas, which provides consistency and flexibility to ramp up or down when the wind blows harder or softer. Today, natural gas is the primary energy source used to balance wind power.

While natural gas enables greater use of wind and solar power, it also is the cleanest, most efficient fossil fuel. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called natural gas "a game-changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for decades."

In addition to driving CO2 emissions to 25-year lows, the increased use of natural gas has helped reduce emissions of six other pollutants, including ozone, lead, and carbon monoxide.

Natural gas is also putting more money back into the pockets of millions of American households, accounting for an average savings of $900 annually on energy costs. Natural gas, delivered directly from 2.5 million miles of underground pipelines, provides lower home heating costs compared with electricity or heating oil.

Policymakers and the public should also recognize that natural gas is a critical part of our industrial supply chain. Building-block chemicals manufactured from natural gas are used to produce thousands of consumer goods, from crayons to shampoo, disposable diapers, and sporting goods. Modern agriculture depends on fertilizer produced from natural gas. Our lives would be very different if we cut off access to this energy source.

Limiting the access and use of natural gas would also be a blow to millions of American workers. The natural gas industry employs about 2 million Americans and stands to add another 3.5 million jobs by 2035. In addition to direct employment, the industry is also helping to revive several areas of U.S. manufacturing, which also supports millions of more jobs.

We cannot jeopardize American jobs or undermine our energy security by allowing incomplete information from groups who seek to ban all traditional energy sources and overshadow our desire for a sustainable energy future rooted in reality and the goal of energy affordability for all Americans. Natural gas should be recognized as a cornerstone of our nation's prosperity in the 21st century. Energy policies at all levels of government should leverage, not undermine, the value of natural gas.

Pierce Norton is chair of the board of the American Gas Association.

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