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TOWNS: Landmark Emissions Study Says LNG Is Better Alternative for Environment

Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, has been at the forefront of the global discussion on climate policy, energy, and emissions for decades. Natural gas advocates say it is an environmentally safer alternative to traditional, emissions-heavy fossil fuels such as coal and heating oil.

The Biden administration, which just two years ago called for more production of natural gas in efforts to blunt the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has now pivoted away from it. In January 2024, the administration announced a temporary ban, or “pause,” on new LNG export licenses to suppliers to assess the greenhouse gas impact of LNG in global supply chains. Administration officials, under pressure from climate activists, have rallied against LNG’s purported eco-friendliness vis-a-vis other fuel sources. They also argue the pause is necessary to incorporate LNG’s climate impact in the “public interest” when determining the approval or rejection of LNG export projects.

But what does the science say?

A new study published by Berkeley Research Group (BRG), a leading economics and industry research firm, represents a watershed moment for emissions-based data collection. Its findings clarify the contentious dialogue surrounding LNG in the United States and around the world and show its true impact on the environment.

By comparing the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy output of U.S. LNG, pipeline natural gas, and coal in 13 international markets in Europe and Asia, the study found that U.S. LNG is cleaner in its lifecycle than coal and cleaner than Russian pipeline natural gas in every case studied. Importantly, by analyzing emissions from production, processing, shipping, and ground transportation, the study captures the complete value chain of each fuel type.

The data also shows that American LNG produces less than half of the resulting emissions of coal-generated electricity in international markets in Europe and Asia. In fact, if U.S. LNG replaced coal-generated power in these 13 markets for just one year, it would save the emissions equivalent of 153 million to 397 million cars (or 170,000 – 440,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent).

This remarkable finding conclusively shows that LNG is a dramatically safer, cleaner alternative to burning coal. This should not be overlooked because global coal use is not decreasing. On the contrary, electricity generation and exports from coal hit record highs just last year.

The environmental advantage of U.S. LNG also holds true when compared to piped natural gas in foreign export markets.

Put simply, American LNG is now among the least emission-intensive sources of energy in the world.

These findings are enormously important to understanding global environmental realities. They should inform dialogue and relevant policy decisions in energy security and climate policy within the Biden administration.

For years, experts on energy policy and American LNG producers have urged federal officials to continue to approve new LNG export licenses because LNG is the best way to secure our energy independence and reliability, while still minimizing the overall risk to our communities and environment. Now they have reinforced scientific evidence to support those claims.

Today, people around the globe rely on natural gas to generate electricity, heat, and fuel in homes and businesses. In one of the most remarkable sources of strength, American LNG is helping our allies push back against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. American natural gas is protecting democracy now and in the future. Without it, the alternative is greater reliance on Putin and other authoritarians.

The results are in: American LNG is the safest, cleanest option we have to power our economy through increasingly uncertain global market forces, while ensuring that we act responsibly and use energy like natural gas that makes for a cleaner and greener country and world. The Biden administration would be wise (and would receive due credit) to reverse the LNG pause and harness the potential of American natural gas.

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Bucks Commissioner DiGirolamo Withdraws Support for County Lawsuit Targeting Big Oil

Last month, the three Bucks County commissioners entered the national debate over climate policy by filing a lawsuit against the world’s major oil companies, blaming them for local damages allegedly caused by global warming. It’s part of a coordinated strategy by green activists hoping to use local courts to either damage the fossil fuel industry or force a massive payout similar to the tobacco industry settlement in 1998.

On Wednesday, Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo backed out.

“Madame Chair, I have considered this for the past seven or eight days,” said DiGirolamo. “And at this point, I would like to withdraw my support for the lawsuit.”

There was some scattered applause from the audience.

Bucks County is far from alone. Similar lawsuits have been filed by state and local jurisdictions from Hawaii to California to Delaware. In Wilmington, a Superior Court judge set aside key elements of the lawsuit attempting to declare global energy companies a “public nuisance” in The First State.

Critics of the aggressive litigation strategy say it’s intentionally abusing the legal system by forcing a federal issue into state courts. In response, 20 state attorneys general this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

During public comment, Bucks County resident Ed Mackhouse said the oil companies are being sued because they have money and not because they bear responsibility for “the climate hoax.”

“Where is this coming from that Bucks County is going to sue oil companies?” asked Andy Warren, a former Bucks County commissioner. “We’ve got to have more substantial things about Bucks County than to start a crusade about oil companies.”

Warminster resident Beth Curcio said, “I’m not surprised you would look for the press by suing the oil companies. The very companies that make your clothes, shoes, furniture, heat your homes, run all your transportation — I could go on forever. Over the years it’s become cleaner and safer to transport through pipelines.”

DiGiralomo could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to complaints about the use of county resources, Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia said the lawyers handling the lawsuit against the oil companies are working on a contingency basis so the county will not have to pay legal fees unless it wins damages.

Vice Chair Robert Harvie Jr. pushed back on the criticisms from the public, as well asDiGirolamo’s announcement.

“A comment was made, ‘Why does this matter?’

“It matters because… in the next 16 years, Pennsylvania municipalities are expected to spend $16.5 billion to deal with issues regarding climate change, extreme heat, extreme precipitation, rising sea levels, or, in our case, river levels. That includes $1.2 billion in air conditioning in schools, including $6 million in air conditioning added to schools just in Bensalem Township.”

Harvie said towns that border the Delaware River could spend $172 million on flood control.

“We’ve already seen a 5 to 10 percent increase in rainfall over the past several years,” he said. “It’s really about a negligence issue.”

However, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a leading academic on climate change policy says impacts from climate disaster have been overstated. He notes the number of hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. has declined over the past century and the relative cost of flood damage in America is one-tenth what it was in the early 1900s.

“The cost of climate-related disasters has dropped five-fold since 1980,” Lomborg adds.

Bucks County Sues World’s Oil Producers Over Local Impacts of Climate Change

The Bucks County commissioners announced Monday they are suing some of the world’s largest global oil producers over the local effects of climate change in Bensalem and Yardley.

The lawsuit, filed in Common Pleas Court against BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and the American Petroleum Institute, claims they knew their product was causing climate change and failed to warn the public. Bucks County argues that those companies should be held liable for the local impacts of warmer temperatures.

“In recent years, we have experienced unprecedented weather events here in Bucks County that have repeatedly put residents and first responders in harm’s way, damaged public and private property, and placed undue strain on our infrastructure,” said Commissioner Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia (D). “We’re already seeing the human and financial tolls of climate change beginning to mount, and if the oil companies’ own data is to be believed, the trend will continue.”

Bucks County is “following the model established in suits (it) brought against PFAS manufacturers, social media giants, and opioid companies. This complaint seeks to shift the financial burden of the climate crisis from the taxpayers of Bucks County to the companies responsible for creating the crisis,” according to a statement from the county.

At least eight states and more than two dozen local governments have filed similar lawsuits.

Critics, like David N. Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, have accused the county of political posturing that is unconnected to reality.

“Suing oil and gas companies for providing an essential product that not only enables modern life but drives significant economic growth in our state is nonsensical and will result in higher costs for manufacturers, businesses, and consumers alike,” Taylor said.

“It’s unfortunate Bucks County took the bait of a copy-and-paste-lawsuit pushed by out-of-state activists and billionaire hypocrites over the well-being of Pennsylvanians.”

But commissioners from both parties supported the lawsuit.

“These companies have known since at least the 1950s that their ways of doing business were having calamitous effects on our planet, and rather than change what they were doing or raise the alarm, they lied to all of us,” said Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo. “The taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for these companies and their greed.”

“This suit is our tool to recoup costs and fund public works projects like bolstering or replacing bridges, retrofitting county-owned buildings, and commencing stormwater management projects, all of which will put us in the best possible position to weather what is certain to come,” Ellis-Marseglia added.

Can a company whose product is being used in every nation in the world be held responsible for alleged local consequences from impacts on global climate?

A Delaware judge took a dim view of that legal strategy and tossed out significant parts of a similar case. On Jan. 9, Delaware Superior Court Judge Mary Miller Johnston ruled the Clean Air Act preempts Delaware’s core allegations for public nuisance, trespass, and failure to warn since it sought damages for activity resulting from out-of-state or global greenhouse gas emissions. Delaware can only proceed with claims proving alleged injuries were the cause of emissions from sources within the state. Prevailing with that claim isn’t possible in this case. The judge found that in-state Delaware emissions cannot have a material effect on the global nature of climate change.

Energy companies argue addressing climate change and public policy is a job for the federal government, not local governments.

“Addressing climate change requires a coordinated international policy response, not meritless local litigation over lawful and essential energy production,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, counsel for Chevron Corporation.

Others in the energy sector accused Bucks County of hypocrisy.

“Bucks County and its elected county officials have relied on oil and natural gas for decades to meet their transportation needs and to power their once-mighty steel industrial base,” said Curt Schroder, executive director of Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform. “Yet the commissioners have filed climate change litigation for a situation they helped cause. When can we expect all county-owned vehicles to be electric or all the county buildings to be powered by renewables?

“One would expect such actions to follow immediately upon the heels of the action taken by the county leaders. Pennsylvanians already pay a hefty ‘tort tax’ that goes right into the pockets of out-of-state trial lawyers, and this lawsuit will only raise costs even higher for hard-working people across the state – all without advancing real climate solutions. Lawsuits targeting the lawful production of energy are an abuse of our state’s civil justice system and an end-run around the democratic process,” Schroder added.

And both supporters and opponents of the legislation agree that a Bucks County lawsuit isn’t going to solve the problem of climate change.

“These local lawsuits do nothing to address our real energy challenges. In fact, lawsuits like this actually undercut Pennsylvania’s role in addressing climate change. Electric sector-related emissions have plummeted in recent years as more natural gas has come online to meet our growing power demands,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance.

“That has led to cleaner air across our commonwealth. The United States is reducing greenhouse gas emissions faster than any other country in the world, an achievement tied to our emergence as the world’s top natural gas producer.

“The timing of this lawsuit has little to do with environmental concerns and everything to do with concerns over the coming election,” Knaus said.

 

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YAW: Maryland Puts the Grid to the Test While Pennsylvania Pays the Bill

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly announced plans to reduce its output of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 60 percent by 2031. The Climate Pollution Reduction Plan was sold as a roadmap to achieve near-term climate goals and a path to reach net zero emissions by 2045, setting the tone for environmental and energy decision-making throughout the state.

The problem with this roadmap is that it leads to nowhere but disruption to the reliability of our electric supply and a higher cost to all ratepayers, including Pennsylvanians. Yes, Pennsylvania ratepayers will pay part of the costs generated by the closure of thermal generation like coal, natural gas, oil, or nuclear facilities in Maryland.

The City of Baltimore is served primarily by a coal-fired thermal electric generation facility known as Brandon Shores. Brandon Shores and the nearby Wagner facility supply approximately 2200 megawatts of thermal electricity to PJM, the organization designated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to manage the mid-Atlantic power grid and the safe and reliable flow of electricity for 65 million people from Chicago to Philadelphia and many places in between.

Talen Energy, the owner of Brandon Shores, had been discussing the conversion of the facility from coal to oil. In mid-2023, unbeknownst to PJM, Talen entered into an agreement with the Sierra Club to close Brandon Shores in June 2025, taking enough electricity to power about 2 million homes from the supply available to the grid.

PJM analyses show that without proper upgrades, the deactivation of Brandon Shores would cause a severe voltage drop across seven PJM zones, leading to a widespread reliability risk not only in Maryland but in the surrounding zones including Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. This is a scenario that FERC Commissioner Mark Christie called “potentially catastrophic.”

But why should Pennsylvanians care? Because Maryland and the City of Baltimore don’t exist in a vacuum, and they will still need electricity. To replace the production at Brandon Shores with solar, it would require a minimum of 15,400 acres of solar panels or about 1400 windmills. There are no such projects underway. The only answer for Maryland, short of shuttering the City of Baltimore, is to import the electric power needed to replace the capacity of Brandon Shores from generation states like Pennsylvania.

To import more electricity into Maryland from other generation facilities requires approximately $800 million worth of upgrades and new construction to high-voltage power lines throughout Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. The cost of the upgrades will be passed onto ratepayers in the areas where the upgrades are made. While the majority of the costs will be borne by Marylanders, about 20 percent or $160 million will fall on ratepayers in Pennsylvania. The crux of the problem, however, is that the upgrades will not be completed until sometime in 2028.

The real question is, what happens to Maryland and the City of Baltimore for those three years between the announced closure date of June 2025 and the necessary transmission line upgrades which are projected to be completed in 2028?  PJM has requested a voluntary agreement to delay the proposed shutdown to allow time to bring replacement power online. So far, that effort has been rejected. Frankly, it is unclear whether Maryland or the City of Baltimore understand the dilemma they are in and just how rapidly disaster is approaching.

Unfortunately, this scenario is being repeated throughout the PJM grid and the United States. The knee-jerk reaction to move to so-called “green energy” is occurring without considering the ramifications of what powers our daily lives.

For many years, we have become accustomed to flipping a switch and our lights come on. That reliability rests solely on thermal generation that can be brought online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without regard to weather, time of day, or duration. The inevitable fact is that as we introduce more of the so-called renewable electric generation, which is intermittent and of limited duration, into the grid, the more the grid will become intermittent and of limited duration. States like Maryland will soon face the consequences of short-sighted energy decisions. Sadly, Pennsylvanians will pay for it.

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Counterpoint: Urgency on Climate Change Is Long Overdue

For an alternate viewpoint see: “Point: No Need to Panic on Climate Change”

It’s not time to panic about climate change. It’s past time.

Usually, panic is the wrong response to almost every situation. It implies irrational overreaction to threats, often producing unproductive or harmful handling of them.

Yet, the existential threat that climate change poses to life on Earth and the very planet itself requires at least an element of panic as a catalyst to a meaningful, sustained response.

Worry hasn’t worked. Concern hasn’t worked. Alarm hasn’t worked.

Globally, June of this year was the hottest June on record, going back almost two centuries when the United States and Britain first began tracking atmospheric temperatures.

On July 3, the hottest daily mean global temperature ever was reached at 62.69 degrees Fahrenheit. The next day set another record. So did the next, and the next. From July 3 through July 29, the Earth experienced 29 consecutive hottest days — in any month, in any year, ever.

History’s greatest physicists and mathematicians, from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, loved the certainty of numbers.

It’s impossible to argue with the grim certainty of the ever more frightening climate numbers on our precious planet.

Whether or not panic is warranted, our anxiety is already rising, almost in concert with the inexorable increase in global temperatures.

While “climate anxiety” is not yet an official psychological disorder, therapists report a growing number of patients with what some call eco-anxiety, a term first coined in 2007, especially among young people. A peer-reviewed article published in May 2023 in the journal Nature Mental Health cited a recent study of 10,000 people ages 16-25 in 10 countries: Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they were very worried or extremely worried about climate change — and 84 percent were somewhat worried.

It makes sense that young people feel the most urgency about climate change. They have the longest still to live on a planet enduring more uncontrollable wildfires, more unbearable heat waves, more glacial melting, more warming of both the deepest seas and the blankets of air above them, more hurricanes unleashed by warmer oceans, more deforestation, more destruction of the life-saving trees that combat global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

We owe enormous gratitude to one singular young person who, as much as anyone else, has compelled her elders to finally take climate change seriously. Swedish savant Greta Thunberg began her relentless campaign as a teenager. At age 16, Time magazine named her among the 100 most influential people in the world, and, still just 20, she has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Our house is on fire,” Thunberg told the World Economic Forum in January 2019.

New economic powerhouses such as China and India protest that they are being asked to burn less fossil fuel, release fewer greenhouse gases, and take other remedial steps that the United States, Japan, Germany and other industrialized nations did not have to take in earlier decades.

China and India are right: the evolving requirements of responsible global stewardship are unfair. Their economies happen to be booming in a more perilous era, one in which the very future of life on Earth hangs in the balance for the first time.

Such inequity is no excuse for inaction on their part.

There have been signs of growing international resolve against the ravages of climate change. The Paris Agreement, an international treaty adopted in 2015, has been signed by 193 countries plus the European Union, pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and give developing nations money to fight global warming. The historic accord aims to limit the global temperature increase this century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) while pursuing efforts to hold it to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Even those relatively modest temperature hikes would cause more wildfires, hurricanes and other destructive climate events.

Disgracefully, former president Donald Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Agreement. His successor, President Biden, restored U.S. membership on his first day in office.

More ambitiously, the European Union has joined the United Nations, China and 69 other countries, which combined emit three-quarters of all greenhouse gases, in pledging to reach zero net emissions by 2050. More than 1,000 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles and Houston, are part of the same initiative.

Not surprisingly, even such a dangerous threat as climate change, one that should be uncontroversial, has been politicized in our deeply polarized era. Conservative commentators blame environmentalists’ longstanding opposition to nuclear power for contributing to climate change. Nuclear power production does not emit greenhouse gases, but it entails other risks involving the storage of spent fuel rods and the cataclysmic, if rare, danger of nuclear meltdown.

France has gone against the grain of most other industrialized countries in obtaining more than two-thirds of its energy from nuclear power, compared with just one-fifth in the United States.

While we’ve picked up the pace in mitigating climate change, however belatedly, it’s still far from enough. If we want to save our grandchildren and their grandchildren from even worse natural catastrophes, we will have to do far more.

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COUNTERPOINT: Wind Turbine Project Endangers Wildlife

For an alternate viewpoint see: POINT: Reaping the Whirlwind

Peck’s Beach, better known as Ocean City, New Jersey, is according to the Washington Post, the center ring in the debate over wind turbines being placed off the Jersey shore.

How ironic that the town’s very early history was as an outpost for the whaling industry. John Peck was a major whaler.  At that time, people used whale blubber for oil lamps, soap, paint and varnish. Today whales dolphins and other sea creatures are collateral damage as Gov. Phil Murphy, Orsted, the Danish energy company, and others push forward with wind turbines for billions of dollars and, just as relevant, major liberal credit for fighting climate change.

In his July 7th open letter to citizens in Ocean City, Mayor Jay A. Gillian stated that “One thing is certain – everyone’s electric rates are going up. That much we’ve been assured of by the developer and our state.”

“More importantly, we have no idea what impact this massive wind farm project will have on our ecosystems and environment, our economy, and our health,” the mayor said.

As more people learn about the project, this view is becoming the consensus. And that change in public opinion is  the reason Murphy, Orsted and a small cadre of supporters are trying to race this project to completion.

In this same letter, Gillian talked about the fact that the day after the federal government approved these 98900-foot-tall offshore wind turbines carrying 1,100 megawatts of electricity via a transmission line under our beaches and dunes, the state of New Jersey informed Ocean City that a single piping plover had hatched chicks in the dunes near 16th street.

The mayor used this occurrence to make the point that piping plover set off extraordinary care to protect the chicks including removing trash cans from the beach, routine beach patrol and police patrols by vehicle were prohibited and a litany of other measures were put into place. Why is the same care and effort not being put into place  to protect whales and other sea life for the wind turbine project?

Just in the last week we’ve seen whales die near the beaches of Deal and Long Branch New Jersey and off Long Island, N.Y.  Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures off the Jersey Shore are dying in historic numbers, as the preliminary work for the wind turbines takes place. Yet, we’re told nothing to see here, move along because ‘we must save the planet.’

It certainly seems that all this planet saving might be greased by all the money that is sloshing around this project. Orsted recently was given state tax credits by the legislature that might be worth billions to further bolster its bottom line.

But what about the economy of the various Jersey shore towns? A recent study by the Cape May County Commissioners concluded that these wind turbines would cost them billions of tourism dollars. It’s believed that the skyscraper windmills will be visible from many beaches spoiling the beautiful views that draw tourists to the area.

In fact, I’m writing this column from North Wildwood and the beauty of the beaches and ocean is part of the birthright of those of us lucky enough to grow up in the Delaware Valley- South Jersey area. Why not start by putting windmills throughout Phil Murphy’s estates? I believe Murphy is shoving this project through because he has national aspirations and this project would be a gold star many times over among progressives.

I am hopeful that Orsted and Murphy can be defeated. In a recent joint statement, Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin questioned the impacts of the wind projects.  Also, groups fighting the wind turbines have gotten a major celebrity ready to speak out forcefully against the project.

If you care about whales, other sea creatures, and the beauty of the Jersey shore, get involved.

 

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OPINION: Stop the Panicked Fearmongering; There Is Hope Ahead

The meaningful exchange of truly diverse ideas and perspectives has withered over recent decades. We need to foster and promote critical thinking and constructive discussion. Our new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, an international coalition of politicians, business leaders, public intellectuals and cultural commentators, will help ensure a broader range of perspectives can be heard globally.

Consider the world’s response to the COVID pandemic. A panic-stricken lockdown orthodoxy far too soon took hold, and those whose policy proposals deviated quickly were labeled “COVID deniers.”

The obvious downsides to universal lockdowns were ignored by those striving to garner credit for simple-minded immediacy of response. Thus, we saw increases in income distribution and wealth inequalitywidespread loss of employment, substantive declines in spending, and general deterioration in economic conditions; severe declines in mental health and wellbeing, delayed and diminished access to healthcare, and record high levels of domestic violence. The education of children was particularly affected. School closures, on average, robbed children of more than seven months of education, which could end up costing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings.

We need to have a serious conversation about our manner of response before the next crisis to ensure that the cure is not much worse than the disease. Consider the alarmist treatment of climate change. Campaigners play up fear while neglecting to mention that reductions in poverty and increases in resiliency mean that climate-related disasters kill fewer people. Over the past century, deaths have dropped 97 percent. Heat waves capture the headlines. Globally, however, cold kills nine times more people. Currently, higher temperatures are resulting in 166,000 fewer temperature-related deaths annually.

Fear-mongering and suppressing inconvenient truths are pushing us dangerously toward the wrong solutions. Politicians and pundits call for net-zero policies that will cost far beyond $100 trillion while producing benefits a fraction as large. We need to discuss honestly the costs and benefits to find the best solutions.

We also need to conduct a more mature conversation about how to better help the poorer half of the world. The United Nations promises everything imaginable through its Sustainable Development Goals. But promising everything without prioritization is no plan at all.

We must zero in on the most efficient solutions first. More than 100 economists and several Nobel laureates working with the Copenhagen Consensus have identified the most promising and effective SDG targets. We could, for example, virtually eliminate tuberculosis, which needlessly still kills more than a million people yearly, for an additional $6.2 billion a year. We could invest $5.5 billion more in agricultural research and development in low-income countries to increase crop yields, help farmers produce more and consumers pay less, and reduce the number of hungry people by more than 100 million annually.

There are a dozen areas where much could be done for comparatively little money. We could efficiently and quickly boost learning in schools, save mothers’ and newborns’ lives, tackle malaria, make government procurement much more efficient, improve nutrition, increase land tenure security, turbo-charge the effects of trade, advance skilled migration, and increase child immunization rates.

These 12 sensible and implementable policies could save more than 4 million lives yearly and generate economic benefits worth more than a trillion dollars for an outlay of $35 billion a year for the next seven years.

The new Alliance for Responsible Citizenship forum can help us positively envision the future. We can focus on what is truly important and attainable, initiate and reward a more nuanced global discussion regarding the problems that will always beset us, and look forward confidently to a world more abundant, laden with opportunity, sustainable and hopeful.

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Experts Warn of Grid Crisis as PA Senators Demand Green Energy

When the U.S. Senate approved the Inflation Reduction Act, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) celebrated the legislation as “the most ambitious climate bill the Senate has ever passed.”

Casey said he supported the Biden administration’s goal of reducing power from coal and natural gas sources. “It will shore up the U.S.’s place as a clean energy producer and reduce our greenhouse emissions by 40 percent by 2030,” Casey said, “while investing in the coal communities that powered our nation for generations.”

But last week, senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard a very different story. The retirement of fossil fuel electricity production and the lack of reliable renewables to replace it are putting America’s grid at risk. That includes the possibility of rolling blackouts and widespread deaths from a loss of power.

For example, the regional grid operator PJM projected 40 gigawatts of electric production to be retired by 2030, about one-fifth of its current installed capacity. More than half of that loss comes from what it termed “policy-driven retirements.”

Last week’s committee hearing was called to “examine the reliability and resiliency of electric service in the United States in light of recent reliability assessments and alerts.” The news was ominous.

James Robb, president & CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, told senators the electric power system “is absolutely at an inflection point right now.”

The grid, Robb said, needs to be able to hold up especially well when demand surges, and residents call for huge amounts of electricity. He argued that novel new forms of electricity production “can’t do that nearly as well as large, spinning mass generation.”

“And that’s why the loss of coal plants and natural gas plants and nuclear plants is so concerning from a grid reliability perspective,” he said.

“Grid transformation” has occurred throughout the U.S. for years as increasing numbers of reliable coal-fired power plants are retired, and renewable energy methods take their place. Activists claim the rapid shift away from carbon-based fuels to green energy is necessary to prevent the theoretical effects of climate change in the coming century.

David Tudor, CEO of the midwestern Associated Electric Cooperative, predicted the rapid retirement of fossil fuel power plants could bring about population-level deaths in the U.S.

“My concern is, you’ve got a gap period here that we have this push for new renewables and this push to shut down plants that work, and there’s nothing there in the middle to save us,” he said.

“I fear we are going to have blackouts, and I’m afraid we’re going to see a significant number of lives lost.”

Grid warning signs have been flashing at the state level as well. A panel of experts told the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee last month the state and the region were facing near-term power shortages due to the retirement of legacy plants in favor of newer, untested renewable source generation.

State Sen. Gene Yaw warned at the hearing that “short-sighted environmental policies” have “forced fossil fuel plants into nonexistence, resulting in fewer reliable energy sources to shoulder the burden of increased demand on Pennsylvania’s electrical grid.”

Also of concern is the number of jobs in Pennsylvania and elsewhere supported directly or indirectly by fossil fuels. A recent report found that fossil fuels, directly and indirectly, support over 400,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone and millions across the country.

Neither of Pennsylvania’s federal senators appeared concerned about the possibility of electricity shortages in the state or nationwide. Casey, who did not respond to requests for comment, has supported the use of “tax credits for companies to build American-made clean energy facilities” and called upon the state to “increase the use of renewable energy” to address the climate crisis.

Sen. John Fetterman, meanwhile—who also did not respond to requests for comment—has claimed that the U.S. needs to “transition to clean energy as quickly as possible.” The freshman Democratic senator has shown a willingness to play politics on the question of energy, having reversed his position on fracking during his contentious run for Senate last year. But he has also supported extreme policies like carbon caps as a way to mitigate the possible dangers of climate change.

After the Senate hearing, Rich Nolan of the National Mining Association released a statement saying it was “impossible to listen to the testimony this morning, including from the nation’s top reliability regulator and from the CEO of our largest grid operator, and not conclude that we’re pushing aside existing, dispatchable generation – namely the nation’s coal capacity – far too quickly.”

“We are already in a grid reliability crisis, and the EPA’s regulatory onslaught is making an extraordinarily challenging situation all but unmanageable,” he said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said most electrical generation in the U.S. continues to come from coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, and petroleum. Just around one-fifth of the total generation comes from renewables.

Robb told the senators his industry is doing its part on the infrastructure side to move the power, but that doesn’t solve the problem if there’s no power to move.

“The electric transmission grid is highly reliable and resilient,” he said. “Yet the risk profile to customers is steadily increasing.”

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DAEMEN: U.S. Mining Best Way to Address Looming Threat of Foreign Mineral Cartel

America needs to adopt a bold strategy to ramp up mining. The aim should be to solve a major problem in the fight against climate change — a shortage of minerals vital to clean energy technologies like electric cars and transmission systems for renewable power.

Mining is the foundation of a green economy. Countries require minerals, and that means mining. The world’s growing economies and population will demand a lot more minerals like copper, nickel and lithium. The International Energy Agency says that global production of battery minerals needs to expand tenfold to meet projected critical minerals needs by 2030. Hundreds of new mines are needed, the IEA says.

But beyond our horizon of attention, trouble is brewing.  Several resource-rich countries, led by Indonesia, are considering forming a cartel to control the global supply and pricing of battery metals, similar to what OPEC does for oil.  With demand for lithium, nickel and other vital raw materials rising, the idea that some mining countries would like to take advantage of their mineral deposits and control the future market is gaining ground. The so-called lithium triangle of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia has considered forming a lithium cartel — and may yet do so. But we know from our experience with OPEC that the best way to counter cartels is to ramp up production in the United States.

But domestic mining inspires in many groups a deep aversion — and they have been able to block efforts in Congress to streamline the mine permitting process. It may be hard to believe, but it takes 15 years or more for a mining project in the U.S. to become operational. In most other mining countries, it takes less than half that time.

With global demand for raw materials soaring, we should stop pretending that we can depend on imports of minerals from other countries to meet our needs. Such dependence carries a huge risk from a potential cartel and from our heavy reliance on Russia for uranium and China for rare earths and other vital minerals.

Make no mistake, the United States has abundant mineral resources beneath the ground, but they’re out of reach.  Paradoxically, if environmentalists continue to have the upper hand and block mining, the transition to clean energy technologies will be slowed and carbon emissions from using fossil fuels will climb, which would be terrible news for the environment.

As climate change unfolds, the minerals challenge will be felt acutely by U.S. industries, especially the automobile industry. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral input of a conventional vehicle. Each EV battery has hundreds of pounds of minerals imported mainly from overseas. Auto industry analysts warn that a mineral shortfall could stop electric car production.

We dare not stick our heads in the sand and pretend we can do without mining.  Domestic production and processing of minerals is a hedge against volatility in mineral prices and protection against potential cartels fixing prices and imposing embargoes.

Now is the time for the administration and Congress to create a sound regulatory policy so that new mines in the United States can open without further delay. Only then will we be able to deal with the economic and security challenges of a carbon-affected world. The need for collective action is unmistakable.

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Despite Leaving Climate Group, Vanguard Adheres to Environmental, Social, Government (ESG) Dogma

Investment behemoth Vanguard may have decided recently to quit a net zero climate effort, but do not expect the Pennsylvania-based advisor group to walk away from all things environmental.

Economist Jerry Bowyer of Boston, Pennsylvania-based Bowyer Research says Vanguard has been quieter about the climate change political agenda than Blackrock, but Bowyer’s research shows Vanguard is “in many ways” a more consistent vote against fossil fuels.

“This political intrusion into finance violates the intention of the firm’s founder, John Bogle,” adds Bowyer. “The energy policy side may well violate Vanguard’s agreement with government regulatory officials to stop interfering with management decisions in this space.”

In short, Bowyer says Vanguard is supposed to be a money management firm, not an energy regulatory agency. The regulation of energy is what the Net Zero Asset Managers (NZAM) Initiative involves. In fact, the very commitment that managers agree to is an acknowledgment that “there is an urgent need to accelerate the transition towards global net zero emissions” and for asset managers to help deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement. In signing on to NZAM, organizations commit to supporting the goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C (‘net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner’).

“It also commits to support investing aligned with net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner,” says the commitment, which is available on NetZeroAssetManagers.org.

Vanguard, one of the world’s biggest mutual fund managers, announced its decision to quit the Net Zero Asset Managers (NZAM) Initiative on December 7. Vanguard officials said they wanted to provide the clarity that its investors desire about the role of index funds and about how they think about material risks, including climate-related risks. Vanguard also wants to make clear that the firm speaks independently on matters of importance to its investors.

Vanguard’s announcement comes as members of the State Financial Officers Foundation and attorneys general have been holding large asset aggregators such as Blackrock and Vanguard accountable for environmental, social, and government (ESG) policies. Had it not been for these efforts, Bowyer thinks Vanguard would still be in the Net Zero group.

“It’s a victory, but a partial one,” says Bowyer. “Vanguard has shown no indication that is changing its policies one iota, and in announcing this change, it reasserted its commitment to fighting global warming.”

Vanguard’s statement says climate change and the ongoing global response will have “far-reaching economic consequences” for companies, financial markets, and investors, presenting what Vanguard considers a clear example of a material and multifaceted financial risk. Vanguard adds this change in NZAM membership status will not affect its commitment to helping investors navigate the risks that climate change can pose to their long-term returns.

“We will continue to provide investors the information and products they need to make sound investment choices, including products designed to meet net-zero objectives,” Vanguard officials said. “We will continue to interact with companies held by Vanguard funds to understand how they address material risks, including climate risk, in the interests of long-term investors, and we will continue to publicly report on our efforts with respect to climate risk, grounded in our deep commitment to our investors and their financial well-being.”

If you ask Bowyer, the only change announced here is that Vanguard will speak with an independent voice in the future. However, that says nothing about whether the independent voice will be any different from its past voice. Bowyer also doubts that Attorney General turned Governor-elect Josh Shapiro (D-Pennsylvania) will in any serious way challenge Vanguard on climate change. Like Governor Tom Wolf, Bowyer considers Shapiro a reliable left-of-center voice who represents Philadelphia regional politics and not the pro-fossil fuel agenda of the rest of the state.

Professor Burton Hollifield with the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University can see where Vanguard is coming from with this decision. Vanguard is owned by its funds, themselves which are owned by the fund investors. Therefore, Hollifield says Vanguard has a duty to produce high, long-term returns for their owners.

“Vanguard provides low-cost products to meet long term investment goals, offering many passive index products,” says Hollifield. “Their stated reason for withdrawing from the NZAM is that they want to provide clarity on their focus on how net-zero approaches can impact index products.”

Hollifield adds that long-term index returns reflect long-term risks faced by the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, Hollifield says climate change is an economy-wide risk. So, Vanguard has strong incentives to worry about climate risk for their funds. Pulling out of NZAM does not change that. Vanguard has strong incentives to work to manage long-term climate risks.

“That other investment funds remain in NZAM means that investors who decide to embrace the net-zero goals will still have access to competing products committed to that approach,” says Hollifield. “Competition may force Vanguard to change their approach in the future if the NZAM approach is the only way to deal with climate risks.”

 

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