Natural-gas climate

Tuesday’s United Nations confab on climate change produced lots of rhetoric from political leaders worldwide, but few specific commitments to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Several news reports Wednesday said there is so much dispute on the issue, that it’s unlikely any new global agreement on climate change will be reached when world leaders gather in Copenhagen in December.

President Barack Obama touted some of this nation’s achievements on climate change when he spoke Tuesday.
He talked of the drop in CO2 emissions this country has recently seen, although much of that may be attributed to the economic recession. And he cheered the passage of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the House this summer. But that legislation appears stalled in the Senate, and that’s fine with us.

The Waxman-Markey bill would enact a massive, de facto tax on energy — costing households at least $1,500 per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would further cripple an economy that is now just limping along.

Because there are so many loopholes for certain preferred CO2 emitters, the bill would actually do very little to curb carbon emissions. That’s why some major environmental groups oppose it.

The Senate should kill the Waxman-Markey bill.

But that doesn’t mean this country should do nothing about carbon emissions. One thing it can do relatively cheaply is encourage more use of natural gas.

Although natural gas received little mention at the U.N. Tuesday, new technology has dramatically increased the amount of gas available in the past few years. Because it burns cleaner than coal or gasoline, some environmentalists are beginning to take notice and are arguing for greater utilization of natural gas.

There are two major ways to use natural gas to reduce carbon emissions. One is to convert much of our vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas. That’s a sound strategy, but it will take time and money, not only to convert vehicles, but to build the refueling infrastructure needed.

A second route is to convert more of the nation’s electric generation from coal to natural gas. Constructing new natural gas generating plants will also take time, but that isn’t the only option.

Existing gas-fired power plants are utilized at only 26 percent of capacity, industry officials say. Doubling that to 50 percent and eliminating an equal amount of coal-fired generation could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 296 million metric tons a year, they say.

Natural gas is a transitional fuel that can help as we develop better long-term technologies.

If President Obama and other world leaders are serious about reducing CO2 emissions quickly, they ought to step on the gas.


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