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The 2020 Elections: A Fork In The Road For Energy Policy

The outcome of this year’s elections will have major implications for America’s energy future. On the Democratic side, “progressives” led by Sen. Bernie Sanders continue to push the party further to the left, particularly on energy policy. Some of their climate proposals are idealistic, unrealistic, and overly dependent on unproven technologies. This creates a fork in the road in terms of how we address our energy future. 

One path leads to a balanced, innovative energy mix taking advantage of affordable domestic energy resources while the other path relies on arbitrary timelines, unrealistic goals and costly energy sources that currently provide for only a fraction of our needs.

Consider the Green New Deal, while laudable in theory, may not be practical in reality. Its supporters propose that the country address climate change by reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions within ten years by transitioning to entirely clean energy. Although experts agree it is difficult to ascertain an exact price tag, the estimates are daunting: $50 to $90 trillion.

This is certainly not the time to start throwing around more trillions given the long term challenges posed by the COVID-19 virus. A recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that two-thirds of Americans said they would oppose the Green New Deal if it increased federal spending by trillions of dollars – and that was before the virus outbreak.

Zero greenhouse gas emissions is an ambitious goal, but the economic and employment upheaval from shutting down traditional energy development is likely catastrophic. One example is the devastating, widespread impact that would result from a ban on fracking, touted by Sen. Sanders. As a result of high industry standards, new technologies and effective regulation, modern hydraulic fracturing accounts for two-thirds of U.S. marketed natural gas production. It is a major factor in America’s energy renaissance.

For consumers, this has meant lower costs. According to the American Gas Association, “households that use natural gas for heating, cooking and clothes drying save an average of $874 per year compared to homes using electricity for these applications. Fracking also means thousands of direct and indirect construction jobs while stimulating economic activity along business supply chains.”

Despite high profile leftist proponents of a ban, Biden and many other Democrats have not yet embraced extreme measures like an outright fracking ban. In fact, many moderates are hesitant to endorse policies opposed by labor groups or those that could hurt jobs in oil and gas-producing swing states and districts. Nor is this a case of climate denial. Even some of Capitol Hill’s top climate hawks have avoided backing a fracking ban. Notably, Rep. Scott Peters (D-California), a moderate who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee said “The policy reality is that people who promise you we are going to shut down natural gas tomorrow by banning fracking either don’t understand the issue or aren’t telling the truth…I understand the political benefit of promising to end natural gas tomorrow. But I don’t think it’s practical.”

A ban on fracking would be a policy mistake that would result in irreparable damage to our nation’s bottom line, local economies and most importantly: Americans who rely on the energy industry for both employment and affordable energy. A recent Global Energy Institute report analyzed the impact to the United States if a fracking ban is successfully implemented and the numbers demonstrate in stark terms the folly of this policy: a $7.1 trillion reduction to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), $1.9 trillion in lost tax revenue and the loss of millions of jobs.

There is a real political dimension to these job losses. Among the hardest-hit states would be Pennsylvania (609,000 workers), Ohio (700,000 workers), Michigan and Wisconsin (800,000 workers combined), battlegrounds in the fight for the Presidency. In a post -pandemic America, our citizens will be interested in jobs and economic survival. Government will have to recalibrate our health care system and invest in our workers. It is not the time to impose massive new burdens and costs on a battered economy.

Voters should bear in mind that while banning fracking may garner applause on the campaign trail, there are serious consequences to banning the exploration of resources that have brought Americans affordable, reliable energy and propelled the nation towards energy independence. Yes, we do have to address the climate issue. But we have to do it by supporting candidates who have common sense, balanced solutions and an appreciation of the importance of Democrats and Republicans working together to get it right on energy policy. That’s not climate denial. That’s acceptance of political reality.

Albert Wynn is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 4th District of Maryland. He currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition and is senior director at Greenberg Traurig.

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  • Social Changes with COVID-19 are a prelude to life with less fossil fuels. With COVID-19 we have seen extensive self-imposed social adjustments to transportation that are very similar to what will be required to live with less fossil fuels in the future. As we weed ourselves from unrestrained use of oil, we’ll need to lower our demands from the transportation infrastructures and the leisure and entertainment industries to the best of their abilities to conserve oil for where its most needed for society, to make the thousands of products that support lifestyles as well as worldwide sustainable economic development.

  • Why would anyone ban fracking? We have been doing it since 1949 with no, and I do mean NO, adverse side effects. None, only rumors that were never supported by any evidence whatsoever!

    AND solar and wind are toys that pollute and scar the landscapes. Yes they pollute because they are unreliable and need fossil fuel backups, and using fossil fuel backups intermittently, you emit more CO2 than if you tossed the solar and wind and ran the fossil fuel plant 24/7.

  • I’m somewhat confused, because I distinctly remember reading that Biden said he would ban fracking and he was comfortable with the resulting job losses. I believe he said that “green jobs” would make up for them.

    Granted, now he is saying that he would not ban fracking, but I think his very recent contradictory statements show that he cannot be trusted.

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