- Boehner accuses Obama of ‘legacy of lawlessness’
- Pro-marijuana group claims responsibility for Brooklyn Bridge flag swap
- Young adults shun Obamacare mostly due to cost: survey
- Stabbing attack on transgender girl, 15, was ‘bias motivated,’ police say
- LGBT adults still lean overwhelmingly toward Democratic Party
- Lawmakers rattled by Syria genocide horrors, call on Obama to act
- 3 African leaders cancel trip to U.S. over Ebola outbreak; Obama still plans summit
- Sarah Palin’s online channel hits snag as Stephen Colbert buys similar URL
- SWAT spends seven hours in standoff with empty home
- U.S. troops told not to eat, drink in front of Muslims during Ramadan
AP IMPACT: CO2 emissions in US drop to 20-year low
Question of the Day
Even with such questions, public health experts welcome the shift, since it is reducing air pollution.
“The trend is good. We like it. We are pleased that we’re shifting away from one of the dirtiest sources to one that’s much cleaner,” said Janice Nolen, an American Lung Association spokeswoman. “It’s been a real surprise to see this kind of shift. We certainly didn’t predict it.”
Power plants that burn coal produce more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide and twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and nitrogen oxides lead to smog.
Bentek, an energy consulting firm in Colorado, said that sulfur dioxide emissions at larger power plants in 28 Eastern, Midwestern and Southern states fell 34 percent during the past two years, and nitrous oxide fell 16 percent. Natural gas has helped the power industry meet federal air pollution standards earlier than anticipated, Bentek said.
Last year the Environmental Protection Agency issued its first rules to limit CO2 emissions from power plants, but the standards don’t take effect until 2014 and 2015. Experts had predicted that the rules might reduce emissions over the long term, but they didn’t expect so many utilities to shift to gas so early. And they think price was the reason.
“A lot of our units are running much more gas than they ever have in the past,” said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. “It really is a reflection of what’s happened with shale gas.”
“In the near term, all that you’re going to build is a natural gas plant,” she said. Still, she warned: “Natural gas has been very volatile historically. Whether shale gas has really changed that _ the jury is still out. I don’t think we know yet.”
Jason Hayes, a spokesman for the American Coal Council, based in Washington, predicted cheap gas won’t last.
“Coal is going to be here for a long time. Our export markets are growing. Demand is going up around the world. Even if we decide not to use it, everybody else wants it,” he said. Hayes also said the industry expects new coal-fired power plants will be built as pollution-control technology advances: “The industry will meet the challenge” of the EPA regulations.
The boom in gas production has come about largely because of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected to break shale rock apart and free the gas.
Environmentalists say that the fluids can pollute underground drinking water supplies and that methane leaks from drilling cause serious air pollution and also contribute to global warming. The industry and many government officials say the practice is safe when done properly. But there have been cases in which faulty wells did pollute water, and there is little reliable data about the scale of methane leakage.
“The Sierra Club has serious doubts about the net benefits of natural gas,” said Deborah Nardone, director of the group’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign.
“Without sufficient oversight and protections, we have no way of knowing how much dangerous pollution is being released into Americans’ air and water by the gas industry. For those reason, our ultimate goal is to replace coal with clean energy and energy efficiency and as little natural gas as possible.”
Wind supplied less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011 according to EIA data, and solar power was far less. Estimates for this year suggest that coal will account for about 37 percent of the nation’s electricity, natural gas 30 percent, and nuclear about 19 percent.
Some worry that cheap gas could hurt renewable energy efforts.
TWT Video Picks
By Ted Cruz
Israel saves its enemies; Hamas endangers its friends
- Chicken pox outbreak puts illegal immigrant facility on lockdown
- Al Gore's climate-changers at EPA hearings foiled by cool temperatures
- CIA admits improperly hacking Senate computers in search of Bush-era information
- GOP report sees ties between rich donors, green 'nonprofits'
- CRUZ: A tale of two hospitals: One in Israel, one in Gaza
- Israel surprised by Hamas tunnel network
- NAPOLITANO: Is the president incompetent or lawless?
- Lois Lerner hated conservatives, new emails show
- Geraldo Rivera: Matt Drudge 'doing his best to stir up a civil war'
- House votes to sue President Obama over claims of presidential power
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world