Monday, September 07, 2009

natural gas hits a political roadblock

NYTimes | The natural gas industry has enjoyed something of a winning streak in recent years. It found gigantic new reserves, low prices are encouraging utilities to substitute gas for coal, and cities are switching to buses fueled by natural gas.
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F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg News

Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy blamed “Congressional apathy” for coal’s price advantages.

But its luck has run out in Washington, where the industry is having trouble making its case to Congress as it writes an energy bill to tackle global warming.

For all its pronouncements that gas could be used to replace aging, inefficient coal-fired power plants — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process — lawmakers from coal-producing states appear committed to keeping coal as the nation’s primary producer of power.

Those influential lawmakers, from both parties, say that new technologies under development to capture and bury emissions of coal are a better bet than gas for long-term solutions to climate change.

The difference of opinion is about more than what is best for the environment, of course. Industry profits are riding on the outcome of the discussion — a rich mix of politics, environment, science and business.

A climate-change bill that passed the House in June, intended to cap greenhouse gas emissions, delivered benefits to renewable fuels like wind and solar and strengthened building codes to conserve energy.

But the cost of emitting carbon dioxide emissions under the terms of the bill remained at levels that would continue to provide a price advantage for coal in many regions of the country.

The Senate is planning to begin writing its own bill later this month.