Energy and the Environment: The Future of Natural Gas in America

By Inhofe, James M.; Fannon, Frank | Energy Law Journal, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Energy and the Environment: The Future of Natural Gas in America


Inhofe, James M., Fannon, Frank, Energy Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

Natural gas has been regarded as the ideal fossil fuel for multiple uses-from electricity generation to manufacturing, in part because of its efficiency, in part because of its relative cleanliness, and in part because of its relatively low delivered cost. For many years, natural gas was a wise and easy choice; America is blessed with an abundant supply and gas burns cleaner and is considered by some to be more environmentally preferable to other fuels. That abundant supply translated to low prices, and those low prices helped fuel a strong and vibrant economy. Now however, the days of low gas prices are over, and the nation is in the midst of a very real natural gas crisis.

Most people probably do not realize the importance that natural gas plays in their daily lives, but they certainly have noticed that they are paying more for energy than they did a year ago. As more of a family's income is diverted for energy costs, less money can be spent on providing for their children's education, less money can be invested in their small business, less money can be saved for retirement. Not surprisingly, these higher prices are most acutely felt by the poor and those on fixed incomes.

Many of our nation's workers have unfortunately felt the result of high natural gas prices in the most severe way-they have lost their jobs. Natural gas is a principal feedstock to several industries including chemical and petrochemical manufacturing, the pulp and paper, steel, and fertilizer industries. When the domestic costs of production increase relative to global competitors, U.S. domestic manufacturing companies lose out.

Policymakers and the public are struggling to determine why the U.S. is in the grip of this natural gas crisis. Why have natural gas prices increased so dramatically? Why has the market been unable to correct itself to find balance? Most importantly, how can Congress effect federal policies that will temper the natural gas crisis?

As the Mayor of Tulsa and later a Representative and Senator representing the oil and gas producing State of Oklahoma, I have been involved with natural gas policy spanning five decades. As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment & Public Works, I have focused on the situation with renewed fervor. On March 25, 2004,1 chaired an oversight hearing concerning the environmental considerations affecting natural gas prices. At that hearing, representatives of the natural gas production industry, manufacturing sector, environmental groups, farmers, and even a Northeastern Governor testified. The conclusions and lessons learned from that hearing were far-reaching and significant. Yet, the most dramatic finding was that U.S. federal laws and policies have contributed in large measure to the nation's natural gas crisis.

In large part, changes to the Clean Air Act and other air-related regulations have driven increased demand for natural gas. Yet, other federal environmental policies have effectively prevented a sufficient and corresponding increase in supply of natural gas. These conflicting federal policies have complicated and slowed the market's effort to adjust itself.

Further, national environmental groups, that only a few years ago, praised natural gas as the bridge fuel to a clean environment, today oppose increasing supplies. Interest groups have largely chosen sides between the political parties and, in the main, refuse to work within well-established and historically appropriate frameworks. Instead, they seem to prefer to engage in unfortunate and unnecessary political gamesmanship while U.S. competitiveness suffers.

The issue of providing energy to the nation while maintaining a clean environment has become overly politicized. In many cases spin and rhetoric are preferred over facts and science. This document rejects the rhetoric and focuses on the facts. Section I analyzes the reasons that have contributed to the increased demand of natural gas, the increase in prices and their effect on several sectors of the U. …

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