The nation has begun reopening state by state with millions of Americans returning to work as businesses reopen their doors.
While these are important developments in the return to normalcy, the pandemic’s economic fallout is still only in its infancy. In fact, a new projection from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the pandemic would inflict a devastating long-term blow on the U.S. economy, costing nearly $8 trillion over the next decade—with many Americans’ wallets taking a direct hit.
As a result, many families have cut back on nonessential spending—indicated by a record-shattering 13.6% drop in U.S. consumer spending in recent months—and looking to cut expenses wherever possible. Therefore, it is critical our elected officials craft policy that is intended to spur economic growth and incentivize consumer spending when the American economy needs it most.
One way to accomplish this is through developing commonsense solutions to reduce the amount Americans spend on essential expenses each month—such as their utility bills, where the typical U.S. family spends more than $2,000 per year. With significant economic and environmental benefits, natural gas can play an integral role in achieving that goal.
Better Than Alternatives
As an affordable, reliable, and cleaner-burning energy source than many other alternatives, natural gas is a cornerstone of the American energy success story. With record production in 2019, it’s no surprise that the fuel accounts for more than nearly 40% of American electricity needs.
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 those applications. Further, natural gas furnaces offer the greatest energy savings for customers, as oil furnaces, electric heat pumps, and electric resistance furnaces cost two to four times as much as the most efficient gas furnaces.
Despite these obvious economic benefits, several municipalities have either considered, introduced, or even implemented bans on new natural gas hookups in new buildings. Berkeley, Calif., last year became the first city to enact such a ban as part of a statewide push to lower carbon emissions and bolster renewables. Seattle, San Jose, Sacramento, and Los Angeles are considering similar bans.
The city officials supporting these municipal bans might believe they are acting in the best interests of their constituents, but the reality is the opposite. They are depriving those constituents of a more affordable and environmentally friendly energy resource. Families are struggling in these tough economic times and the last thing they need is a higher energy bill.
This should not be a partisan issue, but advocates for natural gas bans support these municipal policies, so consumed with their ideological opposition to the use of fossil fuels that they fail to see the impact on the very people they claim they want to protect.
Key for Sustainable Future
But natural gas has been and remains a key part of the solution towards a sustainable future and lowering carbon emissions—as President Barack Obama admitted in his 2014 State of the Union speech. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the rise of natural gas for power generation has been crucial in declining emissions from the power sector. In fact, the U.S. saw the largest decline in energy-related carbon emissions in 2019 than any other country largely due to the increased use of natural gas power generation.
Even some of the most ardent environmental activists have come to recognize its value. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who previously protested against pipelines, is now calling for a natural gas pipeline to be constructed to serve Pembroke, an impoverished community outside of Chicago.
Jackson has been working for several months with local, state, and federal officials in Illinois to get the pipeline built, noting that the largely black community is being unfairly cut off from affordable energy, with no access to gas and resorting to paying high prices to heat their homes with propane.
Thankfully, several states have taken steps to protect consumer choice and promote access to reliable, affordable natural gas. Earlier this month, Louisiana became the latest state to block municipal natural gas bans as Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed legislation barring local governments from prohibiting new natural gas hookups. Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arizona, approved similar measures earlier this year.
State policymakers across the nation should follow the lead of these states in their efforts to ensure natural gas is able to continue efficiently, safely, and affordably meet the energy needs of millions of Americans each and every day.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Albert Wynn is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, having served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition and is senior director at Greenberg Traurig.