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Environmental conservation has emerged as a dominant issue throughout the Democratic presidential primary campaign with even entire debates devoted to the issue.

And while it may be tempting to write it off as a one party issue, a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that addressing environmental concerns is slowly becoming more of a priority for all Americans.

The survey found 64 percent of Americans believe protecting the environment should be a top policy priority – the highest in twenty years. This makes last month’s report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showing that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions flat-lined in 2019, very welcome news.

Despite widespread expectations of an increase for the third year in a row, IEA credited stagnant global emissions to declining emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies – with the United States recording the largest emissions decline of any country. In addition to expanding renewable sources, the growing role of natural gas for power generation in the United States has been a key driver in lowering carbon emissions.

With record natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Permian Basin in Texas, the United States has a steady supply of domestically-sourced, affordable natural gas. While natural gas provides more than a third of the country’s electricity, it is also used to heat homes and businesses, and for many of the conveniences we depend on in our daily lives such as cooking dinner for our families and doing laundry. 

However, energy infrastructure development has been unable to keep the pace with increased production, jeopardizing the transport of valuable energy resources to Americans. Studies have shown pipelines are the safest method of transporting natural gas and oil compared to the alternative of truck and train. Modern pipelines are also the most efficient and environmentally-conscious option to deliver energy to consumers.

While oil pipelines have slowly caught up with production, natural gas infrastructure is still lagging. As a result, flaring, or the burning off of excess gas, has reached near-record levels of 650 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Had there been the necessary infrastructure to transport the gas to consumers, that amount would have been enough to supply nearly 4 million homes for a single day. In an effort to alleviate such constraints, a number of companies have committed to building natural gas lines to facilities along the Gulf Coast to get the product to consumer markets in the United States and to allies abroad – but will still take years before coming online.

Furthermore, the need for natural gas infrastructure extends beyond the Permian. For New England residents, flared off natural gas could have gone far in lowering energy prices, or decreasing reliance on imported fuel. In fact, due to infrastructure constraints in the region, Massachusetts has resorted to importing natural gas from Russia each of the past two winters. Even with that additional supply, millions in the region rely on heating oil to heat their homes – a notably less environmentally-friendly alternative to natural gas.

Unfortunately, with New York Governor Cuomo’s staunch opposition to energy infrastructure development, it doesn’t look like New Englanders will have added access to natural gas anytime soon. His administration has halted several much-needed pipeline projects in recent years. This trend sets a dangerous precedent that other states would do well to disregard.

The Trump Administration is cognizant of the need to transport energy resources around the country and has moved to allow railroadsnationwide to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG). While the effort to increase consumer access to American natural gas should be lauded, LNG transport by train is largely untested and presents new risks and challenges. The proposal and it’s fast-tracked timeline has drawn widespread criticism from attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia, firefighters’ organizations, and railroad unions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is critical as well, emphasizing that more time is needed to develop operational controls and contingency plans before implementing LNG transport by train.  

As the 2020 campaign heads into spring, it’s critical for candidates and voters to recognize the role of natural gas in our fight to protect the environment and the need for infrastructure investment to help win that fight. Putting hydraulic fracturing bans in place and relying solely on renewable energy sound great on the campaign trail but in reality would deny Americans access to affordable energy.  Natural gas isn’t on the ballot this November but Americans should still check yes.

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