President Barack Obama appears to be taking a second look at how to pass comprehensive energy legislation that will improve energy efficiency, reduce consumer costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase America’s energy security and create American jobs. This is a tall order but an achievable one. The question is whether one of the surest ways to meet these goals — clean, American natural gas — will be a defining part of a sound energy policy going forward.
At a recent address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the president pointed out that the government has a role to play in encouraging energy efficiency to help meet many of our most pressing challenges. And earlier this month during an address on energy at Pennsylvania State University, the president noted that buildings consume 40 percent of the energy we use and present a tremendous opportunity for large-scale energy savings.
“That may not sound too sexy,” Obama said at Penn State, but “making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs right here in the United States of America.”
The president is right. Efficiency gains haven’t earned a fraction of the media hoopla around energy stories such as the promise of electric cars or advances in renewable technologies such as wind and solar. But the even bigger untold story is that using environmentally friendly, domestically abundant natural gas directly in American homes and businesses is one of the most effective and cost-effective ways to achieve our goals of improving energy efficiency, while reducing consumers’ energy costs and enhancing job creation.
Look no further than the ever-expanding American home for a prime example of the potential efficiency gains from natural gas. The size of the average American home has increased by more than 50 percent since 1970, yet during that same time period, natural gas consumption has gone down by 40 percent per household because of more efficient appliances and tighter homes. If more homes and businesses switch to this clean energy source, it would result in millions of dollars in savings for consumers. It would also create additional jobs in an industry that already employs nearly 3 million American workers.
Beyond the reduced consumption, the energy that is created from the direct use of natural gas, which is by far our cleanest fossil fuel, produces fewer carbon emissions.
Perhaps most important, clean natural gas is an American source of energy — readily available now and for hundreds of years in the future. Almost 90 percent of the natural gas we use today is produced in the United States, and we possess at least a 100-year supply of natural gas resources. If it were a larger part of our energy equation, we would not be as dependent on energy imports from foreign nations or as susceptible to international incidents and energy market fluctuations as we are now.
The uprising in Egypt, which briefly pushed oil prices past $100 per barrel, is just another example of actions beyond our shores that can result in millions of dollars in higher energy prices for American consumers.
We tend to focus on anticipated technology or latest innovation as the solution to our nation’s energy needs. Technology and innovation are critically important across the spectrum of energy industries, including natural gas, but as we work to meet our energy challenges, it’s time that we look beyond the “sexy” headlines and ensure that clean natural gas is a central part of any energy policy produced in the 112th Congress. For a clean, reliable and abundant source of American energy, natural gas is a natural fit.
Former Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) is president and CEO of the American Gas Association.