Calls to boost natural gas cannot ignore deadly effects of fuel burning

Natural gas is in the headlines as the war in Ukraine continues, cementing the United States as the world leader in gas exports. At home, bands like the United States Chamber of Commerce argue for more gas-fired electricity, citing the need for reliability ahead of the summer cooling season. However, several studies do not make headlines that show that burning fossil fuels in power plants is killing thousands of Americans every year.

In April, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its “Focus on healthy airan overview of the impact of reducing fossil fuel emissions from both transport and electric power. ALA and consultant ICF modeled the health outcomes associated with moving to zero-emission transportation and energy, and found that nationwide, 110,000 premature deaths could be prevented between 2020 and 2050 Eliminating these emissions would also bring health benefits valued at $1.2 trillion.

Then in mid-May, a new study Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison have found that eliminating pollution from burning fossil fuels in power plants could prevent up to 11,600 premature deaths in the United States each year, with an annual value of $132 billion. The researchers looked at five additional areas: the use of industrial fuels; residential and commercial fuel consumption; road vehicles; off-road vehicles; as well as the production and refining of oil and gas. They found that exposure to small particles emitted by combustion in these six sectors combined resulted in 205,000 deaths in one year. And, due to the disparities in the siting of power plants and other facilities, the victims of this pollution are much more often low-income people and people of color.

Combustion emissions harm the body in several ways. The small particles (called PM2.5) are much smaller than the tiny air sacs in our lungs and can enter all body systems. PM2.5 is related heart attacks and strokes as well as kidney disease, premature birth and Parkinson’s disease. PM2.5 is also an endocrine disruptor, so it contributes to diabetes and obesity. These tiny particles cause considerable damage to people who live near emitters.

The fossil fuel industry has spent years (as well as millions of taxpayer dollars) convince policy makers that controlling these emissions is simply too expensive. Today, faced with the existential threat of obsolescence as renewable energy and a host of energy storage technologies emerge, industry is taking advantage of “disaster capitalism” not only to survive, but to develop and win political victories. Disaster capitalism is described by a journalist and activist Naomi Klein like the corporate world using public disorientation during a crisis to gain control and gain further policy and regulatory pushback.

According Frank MacchiarolaAmerican Petroleum Institute (API) Senior Vice President for Politics, Economics and Regulatory Affairs, Ukraine’s invasion underscores API’s claim that increasing oil production and natural gas in the United States “has provided the nation with energy security and has contributed to America’s energy security”. allies while helping to lower prices at home.

It seems the industry is missing the irony: capitalizing on a war that kills innocent people – in order to promote increased use of natural gas – also kills innocent people.

Meanwhile, the American Gas Association continues to state that natural gas has a “lower environmental impact than other energy sources” on their environment and climate change. Web pageand they pay social media influencers promote gas appliances. This public relations effort is working. Unfortunately, the United States Energy Information Agency forecasts a 3% increase in domestic natural gas consumption for 2022.

This disconnect between energy policy and health impacts cannot continue. Viable and reliable combustion-free solutions do exist, and they are less expensive, even ignoring the massive health and economic impacts of burning fossil fuels. These solutions include aggressive energy efficiency that reduces the total energy load, demand response programs that pay customers to move their use away from times that require the dirtiest and least efficient plants to operate, and a increased access to solar, wind and battery storage, to name a few.

Now, more than ever, it’s time to turn away from combustion and invest in these clean alternatives. Our lives depend on it.

Shelley Hudson Robbins is Project Director at Clean Energy Group. His work focuses on the Phase Out Peakers project and the Resilient Power project. She has also worked for Upstate Forever in South Carolina, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Florida Governor’s Office (defending the state against offshore drilling), and the Florida Public Service Commission.

Kevin A. Perras