Calls to accelerate natural gas cannot ignore the 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, groups like the American Chamber of Commerce argue for more gas-fired power, citing the need for reliability ahead of the summer cooling season. Not making headlines, however, there are several studies that show fossil fuel combustion of power plants is killing thousands of Americans every year.

In April, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its “Zero in Healthy AirA report looking at the impact of reducing fossil fuel emissions from both transportation and electricity. The ALA and consultant ICF modeled health outcomes associated with switching to zero-emission transportation and power, and found that nationally, 110,000 premature deaths could be prevented between 2020 and 2050. Removing those emissions would also reap health benefits estimated at a staggering $ 1.2 trillion.

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

Burning emissions damage the body in many ways. The small particles (called PM2.5) are much smaller than the tiny air sacs in our lungs, and can enter any system in the body. PM2.5 is linked to heart attacks and strokes and also to 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 massive damage to the populations that live near the emitters.

The fossil fuel industry has spent years (as have millions of taxpayers) convincing policymakers that controlling these emissions is simply too expensive. Now, faced with the existential threat of obsolescence as renewables and a multitude of energy storage technologies emerge, the industry has taken advantage of “catastrophic capitalism” to not only survive but expand and to gain political victories. Catastrophic capitalism is described by a journalist and an activist Naomi Klein such as the corporate world using the disorientation of the public during a crisis to gain control and gain additional policies and regulatory failures.

According to Frank Macchiarolathe senior vice president of the US Petroleum Institute (API) for political, economic and regulatory affairs, the Ukrainian invasion underscores API’s claim that the increase in US oil and natural gas production “provided the nation with energy security and US allies are helping to lower prices at home. “

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

Meanwhile, the American Gas Association continues to state that natural gas has a “smaller environmental impact than other energy sources” on their Environment and Climate Change. web pageand they pay social media influencers to promote gas appliances. This public relations effort is working. Unfortunately, the U.S. Energy Intelligence Agency forecasts 3 percent increase in domestic natural gas consumption by 2022.

This disconnect between energy policy and health effects cannot continue. Feasible and reliable non-combustible solutions exist, and they are less expensive, even when we ignore the massive health and economic effects of fossil fuel. These solutions include aggressive energy efficiency that reduces overall energy load, demand-responsive programs that pay customers to change their usage away from times that require the dirtiest and least efficient plants to operate, and increased access to solar, wind, and battery storage, to name a few. some.

Now, more than ever, it is time to turn away from burning and investing in these clean alternatives. Our lives depend on it.

Shelley Hudson Robbins is a project manager at Clean Energy Group. Her 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 Office of the Governor of Florida (defending the state from offshore drilling), and the Florida Public Service Commission.

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