LOGAN – At Thursday’s meeting of the Hocking County commissioners, the board received a visit from Mitch Given, a member of the nonprofit advocacy group The Empowerment Alliance. TEA was formed in 2019 to oppose Green New Deal legislation and promote the efficacy of natural gas as a more reliable form of energy than renewables such as wind and solar.
Given visited seeking a letter of approval from the commission to declare natural gas as a green form of energy. It’s part of an effort by TEA to garner support from local, state, and federal officials across the country for its aims. At present, the central mission of the organization is the passing of House Resolution 1148, proposed by U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH). That resolution would recognize natural gas produced in the United States as a “green” energy; recognize that the United States should be committed to an “all-of-the-above” approach to meeting the country’s energy needs, and that natural gas is essential to those needs; and encourage the Biden Administration, the Department of Energy and of the Interior to support the nation’s natural gas infrastructure and remove barriers to its continued production.
Given’s proposal to the county commissioners was approved; after a detailed presentation and a couple of questions from Commissioner Sandra Ogle regarding Given’s affiliation with TEA, all three commissioners threw their support behind the proposal.
The Daily News spoke with Given following the meeting about his organization and its aims. Much of their argument in favor of natural gas revolves around the relative ease with which it can be stored and accessed to meet high commercial and residential energy demands. Currently, solar energy can only be stored for future use in batteries, most commonly lithium-ion. The ability to store large amounts of energy in lithium-ion batteries is advancing, leading to the decline in solar costs over the previous decade.
It is worth knowing that renewable does not mean infinite: the metals necessary to build lithium-ion batteries have a finite supply, and cannot be dug up just anywhere. Given noted that those metals are mostly only found in China. This leads into another major concern for TEA: natural gas provides a reliable domestic energy supply, whereas renewables force a dependence on foreign markets and materials.
There are three primary metals that make up lithium-ion batteries: graphite, cobalt, and lithium. China produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s synthetic graphite and 70 percent of flake graphite. New extraction sites across Africa are expected to deconcentrate the market. The largest global producer of cobalt by far is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much of the share of that Congo’s cobalt supply is funneled to China. Extraction of lithium is currently restricted to Australia, Chile, and Argentina, with large-scale plans being made in Canada, Mexico, and Bolivia. It is also true that the United States cannot presently rely on a domestically-owned supply of batteries to store renewables, and changing that would involve a significant and lengthy investment in that form of energy.
TEA also contends that the progress the United States has made toward lowering carbon emissions, which have returned to near their 1990 levels after spiking in the mid-2000s, is due in large part to natural gas replacing its dirtier fossil fuel counterparts, oil and coal. Natural gas does produce less emissions when burned than oil and coal. It has also had a larger overall impact on emissions than renewables, because it holds a much greater share of the energy market.
Given pointed out that due to natural gas, coal plants responsible for producing 90,000 megawatts of power will be retired by 2030. However, in a 2020 study cited by the organization on the carbon benefits of natural gas, those benefits were partially inflated by the fact that restrictions due to the COVID pandemic produced artificially low emissions nationwide.
TEA also cites rising poverty and financial stress among Americans. Access to residential solar panels is largely confined to single-family homes. While it is arguably cheaper in the long run for consumers, the long-term infrastructural investment required makes it a logistical difficulty for many financially-struggling Americans.
TEA is strongly in support of the construction of new natural gas pipelines as well as the upkeep of existing ones. Generally, it opposes any legislative restriction on the energy source in favor of renewables. Some hasve expressed concerns that the kind of financial investment necessary for the upkeep of the natural gas infrastructure might both disincentivize the move toward renewable forms of energy and incentivize natural gas companies to continually lobby against the research and development of renewables.
Asked about this, Given responded that market forces, not governmental regulation, should determine how American energy usage plays out. “We’re only looking for an even and level playing field (between gas and renewables),” he insisted.
The issue of hydraulic fracturing, a common method for the extraction of natural gas, and its risk for groundwater contamination is also part of the energy debate, and drives a great deal of partisan division. While the Obama Administration was initially a strong supporter of the benefits of natural gas over coal and oil in the early 2010s, subsequent allegations of the harm fracking causes to drinking water and farming practices has led to hesitance for many.
Given pointed to a study produced by the EPA, published in 2015, which said that the agency “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water sources in the United States.”
Following the EPA’s report, however, the administration’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) criticized the use words “systemic” and “widespread” as an ambiguous generalization. There have been confirmed cases of toxic chemicals used in fracking found near drilling sites.
Following the SAB’s response, the EPA removed the quoted sentence from its findings, over the objections of natural gas lobbies and organizations. Other studies in the Journal of Health Economics and Environmental Health Perspectives have suggested that fracking contamination contributes to complications for mothers and their unborn children. Fracking also requires a large amount of water, an estimated 239 billion gallons since 2005.
TEA, as a classified nonprofit © (4), is not required to disclose the identity of its donors, in accordance with its First Amendment rights. The LoganDaily News asked Given if he’d be willing to make that information public. He declined.
“We’re funded by groups that care about natural gas,” he said. When pressed to answer whether those include for-profit natural gas entities, he said, “I have no comment at this time.”
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