Opinion: Economic prosperity can come with a clean environment
In the recent midterms, voters across the country rejected ballot initiatives that would have imposed punishing restrictions on oil and natural gas producers.
Washingtonians squashed a proposed carbon tax. Coloradans voted down a de facto ban on fracking throughout most of the state. And Arizonans rejected a proposition that would have mandated huge increases in renewable energy production.
By defeating these ballot initiatives, voters sent a message to their political leaders. They don't want to choose between a clean planet and abundant, affordable energy. They want both. And thanks to recent advances in drilling technologies, they can get their wish.
Around the turn of the century, energy firms developed new technologies empowering them to tap into huge underground oil and natural gas deposits that were previously inaccessible. Fracking, horizontal drilling and other innovative drilling techniques have enabled a breathtaking expansion of domestic energy production.
Since 1990, U.S. natural gas output has spiked 50 percent. Back in 2009, we surpassed Russia as the world's leading natural gas producer. And just this September, we unseated Russia to become the top oil producer, pumping out 11 million barrels a day — nearly double the daily total just two decades ago.
This expansion has generated immense economic rewards. Today, oil and gas support over 10 million jobs. And the industry annually adds $1.3 trillion to the national economy.
We're also well on our way to achieving what was once dismissed as a pipedream: total energy independence. Within just a few years, America will no longer heavily rely on foreign energy imports, including those from rogue regimes that have often constricted supply for political gain.
The central gospel of the modern environmentalist movement contends that this energy renaissance must be having catastrophic effects on the planet. Rapacious fossil fuel behemoths may make us rich, but they only do so by despoiling the natural world, accelerating climate change and pumping toxic chemicals into the water and soil. Energy wealth and environmental preservation are mutually exclusive goals. Or so they claim.
This gospel is belied by the fact that the United States has become the world leader in carbon emissions reductions. America's energy renaissance is helping, not harming, the environment.
Here's why. The surge in natural gas production has caused prices to plummet, making the fuel a cheap substitute for coal in electricity production. Many power plants have switched over from coal to gas.
Natural gas produces about 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal. Power plants' mass migration to natural gas has pushed electricity-related carbon dioxide emissions into a free fall; they've dropped over 19 percent since 2011.
As a result, overall emissions have nosedived. Last year, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 3 percent, marking the third consecutive year that carbon dioxide emissions declined. The United States has posted the world's largest annual drop in carbon dioxide emissions nine times this century.
America is enjoying an unprecedented oil and gas boom. Simultaneously, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to a 25-year low. By the standard environmentalist logic, this is impossible. American energy dominance must come at the expense of the environment.
But it clearly doesn't. Fortunately, voters recognized they can have abundant, cheap energy, a thriving economy, and a clean environment. There's no need to choose only one.
Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty.