As I write this, CLF President John Kassel and I have just left the White House. We were there as part of a small group of environmental leaders, industry and union heads, regulators, and policy makers invited to participate in a special White House roundtable on reducing methane emissions – a potent greenhouse gas with 34 times the heat-trapping power of carbon pollution. CLF received this special invitation in recognition of our nearly five decades of work to transform New England’s power system. Over the past few years, CLF has been fighting to clean the air and clear the way for more efficient technologies by taking on the owners of obsolete, polluting power plants – and winning. What you may not realize is that, with natural gas now dominating the discussion about our energy future, we’ve also been leading the region to ensure that we “get gas right.”
Here are 4 things you should know about CLF’s advocacy around natural gas:
1. Leading the Way on Leaks: CLF was one of the first organizations to call for more attention to the “fugitive emissions” from natural gas. We partnered with academics from Boston University to map leaks throughout the city of Boston and issued a first-of-its-kind report on the scope of the problem of leaking pipelines as well as policy tools to tackle the problem. Although natural gas burns cleaner than coal at the smokestack, natural gas is over 90% methane, and when it leaks from pipelines or other equipment, methane’s heat-trapping power is potent. Unless leaks are substantially reduced, they can virtually erase any potential climate benefits of switching to natural gas.
2. Taking the Long View: There is a role for gas, but it must be limited. We cannot simply replace every retiring coal and oil plant with natural gas and expect to leave our children with a livable climate. CLF understands that the increased use of existing natural gas electric generation capacity has helped to pave the way for the retirement of dirtier coal plants, but building new, long-lived natural gas infrastructure without any constraints isn’t compatible with meeting our climate goals.
3. Crafting Real-World Solutions: CLF struck the first agreement in the nation to place binding greenhouse gas emissions limits and a date certain for shutdown on a new natural gas fired power plant. When Massachusetts regulators failed to establish meaningful GHG limits for a proposed new gas plant, CLF stepped in and negotiated a settlement that requires the project to limit its useful life to 2050 and reduce its GHG emissions over time consistent with the requirements of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.
4. Building Better Markets: CLF understands the intricacies of the electric and gas markets and has been working to develop market refinements that create more transparency and liquidity in the gas markets in order to reduce price spikes through better use of existing supply rather than overbuilding new capacity. CLF’s proposals for a winter reliability solution, had ISO-NE adopted them last winter, would have lowered prices and lowered pollution. CLF continues to fight for better market design that sends the right price signals to maximize efficient use of our resources. New England is ahead of the curve on clean energy and climate change – and that’s why CLF was the only regional environmental organization invited to be part of this discussion, which will ultimately shape national policy around methane emissions as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.