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Michael Butler: The greatest story Pennsylvanians were never told

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9/15/2020 By Michael Butler
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For over 250 years, Pennsylvanians have provided key advances required to generate America’s energy dominance.

Benjamin Franklin sparked the electricity revolution with his kite and lightning experiment, and inventor George Westinghouse began the Westinghouse Electric Co. in 1886. After driller Edward Drake struck oil in Titusville in 1859 and others followed, Pennsylvania contributed half of the world’s oil production until the historic Texas oil boom of the early 1900s. And the nation’s first commercial nuclear reactor is in Shippingport, Beaver County.

No wonder the U.S. Department of Energy situated its National Energy Technology Laboratory near Pittsburgh.

Today, Pennsylvania ranks second nationally in output of cleaner, low-cost natural gas. It’s also second in electricity generation from nuclear power. With its vast natural resources, the Keystone State is helping lead America’s energy revolution and achieve the national energy security and independence we only dreamt about during the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s and OPEC price manipulation we suffered for decades.

That’s why the ear-piercing protests and hand-wringing by those who claim the United States is doing too little on the environmental front are so wrongheaded. They fail to check their basic facts.

It’s time Americans — and Pennsylvanians — hear about the USA’s greatest untold success story. Thanks to natural gas, conservation, efficiency and increased wind and solar power use, the U.S. is leading the world in cutting air-polluting emissions.

Yes, you read that right.

Even without being a signatory to the Paris climate accord, by 2025 we will be more than two-thirds of the way to reaching our targeted emissions reduction of 28% from 2005 levels, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. In fact, the U.S. has pared its annual carbon dioxide-equivalent output by almost as much as the entire European Union since 2005, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Each year, that works out to a reduction of 760 million metric tons versus the 770 million for the whole E.U.

Plus, our country in 2017 trimmed almost twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as any other nation, delivering the single-largest absolute reduction of it. This is occurring while the U.S. is the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas and the No. 2 producer of wind and solar power.

Contrast that environmental victory with the opposite path, found in China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. It hasn’t even promised an overall reduction in emissions in the Paris agreement, but merely to stop increasing them by 2030. While we’re cutting our emissions, China’s by that date will have surged an estimated 14% to 25%.

Starting with a 2005 baseline through 2017, America’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have fallen an impressive 12%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Carbon dioxide fell 14%, methane dropped 5% and nitrous oxide declined 4.1%. U.S. leadership and innovation shines through especially in curbing methane from natural gas systems. From 1990 to 2017, such methane emissions fell 14% whilenatural gas production surged by more than 50%. That’s an effective reduction of 43%.

What about Pennsylvania? With new technologies and record natural gas production, Pennsylvania families and commercial and industrial businesses saved over $30.5 billion in natural gas costs between 2006 and 2016, according to a recent Consumer Energy Alliance report — and with further significant savings in the past three years. The state’s abundant energy resources have spurred economic investment and brought nearly 322,600 jobs and $23 billion in wages. In short, it has revived our state’s fortunes.

We could go on, but the truth is clear. We are diversifying our energy portfolio with renewable sources. We are producing the cleanest energy on the planet during a time of record production. This is helping families and businesses across the nation keep homes warm and economies thriving. It plainly demonstrates how energy production that fuels economic growth can and should happen alongside sound environmental stewardship.

Our great untold environmental story is the kind of success that happens when American industry, government and other stakeholders team up to solve problems, as we are seeing right now in tackling the coronavirus outbreak. We get results.

Pennsylvanians, let’s keep talking about our energy and environmental success and cheering for more progress.

Michael Butler is the mid-Atlantic director for Consumer Energy Alliance.

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