Beyond Arguing About Fracking for Natural Gas: A Cleaner … and Cheaper… Sustainable Energy Future for New York State

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Tompkins Weekly 1/16/2012
By Helen Slottje

The ongoing debate about fracking has people asking many questions among them: What can be done to move America toward cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions? Is there a plan out there that does not suffer from the flawed assumption that natural gas is clean? Are we really going to let industry define “clean” as anything the least bit cleaner than burning coal? Are opponents to fracking compromising jobs and energy security simply to protect their health? Isn’t it unfair for New Yorkers to dare to say no to fracking when so many others around the globe are suffering the ill effects of energy extraction pollution? Is it a foregone conclusion that we must all sacrifice our health and environment in the name of energy?

The Civil Society Institute (CSI) has long been focused on energy economics and such questions. CSI recently released a major new report by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. that outlines a realistic and affordable path to a cleaner and less expensive sustainable energy future. The good news is that we can choose to reject increased reliance on dirty fossil fuels – and reject fracking — without sacrificing jobs, energy security, or the economy. Yes, that’s right: A clean energy future can also be more affordable!

For years the fossil fuel industry and their bought and paid for politicians have claimed that it is just not possible to have reliable low cost energy and maintain our health. This new report puts the lie to these false claims and clearly demonstrates how a clean energy future can be less risky to the public and can still meet electric energy demand reliably. The Synapse report makes a persuasive case that by 2050 we can phase out all coal-fired power, reducing natural gas use, and eliminating about 25 percent of the nuclear fleet while phasing in aggressive energy efficiency and renewable energy investments that replace that power.

The Synapse report compares status quo trends (which it refers to as “Business As Usual” or BAU) with a “Transition Scenario” that maps out this cleaner energy future by 2050.  The report finds that a transition to efficiency and renewable energy in the power sector can be less expensive than BAU. In fact, the Transition Scenario is superior to BAU in terms of cost, public health, water usage, and carbon dioxide emission reductions.  And it creates jobs!  Better yet, the report details how we can accomplish all this with off the shelf technologies and efficiency, and without any assumptions about as-yet-unreleased innovations currently in research and development.

This study estimates the creation of 310,000 full-time equivalent jobs in each year of the entire first decade of the transition to a more sustainable energy sector. The manufacturing base would receive a much needed near term boost with investment in energy efficiency.

There is something for everyone in a move towards a clean energy future. Some will like the fact that net savings over 40 years are projected at a whopping $83 billion. That’s great news for consumers!  Others will embrace the notion that eliminating pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants by 2050 will mean roughly 55,000 fewer premature deaths over the next several decades.

The bottom line for New York is clear. We must move beyond a future based on dirty gas and fracking, and start focusing on the bigger issue of our clean energy future and how we get there.

A link to the Synapse Report is available online at

Helen Slottje is a resident of the Town of Ithaca and the Managing Attorney of Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit law firm that assists communities that desire to protect their resources, health and property from the negative impacts of fossil fuel extraction.

Helen Slottje is with the Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.

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