Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Sierra Club's Slippery Slope

In the past, I've offered lukewarm praise for the national Sierra Club's stance on natural gas.  The organization reluctantly viewed gas as a cleaner alternative to coal, against which it has waged war with its "Beyond Coal" campaign.  But while the national organization held this view, the local Sierra Club organizations often took a more negative stance against hydraulic fracturing and natural gas.

Unfortunately, now the national Sierra Club organization has shifted its stance and has begun the attack on natural gas.  In a recent post on its blog, the Club announced that it had filed objections against applications for LNG export in Oregon, Maryland and Louisiana.  In objecting to the Sabine Pass, Louisiana application, the Club says environmental assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, "does not consider the damaging effect of extracting natural gas through fracking."

We can argue the errors of the above statement, but the point is that the Sierra Club has boxed itself into a corner and has gone from an environmental advocate to a gadfly with much less to offer.  You can't damn coal without at least tacitly supporting an alternative.  If the organization really wants to clean up the environment, causing power generators to switch from coal to natural gas is the fastest and cheapest way to achieve that goal.

The Sierra Club advocates alternative power sources, which is great, but they are not in a position to be economically feasible at large scale for quite a while.  Poo-pooing coal and gas at the same time is ludicrous, especially for a group that advocates for electric cars.  The group rightly points out that "(t)ansportation contributes approximately one-third of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions" and that electric cars have no tailpipe pollution.  Sure, but where does the electric power to fuel these cars in the U.S. come from?  Almost half from coal!  Therefore, increasing the number of electric cars only serves to BURN MORE COAL!

If the Sierra Club wants to cut carbon dioxide and particulate pollution, they would push for more natural gas vehicles and trucks and more natural gas power generation.  But instead, they are getting caught up in a political battle that ultimately doesn't serve to benefit their goals.

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