The environmental left with strong Colorado ties reveals its true agenda for affordable power from fossil fuels in private emails uncovered by the Independence Institute.
The use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to decrease carbon dioxide emissions threatened to imperil preferred energy sources like renewables and reduce the necessity for onerous government climate policies.
The sobering email exchange featuring nearly two-dozen recipients including an energy industry chief executive officer, senior MIT and Harvard researchers, a New York Times climate blogger, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 administrator James Martin, raised concerns over the abundance of “cheap gas.”
“I suspect that cheap gas is just what we don’t want because it will make it very hard for renewables to compete and send the entirely wrong price signals to anyone thinking of investing in alternative energy technologies,” wrote Samuel S. Myers, a doctor and research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.
“I think that what we want is expensive gas and a ban on coal fired power unless carbon is captured and stored. That way gas can be a ‘bridge fuel’ while alternatives are developed, no?” Myers asked.
The emails were obtained by the Independence Institute as part of a 2013 Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Chris Horner seeking emails between Martin and others while using a personal, non-official email address to conduct official EPA business.
The Myers email, dated Monday, June 4, 2012, came in response to a several month long email chain initiated by the United Nations Foundation’s Tim Wirth, a former U.S. Senator from Colorado.
That earlier email from Wirth, written in December 2011, was addressed to Martin, along with a dozen other email accounts; however, most of those recipients explicitly named were redacted as part of the FOIA response. While the names are unclear, the domains they were sent to are not. Among the recipients are accounts from a variety of academic, advocacy, and consultant groups: American Progress, Boyden Gray & Associates (regulatory strategy firm), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Colorado State University (CSU), IHS consulting, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck law firm, Aubrey McClendon (Chief Executive Officer of Chesapeake Energy), and Harvard University.
Wirth begins by asking a few questions about “best practices” for the natural gas industry as part of the “new energy abundance,” the subject of the email.
“Following are further thoughts about some of the ramifications of the new abundance. I think that these new flows will significantly change various policy options, and some new effort should be made to see if the industry wants to be part of a broad new vision,” Wirth writes.
McClendon, then CEO of Chesapeake Energy, pushed back at some of Wirth’s assertions.
“We are open to forming partnerships with the EPA, but are at present too busy devoting considerable resources and time battling them on the already flawed methodology for their 2012/14 fracking studies,” McClendon responded.
McClendon noted that renewables rely heavily on natural gas as base power backup.
“The renewable industry should be very fortunate that the gas industry exists, because without us they could not exist beyond the size that they already are because any further additions to the grid from renewables will in turn destabilize it, unless there is more natural gas power built and used and more coal-fired power retired,” McClendon offered.
Six months later, Myers’ response initiated a new round of the exchange. Andrew Revkin, a New York Times climate and opinion writer, joined the conversation by quoting an article on natural gas from The Economist.*
“I tought [sic] it worth reviving this old thread by sending this from The Economist. The passage below (although I’m convinced it will be a very long time before there’s a ‘strong’ price on carbon emissions) syncs with some of Tim’s earlier reflection on a new way to look at gas in a long-term climate context,” Revkin wrote.
“By itself, switching to gas will not reduce emissions to anything like the levels required to avoid a high risk of serious climate change. This will take much crunchier policies to boost renewable-energy sources and other clean technologies-starting with a strong price on carbon emissions, through a market-based mechanism or, preferably, a carbon tax. Governments are understandably unwilling to take these steps in straitened times. Yet they should plan to do so; and in the coming years cheap gas could help free cash for more investment in low-carbon technologies. Otherwise the bonanza would be squandered,” Revkin quoted the Economist.
The next day, June 5, 2012, MIT’s Energy Initiative Executive Director, Melanie Kenderdine, who now serves at the Department of Energy as Director of Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, quoted the International Energy Agency’s chief economist’s figures in response.
“According to IEA, US energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen 450m tonnes over the past five years – the largest drop among all countries surveyed,” Kenderdine wrote, quoting IEA’s Fatih Birol.
“[Birol] attributed the fall to improvements in fuel efficiency in the transport sector and a ‘major shift’ from coal to gas in the power sector. ‘This is a success story based on a combination of policy and technology – policy driving greater efficiency and technology making shale gas production viable,” said Birol in Kenderdine’s quotation.
Later that same day, Kenderdine followed up with additional statistics from the IEA via the Financial Times, linked at the Houston Business Journal.
“According to the publication [FT], coal use dropped off 19 percent and gas use jumped 38 percent – a relevant figure because plants that run on gas produce half the carbon dioxide that a plant that runs on coal does,” HBJ reported Collin Eaton wrote.
At this point, Martin, who had been copied on the email exchange throughout, asks Kenderdine for permission “to share with or without attribution.”
Kenderdine declines the need for attribution, asking Martin about his EPA role.
“Still at EPA. Still fending off attacks,” Martin responded, ending the email exchange.
In April 2012, just a few weeks before the final email, Martin’s fellow EPA regional administrator, Al Armendariz—now part of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign—brought the agency under fire for his “crucify” comments against oil and gas producers.
This prompted the Washington Post at the time to headline an official editorial, “The EPA is earning a reputation for abuse.”
Later that year, an email scandal engulfed Martin and his boss, EPA Director Lisa Jackson.
*An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote from The Economist as a quote from Andrew Revkin. That error has been corrected. For more on Revkin’s thoughts on the “value of responsible use of gas bounty,” read here.