Taking their cue from the famous mermaid in Copenhagen's harbor, and anticipating the global climate meeting that will convene in Copenhagen in December, a handful of European environmentalist and corporate watchdog groups have established a mock award to "recognize the perverse role of corporate lobbyists, and highlight those business groups and companies that have made the greatest effort to sabotage the climate talks and other climate measures."
The prize brings to mind a recent blog post in which I complained about the excessive role that corporate lobbying has come to play in U.S. climate policy. As the post was widely misconstrued as an attack on nuclear energy or natural gas, which I favor, let me take this occasion to clarify my position: My gripe is exclusively with legislative strategy that tries to make good things happen by giving incentives to particular industrial sectors; my view, widely shared by economists and conservative political writers like David Brooks of the New York Times, is that policy should confine itself to penalizing carbon-intense energy sources. (To the extent that I part ways with people like Brooks it's over the degree of penalizing; my personal view is that the carbon penalty should be draconian.)
In singling out ads placed by the natural gas industry for attention, I may have been slightly unfair to the natural gas industry. After all, the industry has valid points to make about the role gas can play as a bridge from fossil fuels to greener energy. For example, as Robert F. Kennedy also has noted, a lot of gas-fired generation currently lies idle most of the time and could, with appropriate rule changes, replace coal generation without new plants having to be built. In the final analysis, however, the natural gas industry is indeed hoping that it will benefit from special incentives in the upcoming U.S. climate bill and it has been lobbying Congress to that end.
This is how Rod Lowman, president and CEO of the American Natural Gas Association, put it in an interview when asked about gas language in the Kerry-Boxer climate bill: "It is definitely a beginning point. In our discussions with staff and senators, everyone agrees that this is a natural gas title with language there as a placeholder to start discussions about taking advantage of lower-carbon natural gas to generate power. The placeholder outlines the direction to take in helping to incentivize the use of natural gas to generate power, and it talks about appropriations of funds to make that happen."
To echo language favored presidents from Nixon to Obama, let me be clear: As long as nuclear energy, solar energy and wind are benefitting from special incentives in climate and energy legislation, there's indeed nothing wrong with the natural gas industry's getting such incentives too; what I object to is anybody's getting incentives.