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Climate Week: Are Parking Lots the Next Target for Anti-Fracking Activists?

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Banning fossil fuel infrastructure was the focus of one New York City Climate Week panel last week, and while that’s not surprising, the suggestion that the definition of this infrastructure should expand to include things like parking lots was just one of many “creative” polices that overlooked some greater considerations.

Despite the emissions reductions attributed to the switch to natural gas, panel host Stand.Earth made it clear that the goal for its organization is to quickly phase out this low-cost, reliable fuel source. Stand.Earth doesn’t consider natural gas a benign energy source and discredits its role in a clean energy transition. As such, the panel consisted of representatives from various cities that have banned fossil fuels use and infrastructure.

Ban It All

Most policies that are currently being proposed or have been recently enacted specifically ban new natural gas hook-ups and related infrastructure. But as Baltimore City Councilmember Ryan Dorsey explained, activists are now looking to expand the definition of what actually constitutes fossil fuel infrastructure. And they aren’t stopping at pipelines and compressor stations.

According to Dorsey, a city’s definition should include “anything that supports or perpetuates continued fossil fuel use.” What does that include? Dorsey specifically mentioned parking lots as one example, but with such a vague definition, just about everything in a city could be in the crosshairs.

Setting the Table

One aspect mentioned by the City councilmembers and counselors was the need to invite all parties to the table to craft a policy that is equitable and benefits the public. In the face of Berkley’s unanimous vote to ban natural gas hook-ups, it’s hard to imagine that all the opposing points voiced at the table were listened to.

The city has a staggering poverty rate of 20 percent. With nearly 24,000 people in poverty, it’s harder to rationalize Cheryl Davila, Berkeley City Councilor’s self-proclaimed role “as speaker for the marginalized.” Natural gas costs are the lowest they’ve ever been in the last decade and is an inexpensive fuel source in a state with one of the highest electricity rates in the nation.

What Davila failed to mention is that bans on natural gas can reduce a customer base and spike prices as rates increase for those still on the gas grid. The first to move are often high-income persons who can choose their energy source, meanwhile, the low- and middle-income earners who can’t afford the higher gas costs are stuck and still priced out of rising electric costs.

The group of affected individuals also includes people who are on the gas grid and live outside the city. The grid is interconnected and a misguided policy in one area can impact others. Already, California, the state with the most municipal bans on natural gas, is projected to see economic dislocation, and a risk of mass shut-offs, if the energy prices rise faster than modeled. The more cities opt out, the greater this risk to all Californians becomes.

Limitations of Power

While the panelists had plenty of suggestions for locally led initiatives, the conversation was constrained and failed to talk about the impact of these policies on a national or regional level.

This lack of consideration towards broader energy policy is why Attorney General Maura Healey blocked Brookline, Mass. ban last July. The motion stepped beyond Brookline’s jurisdiction and

“the ban conflicted with superseding statewide building and gas codes, as well as the Department of Public Utilities’ authority to ‘comprehensively’ regulate the sale and distribution of natural gas.”

This is why some states are taking action to prevent these types of bans. For instance, Arizona Gov. Ducey and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who voted to block municipalities from unilaterally prohibiting natural gas options. In their opinion, everybody deserves to have access to energy solutions that are efficient affordable and clean.

Conclusion

The panel claimed to offer solutions for the marginalized but the reality is proposals like these might actually cost you, and are completely out-of-touch with what is realistically feasible for the average American.

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