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Alfonse D'Amato

Some inconvenient facts about energy and the environment

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One of the great U.S. success stories in recent times has been the country’s move to energy independence. Because we now produce more than enough domestic energy to power our homes and businesses, we’re no longer at the mercy of Mideast countries that too often held us hostage for energy supplies.

But rather than celebrate this achievement of American initiative and enterprise, carping critics instead decry our energy independence. They complain about oil and gas production as contributors to global warming. They call for a ban on new hydraulic fracturing, which has produced vast quantities of affordable natural gas. They even press to close nuclear power plants that generate no carbon emissions. The holy grail for these extremists is “alternative energy” sources powered almost exclusively by wind and the sun. Everything else must go.

These alarmist views were given widespread credence by Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.” They led the U.S. to join a deeply flawed Paris Agreement, an international climate accord. More recently, they formed the basis for the radical Green New Deal advanced by the far left in Congress.

But it’s important to consider some inconvenient facts that environmentalists conveniently overlook:

• The Paris Agreement established greenhouse gas limits, but gave industrialized giants China and India a pass as “developing countries,” imposing stricter limits on the U.S. and other Western countries. It would be one thing if the U.S. and these other competitors were on an equal footing, but that’s not what the climate accord did. It put the U.S. economy at a severe competitive disadvantage.

• Even though the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, the U.S. is greener than many other industrialized countries and has exceeded the accord’s CO2 reduction targets. This has been achieved by moving significant amounts of electrical generation from coal- to gas-fired power plants, which emit much less greenhouse gases than coal. Fracking, and the cheaper gas it produces in the U.S., have actually helped the environment.

• Renewable energy alone is not a reliable energy source without significant backup. California’s energy and environmental missteps are a cautionary tale. In that state, environmental extremists succeeded in closing down nuclear and gas-fired power plants and replacing them almost exclusively with “renewable” energy sources, particularly out-of-state hydropower, wind and solar.

Problems arose when hydropower dried up, as other states kept water for their own residents and businesses. The situation was exacerbated by an overdependence on intermittent wind and solar power generation that proved insufficient to meet high demand this summer. The result has been rolling brownouts in California, like third-world countries regularly experience.

The Green New Deal would take much of California’s clumsy and counterproductive energy policies national. If you like California’s brownouts, you’ll love the Green New Deal.

• American enviros ignore or minimize the experience of other countries in reducing carbon emissions.

In France, 75 percent of electricity is generated by carbon-free nuclear power plants. In the U.S., nuclear plants currently generate about 20 percent of our electrical power. When these plants are closed, the difference is often being made up by gas-fired plants, which, while cleaner than coal, still emit more CO2 than nuclear generation. In upstate New York, nuclear plants are major clean-energy generators, and have wisely been supported by the state government.

Green countries in Europe, like Denmark, are clear-eyed about environmental choices. In Copenhagen, a recently built large waste-to-energy facility generates a major portion of the city’s electricity and reduces the need for landfills, where CO2 is buried but not eliminated. In Norway, which operates major oil drilling rigs in the North Sea, the profits from oil production are used to help subsidize electric car sales. We can learn from that. Right here in the U.S., for instance, Texas is both a major oil and gas producer and a major wind and solar energy generator.

Energy and environmental trade-offs aren’t evil; they’re a necessary part of balancing the cleanest energy options against other equally important considerations like energy reliability and economic progress.

Rather than a radical Green New Deal that would hurt America, how about a “Green Fair Deal” that makes the difficult but correct choices on energy, the environment and the economy? Natural gas, nuclear energy, waste-to-energy facilities — like one right here in Hempstead — should all be options. Renewables such as wind and solar power can be part of the energy mix, but not all of it. That may be an inconvenient fact, but it’s the truth.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.