I've already denounced Democratic Socialist presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for his ignorant attacks on fracking and natural gas production. Now the editors of the Washington Post join in with a terrific excoriation of Sen. Sanders' opposition to using natural gas and nuclear power to generate electricity. The Post notes that the senator wants to ban all fracking and retire all nuclear power plants in the U.S. As the Post editors observe:
In fact, if we are serious about global warming, we will ignore Mr. Sanders's sloganeering.
When burned, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. The recent fracking boom contributed to a reduction in national carbon dioxide emissions over the past several years, as utilities switched from cheap coal to now-cheaper gas. It is true that some concerns remain. Methane leaks from natural gas wells and pipelines. Many worry about drinking water near fracking operations. But the government can require drillers to address these issues without shutting the industry. It is also true that natural gas is a waystation; though it is cleaner than coal, natural gas still produces carbon dioxide emissions. Yet gas's price and emissions profile is still attractive enough that the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the most aggressive global warming policy the country has ever had, relies on gas displacing coal to meet medium-term emissions goals.
Mr. Sanders's rhetoric on nuclear power is even more concerning. Nuclear accounts for about a fifth of the country's electricity, and it is practically emissions-free. Shutting down that much clean electricity generation would put the country into a deep emissions hole. Mr. Sanders argues that he will invest heavily in renewables. Yet every dollar spent to replace one carbon-free source with another is a dollar that could have been spent replacing dangerous and dirty coal plants (emphasis added). Under Mr. Sanders's vision, either the country would fail to maximize emissions cuts, or it would waste huge amounts of money unnecessarily replacing nuclear plants. Unsurprisingly, the Clean Power Plan relies on nuclear, too, assuming that the country will get about the same amout of electricity from nuclear in 2030.
Mr. Sanders is right that climate change demands an aggressive response, and he is right to favor a carbon tax. He should leave it at that: put a price on carbon, insist on adequate regulation and let the market find the fastest and most efficient road to slowing the warming of the planet.
Actually, for consistency, the Post's editors might well have further argued that the whole panoply of subsidies for renewables and the Clean Power Plan mandates promoted by the Obama administration and other progressives could be entirely replaced by a revenue neutral carbon tax.
For more background on environmentalist progressives' counterproductive war against nuclear power see my 2009 article, "The Cultural Contradictions of Anti-Nuke Environmentalists."