Remarks on Natural Gas to the CT Roundtable on Climate & Jobs

Detail of Tower for drilling horizontally into...

Detail of Tower for drilling horizontally into the Marcellus Shale Formation for natural gas, just north of Pennsylvania Route 118 in eastern Moreland Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Wednesday the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs held their forum on natural gas. Dan Fischer was asked to speak for 3 minutes in between two speakers who were in favor of natural gas. His comment is below. The bottom line is that we can create jobs and energy without poisoning workers with silica dust, risking their lives to an explosion, and sacrificing the Marcellus Shale and Bridgeport.

Deb Eck was working 96 hours a week to support her 10 and-a-half year-old twins last spring when she received a notice. She was being evicted along with 32 families of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania’s Riverdale Mobile Home Park, so that Aqua America could construct a pump station needed for fracking natural gas. Several of her neighbors were forced to spend their retirement money to move their trailers and sheds.

“I want our community back,” Ms. Eck said, “I want our family back. When the first trailer rolled out, that was bad enough. It just kept getting worse.”

When tonight’s crowd of labor and environmental advocates bands together, we are undefeatable. The fossil fuel bosses knows this, and they’d like nothing more than to divide us, to disperse us just as quickly as they dispersed the Riverdale Mobile Home Park. We can’t let that happen.

We do not need to sacrifice any community for our jobs and our energy. I would like, tonight, to propose three ways in which natural gas endangers workers and why we’re better off creating safer and stabler jobs in efficiency and renewables.

Reason number one. Oil and natural gas workers have a fatality rate 7 times higher than the national average, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. While fracking for natural gas, workers breathe in high amounts of silica dust, linked to cancer and tuberculosis.

Reason number two. Natural gas pipelines and power plants are deadly for workers. I went to college in Middletown, only about ten miles east of here. And in Middletown in 2010 there was a natural gas plant explosion. Six workers lost their lives. That’s always a danger when you burn fossil fuel for energy. The US government says there were 202 natural gas pipeline accidents last year, resulting in 9 deaths, 52 injuries and $76 million in property damage.

Reason number three. Natural gas is worse for the climate than coal. Cornell University professor Robert Howarth finds natural gas’s greenhouse gas footprint is 120 to 200 percent the size the size of coal’s over 20 years. That’s because fracking and pipeline leaks release methane, a gas 105 times more potent than CO2 is over 20 years according to NASA scientists. Last year, 5 people died in Connecticut from Superstorm Sandy. It was Connecticut’s hottest year on record. “All of the above” will take us within decades to the carbon levels, 450 parts per million, that Dr. James Hansen has called a “prescription for disaster.” There are no jobs on a dead planet.

At this point, a member of the audience interrupted, “Are you suggesting we burn coal?”

“No,” I said, “I’ll get to that.”

Where I work in Bridgeport, there is a natural gas plant that’s right in the middle of a residential community. Natural gas combustion emits nitrogen oxides, lead, methane, and other pollutants known to cause cancer, emphysema and bronchitis, exacerbate heart disease and trigger asthma. In other words, it’s just what we need in Bridgeport, which has the country’s 15th highest asthma rate. The residents around the plant are overwhelmingly people of color, and their average income is 59% of the state’s average.

Luckily we do not have to sacrifice Bridgeport’s South End, the Marcellus Shale, the Riverdale Mobile Home Park.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy create three times as many jobs as fossil fuels do, for every investment. Mr. Brecher gives that figure in his book Jobs Beyond Coal, citing a UMass Amherst study of Commerce Department data.

Another study by Stanford University professor of engineering Mark Jacobson shows that we can power the whole world with 100% wind,water and sunlight. I have here his cover story in Scientific American. Jacobson did a follow-up report this year that such a transition in New York state would create a net increase in jobs. Fuel costs would be stabilized. Air pollution deaths would go down by 4,000 a year.

Let us demand nothing less than full employment and 100% socially just, renewable energy for Connecticut. It will only cost a small fraction of what America spends on wars for oil, a small fraction of the coffers of the 1%.

The Climate & Jobs Roundtable has revolutionary potential because as the labor and environmental organizer Judi Bari said, “It is only when the factory workers refuse to make the stuff, it is only when the loggers refuse to cut the ancient trees, that we can ever hope for real and lasting change.”

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