Can HR 1 Rekindle The Blue Flame Of Freedom?

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​It’s not easy to choose the Biden Administration’s single most foolish climate change policy amongst many deserving candidates, but worst of all may be the assault on the residential use of natural gas.  The costs of this agenda are substantial, and it’s all for a miniscule-to-nonexistent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But House Republicans are fighting back with HR 1, the big energy bill that defends natural gas, and along with it the rights of homeowners to make their own energy decisions. 

​From a consumer standpoint, there’s simply no downside to having the option of natural gas alongside electricity in our homes.   It allows us choice for those appliances that come in both gas and electric versions, namely furnaces, water heaters, and stoves.   Many logically choose gas, as it is over three timescheaper than electricity on a per unit energy basis.  According to the American Gas Association, using gas appliances can save homeowners  up to $1,000 annually compared to an all-electric home.  There are quality differences as well, especially in the kitchen where millions swear by the superiority of gas cooking over electric. And in any event, homeowners who do want to stop using gas and go all-electric are free to do so at any time – no need for government interference. 

​ But President Biden assumes major climate benefits in getting homeowners to go all-electric and is doing what he can to create disadvantages for natural gas. That effort begins with chipping away at domestic supplies and thus affordability.   The administration has cut back on the levels of natural gas leasingon federal lands as well as approvals of badly-needed pipeline capacity – interstate gas pipeline additions in 2022 were the lowest on record since the federal government started keeping track in 1995.   And the recently-enacted Inflation Reduction Act imposes a new tax on natural gas producers.  Gas is still cheaper than electricity, but the administration is trying hard toclose the gap.

​The anti-gas agenda extends to constraining the choices of end users.  The President currently has two federal agencies targeting gas stoves – the Consumer Product Safety Commissionis investigating their safety while the Department of Energy is considering energy efficiency standards that treat gas stovesmuch more harshly than electric versions.   While stoves have gotten most of the attention, other gas appliances like furnacesalso face regulatory scrutiny. 

​Compounding matters, the Inflation Reduction Act contains very generous handouts to homeowners who buy electric appliances, but no such subsidies for gas versions.   The $840 rebate for electric stoves would make some models practically free. Qualifying electric heating and water heating systems get even bigger handouts. That’s a very heavily-tilted playing field against gas appliance makers, and one wonders how much longer they can compete on it.

​Even more insidious are the Inflation Reduction Act’s handouts to state and local governments to change their building codes to pursue the anti-gas and other climate goals.  Like the local bans imposed by a number of cities, these measures could put an end to gas hookups in new construction and could also make things more difficult for current gas users.

​It all adds up to a costly and regressive tax on homeowners and renters who prefer natural gas, and there is minimal planetary payoff to justify it.  In fact, it is far from clear that electrification even reduces greenhouse gas emissions.   Yes, natural gas combustion releases carbon dioxide, but that is true whether done directly in your home or at the local power plant that makes the electricity sent to you. Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from natural gas and coal, and the process of generating and transmitting it is less efficient and thus higher emitting than the direct use of natural gas in a home appliance.  

​Proponents of electrification point to a future where wind and other renewable sources displace most coal and natural gas power plants, but we are decades away from that. And it is looking increasingly likely that it will never happen, given the growing problems already being experienced from removingreliable fossil fuels and incorporating intermittent renewables into the mix. 

​HR 1, the “Lower Energy Costs Act,” represents the first counterattack in the nonsensical war on natural gas.    It contains provisions streamlining the approval of oil and gas leases on federal lands and kickstarting the pipeline permitting process.   It repeals the unfair electric appliance-only subsidies.   And it defunds the federal efforts to influence state and local building codes.

​Granted, there is more to be done.  For example, the bill does not reverse the regulatory crackdown on gas appliances.  That will be done in separate bills to be debated later.   But HR 1 goes a long way towards restoring freedoms for energy producers and energy users.