How critical will expanding the use of natural gas be to meeting the goals of U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan? During today's OnPoint, Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan, assistant director for legislation and politics at the Laborers' International Union of North America, which recently launched its Clean Power Progress campaign focused on state-by-state advocacy of natural gas infrastructure development, explains why she believes pipeline opponents are hampering states' ability to meet the targets outlined in the power plan.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan, assistant director for legislation and politics at the Laborers' International Union of North America, which recently launched a clean power progress campaign. Yvette, thank you for joining me.
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Thank you for having me here, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Yvette, LIUNA's work on energy focuses in a big way on natural gas infrastructure development and you're involved in various efforts throughout the U.S. to expand pipeline development. The Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota is one project that's being currently discussed and debated.
Your organization has qualified those who oppose the project as extremists. Where does LIUNA's work and outreach fit into the broader energy policy discussion that's currently happening in the U.S. on natural gas?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Well, LIUNA's an all-of-the-above energy union. So we are a building construction trades union. We do it all in the energy sector. Transportation sector as well, but energy's very big for us.
So as you said, I guess where there is a project labor agreement and we know that our members are going to get work, we're very protective of that work. So the clean power progress campaign, which we'll talk about in a few minutes, is focused on the natural gas aspects of it.
But on Dakota and others, what we've been doing I guess for the last two years really is participating throughout that process for the DAPL line and really for all of the various pipeline infrastructure that we're trying to build.
As you know, after Keystone, I think with some of the successes that perhaps the environmental community saw with that, isn't diverting a lot of their energy on infrastructure projects by infrastructure project. From our perspective we can't really have a comprehensive energy and climate strategy if all we're going to do is fight over infrastructure projects. We can have a much bigger debate on that.
So we participated in the process. It's been an open process. Unfortunately right now our members who are trying to work at that project, it's been a very intense situation, as you know. All they're trying to do is provide food for their families and go to work every day. We understand some of the concerns the tribes are having, but again, it's been a long process to finally get here.
Monica Trauzzi: You've taken aim at Tom Steyer and others who opposed Keystone XL, as you mentioned. Do you see a way to balance environmental goals, as well as economic goals?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Absolutely. Again, I think that's what we're trying to do with our campaign is trying to bring this a little bit more to the middle because you've got one side. They don't believe in climate change. It's pro-development no matter what the impact is on the communities, on the environment, on climate change.
Then the other side, keeping it in the ground, no fossil fuels, and we just believe there needs to be a much more middle-ground discussion that's more holistic than that.
So I think we have the same goals as Tom Steyer and others. However, I think we have more of a plan than perhaps some. I think they see it just from an environmental climate perspective and we see it from a climate and jobs perspective. After all, we're a union and we represent men and women who are working and trying to provide for their family.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about the Clean Power Progress campaign. Your group is working state by state to advocate for natural gas development in order to meet the goals in the Clean Power Plan.
If the goals of the power plan can be met through investments in other sources of energy, for example, renewables, why do you believe that natural gas then needs to stay on the map in a big way?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Well obviously the debate in Washington and other places and, again ... to keep it in the ground ... in others, they've been very focused on no fracking, no natural gas, and we just need to do renewable energy in order to meet the Clean Power Plan goals.
What we see and what we're trying to do is have more of a fact-based conversation about this. So for example, if we look at the Clean Power Plan's goal, 30 percent emissions reductions by 2030, if you look at and take, using EPA numbers and EIA numbers, energy consumption of the United States, we would see a 21 percent power deficit by 2030 if you just take oil and coal out. So we need to fill that.
So from our perspective and what we've seen, if we were just to do this on solar panels and I know that sounds great and I think someday we may be able to get there, I don't think it'll be there by 2030 and we need that natural gas to be a bridge fuel, but if you were to just take a solar panel, we would need 3.8 million acres of solar panels. That's three times the size of Grand Canyon. That's $1.8 trillion of investment just to fulfill that energy need and that's nationally.
What we do with the campaign is look at some states, like Pennsylvania — 22 percent power deficit. What we would look at is you would need a solar panel farm 2½ sizes the size of Philadelphia. Then again $103 billion to build that. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of land. That's a lot of space.
Monica Trauzzi: But is anyone suggesting that that's how it should be done?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Yes. I would say I think that they are. If it's just renewables only and they don't want nuclear, they don't want hydropower and there's a comfort level when you talk about wind and solar and again, LIUNA, we build. We're building wind. We're putting out solar panel farms. This is important to us. We want to grow that sector —
Monica Trauzzi: But you're talking to lawmakers. Are there lawmakers who are advocating for only renewables and no natural gas?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: I think there's some. You'd be surprised. You need pipelines to move natural gas. So that's where the problem comes in. so I think that there's a lot of comfort on the Democratic side to talk about renewable energy. We're for that, but we are a little concerned that some of the activism that's taking place is shutting down any possibility in a real conversation about you can do hydraulic fracturing safely. It's being done. There's a lot of new technologies.
Pipelines are safer than ever. They're being built safely. When they're done, even safer, but I think it's a conversation that some are having a difficult time when there's so much emotion and activism and tape recorders and rope lines and just silly things like that. What we're trying to do is let's just be real for a second. Natural gas is clean and it's just a good bridge fuel. So let's not turn away and overregulate or just say no, keep it in the ground. It shouldn't be that simple. We have to be more thoughtful.
Monica Trauzzi: Utilities make long-term decisions and investments based on what makes the most sense financially for them. In some cases we see utilities going a little more heavily towards renewables. In other cases, making that switch to natural gas. Are there particular states or regions where you think natural gas is the right path?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Sure. So yes, definitely. In New England there's a lot of different infrastructure. Obviously a lot of homes are still using oil to heat and energy prices along New England are pretty high. So there is a need and want for more natural gas. As you know, several, there's Constitution Pipeline, there's AIM, there's various infrastructure projects pending currently. So definitely along New England. Then obviously there's a lot more going on in the middle of the country as well, but there's definitely a need throughout.
Monica Trauzzi: So from a policy perspective, how does the Clean Power Plan then in your view impact efforts to expand natural gas just based on how it's written and then taking a look at the legal uncertainty that currently surrounds the plan, how does that affect infrastructure projects?
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Well, with legal uncertainty and I think the direction that the United States is moving and even the whole, entire world, it is for a cleaner energy economy. So I think this debate's going to happen regardless of what happens next month with the Supreme Court decision. So we'll see.
We're moving towards that avenue and route. So what we're hoping is that people embrace it and feel more comfortable and policymakers don't just turn away from natural gas and see it as a good bridge fuel.
As the administration's done for years, they've turned away the other way a little bit, but to continue that dialogue and be a little bit more holistic on our energy policy.
Monica Trauzzi: We're going to end it right there. Very interesting conversation. Thanks for coming on the show.
Yvette Pena-O'Sullivan: Thank you Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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