The climate change legislation working its way through Congress should be a boon to the natural gas business — it burns much cleaner than coal and is widely seen as the bridge fuel until even cleaner technologies are developed. But maybe the natural gas industry has taken its good fortunes in the bill for granted.
At a conference Monday put on by the Global Energy Management Institute at the University of Houston, law professor Victor Flatt said there’s been some grumbling in the industry lately that it has been “outlobbied” by (gasp!) the coal industry.
For example, the House version of the bill has money for carbon capture and storage, a key technology that is needed in order for coal-fired power plants to keep their top standing in the U.S. in a carbon restrained world. Even the once withering FutureGen has been revitalized by the Department of Energy. What has the natural gas industry gotten out of the bill? Not too much.
Indeed the coal industry seems to have done a better job of trying to put itself out there in the public debate (sometimes it doesn’t work smoothly, however), despite the vocal efforts of T. Boone Pickens. An analysis by E&E says in the first quarter of 2009 utilities (which tend to use coal heavily) spent $35.1 million on lobbying. The natural gas industry spent less than a tenth of that, $3.3 million. “Of the top 10 industries with a stake in climate legislation, natural gas put the least money into lobbying in the first quarter,” according to the analysis.
“It seems that the natural gas industry let the coal industry steal a lobbying march on it, thinking that it would be the obvious beneficiary of climate change regulation,” said Craig Pirrong, a UH finance professor, who along with Praveen Kumar and Flatt co-taught a carbon trading class at UH last spring.
“The coal industry, on the other hand, saw that its future was at stake, and went all out to limit the damage from cap and trade.”
There are plenty of others who were at the table as the House worked on the bill, including mainstream enviromental groups. And major exploration firms like Shell and BP have had some influence through U.S. Cap. But about the only bone thrown to the traditional energy industry so far seems to be the 2 percent of emissions allowances that refineries will get in the early stages (thanks to U.S. Rep. Gene Green, says Flatt).
But there’s still time to influence the Senate before it makes a final vote on the bill. Flatt said he expects the gas lobby to come back harder and wouldn’t be surprised to see some attempts to by the nuclear industry to get a piece of the pie.