‘Clean energy” is the political darling of the moment. President Obama has made the promotion of clean energy one of the centerpieces of his administration and his reelection effort. The Democratic National Committee claims that “clean energy” investments are “helping pave the way to a more sustainable future, creating new jobs and entire industries here in America.” Last month, the Center for American Progress, a leftist think tank, released a report that touted the need to build a clean-energy economy.
On Sunday, an editorial in the New York Times extolled the benefits of renewable energy and declared that the “clean energy industry” was “one of the few sectors to add jobs” during the recession.
It’s readily apparent that the left is rallying behind the notion of “clean energy.” But what, exactly, is it? Ah, now there’s the rub.
In March, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D, N.M.) introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, which identifies natural gas and nuclear — along with renewable energy sources — as being “clean.” If that definition holds, then groups such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and lots of others will be in the rather uncomfortable position of having to oppose Bingaman’s measure even though those very same groups regularly tout the need for more clean energy.
Proving why this is so takes only a modicum of research. The Sierra Club claims that the “gas industry is dirty, dangerous, and running amok.” It continues, saying, “The closer we look at natural gas, the dirtier it appears. . . . If we can’t protect our health and treasured landscapes from the damages caused by the natural gas industry, then we should not drill for natural gas.”
That’s a remarkable set of statements from the Sierra Club, particularly given that the group received nearly $26 million in donations from the gas industry between 2007 and 2010, most of it from Chesapeake Energy’s now-embattled CEO, Aubrey McClendon. During many of those years, the Sierra Club supported natural gas because, as Michael Brune, the group’s executive director, put it, the group’s leaders believed at the time that this fuel could “play a necessary role in helping us reach the clean energy future our children deserve.” But in February of this year, the Sierra Club changed its direction on natural gas and Brune declared that the “only safe, smart, and responsible” way to address America’s energy needs is to look beyond coal, oil, and natural gas and to focus on “sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.”
As for nuclear, forget it. Since 1974, the club has opposed “the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing the fission process.” The group says that it will continue its opposition, pending “development of adequate national and global policies to curb energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth.”
Bill McKibben, perhaps the best-known environmental activist in America, also dislikes natural gas. The founder of 350.org and a leader of the movement to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, McKibben recently said that natural gas is “just a rickety pier stretching further out into the fossil fuel lake.”