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Ukraine Crisis reverberates on Long Island as NYS Energy Plan is finalized

John Rhodes, CEO of NYSERDA; Judith Lee, Executive Deputy of Public Service Commission, and Jared Snyder of NYS DEC hear comments on the draft NYS Energy Plan. Ironically, the Ukrainian Crisis could impact decisions.
John Rhodes, CEO of NYSERDA; Judith Lee, Executive Deputy of Public Service Commission, and Jared Snyder of NYS DEC hear comments on the draft NYS Energy Plan. Ironically, the Ukrainian Crisis could impact decisions.© 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Wouldn’t it be ironic – in a tragic, fatalistic way – if the Ukraine crisis dashes the possibility of offshore wind for Long Island and gives Cuomo his excuse to okay fracking, because of new political pressure to build the Port Ambrose LNG port and boost US natural gas production and exports to defuse Russia’s power over Ukraine and Europe?

The resurgence of the Cold War couldn't have come at a worse time, when New York State is about to adopt a long-term energy plan which environmentalists fear is already too meek when it comes to renewables development and, in fact, is really a back-door way of promoting investments to support natural gas extraction and delivery (and position Cuomo for national office). Environmentalists see the potential for becoming fossil-fuel-free by 2030 – let alone 80% by 2050 as the plan modestly suggests - evaporating.

Speaking at a public hearing - the fifth of six hearings being held around the state prior to final adoption of the plan - at SUNY Farmingdale on Monday, March 3, virtually every speaker blasted natural gas as a fossil fuel which may burn cleaner than coal, but that is even more dangerous to air, water, and climate-change causing emissions. ”It is not a bridge fuel," they insist.

But just as New York State's environmental activists were holding on to their hope of banning fracking, blocking the Port Ambrose LNG facility, and pressing for aggressive development of renewable energy, Congressional Republicans were seizing opportunity posed by the Crimean crisis.

Republicans have long been the party of the "Drill here, drill now, fossil fuels forever," embracing and protecting every possible form of dirty energy, which also protects the corporatists and oligarchs who fund SuperPacs and lobbyists. They refuse to end giving Big Oil & Gas billions in tax "incentives" (as if they needed incentives) – the most profitable industry in history – and yet, interestingly, deny offering the same development stimulus to solar, wind, geothermal.

What is the difference, you might ask? Because in addition to making the country energy independent, renewables also make every energy consumer (that is everyone) relatively independent of Big Corporations. At minimum, a shift to renewables decentralizes energy production, breaks up virtual monopolies. To some extent, every home and every business could become its own little factory of energy production, or at very least, less of a consumer, with more disposable income.

Governments would have more money freed up as well, and would have to shell out less tax money on public health, environmental remediation, and disaster rebuilding.

And we have seen how the need to protect the supply of oil has impacted foreign policy and defense spending (case in point, Iraq, see Rachel Maddow’s documentary, “Why We Did It").

How things have changed! In 2012, America finally produced more oil and gas than we imported. In fact, in 2013, America became the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the largest producer of natural gas in the world (as that lady on TV keeps reminding us).

Now, because Europe depends on Russia for 30% of its natural gas, the Europeans are unwilling to exert any real leverage to force Russia back from Crimea. Republicans now see the potential for the US to become the supplier to the world.

Rather than pursue a fossil-fuel-free world, Republicans see our oil and gas as the new coin of the realm to reassert America’s world domination (democracy alone doesn’t seem to be working). The US would become the new PetroState - a thoroughly misguided fantasy since most of the rest of the world, including the Oil-Producing Middle East, are moving to sustainable energy.

So far, the US does not export its natural gas, but there are scores of companies that are chomping at the bit, and have applications pending at the Energy Department to construct Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) ports - like Port Ambrose off Long Island's south shore.

Speaker of the House John Boehner is pushing to speed up the timeline for the DoE to issue those permits, while Congressman Paul Ryan is using the Ukraine crisis as the latest excuse to press Obama to give his blessing to the Keystone XL pipeline, which environmentalists like Bill McGibbon of 350.org have warned would be a death sentence for a habitable planet.

“I think we should move forward on natural gas exports very quickly,” Ryan said when asked what Congress can do to alleviate the Crimea crisis. “I think we should approve an LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminal on the East Coast to go to Europe. I think we should approve the Keystone pipeline. I think we should show the U.S. is moving forward on becoming energy independent and supplying energy to Europe–”

The fact that none of these changes could be in place in time to impact the Crimea crisis, think about what this would mean for average Americans: natural gas which is pitched as being relatively cheap now in the US (and the rationale for not developing renewables), would inevitably rise in price. The US would become like any third world nation that is exploited for its resources, the impacts on local environment and communities be damned. Our food prices would rise, as well, as more and more land is despoiled by extractions, not to mention the droughts and floods that accompany climate change, and water supplies, already strained through much of the country, would be destroyed because fracking consumes millions and millions of gallons of water and produces millions and millions of gallons of toxic liquid.

Ironically, the US has actually been assisting Europe in developing its renewable energy. In Germany, solar panels can be seen on centuries-old farm houses; and Europe's cultivation of wind has been at a remarkable pace, and now generates 14% of the European Union's electricity demand.

The Ukraine crisis was not top of mind, though, at the public hearing at SUNY Farmingdale. Who would have thought that Long Island, let alone New York State, could become in an international crisis (Perhaps Cuomo, though, who aspires to national office might relish this opportunity). No, what they were focusing on was the fate of our communities and Mother Earth.

See next:

Draft New York State Energy Plan Opens Door for Natural Gas Development

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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