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New York faces serious energy shortages today, largely due to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s insistence on banning fracking and blocking construction of new pipelines to import cheap natural gas from outside the state. He hopes to wean the state off of fossil fuels, which are said to drive global warming. Though the evidence concerning global warming and its deleterious consequences is quite thin, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the dire predictions of climate disaster are correct. If so, it becomes even more imperative to pick both the right sources of energy and the right way to get them to market. Solar and wind are too erratic to do the job, so we have to depend on some form of fossil fuel. Natural gas is high on that list. Unfortunately, the retrograde environmental policies of politicians like Cuomo is a key reason why New York faces an escalating energy predicament.
Today’s deep fear of climate change unthinkingly translates into abiding hostility toward any new technology for extracting and shipping fossil fuels. This regressive approach gets it backwards. As a rule of thumb, every new technological breakthrough results in higher levels of production with lower levels of risk. Therefore, it follows that we should encourage the displacement of old technology to capture these gains. The ideal way to proceed considers both the amount of pollution taken out of circulation and the amount of pollution added.
In most cases, new technology is better in every relevant dimension. Accordingly, the process of permit review under both federal and state environmental statutes should apply the same output measure to both systems and approve any permit for new technology that takes older technology offline. It should be evident that the easiest targets for displacement are the oldest, and least efficient, facilities.