Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground 煤電式微 天然氣成氣候議題新戰場
America's coal-burning power plants are shutting down at a rapid pace, forcing electric utilities to face the next big climate question: Embrace natural gas, or shift aggressively to renewable energy?
Some large utilities, including Xcel Energy in the Upper Midwest, are now planning to sharply cut their coal and gas use in favor of clean and abundant wind and solar power, which have steadily fallen in cost. But in the Southeast and other regions, natural gas continues to dominate, because of its reliability and low prices driven by the fracking boom. Nationwide, energy companies plan to add at least 150 new gas plants and thousands of miles of pipelines in the years ahead.
A rush to build gas-fired plants, even though they emit only half as much carbon pollution as coal, has the potential to lock in decades of new fossil-fuel use right as scientists say emissions need to fall drastically by midcentury to avert the worst impacts of global warming.
"Gas infrastructure that's built today is going to be with us for 30 years," said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.
"But if you look at scenarios that take climate change seriously, that say we need to get to net zero emissions by 2050," he said, "that's not going to be compatible with gas plants that don't capture their carbon."
In some states, policymakers are now pushing to leave gas behind to meet ambitious climate goals. Last month, New York lawmakers passed a sweeping energy bill that calls for the state to switch to entirely carbon-free electricity sources by 2040, following states like California and New Mexico that have passed similar laws.
Since 2005, most power companies have lowered their carbon dioxide emissions significantly, in large part by shifting from coal to gas. Coal plants have become uncompetitive with other kinds of energy generation in much of the country, despite the Trump administration's efforts to save them by rolling back federal pollution regulations.
But in a recent analysis, David Pomerantz, the executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewables group, looked at the long-term plans of the 22 biggest investor-owned utilities. Some in the Midwest are planning to speed up the rate at which they cut emissions between now and 2030.
But other large utilities, like Duke Energy and American Electric Power, expect to reduce their carbon emissions at a slower pace over the next decade than they had over the previous decade.
"I really think gas is at the crux of it," Pomerantz said. "You've got some utilities looking at gas and saying, 'No thanks, we think there's a cleaner and cheaper path.' But then you've got others going all-in on gas."
How Subway Delays and the Homeless Crisis Are Intertwined 紐約地鐵誤點和街友有關 官員：與這城市更大問題相關
After years of decline, New York's subway is showing signs of improvement, with the percentage of trains running on time creeping upward.
But at least one area is getting worse: disruptions involving homeless people.
Trains were delayed 659 times last year by homeless people walking on tracks, blocking train doors and engaging in other unruly behavior — a 54% increase from the 428 such delays in 2014, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway.
And the disruptions have continued to escalate this year, with 313 train delays in the first three months.
"It's a real challenge, and a growing challenge, and that's consistent with the broader challenge in the city," said Andy Byford, the official who oversees the subway. "We're just not equipped to deal with this on our own."
Though the subway has long been a refuge for those with nowhere to go, transit officials and riders said they were seeing more homeless people on the subway as the city struggled to address an intractable homeless crisis.
New York has opened 23 new homeless shelters since 2017 and has 20 more in development. It has poured more than $80 million since 2014 into new centers, outreach programs and specialized services specifically aimed at homeless people on the street, including the creation of a database that helps outreach workers identify and track individuals by name.
It has also taken more punitive steps. Police officers have handed out a flurry of civil summonses to try to clamp down on disruptive behavior on the subway. Currently, 1,600 to 1,800 summonses per week are issued for prohibited transit conduct — including jumping turnstiles, stretching out in subways cars and on platforms, smoking and drinking alcohol — which is about 16% more than in 2016, according to police officials.
But it has not been enough. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to crack down on homeless people camped out in the subways. About 58,000 people live in city shelters and an additional 3,800 are on the streets and in the subway.
Now, city and transit officials are ratcheting up their efforts with a new program aimed at persuading homeless people to leave the subway by offering to waive a civil summons if they agree to go with outreach workers who can offer a variety of services, such as a bed in a shelter or medical treatment.