By Lucas Vebber
WMC Director of Environmental & Energy Policy and General Counsel
This column was published in the 2017 edition of Wisconsin Business Voice.
We are closer than ever to achieving true North American energy independence, something that will bolster our economy and our national security. Unfortunately, radical environmental activists are committed to holding up progress every step of the way. The fact is that fossil fuels power our economy, and as we have seen in Wisconsin, we can use more and more fossil fuels, grow our economy and simultaneously improve our environment. Embracing these energy resources will benefit Wisconsin and help push us toward true North American energy independence.
Over the past eight years the fossil fuels industry has seen an ever-changing regulatory environment at the federal level along with a constant drum beat of attacks from environmental activists throughout the country opposing development of energy resources and new energy infrastructure. Simply opposing fossil fuels on principle is misguided. We need a diverse energy portfolio to meet our economy’s needs, and fossil fuels need to play a significant role in that to ensure affordable and reliable energy. Across the United States there are companies using materials, supplies and services from right here in Wisconsin, to develop new fossil fuel resources.
Wisconsin’s energy story is a great example of how we can utilize fossil fuels to drive our economy while simultaneously improving our environment. Wisconsin has a long and proud history of environmental stewardship and conservation. We are also a manufacturing state that is largely powered by reliable, low cost fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas. Wisconsin companies are playing a critical role in supplying the materials and supplies to develop new fossil fuel resources.
In Wisconsin, as our fossil fuel use has increased, so has our air quality. According to numbers from the Federal Energy Information Administration, from 1991-2015 Wisconsin power plants increased coal consumption by over 16 percent and increased the amount of natural gas used by more than 1,800 percent. Despite significant increases in fossil fuel use over the past 25 years, in 2015 Wisconsin power plants emitted 82 percent less sulfur dioxide and over 80 percent less nitrogen oxides than they did in 1991. Wisconsin is using more fossil fuels, and putting out significantly less pollution.
Despite this growth in fossil fuel use, Wisconsin’s air is currently the cleanest it has been in decades. As the Wisconsin DNR reported at the end of 2016, “concentrations of most criteria pollutants have been decreasing over the past decade in all regions of the state.” As America produces more oil and gas, we are creating thousands of jobs nationally and right here in Wisconsin, paying less for the energy to heat our homes and drive our vehicles, and continuing to see an improved environment.
As we have developed more and more energy resources nationally, Wisconsin companies have played a key role. Wisconsin mines provide some of the finest frac sand to the oil and gas industry, a key component in the development of new energy resources. In addition, Wisconsin manufacturers are producing the supplies and equipment necessary to make cutting edge energy development possible. These industries directly employ thousands of Wisconsinites, while other Wisconsin employers and families are benefiting from the lower fuel prices.
Fossil fuel development is great for Wisconsin. Next time you hear an environmental extremist complaining about fossil fuels, let them know that Wisconsin has shown firsthand that we can use fossil fuels and improve our environment, and make sure to tell them that thousands of Wisconsin jobs are directly tied to energy development. Wisconsin is playing a critical role in the march toward North American energy independence, and that is something we should all be proud of.