Two contending issues, both ‘green’

moneyIt’s easy to say that we can’t put a price tag on a clean environment. But beyond this noble sentiment is a simple reality that radical “greens” prefer to ignore: Like any other area of policy, nurturing the world around us involves choices based on time, effort and, yes, money.

Take the case of a new study which examines potential links between natural gas development in Pennsylvania and the prevalence of asthma. Several news outlets jumped on the findings as evidence that “fracking” is hazardous (egged on by one of the study’s researchers, who just happens to be a research fellow at the agenda-driven Post Carbon Group). The actual abstract of the findings was more cautious in concluding: “Whether these associations are causal awaits further investigation, including more detailed exposure assessment.”

We are not scientists, and so we will await further research. Yet some would say, why bother? Just ban fracking now to be on the safe side. The trouble is, the “safe side” carries its own risks. For one, it is clear that fracking can deliver improvements to the economy, which provide people with more resources for their own health care — and environmental stewardship. Even while noting the need for further environmental impact research, a study by the center-left Brookings Institution found that the abundance of fracking-produced energy sources has saved businesses and individuals $74 billion annually on their utility bills ($200 per year per individual household).

Governments experience a windfall too, allowing them the budgetary breathing room for more public health programs and environmental clean-up efforts. Economic activity — from job creation, investment and even retail sales — translates into higher tax collections. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research analysis from last year, “most county and municipal governments have experienced net financial benefits” from hi-tech oil and gas development.

In addition, earlier this year the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that carbon emissions from power plants have hit a near-25-year low, with the conversion of many facilities to natural gas playing a major role.

To most people, these findings should mean a rational regulatory approach to fracking, not a headlong rush into bans. Sensible pro-environment Democratic governors like John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Jerry Brown of California would agree.

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