COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in America and severely impacting the health of far too many and the lives of all. We are being forced to make serious sacrifices and change the way we live our lives in order to help slow the spread so as not to overwhelm our health care system.
This is absolutely necessary, but it also is leading to what may be a very long and painful economic slowdown. Businesses large and small have made drastic changes, leading to fewer hours for many employees and layoffs for others. At the same time, 401(k) plans are taking massive hits and the long-term financial security for millions looks bleak.
Despite this painful economic squeeze, families must continue to purchase basic goods and services, pay the rent or mortgage, and even may be hit by unanticipated and uncovered medical fees related to COVID-19. That is why it is so troubling that many policymakers, including the leading Democratic candidate for president, are calling to ban America’s natural gas and modern-day energy production which has successfully powered America in recent years; a ban that would shut down 100 additional years of clean, low-cost, reliable and domestic energy.
It is more troubling, however, that these same officials held up coronavirus relief legislation by demanding these damaging, job-killing and risky proposals. This approach would surrender America’s hard-won energy independence and would end the era of clean, low-cost and abundant energy just as its beginning.
With 78 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck and 51 million Americans not earning enough to afford a basic monthly budget, banning new natural gas exploration and requiring companies to transition to zero emissions would have a dramatically destructive impact on Americans even in the absence of a global pandemic and resulting economic slowdown. Civil right leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Marc Morial recently expressed the same concerns about shutting down natural gas and making it harder for people that are struggling to make ends meet.
A recent study underscored the deep and permanent damage that a natural gas production ban would do to our country: 7.5 million jobs lost in two years and a $7.1 trillion hit to the economy over 10 years. A ban would also slash annual household incomes by an average of $5,040 per year while household energy costs would soar by an average of $618 per year. This is literally the last thing that we need in an economy that is being savaged by the pandemic.
But falling incomes and rising energy costs are only part of the story. Banning new natural gas exploration would devastate agriculture as well. The cost of wheat farming would increase 64 percent, the cost of corn farming would increase 54 percent and the cost of soybean farming would increase 48 percent. This would decimate farm income by more than $275 billion, a reduction of 43 percent. Ultimately, the higher costs to farm staple products would be passed on to the consumer, again raising more costs in the worst possible time.
The fact is that America has the cleanest and healthiest air quality in generations thanks in large part to our use of natural gas discovered and produced right here at home. Furthermore, the jobs and economic growth from domestic natural gas production have allowed us to become more energy independent. Natural gas now accounts for 30 percent of America’s electricity generation, and America has passed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top producer of gas and oil and will soon be a net energy exporter. Eliminating this incredible domestic advantage and returning to the bad old days of relying on foreign sources for energy would be a major blow to our national and economic security.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the United States and the rest of the world, so the first priority for lawmakers is to keep costs low for consumers and help support wage growth. This means that we must do everything possible to keep clean, low-cost and abundant energy flowing for American families and manufacturing companies that face the biggest crisis in years. A ban on safe and modern domestic natural gas exploration and production could very well turn a pandemic-caused recession into a politically-caused depression. As Americans, we must do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen.
• Ian Prior is spokesman for The Empowerment Alliance.
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