Gas is the new coal. At least that's what the Obama administration seems to think. In accepting his nomination to run for a second term, President Obama pledged to "continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet," and to create 600,000 new jobs in the natural gas industry.
The two goals are directly related in the administration's policies; in March 2012, the Obama EPA announced new emissions rules for power plants that meant no new coal plants will be built in the U.S. All those coal plants will likely be replaced with gas-fired plants -- a trend that was already in the works thanks to declining gas prices and increasing supply.
But Obama's enthusiasm for gas puts the big, national environmental groups in a bit of a tough spot. While many recognize that burning gas to generate electricity emits 47 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, concerns about environmental problems stemming from hydraulic fracturing have led many green groups to moderate their stance.
Take, for example, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In late August, EDF announced a $6 million donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, to work on fracking rules in 14 states. Multi-billionaire Bloomberg is a gas booster, but wants to ensure that it's "done through strong, responsible regulation." EDF agrees: "'No drilling no place' is not a strategy, that's a bumper sticker," Jim Marston, vice president of the energy program, told me a few days after the Bloomberg grant was announced.
In short, fracking is going to happen, so EDF might as well make it as safe as possible, Marston argues.