Our View: Don’t go to oil dealers for climate policy

Rapidly cutting the emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases to avoid the worst impacts of climate change requires a simple-sounding pair of transitions: We need to electrify everything that we now power with oil and gas, including transportation and heating; And we need to generate the bulk of that power from wind and solar, with backup from other carbon-free sources like hydro and possibly nuclear.

It sounds a lot easier than it will be to accomplish, because in addition to necessary policies and investments on the state and federal government levels, it also involves the personal choices of millions of individual consumers who would have to give up familiar equipment like oil- fired furnaces or gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

Making the transition as quickly as possible would be best for the planet and would be a good deal for consumers. But it’s not good for everyone. The 5,000 or so Maine people who deliver liquid fuels to consumers – including local oil dealers and convenience stores that sell gas – are understandably worried about a carbon-free future. And their regional organization is offering them ways to hold on to their customers even if that means slowing the transition to electrification. A recent article in the industry’s regional newsletter offered “anti-electrification messaging” for dealers.

It encourages dealers to say that they take climate change seriously and point out that they mix biofuels with oil to reduce carbon emissions. They are told to warn consumers that the “electrify-everything movement” would force homeowners to pay for expensive new systems that might not work efficiently in cold weather or that there could be blackouts if everyone switches to electric cars and heating systems before generating capacity expands .

It’s easy to see why oil and gas dealers would be concerned, but their interests are not the same as the public’s. Shorter winters, warmer summers and flooding, coastal and inland, are already disrupting the traditional industries of forestry and fishing. The coming decades will require billions of dollars in infrastructure investment to shore up roads, bridges and wastewater facilities. The longer we wait, the worse it will be.

But a quick phase out of oil and gas would offer solid benefits to Maine. Since we have no oil wells here, spending less on fossil fuels means less of our money would be shipped out of state every day while more of what we’d pay for homegrown renewable power stays here.

Replacing internal combustion engine cars and trucks, oil furnaces and natural gas-fired boilers with electric versions is not cheap. But they are so much cheaper to operate and maintain that they end up being a good deal for consumers if they can afford the upfront costs.

We share the oil dealers’ concern for the people who work in their industry, but there are better ways to look out for their interests.

Climate policy shouldn’t be limited to rebates that make electric cars and heating systems more affordable for consumers, but also on-the-job training and placement for the people who would lose work. The need for people to install and service electric heating systems, as well as weatherize older homes, already exceeds the labor supply and demand is just going to grow.

We shouldn’t ignore the needs of the oil dealers, but we shouldn’t let them design energy policy for the state either. The world needs us to make the transition to electrification, and we need to do it quickly.

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