Celanese aerial

When the Celanese Corp. plant was built in Giles County 75 years ago, it ran on coal-fired boilers. Now, the company has completed a conversion to natural gas, because it’s cheaper and cleaner.

The Roanoke Times | FILE 2008

By Mike Bailey

Bailey is a retired businessman and community leader in the Hollins area.

In conversations with friends and neighbors over the last several months, it’s become clear to me that many of us think the discussion about Mountain Valley Pipeline has been too narrowly focused and has lost sight of the bigger picture.

We all want to protect the environment and preserve our natural resources. And, there are many of us in this community who believe that we can build new infrastructure and protect the environment at the same time.

But we also believe there are other important issues that need to be considered. The Roanoke Valley is not an island. The world is larger than our back yard. We are connected to the larger American society, and we play a role in building the future of our country.

So, let’s take a look at the bigger picture.

Our country is in the midst of an energy revolution that is not only transforming the way we produce electricity and opening doors to new economic opportunities, but is also dramatically improving our environment.

For nearly a century we relied on coal to generate most of our electricity because it was cheap, abundant and reliable. But as our understanding of the climate evolved, we came to realize the damage coal was doing to the environment.

So over the last decade, Americans have wisely shifted to cleaner-burning natural gas. The reason is simple: It produces half the amount of carbon emissions as coal, and an even smaller fraction of air and water pollution. It is hard to overstate the significance of this improvement and the overwhelmingly positive, lasting impact it will have on the environment.

And, thanks to technological innovations in the way we drill for natural gas, it’s just as domestically abundant, affordable and reliable as coal ever was.

Importantly, our nation’s transition to natural gas has been the result of a societal consensus endorsed by the vast majority of Americans — consumers, voters, industry and government.

It has been driven by state and federal policies such as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and the McAuliffe administration’s Virginia Energy Plan, which encourage electric utilities to switch from coal to gas to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

Consumers, too, are driving the transition. More homeowners are using natural gas for home heating because it costs significantly less than electric. How dramatic is the shift? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, on a national basis, natural gas has long been the dominant choice for primary heating fuel in the residential sector. Today, roughly 25 percent of all homeowners heat their homes with gas. But, 75 percent of new homes are using gas heat. That’s a big deal.

As for industry, manufacturers like the Celanese plant in Giles County are turning to the availability of low-cost natural gas. The U.S. can use its energy sources to increase its competitiveness in world markets. Natural gas can fuel the resurgence of the American middle class, reversing decades of decline.

And all this demand for more natural gas requires more infrastructures to transport it. When our roads become congested with too many cars, we build new ones. The same goes for pipelines and every other kind of infrastructure in our society.

So, that’s the bigger picture. That’s why Mountain Valley Pipeline has been proposed.

I sympathize with the concerns of pipeline opponents. The Roanoke Valley is home for me, too, and has been for decades. It is here that I raised my children and where I hope future generations of my family will live and prosper.

I cherish the Blue Ridge Mountains as much as anyone. I fish in its creeks and streams and hunt in its forests. I agree these natural treasures must be nurtured and protected for future generations.

But where I fundamentally disagree with pipeline opponents is the mistaken belief that environmental stewardship and industrial development cannot co-exist. The Roanoke Valley is not and should not be a refuge from the industrialized world.

We can preserve our environment and have economic development at the same time. We must be vigilant in our quest for progress. Progress has sustained our American way of life for hundreds of years.

I want infrastructure and industry to be built in the Roanoke Valley, and so do many others in this community. In the end, we will all benefit.