Pennsylvania is in an enviable position with access to rich supplies of natural gas that can help meet energy needs while serving as a bridge to a clean energy future.

The Marcellus Shale – an economic treasure trove which spans nearly the entire state – is known worldwide as one of the most productive and valuable shale plays in existence. Pennsylvania itself draws on natural gas for nearly a quarter of its energy needs while also exporting elsewhere.

Should Pennsylvania be taking even greater advantage of this resource? With energy demand increasing each year and state leadership moving forward on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, it’s not optional; it’s a necessity. The state will be required to cut carbon pollution by nearly a full quarter by 2030. Without new capacity, Pennsylvania will face a nearly 25-percent energy shortfall by then; amounting to lights out for the equivalent of 5.9 million homes.

Renewable resources will certainly make up some of that ground, but they cannot alleviate the entire shortfall. For solar power to cover the full deficit, for example, Pennsylvania would need 219,000 acres of solar panels, which would cover an area two and a half times the size of Philadelphia – at a cost of $103 billion.

Fortunately, state leaders seem to have a more pragmatic view of the energy landscape and recognize the value of natural gas in the state’s energy portfolio. Dennis Davin, Pennsylvania’s community and economic development secretary, said as much in a recent speech that touted Pennsylvania’s ambitions not only to serve as an exporter of natural gas, but also to utilize the resource at home.

This is encouraging given that much still stands to be gained from expanding natural gas infrastructure. Through shovel-ready projects such as the Mariner East and Constitution pipelines, Pennsylvania’s leadership has the opportunity to not only deliver cleaner power to more than 411,000 Pennsylvania homes, but also to inject $3 billion into the state economy and create nearly 17,000 jobs.

And economic and environmental goals need not be mutually exclusive. Natural gas expansion will help Pennsylvania progress toward Clean Power Plan compliance, while improving air quality in the process. This will help to lower incidences of asthma, chronic bronchitis and heart attacks linked to air pollution, which kills 3,800 Pennsylvanians prematurely each year.

These are real life and death issues, and it’s a national concern as much as it is a statewide one, with the U.S. facing an overall energy shortage of 21 percent by 2030. In a few weeks when eyes will be on Philadelphia as host to the Democratic National Convention, Pennsylvania will have a front-row seat for critical discussions on economic and infrastructure issues. Expansion of natural gas should be one of the solutions coming out of these discussions as delegates define a path forward on clean and affordable energy. The Pennsylvania General Assembly can also play a role in fostering the state’s clean energy portfolio by supporting the expansion of natural gas.

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