Tim Wirth, a former Colorado senator and now president of the United Nations Foundation, told delegates at the Rocky Mountain Energy Epicenter Thursday that they have the power to shape the natural gas industry's future.

The annual conference in Denver, sponsored by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, has drawn thousands of gas industry professionals from across North America.

Wirth, a longtime advocate of natural gas, urged the industry to take off the gloves in its fight for market share against the coal industry.

"Unless you help to shape policy, your future will be shaped by others -- mainly your competition," he said. "The coal industry has been fiercely effective with Congress and regulatory authorities in defending its turf, and you have to be as well."

To date, he said, "your industry has mostly run nice, positive, feel-good advertising, rather than conducting the persistent, aggressive campaign that will be needed for this transition."

It's not that "voters love coal -- it's that they love the jobs and the economic benefits that come with it -- and natural gas can do better," Wirth said.

The "old interests have a huge amount to lose," but "the gas industry has a huge amount to gain," said the former senator.

He said it was in the gas industry's interest, "perhaps even your number one priority" to defend the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which in May finalized rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (see Daily GPI, May 14).

Another potential boost for natural gas came on Tuesday when EPA proposed reducing power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides to meet state-by-state emissions reductions in 31 eastern states and the District of Columbia (see related story).

Defending EPA's authority, said Wirth, "is a battle that gas must win."

©Copyright 2010 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.