While Obama administration policies may tend to discourage the development of natural gas on public lands, environmental czar Carol Browner last Monday said natural gas is critical to the nation’s energy future.

“Certainly natural gas is an important part of our energy future and needs to be a bigger part of our energy future,” said Browner, assistant to President Obama for energy and climate change, during a chat room discussion in which she fielded questions from the public.

“When we look at what are the domestic opportunities, certainly the recent [shale] finds in terms of natural gas are significant. They’re much larger than anyone had anticipated, and we think they provide a real opportunity, not just in terms of [converting] vehicles…People tell me that a lot of fleets are starting to convert. Many have already converted their local fleets, their delivery fleets, to natural gas. There’s a lot of work going on for longer-haul vehicles in terms of natural gas,” she said.

“Natural gas may also provide a bridge fuel in terms of electricity production. Ultimately I think where we all want to get to is more electric vehicles, cleaner, more efficient vehicles,” said Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration.

She also expressed the Obama administration’s support for nuclear power, saying it needs to be “part of our energy future.” The industry “[has] not built a nuclear plant in this country in a long time. But we want to work with the industry to make that happen in the not-too-distant future.”

And Browner said the president still favors cap-and-trade legislation for controlling heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. “The president believes the best way to do it is to put a cap on how much of these dangerous pollutants can be in the environment, and then to use a trading mechanism” that allows emitters to carry allowances to help meet their emissions cap, she said.

Browner noted that European countries, which rejected cap-and-trade in the 1990s, are now using it. “They’re ahead of us at this point in time…But we’re doing our level best to catch up now.”

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