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Natural Gas -- A Botched Opportunity

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On Wednesday, natural gas traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for less than $2 per million cubic feet. Two dollars. This would be news enough -- the domestic, cleaner, abundant and greener fossil fuel -- sitting at low prices not seen in more than a decade. But it was made even more stunning by the relative price of our other transport fuel -- gasoline -- still weighing on our economy and the consumer by stubbornly pricing at close to $4 a gallon.

What a botched opportunity -- and national disgrace.

Natural gas could profoundly ease our recovery from this long recession. With a move to natural gas as our primary fuel, the United States could worry less about being an economic casualty of an ongoing European contagion, or a Chinese "hard" landing. Energy is the lifeblood of our economy and we've come to a unique and historic place. We no longer need to be tethered to a globally-set high price for crude oil, where increasing demand in Asia translates into a high price at our gas pumps here at home, even as our own gasoline supplies swell and our demand decreases.

Abundant, American natural gas is the fast track out.

Cheap natural gas can fuel more than our cars and trucks, although that would be an excellent start. It can literally fuel our future -- a revitalization of a manufacturing sector that has left for cheaper shores to the emerging markets would rebound as lower local energy prices allow businesses to pay a higher living wage for American workers. It would fuel exploration and a fresh network for distribution, now underutilized and running well under capacity. As natural gas cars begin to take hold in this country, a new wave of consumption demand will explode as energy costs stop sapping our wallets.

While gasoline hovers close to $4 a gallon nationally, an equivalent gallon of natural gas now costs less than one dollar, when filling from a home line. Think of how much money we could be spending on other important things, unshackled from the rising price of gasoline. We could jump start a new decade of economic progress right here and right now.

All we need is a little support from our government. Just a little help to remove us from the global crude oil market and towards a national natural gas market -- where the increasing demand for oil in China won't hike the energy prices we must pay here at home.

Republicans have been slow to embrace the incentives necessary to build the needed infrastructure -- even though those projects would increase by millions the jobs they claim to care so much about. They are captive to their big money donors -- which means big oil.

The President has been too slow to embrace natural gas, cowed by an ill-informed environmental lobby and an election year stance opposing fossil fuels of any kind, even this far more advantageous alternative. He dreams, as we all do, of a vibrant U.S. economy driven entirely by renewable fuels, but this is a unrealistic fantasy still many decades away. What we need right now is a President who will talk realities -- the realities of what will take to grow our economy and power us for the next 15 years.

It must be natural gas. It's cleaner, domestic, abundant -- and unbelievably cheap.

This post was originally posted on The Street.

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