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Drill, baby, drill

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President Obama made it official this week: The United States is awash in natural gas.

“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” Obama said in his State of the Union address, embracing industry forecasts that were dismissed as fantasy just a couple years ago. On Thursday, he added; “It turns out we are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

The surge in natural gas production is creating jobs (Obama forecasts more than 600,000 by the end of the decade), reducing emissions, cutting fuel costs for businesses and homeowners, and turning the president into a drill-baby-drill Democrat.

Massachusetts, where natural gas is the dominant fuel used to produce electricity and to heat homes, has benefited tremendously. Electricity prices are trending down and heating costs (for those who use natural gas) are also dropping. Both NStar and National Grid proposed natural gas price cuts this week.

But the boom in natural gas production is not without its side-effects. Nationally, natural gas producers are so concerned about the low prices that some have started to scale back production. Locally, the drop in electricity prices makes it that much harder for struggling renewable energy firms to become competitive. The drop also gives ammunition to those wanting to tweak the state’s Green Communities Act, the state’s big bet on renewable energy, which passed at a time when natural gas prices were soaring.

Obama’s solution is an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy” except for coal and apparently nuclear. He wants to end subsidies for Big Oil while continuing them for wind and solar. To address the natural gas glut, he favors using natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Obama’s speech is affirmation that the energy realities that everyone took for granted just two years ago are no more. Phil Verleger, an energy consultant, said on WBUR’s On Point that the natural gas boom is pulling manufacturers back to the United States and giving the country a competitive edge. He recalled working in the Carter Administration, a time when many were predicting the country would be out of gas by 2000. “It’s stunning,” he said. ”It is just a sea change.”

                                                                                                                                                            --BRUCE MOHL



BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick gets the whole half-hour on Greater Boston to discuss a wide range of topics, including his proposal for new “vice” taxes and an enhanced bottle bill, whether he’ll sign the “three strikes” bill, his support of his lieutenant governor, and his view of Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas’s snub of President Obama.

Another day, another Probation Department indictment story about legislators wondering who’ll wake up to find FBI agents at their doorsteps. The Lowell Sun reports two sitting senators and two representatives could face criminal charges along with a former legislator and 10 outsiders.

Rep. Dan Winslow vows to fight the closing of the Norfolk state prison.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Freetown officials are putting a home-rule petition before voters that would exempt the land Meditech is planning to build on from oversight by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. It is the latest development in the fight between the medical software company and the state agency.

The Archdiocese of Boston proposes consolidating 25 parishes in Greater Lowell into 10 pastoral collaboratives that would share resources and priests, the Lowell Sun reports.

The woman succeeding her politically connected mother in a top job at a Lawrence antipoverty agency was at the center of another storm over hiring 15 years ago at a Florida housing authority, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Sober houses – lodging houses with rules against alcohol and drug use – are not regulated by the state although judges send some offenders to them, the Salem News reports. The Salem City Council plans to take up the issue.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Keller@Large says the resignation of wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords reminds us of what really matters in life.

Members of New England’s congressional delegation are gearing up to try to protect Hanscom and other area bases in the wake of talk of another possible round of military base closings.

A New York Times graphic compares the Massachusetts health plan that Mitt Romney signed into law in 2006 with the federal plan President Obama signed into law in 2010.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, facing a tough fight from the Republican challenger she beat in 2009, decides not to seek reelection, Governing reports.

Maine, North Carolina, and Minnesota will all have questions regarding same-sex marriage on their November ballots, and New Jersey could follow.

ELECTION 2012

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney go at it in their final debate before the Florida primary. The Globe’s Christopher Rowland says it was a more aggressive Romney on display last night.  The Globe’s Glen Johnson zeros in on what he calls Romney’s fudging of his own record, moves that Johnson says “may cost him the general election if not the nomination.”  AP fact checks the latest debate charges.

Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole gets on the Newt Gingrich-bashing band- wagon. Gingrich’s super PAC readies another brutal anti-Romney ad.

Univision asks Mitt Romney if he considers himself a Mexican-American. Meanwhile, President Obama looks for Latino votes in Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. The National Review says Romney is the last WASP. Shouldn’t that be WASM?

President Obama gets testy with a finger-pointing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and gets criticized for that by Republicans.

An advocate for school vouchers writes in US News & World Report that Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren should embrace the support for vouchers she outlined in her 2003 book on the 2012 campaign trail.

No one is happy with President Obama’s deep-water oil drilling plan, which may work out for him in an election year.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Republicans like Gingrich (for now). The country at large, not so much.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Residents gather in Holliston to talk about the impact of casinos. Meanwhile, Paul McMorrow explains in this week's Back Story that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe face a July 31 deadline to wrap up negotiations over a casino site or lose their preferential status.

A small Worcester online advocacy group was the main force that spurred last week’s Internet protest over proposed anti-piracy laws that saw sites like Wikipedia go dark for 24 hours.

Paul Krugman argues Republicans are too obsessed with solitary job-creating heroes, when they should be concerned with clusters.

The Weekly Standard says liberals hate poor people, as evidenced by the effort in a number of cities, including Boston, to ban the pleasure of smoking in public housing.

CHARITY

Income inequality exists in charity as well, with just 2.5 percent of nonprofits reporting 50 percent of the wealth of charities and 60 percent of annual revenue, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

EDUCATION

In an editorial, the Lowell Sun examines the different negotiating strategies of teacher unions in Westford and the North Middlesex Regional School District.

Haverhill parents complain about the disruptive atmosphere at a middle school where students have been moved around because a section of the building was in danger of collapsing, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A New Bedford city councilor is reviving a two-decade old proposal to mandate school uniforms for the city’s students.

Google launches a new online education resource, Governing reports.

HEALTH CARE

A $32.5 million gift from the Klarman Family Foundation, headed by local hedge-fund manager Seth Klarman, will fund a new center at The Broad Institute in Cambridge to study how genes affect the inner workings of cells

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey says feedback so far indicates MBTA riders prefer fare increases over service cuts.

Berkshire Regional Transit Authority gets 15 new paratransit vehicles.

Airline passengers share their humiliating experiences with security officials and a variety of airlines.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Cape fishermen continue to be hot and bothered about fishing regulations, especially quotas.

MEDIA

A bill filed by state Sen. Jack Hart of South Boston would prohibit the media from identifying criminal trial witnesses under the age of 18 and sentence anyone who violates the ban up to a year in prison.

MinnPost, a nonprofit regional news site in Minnesota, finishes 2011 in the black for a second year in a row, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

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