Do Terrorists Control U.S. Energy Policy?
Backwards on Energy
Every president starting with Richard Nixon and the 1973 oil embargo has promised to reduce America's ravenous appetite for oil while investing heavily in new energy sources. Mainly for lack of imagination and political will, all have failed. President Bush is headed in the same direction, for exactly the same reasons. What he and Congress exuberantly describe as their "comprehensive energy plan" is in fact a dreary compendium of subsidies and tax breaks for the coal, oil and gas industries that do nothing to address the problems of global warming or the country's dependence on foreign oil.
Politicians say that they oppose terrorism, but when it comes to the hard work of freeing America from dependence on foreign oil, they cave in.
This article is being circulated by our friends at www.evworld.com and appeared originally in the New York Times.
These tired ideas are embodied in House and Senate bills awaiting reconciliation in a conference committee that begins work this week. The widespread blackout two weeks ago is said to have given the legislation "new urgency." Not so. The blackout gave new urgency to the need to address the reliability of the electrical transmission system, an issue the bills touch upon. But it cannot possibly be said to have conferred new legitimacy on the cornucopia of industry payoffs that make up the rest of these measures.
John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, has the right idea, which is to focus exclusively on the provisions dealing with the reliability of the power grid -- and dump the rest. This approach would fasten Congressional attention on a matter of immediate concern: preventing future blackouts. That is a thorny enough issue as it is, given regional and ideological differences in Congress. More important, it would allow Congress to step back from the mess it has created and design something worthwhile. Members of Congress tend to tackle big issues like energy only once every five or 10 years. So they need to get it right the first time.
There is no shortage of ideas. The bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, underwritten by several major foundations, is preparing a detailed strategy aimed at balancing energy and environmental concerns. A second bipartisan group called the Energy Future Coalition, which is loaded with former government officials and academic experts, has already come forward with a half-dozen arresting proposals that make Congress's ideas look all the more tedious.
Take, for instance, the matter of improving fuel economy — the quickest and surest way to ease America's oil dependency. The bills in Congress do nothing on this score. The coalition, by contrast, urges a $10 billion investment in a combination of manufacturing changes and consumer incentives to encourage the production of millions of fuel-efficient hybrid cars. Subsidizing the auto companies to ease their transition to hybrids from S.U.V.'s will be controversial. But the $10 billion the coalition wants for that purpose is in fact no more than what measures before Congress would lavish on the oil and gas industries, who do not need the money at all.
Similarly, Congress would throw billions at what it calls "clean coal technology," which has been a euphemism over the years for outright subsidies to the coal and power industries. The coalition starts with the premise that coal is inherently a dirty fuel and that the trick is to find a way to dispose of the harmful pollutants created by coal. It would thus spend heavily on a proven technology called carbon sequestration, a process in which the carbon dioxide produced when coal is burned is injected into the ground.
The coalition has other bold ideas, all expensive and all, to some extent, chancy. But at least they point the country toward a brighter energy future. This cannot be said of the retrograde legislation that Congress seems determined to give us.
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