Saturday, March 19, 2011

Energy Policy needs to be America first

I agree with 70% of this article in New Geography, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite policy journals. I don't agree with it on nuclear policy, but I can see its argument. I still think we need to pursue nuclear energy as long as our reactors aren't on fault lines and subduction zones. We need an all the above energy policy.

From New Geography

The two largest crises today — the Japanese nuclear disaster and the widening unrest in the Middle East — prove it’s time to de-fetishize energy policy. These serious problems also demonstrate why we must expand the nation’s ample oil and gas supplies — urgently.

The worsening Japanese nuclear crisis means, for all intents and purposes, that atomic power is, if not dead, certainly on a respirator.

Some experts may still make the case that nuclear power remains relatively safe. Some green advocates still tout its virtues for emitting virtually no greenhouse gases.

But the strongest case against nuclear power is now rooted in grave public fears about radiation. Imagine trying to site or revamp a nuclear plant today anywhere remotely close to an earthquake fault or a major city.

Right now, I'm sure nuclear energy's popularity is dipping.

The other shoe dropping relates to the growing chaos in the Middle East, from North Africa to the Gulf. The price of oil is likely to continue climbing, unless the world economy slides back into recession — and perhaps even then. The governments that emerge from the current Mideast upheavals are likely to be far less pliable to Western interests than the authoritarian potentates that Washington long supported. Disruptions in supply, higher energy taxes and emergent environmental movements could constrain markets for months, even years, to come.

These realities upset all the “best” obsessions of our rival political classes. Much of the progressive community, for example, had embraced nuclear fuel as key to ultimately replacing fossil fuels as a source of electricity — including the long-awaited electric cars. Green advocates often overestimated the readiness of renewable fuels — still far more expensive than fossil fuels and highly dependent on subsidies.

Wind power, for example, produces, at best, some 2.3 percent of the nation’s electricity. But in addition to wiping out whole flocks of birds, it receives subsidies many times higher per megawatt hour than fossil fuels. In contrast, the dirtiest fuel, coal, still produces close to 50 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Meanwhile, solar panel production, touted as a wellspring of job creation, seems to be shifting inexorably to China. Algae-based biofuels and other types look promising — but could take decades to become practical.

Many conservatives, on the other hand, have espoused the nuclear option — in part, because the industry has powerful corporate backing, which is always an influential factor to Republicans. But even red-state denizens are probably looking at the scenes of Fukushima with understandable horror.

So if the “best” agendas of both parties are flawed, it may be time to look at the “good.” The pragmatic way out of this emerging energy mess means focusing on our increasingly abundant supplies of oil and gas.

“Peak oil” enthusiasts may not have noticed, but recent discoveries and improvements in technology have greatly expanded the scope of U.S. energy resources. New finds are occurring around the world, but some of the biggest are in the United States.

Shale oil deposits in the northern Great Plains, Texas, California and Colorado could yield more oil annually by 2015 than the Gulf of Mexico. Within 10 years, these finds have the potential to reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half.

Even more promising, from the environmental standpoint, are huge natural gas finds. Discoveries in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania could satisfy 100 years of use at current demand levels.

What is great about American energy? Jobs. Money not going to the Middle East. Control.

Producing domestic energy also creates the potential for hundreds of thousands of new U.S. jobs — everything from engineering to high-paying blue-collar work in the fields.

A new gas-led energy boom would also spark increases in demand for manufactured goods like oil rig equipment, tractors, pipelines and refineries. And those are sectors that the United States still dominates.

Would we rather this economic growth take place in Iran, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

The time has come for both political parties to give up their “best” energy options for the good. A green economy that produces millions of new jobs is a laudable goal. But the renewable sector cannot develop rapidly without massive expenditures of scarce public dollars. To fully develop these technologies, we need lots of money and time.

Republicans, too, need to give up their “bests” — including the notion that no policy is always the best, usually a convenient cover for the narrow interests of large energy corporations. Allowing private corporations to unilaterally determine our energy policy makes little sense. After all, most of our key competitors — China, Brazil and India — approach energy not as an ideological hobby horse but as a national priority.

I know that oil has a "world price" but this goes beyond economics. We need to look at reality and control what we can control here at home. Global warming may or may not be happening (Certainly not happening in Michigan last few years - and I've seen nothing like 1988 or even 1996 lately), and may not be a concern. There is no consensus there, and those who say there is forget science 101 about testing.

Reality however consists of rising gas prices, rising shipping costs and inflation, unrest in the Middle East, China and India industrializing, and more pain, partly directly caused by the government. We need an all of the above energy policy here, and it starts by taking advantage of our own resources.

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