Monday, August 01, 2005

July 30, 2005

Weekend Edition

I don't know if I have the energy to write about the $14.5 billion energy bill that just passed the House by a healthy ( 275-to-156 ) margin.

I'm starting to feel like Mikey, remember Mikey? He was that little kid in the LIFE cereal commercial years ago who never liked anything, until he discovered LIFE cereal. I'm still looking for something that comes out of Washington I can like, unconditionally, enthusiastically, giddily. But this energy bill sure ain't gonna be it.

Before I tell you what's in the bill that I cannot for the life of me understand, let's set the scene.

* World demand for oil is skyrocketing at the very moment most experts agree we are running out of the stuff.
* America imports 60% of it's oil need, most of it from parts of the world where we are hated and are notoriously politically and socially unstable.
* One of those oil producing countries is currently occupied by 150,000 US troops where 1800 have already been killed and several thousand seriously wounded.
* Thanks to the burning of so much fossil fuel, ice caps and glaciers are melting worldwide, hurricanes, cyclones, floods and tornados are occurring in record numbers as heat builds in the atmosphere.
* Since scarcity provides oil companies an opportunity to gouge consumers, their profits have skyrocketed and now stand at record levels. (Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell alone bagged more than $7 billion and $5 billion respectively during just the second quarter of this year.)

So, what would rational people do faced with such a mess? Well, if you are a member of the US Congress what you do is:

You give oil companies $3 billion.
* You give the nuclear industry $3 billion.
* You give the coal industry $3 billion

Is it just me or is all that an awful lot of (borrowed) money for an already broke US Treasury to invest in dying technologies? Yikes, $9 billion for polluting, oil and coal energy producers and dangerous, radioactive waste producing, uneconomic nuclear power plants.

This administration may not know how to solve our long-term energy problems, but they sure as hell know how to give our tax money away to the already well-heeled. And this energy bill looks like more of the same.

What should Congress have done instead?

1) Boost minimum milage standards for cars and SUVs, now. Detroit will scream bloody murder. When they do tell them get stuffed. According to an EPA report the Bush administration tried to bury until this energy bill passes both houses American auto makers are a big part of our national energy problems.

You can see why the Bush administration wanted this report buried until after the energy bill passes both houses. The report shows that leaps in engine technology over the last couple of decades have been mostly used to make cars faster, not more fuel-efficient, and the rise of sport utility vehicles and S.U.V.-like pickup trucks has actually sapped efficiency. The average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent less than the 22.1 m.p.g. of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980's, according to the report. (Full Embargoed Report)

That's what Detroit did with technology that could have spared us the pain at the pump we are now enjoying. So screw Detroit and the horse they rode in on. Raising milage standards by just 5% annually until 2012 and by 3% per year thereafter would save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2010, 4.7 million barrels per day by 2020, and 67 billion barrels of oil over the next 40 years. That amounts to something around 10–20 times more oil than is estimated to exist under Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Absolutely nothing in the new energy bill accomplishes anything close to what that simple change would accomplish. So, why isn't it in this bill?

2) Then, instead of doling $9 billion dollars to the very industries that got us in this mess in the first place, put it into a Manhattan Project type research project to perfect genuine non-polluting, renewable sources of energy.

As long as the US and Europe were the only industrialized energy hogs there was plenty of oil to go around for the foreseeable future and we could put off switching from fossil fuels. Now that India and China have bellied up to the energy trough that's not true any more. The end of fossil-fueled society looms on the near horizon. My children may see it. My grand kids certainly will.

This is time to invest in change. There are rare moments when governments make the right investments in their nation's futures. The GI bill after WW II was one of those moments. Much of the intellectual capital that made America a social and financial powerhouse from the 50's on came from that crop of college educated GI's. Investing in an Energy Independence Manhattan Project now would represent the same kind of wise capital investment in America's future.

Can anyone doubt that if Congress made real energy independence a national priority and funded it accordingly, that such an effort would yield ground breaking, paradigm shifting energy solutions? I don't doubt it for a second. Within a decade we could see homes transformed from millions of energy parasites to millions of energy producers, pumping power into the grid instead of consuming it. Rooftops would be covered with affordable, stylish solar-electric "shingles" and equipped with air conditioner-sized fuel-cells. Homes power system would also provide refuel for the family's hybrid and electric vehicles. Hydrogen-powered cars, buses, trucks trains and planes would replace the current fleets of fossil fueled vehicles.

All that and more is possible within our lifetimes, but only if we invest our limited national resources in the kinds of R&D needed right now in order to clear the few remaining scientific, technical and infrastructure hurdles. We are so close.

Instead Congress gave us a backward looking, old-energy backed, dead end of an energy bill that lavishes money on those who are the problem while throwing crumbs to alternative energy solutions.

How do those people sleep at night?

Other Items I find Annoying

Just In
Just eight days after four terrorists tried to set off bombs in London, they have all been captured. Three were rounded up in London and the final one was arrested this morning in Rome. All this in a nation without the Patriot Act.

Meanwhile, US authorities still haven't caught whoever sent anthrax through the mail four years ago. Maybe this administration should spend less time passing new laws limiting the rights of already law-abiding Americans and more time catching the real bad guys. It would seem the British know how to do this – 8 days vs. 4 years.

(BTW, Got bin Laden yet, George? Dead or alive?)

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