Thursday, May 1, 2008

Energy Policy Once More

Off and on I’ve written about energy policy and the lack thereof. I believe that if this country doesn’t develop a good energy policy now, we will be faced with all kinds of problems in the not too distant future. We’ll be looking back at the good old days of $4 a gallon gasoline. What goes for energy policy right now is a patchwork of ineffective policies, plans, and ideas that do little to alleviate the current problem and nothing to keep us from suffering a crisis in the long-term. As with just about any policy, the law of unintended consequences takes effect. In the case of making more ethanol to alleviate our dependence on petroleum, we have caused a serious escalation in the price of basic food items, and have created a food shortage. We hurt the poor so we can gas up our SUVs. To me that is immoral. So much for wise and informed policy.

I’ve promoted nuclear energy as a solution, which I see having the following advantages over what we’re doing now:

(1) Little or no pollution. We can phase out coal burning power plants and only use them only during times of peak demand such as during the hottest summer months.

(2) Power electric cars using cheap and abundant electricity produced with nuclear energy. This will significantly reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil.

I’m not saying this will be easy, but it can be done if we have the will to act. During World War II, we had the will to act and developed the atom bomb in just a few years.

Also during World War II, we had the will to act and developed the most advanced bomber in the world, the B-29, in just a few years.

In the 1950s, we had the will to act and developed rockets capable of launching an artificial satellite into space or delivering a warhead accurately thousands of miles away.

In the 1960s we had the will to act and developed the technology to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely.

Technology has been our god in this country, yet we fail to put our faith in that god when it comes to nuclear energy. Why can’t we as a country have a concerted effort similar to the Manhattan Project when it comes to nuclear energy? Our survival as a first-rate nation depends on it.

I believe it is possible to build safe nuclear power plants. I believe we can solve the nuclear waste issue. I believe we can develop electric cars and batteries that will meet our needs. I believe we can upgrade our power grid to meet future demands. All of these can be done only if we have the will to act, make the investments needed, and do it right. What’s holding us back?

Of course I also believe we should be doing other things as well, both as interim steps as well as long-term practices. I would enact such a large gas-guzzler tax for SUVs and other inefficient vehicles that they would quickly go out of existence. Why do people think they need such a behemoth to go grocery shopping?

I would continue to invest in alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar panels, and other passive sources of energy, using tax credits to users and grants to researchers, as well as other incentives. I would encourage conservation, of course, and actually enforce it to whatever extent you can in a free society. I would open oil fields in Alaska for drilling as a stopgap measure, and build plants that can extract oil from domestic shale and turn domestic coal into oil and natural gas (which should now be profitable with oil at around $120 per barrel). I would eliminate tax breaks that oil companies enjoy and use the found money for research into alternative sources of energy.

Do we as a people have the will to act? Do we have the will to make our politicians accountable to us? Will we continue to vote for the same ineffective politicians who are in the pockets of the big corporations? Notice the three presidential candidates talk mostly about short-term issues, but rarely the large and long-term problems facing this country. I fear for our future.

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