Obama’s Anti-Energy Policy

Robert Samuelson has a great piece on President Obama’s counterproductive bias against domestic oil and gas production in favor of unrealistic “green” jobs:

In 2007, wind and solar generated less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. Even a tenfold expansion will leave their contribution small. By contrast, oil and natural gas now provide two-thirds of Americans’ energy. They will dominate consumption for decades. Any added oil produced here will mostly reduce imports; extra natural gas will mostly displace coal in electricity generation. Neither threatens any anti-global warming program that Congress might adopt.

Encouraging more U.S. production also aids economic recovery, because the promise of “green jobs” is wildly exaggerated. Consider. In 2008, the oil and gas industries employed 1.8 million people. Jobs in the solar and wind industries are reckoned (by their trade associations) to be 35,000 and 85,000, respectively. Now do the arithmetic: A 5 percent rise in oil jobs (90,000) approaches a doubling for wind and solar (120,000). Modest movements, up or down, in oil will swamp “green” jobs.

Samuelson assumes that the White House is interested in common sense—they’re not. What the White House cares about is what all politicians care about—catering to their constituencies. The reason why Obama does not favor more domestic energy is because there’s no political upside to it for him. Obama can’t afford to annoy the environmentalist lobby that plays to American’s worse environmental fears. If he did, he’d risk losing political support.

Even though domestic energy exploration makes sense in terms of energy policy, national security, economics, and even environmentally, none of that means anything. It won’t play well politically, so it is dead on arrival.

That’s the way our government works in the 21st Century. For all the talk about “hope” and “change” the Obama Administration is as nakedly political as any other, and a politically unpopular program will not be enacted no matter how beneficial the results, and a policy that is economically ruinous but politically popular will always win out. It’s Reding’s Second Law of Public Policy—the best policy will always lose out to the most politically popular policy.

President Obama could show real leadership by dramatically increasing domestic energy productions. But “drill baby drill” was the motto of the other side, and with the worldwide recession pushing oil prices down, there won’t be a serious political demand for more domestic energy until the next crisis hits and it’s far too late.

Want To “Save The Earth?” Get Rich

In The New York Times, John Tierney has an excellent column about why getting rich is the best way to improve the environment:

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact,” said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. “The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.”

The best way to “save the environment” is to grow the economy and embrace new technologies. That means stopping our irrational fear of nuclear power. That means working to make solar a reasonable means of producing power. That also means, however, that we can’t just let some government bureaucrat decide what is best—we have to have a competitive marketplace for green technologies in which the best system wins.

It also means that we must stop looking at dangerous and economically unsound policies like “cap and trade”. As this article notes, cap and trade systems do not work and fail to reduce CO2 emissions while simultaneously hurting the economy. That kind of strategy will reduce capital that can be applied to new technologies, raise the price of energy through the roof, and end up raising the cost of living for everyone, disproportionately hurting the worlds’ poor who cannot pay extra for their electricity. Such a program would end up turning into a massive tax increase on America’s vulnerable middle class. Cap and trade is not the right solution.

The right solution is a system that fosters innovation. That means reducing the barriers that keep green technologies off the market, and giving tax incentives to those willing to take the risks of bringing new technologies to market.

Finally, we have to stop believing the cheap energy and green energy are opposed to each other. Basic economics teaches that as supply goes down, costs will go up. If we are running low on fossil fuels, then the prices for those fuels will only rise until the cost of “green” energy is substantially less. At that point, without of hint of government intervention, there will be a green revolution.

But government doesn’t want to wait. By scaring people into seeing an environmental “crisis” they want people to give them unprecedented power and control&madsh;power and control that they can use and abuse. Yes, we need a clean environment. But we don’t need scare tactics. We must take measured and rational steps rather than being frightened into radical and ill-conceived ventures.

200 years ago the streets of every major city were awash in horse manure, water supplies were unsafe, and soot darkened every building. Today, we have made incredible advancements in expanding human quality of life without damaging the environment. Tomorrow, who knows how far we will come if we abandon the politics of environmental fear and embrace the value of human ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

McCain’s Climate Change Plan: Great Politics, Terrible Policy

Scott Johnson has a deeply skeptical look at Sen. McCain’s new “climate change” policy

. From a standpoint of policy, that skepticism is well warranted. The political story, however, is entirely different.

The political reality is this: global warming concerns are part of the political landscape now. Too many voters have bought into the hype to stake a position on the theory that climate change doesn’t matter in this election. While that is bad science, that is also the political reality the GOP faces. For that matter, even if there is no man-made global warming, there’s no reason why America shouldn’t be looking ahead to an age of increasing scarcity of oil. The more power America gets domestically from renewable resources, the fewer petrodollars flow into the hands of two-bit tyrants like Hugo Chavez. Some “green” policies make sense for other reasons than environmental hysteria.

The problem with the McCain approach is that it gets the politics right, but makes for atrocious public policy. For example, a “cap and trade” system would necessitate a massive new government bureaucracy and raise America’s energy prices. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the current Lieberman-Warner bill amounts to a trillion dollar tax increase in a time when Americans are already finding it hard to pay for energy. Even more troubling, this tax would be incredibly regressive, its impacts adding more stress to families barely able to pay for heat and fuel.

Republicans should have a plan that reduces our dependence on sources of energy that produce pollution. However, that should not mean abandoning political principles or the rules of basic economics. The GOP should push for more clean nuclear power, tax credits for research and development of clean fuel sources, and should embrace something like Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel plan (using cellulosic ethanol rather than burning what we eat). There are plenty of economically viable ways for the U.S. to “go green,” but we need policymakers willing to support those sound policies.

The GOP has good reason to grumble at McCain’s energy policy, but the fact that it talks about climate change is not it. It would be nice for more politicians to stand against the bad science behind the global warming movement, but in an election year you have to pick and choose your battles, and this year the GOP needs to have an energy policy on the table to compete on this issue.

The Next Global Warming Meme

ABC News has a piece on this year’s unusually active tornado season. While ABC was careful to note that there’s no real scientific evidence tying an increase in tornados to global warming, a lack of scientific evidence has never stopped the environmentalist lobby from making dire pronouncements before.

In somewhat related news, a majority of British citizens see global warming hysteria as an excuse for more tax revenues to the government. It’s heartening to see so many people exercising their critical reasoning skills these days.

Glenn Reynolds says it best:

It seems large majorities of voters believe that climate-change talk is mostly an excuse to raise taxes. So is this in spite of all the PR about global warming, or because of all the PR about global warming? It’s been pretty heavy-handed. Anyway, as I’ve said before, this is why if you want to implement carbon taxes, etc., they need to be revenue-neutral. And it’s also why, if our “leaders” want us to treat this as a crisis justifying public sacrifice, those leaders need to act as if it’s such a crisis themselves, instead of treating it as an opportunity.

It’s Time For A 21st Century Energy Economy

Jerry Pournelle has a suggestion for how we can make this country energy independent:

As to whether American ingenuity can use that technology to help win us energy independence, I have to say it again: cheap energy will cause a boom. The only cheap energy I know of is nuclear. Three Hundred Billion bucks in nuclear power will do wonders for the economy. We build 100 1000 MegaWatt nuclear power plants — they will cost no more than 2 billion each and my guess is that the average cost will be closer to 1 billion each (that is the first one costs about 20 billion and the 100th costs about 800 million). The rest of the money goes to prizes and X projects to convert electricity into mobility.

But he ends on a more somber note:

Of course we won’t do that.

Even though some in the environmental movement have embraced nuclear energy as a way of reducing CO2, the kneejerk reactionaries are still numerous enough to prevent any real progress. The fact that the government horrendously mishandled the regulation of nuclear plants and stifled the chance at making the industry viable didn’t help either. We could have been energy independent right now had we done things right in the 60s and 70s.

Meanwhile, France gets 70% of their energy from nuclear sources, reprocesses their waste, and is far less dependent on Saudi shieks or Venezuelan strongmen for their fuel. Their nuclear plants were build around common plans so that there was little duplication of effort, and spare parts could be made in batches rather than having every reactor be a largely unique design.

A smart politician would be pushing for a new Manhattan Project—the United States getting 25% of our electricity from clean nuclear reactors by 2020. A program that offsets the strain on the electrical grid from electric vehicles by building more capacity from nuclear power. A program to speed the development of safe pebble-bed reactors that won’t be capable of spreading radiation and doesn’t pose a threat from the proliferation of nuclear materials.

We can do those things, but all it takes is the political will to push them through. Sadly, it seems like our political leadership is decidedly lacking in will. Glenn Reynolds is right, we do have a lack of faith in our political leadership, and that comes because politicians are too willing to push for burning more of our food stocks than leading us into the 21st Century. We can do better, but we can’t do that if our political class is more interested in jockeying for power than pushing this country forward.

It’s Time For A Real Energy Policy

Jim Geraghty of NRO’s Campaign Spot blog notes a survey that show that global warming is a major political issue in New Hampshire. While much of the global warming issue is alarmist hype, that hype has sunk in. However, even for global warming skeptics the necessity for a smarter energy policy is clear. We can’t live off of fossil fuels forever, and whether the days of “peak oil” will arrive in one year or 100, it will happen some day.

The usual conservative answer is that the market will decide what technology becomes the fuel of tomorrow. Which is all fine and true, but people want some kind of plan now. We have the problem of needing fuel, yet having key fuel sources being in hands of places that are unstable or hostile. The reality is that our dependence on Middle Eastern, African, and Venezuelan oil is a problem of national security, and the Republicans are not sufficiently serious on how we will deal with this problem.

The next answer is to boost domestic production. That’s all fine and good, but that still isn’t enough. We can expand our percentage of domestic oil, but we can’t insulate ourselves from the world oil market. We can’t produce enough domestic oil to meet our needs, and countries like China and India expand, the demand for oil will keep pushing prices up regardless.

Geraghty suggests a couple of policy stances that will help the GOP on this issue:

I’m a big believer that the Republican candidate ought to have something to say on global warming and carbon emissions beyond “the science isn’t clear” and “the market will take care of this.” Find some deserving target of environmental scorn and pledge to crack down on polluters; turn environmental protection into a law-and-order issue. Mock the Democrats’ hypocrisy on this issue. Promise to build wind turbines off the coast of Ted Kennedy’s Nantucket estate. Point out that the GOP wants to finance innovation while the Democrats want to tax energy.

That last sentence is key. What the GOP needs to do is back a 21st Century energy policy. The best analogy is the stock market: you’d be an idiot to hold all your money in one stock. Right now our portfolio is almost entirely based on oil, with a few alternative holdings. What we need is a diversified energy portfolio. Ethanol is one solution (although it’s economically inefficient, it’s politically popular). Biodiesel is one. Wind power is one. Hydroelectric power is another.

But there’s one issue that could significantly impact America’s energy independence, and that’s nuclear energy. The GOP needs to get behind the policy of removing the governmental roadblocks to safe, clean nuclear energy. It’s fundamentally conservative in that it involves removing governmental barriers to private enterprise. It’s also environmentally conscious in that modern nuclear technologies produce minimal waste and product significant amounts of power. As this excellent book points out, there is a strong case that nuclear energy needs to be a key part of America’s 21st Century energy agenda.

There isn’t a “magic bullet” to fix all of our energy woes. Instead, the GOP needs to be aggressively pushing a package of reforms that includes expanding domestic sources of energy, pushing for more efficiency through tax credits and other incentives, and bolstering several different alternative energy sources and letting the market determine which ones work and which ones don’t.

There’s no reason why one can’t have solid conservative principles and still be environmentally conscious, and there is a real need for a more aggressive stance on environmental and energy issues by Republican candidates. Energy is a national security issue, and while the GOP doesn’t have to charge headlong into the politics of fear surrounding global warming, they do need to have a coherent and competitive energy and environmental agenda.

The “progressives” aren’t progressive on energy—they want more big-government solutions that will slow down the development of real alternatives. But in order to win on this issue, conservatives can’t be afraid to take a stand. Again, the GOP candidate who can get conservatives for conservation on their side will have an edge against those others who no real plan to preserve America’s energy independence and the environment at the same time.