What is it about Washington, D.C., that turns the brains of otherwise intelligent people into mashed potatoes?
Americans say we want our energy to be cleaner, more affordable and less reliant on foreign sources. Even if those desires are incompatible, Congress is in the business of making promises, not making people face tough choices.
So what great things did Congress and the president do in the new energy bill?
First, they mandated that we throw out our trusty incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact florescent light bulbs that are goofy-looking, impractical and toxic.
Next, they decided to take away each family’s ability to choose between smaller vehicles that get better gas mileage but crumple in a crash and bigger vehicles that cost more to drive but keep you and your loved ones alive.
If you think that means that smaller vehicles will be less expensive, think again. Some estimates place the cost of increasing average fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon at about $6,000 per car and up to 4,000 lives per year.
Now you know why some say "Congress" is the opposite of "progress."
Congress also mandated 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022 — when most everyone in Congress who isn’t named Kennedy will be long gone. This is symbolic, but also ineffective.
According to Robert Bryce of the Institute for Energy Research, devoting every acre of corn grown in the U.S. to ethanol production would supply about six percent of our annual oil consumption. That’s great for the price of grain, but it doesn’t do much to wean us away from foreign oil.
Even worse than what Congress did is what it did not do.
Rather than wave its magic mandate wand at the market, Congress might have moved toward better utilizing available resources in ways that would make us less dependent on Middle East oil sheiks or reduce carbon emissions.
It’s ironic and pathetic that President Bush recently pleaded with OPEC leaders to increase production to reduce the price of oil.
Why should they?
Apparently Americans would rather pay $3 a gallon for gas than to utilize our own oil reserves in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 140 million acres (larger than California and New York combined) in Alaska are already established as conservation areas. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) covers some 19 million acres of which the potential drilling footprint is limited to 2,000 acres – less than four square miles – in a portion of the region that is flat and barren with no trees, hills or mountains. Yet this area alone has oil reserves greater than any of the lower 48 states.
Congress is so sanctimonious that they would rather we pay billions more to Hugo Chavez and the Saudis than to sensibly and strategically drill in a frozen swamp less than one-tenth the size of Denver International Airport.
Washington also struck out on promoting the most practical, reliable source of clean energy – nuclear power.
Risk-averse France derives nearly three-fourths of its power from nuclear energy and has reprocessed nuclear waste – rather than store it and argue about it, as we currently do – without any mishap for 30 years.
California placed a moratorium on nuclear plant construction in 1976, but the four plants that operate there provide about 13 percent of the state’s electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22 million metric tons.
The last nuclear plant built in the U.S. is Palo Verde, near Phoenix. Only three of its planned 10 nuclear reactors were completed.
However, Dr. Arthur Robinson of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, says that just one Palo Verde-style plant, built to completion, in each of the 50 states would generate as much energy as the U.S. currently imports — with $300 billion a year left for export. By contrast, 70 percent of today’s electricity comes from coal, gas or oil, all of which produce so-called greenhouse gasses.
Unfortunately, Congress would rather make us pay more for things we don’t want and pat itself on the back for symbolism than to take practical steps to make energy accessible, reliable and affordable.