U.S. energy policy does need fixing
Amory Lovins’ Wednesday. March 20, “My Side” op-ed, responding to a letter by R.T. Moolick in Sunday’s Post Independent, answered Mr. Moolick’s assertions about ding-a-lings, Tom Daschle and gas-guzzlers, and it explained the NEP Initiative’s nonpartisan nature. Still to be addressed, however, are Mr. Moolick’s statements that U.S. energy policy doesn’t need fixing, that there’s no evidence of climate change, and that President Carter blocked further use of nuclear energy.
Mr. Moolick’s claim that current energy policy ain’t broke doesn’t stand up to the cost test. The United States spends a breathtaking amount of tax money annually defending oil imports, roughly $50 billion annually just on military readiness in the Gulf, even in peacetime. Increasing the average efficiency of today’s passenger cars by just 27 percent (5.3 mpg) would eliminate the need for U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf. Such efficiency gains would save not only the cost of the oil imports but also a big chunk of the defense budget.
Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not an answer to energy security. Oil from the Arctic Refuge would pass through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, 800 vulnerable miles long. Last October, a drunk bled 285,600 gallons of crude oil from the pipeline and shut it down for 60 hours with one shot from a hunting rifle. Determined, sober, and well-equipped terrorists could do much worse. The pipeline has already been incompetently bombed twice. An engineer bent on making money in oil futures was caught by luck in 1999, before his 14 sophisticated bombs could shut down the pipeline in three places. And shutting down the line for a week in winter could turn the nine million barrels of hot oil in the pipe into an unpumpably gooey giant candle.
Perpetuating the use of fossil fuels until they are exhausted would increase the risk of human-caused climate change in our lifetime and would put at risk the quality of life of our children and grandchildren. For those who, like Mr. Moolick, doubt the probability of global warming, I’d suggest reading a summary of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a paper called “Climate Change 2001, the Scientific Basis.” It can be downloaded from http://www.ipcc.ch/. The SPM version, a summary for policy makers, should be readable to anyone who reads letters to the editor. President Bush recently asked the National Academy of Sciences to check whether scientific concern about climate is valid. They replied that it was, and he has now accepted that thesis.
Four of the world’s largest oil companies have already pronounced that the end of the oil age is at hand, and are embracing and developing hydrogen and renewable energy sources. General Motors, with the same knowledge, is pushing hard to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Contrary to Mr. Moolick’s assertion, Jimmy Carter didn’t kill nuclear power. Nuclear energy lost a lot of popularity after incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, but the real reason no new nuclear plants have been ordered by utility companies since 1978 (a year before the TMI accident), and all those ordered since 1973 have been cancelled, is that they’re too expensive.
Nuclear power has proved much more costly than projected-and more to the point, more costly than most other ways of generating or saving electricity. Civilian nuclear power has received over $1 trillion in U.S. taxpayer subsidies since 1947. If utilities and governments are serious about markets, rather than propping up pet technologies at the expense of ratepayers, they should pursue the best buys first.
Nuclear power plants are not only expensive, they’re also financially extremely risky because of their long lead times, cost overruns, and open-ended liabilities. The Price-Anderson Act, which places the cost liability of major nuclear accidents on taxpayers, is currently being renewed, setting us up to bear any big losses in the future.
The United States can continue to be the world’s number one nation if we look to the future instead of embracing the past. We need to adopt a full portfolio of energy options and work with the rest of the world to reduce environmental risks. The National Energy Policy Initiative is building a consensus toward those goals. The NEP Initiative “Expert Group Report” can be read on the Internet at http://www.nepiniative.org/.
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