Let’s stop making false choices on energy
Let’s take a quiz.
Which administration touted these achievements?
• “The federal government has invested more than $44 billion for climate-change and energy security programs.”
• “Signed laws giving the Department of Energy the authority to provide more than $67 billion in loans and guarantees to help support innovative energy projects to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and to retool auto plants to produce more efficient vehicles.”
• “Worked with states to adopt mandatory programs cutting emissions and improving energy security in every major sector. The new federal mandates will reduce greenhouse gas emissions billions of tons below projections.”
• Signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included the Lighting Efficiency Mandate meant to “phase out the use of standard incandescent light bulbs by 2014 and improve lighting efficiency by more than 70 percent by 2020.”
• Increased wind energy production by more than 400 percent and doubled solar energy capacity.
Did you answer correctly that it was the George W. Bush administration?
Until Jan. 20, 2009, green energy was politically purple.
With exceptions on both sides, Democrats and Republicans supported diversifying the nation’s energy sources. Twenty-eight states had standards mandating a certain percentage of electricity generation be from sources such as solar, wind or biomass, and five more had renewable generation goals.
Today, 29 states — just one more than when Bush left office — have renewable energy standards and nine have goals.
Fueled by politically motivated and disingenuous bellowing over such things as the bankruptcy of solar panel maker Solyndra, which had gotten a federal loan, renewable energy is now caught in the maw of our national partisan gridlock. (By the way, that Department of Energy loan program is in the black overall.)
The narrative now is that Democrats support renewables and Republicans support fossil fuels; Democrats believe in global warming, Republicans don’t; Democrats oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, Republicans support it.
This yields false choices that block rational policy.
Keystone, for example, won’t create anything close to the permanent jobs its supporters tout, nor has blocking it prevented the development of Canadian tar sands oil and its shipment across the United States. We are arguing for the sake of arguing over this false choice while we lack a real energy policy.
Meantime, we have become the world’s leading oil producer, dropping prices, sapping OPEC’s power, hurting our enemies (Iran and Vladimir Putin among them), helping the poor and middle class — and giving some of us amnesia.
As soon as the Colorado Legislature opened this year, a group of Republican senators introduced a bill that would lower the amount of renewable energy generation required of electricity providers. For larger utilities, renewable energy mandates would drop from 30 percent to 15 percent by 2020.
“Look at the cost of energy right now,” Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, told the Associated Press. “If we have such an abundance of energy, there’s really absolutely no reason to go to that extreme.”
In seeking wisdom on this point, I’m going to turn to April Smith, a nurse aide in Maine, interviewed by the New York Times about the effect of lower energy costs, estimated at up to $1,500 a year for households like hers. Smith and her husband bring in $42,000 a year, so the lower prices for gas and home heating oil are a huge boon.
“Us small people, we just see it go up and down, up and down,” she told the Times. “We throw a party when it’s down — but not too much of a party, because we know it’s going up.”
Sen. Scott and others proposing short-sighted policy shifts should know better. All of us would be wise to bet on another nasty oil price shock within a decade rather than continued low costs.
Fossil fuels are finite. Burning them is harmful to our health, environment and climate at any price. Working earnestly to get off of oil now, while we have a bit of breathing room, will enhance our security and economy in the long run.
Saying that doesn’t mean I hate oil, natural gas or people who make a living off of fossil fuels. As a throat cancer survivor, I do favor a future in which we get our energy from above the ground rather than from “primeval swamp goo and dinosaur poop,” as Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins likes to put it.
We can’t stop using fossil fuels now, and we can’t get to that clean-energy future by offering ourselves only false choices.
This is an area where our home, Garfield County, gets it right. The Garfield County commissioners, both celebrated and vilified in our polarized political environment for being pro-natural gas, also are strong supporters of renewable energy and energy efficiency through Garfield Clean Energy. The program saves families money, saves energy and creates jobs.
It looks to the future, which is our responsibility. Let’s say we have a 100-year supply of fossil fuels (with a number of certain price run-ups and crises between now and then). Isn’t it our job to help our great-grandchildren be warm and travel efficiently 105 years from now?
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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