Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Energy independence -- code word for whatever you like

Paul Roberts makes an interesting case in Mother Jones:

Thoughtful observers have been trying to debunk energy independence since Nixon's time. And yet the dream refuses to die, in no small part because it offers political cover for a whole range of controversial initiatives. Ethanol refiners wave the banner of independence as they lobby Congress for massive subsidies. Likewise for electric utilities and coal producers as they push for clean coal and a nuclear renaissance. And it shouldn't surprise that some of the loudest proponents of energy liberation support plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other off-limits areas to oil drilling—despite the fact that such moves would, at best, cut imports by a few percentage points. In the doublespeak of today's energy lexicon, says Julia Bovey of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "'energy independence' has become code for 'drill it all.'"

Yet it isn't only the hacks for old energy and Archer Daniels Midland who are to blame. Some proponents of good alternatives like solar and wind have also harped on fears of foreign oil to advance their own sectors—even though many of these technologies are decades away from being meaningful oil replacements.

Put another way, the "debate" over energy independence is not only disingenuous, it's also a major distraction from the much more crucial question—namely, how we're going to build a secure and sustainable energy system. Because what America should be striving for isn't energy independence, but energy security—that is, access to energy sources that are reliable and reasonably affordable, that can be deployed quickly and easily, yet are also safe and politically and environmentally sustainable.


JB Powers said...

I was in agreement there, till the last sentence "politically and environmentally sustainable". So what if a quack like, oh, Jan Schakowsky gets it in her skull that if she disrupts the (imagined) Geothermal Plant in Oswego, she will land a punch against Martin Ozinga and Tom Cross, and give her child-labor fundraisers something to yammer on about in the Loop every day?

The issue is that many (most?) politicians (such as Cong. Schakowsky) are quacks, and no amount of common sense (including jailing her husband) can rid us of them. Trying to satisfy the quacks in the name of being "politically sustainable" has got us in the mess we are in today with ethanol, capping wells, prohibiting Canadian imports etc.


Harold said...

I'd pick different examples, jb, like Denny "don't get between me and a pork sandwich" Hastert and Jim "hater" Oberweis, but let that go. The real problem is that somebody has to figure out if a given energy technology is safe or has devastating side effects. Surely you wouldn't propose something so crass as leaving it in the hands of those who stand to make a bundle from foisting it on us (farmers and ADM, for instance)? The only solution I can imagine is to replace bad quacks with less bad ones, and lean on 'em.

Chicago said...


Schakowsky has more environmental quackery and less vulnerability to a contested election than Hastert/Oberweis though.

Picking a general technology (but not a specific technology) path is what the NSF and NIST are supposed to be doing. The explosion in earmarks to the detriment of a measured scientific evaluation of technology is a bipartisan failure.