Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Clean Energy President

Energy costs. It's on everyone's mind. Again. The President starts this week's address by acknowledging that high gas prices are hurting the average Joe, and that there isn't a "silver bullet" to fix the issue. All true. And then he goes on...

But there are a few things we can do. This includes safe and responsible production of oil at home, which we are pursuing. In fact, last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. On Thursday, my Attorney General also launched a task force with just one job: rooting out cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, including any illegal activity by traders and speculators. We’re going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain. And another step we need to take is to finally end the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies we give to the oil and gas companies each year. That’s $4 billion of your money going to these companies when they’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop.

One thing that needs to be pointed out again about domestic oil production is that as recently reported as mid-2008, 75% of our offshore reserves are open to drilling right now. What was (and probably still is) happening is that the oil companies have discovered it's a lot cheaper to sit behind a computer and play the market rather than do all that expensive physical exploration that may or may not pan out in profits for them. And even if they did go on a drilling spree, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, under Bush mind you, claimed "opening the coasts to offshore drilling would have no significant impact on oil prices before 2030." Keep that in mind when the chants for "more drilling" start up again.

Good luck with the speculators and subsidies, too. No one running for office is going to touch those with a ten-foot pole. But merely pointing out these facts about domestic oil production and the financial practices of the oil companies is a good thing, for it undermines any argument that they have about the need for further tax breaks or expanded leases. Use what you have first, and then maybe we can talk.

Even at that, no amount of domestic drilling can make up for the massive amount of oil we import. The answer lies in reducing consumption, period. And here is where this President is definitely on the right track.

Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow’s. We need to invest in clean, renewable energy. In the long term, that’s the answer. That’s the key to helping families at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We can see that promise already. Thanks to an historic agreement we secured with all the major auto companies, we’re raising the fuel economy of cars and trucks in America, using hybrid technology and other advances. As a result, if you buy a new car in the next few years, the better gas mileage is going to save you about $3,000 at the pump.

For all the kvetching about the costs associated with increasing fuel mileage that the auto companies used to do, you can probably hazard a guess that right about now they are happy they finally got around to doing it. Sales of smaller cars and hybrids have spiked in the 1Q because of the jump in gas prices - and this time domestic manufacturers were ready. Word today is that GM is ready to reclaim the number one spot in worldwide auto sales - quite a feat for a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy and literally cut in half only a few short years ago. And while part of this is due to Toyota's problems stemming from the earthquake and quality issues, even the AP admits that "(GM's) cars are better than in the past, especially small ones." So give GM some credit here. Consumers aren't going to buy just anything, and the company has certainly made huge strides towards producing a better product.

Autos aside, we must also concentrate on domestic energy production, hopefully with more than a nod towards "clean, renewable energy" - and it's great to see the President put the word "renewable" in there. Taking a look at everything that falls under the umbrella of "clean" energy, renewables are still the way to go. So-called clean coal is a very expensive technology and still not very "clean" as it turns out, not to mention the environmental destruction associated with mining. Nuclear is also very expensive, takes a long time to build, and carries quite obvious danger, as we have recently seen. And natural gas, although abundant, is still a finite source over the long run and again puts the environment at risk to acquire. While these "clean" energy sources certainly need to be a part of the mix, we are better off investing in the technology of maximizing the energy return on new renewable products - better ideas to harvest the wind and the sun. Those are infinite. (Or, to put it another way, the day that those run out is the day we won't have to worry about anything ever again.)

This is where the President needs to be willing to fight. He may have to drag some Democrats kicking and screaming with him, but this is not only a popular political issue - it's the right thing to do for our country.

That’s why I disagree so strongly with a proposal in Congress that cuts our investments in clean energy by 70 percent. Yes, we have to get rid of wasteful spending – and make no mistake, we’re going through every line of the budget scouring for savings. But we can do that without sacrificing our future. We can do that while still investing in the technologies that will create jobs and allow the United States to lead the world in new industries. That’s how we’ll not only reduce the deficit, but also lower our dependence on foreign oil, grow the economy, and leave for our children a safer planet. And that’s what our mission has to be.

In an age where all the attention goes to the extremes, reasonable people like this guy have a hard time being heard. A better slogan might be "win the sanity" rather than "win the future", but that doesn't "win the ratings" in our modern discourse, unfortunately. Sometimes his proclivity towards being reasonable with his rhetoric leaves the door open for certain people to undermine his vision altogether. Combine that with a Congress that is increasingly more beholden to the people funding their re-election campaigns than they are to serving the good of the American people, and we've got a problem. As you already know.

But if he is willing to go to the mat for this one, we should be too. There is no doubt that we will be using renewable sources to fill the majority of our energy needs someday; we can save a lot of time, money, and human suffering if we get to it sooner rather than later.

That is definitely worth fighting for.