Saturday, February 11, 2006

George Bush-Coal Miner's Son (An Op-Ed response to the State of the Union-published in Manchester Union Leader, 2/7/06)

George Bush, of the Oil-wellian Bush family, had an epiphany last night in his State of the Union address. America is “addicted to oil” and it’s time to kick the habit. Is George Bush now the renewable energy president? Is he ready to declare our energy independence? Both his track record and his speech unfortunately say “no”.

Mr. Bush says let’s cut our Middle East oil imports 75% by 2020. Since we only import 20% of our oil from the Middle East, this is only a 15% reduction (Canada is the leading supplier followed by Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela). And why take so long?

Mr. Bush announced that “the best way to break this addiction is through technology”. He announced a “22% increase” in clean energy research. Based on his own figures of what has been spent ($10 billion over 5 years), this is a whopping extra $440 million a year – peanuts compared to the $36 billion of profits Exxon reported last year. And in fact Mr. Bush is cutting renewable energy research in the Department of Energy! How is this miniscule amount supposed to compete with the massive oil company profits? Why forfeit our energy futures to these companies? We need to be funding a space race, not a snail’s pace, for clean energy.

While Mr. Bush begins to talk the talk for the first time, neither his track record nor his proposals walk the walk. The industries that benefit from his lackluster energy policies are oil, gas and ethanol. His primary proposal on energy was to drill for more oil in Alaska, in spite of the limited quantities, the minimal effect it would have on oil prices, and the extraordinary destruction of the environment. As for ethanol, it costs more to produce it than it gives back. This fuel only survives by the farm lobby’s strength.

Mr. Bush clearly wants to talk the renewable game, but, in the guise of funding research, take no action to wean America from its oil addiction. We cannot allow research to delay the implementation of a new energy policy. Instead, we need a Declaration of Energy Independence focused on domestic energy sources.

First: coal. We have enough coal to supply American energy needs for 200 plus years. The authors have been advocating for clean coal technologies for years. Let’s begin a massive program not just of research, but clean coal installations. If we need to subsidize technology, let’s support one that powers America’s future, provides Americans with jobs, and enhances our national security. Those concerned about Presidential elections might note that leading coal producing states include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and West Virginia. We wonder why the Democrats have not made coal a central plank of their energy policy, though that would require them to have one.

Second: liquid natural gas. Yes, it needs to be imported, but there are numerous sources in our own hemisphere and it is the cleanest, most efficient fuel available. And, no subsidies are required at current or even significantly lower natural gas prices.

Third: nuclear. We retain concerns about the ability to construct safe facilities, and about nuclear waste disposal. Nonetheless, nuclear can produce enormous amounts of cost-effective, clean energy. We need a significant research effort to explore the safe nuclear energy option.

Fourth: wind, solar, ethanol and other renewable technologies. Sadly, today, these are unable to make a significant dent in our energy needs, even with large subsidies. Let’s install these technologies in the limited areas that make sense and spend the necessary money on research and pilot plants so that by 2020 they can make a contribution to our energy independence.

Lastly: conservation. On this subject the President had nothing to say. But conservation measures can still play a critical role in our energy future. We need to increase CAFÉ (mile per gallon) standards dramatically and eliminate loopholes for SUV’s. We should have a graduated gas fee – if your vehicle gets less than 10 miles per gallon you should pay a lot more for your gas, if less than 20 mpg somewhat more, and if your car gets more than 50 mpg, you should pay the least of all. This money could fund our clean energy programs. Let those who are wasting gas by driving Hummers pay for our clean energy future.

Mr. Bush, if you want to cure the oil addiction and free America from its reliance on unstable parts of the world, then this Declaration of Energy Independence is the path to freedom. We await its first signer.

By Lawrence S. Coben and Ambassador Richard N. Swett Lawrence Coben is Chairman and CEO of Tremisis Energy, and has owned or operated both renewable and conventional energy sources. Richard N. Swett is an architect, former alternative energy developer, former member of Congress and served as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark. Together they coauthored Senator Lieberman’s national energy policy for his 2004 presidential campaign.