TCS Daily

Rewind, Repeat

By Duane D. Freese - January 23, 2002 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts Tuesday issued the Democratic response to the Bush administration's push for an energy plan. He saddled the administration with "old thinking" about how to meet the nation's energy needs. He then proceeded to flesh out his new thinking - without tying any numbers to it because that would lead people to, as he put it, "focus on the numbers, not the concepts."

So, avoiding numbers, here are the concepts in summary form: more tax credits for renewable energy, less money for oil exploration; more efficient cars and homes, less environmental degradation; more for clean coal and natural gas (sans Enron), less for "Big Oil."

As the Massachusetts presidential hopeful summed it up in mid speech: "I see a world where even as we drill because it makes economic sense and we have to, our primary focus shifts to cajoling and exciting a new marketplace for those alternative and renewable energy sources because there are compelling reasons to do so."

Meanwhile, I see a speech that tried to echo the cadences of a previous Massachusetts John, but failed miserably for a lack of robust ideas. I see a speech that basically repeated the concepts enunciated last May by House Speaker hopeful Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. I see a speech that attempts to placate every Democratic constituency without alienating autoworkers, coal miners, or natural gas producers.

Consider his big vision, "a vision worthy of America; a goal I believe our citizens are ready to embrace." And what is it? That "20 percent of our electricity come from domestic alternative and renewable sources by the year 2020."

Wow. Twenty percent renewable at the end of the next decade. Almost makes one think about landing a man on the moon again by the end of this one.

To make sure it doesn't seem too far out, though, he points out that California already gets 13 percent of its electricity from renewable and alternative fuels today. So, if California can do that now, why couldn't the nation achieve 20 percent from such sources as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and flows of rivers in two decades?

No reason. But only if we dam a lot more rivers. It is the most cost competitive form of alternative to fossil fuels today. That's why 80 percent of California's 13 percent of renewable and alternative electricity is from hydropower. But will environmentalists support that?

And if 20 percent of electricity comes from those alternative or renewable sources, doesn't that mean 80 percent still must come form oil, coal and natural gas? And what about cars?

Well, Kerry has some answers. He supports developing clean coal technology, not unwise considering that more than half of the nation's electrical power is derived from it. And he favors a natural gas pipeline from Canada to the Middle West. He also wants to "improve" Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

In each case, he makes an attempt to at least sound reasonable. While some Democrats would hike CAFE by 10 miles per gallon, and apply the standards to sports utility vans, minivans and small trucks, thus raising their prices thousands of dollars (discouraging their sale), Kerry says, "Congress should act - but we have to act intelligently." How? He wants to "work in partnership with the industry," so "these cars can be as efficient as they can reasonably made."

He'd raise CAFE for automakers, but within appropriate production cycles that didn't tax the auto industry (i.e. their customers) too much. He'd provide extra incentives for hybrid cars and for development of hydrogen fuel cells. In short, he doesn't want autoworkers coming out against him.

But with all of that, what about the nation's continuing need for oil? Kerry admits, as President Bush has pointed out, that "for the next 30 to 50 years in the future, like it or not, we will continue to have major dependency on fossil fuels." But he falls back on the phony idea that we can become more independent of foreign sources of oil during that time without developing new oil resources here - particularly an estimated 19 billion barrel reserve, equivalent to the reserves in Iraq - now locked up in a small portion of the huge Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Big oil and its allies," he says, "have lusted over the refuge for two decades. With each attempt they make up new arguments for despoiling a unique and irreplaceable arctic environment for a quantity of petroleum that will not reduce the fact of our dependency on high risk foreign oil."

Yet, Congress left the door open to exploration of tract 102 of that refuge - about 5 percent of its total area. And Bush wants to allow that exploration to go forward but only as long as it does not cause significant permanent environmental damage to the area. Kerry, in hidebound old environmental thinking, refuses to recognize that new oil exploration and drilling technology make possible clean recovery of that oil. He refuses to recognize that to keep us from becoming even more dependent on foreign oil until new energy technologies emerge, we need more domestic supplies. Instead, he plays the old game of bashing "Big Oil."

If only politicians and pundits could bottle the hot air they expend castigating energy producers, perhaps that renewable energy source might power the nation. Instead, they ought to worry that they are just adding to the global warming they fear. Kerry's new thinking on energy merely rehashes old political ground.

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