ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS: Energy Phobia
It isn't uncommon for legislatures to take extreme positions in attempts to influence their constituents. Many in the environmental arena have been accused, and some rightly so, of using scare tactics to gain attention and support. The new administration isn't any different; they are selling compromise by taking extreme positions and moving toward the center. Clinton used the technique with the nationalized health care concept. Bush Sr, with economic policy, and Reagan with tax cuts. This is how President Bush is selling his tax plan, and this strategy is paramount to the energy policy currently staged by Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham.
On March 19, 2001, while addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during their National Energy Summit, Abraham added to the perceived energy crisis discourse in an attempt to scare the American people into supporting supply-side energy economics. Abraham described three overriding challenges facing America's energy over the next two decades:
- Demand for energy is outpacing supply. Demand for oil is projected to increase by 33%. In 1973, America imported just 36% of its oil. Today we import 54%. By 2020 Americans will consume 62% more natural gas than we do today, and over the next 20 years, the Department of Energy estimates that electricity demand will increase by 45% and the rising growth rate will require the construction of more than 1,300 new power plants-about 65 each year.
- Supplies are being limited by a regulatory structure that, in many respects, has failed to keep pace with advancements in technology. According to Abraham, refineries are so constrained that when President Clinton made the politically symbolic gesture of releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve last fall, that oil had to be shipped overseas to be refined. Accordingly, an estimated 40% of potential gas resources in the U.S. are on federal lands that are either closed to exploration or covered by severe restrictions.
- The energy infrastructure (network of generators, transmission lines, refineries and pipelines) is antiquated. Since 1980, the number of American refineries has been cut in half. There hasn't been a new refinery built in the U.S. in over 25 years, and today's natural gas pipelines can hardly handle the supplies known to exist. Abraham provides the example of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, where the equivalent of approximately 13% of America's daily consumption of natural gas never reaches the market because it is pumped back into the ground due to the lack of pipelines.
Abraham says that "...rising demand...tightening supplies...an aging power infrastructure...and a decade of neglect from Washington..." is to be blamed for today's emerging energy crisis. The "doom and gloom" approach is designed to create a feeling of vulnerability, leaving many Americans walking away from the table scratching their heads wondering who to believe. Are we really on the verge of an energy crisis or is Bush simply creating opportunities to repay campaign contributors? Does a relationship exist between supply-side energy policies and Global Warming or is it just hyped? And, how are we personally implicated in the situation?
The idea of a long-term policy is the right one, and it certainly has the potential to drive innovation, future decisions and regulations to better support both supply- and demand-side energy economics. But first, we're going to have to stop whining and learn to work with the rest of the world leaders that are supporting the scientific research and initiatives that established the foundation for the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we need to consider energy demand policies because it's not only about energy supply.
Why else would city officials in California vote unanimously to reject a plan to build a $400 million power plant that was overwhelmingly supported by the Sierra Club, the American Lung Association and the NAACP. It can't be because they enjoy blackouts. They are trying to say something along with many other influential people including the Chancellor of Germany, The European Union, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and CEOs of BP, Alcan, DuPont and others. All have made significant political and practical decisions in support of reducing energy demand, tapping alternative sources and embracing innovative technologies to reduce and minimize pollution. I believe we should hold a strong position in negotiations regarding fairness with the Kyoto Protocol that consider both energy supply and demand, but not at the expense of standing still.