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Can You Imagine A Worse Energy Policy?

by Molly Ivins

Cheney is a throwback. Not since H.L. Hunt have we heard such nonsense
Back -to-back speeches by the Veeper and the only president we've got beggar the imagination. Let's have a new rule: If you pronounce the word "nukular," you shouldn't go around nullifying nuclear treaties. Or building nuclear power plants.

When in the course of human events a treaty becomes outdated, the smart country does not announce it is breaking the treaty. This is unpleasantly reminiscent of numerous chapters involving Native Americans. Instead, the smart country calls upon its dear ally (provided they're still speaking) to renegotiate the treaty. This has a less threatening effect on the ally.

I don't know if a National Missile Defense system will work, and neither do you. Most experts not employed by the defense industry are dubious about it at best, but you never know how far we could get if we spend enough time and money on it. If we spend the first $60 billion, we'll probably be a lot further along than we are now, thus justifying the next $60 billion.

The problem is, it's massively stupid in terms of national security. What's a bigger threat to the United States: North Korea or global warming? Our children will live to see the answer to that. It's their future we're playing with.

Hearing Dick Cheney make a speech that was outdated by the standards of the oil industry in the 1960s was eerie. Reactionary Texas oilmen are thick on the ground here, but Cheney is a throwback. Not since the late H.L. Hunt was crawling around (which he did -- crawl) have we heard such nonsense.

Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group -- two Texas oilmen, a CEO from the electricity-gobbling aluminum industry and a tool of the energy companies, all members of the Cabinet, meeting in secret -- is pushing coal -- hard. Unfortunately, it is the dirtiest source of electricity generation: The administration not only has reneged on its promise to curb coal pollution, but now it proposes to ease the pollution controls already in place.

Naturally, the group is also pushing oil and gas -- major contributors to global warming -- and, incredibly enough, de-emphasizing conservation. What kind of energy policy would abandon conservation, which is effective and costs nothing? OPEC is the only thing hurt by it. Under the Bush budget plan, renewable energy programs lose 36 percent of their piddly total funding of $373 million, according to New Technology Week.

Wind-generated electricity is already cheaper than nuclear-generated electricity. It's highly probably solar-powered photo-voltaic systems will also be cheaper before long: The city of San Francisco votes this fall on whether to back a $250 million bond issue for solar power. If we put $60 billion into researching and improving renewables, we'd not only save money, we could save the world. Quite literally.

One easy and simple way to bring down the price of gasoline is by letting fuel efficiency standards rise to where they already would be if the auto companies had not interfered via generous contributions to Congress. Some remarkable reporting by Jeff Plungis of the Detroit News reveals the auto companies have now wired the study being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences on fuel efficiency.

Nine of the 13 panel members have ties either to the auto or oil industries; are free-market economists who do not believe in government regulation; or have criticized fuel efficiency standards in a very public way. My favorite guy on the panel is the "safety expert" who claims fuel efficiency standards have killed tens of thousands of people by forcing them into smaller cars.

Meanwhile, back in the world, fuel efficiency is at a 20-year low, mainly due to the popularity of SUVs. Congress first passed fuel efficiency standards in 1975, when the average car got less than 14 miles per gallon. By 1985, under the required standards, that doubled to 27.5 mpg. It has since slipped to 24 mpg. Plungis reports that automakers have shifted virtually all their technological gains into bigger and more powerful engines, rather than improving fuel efficiency.

SUVs consume an additional 280,000 barrels of oil in this country every day. That is 15 percent of what OPEC cut in production in March 1999, according to news reports -- the event that nearly doubled the price of gas. Half the new cars sold are now SUVs. It is neither difficult nor onerous to improve their mileage: It would cost about $700 additional per vehicle, but with a fuel saving of about $2,500 over the life of the behemoth.

Speaking of campaign contributions, Time magazine reports Cheney's aides consulted with the West Virginia coal baron Buck Harless, a Bush pioneer (at least $100,000); Stephen Addington of AEI Resources, whose executives gave more than $600,000 to Republicans last election; and of course, our old favorites Peabody Energy -- the biggest coal miner in the country -- whose chairman gave over $250,000. Could this pay-off possibly be more obvious?

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor May 1, 2001 (

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