Bush Stalls on Energy

WITH the release last week of the president's National Energy Strategy (NES), the White House has committed itself to an energy policy that shortchanges conservation and renewable energy technologies, ignores the need to move aggressively to cut carbon dioxide emissions, and continues to lean heavily on market forces - dominated, at present, by Saddam Hussein rather than Adam Smith - to make choices about energy supplies and prices. The announcement of the NES comes on the heels of the release of the president's budget and the administration's ``action agenda'' to combat global warming. The administration has failed to advance an energy plan that would significantly reduce America's dependence on Persian Gulf oil and substantially cut emissions from greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.

Tha narrative accompanying the Department of Energy's budget makes it appear as though the administration has embraced a comprehensive energy program that includes a commitment to conservation and low-emission, renewable energy technologies. But the funds aren't there to match the rhetoric. The budget includes only a 1.5 percent increase over the amount available in the current year for the core renewable energy research and development budget - far less than needed even to keep pace with inflation - an d less money is available to promote conservation and energy efficiency.

The administration's ``action agenda'' to combat global warming fails to set targets or timetables for the control of carbon dioxide emissions - the main greenhouse gas. Analysts believe that US carbon dioxide emissions will increase as much as 15 percent by the turn of the century. Further, the NES relies heavily on opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling to help reduce our dependence on imported oil. It also rejects some market incentives to improve energy efficiency and acceler ate the commercialization of renewable energy technologies.

OUTLINING a different course, a special 18-month Congressional Research Service study that I requested on near-term strategies for cutting carbon dioxide emissions confirms that an energy policy that seeks to cut oil import dependence and reduce carbon dioxide emissions is possible.

The study shows that by aggressively promoting energy efficiency and low-carbon dioxide fuels, most of which are domestically available, we can cut oil imports by 2.6 million barrels a day, or 25 percent, by the turn of the century, and cut our dependence on Persian Gulf oil in half. At the same time, these steps could reduce total US carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent.

Nearly two-thirds of the oil America consumes is used for transportation - most of it in cars and trucks. We must boost the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and accelerate the phase-in of alternative-fuel vehicles. Raising fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks - perhaps to 40 m.p.g. for cars - could, by 2000, reduce the demand for imported oil by 1.4 million barrels a day. That's about half the amount we currently import from the Persian Gulf.

With more research and development and market incentives to encourage consumer acceptance of alternative-fuel vehicles - cars, trucks, and buses that run on compressed natural gas, ethanol, methanol, and electricity - we can get as many as 7.6 million such vehicles on the road by the year 2000. The federal government should lead in this effort by converting most of its fleet to clean fuels by the end of the decade.

Significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and the daily demands for oil can also be achieved in the non-transportation sectors of the economy, particularly by improving the efficiency of industrial motors (air compressors, blowers for cooling and heating systems, motors that move assembly lines, etc.), commercial lighting, and household appliances and lighting.

US oil import dependence can be trimmed even further if industry and electric utilities move aggressively to switch from oil to cleaner, low-carbon dioxide fuels such as natural gas, hydropower, solar, and wind energy systems.

While much of the savings in the demand for oil would probably be brought about by industry switching from oil to natural gas, renewable energy technologies can make a greater contribution if we boost research and development, especially for joint government-industry-utility projects; maintain the investment tax credit for renewable energy projects; and implement a production incentive for renewable energy technologies.

The president has shown that he can move boldly in the international arena. It's time for him to be equally bold on the home front. He should start by developing an energy policy that will reduce America's independence on imported oil and, at the same time, fulfill our responsibility to our global neighbors to sharply cut our carbon dioxide emissions.

Congress will work with the administration to develop a comprehensive energy plan. But we need more than lip-service for conservation and renewables from the White House to enact a strong, environmentally sensitive energy policy.

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