You’ve seen the commercials. They all end with, “I’m an energy voter.” But what in the Hell is an energy voter? And who is paying for these ads? Vote4Energy is a project of the American Petroleum Institute. You know, oil and gas companies. They state that “Vote4Energy is not a vote for a person, or a party, or even a philosophy, but rather, it is a vote for America and its future.”
What they want (according to their website) is “political leaders and those who aspire to leadership positions speak honestly about our nation’s energy goals. That they lay out in clear terms the policies they support to overcome our challenges.” This doesn’t sound bad. I am certainly not opposed to any politician laying out clear policies for energy. Actually, I would prefer that they laid out clear policies for everything – details included please. But we don’t seem to get much of this, do we?
One of the recent events, one that you may see come up in the debates, is the issue of green energy. The Obama administration has promoted green energy, and invested money in green energy programs. The goal is not just to reduce carbon output, but to reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil. In that regard, both parties are in agreement. Not so much about the carbon, but about the dependency on foreign oil. I think pretty much everyone wants to see the US become energy independent. And the majority of Americans would also like to see a reduction in carbon being dumped into the atmosphere. There does exist a certain collective who see carbon reduction as utterly pointless, but that is beside the point.
Romney has cited some of Obama’s spending as “green pork.” In other words, a waste of money. The recent filing of A123 for bankruptcy provides fuel for this argument. A123, a company that produces electric batteries for vehicles, was awarded a grant of $249 million under the 2009 stimulus. Why? It was done in hopes of jump-starting (no pun intended) the industry that would lead toward more electric vehicles being built in the US. The Obama administration, one assumes, views electric vehicles as the future of the automotive industry. Of course, you still have to charge electric vehicles, and that comes from power off the grid, largely the burning of coal and natural gas. Then there’s the production of the batteries themselves, and the rare metals they require, and their mining. When you add it all up, you wonder how much you’re actually avoiding in non-renewable resources. But it’s an investment, and as with most investments, it gets better over time. You recycle the batteries, and you use more green energy to power the grid.
The question I would pose is not one of specific policy, but rather of philosophy. Which of the two candidates has a vision of the future for energy, and what is that future? I don’t want vague ideas here, I want to see what each candidate envisions for American energy ten years down the road, or twenty.
Transitioning from non-renewable carbon-based resources to green resources isn’t something that will occur overnight. It’s a gradual process, and one that was promoted in the Carter administration, largely left alone by the Reagan administration, and completely ignored by the Bush administration (from what I can tell). Clinton promoted green energy, and obviously it’s been a major push for the Obama administration.
What we have is what appears to be an on-again off-again commitment. A sputtering start and stop, where what we need is a continuous push that doesn’t end with any given administration, but continues to promote green energy while at the same time continues to use non-renewable resources as necessary. Green energy advocates cannot hate non-renewable energy. Non-renewable energy advocates cannot hate green energy. The two must be made to work together as willing allies for the benefit of the country. One for now, and one for the future.
Historically, Republicans have been huge advocates of the oil industry. Why? Because it’s already there, because it promotes jobs, because the entire country is already geared to use it, and because it’s the only real choice for energy without re-tooling everything, which takes decades. Where the Republicans have failed is in promoting green energy as well. Oh, they pander to it, and say they like the idea, but it’s not where they put money or policy – not compared to the Democrats, who have historically given it far more attention. Why? Because non-renewable resources have three problems:
- Non-renewable resources run out (hence non-renewable).
- Burning non-renewable resources result in greenhouse gasses (bad for the environment).
- We use more of these resources than we produce (foreign energy dependence).
Some say that we possess the non-renewable resources capable of achieving energy independence all on our own if we remove the barriers in place to protect the environment and limit the growth of the industry. Do we? And if we do, what is the cost? What do we pay in future cost for relying on non-renewable resources now? (Not that we aren’t already). But if we expand it, will we forget about green energy? If gas becomes cheap again, will we give up on green energy and simply be happy with a temporary increase in jobs, economic growth, and increased revenue? (Until we run out).
In short, if Romney is elected, will he dump green energy like a lead weight, or will he promote both the increased use of non-renewable resources alongside green energy? Will we listen to guarantees from the oil industry about the safety of their drilling methods while oil spills collect on previously protected landscapes? Will advances in solar, wind, tidal, and biochemical power come to a halt entirely? Will electric cars become a passing fanciful idea while other countries continue to adopt them and grow their own green energy technologies?
The concept of green energy wasn’t just a means of reducing our use of non-renewable fuel sources. It was the idea of creating an industry around it – one that could also provide jobs just as the oil and gas companies do today. One that would produce products we would be able to sell outside this country. We want to sell our wind turbines, our solar plants, our biotech systems. The idea was to foster this industry until it blossomed, because sooner or later, it WILL be needed. And if we don’t have it, then we will be the ones buying that technology from other countries.
Here’s what Clinton had to say about the subject:
Former President Bill Clinton said U.S. renewable energy efforts lag behind those in other countries, and he said action, cooperation and “thinking big” are needed to change the future.
Clinton also told an audience at the fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday that government can help.
He said tax incentives are important, and countries like Germany and China have used them to become leaders in solar power around the world.
Clinton recalled helping launch the first conference hosted by Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2008. He also appeared at the event in 2009. He said the slow pace of change shouldn’t discourage development.
Being an energy voter shouldn’t mean you have to hate green piggies.
More good info: Energy policy: What we need to talk about - By Frank Verrastro, Special to CNN.