June 12, 2003 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Keeping It Clean

Memo to lawmakers: The first step toward a reliable, clean supply of energy is a reliable, clean energy bill.


Yet, even though government data show we already import 53 percent of our oil (and figure to need even more in coming years) and that oil is just part of the picture, the amendments being offered in the Senate to the Energy Policy Act of 2003 would mean less energy, less flexibility and almost certainly higher prices. Only in Congress could such a thing make sense.


An amendment expected to be offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would require electric utilities to derive 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources -- mainly wind, solar and biomass -- by 2020. Sounds good on the surface. But since 1978, we've spent $11 billion of taxpayer money to try to perfect renewable energy. Yet, even the most optimistic experts say renewable sources won't be able to provide more than 8.5 percent of our energy needs by 2025. And that includes hydroelectric power -- which many supporters of renewable energy would like to ban as an environmental threat. Without hydroelectric power, the figure drops to 2.1 percent.


Renewable fuels are far more expensive to produce than fossil fuels. As of the mid-1990s, the all-inclusive cost of wind power was double that of new gas-fired electricity generation and triple the cost of power bought on the various spot markets, according to Robert Bradley, president of the Institute of Energy Research in Houston.


Adding to the costs of this measure is the unreliability of solar and wind power. Because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine, utilities -- which are required by law to provide reliable energy supplies -- almost certainly would have to pass along hefty rate increases.


Then, there are lawmakers who seek to force upon the American people the worst parts of the Kyoto Accords -- a treaty rejected by President Bush, the American people and the Senate itself (by a 95-0 vote).


Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., are pushing an amendment to compel electricity, transportation, industrial and commercial sectors to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2016. The practical effect of this measure would be to remove coal -- America's most plentiful domestic fossil fuel and the source of half of all our electricity -- as a viable power source.


Kyoto never had America's best interests in mind, and our leaders were right to reject it. Our air is cleaner than London's was in the 1600s. And China and India -- called upon to do nothing by the Kyoto Accords -- are fast becoming the world's leading polluters.


Besides, science doesn't support Kyoto's basis, let alone its remedies. We know the earth has warmed in recent years, but we don't know why or for how long, and most evidence suggests man is not the cause of this warming. Driving up the prices we pay for energy, and driving down our potential sources of supply in the name of "science" that doesn't add up, makes no sense.


Lawmakers want to ease utilities into compliance with a scheme known as cap-and-trade, in which companies that don't reach their pollution limits can sell their excess to those who go over. And Sen. Bingaman has offered an amendment to establish voluntary caps for five years. But if the caps aren't met by then, they become mandatory -- which means, essentially, a hefty tax that applies only to fossil fuels.


Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Robert Graham, D-Fla., have indicated they will offer an amendment to strike a section of the original bill that calls for a comprehensive inventory of what oil and gas lies beneath the ocean in our outer-continental shelf. The original language prohibited drilling in any form to compile this inventory. You have to wonder: Why not make a list? Is it coincidence this amendment is offered by senators from states with long coastlines? Suppose we got cut off from the Middle East and couldn't get oil from there. What would we do? Wouldn't we want to know our options?


Think about this. Here are just four amendments, and every one of them would reduce the amount of energy available to Americans. Does this make sense?

In Congress, somehow it does.


Charli Coon is an energy and environment analyst at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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