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Time for rational energy choices (05/11/2008)
By John Edstrom

A recent Michael Ramirez cartoon nicely sums up how childish and irrational this country's thinking about its energy needs has been over the years. It pictures energy company executives being grilled by Congress, demanded to "do something" about high prices. The alternatives of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) or offshore, or generating electricity with clean coal or nuclear technologies, are dismissed out of hand. Says Congress, in a louder voice, "Well don't just sit there, do something!"

Over the years, the Europeans and Japanese have quietly supplied much of their energy needs with nuclear power plants. In all that time there has been one serious accident, Chernobyl, caused by shoddy engineering and substandard construction in the workers' paradise. In this country, the green lobby has totally hamstrung that industry. Consequently we have power plants that burn coal and natural gas, and are being hounded by the greens and Europeans to quit emitting greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide. We made a choice which was basically foisted on us by the so-called environmentalists, and now it turns out to be the wrong one.

Much progress has been made in cleaning up pollutants, sulfur dioxide, etc., created by the internal combustion engine and coal burning power plants, but now we are told that, basically, we can't burn anything anymore, the main byproduct of which is carbon dioxide. What are we then to do, other than spend a fortune on ethanol, which is now thought by many scientists to cost more in energy to produce than it provides (a net increase in greenhouse gases).

And certainly, it can't be argued that the intensive row crop cultivation that it requires pollutes and despoils the rural landscape, depletes ground water, while dumping ever more of the agricultural byproducts into the Rhode Island-sized dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. How can that be reconciled with the moratorium on offshore drilling for gas and oil?

Something else to be considered is the pressure the biofuels are putting on grain prices, supposedly resulting in starvation in the Third World. And someone should say something about the massive destruction of the rain forests, one of Hollywood's recent environmental fads, which is another direct result of the new biofuel industry. These forests, we were told, were essential in absorbing greenhouse gases. For that matter, take a drive in rural America and you can see the woodlots bulldozed and green spaces plowed under to make way for more corn.

Then there are solar and wind, technologies that have been heavily subsidized for many years, and will not be able to meaningfully contribute to our energy needs for many more, if ever.

This line of reasoning brings us back to oil, which, no matter what else happens, will be needed to fuel transportation far into the future. Back in 1995, one Bill Clinton vetoed a bill to allow drilling for it in ANWR, mainly because of concerns about the caribou there, concerns which now seem to be unfounded, based on the experience at nearby Prudhoe Bay. Nevertheless, we still can't get at that oil, certainly not enough to make the U.S. energy independent, but said to be 10.4 billion barrels, enough to replace 19 years worth of the 1.5 million barrels a day we purchase from Saudi Arabia.

True, it won't come on line for years, but the promise of doing so, along with what might be discovered by offshore drilling, would do a lot to cool the speculation which is one of the main factors driving oil prices up over $100 a barrel. The jobs it would create, and the boost to our economy might bolster our currency as well, whose current anemia is another of the main factors driving high oil prices.

This would seem a rational energy choice for now, one with negligible downside. But it doesn't appear that the green lobby or its proponents in Congress wish to make any choices at all, other than to subsidize Rube Goldberg technologies whose only real consequences are too often unintended.




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