Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Energy Bill: Get It Right or Dump It

Commentary: Is clean energy a pipe dream?

The Waxman-Markey Bill, an energy bill intended to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewable energy technologies has instead become an enabler for Big Oil, King Coal and the nuclear industry. President Obama is pushing passage of the bill (now in the Senate) to feather his political nest but the legislation, as it's shaping up, is actually a setback for solar, wind and geothermal.

Environmentalists are saying it would be better to scrap this weak-as-water legislation than have it enacted. Congressional members from the coal and oil producing states are placing regional interests over the national good. Not that this hasn't happened before but the consequences are potentially greater than ever before.

Waxman-Markey has been diluted drastically since the climate change draft was introduced in the House of Representatives in March. The compromise bill passed late last month requires the coal and electric utility industries to reduce U.S. emissions by 17 percent in 2020, down from the 20 percent reduction advised in the initial draft. The revised bill also cuts state requirements to get their energy from renewable sources from 25% to 15% by 2025.

Here's a bigger pain: Barack Obama's campaign platform included selling 100% of so-called pollution permits that would raise nearly $650 billion to fight global heating over the next ten years but the House version gives all but 15% of those permits away free of charge. It figuratively castrates the whole intent of cap-and-trade. Such kowtowing to industry shows legislators are much more interested in shielding their constituent industries and are incapable of passing reforms scientists say are necessary to mitigate America's huge contribution to global heating.

And it gets even worse

Just yesterday, President Obama compromised with Senate Republicans and Rust Belt Democrats to plan and construct 100 new nuclear power plants by 2030. Wasn't it just awhile back we heard plans to decommission all 104 existing nuke plants by 2050 in favor of renewable sources?

Nuclear power is cleaner for the air than fossil fuels for making electricity but it is not green power. Uranium is not a renewable resource; it has to be mined, nurtured and watched like an infant while it's used and then stored safely somewhere for millennia. Green power comes from inexhaustible sources like the sun, the wind (currents caused by the sun), geothermal and ancillary sources like biomass and wave power.

Nuclear energy in theory is cheap power but in reality it is not. That's because of the exorbitant cost to build plants, monitor and maintain them, insure them and ultimately decommission them. Plus that pesky problem of proper, long-term waste disposal. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the radioactive contamination of a stream from a nuke plant in France last year, are all warnings being ignored. By adding 100 new nuke plants, we double our risk of a nuclear catastrophe. No matter how many say the nuclear record is statistically great, humans are not infallible no matter how smart and well-trained they may be. Furthermore, nuclear plants are ideal targets for terrorist cells. With patience and planning (like that leading to 9/11) an extremist attack on an atomic power site gives terrorists the nuclear threat without even investing a dime in the technology themselves. And did I mention making smart bombs from nuclear waste?

No legislation is better than being saddled with bad legislation. Passing a half-baked bill that appears long on good intentions and short on meaningful action is a waste of time and money. Time is already wasting on fighting global heating while the money still flows to those who already have it.


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