Multinational Monitor magazine, June 2001
For at least three decades, it has been clear to anyone who
cares to examine the evidence that renewable energy sources-solar
and wind-plus energy efficiency are eminently capable of meeting
both the U.S. and the world's energy needs, and that relatively
small investments would make these emerging technologies competitive
with and soon cheaper than dirty fossil fuels and the Russian
Roulette of nuclear power.
The growing understanding of the onset of global warming and
its potentially disastrous consequences has eliminated any choice
about the matter. The world must go clean and green, or its very
future is in jeopardy
At the turn of the new millennium, wind power is already competitive
with fossil fuels, solar is competitive for some applications
and with a little prodding would be cheaper for most uses. Investments
in efficiency have long been, and remain, the most cost-effective
way of matching energy supply and demand.
Now along comes Dick Cheney. As head of the White House's
National Energy Policy Development Group, the former oil construction
company chief has issued a clarion call to action: More of the
same! More of the same!
Cheney's troglodytic national energy strategy pays lip service
to renewables and energy efficiency, but primarily calls for a
major step-up in fossil fuel and nuclear energy production.
The National Energy Policy Development Group recommends a
corporate welfare bonanza for the fossil fuel and nuclear companies.
The proposals: give away federal properties, create new tax breaks
and subsidies for the energy barons, waste government monies on
greenwashing programs for dirty energy technologies, remove environmental
regulations that the oil, gas and coal companies find annoying,
and further deregulate the electricity markets (the very thing
that brought on the California energy "crisis," which
in turn created the impetus for Cheney's energy review.) Among
its specific recommendations, the Cheney group proposes:
* Opening federal lands, offshore properties and the Alaska
National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling;
* Repealing existing federal regulations on electric utilities,
and entirely deregulating the electricity markets;
* Pouring money into the Orwellian "clean coal"
program-a welfare program for King Coal that is supposed to reduce
the environmental impacts of coal burning; and
* "The expansion of nuclear energy in the United States
as a major component of our national energy policy"-by ramming
through applications for new nuclear plants without adequate safety
reviews, pushing relicensing of plants that reach the end of their
license terms, renewing the government-run liability cap for nuclear
disasters, and placing responsibility for nuclear waste disposal
on the federal government.
It is hard to find anything in the Cheney proposals which
might offend Big Business. Vehicle fuel efficiency has remained
flat in the United States over the last decade, thanks to the
rise of SW's and the refusal of the Clinton administration and
Republican Congress to stiffen auto fuel efficiency (CAFE) requirements.
Surely any review of national energy policy would recommend some
corrective response ... but not the Cheney review. Instead, it
manages this stunning evasion: The Secretary of Transportation
should "review and provide recommendations on establishing
Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards with due consideration
of the National Academy of Sciences study to be released in July
2001. Responsibly crafted CAFE standards should increase efficiency
without negatively impacting the U.S. automotive industry. The
determination of future fuel economy standards must therefore
be addressed analytically and based on sound science."
Obviously, this Big Business wish list must be rejected. If
you're heading toward a cliff, it does not make sense to drive
straight ahead and push the accelerator to the floor.
What is crucial is the path of resistance. If environmentalists
and the Democratic caucus argue that the Bush/Cheney plan goes
too far, and must be moderated, then even if they win, we all
The last U.S. energy crisis offers important lessons. The
grassroots movements of the 1970s successfully defeated the nuclear
industry, which has not built a new plant in the United States
in two decades. The rise in energy prices spurred a significant
shift to more efficient technologies. But the big energy companies
successfully derailed calls for a new emphasis on renewables and
a decentralized energy system.
Now those demands must be reiterated. Guiding principles for
a sensible energy strategy include:
* Major public investments in and support for solar, fuel
cell and other renewable technologies, so these clean technologies
finally break through-and then rapidly begin to displace conventional
* Massive expansion of public and especially municipal power
systems, with an emphasis on efficiency, consumer empowerment
* Technology-forcing regulations: efficiency standards should
be based not on what is now possible (best available technologies)
but on ambitious goals that industry will meet if the government
and public demands them through legally binding regulations that
* Stop sprawl and support mass transit: the super-sprawl which
the United States has witnessed over the last decade has diminished
quality of life, deepened the nation's car dependence and energy
devoted to transportation; it must be replaced by renewed investment
in urban areas, more compact cities and strongly enhanced public
This is obviously not a program that the Bush administration
will embrace. But the polar extreme of the administration's proposal
creates the opportunity for a popular mobilization around an energy
strategy that truly is, as Cheney likes to say, "reliable,
affordable and environmentally sound."