Mitt’s Energy Plan

Mitt Romney recently revealed the energy plan he would pursue if elected President. From an environmental standpoint it is a disaster, which is no surprise. After all this is the man who just raised $7 million in one day from Big Oil. Bearing in mind that this plan was revealed in a speech by a politician running for public office, we can take it with a grain of salt. None the less it reveals his mindset at present.

His plan involves opening federal lands to oil and gas exploration — leaving drilling permission to local states (thereby reducing considerably the effectiveness of the E.P.A.); it will allow drilling for oil off the East Coast of Virginia and the Carolinas; it will promote the Keystone Oil Pipeline, which Mitt has pledged to complete if he “has to build it with [his] own hands.” As a recent article in the Washington Post put it:

Getting there, Romney argues, will require three big things. First, the United States will need to open up more federal lands and waters to oil and gas drilling. President Obama, he says, has been far too sluggish on this front. Second, the federal government will need to give states more power to approve permits, in order to speed up the rate of drilling. And third, Romney would focus on building pipelines like Keystone XL and partnerships with Canada and Mexico to take fuller advantage of those countries’ oil resources. (Remember, Romney is promising “North American energy independence,” not U.S. energy independence.)

The plan, which touts “energy independence” for North America makes no mention of clean energy. In fact, it would eliminate subsidies for wind and solar energy, thereby discouraging alternate energy development. And there is no talk whatever of such cutting-edge projects as research into nuclear fusion or harnessing energy from the ocean tides. Mitt’s plan is all about “jobs.” He claims that his plan would create 3.6 million jobs. Here we go again.

To begin with, this plan commits the fallacy of bifurcation: either we create jobs or we save the planet, we can’t do both. Bollocks! We can do both. As I noted in a recent blog, The Union of Concerned Scientists has proposed  “a national renewable-electricity standard that ensured that utilities obtained at least 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, and bioenergy by 2025,” insisting that this would “create 297,000 new jobs, $13.5 billion in income to rural landowners, and $15.3 billion in new local tax revenues.”

But more importantly it is generally agreed that the 3.6 million jobs promised by this politician is an inflated figure. The actual number of jobs would be much lower. Further, jobs created during an oil boom are temporary and are almost always created at the cost of jobs elsewhere: people leave lower paying jobs to take the high-paying, albeit temporary, oil jobs. So the word “create” is being used in a very creative way here.

The truly disturbing thing about this plan is that it is completely out of tune with the times. For one thing, as the Bloomberg News reported recently, the U.S. is closer to energy independence at present than Romney would allow.

The U.S. is now closer to energy independence than anyone who waited in 1970s gas lines could have imagined. As Bloomberg News reports, oil imports fell to about 45 percent of U.S. demand last year and are expected to fall to about 42 percent this year, down from a peak of 60 percent in 2005. More than 80 percent of the country’s demand for power is now met by domestic sources. . .

Furthermore, this plan focuses on “jobs” and “energy independence” at the expense of the planet at a time when we should be concentrating on ways to protect the earth from further deterioration at the hands of greedy humans — while we might at the same time actually be creating jobs in the clean energy industry. Thus it would appear as I suggested in an earlier blog, this election is not about choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Despite the fact that Barack Obama has been somewhat disappointing, he has not mounted an attack on the environment and he has not targeted social programs that benefit the poor. We do have a real choice.

Pain At The Pump

As prices continue to rise at the local gas station, the issue of gas prices nationwide increasingly becomes a hot political topic. Obama has softened his stand against off-shore drilling to the snickers of the Republicans who want not only to expand drilling off-shore, but also on Federal land — as well as put a freeze on future regulations governing oil refineries. (The concern over “government interference” in  private industry glosses over the fact that private industry has a rotten track record and would just as soon pollute the air and water as not — all in the name of corporate profits.) But along with his softer stand on offshore drilling, the President almost simultaneously urged the Senate to pass an initiative to end the $4 billion in annual subsidies to oil and gas companies. That failed with four Democrats joining their colleagues across the aisle to vote it down. So what we are getting from the President is mixed signals and from the Republicans a steady litany of “drill, baby, drill!” And in the background (just behind the curtain) the oil companies giggle and continue to rake in huge profits and enjoy their obscene tax subsidies. One must wonder how much of the $4 billion in annual tax subsidies that go to help out the “struggling” oil industry end up in the pockets of politicians who will promise to support the industry.

In the meantime gas prices continue to rise and, despite all the talk, it is doubtful at best that increased drilling on shore or off would make any difference — certainly not before November. But we can brace ourselves to expect more of the same rhetoric from politicians who have done their utmost to earn our scorn as they prey on our fears and our undernourished pocketbooks with support not only from the oil companies but other large corporations as well. The rich get richer both within and without the government while they closely cover one another’s back.

At the moment Obama is making an effort to get the Senate to pass a “Buffet Rule” that would require the wealthy in this country to pay their fair share of taxes. Don’t expect that to pass through the Senate, either. And even if it did, it would certainly fail in the House. Our professional politicians know which side of their bread the butter is on and as their only concern is with their reelection, they will certainly not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It may not be possible to break the stranglehold the very rich have on the political process in this country.

Just imagine if a fraction of the $4 billion in oil and gas subsidies were to go to research in alternative fuels and clean energy. We would live in an entirely different world in which our priorities might actually start to make sense. We could stop worrying about the price of gasoline at the pump and start worrying about how to save the planet. I have preached this sermon before, but it remains the case that the clean energy industry (such as it is) waits for some sign from this Congress that they will support their efforts in the future. Many jobs hang on the decision to support alternative fuels while politicians play games with proposals to drill (or not to drill) and debate ways to continue our dependence on oil — domestic or foreign. One need not look far for an explanation of this, to be sure. The clean energy industry simply cannot match dollars with the oil conglomerate in pushing Congress in their direction. The system is broken, folks, and one wonders how it can be fixed since those who have the power to effect real change are perfectly happy with things just the way they are.