WASHINGTON–President Nixon’s statement on the energy situation placed far more burdens on consumers than on industry. Together with his legislative proposals on the energy problem., the message adds up to a windfall for booming corporate profits and a shortfall for the consumer’s health and pocketbook.
To start with, one would never learn from the President’s address that industry and commerce use fully 70 percent of the energy supply. Consumers absorb the remaining 30 percent principally in home and personal transportation uses. Given these facts, it is far more administratively workable and fundamental to focus on the massive industrial and commercial waste of energy than to rely on prompt changes in wasteful consumer habits so long encouraged by the auto, petroleum, air conditioning, electric and other industries.
It needs to be said repeatedly that prevention of energy waste starts with the wasteful technology installed or sold to consumers in the past and present to jack up sales of fuel and electricity.
For example, why did Mr. Nixon not call for (a) auto companies to produce automobiles with higher fuel efficiency instead of the current gas guzzling behemoths; (b) an end to utilities’ promoting electrically heated homes which consume about three times more energy than conventional furnaces to produce home heat; (c) the insulation of old and new houses which would quickly pay for itself in fuel savings; (d) the drastic reduction of triple illumination in large office buildings and stores; and (e) a reverse of the pricing system which rewards larger users of electricity with much lower rates than smaller homeowners?
The recommended priorities in the Presidential proposals are also deplorable. Mr. Nixon ignores many government procurement, regulatory and anti-monopoly policies which would encourage energy economies and competition. But he suggests the likelihood of cutting back on school hours, health-saving pollution standards and price restraining regulation of natural gas. All this in spite of legal actions by the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General charging the profit-glutted oil and gas industry with monopolistic collusion.
The White House made no mention of the flagrant waste of fuel by the military that is legendary to millions of ex-servicemen who have driven or operated military vehicles and equipment. The Interstate Commerce Commission’s crazy quilt regulation of transported commodities results in great numbers of trucks and freight cars returning empty from the first-shipment destinations. What do you think a trailer truck gets on a gallon of gas?
The Department of Interior’s Office of Energy Conservation (OLC) could inform the President about the detailed areas of waste. These include the manufacture of non‑essential products (such as aluminum beer cans which ecologists call “congealed electricity”), grossly inefficient furnaces, and wasteful new building designs with excessive energy requirements and poor heat retention. Interested citizens who want such information should write to the OEC in Washington.
Although alluding to the Oregon example, under Governor Tom McCall, of banning decorative outside lighting (such as neon ads and bulbs on motel balconies), the President did not emphasize these and other corporate energy savings that really could loom large.
Mr. Nixon did come out strong for nuclear fission power plants in urging a speedup in construction without noting the horrendous risks to present and future generations from nuclear plant accidents. He needs to be briefed about this subject from the highly qualified scientific critics of nuclear power. Up to now, his advice comes exclusively from Atomic Energy Commission officials who isolate him from contrary evaluations of safety failures and risks.
Right in the White House complex, the Office of Management and Budget has been holding up for years funding plans for generators that would greatly increase the clean hydro- power of existing dams in the Northwest (such as the Bonneville and Grand Coulee).For three years, against the advice of his own task force, Nr. Nixon refused to lift the oil import quota until this past spring. As Ford Foundation energy specialist David Freeman says, he could have alleviated the energy shortage (until this October) with a “stroke of the executive pen.” But the oil industry wanted the import quota to protec high domestic fuel prices.
From President Nixon, big business receives insupportably higher prices, backing for pollution and antitrust exemptions, more subsidies and tax credits. Is it any wonder why these corporate maestros have been reluctant to criticize the White House for the Watergate mess?