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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Energy Conservation

TORONTO–Some Canadians both in and outside of governmentare reacting to President Carter’s energy address by wondering what now will happen to the acid rain treaty negotiations between the two countries. Acid rain, containing sulfur and nitrogen oxides, is estimated to cause about $600 million in damage annually just to sport and commercial fisheries in the lakes of Ontario and Quebec. Coal fired plants in the American Midwest are a primary source of this environmental problem that Canadian Environment Minister John Fraser termed the country’s most serious.

The Canadian concern is illustrative of the many consequences attached to Carter’s decision to heavily emphasize coal burning and taxpayer-subsidized synthetic fuels from oil shale and coal. The president’s choice to place the nation’s energy hopes heavily on an uncertain but very costly synthetic fuels program is astonishing, given the private condemnation of the program by his economic advisers and the public criticism from both liberal and Wall Street Journal-type economists.

Three economic criticisms can be directed at the synfuels proposal. First, a double taxpayer subsidy, in the billions of dollars, to support the cost of synfuel manufacturing and then the purchase of synfuel production, is sure to cost even more than world oil. Second, the subsidized synfuels program will drain away scarce capital and water from other important economic activities, including agriculture. And third, Carter’s-decision spells the end of the balanced budget objective by 1981. One White House analyst remarked that the spending gates now are wide open and here come the deficits.

There are other contradictions in the Carter message. The president said he needs the help of the American people “more than ever.” But instead of proposing to give more power (which means more freedom) to, consumers and taxpayers in shaping energy policy, his Energy Mobilization Board will do just the opposite. It will reduce the participatory rights of citizens and expose them to health risks that are not subject to challenge in the courts.

Carter wants to combat inflation, yet his new energy priorities are filled with inflationary jolts from beginningto end. His renewed support of nuclear power–with its interminable costs–amplifies this contradiction.

In Detroit, before the Communications Workers of America, Carter renewed his campaign rhetoric and pledged to stop the profiteering or cheating of the American people by the Big Oil companies. “You can depend on it,” he reassured his audience. But the public has heard all this from him before in 1976, 1977, 1978. Neither the Department of Energy nor the Justice Department have been particularly interested in prosecuting this corporate crime.

One Department of Energy attorney even told a congressional committee recently that he believed officials in the department were in collusion with the oil industry to not enforce the law. Billions of gasoline and heating oil dollars have been fleeced from consumers under Jimmy Carter’s UNwatchful administration.

There is no doubt that Carter has resolved one contradiction–energy facilities will override environmental health considerations. His environmental advisers have been kept out in the cold of late. His proposed Energy Mobilization Board–which is the energy equivalent of martial law over environmental and consumer rights–signals the complete somersault from his campaign pledges.

Carter’s announcement could have been much simpler and effective. He could have announced that the cheapest, quickest, least polluting and most job productive priority is a massive energy conservation program concentrating heavily on building and motor vehicle engine inefficiencies. Such a program truly would have enlisted the efforts of the American people in every city, town and village. All those government, industry, university and consumer group studies, showing the great and definite promise of going after the 50 percent of our nation’s energy consumption which is wasted, could be applied to action.

In 1975, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) issued a report entitled, “A Nation of Energy Efficient Buildings by 1990.” The AIA’s figures were conservative then and even more conservative now.

Here was the conclusion: “If we adopted a high-priority national program emphasizing energy efficient buildings, we could by 1990 be saving the equivalent of more than 12.5 million barrels of petroleum per day. This is about as much energy as the projected 1990 production capacity of any one of the prime energy systems: domestic oil, nuclear energy, domestic and imported natural gas or coal.”

The AIA showed how this could be done with less investment than would be needed to produce the equivalent 12.5 million barrels that otherwise would be wasted. Other benefits would be more employment, less pollution disease, less inflation and greater economic efficiency to compete worldwide.

The AIA’s projected energy savings dwarfs the 2.5 million barrels of uncertain synthetic and substitute fuels by 1990 under the Carter program. But reducing energy waste means reducing energy sales and the energy corporations do not like that scenario. As one Texas utility executive blurted: “America became great by producing, not by saving.”