Heightened tension in the Persian Gulf brings renewed attention to energy consumption and supplies in the United States. You don’t hear much about programs to advance energy conservation and solar power from the Reagan Administration. The reason is that these programs have been foolishly curtailed, while the Reaganites continue to pour your tax dollars into atomic power boondoggles.
This deplorable inattention to the conservative ethic comes at a time of vast atomic power plant cost overruns, radioactive spills, engineering deficiencies at many plants and increasing plant mishaps, shutdowns and worker exposure to radiation.
Mr. Reagan has had difficulty understanding energy efficiency. While campaigning for the Presidency in 1980, he had a one liner about energy conservation: “Freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer.” One of his first acts as President was to cancel Mr. Carter’s energy saving standards for most public buildings, along with those that applied to federal installations. The General Accounting Office reported that the Carter rules saved the federal government $700 million a year, including vehicle fuel management.
In a February 1981 proclamation, Mr. Reagan declared that although temperature restrictions “may result in reduced consumption of fuel, I have concluded that the regulatory scheme designed to accomplish that objective imposes an excessive regulatory burden and that voluntary and market incentives will achieve substantially the same benefit without the regulatory cost.” He did not spell out what he meant by regulatory cost in a low-budget program that was working quite well.
During his term of office, Reagan has refused to issue motor vehicle efficiency standards for the next decade and even allowed General Motors and Ford an exemption from the 27 1/2 mpg average fleet standard. The two auto giants had ten years advance time to comply; instead they choose to lobby.
Finally, he urged Congress to end the tax credits which encouraged conservation and solar energy applications for homes and other structures. A divided Congress went along, and a budding local industry doing this work for many households was weakened.
This year Congress was more successful in overwhelmingly passing the Appliance Energy Conservation Act which is to establish national standards for manufacturers of home appliances, such as refrigerators. Mr. Reagan pocket vetoed a similar bill in 1986.
Our nation’s ability to save energy has been proven. Because of past programs and efforts, such as the vehicle energy efficiency law passed twelve years ago, we are saving at least $150 billion a year compared to what we would be spending if the economy had the same wasteful practices as the early Seventies.
The future holds greater promise in this regard. According to Howard Geller of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, cost-effective investments in energy efficiency measures could reduce the electrical intensity (i.e. electrical usage per dollar of GNP) of the U.S. economy by 50%. This would easily displace all nuclear plants currently operating. He gives an example. By using the most efficient refrigerators, electric water heaters and air conditioners now on the market, electrical demand could be reduced to the equivalent of 40 large nuclear plants.
Some utilities are recognizing that investing in saving energy is better for their customers and for their profits because it avoids the horrendous costs of building new power plants. Pacific Gas and Electric has demonstrated this awareness in California.
I’ve long believed that the Reagan Administration is out of step with the rights and needs of consumers. Now it is increasingly apparent that these White House ideologues are more and more out of step with segments of the business community as well.
The longer range tragedy is that Mr. Reagan has aggressively refused to prepare the country for the next energy crunch and the dislocations to sellers, consumers and workers that such an avoidable crisis generates.