Dick Cheney and Conservation

Vice President Dick Cheney is a dinosaur living in the age of mammals. Imagine a public official uttering the following:

“Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

“We … safeguard the environment by making greater use of the cleanest methods of power generation we know…. that is nuclear power.”

The notion that somehow developing the resources in ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Reserve] requires a vast despoiling of the environment is provably false.

It is time for the American people to insist Mr. Cheney stop talking nonsense and to tell Mr. Cheney and his fellow “oil man” President Bush that they have to wean themselves from the economically and environmentally costly energy policies that keep taxpayers, consumers and environmentalists hooked on oil coal and nuclear power.

Federal policy over the past century has largely failed to promote an energy system based on safe, secure, economically affordable, and environmentally benign energy sources. The tax code, budget appropriations, and regulatory processes overwhelmingly have been used to subsidize dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. The result: increased sickness and premature deaths, depleted family budgets, acid rain destruction of lakes, forests, and crops, oil spill contamination, polluted rivers and loss of aquatic species and the long-term peril of climate change and radioactive waste dumpsönot to mention a dependency on external energy supplies.

There is an alternative. Three decades of detailed assessments, on-the-ground results, and research and development innovations in the energy-consuming devices used in our buildings, vehicles and industries undeniably show that energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are superior energy options for society. They offer a present and future path that is economically attractive, safe and secure from large-scale or long-term risks or threats to public health, future generations, and the environment.

But embarking on that path requires overcoming the power of the oil, nuclear and other conventional fuel industries to which both the Republicans and Democrats are indentured. Under the thumb of the dirty fuel industries, Congress and the Executive branch have refused to adopt even the most modest, common sense measures. For example, when the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology concluded in a 1997 report that doubling the Department of Energy’s efficiency R&D funding would produce a 40 to 1 return on the investment for the nation, Congress responded by proposing deep cuts in the efficiency and renewables R&D budgets.

The Clinton/Gore Administration nod to increased energy efficiency relied largely on corporate welfare. Rather than push for an increase in auto fuel-efficiency standards, the Administration established the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). PNGV is a $1.5 billion subsidy program for the Big Three auto companies that has done nothing to improve auto fuel efficiency but has served as a convenient smokescreen behind which the industry has been able to fend off new regulatory requirements for more efficient cars.

Energy Innovations: A Prosperous Path to a Clean Environment, a joint study prepared by half a dozen of the nation’s prominent energy and environmental research and advocacy groups, shows that a handful of simple and straightforward measures could produce a significant reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions (prime cause of acid rain) by 2010, compared to 1990 levels and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions (a key precursor of ground-level ozone, smog) as well as deep cuts in emissions of other damaging pollutants, including fine particles, toxic metals like mercury and hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

President Bush could establish the United States as the model for other countries by adopting a sustainable energy policy that includes:

-Ending fossil fuel and nuclear corporate welfare supports, including numerous special tax preferences.

-Launching a robust federal research and development program in sustainable renewable energy sources, so that the energy-independence promises of wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy are finally realized.

-Increasing auto fuel efficiency standards (at least to 45 miles per gallon for cars and 35 miles per gallon for light trucks, to be phased in over five years) during a transition period to zero-emissions cars.

-Adopting stronger efficiency standards for appliances and mandatory energy performance building codes.

-Ensuring electricity policies which promote efficient use of electricity through a range of measures including “net metering” requirements that companies pay market prices for electricity generated by consumers and passed back to the utility and elimination of clean air exemptions for “grandfathered” fossil fuel facilities.

-Establishing a well-funded employee transition assistance fund and job-retraining program for displaced coal miners’ easily affordable with the savings from greater energy efficiency.

Our country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it uses. It is time for the United States to stop letting Exxon-Mobil, Peabody Coal and Westinghouse shape our energy policy and for our misguided elected officials to adopt an energy strategy based on clean renewable energy and conservation. Future generations will thank us for curbing our fossil fuel appetite.

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