The energy plan recently released by President Bush is an ill-conceived effort which takes advantage of our current short-term energy problems to push bad long-term policies.
The plan, developed behind closed doors by oil man Vice-President Dick Cheney for oil man President Bush, offers a feast for the coal, oil, and nuclear industries, while providing only table scraps for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Bush and Cheney’s plan downplays efficiency and renewable options, because otherwise it would be obvious there is no need for building more coal and nuclear power plants or opening up sensitive public lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
The plan touts our country’s need to build 1,300 new electric power plants in the next 20 years, “more than one per week.” But it fails to disclose that nearly half (633) of these new plants are already under construction or planned for completion by 2004.
The Bush administration also fails to tell people that the same federal Energy Department that is now calling for the 1,300 new plants just last year estimated that 790 of the needed plants could be avoided by developing energy efficiency and renewable energy — no “R&D breakthroughs” required.
In other words, adding the plants already scheduled to be completed in three years to the efficiency and renewable potential, we would meet the demand and have an additional 123 plants to replace older dirty coal plants now in the system.
Cheney has said that conservation is just “a sign of personal virtue,” and that relying on it would threaten “our way of life.” How does he explain that the average U.S. citizen uses more than twice as much energy as people in Germany and France? Is their “way of life” threatened?
Does our “way of life” relate to our fascination with gas guzzling SUVs? Perhaps so. The biggest single step that the Bush/Cheney plan could have taken to cut our oil dependence and curb global warming would have been to raise fuel economy for cars and SUVs to 40 miles per gallon, a move that is doable with today’s technology but not included in the Bush energy plan.
In the southern Appalachians, Bush’s energy plan is particularly devastating. Our region has the worst death rate from air pollution (mainly from coal-fired power plants) and the worst visibility problems in the country. Our mountain forests are dying from air pollution and Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks are the two most air polluted of all 50 national parks across the country. Bush’s emphasis on coal power will only make matters worse.
Our region also endures the worst impacts in the country from energy resource extraction. Mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia amounts to a death sentence on nature in those areas. The Bush plan, along with the recently increased power of Democratic Sen. Robert “King Coal” Byrd, means that we will hear more use of the term “clean coal,” an oxymoron of the first order.
With some of our current power plants such as Belews Creek near Winston-Salem using as much as 180 train car loads of Appalachian coal per day, and with more such plants on the way under the plan, the outcome is clear.
Tell the citizens of Blair, West Virginia, and Harlan, Kentucky, about “clean coal.” They live daily with the blasting, the dust, and the wholesale destruction of the fiber of their communities due to “clean coal.” Bush conveniently ignores the plight of these citizens of the coal fields for the cause of “cheap” energy.
President Bush has complained that our country has not really had an energy policy over the Clinton years. He says we have become more dependent on foreign oil and that environmental regulations designed to protect our air and water have frustrated mining/drilling and power plant permitting. So he has decided to dust off the failed policies of the Reagan years, which also stopped improvements in automobile fuel efficiency and pushed for drilling in the Arctic and other sensitive areas.
He abandoned his promise to support the Kyoto guidelines designed to curb global warming, similar to related actions of the Reagan administration. His emphasis on burning as much fossil and nuclear fuel as our “way of life” demands gives new meaning to what famed environmentalist David Brower called an energy policy of “strength through exhaustion” of our natural resources. The American public deserves better.