Dark Ages Redux: Will
America Meet Her Future Energy Needs?
August 15, 2003
BACKGROUND: North America suffered through its largest-ever
electrical power blackout August 14-15, leaving tens of millions
of Americans and Canadians without power. The blackouts come
at a time when passage of an energy bill has been stalled in
the Senate for the second year running, and while leading environmental
organizations are increasingly making it difficult for America
to meet her energy needs.
President Bush, speaking August 15, said
the blackout points to a need for upgrades in the country's electrical
network: "The grid needs to be modernized, the delivery
systems need to be modernized. We've got an antiquated system."
Clinton Administration Energy Secretary Bill Richardson seemed
to agree, blaming the blackout on America's "Third World
electricity grid," and, according to NewsMax.com, told Larry
King on CNN Thursday, "In the Clinton Administration, everybody
yawned about this, [saying] oh, we don't need to do this. Oh,
we don't have a crisis."
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), however,
blamed President Bush. As reported by NewsMax, she told Larry
King: "I happen to think that making sure we have a reliable,
affordable system of energy is a national priority - and I don't
think that this administration sees it that way... [The Bush
Administration has] continued to try to push deregulation and
privatization, and to try to undo a lot of the systems in changes
that many of us thought were important and necessary that we
tried to work on during the Clinton administration under Secretary
Fred Smith, president of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, took a non-partisan approach: "This
isn't a surprise. The magnitude of this blackout is, but not
that it would happen at some point. It was only a matter of time.
We haven't built enough power plants, haven't invested enough
in capacity to allow a system to operate far enough away from
the edge. And, when every power system is operating so close
to the edge, the smallest pebble can cause an avalanche."
TEN SECOND RESPONSE: For too long, we've taken cheap,
accessible energy for granted. Energy shortages will become commonplace
unless this nation adopts a pro-production energy policy -- something
that can be done in a safe, environmentally-sensitive manner.
THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Senator Pete Domenici, Chairman of the Senate
Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said it well Thursday
night: "The massive power outage in the Northeast and Midwest
emphasizes once again... we need to get a national energy policy
in place as soon as possible for the nation. This outage clearly
demonstrates how close the nation is to its energy production
and distribution limit... Ensuring the proper level of power
to the country demands that we make trade offs, including production
and greater use of such sources as nuclear energy and practical
Fifty million Americans just got a wakeup call: cheap, accessible
energy isn't something to take for granted.
Unfortunately, many of America's most
powerful environmental organizations do take energy for granted,
and they are trying to set America on a course that, if unchecked,
could make the future very dark indeed.
These environmentalist groups hate energy.
They don't put it so starkly, but a review of their policies
can lead to no other conclusion.
Leading environmental organizations,
for example, make it very, very difficult to build new power
plants and oil refineries. No major oil refineries have been
built in the U.S. since 1976, although the number of vehicles
in use has doubled and refineries are running at capacity.
A regulatory change made during the Clinton
Administration to a program called New Source Review has, as
the EPA put it in 2002, "impeded or resulted in the cancellation
of projects that would maintain or improve reliability, efficiency
or safety of existing power plants and refineries."
Yet when the EPA announced that it would
alter the changes to remove impediments that are harmful to energy
production but unnecessary for environmental protection, environmentalists
screamed bloody murder. This although the EPA was otherwise continuing
the New Source Review program as devised by Congress -- back
in 1977, when Congress was controlled by Democrats.
Environmentalists famously oppose domestic
oil drilling, advocating alternatives such as hydrogen. But,
as William Tucker noted in the Weekly Standard, replacing oil
with hydrogen ignores a critical fact: "...there is no source
of free hydrogen in the world. Supplies will come from either
1) the electrolysis of water, which requires electricity, or
2) stripping hydrogen from natural gas."
But environmentalists oppose natural
gas drilling and most of the methods used to generate electricity,
Although the U.S. has vast reserves of
natural gas, much of it is off limits to drilling. Through the
expansion of wilderness areas and national monuments in gas-rich
regions of the West, millions of acres now are closed to oil
and gas exploration. All is ardently supported by environmentalists.
Now approximately 40 percent of known U.S. natural gas reserves
are inaccessible because of environmental regulations on federal
Not coincidentally, the price of natural
gas in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past year. Storage
levels of natural gas are at their lowest point in 30 years.
Using electricity for any reason poses
problems for environmentalists. They oppose coal mining, so coal-generated
electricity is out, and detest nuclear power plants, although
nuclear energy ought to be the energy of choice for anyone who
actually believes human beings are causing global warming.
Environmentalists even oppose generating
electricity by harnessing the natural power of rivers through
clean hydroelectric dams. In fact, leading environmentalists
lobby to have the dams torn down. They cite the dams' impact
on fish, but in fact, they oppose, on general principle, the
notion of toying with nature.
Some environmentalists, such as Robert
F. Kennedy, Jr. of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and
Walter Cronkite, even oppose wind farms. (Kennedy apparently
thinks they are okay if he can't see them.) Cronkite, who made
a commercial against wind farms in Nantucket Sound, says "massive
wind turbines could disrupt the natural habitat for wildlife."
From a power-generation perspective,
this is not such a big deal: it would take over 30,000 large
windmill facilities, each containing many windmills, to generate
enough electricity just for our needs. Even the wind energy industry
claims only that wind energy could account for six percent of
U.S. energy needs by 2020, and that's optimistic. However, you'd
think that if any energy source could pass environmentalist muster,
it would be technology based on something back in the Middle
Yet, energy has to come from somewhere, and as America's environmentalists
oppose oil, natural gas, hydroelectric power, nuclear power,
burning coal and even, when thought unsightly, wind farms, they
really ought to tell the American people how they intend to keep
the future from looking an awful lot like the Great Blackout
of August 2003.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford,
"Nuclear Power: Clean, Safe and Needing a Level Playing
Field," National Policy Analysis #480, National Center for
Public Policy Research, August 2003 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA480.html
Bonner Cohen, "No Excuse for Natural
Gas Shortage," National Policy Analysis #477, National Center
for Public Policy Research, August 2003 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA477.html
Amy Ridenour, "'Blackouts' Today,
'Greenouts' Tomorrow: America Needs a Pro-Production Energy Policy,"
National Policy Analysis #484, National Center for Public Policy
Research, August 2003 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA484.html
Charli E. Coon, J.D., "A Responsible
Energy Policy Enhances - Not Suppresses -Domestic Supplies,"
Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum #894, July 25, 2003,
Competitive Enterprise institute Energy
and Electricity Webpage at http://www.cei.org/sections/section10.cfm
North American Electric Reliability Council
William Tucker, "Permanent Energy
Crisis: And the Solution We Keep Ignoring," The Weekly Standard,
March 13, 2003, available at http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Protected/Articles/000/000/002/337hxxgp.asp
"Bush: Blackouts a Wake-Up Call,"
CBS/AP, August 15, 2003, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/08/15/politics/main568596.shtml
"Hillary Blames Bush for Blackout,"
NewsMax.com, August 15, 2003, available at http://www.newsmax.com/showinsidecover.shtml?a=2003/8/15/90611
Chris Baltimore, "House Commerce
Panel Launches Blackout Probe," Reuters, August 15, 2003,
John Stossel, "Windstorm: Why Are
'Environmentalists' Opposing Windmills in Nantucket Sound?,"
ABC News, July 25, 2003, available at http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/GiveMeABreak/gmab_windmills030725.html
by Amy Ridenour
The National Center for Public Policy Research
Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 x110 or aridenour@n[email protected]
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