“Blackouts” Today, “Greenouts” Tomorrow: America Needs a Pro-Production Energy Policy

Tens of millions Americans got a wakeup call Thursday: 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 puts it, “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, too.

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 lands.

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 Ages.

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.

Though I suppose by then we’ll call them “Greenouts.”

Of course, it would be wrong to be completely critical of our environmentalist brethren. Huge energy blackouts aren’t all bad. If what happened during past blackouts — such as 1965’s “The Night the Lights Went Out” in New York — is any indication, nine months from now many families in blackout areas will happily greet bundles of joy.

Too bad environmentalists hate population growth, too.


Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. 

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.