Outside View: Get real on energy security

By DAPHNE WYSHAM, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Feb. 22, 2006 at 8:37 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- President Bush seems to be suddenly making links between oil and security others made decades ago.

In recent appearances in Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan, Bush states with fresh enthusiasm what others have been saying for years: "Some of the nations we rely on for oil have unstable governments, or fundamental differences with the United States. These countries know we need their oil, and that ... creates a national security issue when we're held hostage for energy by foreign nations that may not like us."

Bush was alive in the 1970s, so he has no excuse for not recalling just how much the Arabs didn't like us during the oil embargo of 1973. And, though he went to Harvard and Yale, perhaps they didn't teach him about the so-called "resource curse" that has troubled oil-rich countries from Angola to Nigeria, Iraq to Russia.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to calculate that if the oil stops flowing soon, we here in the United States, the world's largest consumers of oil, are, to use his father's favorite term, in "deep doo-doo." Whether for political or economic reasons, the end of cheap oil will be the same for Americans, with their huge cars and huge homes: We will be up a creek without a cheap paddle.

People have been saying this for decades.

Nevertheless, following on the heels of his remark two weeks ago that Americans were "addicted to oil," it gives one pause that Bush might actually be coming around to some sensible energy policies.

But, before you get too excited, follow the money, not the rhetoric, and you begin to see just how sincere this talk of energy security is.

Let's start with job security for the few people who work in the renewable energy industry. Within days of Bush's state of the Union address, 32 people were laid off at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The layoffs so soon after the Bush address were almost as laughable as the Bush response, over the weekend, which was to wire $5 million to the NREL budget.

This was a nice gesture, but this sort of back and forth¬ with little job security in the few laboratories that are working to create true energy security for Americans ¬sends exactly the wrong message to NREL's best and brightest. Five million dollars doesn't come close to the $50 million cut by Bush from the Financial Year 2006 Energy Department budget for energy efficiency and renewables. And it pales in comparison to the $300 billion the top five oil companies netted in profits since Bush took office. Or the $7 billion in avoided royalties oil companies will be given to drill on our public lands this year, again thanks to Bush.

There's another form of security for the renewable energy industry that rarely gets blood flowing among members of Congress, but is absolutely essential to our long-term security: the regulatory environment for renewable industry is bleak. Wind, solar, and other nascent clean energy industries need to know their regulatory environment ¬whether in the form of long-term interest rates, targets and timetables, tax incentives, customer rebates, or other measures set at the national and state level ¬are stable, and not subject to the whims of one politician after another. Instead, the past few decades have seen the pendulum of government support for renewable energy swing back and forth¬ with, for example, solar panels being installed on the White House under President Jimmy Carter being swiftly removed under President Ronald Reagan. Last year, Bush opposed efforts to phase in a 10 percent to 20 percent target for renewable energy by 2020. In response to these and other mixed signals, most renewable energy industries have folded up shop and fled to countries such as Germany and Japan, where the regulatory environment is more secure.

Then there's the economic security of home-buyers and the car-buyers, who would love to be able to afford hybrid vehicles or power their homes with clean wind or solar power. But all the financial incentives encourage gas-guzzlers and energy hogs.

And finally, there's the insecurity posed to a world threatened with a 5 to 10 degree warming trend over the next century. If this doesn't give Bush nightmares, I guess his climate censors have him hoodwinked: Every coastal city in this country is threatened with Katrina-like inundation, and the nation's food and water supply with unpredictable weather patterns.

Energy security begins with energy independence, and if Bush really wants to face up to our oil addiction, he'd stand behind a carbon tax that would funnel a portion of the money spent on fossil fuels not into the pockets of Exxon Mobil, but into the pockets of researchers at NREL, of public transportation, of hybrid car owners, and of solar and wind purchasers. It will cost us far less in the long run, but it can only get jump-started by real money ¬not just more hot air¬ emerging from the White House.


(Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, where she co-directs the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (seen.org))


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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