In the US, Nuclear, Oil, Coal Rein over Renewable Energy

As health, education and the environment are being sacrificed on the false altar of deficit reduction, says Mark Hertsgaard in a blog on The Nation,  the US nuclear industry subsidy of $54.5 billion won’t go away. 

And, he says, Obama is shoveling money at nuclear at the very time he has diverted funds from renewable energy. 

Most people aren’t aware that the "Cash for Clunkers" program was funded by taking over half of the $6 billion loan guarantee funds set aside for cutting-edge renewable energy projects.

The administration rightly claims the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made "the single largest investment in clean energy in U.S. history," funding more than 7,000 projects and leveraging $21 billion in private and federal investments. Republicans want to remove any unspent funds from the Recovery Act as part of their budget resolution.

And that’s just a third of the subsidies the administration has set aside for nukes.

"The administration’s clean energy policy is not about picking one energy source over another, in fact it is about setting a bold but achievable clean energy goal, and providing industry the flexibility on how best to increase their clean energy production," says Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman.

Indeed, the narrative currently dominating the discussion of disaster in Japan, is that US nuclear plants are safe and we need the the "clean" energy. We can’t combat climate change without them.

The truth is that nuclear power is not safe and it’s not at all necessary. Countless studies demonstrate that nuclear is the costliest, slowest way to supply electricity and reduce greenhouse gases, because of the high costs of building them and the how long it takes to do so. 

From society’s point of view, it is far more effective to invest in energy efficiency in the short to medium term while accelerating development and mass deployment of renewable energy.

New Coal Announcement

Although the American West has the potential to supply enough renewable energy to power the entire US, Secretary of Interior Salazar announced his intention to lease 7441 acres in Wyoming for 2.35 billion tons of new coal mining.

When burned, 3.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide and millions of tons of pollutants from soot to mercery, will be released – equal to the annual emissions from 300 coal plants.

He also announced that 4,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy development have been authorized on public lands (many of which are being contested in lawsuits) and said the Interior has plans to authorize 12,000 MW of renewables by the end of next year.   

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is the largest coal production region in the US, strip-mining nearly 500 million tons of coal a year, which is then trucked to 200+ coal plants in 35 states.  According to the Bureau of Land Management (a department of the Interior), the region is linked to over 13% of all US carbon emissions.

"Secretary Salazar’s announcement that coal production will be expanded in the Powder River Basin is a giant leap backward," says Adam Kron, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "How can our country move toward a clean energy future if we’re doubling down on the dirtiest and most problematic energy source out there?"

The Interior Department is the second largest contributor to the federal treasury, behind only the IRS, due in large part to mineral development like coal leases, Salazar said.

The leases should bring in $13.4 billion to $21.3 billion for the government – Wyoming gets 48% of that.

Three more leases covering almost 14,000 acres and an estimated 1.6 billion tons of coal, will be announced this summer.

If the Interior would take this coal off the market by leaving it in the ground, the cost of coal would rise, making renewables and energy efficiency more cost competitive.

Instead, the Interior is leasing the land at below-market prices.

What about High Gas Prices and Oil Drilling?

Then there’s the steady stream of Congressional members who say the solution for high gas prices and dependence on foreign oil is to drill absolutely everywhere.

Fact: the US has proven reserves of 22.3 billion barrels of oil, while we consume 6.9 billion barrels a year, according to the Energy Information Agency. If we drilled absolutely everywhere, we could satisfy our demand for oil for less than 3.5 years, making us energy independent until the middle of 2014. After that we’d be completely dependent on imported oil because we’d have none left.

It takes time to get to all the oil, of course, we can’t do it in a day. If we destroyed the Alaska wilderness, put the Arctic Ocean at risk, and drilled off every coast, we might be able to increase production by 1-1.5 million barrels a day in 5-10 years. At the high end, this would be a bit less than 2 percent of world supply.

And the oil that comes from leases in the Gulf, doesn’t automatically get sold to the US – it goes on the world market!

And how much would that lower prices at the pump? Experts say the most we would save is less than 20 cents at $4 a gallon.

Unfortunately, mainstream media like the Washington Post, report inaccurate statements linking energy independence and lower prices to more drilling as if they were reasonable positions in the public debate. The argument ends up being framed as environment vs. energy independence.

Constrained World

Fact: we live in an increasingly energy constrained world and we must use a lot less energy. For the first time in human history, billions of people everywhere in the world are demanding more energy. 

"Energy in 2050: Will fuel constraints thwart our growth projections?," by HSBC, lays out the necessary steps, which the US is not ready to hear.

– Reduce or End fossil fuel subsidies. Despite a G-20 agreement in 2009 to phase out fossil fuels subsidies, no action has been taken. The emerging world spent $321 billion on coal, oil, gas and electric subsidies in 2009, according to IEA figures. In the U.S, $2.7 billion goes to oil subsidies annually.

– Put a Price on Carbon. No one likes to pay for something that’s always been free, but carbon trading is gaining ground in India and South Africa even it’s dead in the US because of Republican attacks. 

– Regulate Efficiency. Regulations are needed to cut energy use, from strict building standards to greater vehicle fuel efficiency.

– Efficient Transportation. It will be many years before electric vehicles are a significant part of the landscape and political fights are hindering high-speed rail.

Despite the BP spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the nuclear tragedy in Japan and upheaval in the Middle East, there is still no political will to move to a truly clean energy economy.

(Visited 8,573 times, 8 visits today)

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *