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The National Energy Plan - The US Government Decides the
free Market needs more Mining

by Joseph Philip
15.06.2001

The balance between energy consumption and the environment have always seemed at odds with one nother. Is it possible that the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge could be opened to oil exploration without adverse effects to the environment? George W. George W. Bush believes so.

There is no doubt that America's energy consumption is increasing, and the Energy Information Agency predicts that consumption will increase from 96 quadrillion BTUs in 1999 to 126 quadrillion BTUs in 2020. However, the Republican Party is known for cutting taxes, smaller governments, and allowing the free market to solve the problems. According to Bush's party, it is the government that causes the problem. Then why should the nation need a National Energy Plan? To quote the opening page of the plan:

A fundamental imbalance between supply and demand defines our nation`s energy crisis if energy production increases at the same rate as during the last decade our projected energy needs will far outstrip expected levels of production.

Is this not the purpose of the free market and supply and demand? While Governor Davis of California has repeatedly called for price caps on wholesale energy costs, Bush has been absolutely against this idea. The belief is, that if price-caps are placed, then there is no incentive to build new generation, leading to shortfalls in power production. The thinking is let the free market reign, and new generation will be brought online.

Free Market?

The National Energy Policy Development (NEDP) Group's report at one point claims. While natural gas has many advantages, an over-reliance on any one fuel source leaves consumers vulnerable to price spikes and supply disruptions.

There are several other fuel sources available that can help meet our needs. The free market should in theory avoid these problems. If the price of natural gas goes too high, alternatives will be found.


Renewable energies competing with fossile ressources. Are Photovoltaics fit to take this challenge?

photovoltaics
Photo: astropower

Although the National Energy Plan continually states how safe nuclear reactors have become, it still quietly slips in renewal of the Price-Anderson Act. The plan doesn't even bother to explain what this act is. The Price-Anderson Act, originally enacted by Congress in 1957, limits the liability of the nuclear industry in the event of a nuclear accident in the United States. The Act covers large power reactors as well as small research and test reactors, fuel reprocessing plants and enrichment facilities. It covers incidents that occur through operation of nuclear plants as well as transportation and storage of nuclear fuel and radioactive wastes. In a report to congress in October, 1998, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wrote, Many nuclear suppliers express the view that without Price-Anderson coverage, they would not participate in the nuclear industry. Why not let the free market reign with private insurance for nuclear reactors, waste disposal, and transportation of nuclear fuel?

The inconsistency of the plan and the Republican Party philosophy doesn't end there.

State versus federal Rights

During the election, when the issue of South Carolina flying the Confederate Flag over the state government building, George W. Bush refused to comment claiming it was the state's right to fly that flag. In this National Energy Plan, Connecticut is singled out for blocking a proposed transmission line to power hungry Long Island, New York. The plan reports, some state siting laws require that the benefits of a proposed transmission facility accrue to the individual state, resulting in the rejection of transmission proposals that benefit an entire region, rather than a single state. Accordingly then, the federal government can determine a transmission line should go through a state that has no need for it. The report later states to combat a shortage of 400 MW below their desired reserve margin, the New York Power Authority is trying to install additional generation capacity within the city. This novel approach to generating power closer to home isn't applauded at all in the National Energy Plan.

The states rights of Nevada are virtually ignored when the plan speaks of the Yucca Mountain (delayed for over ten years) repository for nuclear waste. Claiming nuclear energy is a clean energy with no air pollution, the plan ignores the problems the state of Nevada has with storing the nuclear waste of the whole nation within its borders. The state of Nevada has no nuclear power, and most of its citizens oppose nuclear waste being transported through their states.

Calling a Spade a Spade

If the Republican Party is really for a smaller government that doesn't hinder the free market economics, why is it so important to have a National Energy Plan? It is clear that the report only pays lip service to conservation and renewables. It is amazing how quickly the administration has learned about clean coal, dedicating billion to the program over the next 10 years.

The plan on the other hand recommends, the President direct the Secretary of Energy to conduct a review of current funding and historic performance of renewable energy and alternative energy research and development programs in light of recommendations of this report. The plan does recommend .2 billion go to renewable funding, but this money would come from royalties from drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It's a nice thought clean coal and renewable energy funded by oil from the ANWR.

The real purpose of this report is to bring forth the issue of the land owned and managed by the Federal government. Currently the federal government owns 31 percent of the land in the US. Public lands provide nearly 30% of the annual national energy production and also contain a majority of the country's undiscovered domestic energy resources.

windmill
Photograph Courtesy of
Navitas Energy Inc
.

The other major source of oil and natural gas could be offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Congress had designated about 610 million acres off limits to leasing on the OCS. Federal OCS leasing is limited to the western Gulf of Mexico, a small portion of the eastern Gulf, existing leases off California's shore, and areas off of Alaska.

The report, all but recommends opening up all land available to oil and gas development, done in an environmentally sound way of course. In the report, no place is designated as too environmentally sound to drill. This is indeed where the plan is hidden. If the United States continues down the same road, the country will indeed need more oil and gas. Decisions will have to be made as to how much land should be opened to drilling and how much the United States is willing to import from OPEC. The plan assumes that the energy mix will look the much the same as today except that we will be more reliant on natural gas.

For a country, that has just seen the innovations of the internet and mobile phones, the Bush-Cheney energy plan is nothing more than business as usual. Calling for more large power plants including the continued use of nuclear energy and coal. The plan in no way offers a 21st Century vision. There is no thoughtful method to help transition to a more sustainable future. Presumably, this problem the "free market" will take care of. The broadest vision given is that America has enough coal to last 250 years.

If George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have already decided more oil and natural gas is needed, they don't need to write a 170-page report. They should speak straight to the American public. If we want to drive gas guzzling sports utility vehicles, leave our computers and lights on all night, and not pay a dime more for energy without overly relying on oil rich Middle-Eastern countries, then we must open all available land for mining natural gas, and oil and place high voltage lines (maybe even a nuclear power plant) in your backyard. This is just to ensure you that we have enough energy in the year 2020. What will happen after that? There's enough clean coal to last until global warming kicks in.

Further Reports by Joseph Philip:

An Overview of Photovoltaics in the USA.

Solar Thermal Technologies in the United States

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