Friday, August 22, 2008

The Manhattan Energy Project, Part II

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

I always appreciate feedback – both positive and negative – regarding my blog posts. It helps me see what people are really interested in hearing about, and what’s on my readers’ minds regarding the economy and the financial world.

I received a lot of feedback to my “Energy Crisis Resolved!” post on August 15th – most of which was complimentary – but I did receive one particularly critical email that grabbed my attention. The writer said that after reading my blogs, she was left with a feeling of despair, and she accused me of being exactly like the politicians I so often criticize – someone who criticizes everything but who offers no solutions.

Essentially, this particular reader thought that the content of my “Energy” blog characterized the problems we’re facing, but failed to provide a solution or course of action that would lead to a solution of the energy crisis. And thus, the purpose of this post is to provide you with my solutions for the issue.

Some people wonder why Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is taking all of the heat for not allowing an energy vote in Congress. Simply put, it seems to me that she’s going against the public’s wishes regarding energy reform. Nearly every poll I’ve reviewed on the subject indicates that 70% of the U.S. public prefers for the United States to immediately become more energy-independent from foreign sources.

The first step in that happening would be to immediately begin domestic offshore drilling and other energy-saving activities. However, prior to Congress taking a five-week summer recess, Nancy Pelosi (and to a lesser extent, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), firmly ruled out a vote on new offshore drilling. Considering the recent results of a Gallup Poll indicating that Americans, by two to one, would be more likely to support a candidate who back expanded offshore drilling, I imagine this is becoming frustrating to many Americans.

The reason for the stonewalling regarding the offshore drilling subject is relatively clear – there is potential political fallout for the Democratic Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama. But I don’t think they can hide much longer by their delaying tactics.

When Congress is back in session after Labor Day and Senator Obama actually has to vote on energy issues, it will be incredibly uncomfortable for him – he’ll be in the crosshairs of both the public and with his important campaign contributors. While the public clearly wants more energy independence from foreign sources, the significant financial backers of the Obama campaign want absolutely none, and they seem to be adamant on the subject. Therefore, Senator Obama will be in a no-win situation of either voting for what the public wants or for what his campaign contributors want. It’s absolutely clear to me that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are taking the fall for the Democratic Party by not allowing any type of vote on the subject.

In recent news articles, both Senator Obama and Speaker Pelosi have indicated that they’d be willing to consider limited offshore drilling as a part of a comprehensive energy plan. Offering to put a bill before Congress that will be so bogged down with stipulations that it’s made unworkable for either party is full of political lingo. It will only further delay any action on an energy vote until well after the elections. I fully expect to see a bill introduced by both the House and the Senate that will be completely unworkable and will fail when they come to a vote. This stalling tactic is only for political reasons and will reflect a failure on the parts of our elected officials to follow-through on what the American public wants.

But I digress…. To satisfy the reader who criticized me for not offering a solution in my last blog, I will do so herein. First, as Americans and taxpayers, we need to demand that Congress holds a serious vote on this subject. The proposed bill should not be one with massive stipulations and meaningless provisions – it just needs to be a clean vote on all of the energy issues we’re facing today. Each member of Congress would vote “yea” or “nay” on each provision, and there would be no confusion as to who voted for what. Personally, I’d like to see a vote on the following issues, and I think many Americans probably agree:

  • Offshore oil drilling off the Continental United States with reasonable environmental controls
  • Expanded drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Northeast Alaska
  • An immediate expansion of nuclear power facilities to provide energy to the United States
  • Reasonable governmental funding for wind and solar energy alternatives
  • Governmental initiatives to expand and develop alternative-fuel vehicles beyond ethanol
I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to have one bill that will encompass all of these provisions. A single bill set up in such a way will surely fail, and that would only provide our elected officials with an out for voting against it. This, of course, would leave us in our present situation, where nothing gets accomplished.

So, my solution is for everyone to contact their elected representatives and demand that they work hard to immediately resolve the energy crisis. Heck, you can even forward this post to your representatives and demand that they vote clearly and concisely on each of the energy issues mentioned above. The American public deserves for Congress to start taking this challenging issue more seriously and get a plan in place once and for all. For them to continue delaying a vote on this important situation and only ignore the energy crisis only reflects our government’s failure at doing the job for which they were elected.

It is hard for me to imagine why any U.S. citizen would disagree with a straight up or down vote on these issues. That’s the reason our democratic system works while systems in other countries fail. Quite simply, the direct voting process is less cumbersome and easier to explain, and I think we would finally see that many members of Congress would vote for independent energy of foreign sources if given the chance. The fact that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi have refused to allow a vote on energy issues up to this point is outrageous and detrimental to our economy and national security.

When I was preparing to write this post, I researched what the environmentalists’ objections are to nuclear energy exploration. To be frank, the information I found on the Internet was somewhat lacking in specifics and only focused on the disposal of nuclear waste. I wasn’t able to find any particularly compelling arguments that gave definitive reasons for why nuclear energy is an environmental concern. In fact, my research revealed that nuclear energy is the most environmentally sensitive form of energy that we have available to us today.

I noticed several references in my research regarding the Chernobyl disaster and the Three Mile Island accident. It’s relevant to this argument to note that there wasn’t a single loss of life from the Three Mile Island accident and that no one was exposed to excess radiation. I think most people probably confuse the facts surrounding that incident with the movie that was released only 12 days before the accident, “The China Syndrome,” which concerned a nuclear reactor disaster.

The Chernobyl disaster did, however, result in 56 direct deaths, with approximately 9,000 cases of cancer potentially attributable to the accident. This incident, however, is not indicative of the dangers arising from nuclear energy.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plan was built in the Soviet Union in a butler building with absolutely no failsafe designs. If you read the history on the construction of the plant, you will see that due to crime and corruption in the construction process, the nuclear reactor was improperly constructed and under-supervised. Furthermore, the type of facilities we would be building today have little to no resemblance of the the Chernobyl plant.

Other than the Three Mile Island accident and the Chernobyl disaster, I was unable to find any serious environmental objections to building nuclear power facilities. It would seem to me that nuclear energy is the answer to many of our issues and is one that we should be aggressively proposed.

As for domestic offshore oil drilling, I have only a few short comments: Those who are pushing the most for ANWR drilling in Alaska are the Alaskans themselves. They are the ones who’d be most dramatically impacted by those drilling efforts and they are the biggest advocates of taking that measure.

Even though Speaker Pelosi absolutely refuses to have a vote on offshore drilling in California, she clearly is not in tune with what most Californians want for their state. The People’s Republic of California is mired in a financial mess. The current budget in California is running a deficit in excess of $15 billion. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has cut all government employees to minimum wage, and there is no current budget even though the state has already entered a new budget year. Due to significant restrictions on businesses in California, businesses are relocating to states that are less onerous to business owners.

Offshore drilling 50 miles outside the beaches of California would lead to a dramatic improvement in the financial resources spent in California. It is fairly obvious that Speaker Pelosi is not reading her own hometown papers.

I’m not suggesting that any of these energy savings incentives should or could be done without a Congressional vote. But with a straight up or down vote, we will know how each of our elected officials stand so they can be held accountable.

In researching this current rant, I came across an interesting tidbit of information: In 2001, newly elected President George W. Bush proposed a new energy bill. This bill provided for more drilling for oil and gas and new refineries. It also proposed incentives to build new nuclear power plants. More importantly, it described how the United States would have to revamp our electrical grid. It provided for $10 billion in tax breaks to help push energy efficiency and alternative energy. Does all of this sound remotely familiar?

I’m sure there were many positives and negatives in President Bush’s proposed bill, but as you might suspect, none of it was passed by Congress. Remembering that the Republicans controlled Congress in 2001, it can’t be solely blamed on the minority party at that time. However, this bill seems to be very similar to a measure worth bringing up for vote again today. If something had been approved in 2001 or 2002, we would be halfway there to energy independence. Unfortunately, today we haven’t even started.

Of course, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Republican Party lost control of Congress in 2007. Even though they controlled Congress for a full 12 years before that point, they did a poor job of trying to push through any type of energy bill. At the beginning of 2007, the Democrats began controlling Congress without an energy bill in place. At that time, oil was at $50 a barrel and corn was at $2 a bushel. Today, oil is at $121 a barrel (a 142% increase) and corn is at $6 a bushel. Accordingly, in my attempt to equally criticize Congress, it’s easy to see that the Republicans did nothing for seven years while the Democrats have done nothing for a year and a half.

It’s now time for us, as taxpayers, to hold our elected officials accountable for effectively doing the job we elected them to do. It’s imperative that they perform a straight up or down vote on the energy issues during the month of September and that all of our representatives participate in the vote. If everyone communicates this urgency to Congress, maybe something will finally get done!

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