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What Energy Crisis?

by Molly Ivins

A problem with the energy plan is media gullibility -- or laziness
It's kind of interesting to watch large enterprises veering off course. More embarrassing is to watch two Texas oilmen produce an energy plan that's just silly.

To recap the energy "crisis," our first problem is soaring gasoline prices caused by the shortage of refining capacity, and that cannot be solved by drilling for oil. The problem with electrical power is an antiquated, balkanized transmission grid, and that cannot be solved by drilling, either. The problems are in the delivery systems, not the availability of raw materials.

This is an energy plan that fails to address the problems -- it's just irrelevant. We may well need more fossil fuel in the future, but there is no supply crisis, and the cheapest, most effective way to avoid one is to promote conservation, which contrary to the administration's curious interpretation, does not require us all to abandon our automobiles and take to riding bicycles. For the past three decades, our greatest source of energy has been improved energy efficiency. Increasing energy efficiency is largely a matter of implementing already proven technology.

To quote Jack Carter, formerly of the Department of Energy, "There is no conservation by the conservatives and no planning in the plan."

Just to mention one useful investment, we could put more research money into the national labs for work on super-conductivity. When electric energy is sent over wires, we lose about 10 percent of it -- it's just wasted. If we develop transmission wires that conduct with no loss, which looks to be doable, we'd immediately have 10 percent more electric energy available.

To address another tiny piece of this complex puzzle, the NIMBY factor (not-in-my-backyard) complicates decisions over where to put new power plants and refineries. A modest suggestion: Put the new plants in the backyards of the CEOs and board members of the major power companies. I assure you, this will improve the cost/benefit studies no end.

This suggestion is neither cynical nor facetious: If you want a practical, realistic reading of how much a power plant costs in terms of human health and environmental damage, stop dumping them on poor people and put them in the CEOs' backyards.

Still another problem with the energy plan is media gullibility -- or laziness. It's pretty hard to miss the difference between what the administration is saying and what it intends to do, because we already have its budget. As y'all know, the Bushies got a hostile reaction when Dick Cheney, the real president, tested the energy plan in public. So before Bush made the formal presentation, the Bushies ginned up the "conservation" elements of the plan -- not by making any actual changes, but by upping their public relations offensive on the issue.

They "emphasized" conservation only by giving it more lip service. But the actual figures are there for anyone to read in the budget -- this administration is dramatically cutting funds for energy efficiency and for research on renewable power sources. Bush went to visit windmills in Minnesota and posed with a pile of wood chips, but he's cutting 36 percent of the budget for renewable energy programs.

With George W. Bush, what you see is not what you get; what you hear is not what you get; what you get is all you get.

Which bring us to Bush's plan for a "third stage of the War on Poverty." They are shameless, aren't they? Their motto is "Leave no child behind," but look at their budget. As the Institute for America's Future reports, there is little new spending on health, education or welfare for children, and the few spending increases proposed are generally offset by decreases in other programs.

In order to pay for this vast tax cut for the richest 1 percent of Americans, they are cutting the most famous and successful of all the War on Poverty programs. Head Start, which has never been fully funded (that means we have never put enough money into it to enroll all the children who are eligible) is slated for an increase so small it is only enough to continue this year's service level through next year. WIC, the valuable Women, Infants and Children program, which saves us money by improving pre-natal and neo-natal care, will not get enough to serve those already in the program, much less the number who will be eligible.

Let's assume Bush's speech at Notre Dame was not an exercise in cynicism. Let's assume that as a matter of political theology, he believes the private and non-profit sectors can take care of poverty better than government -- although the non-profits say they can't even approach government funding and the social conscience of our for-profit sector seems slightly limited.

This is not a matter of belief -- government is good, government is bad, free markets versus regulation and red tape. Americans are practical people: If we have a national philosophy (we have, of course, thousands of them), it's probably utilitarianism. We're noted for using what works, whether shrewd Yankee traders or shrewder Texas oilmen. We've spent two generations finding out which government programs work against poverty and which ones don't. That included some expensive experiments.

Why throw it away -- especially for something untried and with an obvious downside? The record of faith-based initiatives in Texas (it's too soon to make a final judgment) is starting to look very much like the story of Bush's charter-school program, which was done so broadly and with so little oversight (because he believes all government regulation is bad) that it consistently produces disasters and is becoming a colossal waste of taxpayer money.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor May 22, 2001 (

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