Commentary

New Energy Bill Is Ruinous During Wartime

On Oct.10, Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Majority Leader and potential presidential candidate, ordered his own Energy and Natural Resources Committee to stop working on a National Energy Policy bill. He did this because a majority of that committee now favors drilling for a modest amount of oil in a tiny area of the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Further, he has substitute-legislation in mind that goes beyond ANWR, calling for drastic changes in our energy structure.

Hopefully, Daschle will reconsider his actions on the energy bill. Although ANWR can supply only a small fraction of our energy, it is a political no-brainer. Who’s going to vote against domestic oil when we are at war? The emerging energy bill also encouraged the development of technologies to further reduce the already small atmospheric impact of coal combustion, promoting the increased use of this domestically abundant fuel.

But do we need any energy legislation? Coal is cheap and plentiful, and it is regulated via the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. If there’s the political will, go ahead and re-open those (though expect some opposition here). Drilling in the ANWR doesn’t require 30 pages of text; a few sentences will do.

However logical it might be to “do nothing here,” that’s not the way D.C. works. Instead, Daschle would like to substitute another bill, S.556, for large portions of the current energy legislation. The substitute-bill is sponsored by Jim Jeffords (?-VT). Instead of drilling in ANWR and developing cleaner coal technology, the bill looks a lot like the old Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which has wisely been rejected by President Bush because it is 1) expensive, and 2) scientifically indefensible. Jeffords’ bill mandates that we reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants to 1990 levels by January 2007. Our national emissions are currently about 15 percent above 1990 levels. As we continue on our merry economic way, those emissions will go 20 percent above 1990 levels by 2007. To meet this law would therefore require a major energy reduction in a nation at peace, let alone in one at war.

Now, about 55 percent of the nation’s electricity is produced by the combustion of coal. Jeffords’ target could be met if somehow every coal-fired turbine was converted to natural gas. But we do not have the infrastructure to move that much gas, and, further, S.556 mandates “policies that would reduce the rate of growth of natural gas consumption” Without coal or natural gas, there’s only one significant source of power production left: nuclear. Does anyone seriously think that the same radical greens that pressured Daschle into all this will allow him to push nuclear power?

It gets worse. The substitute-bill also requires that 90 percent of mercury emissions be removed from power generation by 2007. There is only one way to do that: Stop burning coal. If this bill is passed, it will be against the law to use coal to produce appreciable amounts of electricity. That is mandated for a nation that has hundreds of years of coal supply, and depends upon the rest of the world for 60 percent of its oil. That is mandated for a nation that is currently fighting a war using oil-powered technology.

So what S.556 scuttles is more than just ANWR drilling, it is our domestic energy hole card. The result of the substitute-bill is that the country will become bereft of power. Jeffords’ bill makes energy prohibitively expensive even as it mandates an impossible result. All of this when there’s a war on.

How could such folly evolve? It all goes back to “genus: Extreme environmentalism, species: global warming.” You’d think this critter would at least go into hibernation given the current problems in the world. But instead it is flying stealthily through Congress while the public concentrates on the more important matters at hand.

How much additional global warming “gain” do we get for the Jeffords pain? We ran the United Nations’ own computer model, assuming their dire “storylines” (their word) for global warming and development. The amount of global warming that Jeffords’ bill prevents in the next 50 years is 0.04ºF. No one will be able to measure this against the natural variability of climate.

Do we need omnibus energy legislation when a few sentences will do? Worse, do we want to substitute a bill that will increase energy prices, have no demonstrable effect on climate, and outlaw an inexhaustible domestic source of energy?

If anybody has noticed that we are at war, it must be Sen. Daschle. Maybe it’s time to be a bit more conservative about domestic energy policy. There will be plenty of time to debate things like global warming after we win a victory that is much more assured by domestic energy security at this precarious moment in time.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.