A sensible ‘national energy policy’

I was speaking to a close relative the other day. He expressed a suitably cynical opinion about our current crop of politicians and the “energy crisis.”

He said: “What I think is we just don’t have enough energy, we’re never going to have enough energy, so costs are going to continue going up and up, and they all know this, but they just won’t say so.”

I said his comment was suitably cynical — not that it’s correct.

In fact, I believe the opposite is true. There’s no shortage of energy, there never has been and — so long as the sun stays lit — there never will be.

What we face are two problems. Actually, one problem and one challenge.

The challenge is age-old. Like most challenges, it’s actually a good thing, because it keeps us from sitting around munching bananas, instead giving us an incentive to get up and start using our brains, an activity which has high survival value for a creature with unimpressive teeth, claws and natural armor.

We’re surrounded by nearly infinite energy. We use only a tiny fraction of the energy with which the sun bombards us, daily. The challenge is to capture that energy, and then figure out how to store and transport it.

The first solar energy storage battery was the tree. Cut down the tree, haul home the dried wood, burn it in the fireplace, and you’re releasing some of the solar energy it stored. But you do get a fair amount of soot.

The sun also evaporates water from the oceans, dropping the stuff as rain on the highlands. The raindrops give up some of this energy as they flow back to the sea. Build a waterwheel and you can recapture some of that energy. Though you do have to watch out for your dam blocking the salmon run.

Down through the ages, every time some wise guy warned we were “about to run out of energy,” another busy innovator proved him wrong.

In the 1850s, it wasn’t hard to predict we were soon going to run out of whales to give us oil for our lamps. Then some guy in Pennsylvania demonstrated you could drill petroleum out of the ground. By the time anyone got around to warning we might run out of petroleum, other folks had figured out how to generate power from uranium. I’m not sure how many centuries worth of nuclear fuel we’ve got left, assuming we get better at reprocessing it. I do know we’ve got about three centuries worth of coal.

Allow mankind’s technology to continue to develop, and energy should only get cheaper and more plentiful as time goes by.

But I said we had a problem, as well as a challenge, and the problem is a burgeoning religious movement as suicidal as that of Jim Jones down in Guyana, except that this bunch wants to destroy not themselves but rather America’s entire technological civilization, as a milepost on the way to what they see as a “restored natural balance” in which the cancer known as humankind is cut back to a few tens of thousands of shivering half-naked savages huddling in caves.

And they call themselves “environmentalists.” Make no mistake, it is the excessive, anti-technology, “No-level-of-‘clean’-can-ever-be-‘clean’-enough” legislation and regulations of their design which are almost entirely responsible for today’s anomaly of energy appearing to be scarce and expensive.

Has evolution, ever in search of ferment, built a kind of self-destruct mechanism into human cultures, akin to that envisioned by Philip K. Dick for his androids, so that as soon as a civilization has defeated its external enemies — a world-dominating America by the late 20th century, say — its people race lemming-like to embrace some self-destructive superstitious ideology, like this bizarre notion that we must cripple our triumphant technology in search of perfect environmental “cleanliness”? After all, if we thus penalize ourselves in international competition, we’ll eventually be conquered, either economically or militarily, by smoke-gushing foreign barbarians with no such concerns, just as Rome and the Aztecs fell to small bands of bearded barbarians who sneered at the vast efforts poured into their gleaming temples.

I don’t know. Such speculations are, as Sen. Barack Obama says, “beyond my pay grade.”

Both major political parties now talk about not only an “energy crisis,” but also the need for a “national energy policy.”

Since they mean some scheme under which government bureaucrats would take over the production and rationing of energy, of course any such plan will be an expensive joke right up till it becomes a true disaster.

Bet let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we need a “national energy policy,” that our goal is to get Americans all the energy they need for continued unlimited economic growth, at rates at least 30 percent lower than they’re paying right now.

Here’s a very rough draft of a “national energy policy” that I submit might get us there:

Our air and water were plenty clean by 1988 — 20 years ago.

I remember the skies looking brown and orange in broad daylight over the steel-mill towns of the rust belt when I was a kid in the 1950s, just as I remember watching raw sewage floating down the river after the rains overflowed the primitive primary “sewage treatment” of 50-odd years ago. But that was all pretty well cleaned up by 1988. There were salmon in the rivers again, which were even safe for swimming.

So how about this? Congress declares an “energy national emergency,” and instructs the EPA to roll back pollution standards to those in effect in 1988 — limits on real pollution, mind you, sewage and toxic fumes and particulate soot, before anyone had dreamed up the fantasy of “man-made global warming” as an excuse to limit emissions of the harmless — actually, the necessary — gas known as carbon dioxide.

Congress declares those limits will be in effect for the next 20 years, during which they’re also placing a moratorium on the filing of any lawsuits by private parties seeking to use “federal environmental laws” to block the development of … well, anything.

Congress then declares it’s now national policy that private industry is requested and invited to build as many oil wells, refineries, pipelines, coal-fired power plants, nuclear plants — anything related to energy production, storage and distribution, anywhere, providing only that they do so without taxpayer handouts and in compliance with local zoning codes.

I say that’s a “national energy policy” that would allow resumed economic growth, and bring about an actual reduction in our power bills, in short order.

I also submit it’s not what either John McCain or Barack Obama is talking about, which brings us to our final and most important question:

Why not?

Vin Suprynowicz (vsuprynowicz@reviewjournal. com) is the assistant editor of the Review-Journal’s editorial page. and the author of “Send in the Waco Killers.”

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