I love reading about energy policy. In my opinion, it is the most impactful issue across the globe. Unfortunately, politicians often describe energy policy with mind-numbingly vague talking points. What do the current president and presidential candidates have to say about energy?
A buzz phrase for politicians when they talk about energy is an “all of the above” approach energy policy; "all" oftentimes referring to fossil fuels, nuclear and all renewable energies. President Obama presented an energy plan with a similar title in his 2014 report, "The All-of-the-above Energy Strategy as a Path to Sustainable Economic Growth."
I think “all of the above” just means, “I don’t want to hurt a single lobbyist’s feelings.” Energy policy should have a goal of making our country better, not giving participation badges to all the energy special interest groups.
In the 2014 report, there are lots of rosy examples of how the U.S. is on the right track to a wonderful energy future. However, we aren’t doing enough yet. We can be the global energy pioneers.
Simply finding and using more energy doesn’t address the key issue of conservation. President Obama’s energy report shows examples of how we are becoming more energy efficient as a country, but it isn’t the thesis. We don’t need to use as much energy as we do to live our lives and increase our gross domestic product. However, a phrase like, “we should use less of everything,” probably wouldn’t invoke a great reaction from the general public. “All of the above” implies that grabbing more energy wherever we can find it will solve our problems.
Looking to the future, where do the current presidential candidates stand? Here are a few quotes from current presidential candidates, without the names of the person who said them.
“We should let market forces, not crony capitalism, decide where to invest and how to incentivize citizens to conserve.”
“After the 9/11 crisis, if the president had seized the moment and declared that we would become petroleum independent within the next 10 years, business, industry, academia, and everyone else would have been foursquare behind him, and we would have been much further ahead in the fight against terrorism than we are today.”
“Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.”
“Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.”
“Nine countries that are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where they have agreed to certain rules that I believe OPEC by definition violates. Also, we have never used antitrust laws in our country to really go at the heart of what is a monopoly cartel.”
“Until we get this country’s lifeblood — oil — back down to reasonable rates, America’s economy will continue to slump, jobs won't get created, and American consumers will face ever-increasing prices.”
“Convert state government vehicles into a high fuel efficiency fleet.”
Do you agree or disagree with these statements? See if the candidates you like have the same outlook as you by going to their websites and looking for their energy policy. If they don’t have an energy policy with specific details, they should. Maybe you will even get to meet one of these candidates near your hometown on the campaign trail. Ask them directly what they plan to do for energy. The more people who are asking about energy, hopefully, the more important it will become to candidates.
Where could we go from here with our energy policy? If I won the Powerball, were 35, and had the desire to have the national media scour through my personal life, I would run for president. Here are a few policy points that I would advocate for.
“Less energy, more efficiency,” not “all of the above”
If we could use half the energy we use now to double our GDP, we would be in great shape. “All of the above” seems gluttonous to me. We shouldn’t aim to use as much energy as we can as fast as we can.
Get politics out of energy
No endless federal energy subsidies. Solar, oil, natural gas, wind and everything else should all compete on the open market. No rebates and no sweetheart tax breaks. Take the money that we spend on the current energy incentives and put it into one Department of Energy fund.
Any person or company can apply for a grant to research and develop some new energy. If in one calendar year they can show that their energy is viable, possible to scale up to industrial size, less expensive than the regional average cost per unit of energy, and is not something that causes birth defects or health problems, they can continue to get funding for their research. If they can’t meet those criteria, they have to try something else or fund it with private money.
Natural gas is our best current transition fuel, not our destination
However, we need to make sure fracking for natural gas on U.S. soil is safe. To do that, the CEOs of fracking companies should be required to drink the local water near their fracking sites exclusively. If their processes taint the well, they should feel the effects of bad water along with the locals. If their process works great: free water!
Coal isn’t clean
Carbon capture still doesn’t work on a large enough scale, and it is expensive. I’m also skeptical that pumping coal power plant fumes underground isn’t going to create other problems. Just because we have a lot of it doesn’t mean we have to use it.
Keystone XL happening or not happening is not an energy policy
The pipeline discussions have gone on way too long. It is such a small piece of our overall energy policy that it doesn’t merit as much time as we have already spent discussing it.
It could become a top priority again when the cost goes down, and it is safe from natural disasters and potential terrorism strikes. We are one major breakthrough from nuclear becoming our best transition or long-term energy again. But, until we figure out how to make generation IV or V reactors work, nuclear has the biggest upside of any stock limited resource.
Solar, wind, wave and geo
They may be the only reliable options we have 100 years from now. We shouldn’t wait until then to make them the backbone of our economy. Every day we diminish the amount of fossil fuels we have left buried in the ground on Earth. Renewables aren’t limited in supplies, just in our ability to harness them. They also don’t have to be piped, shipped, or hauled by trains all over the world.
Max Rohr has worked in the hydronics and solar industry for 10 years in the installation, sales and marketing sectors. Rohr is a LEED Green Associate and is Radiant Professional Alliance’s (RPA) Education Committee chairman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @maxjrohr.com.