Column: Candidates Lacking Clear Energy Policies

This story was written by Dan Camarda, The Pitt News


Recently, I sat watching an episode of the first season of HBO's "The Sopranos." I noticed that in the introduction, filmed around 1999, there was a quick shot of a gasoline station sign. Realizing that today's price per barrel of oil is upward of $120, I decided to pause the DVD to see just how far the price per gallon of gas has risen in less than a decade. When I saw it was $0.98 a gallon, all I could do was laugh.

Of late, reports of global warming and the effects of climate change have dominated the debate about energy policy. While these are extremely important issues that need to be addressed, the United States is facing a more immediate crisis: peak oil. Reports of peak oil, when maximum global oil production is reached, have been around since 1956, when geologist M. King Hubbert completed his research detailing the dwindling supply of oil. Speculation that we're at peak oil is a major reason why today's price per barrel is beyond $120.

Assuming this speculation is accurate, and the global supply of oil is running low, the United States is facing a crisis. Being in the middle of a heated presidential primary, one would expect vast and immediate solutions to what President George W. Bush in 2006 called the United States' "addiction to oil."

Yet in this 2008 primary season, energy policy has taken a backseat to issues like the economy and the War in Iraq. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have energy policies that focus on reducing oil importation 20 to 30 years from now. Both support further investment in ethanol and biodiesel. A recent analysis done by Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley concluded that ethanol and biodiesel do not provide the same amount of energy as is needed for their production. McCain joins their support of ethanol and biodiesel, stating in a 2007 speech that they are "promising and available alternatives to oil."

In order to find out about the candidates' respective plans, one has to go to their Web sites. Their stump speeches and television commercials talk more about creating jobs and lowering gas prices than they do about developing a lasting energy resource. On the Web sites, they offer summaries of their plans littered with expansive statements that are lofty and unlikely to pass through Congress.

For instance, on Clinton's Web site, she promises "a plan to catalyze a thriving green building industry by investing in green collar jobs and helping to modernize and retrofit 20 million low-income homes to make them more energy efficient" along with other promises to increase fuel efficiency and building federal buildings that are zero emission. But with relation to alternatives for oil, there is little to be found other than plans to invest in alternative fuel research. Obama makes similar promises, outlining ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions, invest in green technologies and provide incentives to purchase fuel-efficient cars. McCain has nothing on his Web site about energy policy, save a speech from 2007 in which he speaks broadly about the need to improve fuel standards, lower emissions and invest in green technologies.

What's lacking in all three of these candidates' campaigns is the proper framing of the oil problem in the United States. The consequences of peak oil are dire and preparation needs to commence now. Not only is there a need to develop "green buildings," but there is a need for a massive, national effort to create alternative power sources. Solar power, hydro-electric generation, geothermal programs and nuclear power are all currently possible. Nuclear power is perhaps the most realistic solution because of the available technology.

McCain and Obama touch on nuclear power briefly, but neither embraces it as a solution. Clinton refuses to consder nuclear power, and McCain and Obama shy away from speaking about it because common sense assumes people see nuclear power as too dangerous. That thought process is outdated, as shown by a 2007 Nuclear Energy Institute report that states that 79 percent of Americans believe it is "appropriate for the federal government to provide some financial assistance to jumpstart nuclear, solar, wind and other carbon-free energy technologies." Furthermore, the World Nuclear Association has reported that countries like France rely on nuclear power for 75 percent of their energy. The longer the United States waits to invest in nuclear energy, the less competitive it will become economically because of the high price of oil. Instead of nuclear power being a hallmark of an energy program, it's cast aside in favor of ethanol and other lackluster programs.

We should demand from our candidates a comprehensive, realistic energy plan before it's too late. We need to have foresight and plan for the inevitable life without oil.

E-mail Dan at dancamarda@gmail.com.
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