Senator Lamar Alexander spoke out this week on U.S. Energy issues and policies, and it's a fine example of "sound and fury signifying nothing". One East TN newspaper, The Daily Times thinks his ideas are sheer genius.
Sen. Alexander made his thoughts known on the floor of the Senate chamber, ideas he called "steps for Grown Ups". It's a mish-mash of nifty talking points, prompted by the massive destruction created by the BP oil gusher currently turning the Gulf of Mexico into a dead zone, and they really fall apart under scrutiny. (The Notes cited below are mine, not the Senators.)
1 - Figure out what went wrong and make it unlikely to happen again. We don’t stop flying after a terrible airplane crash, and we won’t stop drilling offshore after this terrible spill. Thirty percent of U.S. oil production (and 25 percent of natural gas) comes from thousands of active wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Without it, gasoline prices would skyrocket and we would depend more on tankers from the Middle East with worse safety records than American offshore drillers.
NOTE: Someone should notify the senator we know what went wrong in the BP disaster, as the company faked records detailing safety plans, moved too fast, and ignored warnings from workers on the rig itself. And those tanker spills He bemoans do not match the facts - "Thus, it is apparent from the table below that the number of large spills (>700 tonnes) has decreased significantly during the last 40 years, such that the average number of major spills for the decade (2000-2009) is about three. Most notably, for the first time since ITOPF began collating tanker spill statistics, the number of major oil spills involving tankers reached zero in 2009.
The average for the 2000s is less than half of the average for the 1990s and just an eighth of the average for the 1970s. The same is true for medium sized spills from tankers (7-700 tonnes) where the average number of spills occurring in the last decade was 14, half of that experienced during the previous decade."
2 - Learn a safety lesson from the U.S. nuclear industry: accountability. For 60 years, reactors on U.S. Navy ships have operated without killing one sailor. Why? The career of the ship’s commander can be ended by a mistake. (The number of deaths from nuclear accidents at U.S. commercial reactors is also zero.
NOTE: A reactor aboard a ships would never create the amount of destruction of a nuclear power plant on land. Plans now exist to start establishing seven floating nuke plants off Russian coastlines. Of course, I am sure their safety measures are beyond reproach (cough, cough).
3 - What was the president’s cleanup plan and where were the people and equipment to implement it? In 1990, after the Exxon Valdez spill, a new law required that the president “ensure” the cleanup of a spill and have the people and equipment to do it. President Obama effectively delegated this job to the spiller. Is that a president’s only real option today? If so, what should future presidents have on hand for backup if the spiller can’t perform?
NOTE: Senator, the real question for grown ups is what was BP's plan, where was their equipment? Should Americans expect the President, whomever that might be, to be the the point man on massive industrial disasters? What are the plans for ALL the corporations now engaged in offshore drilling to address disastrous events?
4 - Put back on the table more on-shore resources for oil and natural gas. Drilling in a few thousand acres along the edge of the 19-million-acre Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and at other on-shore locations would produce vast oil supplies. A spill on land could be contained much more easily than one mile deep in water.
NOTE: The Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill in Alaska in 2006 (an operation headed by BP, of course, took place despite 8 years of warnings. Press reports at the time said "another black eye to a firm that has fashioned an image as a responsible, environmentally concerned company, and it drew new criticism from pipeline experts and environmentalists who have been saying for years that the company had failed to do the maintenance needed to keep the pipeline free from sludge and protect it from corrosion in the harsh Alaska conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a criminal probe to determine whether the company was negligent in managing the pipeline, said sources who had talked to government investigators. However, then President Bush shut down the criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.
5. Electrify half our cars and trucks. This is ambitious, but is the best way to reduce U.S. oil consumption, cutting it by one-third, to about 13 million barrels a day. And a Brookings Institution study says we could electrify half our cars and trucks without building one new power plant if we plug in our cars at night.
6. Invest in energy research and development. A cost-competitive 500-mile battery would virtually guarantee electrification of half our cars and trucks. Reduce the cost of solar power by a factor of four. Find a way for utilities to make money from the CO2 their coal plants produce.
7. Stop pretending wind power has anything to do with reducing America’s dependence on oil. Windmills generate electricity — not transportation fuel. Wind has become the energy hula hoop of the 21st century and a taxpayer rip-off. According to the Energy Information Administration, wind produces only 1.3 percent of U.S. electricity but receives federal taxpayer subsidies 25 times as much per megawatt hour as subsidies for all other forms of electricity production combined. Wind can be an energy supplement, but it has nothing to do with ending our dependence on oil.
NOTE: I'll let The New Republic answer the senator on those topics -- " ... if half our cars are electric, then electricity would be transportation fuel. Still with me? No? Okay, I'll break it down. The wind would turn the windmills round and round. This would generate electricity, which would be sent to people's houses through wires. The electricity could then be used to run electric cars.
This is not the only problem with Alexander's piece. He outlines goals, like increasing conservation and electrifying half the automobile fleet -- but he has absolutely nothing about how to obtain these goals. His electric car plan is literally what you read above: "Electrify half our cars and trucks." Who would do this? How? He does not say. Cars and trucks run on gasoline because gasoline is the cheapest fuel available. If you wanted half the cars to run on electric power, you'd have to change this so that gasoline was no longer the cheapest fuel available. It could be a tax on carbon emissions, enormous subsidies for electric batteries, regulatory fiat, something. Likewise, if you want people to conserve energy, you need to increase the cost of using energy.
I'm not sure how you have a debate with people like this."
"What a great idea! Kevin Drum explained, "There's just gotta be something we can do with all that CO2! I dunno. Freeze it and sell it to Spinal Tap for their live shows? Mount a campaign to increase soda sales a hundred million percent? Build a time machine and then hire some alchemists to figure out how to turn it into liquid gold? Honest to God, where does this stuff come from?
Remember, Lamar Alexander is not only supposed to be one of the more responsible members of the Senate Republican caucus, but the piece was labeled, "An Energy Strategy for Grown-Ups."
Grown-ups who don't really understand energy policy and brush over inconvenient details, perhaps?"
8. If we need more green electricity, build nuclear plants. The 100 commercial nuclear plants we already have produce 70 percent of our pollution-free, carbon-free electricity. Yet the U.S. has not broken ground on a new reactor in 30 years, while China starts one every three months and France is 80 percent nuclear. We wouldn’t put our nuclear Navy in mothballs if we were going to war. We shouldn’t put our nuclear plants in mothballs if we want low-cost, reliable green energy.NOTE: I like how the senator says "IF we need more green electricity ..." which clearly shows he considers TVA customers as quaintly confused thinkers. Also, the massive costs of building new nuclear plans is so large, it would likely triple the rate of current U.S. utility rates. Which is simply more proof that Sen. Alexander's 'grown up' ideas are fine examples of meaningless blather. Honesty and tough decisions lay ahead of us, and the senator's suggestions offer no real solutions.
9. Focus on conservation. The Tennessee Valley Authority could close four of its dirtiest coal plants if the region reduced its per capita use of electricity to the national average.
NOTE: IN other words, it is YOUR fault, Tennessee, for needing electricity. And just what Mr. Senator have you done to address the horrible destruction from TVA in Roane County's toxic ash spill??
10. Make sure liability limits are appropriate for spill damage. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, funded by a per-barrel fee on industry, should be adjusted to pay for cleanup and to compensate those hurt by spills. An industry insurance program like that of the nuclear industry is also an attractive model to consider.