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  US Energy Policy: The Devil Is in the Details

ECONOMIC ANALYSIS:

US Energy Policy: The Devil Is in the Details

by Fred Cederholm

example refinery
We can’t process/refine the oil that we already have. We haven’t opened a new refinery capable of processing 200,000 barrels per day in almost 25 years.
I’ve been thinking about energy. Actually I’ve been thinking about Jimmy Carter, national policy, Alaska, Yucca Mountain, base recycling, and legacies. In a speech given on April 18th, 1977, then-President Carter identified the crisis we now face. His ten points of actions/considerations are just as relevant (if not more so) today, but few if any were implemented.

You see, even though 28+ years have transpired, this nation still lacks a comprehensive national energy policy. While President Bush has identified it as a priority of his second term, so too had Carter, but not much materialized. Carter’s Middle Eastern triumph of Camp David was more than eclipsed by the gas rationing/lines when Uncle $ugar domestically produced 70% of our energy needs and 30% was imported, and America was held hostage in Iran. What could/should we expect now that those percentages are reversed, and America is held hostage in Iraq?

There are rumblings from Capitol Hill and the Rose Garden that there must be action on an energy plan before this Congress returns home for the July recess, but I fear there will be little substance and any action will be far from comprehensive. At the least we can expect a rubber-stamping/lip service to the Bush proposals that have surfaced thus far. Remember: a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and the devil is always in the details.

This nation has an untapped/non-accessed repository of natural resources--oil, gas, coal, oil shale, timber and minerals. Many rest undisturbed on Federal lands protected by Executive Orders of numerous Presidents. But... what one presidential order has "protected," a later one can place on the auction block. In responding to why he had so acted on another (unrelated to energy) matter, Lyndon Johnson responded " Because I’m the President, and I can!"

There's still an oil glut from Prudhoe Bay, but there's no ready infrastructure to share it with the Heartland, East, and South.

Months back, we learned how Bush intends to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy exploration. We’re told the oil and gas are there, and we need them. Will its implementation (which is years away) solve our problems? And while we're thinking about that, we need to ask if the proposed pipeline(s) to the "lower 48" will pass through recently hyperactive earthquake sectors of South and Central Alaska.

Consider this: We can’t process/refine the oil that we already have! Since 1981, US refineries have decreased from 324 to 153--a reduction of 52%. We haven’t opened a new refinery capable of processing 200,000 barrels per day in almost 25 years. There's still an oil glut from Prudhoe Bay, but there's no ready infrastructure to share it with the Heartland, East, and South.

The President has suggested increasing our nuclear power generating capabilities. My electricity comes from a nuclear plant less than 30 miles from my home. There are presently 103 such plants operating in the continental US (11 in Illinois alone). The problem with such generation rests with what to do with the radioactive by-products/waste. The promised national storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been debated for almost two decades. Despite what has already been done/spent, it would be 2010 (at the earliest) before it could accept any such multi-millennial refuse. Radioactive materials are now "temporarily" stored at the 103 reactor sites. Add to those the "temporary" storage locations for similar materials from labs, medical facilities, and military sites... the solution to the radioactive pollution of these hazardous materials is NOT dilution. We need the national storage sitefirst.

Bush and VP Cheney have a unique opportunity to build a lasting legacy of energy security for the US. No predecessors shared their first-hand knowledge of (and connections to) the energy industry.

Also on the table: Recycling closed military facilities for "energy independence" and using them for additional refineries, liquid natural gas (LNG) portals, and nuclear power facilities. The conversion of such Federal sites will surely cut through a lot of red tape. But... who will hold title to the real estate? What price would be paid? Would Federal exemption from property tax levies flow to the new occupants, thereby costing local government units (and schools) millions in foregone tax revenues?

President Bush and VP Cheney have a unique opportunity here for building a lasting legacy. No predecessors shared their first-hand knowledge of (and connections to) the energy industry. Will the American people be the beneficiaries this time, or will this prove yet another twisted opportunity in Uncle $ugar’s long history of rewarding insiders, friends, and contributors in our times of need?

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.





Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on June 16, 2005.

 
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