Monday, September 08, 2008

Bilbo's Republicratic Party Platform, Plank #3: Energy Policy

Okay, we're on a roll here! My immigration reform plank was a general hit, and my income tax reform plank went over better than I had expected...a few comments of the "did you think about...?" sort, but no one coming right out and calling me a jerk. So far. So instead of quitting while I'm ahead, let's go on with the next part of my Reformed Republicratic Party Platform: Energy Policy.

Tax reform is difficult enough to think through, because there are so many vested interests that benefit from the current system in one way or another. The same applies to developing an energy policy, except that it's almost worse: our current approach to energy combines the worst features of tax policy, agriculture policy, housing policy, foreign policy, environmental policy, the oil industry, the nuclear industry, vast swarms of lawyers and pundits, and probably several others I've forgotten. If the country needs a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose, it needs a comprehensive energy policy at least as badly.

Here's mine...

1. Immediately Start Up Manhattan Project 2 to Develop Safe, Reliable, Renewable Alternative Energy Sources. During the darkest days of World War II, when victory against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was not yet a foregone conclusion, President Roosevelt authorized the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. It was the most expensive crash program in American history, harnessing the efforts of the nation's finest scientists in a money-is-no-object effort to develop the ultimate weapon to defeat the ultimate evil. Today, we need a new Manhattan Project to break our reliance on fossil fuels. This effort would be funded by a tax on oil company profits, a small tax on gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles, and a small parallel tax on gasoline at the retail level (not more than 2 cents/gallon).

2. Open the Yucca Mountain Repository for the Safe Storage of Nuclear Waste, and Do Not License Any New Nuclear Plants Until It Is In Operation. Nuclear energy is often touted as an environmentally safe, clean source of energy, and it is...for the short term. The elephant in the nuclear room that no one in the industry wants to discuss is that nuclear power generation produces radioactive waste, much of which will be deadly for tens of thousands of years (see my earlier post "Don't Dig Here"). If we are going to rely on nuclear power, we must accept the risks inherent in its waste, and must have a secure, remote place to store it that's as safe as we can make it. Yucca Mountain is probably the best place.

3. Shift Ethanol Production From Corn to the Use of Other Agricultural Waste Products. If ethanol continues to be used as a component of gasoline, it should be made from products other than corn. Reliance on corn distorts agricultural prices and policies and eats up valuable land that could be used for growing wheat and other staple products.

4. Require That All New Construction Employ Environmental Principles. "Green" construction techniques and building features will help save energy both in construction and throughout the life of the structure. Built-in solar panels in areas with abundant sun or geothermal units in geologically active areas, "green roofs" for insulation (and gardening), and a return to the use of natural construction materials instead of plastics will all help to conserve energy by minimizing the need for electricity and relying on renewable natural energy sources.

5. Ban the Manufacture and Use of Non-Biodegradable Plastics for Packaging. There are vast islands of floating plastic bags in the oceans, hazardous to fish and plant life and not going away in our lifetimes. Landfills are choked with plastic trash. We need to get away from the use of such materials now. Many stores are offering reusable bags; this should be made mandatory, as should the use of biodegradable products for packaging of all types.

6. Invest in the Nation's Rail Network. Railroads can move vast amounts of cargo over long distances at cheap rates while using less energy than long-haul trucks. Modernize and expand the nation's rail system for both passengers (in high-traffic areas like the East Coast corridor) and for cargo (nationwide).

7. Encourage Expansion and Use of Mass Transit in Major Metropolitan Areas. Buses, light rail networks, and similar mass transit methods save energy while moving large numbers of people. Encourage use of mass transit by expanding networks to serve larger areas and by limiting the ability to drive in urban areas (for instance, by reducing availability of parking).

That's the basics of my energy policy. Take your best shot. But if you don't like it, don't just say it won't work...propose something better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

Did I miss it? Other than point 1 about Manhattan Project 2, I don't see how this will be funded. Can't revitalize the rail system without completely overhauling the rail road bed in many parts of the country, particularly the eastern half. Similarly, improving mass transit in metropolitan areas will also cost--a lot.

That's the main thing I see missing--how all this will be funded. As painful as it will be, I'd say it should be funded by taxes on gasoline at the pump (and more than your 2 cents in number 1) and by cutting farm subsidies. But there are probably better ideas from someone more thoughtful and more awake.

And what about drilling in Alaska? Yay or Nay?

Alex said...

Alternative power sources. So while we're waiting for cold fusion (or the next miracle) to be developed by this crash coursing money-is-no-object (via $0.02/gallon funded) team, use what? today's power sources? invest in additional nuclear plants?

More curiosity from me more than anything else.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - You're right about the cost of revitalizing railroads and mass transit. The tax on gasoline, however unpopular, will probably be the way to go, and the elimination of farm subsidies - especially for corn - will also provide some extra funds. In the last analysis, though, much of the funding for local mass transit will have to be through local revenues and painful reallocations of limited funds. Every solution to this problem will be painful in the short run, and that's always been our problem - nobody is willing to sacrifice now for the later improvement, and none of our "leaders" is out front explaining why it's necessary. As for the drilling in Alaska, I deliberately didn't mention it because I think it would be used simply as a way of delaying other, more pressing decisions. As much as I love Alaska (having toured there and seen the sort of governors they grow, heh, heh), I think we will have to drill in the ANWR sooner or later. And in other offshore areas, too. But like I said, reliance on that drilling will just postpone the inevitable.

Alex - the short-term solution will be to maximize use of the sources we have. We can drill in previously-protected areas (but see my comment to Katherine above for my thoughts on that), and we can certainly build new nuclear plants (although any new ones won't come on line for quite a few years, and we still need to come to grips with the nuclear waste storage/disposal issue). Autos need to be made more fuel efficient and we need to make more use of the alternative sources (solar, wind, geothermal, etc) that we already have. The problem will only get worse the longer we delay. We need leaders with the cojones (or the female equivalent) to talk straight to the American people and provide the leadership to get on with it.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

When is your Party Convention?

Harold Asmis said...

This is great series! You are much more grumpy than me, and I'm Canadian, so I don't give a shit about all this.

Energy policy combines with your tax policy. Do you have enough revenue to fund all this? I suppose your foreign policy is next, and your take on free trade.

lacegem said...

In a picture perfect world your ideas are commendable. I wonder if any of our politicians are willing to take on that challenge to make our country better? I mostly agree with your ideas. I just want to tack on a few things.
1.) Let's do it! Emphasis on safe,relaible energy sources. Will the oil cos etc agree to the taxes that you propose?
2.) Yucca Mountain, sounds safe. Is it big enough to hold other nuclear waste in the near future?
3.) Totally, agree! We've seen the results a few mos back when they tried to use corn as an alternative.
4.) 100% agree. Can we reinforce this by giving a considerable tax breaks to those who decide to go green?
5.) Yes, say no to non-biodegradable waste, like plastic,glass, metal, & toxic chemicals. We need to limit the use of them & offer safe alternatives. RECYCLE.
6.) Need gobs of manual labor. This is where your immigration reform will come in.
7.) Love it! This sends a strong signal to the GAS & CAR cos that we can manage.

KKTSews said...

Bilbo, At the local level they will NEVER have the cojones to push for and pay for mass transit. I live in Columbus OH and they've been trying to push through (from govt) a local light rail for the 7 years I've been here, with little support. The bus service is horrid to non-existent, and yet no one can stomach the bill. Pushing transit will have to be significantly funded by federal funds or incentives to make this work. Local politicians have too much to lose and too hard of a time getting elected (it isn't prohibitively expensive to run for local office the way it is for national offices) to reallocate the kind of pain needed to fund from-scratch new local mass transit.

I think you're going to have to substantially raise the gas tax to fund both this and #6. I agree it should be done, but may be even harder than the other items on your list.

Bilbo said...

Jean-Luc - no convention. Too expensive.

Harold - welcome! Glad to have you and hear your comments.

lacegem - it sounds like we're in violent agreement for the most part. Is Yucca Mountain big enough for the long term? I hope.

Katherine - I agree with you on the difficulty in funding mass transit, and also agree that I probably grossly underestimated the size of the gasoline tax needed. Nevertheless, the gas tax proposal is a must-do at some level of pain if we're ever going to do this right. Thanks, as always, for your comments.