Thursday, September 08, 2016

Bilbo Pontificates on Energy, Transportation, and the Environment

Back in 2007 I wrote a post titled Thigh Bone's Connected to the Hip Bone, etc., in which I suggested that we as a nation were being pretty dumb by looking at all our problems in isolation rather than as part of an interconnected system in which responses to one issue have ramifications in other areas. That idea - my concept of government, society, law, and the economy as a system rather than a group of unconnected activities - underlies my thinking on virtually every discussion of the issues we face. In the last few posts, I've talked about approaches to immigration reform, foreign policy, tax reform, and the economy in ways that try to address how the solutions are all interconnected. Today, let's think about how energy, transportation, and environmental policies all fit together (and, of course, fit with all the others).

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 energy, transportation, and environmental policies, except that it's almost worse: our current slapdash approach 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 other comprehensive policies at least as badly.

Here are my thoughts ...

1. Immediately Start Up Manhattan Project II 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 as safe a place as we're likely to find on the earth.

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 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; their use 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). This will be very difficult, as we're a nation that loves its cars and the individual freedom and flexibility they offer ... but they turn open land into roads and parking lots, turn fossil fuels into carbon exhaust, and are a long-term threat to the environment.

That's the basics of my energy policy. Take your best shot. Some of my friends and commenters have already pointed out that everything on the list is going to be expensive and problematic in some way, but we need to do something. If you don't like my ideas, don't just say they won't work ... propose something better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we announce the Right-Cheek Ass Clown for September.



Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

The use of ethanol is widespread largely due to agriculture subsidies to serve the Midwest. The idea of a Manhattan Project 2.0 is a good one.

John Hill said...

Oh. sure! Throw this little bit in at the end --
" If you don't like my ideas, don't just say they won't work ... propose something better."

If Congress can not like something without having a better idea, why can't I?
Are you trying to deny me my First Amendment rights?

Just kidding, Bill.
Sounds like a well thought out plan.

Mike said...

1. I remember seeing several articles a few years back about less dangerous nuclear power plants. The fuel was not as 'hot' as today's plants. .... OK I looked them up. Pebble bed reactors. Here's an article from 2009.

Duckbutt said...

Banning non-degradable plastic products for packaging is a good idea. They have no potential for recycling.