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Monday, October 27, 2008

Examining the Republican Platform Part V: “Energy Independence and Security” and “Environmental Protection”

This is continued from Parts I-IV of my examination of the Republican Platform. I have hope the next examination will go up by the end of the night.

Considering that so far, I have by and large agreed more often with the Democrats than I have with the Republicans, and I started this project (which by the way, is dominating the run-up to the election more than I ever had in mind and proven to be a lot less fun) last Monday with the Democratic Platform before launching into the Republican plan, you may be wondering why I'm letting the Republicans take the lead and reach Part V first. The short answer is that the Republican platform has struck my fancy more.

The long answer is that Part IV, "Energy Independence and Security", touches on my single-issue topic, the one I expounded on so much at length, that of the concerns raised by global climate change. But right off the bat, Danger, Will Robinson! This part is so short that I can conceivably throw in a second part to fill out the space. The Republicans do give an entire part to the issue of energy, a bit more than the Democrats, but the Republicans also have more parts (we're only halfway through and the Republicans are already passing the number of parts the Democrats have in their entire platform). Any concerns I might have over the Republicans' commitment to climate change are seemingly validated when they devote all of two pages to the following part on the environment. On the plus side, we've only got four more parts or so to go after this (we passed the halfway mark last part), so we're fast approaching the end!

It's been a long time since I properly quoted a section introduction to see how it addresses its own goals:
All Americans are acutely aware of the energy crisis our nation faces.  Energy costs are spiraling upward, food prices continue to rise, and as a result, our entire economy suffers.  This winter, families will spend for heat what they could have saved for college, and small businesses will spend for fuel what could have covered employee health insurance.
Our current dependence on foreign fossil fuels threatens both our national security and our economy and could also force drastic changes in the way we live.  The ongoing transfer of Americans' wealth to OPEC – roughly $700 billion a year – helps underwrite terrorists' operations and creates little incentive for repressive regimes to accept democracy, whether in the Middle East or Latin America.
It didn't have to be this way, and it must not stay this way.  Our nation must have a robust energy supply because energy drives prosperity and increases opportunity for every American.  We reject the idea that America cannot overcome its energy challenges – or that high gasoline prices are okay, as long as they are phased in gradually. We reject half-measures and believe "No, we can't" is not a viable energy policy.
Together we can build a future around domestic energy sources that are diverse, reliable, and cleaner.  We can strengthen our national security, create a pathway to growing prosperity, and preserve our environment.  The American people will rise to this challenge.
Hmm, "no we can't"? I smell a not-so-subtle dig at Obama there! Who's positing the idea that "America cannot overcome its energy challenges"? What do you mean by "high gasoline prices are okay, as long as they are phased in gradually", what's that referring to? Of course I don't want to see any "half-measures" with the stakes as high as they are!

"Growing Our Energy Supply":

We must aggressively increase our nation's energy supply, in an environmentally responsible way, and do so through a comprehensive strategy that meets both short and long term needs.  No amount of wishing or hoping can suspend the laws of supply and demand.  Leading economists agree that any actions that will increase future energy supplies will lead to lower energy prices today.  Increasing our production of American made energy and reducing our excessive reliance on foreign oil will:
  • Bring down the high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • Create more jobs for American workers.
  • Enhance our national security.
In the long run, American production should move to zero-emission sources, and our nation's fossil fuel resources are the bridge to that emissions-free future.
All good points. Some notes. Hand-in-hand with focusing too much on reducing our dependence on foreign oil, instead of what's best for reversing climate change, is focusing too much on gas prices. Gas prices should be made irrelevant, not necessarily lowered. From what I've heard, there isn't enough oil offshore to make much of a dent in gas prices, now or later. Agree that "American production should move to zero-emission sources" – as soon as possible. Using "our nation's fossil fuel resources" as "the bridge" is pretty much unacceptable, because it continues reliance on the major source of greenhouse gases.

"Growing American Energy Production": As Sarah Palin would say, drill, baby, drill! Drill everywhere, from the oceans to the mountains to the valleys white with foam! "To deliver that energy to American consumers, we will expand our refining capacity. Because of environmental extremism and regulatory blockades in Washington, not a single new refinery has been built in this country in 30 years.  We will encourage refinery construction and modernization and, with sensitivity to environmental concerns, an expedited permitting process." Which is a good thing if you're going to drill for all that oil, but we should be getting away from oil! And the Democrats say "we can't drill our way to energy independence". "Any legislation to increase domestic exploration, drilling and production must minimize any protracted legal challenges that could unreasonably delay or even preclude actual production.  We oppose any efforts that would permanently block access to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." As long as legitimate legal concerns aren't railroaded past and the ecological concerns with drilling in ANWR are addressed.

"Nuclear Power: the Earth's Clean Future":
Nuclear energy is the most reliable zero-carbon-emissions source of energy that we have.  Unwarranted fear mongering with no relationship to current technologies and safeguards has prevented us from starting construction of a single nuclear power plant in 31 years.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has for decades relied upon nuclear-powered vessels, and other nations have harnessed nuclear power to provide a major portion of their energy consumption.  There is no reason why the United States cannot catch up and do the same.  Confident in the promise offered by science and technology, Republicans will pursue dramatic increases in the use of all forms of safe, affordable, reliable – and clean – nuclear power.
I try to represent a typical, uncommitted American's perspective in these examinations, and I'm not sure I've succeeded. So I'm tempted to say this is mostly bull-bleep. But instead I'll list the concerns I had earlier – waste needs to be disposed of for many thousands of years, nuclear reprocessing is currently laden with problems, you need to secure the uranium so it doesn't get into the wrong hands, it still produces at least some greenhouse gases, it's not entirely renewable, etc. That's entirely apart from the Three Mile Island-type incidents you probably have in mind. Just because "other nations" do it doesn't mean we should – right, "control-the-UN-and-go-in-unilaterally-if-everyone-thinks-we-suck" GOP? Don't just talk about "unwarranted fear mongering", to some extent it's very much warranted, address these concerns. With a substantial rollout solar power is already ready to meet most of our energy needs with few or no side effects. How is it less reliable? "The labor force will expand, with nearly 15,000 high quality jobs created for every new nuclear plant built – and those workers will lead the nation away from its dependence on foreign oil." They will need a lot of education, even the construction workers, and I see no commitment to that.

"Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydropower": In other words, "oh, here are these other sources of energy as well."
Alternate power sources must enter the mainstream. The technology behind solar energy has improved significantly in recent years, and the commercial development of wind power promises major benefits both in costs and in environmental protection.  Republicans support these and other alternative energy sources, including geothermal and hydropower, and anticipate technological developments that will increase their economic viability.  We therefore advocate a long-term energy tax credit equally applicable to all renewable power sources.
Well, you're playing my song, and you at least talk about a form of energy tangential to wave or tidal power, but you also bring up geothermal like the Democrats. The Dems don't say directly how they would support alternative energies but they seem to imply a direct giveaway. I'm thinking a modern TVA may be in order. "Republicans support measures to modernize the nation's electricity grid to provide American consumers and businesses with more affordable, reliable power" – hear hear, but I don't think you're committing to it as heavily as the Democrats. "We will work to unleash innovation so entrepreneurs can develop technologies for a more advanced and robust United States transmission system that meets our growing energy demands." Sounds like building a bigger patchwork system of different standards from different companies. But beyond that little "privatize everything" point, sounds good.

"Clean Coal":
Although alternate fuels will shape our energy future, coal – America's most affordable and abundant energy resource and the source of most of our electricity – remains a strategic national resource that must play a major role in energy independence.  We look to innovative technology to transform America's coal supplies into clean fuels capable of powering motor vehicles and aircraft.  We support coal-to-liquid and gasification initiatives, just as we support investment in the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, which can reduce emissions.  We firmly oppose efforts by Democrats to block the construction of new coal-fired power plants. No strategy for reducing energy costs will be viable without a commitment to continued coal production and utilization.
Ah, the "clean coal" scam. I already linked to environmentalists' critiques of it. It's far safer, and possibly less expensive, to invest in technologies for which "carbon capture" isn't needed. Power our cars and airplanes with coal?!? Sequestering carbon is obviously impractical; how the hell are you ever going to clean up coal enough to serve as automobile fuel suitable for use in our cities, even with "coal-to-liquid" technology?!? You're going to need to do a lot of "carbon capture" with how much CO2 "coal-to-liquid" can produce. Of all the things you could have proposed to power our cars, you go with coal?!?

"Natural Gas": "Natural gas is plentiful in North America, but we can extract more and do a better job of distributing it nationwide to cook our food, heat our homes, and serve as a growing option as a transportation fuel.  Both independently and in cooperation with alternative fuels, natural gas will be an essential part of any long-term energy solution. We must ensure it gets to consumers safely and quickly." It's still a fossil fuel and it still pollutes, not to mention it leaks methane in transport, which is significantly more of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. No direct mention of taking care of that little problem.

"Energy Cooperation": "We embrace the open energy cooperation and trading relationship with our neighbors Canada and Mexico, including proven oil reserves and vast, untapped Canadian hydroelectric generation." Certainly sounds good; the "proven oil reserves" we shouldn't be in too much of a rush to exploit, the "vast, untapped Canadian hydroelectric generation" we should, with some consciousness of the ecological impacts of dams. I don't believe this is mentioned in the Democrats' plan.

"Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels": Now this is getting into my wheelhouse! "While we grow our supplies, we must also reduce our demand – not by changing our lifestyles but by putting the free market to work and taking advantage of technological breakthroughs." Do those "technological breakthroughs" refer to those advances in solar and wind technology? "Increase Conservation through Greater Efficiency":
Conservation does not mean deprivation; it means efficiency and achieving more with less.   Most Americans today endeavor to conserve fossil fuels, whether in their cars or in their home heating, but we can do better.  We can construct better and smarter buildings, use smarter thermostats and transmission grids, increase recycling, and make energy-efficient consumer purchases.  Wireless communications, for example, can increase telecommuting options and cut back on business travel.  The Republican goal is to ensure that Americans have more conservation options that will enable them to make the best choices for their families.
Those are all important goals, some of which I mentioned in my earlier discussion. "New Technologies for Cars and Other Vehicles":
We must continue to develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels, especially cellulosic ethanol, and hasten their technological advances to next-generation production.  As America develops energy technology for the 21st century, policy makers must consider the burden that rising food prices and energy costs create for the poor and developing nations around the world.  Because alternative fuels are useless if vehicles cannot use them, we must move quickly to flexible fuel vehicles; we cannot expect necessary investments in alternative fuels if this flexibility does not become standard.  We must also produce more vehicles that operate on electricity and natural gas, both to reduce demand for oil and to cut CO2 emissions.
More pushing "cellulosic ethanol" like the Democrats, while giving a shout-out to "rising food prices", without addressing the land use constraints of any plant-based fuel. The shout-out to electric vehicles is something I absolutely love; the shout-out to nat-gas less so, and no mention of mass transit. In retrospect, I should have been able to tell from the introductory paragraph that the Republicans would focus way too much on reducing our dependence on foreign oil, not on climate change, and "half-measures" like "clean coal" suggest a deceptive edge to those remarks.

We move on to Part V, "Environmental Protection", and see what happens when the Republicans get into the core of my wheelhouse. They start by only talking about "increasing our American energy supply and decreasing the long term demand for oil", not decreasing the short term demand for oil like might be necessary. Still, a good start.

"Addressing Climate Change Responsibly":
The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.  While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment.  Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.  Any policies should be global in nature, based on sound science and technology, and should not harm the economy.
(Thinking about it, deciding not to say anything about the "ongoing scientific research" comment.) Everything sounds good to this point. I might say that a short-term economic hit is OK when you consider the long-term consequences, but green investment right now could actually help the economy anyway.

"The Solution: Technology and the Market": Other than "privatization", this is the Republicans' other favorite buzzword: the "free market". They believe technology and the "free market" will "decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy." Eee...eee. Not sure what to think of that line "maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy". That might indicate they secretly want to keep climate change going. It certainly suggests they don't take it very seriously. The last two points, though, are important when you combine how urgent the problem is and how little confidence world leaders have inspired in most environmentalists.

"To reduce emissions in the short run, we will rely upon the power of new technologies, as discussed above, especially zero-emission energy sources such as nuclear and other alternate power sources." Still pushing nuclear power as the panacea. "But innovation must not be hamstrung by Washington bickering, regulatory briar patches, or obstructionist lawsuits.  Empowering Washington will only lead to unintended consequences and unimagined economic and environmental pain; instead, we must unleash the power of scientific know-how and competitive markets." Using climate change to hammer your typical drumbeat: "Don't let Washington do it." "Use the market." I think I've grown numb to this sort of drumbeat.

"International Cooperation": "Because the issue of climate change is global, it must become a truly global concern as well. All developed and developing economies, particularly India and China, can make significant contributions in dealing with the matter.  It would be unrealistic and counterproductive to expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all." Agreed in basics, but like I said in my earlier posts on climate change, there is no such thing as doing too much. It may be "unrealistic and counterproductive" for "the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared", but it's imperative that it carry as much burden as it can, and so must everyone else, and the developed nations should help the developing ones by providing them with the technology they need. Bickering about "who should shoulder more burden" as the Republicans hint at here misses the larger point.

"Using Cash Rewards to Encourage Innovation": "Because Republicans believe that solutions to the risk of global climate change will be found in the ingenuity of the American people, we propose a Climate Prize for scientists who solve the challenges of climate change.  Honoraria of many millions of dollars would be a small price for technological developments that eliminate our need for gas-powered cars or abate atmospheric carbon." Sounds like a great idea. Something about the title turns me off, though.

"Doing No Harm": From the very first sentence, I become very disappointed. "Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by the aficionados of centralized command-and-control government.  We can – and should– address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly." Unfortunately, those "doomsday scenarios" are rather plausible, and possibly disturbingly close. Given the other terms in the second sentence, I suspect "situations to be managed responsibly" is an euphemism for something else. I may be almost as extreme as they come about climate change but I don't consider myself a "no-growth" kind of guy; it's precisely because I think we can and should grow as we go green that I'm such a big backer of transit. I don't even have any idea where this comes from or how anything I suggested in my earlier global warming series would be "no-growth".
A robust economy will be essential to dealing with the risk of climate change, and we will insist on reasonable policies that do not force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children.  This perspective serves not only the people of the United States but also the world's poorest peoples, who would suffer terribly if climate change is severe – just as they would if the world economy itself were to be crippled.  We must not allow either outcome.
If it were to turn out that no matter what efficiency and renewability gains we achieved, there was no way the average American's way of life could be sustained, would you be willing to sacrifice this plank, or would you rather sacrifice the Earth? I think for the most part, the suggestions I proposed largely preserve most Americans' way of life. The major two exceptions are home heating and my backing of mass transit, but in the case of the former the Republicans themselves called for building "better and smarter buildings", and for the latter I know there are some people who would think that would be an improvement in people's quality of life. (Regardless, if you're not hep to transit you still have the electric car.) I don't think that living a little cooler, or cutting back on barbeques, exactly constitute "trim[ming our] hopes and dreams for [our] children". I've elided the impact climate change would have to direct industrial applications, such as the use of gas flames as a source of heat in reactions, but I suspect we can find non-polluting (or less-polluting) ways to achieve the same goals with little negative impact to the economy. I'm not a "no-growth radical", I tried in my climate change recommendations to preserve as much of our way of life as we can while dramatically slicing emissions (I even gave up on a couple of non-fossil fuel fronts), and I encourage you to read them. I don't disagree with the sentiment, but I do suspect it's an euphemism for "let's do as little as possible".

"Continuing Our Stewardship over the Environment":
The Republican perspective on the environment is in keeping with our longstanding appreciation for nature and gratitude for the bounty the Almighty has bestowed upon the American people.  It was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who said, "The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others."  We agree.  Whether through family vacations, hunting or fishing trips, backpacking excursions, or weekend hikes, Americans of all backgrounds share a commitment to protecting the environment and the opportunities it offers.  In addition, the public should have access to public lands for recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, and fishing.
Thanks for trivializing the issue. So what's your stand on motorcycles or snowmobiles in public lands? Time to beat the "privatization" drumbeat again: "In caring for the land and water, private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the world's worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under governmental control.  By the same token, it is no accident that the most economically advanced countries also have the strongest environmental protections." Wait, what? Did you just undermine the point of the first sentence by implicitly backing "environmental protections"? That's like the Democrats saying "Social Security is not in crisis" where I'm not sure that's what you meant to say, except I'm not sure this is as simple as a one-word typo.

The next paragraph begins by praising "[o]ur national progress toward cleaner air and water" through "balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation". "State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites – brownfields – have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multi-use approach to resources." Sounds good.
Government at all levels should protect private property rights by cooperating with landowners' efforts and providing incentives to protect fragile environments, endangered species, and maintain the natural beauty of America.  Republican leadership has led to the rejuvenation and renewal of our National Park system.  Future expansion of that system, as well as designation of National Wilderness areas or Historic Districts, should be undertaken only with the active participation and consent of relevant state and local governments and private property owners.
First two sentences sound well and good. The last sentence also sounds reasonable but could be disagreed with; we need to make sure private property owners don't impose unreasonable demands on everyone.

But by and large, I am incredibly disappointed. Virtually everything I disagreed with in the Democratic platform, the Republicans have as well if not worse. Mixing up goals? The Republicans have that in spades. Geothermal and the "clean coal" scam? The Republicans name-dropped geothermal along with solar and wind, much like the Democrats, and devoted a whole paragraph to "clean coal"! Using cap-and-trade to fund renewable investment? The Republicans don't propose anything specific to discourage emissions. Weaning us off cars entirely? The Republicans, if anything, give even less sign they're ready to do that than Democrats do. Only a quarter of our energy from renewable sources by 2025? Republicans don't give any firm target at all and the word "renewable" only appears once in either part. Doubts about cellulosic ethanol? The Republicans are plugging it as well. The Democrats aren't even finished with dealing with energy and climate change, and I've finished covering the Republicans' entire plan in one part – in fact, had I stopped before this paragraph I would have fallen short of 4,000 words! The part specifically dealing with "Environmental Protection" is the shortest in the whole platform! I was actually considering getting a head start on the next part of the platform!

The really sad part is that the Republicans actually have some good points, though again the Dems might claim some of them later. They would use a tax credit and "Climate Prize" to encourage renewable energy development instead of growing the size of the bureaucracy and government. Democrats haven't yet mentioned cooperation with Canada and Mexico, and only obliquely referred to "plug-in hybrids" and didn't directly call for making more. No pushing India and China to fill their role and cut to renewables as fast as possible either. And there is something to be said for giving some credit to the free market. And I like to think my recommendations, by and large, meet the criteria laid out by the Republicans in the "Environmental Protection" part. But the GOP wants to use fossil fuels as a "bridge" to a renewable future and see nuclear as our chief source of electricity thereafter. I've yet to see anything that fundamentally wrong in the Democrats' approach.

I am so running back to the Democrats for my next examination.

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