Federal energy and transportation bills reinforce the status quo

The recently signed federal energy legislation provides $14.5 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years. Nearly $9 billion is targeted for oil, gas and coal production and increased electrical reliability. Efficiency and renewable energy receive less than $5 billion. It does little to encourage cutting our reliance on imported oil.

When coupled with the $286.4 billion federal transportation subsidy over the next six years, it is clear our political elite have committed us to a major expansion of our existing energy system. Once again, the environmental, social and military costs of our energy policies have taken a back seat to increased consumption.

In the meantime, the debate over when the supply of oil will peak and necessitate a dramatic shift in energy policy has intensified. Some experts expect global oil supplies to peak by Thanksgiving 2005, while others believe it will not occur until 2050. This could produce a major economic disruption. Our transportation, food and housing systems will need adjusting to the decreasing supply of oil and natural gas. Considering the enormity of our energy system, such changes must be initiated now to have any chance of ameliorating the worst effects of an oil-depleted world.

The legislation fails to address the issue of global warming. A recent study presents the danger posed by a melting permafrost area in western Siberia equivalent to the combined size of Germany and France. The thawing permafrost is releasing methane gas, about 20 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide on a per molecule basis.

With the scientific community’s widespread agreement regarding the need to curtail global warming gas releases, it is hard to fathom why our national leaders have failed to address the issue. Controlling global warming gases, using energy efficiently and increasing the use of renewable energy sources are economic opportunities that represent the industries of the future. The latest round of federal energy initiatives keeps us locked into an unsustainable energy path.

On a recent Living on Earth program on National Public Radio, David Freeman highlighted benefits that will accrue to energy customers from the legislation. Congress has provided tax credits between $250 and $3,400 per new hybrid electric vehicle, depending on fuel economy. Credits allow a customer to deduct up to $3,000 off the price of a car.

While this action is helpful in cutting oil dependence, Congress failed to require automakers to improve the fuel economy of cars and trucks. Using conventional technology, auto mileage could climb from 24 mpg to 40 mpg in a few years, dramatically reducing oil imports.

There are also incentives for home owners to add insulation, install more energy-efficient windows, furnaces and hot water systems. Considering the substantial number of older energy inefficient homes and buildings in existence, these incentives should prove helpful to many citizens.

Mayors from 46 American cities, representing 10 million citizens, met in Salt Lake City, Utah in July to discuss local actions to address climate change. A network of mayors in the New Cities Project share ideas on energy independence actions their communities have taken. The actions are similar to those proposed by the Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of labor, environmental and other groups hoping to spur eco-friendly economic growth.

From the August 17-23, 2005, issue

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