Along with their vote to loosen oversight on executive surveillance decisions, ast weekend our Utah Representatives disappointed when they voted against the House energy legislation (H.R. 3221). While the bill passed, their opposition is still a concern. President Bush has indicated that he would veto the bill in its present form. Given that the bill passed by less than two-thirds of the House, the vote of Utah’s legislators—Democrat Matheson in particular—may well still matter.
The bill appears to be a solid step forward. It requires higher efficiency standards in lighting and electrical appliances. It establishes as a goal that energy companies generate 15% of their output from renewable resources by 2020, providing funding for research grants to help make such alternative energy sources more feasible, as well as to investigate methods with which to “capture and sequester” carbon emissions from energy generation.
The emphasis on and funding for alternative energy has the potential to create thousands of new jobs, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and can help open up opportunities for small business.
I could hold some respect for the opposition of the administration and their supporters on this issue were it based on libertarian principles opposing public funding of private enterprise. However, most of the complaint seems instead to arise from a companion bill, eliminating $16 billion in oil industry subsidies which the administration favors.
I thought that prevailing economic wisdom included the laconic advice “diversify”? Or to put it in more traditional terms “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It can only help ensure a secure energy supply to have a number of different sources from which to draw. The broadening of our range of energy sources will help forestall potential energy crises (whether the arrival of peak oil, disruption of the Middle-East supply, or any other event to which petroleum is vulnerable). And, of course, it can help reduce the corrosion of our planet. The relatively small investment in diversification, the slow expansion of alternatives, and the removal of the subsidies can hardly be a threat to the incredibly profitable fossil fuel industries.
Matheson raises a legitimate concern about increasing bureaucratic obstacles. But I would have hoped that he could work to have those addressed within the framework of the legislation, rather than dismiss the entire endeavor. The need to look at energy alternatives and reduce carbon emissions is simply too important.
Some fear that energy prices will rise due to this bill. The possibility does exist. Of course, the case can be made that our prices are artificially too low as it is. Much of the cost of our energy is currently externalized in the form of military spending to ensure the sources of energy, the cost to the environment and the spending to mitigate that damage, and the cost to the health of individuals and communities as a result of fossil fuel production and consumption. As students of Adam Smith know, the market becomes increasingly inefficient when costs are so highly externalized. Perhaps higher overall costs will promote more efficient allocation, less of the extravagant energy consumption to which we are now so accustomed, and a brighter future for our posterity.
But first our congressmen need to come to understand the importance of looking forward to the new world of energy possibilities ahead of us.