There is a general assumption in Washington (where assumptions are often wrong), that the Democrats will sweep the board next year. If so they will come to power with ideas about immigration, the Iraq war, health insurance, and energy. They will have ideas about all of these that show some flexibility, except energy. Here, the Democrats are slaved to certain dangerous orthodoxies that may be their Achilles’ heel–myth-based beliefs and ideological rigidities that we may all come to rue.
Since the Carter administration, the Democrats have absorbed and taken as their own the views of the environmental activists: people who are clear-headed about what they are against and fuzzy about what they are for. Though noble in purpose, the environmental movement is structured to oppose; never to implement. It can afford to be irresponsible and sometimes downright silly. Sadly, the Democrats have convinced themselves that the environmental activists’ views are the basis for an implementable policy, a course of action, a road map.
Ideology in government is dangerous because it presumes that right-thinking (thinking that accords with a belief system) must produce a good result. Hence the failure of socialism, and the failure of the Bush administration in Iraq.
The Democrats are at their ideological worst in pronouncing energy policy. This ideology–adopted from the environmental movement–posits that there are untapped resources that have been bottled up by bad government policy and corporate greed. These resources are wind, solar, geothermal, wave power, and biomass. In the wacky world of environmental thinking, they are going to supplant coal, nuclear, and natural gas in producing electricity. The only one that is deployed on a measurable scale is wind, and its deployment depends on ideal geographic location: plenty of land, lots of wind, and few migratory birds.
To bring about this change from major to minor, from big central station to diverse remote generating, the energy bill now before Congress seeks to impose “renewable portfolio standards” on utilities, whereby they are obliged to buy or generate 15 percent of their power from “renewable.” Some states have their own laws which take into account local factors. The Democrats want a national standard with penalties for non-compliance.
When it comes to transportation, the Democrats are also sure of what they will not do. They will neither allow oil drilling off parts of California’s coast nor in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And they are reluctant about the Bush administration’s opening up of environmentally sensitive areas in the inter-mountain West. Yet they talk about energy independence–talk that has been around since the Nixon administration. Since that time oil imports have doubled from 30 percent of consumption to over 60 percent, and natural gas imports have begun.
Not to worry. There is hydrogen on the way and ethanol is taking off. Trouble is hydrogen has to be released from water or reformed from natural gas. Natural gas is already in short supply and cracking water will require great quantities of electricity, at a time when coal is seen as environmentally unacceptable and there is a pathological left-wing antipathy to nuclear power.
The other savior fuel, ethanol, uses nearly as much energy to produce as it yields and requires subsidies which have already reached billions of dollars. Ethanol is now pushing up the price of food.
Certainly, the Democrats are right to talk about conservation. But the last Democratic administration fought to lower the price of oil when it spiked because that was politically popular. Dear Democrats, we have coal and nuclear. The rest is idealism. Get real.