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Bush's SOTU - rhetoric and reality on energy

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State Of The Union: The Danger of a Few Little Words

Richard Bell, Post Carbon Institute via GPM
Richard Bell, Communications Director for Post Carbon Institute, responds to President Bush's State of the Union Address. The article is followed by the energy sections of the 2006 and 2007 State of the Union Addresses.

If only the world’s glaciers were melting as slowly as the evolution of President Bush’s understanding of climate change!

For anyone concerned about Peak Oil and global warming, Bush’s State of the Union speech Tuesday evening fell far short of establishing a sound program for dealing with the nation’s energy woes or gargantuan carbon emissions. With the exception of a small increase in fuel efficiency standards, the president’s set of recommendations were about producing more energy: more oil, more coal, more solar and wind, and especially more “renewable and alternative fuels.”

...It is true that after six years of denying the existence of climate change, the two words did pass through the president’s lips during the speech. But instead of leading off the energy section of the speech, these words were literally the last two he had to say about energy. The grab bag of technologies he had just mentioned would, he claimed, “help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” He provided no further information about how much impact his proposed policies might have on slowing down global warming.

Indeed, this year’s speech was substantively quite similar to last year’s, with one quite noticeable deletion. In 2006, the president said: “We will increase our research … in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.” Thankfully, in 2007 there was no mention of hydrogen-powered cars or other fanciful hydrogen technologies.

Democrats in the House have already filed legislation dealing with climate change, renewables, and energy efficiency that is well out in front of the president’s timid and inadequate proposals. While significantly better than the president’s program, the Democrats -like the Republicans- remain deeply wedded to market-based technological “solutions” that presuppose a future of endless economic growth.

Increasingly, however, catastrophic global events (polar melting, prolonged droughts, collapsing fisheries) are making decisions for us. The time is ripe for a politician of international stature to step forward who will honestly describe the real challenges we face, and provide leadership towards a truly sustainable world.
(25 Jan 2007)


Switching to snake oil

Jerry Taylor, Guardian
Bush wants America to reduce its oil consumption - but subsidising ethanol production isn't the answer.
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The plan that President Bush unveiled in his State of the Union Address to cut gasoline consumption by 20% over the next 10 years is so shot through with loopholes, exceptions, and escape clauses that it's impossible to say what would happen to gasoline consumption were Congress to vote his plan into law. That's probably a good thing, because without the politically convenient fine print, the president's plan would almost certainly send fuel prices shooting through the roof.

Cutting oil consumption in any significant manner means increased reliance on ethanol and other biofuels because they are easily the most cost-competitive alternative to gasoline on the market. Accordingly, it's worth noting that the president's own Department of Agriculture reports that ethanol costs about $2.53 per gallon to produce - even with the subsidies. Without them, economist Doug Koplow calculates that production costs would be at least $1 per gallon higher. Accordingly, the president's plan would increase fuel prices because gasoline costs only about half what ethanol costs on a Btu basis in wholesale markets.

Government support is unlikely to bring corn ethanol costs down because it is the very definition of a mature technology. Alas, the manufacturing costs associated with producing 200 proof grain alcohol have proven fairly fixed over time.

Cellulosic ethanol, however, is an emerging technology, so costs might well come down in the future. But they have a long ways to go.
(24 Jan 2007)


Bush's bogus cure for our oil addiction

Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune
Americans have a love-hate relationship with oil. We depend on it to fuel our cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles, which we cherish, but it causes us periodic pangs of guilt. Now President Bush is promising to free us of our addiction to this heroinlike substance, replacing it with clean, wholesome "renewable fuels." It will be easy and painless, and we'll feel much better. There are only two flaws in his plan: wrong problem, wrong solution.

... The only convincing reason to use less petroleum is environmental: Burning fossil fuels produces pollution, including greenhouse gases blamed for the warming of the planet. Bush has to use this argument sparingly, since his administration has rejected the Kyoto accord on global warming. But in the State of the Union address, he proclaimed his determination to "confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

If the goal is to restrain carbon dioxide emissions, though, he's ingeniously settled on the most expensive and least effective method. One element in his plan is forcing refiners to increase their use of "renewable and alternative fuels" nearly fivefold over the next decade. What the administration most wants to promote is ethanol, but that option has more than its share of defects.

One is that meeting Bush's target would require using the entire U.S. corn harvest to make ethanol--pushing up corn prices and making ethanol even less cost-effective than it already is. The president suggests that ethanol can also be made from wood chips, grasses and agricultural wastes. But those sources are not yet economical, and it's anyone's guess if they ever will be.

Raising fuel economy standards on cars and trucks, as Bush recommended Tuesday, is a politically appealing idea because it promises progress without pain. But it's like using a screwdriver to hammer a nail.

Instead of discouraging unnecessary driving, it does just the opposite, by lowering the cost of traveling an extra mile. That, as Randall Lutter and Troy Kravitz note in a paper published by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, will lead to more crashes and more traffic jams. Not to mention that more driving will offset much of the intended fuel savings.

The simplest and most cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars is to increase taxes on gasoline--which would encourage Americans to buy more efficient vehicles and drive less.
(25 Jan 2007)
Chapman forgot the other reason to use less petroleum - peak oil. -BA


Energy Rhetoric, and Reality

Editorial, NY Times
For six years, off and on, President Bush has been talking about the need for alternative fuels and conservation to make the country less beholden to unreliable sources of foreign oil. Yet all he has to show for it is a growing dependence on foreign oil, a growing climate problem and an increasingly cynical public. Mr. Bush talked the same game on Tuesday night, offering several impressively specific goals. But whether these new pledges turn out to be as empty as the old ones depends on his capacity for follow-through, and history is not encouraging.

Mr. Bush was true to form on one subject. The White House had promised nothing on global warming, and he delivered nothing. He mentioned “global climate change” but showed no sense of urgency on the issue. Nor was there any sign that he had even heard the ever-louder entreaties from Congress - and from many of his friends in the business community - that he support a national program of mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases.

At one point, he did suggest that his proposals for alternative fuels and more efficient automobiles could also help reduce greenhouse gases. But these gains would be marginal - passenger vehicles account for only one-fifth of these gases. And even these gains will greatly depend on what alternative fuels are chosen.
(25 Jan 2007)
The NY Times stance on energy has dramatically improved over the last few years - better coverage, more enlightened analysis. -BA


American Way of Life: Still Not Up for Negotiation

Ryan McGreal, Raise The Hammer
Bush's plan to reduce US reliance on imported petroleum through the wonders of technology is dangerous magical thinking.
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The Bush Dynasty's Maxim - "The American way of life is not up for negotiation" - is still in full effect in the White House.

President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union speech last night to a joint session of the US Congress, and one of his themes was energy security.

It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply - and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power - by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power. [emphasis added; all ellipses in original]

First of all, there's no such thing as "clean coal technology" or "clean, safe nuclear power". Both are straightforward misnomers. Of course, technology can make both coal burning cleaner than it is today (as well as less productive), but the Bush administration has spent the past six years obstructing efforts to set stricter regulations on emissions from coal fired plants.

Nuclear power suffers from significant life-cycle pollution, radiation, and inherent risks, not to mention its poor long-term prospects as an energy source.
(24 Jan 2007)

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