by Meteor Blades
written in collaboration with Jerome a Paris and Devilstower, with a hat tip to Doolittle Sothere
Almost three weeks ago, Jerome a Paris put together the first draft of what we hope to transform into a bold, consistent, easy-to-understand Democratic energy agenda. Readers were asked to offer your own ideas, and your response was gratifying. Today, we're presenting the Second Draft, in which we've added some of your ideas, further honed ours and polished some of the language, with your assistance.
We're not done yet. This draft won't be the last. So we're asking for your help again, both for content and style. We don't mind if you nitpick. We want to hear your ideas and objections, big and small. Ultimately, of course, somebody has to decide what the Final Version will look like, and that will be the three of us. But for now, every word, every idea and the format itself are fair game for critiquing.
Meteor Blades's diary :: ::
Dozens of progressive energy proposals are floating around. Apollo Alliance's, the Natural Resource Defense Council's and the National Sustainability Act's, to name a few. Moreover, Senator Harry Reid himself has produced a forward-looking, multifaceted proposal that would head us in the right direction, even though we view its goal of "energy independence" by 2020 as infeasible. Others in the Senate Democratic leadership are creating a party agenda that will also call for energy independence. Senator Joe Lieberman is proposing almost radical energy legislation.
After decades of foot-dragging by leaders in both parties, it's heartening to know that Democratic leaders are coming to understand just how crucial a visionary energy agenda is for our nation's future.
A truly progressive approach cannot, however, be merely a scheme to garner votes in '06 and '08. As long-time advocates for a new energy paradigm at a time when scarcely anyone was listening, the three of us are eager to see rapid changes in government policy, private sector innovation and personal behavior when it comes to energy. However, setting unrealistic timelines is a certain recipe for failure. We don't want Democrats to make promises that can't be kept or establish goals that can't be met. We don't believe in the scattergun approach, nor do we believe in magic bullets.
In the process of generating the Second Draft, we have done our best not to allow the perfect to get in the way of the good. We've taken some of our ideas, some of your ideas and some other people's ideas, including Senator Reid's, and tried to shape them into an integral whole against a reasonable timeline. Even the three of us have disagreements - about coal and nuclear, for instance - so Reenergize America is, from the get-go, a compromise.
As a document, Reenergize America comes in three parts: 1) an introduction to four concise, stand-alone statements of principle describing America's energy situation and what should be done to change it; 2) a brief explanation of each statement; and, 3) specific proposals, most of them legislative, to transform into reality the ideas encompassed in the statements of principle.
As we all know, energy's not a sexy subject for most voters, and they will never get past our statement of principles. But if they only read those, they'll know what we stand for and why this energy plan makes sense. It even fits on a double-entendre bumper-sticker: Reenergize America - Vote Democratic.
Down to business.
Reenergize America - A Democratic Blueprint
As a consequence of the oil embargos of the 1970s, America took a few steps down the right path thanks to President Carter's energy plan of 1977. However, plummeting oil prices in the early 1980s worked to the advantage of politicians who were hostile to conservation, energy efficiency and the development of renewable alternatives. America wasted 25 years during which great strides could have been made toward realizing a world based on new sources of energy.
Faced not with embargos, but rather with a far greater crisis, Congress recently adopted an energy policy that repeats most of the mistakes of the past quarter century. If this policy is not reshaped from bottom to top, we could waste another 25 years, with consequences catastrophic for our society, our political system, our economy and for the environment.
The question we must ask is how to avoid leaving such a legacy to our children and grandchildren.
Anyone who is serious about national and economic security knows we must be serious about moving our country toward real energy independence. This process cannot be achieved overnight. It will take a generation at least - which is all the more reason we must begin immediately. Our plan will create innovative new jobs and build a cleaner, greener and stronger America.
To Reenergize America, we support four principles:
Build energy security to strengthen our national security: Diplomacy, homeland security and the economy are all connected through our energy policies. America imports 60% of the oil it consumes and our demand continues to grow, even as the production of oil moves toward inevitable decline. Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil - much of it from unstable countries - puts our servicemen and women at risk and holds our foreign policy hostage. America will increasingly be competing with China and other nations for dwindling oil supplies, causing prices to rise, laying the foundation for economic turmoil and presenting grave threats to peace as countries mobilize to protect their interests. Only by establishing policies that wean us off gas and oil can we avoid a disruptive and potentially lethal outcome in this coming scramble.
Reject the Current Energy Policy that Weakens America: Originally crafted in secret by oil and gas lobbyists under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Republican energy plan is a blueprint for ruin that repeats all the mistakes of the past. This attempt to drill our way out of the mess we've made for ourselves increases America's reliance on imported oil, undermines environmental regulations, ignores global climate change, harms the economy and continues to put us at risk at home and abroad. Meanwhile, billions of tax dollars are being siphoned off by well-established oil and gas companies, whose wallets already bulge with record-breaking profits, and pitiful amounts are allocated for alternative energy sources and conservation. It is time to put the needs of all Americans ahead of the greed of a few.
Promote energy efficiency, diversity and conservation to protect Americans and the environment: America must quickly move to diversify its energy sources to avoid catastrophe when any one source is interrupted, and we must become more efficient consumers of energy to make what we do have last longer. We support an Apollo Project for Energy to support research, development and commercialization of alternative energy sources. Our plan calls for Renewable Portfolio Standards and for a National Conservation and Efficiency Program. We seek enhanced incentives for energy production from solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, and for government-funded demonstration projects in coal-to-liquids technology and intrinsically safe nuclear power designs. Our plan envisions a rapid expansion in the percentage of cars and trucks that pollute less and travel farther on a gallon of fuel. Reenergize America calls for protection of pristine public lands and ensures that higher energy prices will not unfairly penalize our economically weakest citizens.
Invest in renewable energy to create jobs and enhance America's technological leadership: Innovation is an American birthright, but short-sighted policies have sabotaged our technological lead. Twenty years ago, American-made wind turbines were the world's most advanced. Now Denmark's are. GM once led the world in automobile technology. Now Toyota does. We must restore America's technological prowess. Public and private investments today in renewable energy will mean a better environment for our children tomorrow, well-paying jobs and the lead in vital and exportable technologies. Renewable energies provide more jobs than other energy sources, and these jobs will always be close to home. Our plan calls for investments in math and science education for the next generation of energy engineers, access to worker training and retraining in advanced energy technologies, and for making America the first place everyone turns when looking for innovative energy products.
Reenergize America's SMART Goals
A snap of the fingers will not transform those four statements of principle into policy. Our goals to Reenergize America are simple and straightforward. They will not, however, be easy to accomplish because old habits die hard and there are powerful people and institutions which stand in the way:
Call these our SMART goals. They are Strategic, Measurable, Aggressive, Realistic and Targeted. They are Strategic in that they greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help make America more secure. They are Measurable and progress will be visible to all. They are Aggressive because we need to begin what will be a decades-long move away from our dependence on foreign oil before it is too late. They are Realistic because they are attainable, although they will require significant investment, sustained personal commitment and strong political leadership. They are Targeted at developing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency and protecting our environment.
Are these goals sound?
Some will ridicule our goals as overly ambitious: not possible. Nobody can make such a transition in so short a time, they will say. We disagree. We believe these goals are attainable, although we are acutely aware of the technical, institutional, political and cultural obstacles to success.
Others will say we haven't gone far enough. Why not full "Energy Independence by 2020," as proposed by Harry Reid? This time, it is we who say: not possible. Pushed hard and consistently, maybe independence by 2035 or 2040. The switch to all-renewable energy will take decades longer.
Reenergize America - First Things First
While the full transition to new energy will take decades and include retooling our country's infrastructure and redesigning our cities, much can and should be done immediately to reduce energy demand, increase efficiency and buy us time. We can't afford to wait, and we don't plan to wait. During the first 100 days of Reenergize America, we will initiate the following 17 proposals:
Anyone who buys a car or pickup truck gets a $200 rebate for every mile per gallon the new vehicle comes in above the national mpg average. That average is now 19 mpg. So, buy a Ford Explorer hybrid, which has a 33 mpg rating, and you collect $2800. The rebate program won't discriminate. Hybrids, turbo-biodiesels and fuel-cell cars all qualify.
A secondary rebate will apply to vehicles based on a formula for how much they pollute.
Our goal to generate 20% of America's electricity by 2020 with renewable sources is an ambitious one. Denmark, which began developing a strong preference for renewable energy sources in the early 1980s, plans to obtain 35% of its energy from renewables by 2030. With a federal commitment to a mix of incentives and penalties, plus funding for research, development and commercialization, the United States can achieve our goal. Indeed, approached properly, the United States can, like Denmark today, become an exporter of renewable energy technologies. Reenergize America proposes:
- Five Million Solar Roofs Initiative. Originally proposed as the One Million Solar Roofs Initiative by the Solar Energy Industries Association in 1997, and endorsed by President Clinton, a similar government-subsidized proposal offered by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ran into trouble over union pay scales for installation.
Our plan would put five million electricity-generating systems on American homes between now and 2012 by tripling the current tax credit of $2000 for residential solar installations and extending the existing tax credit program beyond its 2007 cut-off date. Our program would add 15,000 megawatts of solar electricity, more than 15 times the currently installed amount of such power worldwide, and equal to the power provided by 50 typical coal-fired plants.
- Extend the wind energy production tax credit from 2007 to 2015. It's estimated that the United States will have 15,000 megawatts of installed wind power capacity by 2009. An enhanced production tax credit could raise that figure in the short run and vastly expand it after 2009 by giving wind farm entrepreneurs a stable and predictable market.
- Develop an energy education curriculum for elementary and secondary schools. Conservation is like sex education - every generation needs it.
- Fund SUN centers in every state. Under Jimmy Carter's energy department, four regional SUN centers were established nationwide to provide outreach to consumers eager to learn how to be more efficient in their energy consumption: everything from the simplest - like weatherization and shopping for energy-saving appliances; to the complex - like designing a house in such a way as to take advantage of natural lighting and heating by the sun. Currently, the federal government funds six regional energy efficiency centers, but Republicans recently proposed eliminating them altogether.
- Launch an independent federal review of appliance efficiency with an eye toward boosting standards when the technology is available to make that realistic.
- Require all new federal buildings, as well as state and local government buildings constructed with federal assistance to be designed and built with the highest level of energy efficiency in mind, including being as nearly self-sufficient in energy production as technologically possible on the date the design for each such building is approved. Currently, the federal government operates under the Energy Savings Performance Contract, which allows private contractors to help Federal agencies improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. This should be made mandatory.
- Outlaw mountain top removal that is denuding mountains and choking streams across Appalachia. Limit surface mining to areas where "return to contour" is the rule and ban all dumping of spoil into waterways.
- Stop serial offenders by steeply increasing fines on failures to protect the environment. A company as incompetent as this one should not be given another chance. Much less chance, after chance, after chance.
- Repeal "Clear Skies" and return to Clean Air Act provisions. Coal-burning plants should no longer be allowed to expand under regulations that allow them to pollute the way they did 25 years ago. The act sets 2020 as the deadline for bringing all coal-burning plants into full compliance.
- Regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Just as the Clean Air Act imposes a gradually more stringent series of guidelines on other pollutants, Reenergize America's Clean Generation Act does the same with carbon dioxide. By 2020, all new plants should be operating at 20% reduced CO2 levels. By 2040, we should require that total production of CO2 be cut in half through both scrubbing and sequestration.
- Revise pollutant certificate trading. In many ways, this has worked well. Producers who invest in technology that puts them ahead of government requirements get a payback by selling the "right to pollute" to less advanced producers. However, these certificates should be regional, not nationwide, to prevent a large "pollution bullseye" in the Midwest and resultant spread of these pollutants along a corridor of the east. Add CO2 certificates (which are already traded on a voluntary basis) to the mix.
- To ensure that transforming coal into synthetic fuels represents an actual improvement in CO2 production over burning petroleum products, all Fischer-Tropsch plants should be required to use sequestration or scrubbing from the outset.
Energy policy is a process, not a product
One hundred days and 17 pieces of legislation will not by themselves make the country energy independent. Energy policy is a process, not a product. Adopting Reenergize America will take us to a transition, not a destination.
Five years from now, certainly 15 years from now, we will see astonishing breakthroughs in technology. One of these, perhaps more than one, may make some of our legislative energy proposals obsolete or shorten the timetable we've set for reaching Reenergize America's triplet of 20% goals. Delightful, if it happens.
But we can't wait for the possibility that somebody will invent perpetual-motion juice and rescue us from our own recklessness at the last moment. When not speeding along in the wrong direction, we have spent decades waiting our leaders to craft a good energy policy. Consumers have spent and will spend hundreds of billions of dollars they might have saved if such an energy policy had been in place. We can't afford more delays.
Technology isn't everything. A truly energy-independent America will require a comprehensive rebuilding of our transportation and electricity-generating infrastructure. It will mean remaking our cities, especially what Joel Garreau calls "edge cities," whose very existence is one of the major reasons for our energy predicament. Energy independence will require changing land-use regulations, a highly contentious subject under the best of circumstances. And it will require modifying our lifestyles, the mere mention of which can set off political explosions. These discussions cannot be avoided.