The American Power Act = A National Rorschach Test
It will take time to read the 1,000 pages of proposed legislation unveiled yesterday by Senators John Kerry, D-Mass. and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. and dubbed the "American Power Act," let alone understand the bill's implications.
Frankly, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, it's likely to be "chloroform in print." But even admirably concise legislation is rife with bias, concessions, ambiguity and unintended consequences. We have to pay attention, like it or not.
That's where the theme of this column comes in. Before we all jump into the mud pit to apply scissor kicks and headlocks, how about a deep breath and a little thinking?
How we harness energy to get work done to live our lives to the fullest is a very complex subject. It's as good a time as any to review our personal philosophies, learn a bit more about the practicalities involved and prepare for sacrifices. Yes, "sacrifices" - a word that once defined American success and now seems to imply failure.
(Hold the "freeze in the dark" rhetoric, please. I'm talking about the sacrifices implied by compromise and collective action, as well as paradigm shifts in energy use.)
The bill, by its nature, holds up an ink blot to Americans of all persuasions. We see what we want to see, based on preconceived notions. Yet this is a subject so complex that none of us have our arms completely around it.
Perhaps, in a fit of maturity, it would behoove us to consider the fundamental issues in play. And when the pondering is over, we still have to get our hands dirty.
In my view, the foremost set of related issues is the role of fossil fuels as energy sources, the role of coal in that mix and the consequences of resulting emissions.
Many well-informed people find solid science supporting the anthropogenic nature of global warming. Yet vast uncertainties hang over that conclusion and its potential policy responses. Taking "G.W." out of the equation, fossil fuel emissions have well-documented, deleterious impacts on human health and the environment. Do we approach our future by addressing these issues or take a laissez-faire approach?
There are "externalities," such as the global context. Should the United States act solely in its own best interest or does it have a historic obligation to lead the world? Should our own interests be a model for the rest of the world? Is energy independence in a time of globalism a wise and do-able course of action?
Internally, how should we view the tension between the free market and government policy? What are the benefits and limits to a laissez-faire approach? How can our federal government act in the broadest, best interests of the people? Should the American people direct their government to act on their behalf as it did in winning two world wars, in establishing civil rights for all, in exploring outer space? Are energy independence and clean air and water worth the effort? Or not so much?
As we define an evolving mix of energy sources, how much should we mandate or subsidize renewable energy? What should we do about nuclear plant cost overruns and waste disposal?
In pragmatic terms, can we strike a balance here between market-based approaches and government policies and funding that takes into account "the competition" - the activist role that many foreign governments play in advancing the political and economic success of their respective countries?
How do we balance short-term costs and long-term gains? If we pay a carbon tax today, will our children live healthier lives? Should we care? Or does the future always take care of itself?
When a society makes a paradigm shift in energy use, how much collateral damage is acceptable? Will jobs lost in coal mining, coal transportation, coal-fired power production and related industries be replaced by growth in clean energy technology? And what about the actual people involved in these macro-trends?
Just a few questions that occurred to me yesterday as I read about the "American Power Act."
At the risk of asking "can we all just get along?" and leading a verse of Kumbaya, I'd suggest we all take a deep breath, look forward, formulate worthy goals and gird for a few sacrifices on how to attain them. That's the American way, wherever it takes us.
Intelligent Utility Daily