The American Power Act = A National Rorschach Test

Phil Carson | May 12, 2010


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.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily





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What Gives?

Came here to read about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, "European-style socialism" and "the Germans at the battle of the Bulge." - Where did it go?

If it wasn't profane, you should have left it posted.  No better way to expose a fool then to allow him to do the work for you.  

As it looks now, especially since you refer to his posting in today's post, you are just deleting what you disagree with.

Energy and Social Policy

I haven't read the bill, but I do have a little different take on this issue. 

Government policies regarding energy have become muddled and hopelessly complicated.  Most electricity is produced and distributed by private companies, but the way it is produced and pricied has become an important instrument of social and economic policymaking.  All that would be fine if the policies were coherent and complementary but they are not.  Energy efficiency is inconsistent with low electricity prices.  RPS is inconsistent with low prices.  Low, flat-rate pricing and RPS mandates impede development of smart appliances and provide disincentives for their deployment.  The regulatory structure most utilities operate under was created 100 years ago under a vastly different technology, economic and social environment.  Is it relevant today?  More importantly, is it the right structure upon which to base grid modernization?  I don't think so.

Lawmakers and the public have unrealistic expectations about a lot of things.  Even when lawmakers know better they help feed the pulic's sense of entitlement  because making hard choices is hard, and not necessarily good for one's re-election prospects.  In the case of electricity, we can have a shiny, modern grid with lots of distributed generation, fewer large power plants and transmission lines, and less pollution, but it is going to be costly.  Or, we can preserve the status quo in which cheap power costs lives due to mining accidents,  respiratory diseases and now polluted aquifers.  Or we can do something in between.  There are many options and there are many tradeoffs. Most of them are going to displease some constituency, and only a few are both workable and lead to desirable outcomes.

It's my opinion we're past the point of being able to tinker with the existing regulatory and industry structure, which was largely created in the early part of the last century.  We have to take a fresh look at everything, from the essential service paradigm to pricing to using electricity as an instrument for pushing unrelated social and economic agendas.  Or to borrow a metaphor from California's current governor, "we have to blow up the boxes" and start over.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA

I feel your Progressive Pain...


I feel your Progressive Pain...

all of your verbal machinations was just a big ole pile of posturing to try and soften up those who understand one thing...

Progressivism Vs Liberty

You can dress up your CapNTax pig but you can't make the American (polictician's) Power Act sing...

I can't believe you're acting 'as if' this regurgitated monstrosity of a CapnTax bill was some kind of Maurice Strong coming off Mt Sinai with his "Ten Commandments" of global warming.. yeah, he said it... he wants his Earth Charter to be thought of as the next Ten Commandments...

It's obvious you will try any zig or zag to try and soften us up to the Gov't Cram Down CapNTax 2.0 of the 2nd biggest power grab in history over man and Liberty... in as many months...

for a minute I thought you were advocating we give up our individual rights for the 'greater good' 'collective action" "we're all in it together"

Naw, you're just advocating  a good ole dose of capital guilt...

I could spend all week deconstructing this doozy...

Phil, why don't you quit beating around the bush and just say it... The American Powers act is the innocent foundation for Social and Economic Justice... "can't we all just get along" "can't we all just share everything equally"


The power of ink blots

You've been Rorschached!

Regards, Phil Carson  

Et Tu, Brute?

and so you...