Energy independence is the rallying cry for many environmentalist who want to wean business and consumers from reliance on fossil fuels but, according to Robert Ebel, head of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies “it makes absolutely no sense to talk about energy independence. . .We cannot produce our way to energy independence, and we cannot use efficiency or conservation to achieve energy independence. . .”
Genuine energy independence would require energy isolationism – barriers to free trade with other countries which would lead to slow economic growth, invite retaliation by trading partners and raise prices.
We primarily import “energy” because federal law prevents commercial access to billions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of tons of low-sulfur coal. These laws were passed “supposedly” to protect wilderness areas but the actual intent and their effect have been to restrict access to domestic supplies.
The U.S. has sufficient reserves of coal and other energy resources to become energy independent. The Energy Information Administration reported in 2007 that we have access to 264 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves from a demonstrated reserve base of 491 billion short tons. Coal can be and increasingly is burned cleanly, though mining, transportation, and disposal of ash and sludge have some negative environmental impacts. Coal can be liquified and gasified for use in transportation and home heating. 52% of all electricity is produced from domestic coal.
The U.S. is the third largest producer of oil, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia and has the tenth largest proven reserves of oil in the world. Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) holds at least 4.5 billion barrels of oil and possibly as much as 11.5 billion barrels. Federal lands in the U.S. contain some 635 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas and only 24% of offshore oil and gas prospects is open to exploration and drilling.
A secondary reason that we import oil and natural gas is economic. When the cost of imported oil is low, it is in the interests of U.S. businesses and consumers to buy it. When the cost of imported oil is high we normally import oil until domestic producers resume or increase their production. When domestic supplies increase, prices moderate, benefiting consumers. Unfortunately, government policies restricting domestic drilling and mining on public lands have prevented the increase of domestic supplies hoping to keep prices high.
Obama and extreme environmentalist are attempting to convince us that we must subsidize solar and wind farms to become energy independent. It isn’t going to happen – Both would double or triple the amount consumers have to pay for electricity.
We are already subsidizing biofuels to the tune of some .45 cents per gallon or around $7 billion a year. Using ethanol does not improve air quality – it increases ozone production – it corrodes engines and reduces miles per gallon performance. Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at Berkeley and David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell estimate that making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil fuel energy than the ethanol fuel itself contains – it is a net energy loser. Some experts say that by converting the entire grain harvest in the U.S. to bio-fuels would only produce 16% of auto fuel needs. In fact, the bio-fuel industry is in direct competition with food markets resulting in higher food prices.
The debate over our energy policy is driven by exaggeration and scare tactics used by advocates to boost public support for their “green” agenda. These extreme “greenies” embrace these tactics as a way to generate public sympathy for their cause while business groups embrace them to secure subsidies for themselves or regulations that harm their competitors. The only big loser is the taxpayer.
The private sector is more efficient than government at solving social and economic problems. The ideas of socialism and central planning are flawed and discredited by real world experience.
Lawmakers need to focus on removing public policies that restrict the development of domestic energy supplies as well as ending subsidies and preferences for all types of energy and allow energy technologies to compete on a level playing field. Lawmakers also need to concentrate on the repeal of the “renewable portfolio standard” laws that force electric utilities to purchase highly subsidized wind power.