The Merging of Climate Change and Energy

By Beacon Staff

Whether one believes in global warming, climate change and our nation’s energy policies are merging. Rising global temperatures have become a divisive issue; many believe them to be a part of the natural cycle, while others point to the diminishing polar ice shields as proof that our emissions are killing our planet. Unfortunately, the issue is far from being definitively resolved. My view has always been that promoting clean air and clean water and reducing our dependency on foreign energy is a positive step forward. Once more, the sheer magnitude of what is at stake should dictate being open-minded. While the controversial American Clean Energy and Security Act offers some positive aspects, it falls short of providing the right policy. A more reasoned approach would be one that reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy, funds research and increases production of clean domestic energy, and provides transparency of the true cost of changing our energy status quo. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of the current American Clean Energy and Security Act, better known as the “cap and trade” legislation.

First, the good. I applaud the administration’s effort to finally address reducing our dependence on foreign oil. After spending more that $1 trillion on two Gulf wars and sacrificing more than 4,300 American lives, our nation is still held hostage to foreign oil. To those who believe that America has enough domestic oil reserves, here are three facts: Two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves are found in the Persian Gulf. America’s consumption is 20 million barrels of oil a day (20 percent of the world’s consumption), and the total oil in the controversial Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would represent less than 1 percent of the world’s oil production. The cold, hard reality is that America has less than 3 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves, and our thirst for oil far outweighs our ability to ever produce it domestically.

Second, the bad. The gap between our demand for and our ability to produce domestic energy cannot be met by alternative energy sources such as wind and solar alone. By the most optimistic estimates, the combined energy production of solar and wind would amount to less than one-third of our total energy consumption. Common sense would say that domestically produced coal, natural gas and nuclear energy should be a part of any energy policy. The “cap and trade” act would penalize these needed energy sources to give the appearance that alternative energy is a bargain. By good fortune, Montana has the world’s greatest proven coal reserves. In today’s dollars, Montana has $1.5 trillion dollars worth of coal. The problem, of course, is that coal is dirty when compared to other energy sources, and it will take billions in research to make coal emissions acceptable. The “cap and trade” bill fails to institute “clean” coal research and discounts the future of an abundant and inexpensive Montana commodity. Nuclear power faces a similar hurdle thanks to the efforts of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. After $10 billion and over 10 years of construction, the national nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain is now on hold. Already expensive, any future expansion of nuclear power is unviable unless a suitable storage solution is instituted. Montana was right to promote wind generation, but without coal, our future does not look so bright.

Lastly, the ugly. Capping and trading emissions does not support transparency. While I recognize that the current administration inherited a legacy of failed energy policies, shifting the cost from the consumer at the pump to the power companies in the form of higher utility bills is disingenuous. It is a classic case of the government trying to manage the public’s distaste for higher taxes by shifting the blame to someone else. The right thing to do is to have the courage to tell it like it is. It’s time to wean ourselves from foreign oil and develop cleaner energy alternatives at home. It will be expensive and painful. To pay for it, it would be better to tax foreign oil and mandate using the proceeds to fund our domestic energy independence. Our policy should be to improve efficiency, fund research, store nuclear fuel safely, and build new wind, solar, and biomass facilities. The solution is simple and elegant, and each trip to the pump will serve to remind us of the price we are paying to fix this problem. Why is it so hard in Washington to be honest?

Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, was a commander in the U.S. Navy (Ret.)

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