In a speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in April, President George W. Bush told a story about talking to troops in Texas who were concerned about the rising cost of gasoline. Bush explained that he had no "magic wand" to reduce gas prices, but he hinted that his energy plan, which he wants Congress to approve ASAP, would provide some relief. If only that were true. In fact, experts say that Bush’s energy policy will do nothing to bring down the prices at the pump, in spite of its heavy emphasis on drilling for oil and gas.
We’ve seen this before from the president on energy issues.
In early 2001, he insinuated that environmental regulations were
somehow responsible for the California energy crisis. Seattle
writer Bruce Barcott has documented in The New York
Times how Bush used that notion to help justify gutting
rules that require coal-fired power plants to comply with the Clean
Air Act — despite the fact that Bush’s old friends at
Enron, not environmental regulations, were behind the so-called
What is the president up to now? In his April
talk, Bush laid out his priorities: (1) encouraging energy
efficiency and renewable energy research; (2) expanding domestic
energy production in environmentally sensitive ways; and (3)
developing alternative sources of energy. Sounds good. Sounds
great, in fact. The problem is that when you look at the details of
his energy plan, you come away with a very different picture.
Bush’s plan would pour $2 billion into developing
cleaner technology for burning coal, which he calls "our most
abundant energy source." It would pour billions more into nuclear
power, which Bush says "produces without pollution." The
"alternatives" he speaks of are corn-based ethanol and hydrogen
fuel cells. Truly clean and abundant energy sources such as wind
and solar get short shrift.
And so we find ourselves
again in the position of looking elsewhere for leadership. Happily,
as Laura Paskus writes in this issue’s cover story, that
leadership is emerging in the West, from state governments, rural
electric co-ops and everyday people. The West is, after all, the
cradle — and the grave — for much of the nation’s
energy industry. This region produces much of the coal and natural
gas and uranium, for example, and nuclear power plants back East
have been trying for years to send us their radioactive waste.
In a sense, President Bush is doing us all a favor. It
makes sense that the people are the ones leading this charge.
Westerners and Easterners alike, we’re the ones who breathe
the smog from coal-fired power plants, who see firsthand the
impacts of mining and drilling, and who feel the effects of global
warming. We’re also the ones who make the energy business
boom, by plugging in our computers and TVs and air conditioners,
and buying bigger and bigger SUVs.
But if we can lead
— in the right direction — Congress just might follow,
and create a national energy policy that we can all believe in.