Open Thread Debate

Since my post on Panic is getting some attention now, I’m taking this opportunity to start an honest debate on the policies between candidates.   The first topic for debate:

Both parties have energy policy as a key issue.  How best should we handle America’s energy needs?

16 thoughts on “Open Thread Debate

  1. 1. Drop the moratorium on offshore drilling. Allow the states to decide whether or not they will allow offshore drilling in their waters, and allow them to collect and keep some of the royalties on the leases if they do.

    2. Drop the moratorium on drilling in ANWR. Let the oil companies explore on small, selected plots (such as the 2,000 acres that are the center of the current controversy).

    3. Tax credits to energy companies for continued research, development, and exploitation of “hard-to-get” energy resources, such as oil shale, tar sands, and underground oil in places like the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana. This is a longer-term solution than #1 and #2, because oil shale has not been profitable for oil companies in the past except when prices have gone crazy, like recently. But with improved technology, it might be.

    4. Tax credits and streamlined approval processes for construction of oil refineries and other infrastructure. If Gustav and Ike have taught us one thing, it’s that having lots of crude oil doesn’t do us any good if we can’t get it turned into useful products, and right now, our refinery structure is strained to its limits.

    5. Streamlined approval processes for nuclear power plants to replace coal-, oil-, and gas-fired power plants. This should be a no-brainer. Western Europe has long proven that nuclear energy is clean, safe, reliable, and economical.

    The goal of these first five is to ramp up our domestic energy production as quickly as possible while reducing some of our oil consumption. Our dependence on foreign oil, especially from regimes that don’t really like us very much (Venezuela, a good chunk of OPEC), isn’t just an energy issue, it’s a national security issue.

    6. Use funds from oil shale leases and energy taxes to continue government/private-sector joint research on alternative energy sources, as well as ways to clean up coal burning even more and retrieve more inacessible oil and gas reserves.

    7. Repeal President Clinton’s Utah national monument declaration that placed 1.3 million acres of low-sulfur coal off-limits. Allow limited mining in this area, with stringent environmental regulations.

    Basically my policy lines up with a current conservative slogan that’s making the rounds: “Drill here, drill now, pay less.” I know people say “but you won’t see any of that oil for years!” True. But if we’d been doing this 10 years ago, oil might well not have spiked to $140 a barrel and we might not be paying $4.00 a gallon for gas.

    Notice I didn’t say anything about cars? I think Toyota’s pretty well proven that if you build a low-emissions car that people actually think is worth it, they’ll beat down your door to buy it. (Ditto with Honda’s Civics being classified as VLEVs even though they’re gas-engined.) There are capitalistic, profit-based solutions to energy efficiency and sufficiency, and they should be encouraged over government mandates when possible. But for something this big, even a libertarian conservative like me knows the government is going to have to get involved, and fairly heavily.

  2. I think oil as an industry and a pillar of civilization is corrupt and that more oil is not a solution. Domestic oil production, at best, patches the gap between modern energy woes and future energy innovations. Domestic oil production, at the same time, can distract us from spending money and innovating in actual alternative fuels.

    I am wary of policies that react to calls for alternative fuels by saying, “You mean alternative ways to supply the same businesses and policy-makers who got us in this mess to begin with? You don’t mean ‘alternative fuel,’ you meant ‘different oil,’ right?”

  3. Not surprisingly, I’m pretty much where Lewis is on this one. I’d like to see…something like oversight from non-governmental types. Say, Sierra Club, a good-sized hunters’ advocacy group, and whatever else you can find that’s environmentally concerned and close to being nonpartisan. I don’t trust the government to uphold its own regulations no matter WHO is in charge, and creating a non-affiliated oversight group might keep things a bit more honest and would keep another alphabet agency from being created.

    Also fairly sure that there would be no rape involved.

  4. Realized that rape was a bad choice of word after I had posted. Unfortunately, opb’s blog doesn’t allow me to edit. I had many other word options: plunder, pillage, ravage…take your pick.

  5. I’m not so sure rape is a poor word choice. Here are a few definitions from

    4. an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.
    5. Archaic. the act of seizing and carrying off by force.
    7. to plunder (a place); despoil.
    8. to seize, take, or carry off by force.

    Another area the right has been masterful is in its command of the English language. Their ability to use slight of hand via the words they use to advertise (or disguise) their actual policies and agendas is impressive. They have been kicking the left’s ass in this area for quite some time. A few examples: “The Patriot Act”, “No Child Left Behind”, and a personal favorite of mine, “The Death Tax”. Let’s call it what it is, raping the earth. More on this and a response to “drill baby, drill” later.

    Officer Gleason… Why did you send me a link to this site during election season? You know damn well this isn’t good for my health. lol

  6. Hm. Lewis, for the most part it seems your plan may be summarized as follows: increase domestic oil and coal production, increase the number of nuclear power plants, and use some of the funds derived from these efforts to fund alternative energy research.
    I’m going to leave aside the environmental concerns. For now, we’ll just accept that it might be possible to do these things with proper oversight to prevent damage.
    Moving on.
    You say: “The goal of these first five is to ramp up our domestic energy production as quickly as possible while reducing some of our oil consumption. Our dependence on foreign oil, especially from regimes that don’t really like us very much (Venezuela, a good chunk of OPEC), isn’t just an energy issue, it’s a national security issue.”
    Hey, we agree! Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a national security issue! It is also an environmental issue! Alas, it isn’t an issue that can be addressed by increasing domestic production. “What,” you say? “Increasing our domestic production means reducing our imports! Ipso facto, my dear chap!”
    Does it? Not really. First, America produces about 10% of the world’s oil as measured in barrels per day. It consumes about 25% of world oil production. My, my. Even if we were to go ahead and drill everywhere, right now, we would not be able to close that gap. In talking about just oil, although the figures for natural gas are similar, there are currently fields under lease on the outer continental shelf that are not under production that comprise 79% of estimated resources in the U.S.. On land, there are untapped leases that contain 62% of estimate resources. If we were to open up production on all of those leases right now, then we would cut oil imports by up to 33%! Wow!
    Wait. Wow? We’d still be importing 66% of our oil? From all the rhetoric, I thought it would be more. “Wait!” You say. “My plan will cut oil use by shifting production to nuclear plants! We will therefore cut demand, and therefore imports as well!”
    And that’s a great point, if we pretend the oil we import from hostile states was being used to heat our homes and power our televisions, but it isn’t. THAT energy mostly comes from domestic coal production. Oil goes into our transportation and manufacturing sectors, which still leaves us with a sizable national security problem. Can you imagine if our imports were actually cut off by hostile states? What would a drop in supply of 66% do to transport and retail costs? Anything bad?
    So, returning to the idea that boosting production by opening up access to resources is an idea worth exploring…it isn’t. The only reason to open up access would be if currently accessible resources were close to be tapped out. As I referenced earlier, the vast majority of oil (and natural gas) resources are currently available for lease. Not only that, they’re already under lease, but not under production, even though drilling in already leased regions would nearly double our current oil production FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. It would also be more than 6 times the estimated PEAK production from opening up ANWR.
    But that’s crazy. If we have access to these reserves, why aren’t the companies that hold the leases to these oil fields drilling like mad? Why is there a Republican campaign to drill here, drill now? Regarding the latter, I’ve no idea. I assume most Republicans just don’t know much about facts. You can regard that as a dig if you like, but it contains a serious question about the perceived urgency to drill in new areas when other already accessible areas haven’t been touched. Also, most democrats don’t know much either, so hey. Ignorance for all! As for the former, I’ve got a secret phrase that most Republicans should love: marketplace forces.
    Ah, the mystical market, with the invisible and forceful hands of Bigsby. Here’s the riddle: why would oil companies not immediately exploit fields they had purchased the leases to? Well, there are a few answers. First is, opening up a new oil field takes some investment. Why spend the cash when you don’t need to yet? Secondly, why don’t you drink the scotch all at once? To save some for later, of course! It isn’t a price fixing conspiracy on the part of the oil companies. They are an old business that plans long term. There is absolutely no incentive to overproduce now, increase supply, drop prices and exhaust their reserves when they can sit on those reserves and explore them gradually in the future in order to maximize their long term income stream. This is true of any resource that is controlled by few enough interests so that the tragedy of the commons can be avoided. Gold and diamond mines do the same thing. This is why companies have been stockpiling leases for the past two decades, and it is why they are lobbying hard for even more leases to be made available. This is their chance to get in on the ground floor for cheap in order to guarantee their income in the future. It is also why they aren’t exploring those leases: they will, just 10 or 20 years down the line. If they were to wait to buy until they actually needed them in the future, the government would demand a higher price. Therefore they buy now, while supply is high and prices are low.
    The fact that the Republicans are shilling for these companies is something I can’t explain without resorting to slandering their intelligence or ethics. I leave that up to my readers.
    Ah, but lest we forget, the prices at the pump! Drilling will lower prices in 10 years! If we’d made leases available 10 years ago, then prices would be lower now!
    Nope, nope, nope.
    We DID increase leases. We have, consistently, for the past 15 years. And Oil companies have bought them! They’ve even drilled in some! We’ve leased out 91.5 % of our federal lands that contain oil and natural gas, and we’re producing from about 23.7% now. So, complete this syllogism with me.
    Premise One: Leasing increases drilling.
    Premise Two: Drilling increases supply.
    Premise Three: Increased supply lowers prices at the pump!
    Conclusion: Gas prices are lower than ever!
    Wait…only two and three aren’t true, are they? Companies have an interest in not drilling right now, and gas prices are quite lofty! So, not only is the argument that we should drill to lower energy prices in the future logically false, it is also historically false. WE did increase access to oil. Gas prices went up due to the falling dollar and speculation on the future cost of oil. (Hilariously, now that the dollar is strengthening and the futures markets are getting cold feet when they realize how fucked the global economy could get in the future, gas prices are likely to decline a good 30-40 cents.)
    So, last but not least, the role of the market in pushing for energy efficiency. Lewis, I applaud your caution here. It’s well justified.
    You said “But for something this big, even a libertarian conservative like me knows the government is going to have to get involved, and fairly heavily.”
    Yup! There are two problems here. The first relates to your earlier desire to make reserves and resources more available. Let’s pretend, against the evidence, that it would work. Energy prices drop, but with them, the market demand for energy efficiency would also drop. Sure, the Prius is a popular car amongst those that like to flash their green credentials. (My wife got hers used and for a low price, so it was actually worth it.) But demand and price spiked hugely after gas prices soared. Is there any reason we wouldn’t go back to the SUVs we love as a nation if gas were cheap again? Other than how smart and well informed we all are?
    Let’s be honest, in a cheap energy environment, most people won’t care. The only reason they would is non-economic reasons, like fashion and public perception. These, though, are effected also by marketing. But why would a company try to create “cool” demand for a more expensive product with a smaller profit margin? Enter the government.
    It’s funny that you use the Prius as an example of market demand at work. In fact, the concept for the Prius was generated back in the hazy days of 1993, after some hippy dipshit named Al Gore started pushing for it in the same administration that was opening up oil field leases access. Al held a big party, and they invited all the major American automakers…but not Toyota! Hurt, Toyota started its own party, and developed the Prius. Meanwhile, under the Partnership For a New Generation of Vehicles, Detroit produced a number of concept vehicles based on the idea of fuel efficiency. There was a lot of diesel in there, but also some electric cars. Curiously, the program was canceled in 2001 when some administration took over…I forget which. To be fair, this was at the request of the automakers. Why waste research on some hippy bullshit when what Americans really wanted was more hummers? Let the profitable times roll!
    Oh, wait, that didn’t turn out well. (Man, I bet they wish they’d stuck with it when their traditional cars were suddenly too expensive to drive, and there was a real market for their new generation vehicles.) The point being, however, that the development of the Prius was in response to a government program, not consumer desires at the time. So, I agree, government intervention is likely to be necessary, to create demand through taxation and innovation through funding.
    But, returning to your energy plan, let’s review:
    Expanding access to resources does not increase production: given this, why should we open up even more reserves?
    Nuclear Power can be an option that addresses replacing coal, but it doesn’t look like Yucca mountain will come online anytime soon. Also, these things aren’t cheap. But I agree they are a good short term option.
    More refineries and infrastructure might be warranted if we want to bolster our future capacity to use oil. Why would we want to do this, given supply will continue to decline and prices are likely to remain relatively high?
    I absolutely agree we should tax oil and gas fuels to generate funds for research, as well as demand for efficiency. As earlier, opening new sources of energy to be taxed is unnecessary.
    So, Lewis, which of your original points would you consider revising, and which do you stick by, and why?
    So, yeah. I realize this is a critique, and not my own preferred energy policy, but I’ll try to post that as well in the coming days.
    Thanks! If there’s any data you’re confused about that isn’t in the following links, let me know.

    Oil production data:
    Prius info:

  7. Allowing oil companies to lease more land for exploration isn’t a solution to anything. As Seth mentioned, the conmpanies already have leases they are not developing.

    The problem with rising oil prices was that people speculated that demand would not decreaase; that the price would go up and up and people would continute to buy. And they were wrong. That is why the price of gas is coming down. Now they know that when push comes to shove, there is a point the consumer will not cross.

    More leases aren’t the issue.

    However, I do agree that more nuclear power would be a boon. Unfortunately, the American psyche is scarred by the early disasters. As a country, we are rather slow to change our minds.

    Steamlining process won’t help when you have people that are willing to go to extremes to keep you from building.

  8. Saying we should solve our energy issues by more drilling is like a heroin addict saying he’s going to kick it by doing more heroin.

    The problem we have always had with trying to conserve fuel or find new alternatives is that we only pay attention when the shit hits the fan. We are lucky that the current oil price crisis has been driven by speculation more than supply — because when it does get driven by supply, and we’re not ready for it, that’s when the real Mad Max fun starts.

    Drilling, to me, is a distraction from the real goal — creating a post-oil America. We can keep the drilling in our back pocket for later, if we need it, but I would rather see alternative fuels, especially for autos, researched with maximum intensity. We have made a lot of progress with ethanol engines, and I think we could refine and improve that if we focus our research and put more effort into it.

    I also hate to say it, but I think nuclear power is also something we should invest in. The waste is harmful but overall its cleaner. I have no idea if fusion (which I believe produces much less waste) will be possible in the near future, but the current process is still viable if we are careful with the waste.

  9. Energy Policy:
    There’s a lot we could do in the short term to try and lower gas and oil prices, but I’m going to ignore stuff like opening up the strategic reserve just to drop the price of gas. Let’s talk longer term.
    First, we need to vastly reduce our transportation sector oil use. This can be done by creating market demand through taxing the shit out of gas and oil derivatives. Is that regressive? Absolutely! That could be addressed in a number of ways, from a direct subsidy to the driving poor with the gas equivalent of food stamps, or more appropriately…
    Second, we need to vastly improve our public transportation networks in a way to both shift from more oil-costly single transport cars to oil-efficient buses and trains, but also to shift the fuel sources for buses and trains away from oil and to alternatives. The short term fix is to convert existing fleets to electrics or hybrids, and to add substantially to fleet size. It ought to be possible to get anywhere in any major metropolitan area in a reasonable amount of time using just public transport. This can be funded partially through fares and partially through taxing the shit out of oil and gas, (see above.) Yes, I know fares on public transport aren’t self funding, and makes no-one wealthier. Neither does our military, except maybe those companies that build overpriced war tech. Either way, it is cheaper than exporting our capital funds to the middle east through oil purchases.
    Third, we need to build infrastructure, plus some infrastructure, and maybe some infrastructure too. Specifically, we need to expand and upgrade rail lines to both cover more ground in order to deliver goods and possibly people through public transport, and to be electrically run, so they can be powered off of a nationwide electric grid that can be hooked into whatever power source we’ve got, from dirty right now to hopefully clean in the future. If we can shift our transportation of goods off of diesel powered trains and trucks, we will vastly improve our energy independence.
    Fourth, we need to build that nationwide energy grid I spoke of. Ideally, this would literally connect the whole country, and be built with incredibly high future demands in mind. As it stands now, we have several antique grids sorta strung together. Anyone remember that big NYC blackout a few years back? Yeah, we need something bigger and more redundant that can redirect power wherever it is being generated, and wherever it is being consumed.
    Then, there’s the generic, “support a variety of research initiatives, use tax credits to reward certain behaviors, etc.”
    Then, we have the candidates, with their energy plans. Sigh.
    It’s not that I’m pro-Obama. It’s that I’m anti-McCain. From looking at their two polcicies on their respective websites, I have concluded that Obama and McCain are twins, separated at birth and raised in separate households by democrats and republicans as some sort of unethical experiment.
    HA! No, I kid. Their not the same age, so no twins. Siblings, though?
    Seriously. It would seem from the bland generalities they speak of, that they both believe the government should foster the free market to solve the problem while simultaneously improving our security and making everyone richer! Of course!
    Why didn’t I think of that?
    If you search beyond the platitudes, then some differences DO become apparent. For example, McCain wants to eliminate the renewable fuels standard, which requires that a given percentage of fuels sold in the U.S. be biofuels. Obama wants to keep it. Alas, this sort of mandate is basically a concealed subsidy to the agricultural sector. Since it’s not directly market based, it is also hard to enforce. McCain also want to eliminate a current tariff on imported ethanol fuels. Obama wants to keep it. In this case, this is also a price support to everyone growing corn for ethanol in the U.S., and I don’t really love it. These two go to McCain. (Not surprising, given his stated love for free markets.)
    McCain opposes a renewable portfolio standard, which would require companies to produce a given amount (25%) of their energy with clean, renewable fuels. While not strictly market based, this requirement would drive market research and investments, so it might well work. Obama supports it. Point for Obama.
    Obama favors continued ethanol mandates (which can be good or bad, depending on the source,) as well as tax credits. McCain opposes both in anything but the short term. I’m calling it a tie, here, given I’m not convinced of the value of ethanol in the long term. Still, Obama gets some credit for his “green” enthusiasm, just as McCain does for his caution.
    McCain wants more Nuke Plants. LOTS of them. Obama really doesn’t. I’m torn here. Nuke plants are certainly cleaner in a carbon sense, but let’s be honest, no-one wants Yucca Mountain in their back yard. Not to mention the security issues. Plus, there’s the heat pollution, which worries me as a “biologist.” Finally, we have to admit that there are other, even cleaner alternatives available. Heck, even coal power plants with smokestack scrubbers could be made to be as clean, given lots of money. I’m going to call this a tie, although my short term head is with McCain, and my long term heart and head are with Obama. Oh, actually, head and heart beats just head. 0.1 point for Obama. Barely. Seriously, it is a tough, complex issue. I just don’t see it as a long term solution.
    Hmmm. They both like clean coal plants, and would invest money in their creation. But, Obama would invest more, and is even willing to ban dirty coal plants. Point to Obama!
    Both would use a cap and trade system to limit emissions. Tie.
    So, the score is 2.0 McCain, 2.1 Obama. That’s close enough to really make it a tie, especially given how torn I am about Nukes.
    What to do?
    McCain says, “Drill here, Drill now?”
    Huh. Now, I can excuse your average citizen not being totally up on these issue. I get why your average Joe might think that that slogan is compelling. But from a candidate, with 20+ years of lobbyist experience as a Senator, who has people on his staff to check facts, who is generally held to a higher standard?
    That’s effin’ bullshit. Am I just supposed to write it off as coincidence that in terms of fund raising, the retired and OIL COMPANIES are the two groups that have entirely favored McCain in terms of donations? I don’t think so. The drill here drill now line is clearly false to anyone who does their research. We HAVE the oil fields, and the oil companies aren’t drilling. They’re saving those leases for a rainy day in the future. They’re doing what they’re supposed to, maintaining shareholder value. That’s their JOB. That’s their LEGAL OBLIGATION. When John McCain says the same thing, it means one of a few things.
    1) He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, in which case everyone he hired to advise him is incompetent. This doesn’t look good as a recommendation for a possible leader of the free world.
    2) He does know what he’s talking about, but doesn’t care that it’s false and misleading. I don’t mind my politicians fibbing some, but I have minimum standards. Someone who is willing to lie about one of the single biggest issues facing us as a nation over the next 30 years does NOT get to be in the White House.
    3) It’s not his job to tell the truth, because he’s been bought by the oil companies. This is fine. We have a name and job description for this. Alas, it isn’t the Presidency. It’s called being a lobbyist. You don’t get to be both.
    From what I’ve seen over the past 8 years, McCain has taken positions he used to revile publicly. Given this, I think “Drill Here, Drill Now,” is a symptom of the general sale of his principles. I think we’ve got an Oil lobbyist running for President. In a way, I prefer that to liar or idiot. At least it isn’t unusual.

  10. 1) I’m a fan of the idea of expanding the production of natural gas to sub in for oil while we get more renewable-fuel vehicles on the road. It’s about 1/3 cleaner than burning gas for cars and it’s made in America, which means not only cheaper prices at the pump (great supply, no overseas transport costs or foreign taxes) but cleaner air. 1/3 cleaner is a big difference.

    2) As we’re expanding NG’s role, devote money from the government to expanding the role of “clean” energy sources, such as solar, wind and tidal. There was some Yahoo! News article today about some 12 year old who just revolutionized the solar cell because he made it 3D, not flat, and it can capture UV rays and turn them into energy, too; not just visible light. That strikes me as pretty cool. Progress in action! And where would I get the money to expand R&D for these fields? Tax oil. I have little and less sympathy for them.
    I’m also a fan of putting a competition out to the American people. Tell ’em “Hey, first person to bring me the Better Mousetrap of wind turbines gets a big fat prize and a shotgun seat for the construction of a new wind farm”, or something.

    3) After these clean energy sources are in place, make ’em used for more than just replacing coal as the largest source of domestic home power (though that’s a good start, “clean coal” is a joke). Provide tax breaks to people that buy electric cars, and provide incentives to companies that install electric car “filling stations” that draw their juice from clean energy sources. Start taking CO2-producing cars off the roads altogether.

    I feel like a shithead not bringing many hard facts to the table here, but its late and classes are early. Either way, though, those’re my ideas.

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