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Front Page » May 26, 2009 » Opinion » Guest column: Economic strangulation
Published 1,891 days ago

Guest column: Economic strangulation


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By MARK W. HENDRICKSON
Center for Vision and Values

The "greens" must be thrilled with the new Obama/Pelosi/Reid (OPR) troika in charge of the federal government. Three times already, the troika has blocked the development of domestic oil resources.

During his first week in office, President Obama rescinded his predecessor's executive order permitting drilling on the continental shelf and in the Green River Formation. Both areas contain abundant oil—especially Green River (under Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah), which has recoverable shale-oil reserves three times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Several weeks later, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar unilaterally canceled 77 oil and gas leases in Utah, on the grounds that (I kid you not) someone might catch a glimpse of temporary drilling equipment from the national park that sits more than a mile away.

Next, on March 25, the House of Representatives passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S. 22) which, among many other things, adds two million more acres to the 107 million acres of protected wilderness already owned by the federal government. (In all, Uncle Sam owns 607 million acres of land.) The main purpose of this law is to prevent the exploration and extraction of oil and gas from these lands, which are estimated to have 300 million barrels of oil and 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under them.

In addition to increasing American dependence on foreign oil by thwarting such domestic development, the OPR/green alliance desires the imposition of expensive cap-and-trade rules to discourage utilities from using coal, which currently provides nearly half of America's electricity. As Obama candidly explained to the San Fransisco Chronicle during his presidential campaign, "If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, but cap-and-trade will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

Of course, this anti-fossil fuel agenda is nothing new for green Democrats. This group has long resisted drilling in a tiny sliver of the remote, desolate Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And even the relatively moderate Clinton Administration, after designating natural gas as its environmentally responsible fossil fuel of choice, conferred wilderness designation on the western lands that contained some of the richest targets for natural-gas exploration.

The super-green Obama administration plans to replace fossil fuels with alternative fuels. The last time we went down this road, President Carter managed to blow several billion dollars on failed attempts to produce economically viable synthetic fuels (remember "Synfuels?") and foisted the ongoing ethanol boondoggle on us. Corn-based ethanol, even 30 years later, still requires massive government subsidies, is useless for achieving energy independence. It consumes nearly as much, and perhaps more, energy to produce it than it yields in our fuel tanks. It is also the least environmentally friendly fuel we use, increasing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause smog, using up precious water supplies, and requiring the tilling of millions of acres of wildlife habitat.

Ah, but the good news is that the current generation of green leaders will take us to the fabled land of wind and solar energy. Apart from the daunting economics—it is likely that these energy sources will still require government subsidies several decades hence, as ethanol does today. Think of the environmental impact of these allegedly superior energy sources.

Solar energy requires vast territories for solar cells—as many as 46,000 square miles would have to be covered by solar panels. One logical place for a "solar energy farm" would be the wide-open, sunshine-rich, sparsely populated Mojave Desert. However, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) already has nixed that possibility in the name of wilderness protection. As a frustrated Gov. Schwarzenegger lamented, if you can't put solar panels in the Mojave Desert, then where can you put them?

Wind energy also runs into the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. Besides the legitimate environmental concern about the way windmills slice up birds and create low-pressure zones that explode the lungs of bats, environmentalists have started to block transmission networks that would tie the energy generated by windmills to the power grid. This reminds me of the congressman who voted for funding of a ship-borne weapon because the weapon is manufactured in his district, but then voted against funding the construction of the only ships that use that particular weapon in order to appeal to antiwar voters.

This green agenda is more than absurd, it is sinister. The real goal of greens is not "clean energy" but less energy. Energy is essential to economic progress, and many greens want to halt and reverse economic progress. Some radical greens have praised Fidel Castro for de-developing Cuba. Al Gore wrote in his book "Earth in the Balance" that U.S. policy should aim for slower economic growth. President Obama's chief science advisor John Holdren's top two environmental goals are to shrink the human population and to slow economic growth.

So here we are, in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and the ruling party is pursuing an anti-energy agenda that would further cripple economic activity. They seem oblivious to the fact that poverty is the most lethal environment for human beings. (Life expectancy in the United States declined during the Great Depression.) What a grim price we will pay for the green agenda.

Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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