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A Crude Reality About Energy Independence

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

What's in a name? A bit of deception when it comes to the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

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A more accurate title might be: the American Clean Energy and Less Security Act.

To get to the bottom of what's wrong with the 1,400-page energy bill passed by the House of Representatives, you have to dig deeper than Canada's tar sands. And what you find there is just as sludgy -- and taxing to process.

Crudely refined: The greener we are, the less secure we're likely to be.

Meaning, we either can be green or we can be less dependent on oil from terrorist-sponsoring states. But under the current energy bill, we can't be both.

Put another way: The more we cap our carbon, the happier the Saudis are. That's because most Middle Eastern crude is more easily accessible and requires less processing than what we and our friendlier neighbors can produce.

If you don't know this, it's because beer summits are more fun than math. Herewith, a short course for word people.

Basically, the energy bill focuses primarily on stationary sources of carbon dioxide emissions (power and manufacturing plants) and would do little to address mobile sources of emissions, i.e. transportation.

Since virtually all U.S. stationary sources use domestic energy -- coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, etc. -- the energy bill would do almost nothing about reducing oil or gasoline imports. Foreign sources provide about 70 percent of the oil used in refining gasoline and diesel.

In fact, new restrictions and associated costs would probably mean that we'd be going to foreign suppliers for oil more often rather than less.

The only way to be less dependent, obviously, is to produce as much domestic oil as possible. But even if drilling were allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, the cost of retrieving and processing the oil could be prohibitive under new cap-and-trade restrictions.

The Waxman-Markey bill, as the legislation is more commonly known, would require the United States to reduce carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent below by 2050. As a Prius-driving, pro-seal, recycling, organic vegetarian, I'm heavily tilted toward saving the planet. But we probably ought not to pretend that this bill would make us more secure by reducing dependence on foreign sources.


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