When people are given accurate information about the costs of oil dependence, according to the latest survey from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), they make better decisions, like choosing higher vehicle fuel standards that will lead to less oil consumption.
Which is what makes the keynote address by former oil man and former President George W. Bush at the WindPower 2010 conference so troubling. The crowd enjoyed and applauded the folksy, funny anecdotal presentation. But beneath that surface, Bush slipped in comments that argued for doing less, not more, in renewables.
Mr. Bush did deliver some entirely accurate and sound messages in his talk. He emphasized that wind energy is one of the ideas that will deliver the nation from its oil addiction. He is certainly to be applauded for having the integrity, as a self-proclaimed son of Texas, to have declared the U.S. an oil addict during his presidency and having done what he did for the Texas wind industry in the 1990s.
Yet even in recounting how he, as governor of Texas, helped make the state into the nation's wind energy leader, he disappointed in failing to outline how to build on that. In listing the policies he instituted as governor in support of wind, there was a glaring omission. He listed first and foremost "good sound law" that allows entrepreneurs to get a "reasonable return" for investment risks. He also called for low taxes, streamlined permitting and expanded access to transmission.
What President Bush omitted was the one thing for which the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and every other speaker at the convention, including North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Iowa Governor Chet Culver, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, CEOs from major wind companies across the country and around the world, and the AWEA CEO Denise Bode, were all clamoring: A national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).
An RES is a mandate requiring regulated utilities to obtain a specific portion of their power from New Energy sources by a certain date. The wind industry wants an RES requiring 20% New Energy by 2020 or 2025. Under then-Governor Bush, the Texas legislature instituted a 2,000-megawatt mandate. An endorsement of a national RES from the former President would surely carry weight with enough Senate Republicans to push it through, but no such endorsement was rendered.
He told a charming story about what it is like to be out of the White House and free to take Barney, the former First Dog, for a walk in his Dallas neighborhood. When Barney chose to do his business on a neighbor's lawn, Mr. Bush realized he wasn't in D.C. anymore.
"So there I was, the former President of the United States, with a plastic baggie," Mr. Bush joked to the crowd's amusement, "picking up that which I had been dodging for eight solid years." In one subversive slash, he jokingly dismissed all the many illegitimate and legitimate criticisms of him as dog poop.
Undoubtedly the most disturbing point in Mr. Bush's talk came near the end of his prepared remarks. We are in a transitional period, he said. A comprehensive energy policy is necessary. But his grandchildren, he envisioned, "will be driving electric cars powered primarily by renewable sources of energy, be it natural gas -- which now as the result of a technological breakthrough we have 200 years of supply -- whether it be nuclear power or whether it be solar and wind energy."
Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but it is a fossil fuel. Some theories suggest that the 200-year supply to which Mr. Bush referred, which will be obtained only through the energy-intensive and environmentally questionable 'technological breakthrough' process of hydrofracking the shale holding the reserves, could produce more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal.
It has been a difficult spring for fossil fuels. Within the last few months, 29 coal miners were crushed, 11 oil platform workers were incinerated, and the U.S. is facing the worst human-induced environmental disaster in history.
The nation is at a crucial crossroads in its energy life. It can move ahead into a new energy future or it can remain mired in the deadly and disastrous old energies. It can level its mountains for coal and live with black tarry beaches and oil-slick oceans or it can build the infrastructure to draw on the clean, free power of sun and wind, flowing waters, deep-earth heat and its own waste.
The people of this nation will choose the leaders who will control the decision-making process that takes place at the crossroads. At the very least, they deserve to have accurate information when they make the call.
Some facts: The U.S. imports more than 60% of its oil. Gulf oil is about 15% of U.S. production, but U.S. oil provides only about 3% of what is consumed, and Gulf oil is therefore only 0.3% of world oil reserves.
Generally, the people of the U.S. believe the nation has as much as 45% or more of the world's oil reserves. When they are given accurate information about how little is held domestically, support for policies that reduce oil dependency in general goes from 54% to 68%, and support for a strong auto fuel efficiency standard goes from 66% to 72%.
They say the truth hurts. It most hurts those who profit from untruth.
Herman K. Trabish is a California physician who blogs about alternative energy at http://newenergynews.blogspot.com/.