It’s Time for a Renewable Energy Plan


As we have turned the corner of a millennium, we have an extraordinary opportunity to begin a new era in which our conception of how energy is produced, used and conserved is transformed.

The energy strategy put forward by the current administration and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives was developed during the first half of 2001 by a Task Force chaired by Vice President Cheney. Neither innovative private sector companies nor the public interest were permitted to compete fairly and openly for the White House ear.

Old thinking passed through the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue far more often and easily than new thinking. Exxon Mobil, Enron or Chevron enjoyed an access bonanza at the expense of consumers and environmental technology manufacturers.

As a result, those most heavily invested in the current energy system have set a course for the future that champions status quo policies at the expense of new ideas and innovation. Common sense tells us that the policies that made us dependent on foreign oil - however repackaged in the mantle of patriotism - will only keep us dependent on foreign oil. If we enact the entire Bush energy plan, we will find ourselves 20 years from now more dependent on foreign oil than we are today. The Administration has not offered an agenda for energy independence.

Nothing is more indicative of old-thinking, special-interest policy than the attempt to falsely sell to the American people a rationale for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

When California was desperate for electricity, they proposed drilling in ANWR - even though only 1 percent of California’s electricity was oil-based and not an additional drop would appear for 10 years. I was publicly warned by Trent Lott that the lights were literally about to go out in Massachusetts, all my constituents were going to freeze to death in the dark, and I would bear responsibility.

Under the Administration’s proposals, increasing demand for oil will quickly gobble up whatever comes from small US supplies. While the US has only 3 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves, we use 25 percent of the world’s oil supply. The solution does not lie in ANWR - it lies in less dependency on oil itself.

America has a choice between two competing visions. The Administration sees a world where our principal effort is to drill our way out of our problem. I see a world where our primary focus shifts to exciting a new marketplace for alternative and renewable energy sources.
The Administration begrudgingly accepts that global warming is a threat that must be addressed - even as their energy plan would increase global warming pollution by more than 30 percent. They say they want to stem air pollution that makes Americans sick and degrades our land and water - but their proposals weaken pollution controls at powerplants.

We have to do better than this.

I’ve talked to citizens across our country, to business people, farmers and the energy industry; to academic experts and local officials; to the public health community and public interest organizations, and I have found that more and more Americans “get it.”

They are dissatisfied with the fossil-fuel based energy policies that made sense 50 years ago. They are frustrated because we don’t pursue alternatives they know we could adopt.

They want leaders setting an agenda where protecting our land, our water, our air and our public health are national priorities, not afterthoughts. They want a country where energy security is a growing reality.

I respectfully suggest that it is time to pursue a national Strategic Energy Initiative. Its goal is quite simply to initiate a transition from our heavy dependence on polluting and insecure fossil fuels to more efficient, clean and reliable energy.

America has made exactly this sort of energy transition more than once before. For much of the 1800s our primary source of energy was wood. By the late 1800s, coal was king. That changed when the automobile went into mass production and demand for gasoline soared. Natural gas was added to the energy mix in the ‘40s. Nuclear power came online in the ‘50s. Now we need to prepare our nation for the 21st Century and begin a transition to domestic, clean and reliable energy technologies.

During the last century, the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries benefited from hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, tax breaks, land sales and outright government assistance. A $1.8 billion federal largesse is lavished on oil and gas while alternative efforts compete for the scraps of a mere $24 million in federal venture capital. A technological revolution can change the energy landscape itself, and it’s time we accelerate the technology.

I believe we should set a national goal of having 20 percent of our electricity come from domestic alternative and renewable sources by the year 2020. Twenty-twenty - I think it’s a vision worthy of America; a goal I believe our citizens are ready to embrace.

Minnesota requires that a percentage of its electricity be generated from the wind. Texas is on track to reach its renewable target by 2004 instead of the proposed year of 2009. California is at 13 percent renewable energy and there is no reason other states can’t do better.

The growth of wind, solar and geothermal would spark a surge in production resulting in a net gain to our national economy, a net gain in employment, and a net gain in wages. There are simply more jobs-per-megawatt in the renewable industries than in fossil-fuel sectors.

Domestic, renewable sources are entirely under our control. No foreign government can embargo them. No terrorist can seize control of them. No cartel can play games with them. No American soldier will have to risk his or her life to protect them.

During the 1970s, America created the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program to promote the manufacture of more efficient, safe, reliable and high-quality cars. It saved oil. (I might add that the law was signed by a Republican President from Michigan, named Ford.)

We should promote the use of renewable biofuels in addition to the corn-based ethanol we already support. A national goal that a percentage of our gas be derived from biomass is in our Democratic energy proposal.

Our national energy bill is $200 billion lower thanks to the efficiency gains of the past three decades. Efficiency has been the second largest source of energy over the past two decades, second only to oil.

Rather than have our energy policy be the last big mistake of the 20th century, we can make it the first major opportunity for security of the 21st century.

John Kerry is a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. This article is excerpted from a major speech delivered on January 22, 2002 to the Center for National Policy in Washington, DC.

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