Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Does government have to play fair? A Georgia environmentalist says it’s not a level playing field when it comes to alternative energy getting the kind of government support traditionally offered to the fossil-fuel industry. A conservative writer counters that the mandating of renewable energy will increase our cost of living, even as air quality improves and natural gas energy catches on.
Commenting is open below.
By David Kyler
It is often said that morality cannot be legislated, but that doesn’t keep people from trying. Yet the public issues most commonly portrayed in moral dimensions seldom if ever include job creation, technology and the use and protection of natural resources.
Our state and nation would benefit greatly by linking government policies to standards that balance moral goals such as fairness and honesty with other important objectives, including economic opportunity, education, public health and defending civil liberties.
For instance, when energy policy favors conventional sources of power like fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) without comparable support for clean alternatives such as solar and wind power, it fails to meet the moral test of fairness and honesty. By any measure, jobs per dollar invested and per unit of energy produced are higher in solar and wind technologies than in traditional power plants.
It is unfair to deprive the public of the benefits of alternative energy and to protect the vested interests of the relatively few who are financially favored by the “fossilized” status quo. Likewise, it is dishonest to deny the threats caused by global climate change and its combustion-related causes.
The longer status-quo policies prevail, the greater the penalties on future generations, with potentially catastrophic consequences. While social programs are often condemned for their longer-term moral implications, political analysis of energy and environmental policies misleadingly marginalizes them. Discounting cumulative damage to water, air and living resources imposes costly burdens on human health and economic prospects.
Even with existing environmental safeguards in place, millions of Americans still suffer the effects of pollution. Asthma, encephalitis and other debilitating diseases are agonizing penalties imposed by dirty industries. Yet the cost of these injuries — in employment potential, medical treatment and shortened lifespan — are condoned under current policies and practices.
Defenders of the status quo also attack subsidies for green technologies, asserting that “free markets” should be the determinant of successful innovation. Such assertions also conflict with fundamental moral principles. It is dishonest to portray leading energy technologies as if they were a result of free markets.
Coal, oil and gas have been lavishly subsidized for decades. And dominant energy technologies impose hidden costs not tabulated in their market price. One respected expert estimates that tabulating pollution clean-up, military costs, and other public obligations supporting fossil fuels would add $12 per gallon at the pump.
Should taxpayers and consumers accommodate the electric power industry, as the state’s largest water user, by exempting it from the deceptively named Georgia Water Stewardship Act? This injustice is worsened by the multi-billion-dollar reservoir-construction program proposed by Georgia officials, to be paid for by residential and commercial water customers rather than the state’s biggest water user.Ponder the ethics of energy policy. Is it fair that a hefty portion of the huge U.S. military budget is devoted to protecting access to foreign sources of oil? One respected expert estimates that tabulating pollution clean-up, military costs, and other public obligations supporting fossil fuels would add $12 per gallon at the pump. In effect, this is a hidden tax that is not only secret, but economically subversive.
If we agree that public policies should be guided by moral principles, surely we must adopt judicious and accountable methods for making such determinations.
David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast in Saint Simons.
By Benita M. Dodd
If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Watching environmental groups eroding sound energy policy through death by a thousand cuts is a strong reminder.
For years, alternative energy was promoted as preparation for “peak” oil. Domestic energy exploration was hindered to “protect the land.” Air and water pollution were cited to demonize coal. Then global warming/climate change was the reason to reduce coal and petroleum use.
Policymakers concerned about national security were urged to achieve energy independence, with no regard for how global markets operate. In this, biofuel profiteers have been complicit and protectionist. States were pressed to mandate energy portfolios with a percentage of renewable energy including wind, solar and biomass. The pot was sweetened with tax credits, subsidies, grants and rebates, all at taxpayer expense.
Georgia has wisely resisted such mandates. But more recently, a new strategy has become clear: the call for legislators to embrace alternative energy sources because “it’s good for the economy and the right thing to do.”
In a struggling economy where job creation is important, legislators may just fall for this new “moral” argument. But it’s as unpredictable as the future of renewable energy. Why? First, peak oil arguments were soundly defeated by recent discoveries of vast resources of domestic shale gas. In fact, current recoverable gas provides enough for at least the next 100 years. Technological advances are certain to improve upon that estimate.
Air quality has improved even as energy use increased. Between 1980 and 2011, GDP increased 128 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 94 percent, energy consumption increased 26 percent and the U.S. population grew 37 percent. During that period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 63 percent. While carbon dioxide emissions increased 21 percent between 1980 and 2010, CO2 energy-related emissions are expected to decline to 5 percent below 2005 levels by 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s largely thanks to better cars and more (cleaner, shale) natural gas energy.
The moral “justification” includes job creation. That hasn’t worked in Spain, where a 2010 study found that for each green job financed by Spanish taxpayers, 2.2 real jobs were lost as an opportunity cost, and that 9 out of 10 green jobs created over the previous 10 years no longer existed. It hasn’t worked in Germany, whose 80-percent renewable goal is proving so unaffordable that manufacturing industries — and their jobs — are leaving the country.
Meanwhile, other countries are expanding their economies, using or extracting fossil fuels with far less regard for the environment. Europe is using the demonized coal exported from the U.S.
Imposing renewable energy upon Georgia’s taxpayers raises the cost of living. The right thing to do is for government to allow the ingenuity of Americans to continue to create an affordable, reliable energy mix, not legislate on the basis of “morality” agendas of a vocal minority.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.