The Senate is debating the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Act which proposes to reduce green house gas emissions. Sixty percent of those GHGs are emitted by petroleum based transportation fuels and coal-fueled electric power plants. Nowhere in Waxman-Markey's 1,400 pages is there an effective substitute for those fuels.
Coal-fueled power plants can be replaced by non-polluting nuclear reactors as in France, but nuclear is not mentioned in the legislation.
Most developed countries limit consumption of transport fuels with substantial taxes, especially on gasoline. That leads to fuel-efficient cars, and the fuel tax revenue funds and encourages the use of energy-efficient public transport. This approach is not proposed in Waxman-Markey. Instead it offers an array of legislative mandates for renewable energy and efficiency without any explanation of how those mandates are to be achieved.
Waxman-Markey's main feature is an elaborate cap and trade system which arbitrarily limits emissions. Fossil fuel users are to purchase emission allowances. They can also earn offsets, or rights to emit, by supporting renewable projects of uncertain merit in the U.S and abroad. These allowances and offsets will be tradable, thus offering Wall Street brokers a new source of profit as they set up to deal in these new instruments.
A complex rebate system is to protect manufacturers whose costs for allowances hurt their international competitive position. Importers can also be required to purchase International Reserve Allowances to raise import costs, also to preserve our competitive position. How all that will be administered is anyone's guess.
Electric utilities must meet 20 percent of demand with renewable energy and improved efficiency by 2020. Green house gas carbon emissions are to be steadily reduced, with carbon capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) the prime enabling technology. There are no large scale working carbon capture and sequestration installations in the world. A study from scientists at the Universities of Wyoming and Houston estimates a need for 300,000 new injection wells for sequestration to meet Waxman-Markey targets. Along with ancillary systems and pipelines, plus CO2 separation costs, carbon capture and sequestration costs for utilities could exceed $1 trillion/year.
There is $4 billion to support a cash for clunkers program which will lead to the sale of imported cars, as few American cars meet the mpg standards in the program.
Waxman-Markey supports increased fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks while promoting E85 ethanol fuel which reduces mileage performance by about 30 percent.
Minnesota Congressman Peterson has added an amendment which exempts biofuels like ethanol from the limits placed on other fuels, although there is little scientific evidence of an environmental or energy saving benefit from biofuels.
Waxman-Markey sets up new federal bureaucracies including a Clean Energy Deployment Administration and a National Climate Service. There is a program of worker training, education, and transition for jobs in renewable energy, building upgrades, and climate change mitigation.
Waxman-Markey even spends money to encourage developing countries to take emission reducing actions. Some funds from allowance sales are set aside to reward less developed countries (China?) which have taken verifiable and measurable emission reduction programs. This is expected to open up markets for U.S. environmental technology although other countries lead in many of those markets.
Waxman-Markey is relying on renewable energy from sources like wind and solar to meet its objectives. But the cost and intermittent nature of wind and solar are the reason the U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting that wind and solar will supply less than 3 percent of our electric energy in 2020. Legislative laws rarely override the Laws of Physics.
The threat from global warming is real. It is time to grow our nuclear fleet, and time to tax fossil fuels to provide the revenue for a world class electric powered public transport system. The market place will then foster the remaining goals of W/M without its massive new bureaucracy and unrealistic objectives.
ROLF E. WESTGARD is a Deerwood resident, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
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