It sounds like the big line from tonight’s State of the Union address is going to be “America is addicted to oil.”
As profound insights go, this one is pretty elementary. But coming from the oil industry’s best friend in the White House in many years, it will be seen as a dramatic concession. Bush’s rationale is, apparently, that our addiction leads us into some bad neighborhoods in “unstable parts of the world.” True enough.
Some with a more isolationist view would contend the U.S. could’ve avoided the war in Iraq entirely, and perhaps averted 9/11, if our energy needs didn’t force us to be so involved in the affairs of the Muslim world. I’ve always debated this point, because no matter how much fuel independence the U.S. is able to achieve, we would also have to worry about where other countries are getting their energy. If important allies like Japan or Germany can be blackmailed by a radical Iraq or Iran, the U.S.’s insulation from energy blackmail doesn’t count for much.
No, the primary reasons to save energy and start switching to alternatives are environmental and economic.
That’s why we have to watch carefully where Bush intends to take the U.S. in its pursuit of “breaking this addiction.” Right now, according to the AP, he’s proposing something for every side of the aisle to love — and something to hate:
Bush’s primary proposal is to increase federal research into alternative fuels such as ethanol made from weeds or wood chips, instead of corn. He also is to push for construction of new nuclear power plants and increased use of wind, solar and clean-coal technologies.
When we can’t site even one safe disposal site for nuclear waste, I’m not convinced nuclear energy is going to make the big comeback others predict. Weeds and wood chips? Well, we’ve got lots of them, so I’m open to it. Wind and solar? NIMBYism is a big threat to wind power, and the president could propose some kind of federal pre-emption to ensure that appropriate wind sites aren’t blocked by selfish local interests. Solar — great, but I hope he’s prepared to invest what it’s going to take to eventually bring the cost down to marketable levels. Clean-coal? I don’t have time to do the research to back this up, but my recollection is that mining the coal deemed as clean for burning is incredibly destructive of wilderness landscapes in the mountain west. Correct me if I’m wrong.
I guess my reaction to the notion that alternative energy is going to be a major theme of the president’s speech is — cautious elation. This issue has been nowhere on the national agenda since Bush took office; and Clinton wasn’t much of a leader on it either. Big policy fights are ahead, but fights about energy are better than the apathy and neglect of the past 15 years. This doesn’t mean Bush is at all trustworthy on energy, but I’m glad he’s let the genie out of the bottle.