Thursday, July 08, 2010

Not So Fast, Mr. Portman: Energy Issues

Yesterday, I posted Rob Portman's commercial attacking Cap and Tax. However, looking around the web, one wonders if Rob's plan is really any better or if it, too, is more wishful thinking that will bear disastrous results. To wit:
t the end of the ad, Portman claims that he has a better way to protect the environment, and he asks the viewer to check it out on his Web site. I obliged. His plan relies on “support” — read: subsidies and other government interventions — for things that he likes — corn ethanol, nuclear power, natural gas, coal.

Some of these things might become an essential part of weaning the country off fossil fuels. Or not.[...]

On his Web site, Portman criticizes “command-and-control” regulation from Washington. He mentions refraining from choosing winners and losers in the energy debate. He says he doesn’t want Washington “to stifle the ingenuity of American enterprise and our market system through government interference.” But inefficient government interference is his plan.

What could he be talking about? Rob is a "rock solid" conservative, right? Uh...well...decide for yourself. From Rob's website:
5. Promote Ohio Bio-Fuels. Ohio is also a leading producer of bio-fuels, particularly corn-based ethanol, which is blended with regular gasoline to reduce vehicle emissions. Research and new technologies are making home-grown bio-fuels more cost effective and should be encouraged. The federal EPA should increase the ethanol content in the standard blend from 10 percent to 15 percent for newer vehicles whose engines are equipped to handle higher ethanol concentrations. This small change would substantially raise the demand for this renewable fuel, which means more production, more jobs for ethanol producing states like Ohio, and make us less dependent on foreign oil. Ohio farmers and bio-fuel plants like the Poet Bio-refining plant Rob visited in Marion will benefit from a renewed commitment to Ohio bio-fuels.

6. Bring Alternative-Fueled Vehicles into the Mainstream. Rob is the owner of a hybrid vehicle – a Ford Escape he purchased in 2006 – and has a strong interest in the technology. Driven by increased consumer demand, manufacturers are now designing “plug-in” hybrid vehicles that supplement gasoline power with electric power from the grid. Availability of these vehicles will be increasingly important as our cleaner energy production markets (solar, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear and clean coal) mature. If we can generate electricity more cleanly, manage it efficiently through the use of smart grids, and use it to power our cars and trucks, then we will have created a sustainable, clean-energy lifecycle. As fuel cell research in Ohio and elsewhere matures, this is another exciting, potential fuel source. The federal government should continue to partner with the private sector to develop the battery and other technologies that make these vehicles possible, ensure manufacturers have access to capital to bring these vehicles to market, and help encourage plug-in hybrids. Along with natural gas vehicles, bio-fuels, and an increased supply of domestically-produced oil, these hybrid and electric vehicles will help lead us to energy independence.

7. Use Ohio’s Manufacturing and Technology Advantage. Ohio’s skilled workforce is a national asset that will help move our economy closer to energy diversity and independence. Unfortunately, Cap and Trade punishes Ohio’s manufacturers when, in fact, they are part of the answer to developing cleaner energy solutions. Ohio’s manufacturing and technological expertise is at the forefront in energy development, research, and production in traditional energy areas and in promoting advanced alternative energy technologies. Ohio is also home to a robust energy manufacturing sector that is at the forefront in solar cell and wind turbine production and has the capacity to be a leader in the manufacture of hybrid and electric vehicles. Government policies that incentivize innovation and entrepreneurship in the energy sector will benefit states like Ohio that have made strategic investments in human capital and advanced-manufacturing infrastructure.

8. Promote Conservation and Efficiency. The cleanest energy of all is the energy we don’t use. Reducing our energy consumption leads to a cleaner environment, and gives rise to entire new industries, technologies, and jobs in energy auditing, insulation, lighting, HVAC, and appliance refits. Improving energy efficiency in buildings and homes could stimulate job growth, eliminate approximately 30% of U.S. crude oil imports, and may be the best short-term opportunity to reduce energy consumption. Conservation should also be encouraged, including supporting ongoing efforts to restore and protect natural habitats across the globe. Deforestation is considered the second-largest source of CO2 emissions behind coal-fired electric plants. Legislation Rob authored, the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, has resulted in the protection of over 60 millions acres of forests worldwide.

OK, so what are my problems with this stuff? First, why do we need incentives for development of alternative energy? Isn't that government command and control? Not to mention that his incentives idea for alternative energy is supporting horribly inefficient forms of energy that just make us more beholden to foreign oil. No, what we need to do is get cheap energy through more exploration, and also invest in nuclear. Some might say it is too expensive or risky, but I think we can go with it because the long term efficiency and benefits are there. However, Rob also goes off the reservation quite a ways with this notion of twisting people's arms to buy cars that they don't want. Of course, this isn't surprising when you remember he supported cash for clunkers.

Then, of course, there are the subsidies to farmers for ethanol. Look, I know lots of people who grow corn. Fine. However, realize that we are not increasing efficiency. It takes more energy to make/process ethanol than it uses.

I like Rob. I think he is better than Lee Fisher. However, his whole DC insider pride and these ideas about energy should give one pause before blindly buying his shtick.