How the Greens Captured Energy Policy
- From: jose <josefsoplar@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2008 09:27:58 -0700 (PDT)
How the Greens Captured Energy Policy
By J.R. Dunn
U.S. energy policy -- to stretch the meaning of the term - is
appalling. It has been thrown together piece by piece over the decades
to create a system that is dysfunctional, over complex, and internally
contradictory. It is a system that victimizes American citizens,
cripples the U.S. economy, makes the government a laughingstock, and
empowers our enemies worldwide. While it's conceivable that somebody
could actually design a policy that would do worse, they'd really have
to work at it.
The only group in American that sees energy policy achieving some of
their goals are the ones who oversaw its implementation from the
beginning: the environmentalist Greens. It's obvious that our energy
policy was intended not for the benefit of the public, or industry, or
government, but almost solely to fit the agenda and goals of the Green
movement, and not even the public agenda and goals, but the core
agenda rarely referred to except through euphemism.
The irony here is that it has done next to nothing to fulfill the
actual requirements of the environmentalists. Greens, it appears, are
the worst judges of their own true needs.
A glance at the record will give us a clear idea as to how we reached
this pass. One thing consistently overlooked is that American energy
policy is literally the result of a series of accidents. Each of these
incidents set off a blizzard of activity intended to "rationalize" the
energy industry and its practices, prevent further mishaps, increase
government control, and not the least, usher in the new Green Age.
Each thrust American energy policy deeper into stagnation.
The first incident occurred at the very infancy of the modern Green
movement (which is distinct from the conservation movement, a far
older phenomenon, with no more true relationship between the two than
between socialists and communists), and played a large part in
defining environmentalism, setting its tactics, and establishing it as
a political and social force
On January 29, 1969, a blowout occurred at a Union Oil platform six
miles off Santa Barbara. The blowout itself was contained, but
internal pressure ruptured the pipe, sending 200,000 gallons of crude
spewing out in an 800 square-mile slick. Prevailing winds blew the oil
directly onto the shore, fouling over 35 miles of coastline. Thousands
of birds were threatened along with seals and dolphins.
The public rallied to save the wildlife with some success.
Environmentalists rallied alongside them. Within days, an anti-oil
activist group, GOO (Get Oil Out) was in operation, calling for
boycotts and circulating petitions to end offshore drilling.
Ignored in all the uproar was the fact that Union Oil had been allowed
to skimp on heavy-duty protective sheathing by the U.S. Geological
Survey. If the piping had been reinforced as called for by standard
procedure, the rupture might not have occurred, or might well have
been contained. But, the logic of political activism being what it is,
with the government having played a crucial role in causing the
accident, environmentalists turned to... the government, to prevent
them in the future.
The Santa Barbara blowout was critical in transforming
environmentalism from a conservationist to an activist movement. It
led to the foundation of Earth Day a few months later (an event still
celebrated in certain backward communities such as Ann Arbor and
Berkeley). The incident also established the Green worldview: industry
was the enemy. Oil was not a resource to be utilized under proper
safeguards, but a pollutant to be subject to the most stringent
controls. Above all, environmentalism was no mere political or social
movement, it was a crusade. A crusade to rescue nature and to "save
the planet", even if it was at the cost of human civilization. (Or for
that matter, human extinction.)
Offshore drilling was a major target. A concerted campaign soon saw
the practice all but outlawed within U.S. waters. Less than a decade
later, the first "gasoline shortage" occurred in the U.S.
Three Mile Island
Even as cars were lining up for miles at gas stations, a second front
opened in the Green crusade. On March 28, 1979, a pumping failure
occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in south-central
Pennsylvania. While the reactor shut down as designed, a relief valve
stuck open (legend attributes this to its being put in backwards),
allowing coolant water to escape. The ill-designed instrument suite
failed to alert the operating crew. All unknown to them, the reactor
core began to melt down.
Half the core had melted by the time anyone became aware of it. But
the reactor's containment vessel held, and no major breach of
radioactivity occurred. All the same, public reaction, nurtured on
visions of Hiroshima and stoked by media hysteria (not to mention The
China Syndrome, a Jane Fonda anti-nuke drama that had the good fortune
to appear almost simultaneously with the accident), amounted to abject
panic. A partial evacuation of nearby areas was carried out, amid
media speculation that similar action would be required for the entire
The site was under control before the weekend was out. But the damage
to nuclear power had already been done. The nuclear industry joined
Big Oil as an enemy of mankind and nature. The Greens set out to shut
down the entire industry, including all operational reactors. Although
that effort failed, they did succeed in preventing the construction of
any new reactors for a period of thirty years.
By the beginning of the 80s, the U.S. energy industry was paralyzed,
the oil industry relegated to an ever-shrinking pool of permitted
drilling areas, the nuclear industry effectively moribund. This put
the U.S. in an excellent position to meet the depredations of OPEC,
the rise of Saddam Hussein and the mullahs of Iran, and the
manipulations of our Mideast "allies". That situation has prevailed
The conclusions drawn from Santa Barbara and TMI were further
underlined by two later incidents. On April 25, 1986, technicians at
the Chernobyl nuclear plant decided to see what would happen if they
shut down all safeguards and ran the reactor at its point of major
instability. (This being a Soviet reactor, that point was at its
lowest operational level. God forbid if it had been the other way
around.) What happened was that the roof blew off, immediately killing
several dozen people and irradiating large parts of the Ukraine. Aided
by the regime's clumsy attempt at a cover-up, the accident played no
small role in the collapse of the USSR.
On March 24, 1989, a captain challenged with alcohol problems allowed
the supertanker Exxon Valdez to pile up on a reef in Alaska's Prince
William Sound, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.
Hysteria peaked at probably the highest level of any such incident.
The company's management was threatened with criminal prosecution, and
a federal judge hearing the case went so far as to say that the
accident was "worse than Hiroshima". All inclinations to adapt more
rational energy policies evaporated in the wake of these events.
No reform following failure
An unprejudiced eye will immediately see that the common factor in all
these incidents was management failure. Union Oil (a company long
vanished into mergers) colluded with government in an effort to cut
corners. The nuclear industry -- a combination of government and
private enterprise, with the worst aspects of both and the advantages
of neither -- insisted on operating on the lowest possible level of
execution. (A few months before the TMI breakdown, I met a man who had
just accepted a job installing a piping system at the Indian Point
reactor. An engineer, I thought. No, he replied -- a plumber. Simply
to save a few bucks, the industry was hiring bathroom-and-hot tub
plumbers for sensitive work rather than experienced pipe-fitters or
engineers. No wonder crucial fittings were going in backwards, upside
down, and inside out.)
Chernobyl was merely the ultimate expression of ingrained Soviet
incompetence going back to the Revolution. The Exxon Valdez revealed
that a critical oil shipping component -- maritime operations -- was
completely isolated from any meaningful oversight. (This is in large
part due to marine traditions; ship's captains are as close-mouthed
as any surgeon or cop concerning ineptitude in the ranks -- and in
large part is still the case. Noel Mostert's Supership, written in the
1970s, remains the standard work on the shortcomings of the tanker
The appropriate response in these cases (Chernobyl being the
exception: the only solution there was to tear the system down and
start over) would have been to convene a panel of experts, send out
investigators, hold hearings, issue recommendations, and see to it
that reforms went into effect. This is what occurs following aircraft
disasters, large-scale fires, building collapses, or any other
catastrophic incident where suspicion exists that things were not
being handled according to best practice. (Consider the investigation
following the Challenger disaster, for one example.)
But this is not what occurred in these cases. Not in any meaningful
sense. Under the new Green paradigm, oil and nuclear energy were not
industries to be reformed, but "evils" to be either contained or
destroyed. The Greens could have served a useful purpose by pushing
for serious reform in management of critical energy industries.
Instead, we got the religious impulse, distorted into sheer
apocalypticism, with the environmentalists fighting oil and
fissionables (plutonium in particular) as products of dark sin, placed
on earth to tempt humankind from the path that Gaia intended.
The Green Agenda
Through its influence in the media and government (both bureaucracy
and congress), the Greens effectively abolished nuclear power,
curtailed domestic oil production, and left the American energy
industry in the comatose state in which it abides to this day. Nor
this was an error or overreaction - it was a deliberate effort to
fulfill the Green agenda.
What is the nature of this agenda? Greens were much more open about it
during the early years of the movement. (As for example in the utopian
novel Ecotopia.) The end point of all Green efforts is a kind of
Edenic state in which humans exist in "partnership" with nature. In
which humanity is simply another species. In which the human
"footprint" (a purely Green concept with no literal meaning) is
reduced to a minimum. A world which has returned in large part to a
pre-industrial state, where whatever small amounts of power are needed
are provided by solar and wind. Where every last damn item is
recycled. A kind of universal Northern California, where all living
things from spirochete to grizzly exist in harmony under the cloak of
(Such a world could sustain perhaps a hundred million human beings,
tops. What happens to the rest is something most Greens have been less
than straightforward about.)
Greens have become quieter about this vision as it has grown more
distant. Which does not mean that they have ceased working toward it.
Like all true believers, the Greens simply grow more fanatical the
more unlikely their dreams become. And that is why the long overdue
reform of America's energy sector, of the kind supported by John
McCain and a few forward-looking GOP politicians (now there's a
threatened species), is no certainty, in no way a slam-dunk, and will
require a lengthy and hard-fought battle if it's going to happen at
Current energy policy -- or non-policy, however you wish -- lies at
the very center of the Green agenda. It is the only element in which
any progress has been achieved. First, we need to rid ourselves of our
"addiction" to nukes and oil. Then we adapt to solar and wind, and....
Here it peters off into silence. Because no such second step has ever,
or will ever be made. Solar, wind, alcohol, ethanol... all these are
single-digit energy sources. (And the low single digits as well, able
to replace perhaps two or three percent of power generation at best.)
Replacement of oil and nuclear power is a fantasy. Therefore, the rest
of the Green dream is as well.
But the gutting of the American energy sector remains the Green's
chief accomplishment, their single achieved step toward paradise. They
will defend it tooth and nail. The Green lobby, comprised of
organizations such as the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife
Federation, is immensely powerful and has deep pockets -- not to
overlook the many politicians who are avid converts (e.g., Hudson
Valley congressman John Hall, who as leader of the execrable 70s soft-
rock band Orleans wrote an anti-nuke anthem, "Plutonium is Forever").
The Green crisis ahead
They'll still lose. Americans are not going to freeze in the dark.
Nuclear technology has gone through several revolutions in the past
decades. Entire families of reactors exist -- including the CANDU and
pebble-bed designs -- that are far safer from kind of catastrophic
failure. Evolution in oil drilling and exploitation has followed
similar paths. We need to catch up on these technical advances. There
are already 30 new nuclear plants proposed in the US and some are even
in early stages of licensing. The plants use new designs which make
use of passive safety systems that substantially reduce the chance of
a major accident.
Other aspects of the Green argument have also collapsed. New
discoveries off Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico have nearly doubled
international oil reserves, pushing backwards from the "peak oil"
date. And global warming, that notorious by-product of "oil
addiction," has faded to the point that its advocates are now reduced
to threatening dissenters with prison.
Energy reform is an egg and rock situation for the Democrats. (From
the old Irish proverb: "When the rock hits the egg, alas for the egg.
When the egg hits the rock, alas for the egg.") The Democrats -- Obama
chief among them -- can neither adequately defend it nor abandon it,
as is clearly shown by their refusal to even consider loosening
drilling restrictions. The GOP holds all the cards on this one, and
all they need to do is keep building the pressure. (Always granted, of
course, that they play it better than their last few runs of hands.)
No better electoral tool will be found during this cycle. We just
can't expect results immediately - this will be a long and drawn-out
battle, requiring maximum, sustained effort from all involved.
It has gone almost completely unacknowledged that with oil shale,
offshore deposits, and new resources such as the hydrocarbon sludge
deposits off B.C. and Alaska, the OPEC of the late 21st century is
going to be right here. That's a goal worth working toward. Breaking
the power of the Greens is yet another possible benefit.
Environmentalism is a luxury, and like all such, is best taken in
moderation. The environment requires protection, but that's all.
Primitive panthiesm has no place in this millennium. Nature is not an
utterly benign continuum, and human beings are not a disease. Pseudo-
religious environmentalism has long outlived its welcome. It's time to
bring down the curtain.
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