Japan Disaster a Wake-Up Call on Energy Policy

The frightening images and possible real fallout from the nuclear plants in Japan force us to refocus on our own energy plans.

Is nothing safe? Is our insatiable appetite for cheap energy a road to ruin? How do we maintain our need to grow the economy and provide jobs and opportunity while recognizing our responsibility to the environment and the planet we leave behind to our children?

On both sides of this hotly debated issue, the left and the right have played political games and our leadership has abandoned us, afraid of the political fallout. The result has been a wrong-headed and piecemeal U.S. energy policy, accompanied by soaring prices along with unsustainable and profligate energy use.

From the right, there has been a plea for ever more oil - a clarion call of "drill, baby, drill" - where the focus is on finding ever greater supplies and the result is increased economic and personal addiction to energy, both from domestic and imported sources. The right fights CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations, insists on immediately allowing deepwater drilling to resume in the Gulf despite the BP ( BP) disaster. The right also wants to see a second Alaskan pipeline built to open up North Slope exploration, opposed Kyoto and other congressionally-passed climate control guidelines and thinks that "cap and trade"' is a four-letter word.

The left acts as if electricity is created at the wall socket and gasoline springs out of a pump from the local gas station like water from a well. They believe that somehow this nation would be better off without the 9 million jobs that the energy industry today supports. They cry foul at the first indication of risk in energy procurement, wherever it appears -- the BP spill resulted in a call for a permanent end to deepwater drilling in the Gulf. The propaganda documentary Gasland was accompanied by a demand for an end to shale hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus, Haynesville and Barnett regions and elsewhere. Three Mile Island ended this country's nuclear plans for the last 25 years, and this latest crisis in Japan will make new permits even more impossible to obtain (is it possible to be more impossible?)

The dirty truth is that energy is a dirty business that everyone relies upon, whether from the left or right. This country has maintained its preeminence and prosperity for the last century on its ability to innovate and grow -- and its ability to do both has been inexorably tied to cheap and easily flowing sources of energy. And yes, it has been a part of that strength to be by far the most profligate user of energy as well -- we are 3% of the population using more than 25% of global supply. Want to dial that down immediately? Then you'd better also like the idea of 20% unemployment instead of 9% and an S&P average at 800 instead of 1300. Energy affects everyone with a place to work and a place to live.

However, a continued call for ever more sources of supply to meet an endlessly growing demand for energy is completely unsupportable and unsustainable. We have immediate paths to cutting down energy use, incentivizing renewable technologies, meeting emissions goals, turning down the thermostat in winter and up in summer, taking the lead in global climate initiatives, even if they're not entirely "fair," and creating a market that rewards energy stinginess instead of energy profligacy. It's time to say goodbye to the incandescent light bulb.

Everyone must also realize that Daiichi proves what the Deepwater Horizon proved and what "fracking" for natural gas unfortunately proves -- modern energy procurement, at least for the next two decades, will continue to be a dirty and risky business. Minimizing those risks is job one, but eliminating them is impossible.

The debate has continued to stall this country from creating a comprehensive policy that makes sense -- a policy that realizes this nation's continued need to grow based on relatively cheap sources of energy but also understands that fixing a real addiction does not involve inserting a second needle in the other arm.

A new energy policy will require the determined will of an entire nation's leadership, most particularly the President's, in creating a reasonable and long-term plan. The policy should abandon the busted ethanol and biofuels incentives. It should include domestic procurement from deepwater rigs, support for sensitive procurement of shale gas and, perhaps, even allow a nuclear plant or two to be built in this country -- where one hasn't been built since 1977. It should begin to reverse the 40-year trend of increasing foreign energy reliance. It should incentivize solar, wind and other renewable production and take the lead in climate change recognition and participation.

I'm ready to see a disaster like Fukujima finally wake everyone up to finding real and sustainable energy solutions......... how about you?

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