In the annals of public policy disasters, one in the last half-century stands out: America’s self-destructive energy policy. And if Eighth District Congressman Mike Rogers has his way, the blunder will linger for another generation.
Rogers was a loud, even bellicose “no” vote recently in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a bill to cap carbon pollution and create a trading system to move the nation’s economy toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. Supported by the Obama Administration, the legislation is far from perfect — but that’s been true of all the energy roads not taken by the U.S. since the 1970s. And here we are, playing Russian roulette with the planet and our domestic security.
In the summer of 1973, I acquired my first driver’s license and tooled around the Lansing area in my mother’s black Mercury Montego. Three months later, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries slapped an oil embargo on the U.S. The first gallon of gasoline I paid for to fill up my parents’ car cost about 30 cents, but by that fall the price was over $1. Lines outside gas stations extended dozens of city blocks. President Nixon proposed and Congress approved a ban on the sale of gasoline on Sundays, the extension of Daylight Savings Time and a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.
At 16, I heard the first of many political promises that America would attain “energy independence” by developing its coal and oil resources, becoming more efficient, and developing clean, renewable energy. Thirty-six years later, we import and use more oil than we ever have. If we had kept any of these 1970s pledges to cut down on our importation and use of hydrocarbons, we’d be the world’s envy. But we didn’t.
And we may not even now. Rogers’ vote on the so-called American Clean Energy and Security Act sends a signal that the coal and oil lobby still has plenty of clout in Washington. And his comments send a signal that he has no idea what he’s voting on.
In a May 22 e-mail to his mid-Michigan constituents, Rogers wrote, “Yesterday, Congress passed through my Committee a ‘cap and trade bill’ … increasing the electricity bill of every family in America by as much as $3,100 per year.”
But one of the authors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on which the claim is based says that Republicans’ use of the study is “simplistic and misleading.” He puts the likely actual added cost of a cap-and-trade system at closer to $800 a year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average cost per household to be between $98 and $140 per year. Even the hard-right Heritage Foundation figures the average family would see its energy bill increase by “just” $1,500 a year.
To his credit, Rogers does have his own “energy independence plan,” a mix of worthwhile incentives for energy efficiency and tired old proposals from the oil and nuke lobby. The latter include drilling in the majestic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and measures he says will lead to at least 30 new nuclear plants and 72,000 associated jobs. The implication, of course, is that nuclear energy is climate-friendly. But it’s not.
While the fission of enriched uranium in a nuclear reactor to generate energy produces no carbon emissions, the rest of the nuclear energy process does spew carbon into the atmosphere. As Herman Scheer, chairman of the World Council on Renewable Energy, said, “These include yellowcake mining, ore transport, ore crushing, uranium extraction, uranium enrichment, uranium oxide furnacing, uranium casing (with zirconium) and nuclear power plant construction.” You simply can’t mine uranium, process it and transport it long distances without creating carbon pollution.
One scientific paper concludes that using high quality ores, the carbon dioxide produced by the full nuclear life cycle is about one-half to one-third of an equivalent-sized gas-fired power station. With low quality ores, the carbon produced by the full nuclear life cycle is equal to that produced by a similar-sized gas-fired power station. Apparently, life-cycle analysis is not in Rogers’ tool chest.
His campaign war chest, though, has plenty of resources. He regularly receives the hefty contributions from DTE and Consumers Energy, both of whom see a Michigan energy future reliant on out-ofstate coal. In the 2007-2008 cycle, he also received $10,000 from Koch Industries, described by the Center for Public Integrity as “the biggest oil company you have never heard of … a huge oil conglomerate controlled by brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the country’s richest men and among the biggest backers of conservative and libertarian causes.” So it should be no surprise that Rogers has received grades of 9 percent and 7 percent on environmental and energy issues in the last two Congresses from the League of Conservation Voters.
The only surprise, in the end, is that Rogers claims to care about the environment. As David Jenkins, the lobbyist for the Teddy Roosevelt-minded Republicans for Environmental Protection recently observed, major doubts about congressional passage of the carbon legislation arise in part from the GOP’s work “to politicize the effort right out of the gate with ‘capand-tax’ demagoguery rather than work constructively to tackle the climate change problem.” When it comes to climate demagoguery, Mike Rogers has few equals.
(Dave Dempsey advised Gov. James Blanchard on environmental policy from 1983 to 1989. He is author of a book on Michigan’s conservation history and is communications director for the nonprofit organization Conservation Minnesota.)