Whose Clean Energy Standards?


In an effort to show some semblance of an energy and environmental policy, the Obama administration has recently begun advocating clean energy standards (CES). Clearly no sane person would be in favor of “dirty” energy standards, but there are many problems with the impossible goal the administration has set out to reach.  First among them: the administration itself cannot agree on what they mean by clean energy.

The remarks the president made in his State of the Union address to the nation last week are a case in point. Mr. Obama posed the challenge that “by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources”. There is an easy part for this pledge. Oil, the “dirtiest” of all among his environmentalist friends already accounts for virtually nothing in electric power generation. The market saw to that over the past 20 years.

He then listed a slew of energy resources he believes will put our nation on the path to achieving this goal. Some of them were reliable fossil fuels (coal and natural gas), others were controversial energy sources (nuclear, wind), while another was a cost-prohibitive renewable fuel that is many years away, most likely never, from wide-spread application (solar).

Here’s the problem. Will clean coal be clean enough for the environmental activists that support the administration? And will the laborious permitting process and Nimbyism associated with nuclear power dissipate? Or what about the unfounded backlash against domestic natural gas development and the resulting laws and regulations that are restricting its production?

It is obvious then that this general uncertainty about what the government deems to be a clean energy source makes it impossible to enact reasonable standards. And the slim likelihood that lawmakers will ever be able to outline with any certainty what is clean and what isn’t presents a sizeable roadblock to companies’ ability to invest and produce energy here in America.

A recent analysis by the non-profit publication ProPublica, demonstrates the lobbying mallie over clean that is certain to undermine any attempts at long-term investment.  Their “report” on natural gas skewed and combined various reports by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make faulty assertions about the comparative environmental impact of natural gas versus coal – claiming some natural gas supplies were only marginally cleaner than their much dirtier energy cousin, coal. The EPA quickly refuted this claim, which has now been thoroughly debunked. The organization claims that its work “focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force’”, but adapting calculations in an ideological fashion demonstrates that the debate over how to define “clean” will be anything but objective and moral.

This debate and confusion over the cleanliness of energy sources is not just present within Washington’s halls of power. Take for example the film GasLand, which documents the supposed-negative impacts of natural gas development – and specifically the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) – on American communities. The film’s creator traveled nationwide to chronicle what he deems the “trail of secrets, lies and contamination” being left by America’s natural gas operators. If the President was serious about natural gas he would point out the ridiculousness of the arguments in GasLand.

Sadly, the film’s baseless claims and wild exaggerations have garnered significant media attention, coaxed policymakers to pass laws and regulations detrimental to economic development and energy security and, here’s the kicker, led to it being recently nominated for an Academy Award in the feature documentary category. Given the lack of facts within the film, perhaps a nomination in the comedy direction category would be a better fit.

America’s energy future, however, is no laughing matter. And the jobs, investment and affordable energy offered by tapping our domestic energy resources will give our ailing economy a big boost. We are going to need a lot more energy in the future, and continuing to manipulate markets for energy and waffle about clean energy sources is hamstringing today our ability to prepare to meet these needs tomorrow.

Perhaps Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the Institute for 21st Century Energy, said it best this past Tuesday when he stated, “It’s ridiculously premature to even have a CES conversation”. Indeed, until the Obama administration can find a way to objectively define “clean,” our energy future would best be left to the force of the invisible hand.

Categories: General
Michael Economides

8 Responses

  1. bg says:

    Why is high efficiency geothermal energy production never mentioned in the mix of “clean” energy? The last time I checked, subsurface geothermal gradients were not cooling down. Wind and solar are intermittent and only useful as feel good projects for the uneducated. I guess geothermal is just not sexy.

  2. gnj says:

    There’s no such thing as “clean-coal”, “clean-gas” or “clean-nuclear”, sorry. Wake up people!

  3. RunningBear says:

    Don’t burn hydrocarbons as fuel. Wind and solar technologies are coffee table jokes. quit being silly, get serious and build nukes! Electric trains, cars and trucks; or get a horse. God Bless Texas

  4. Frank Bowers says:

    It is so sad, I purchased HHR’s since ’05 at first they averaged about 32 to 35 miles to a gallon. Then comes the ethanol 10% and it has dropped to about 22 miles to a gallon in my new 11 HHR. My ’07 was getting 25/29MPG I ask the dealer why and they are telling me the first 1000 miles or so it is low but will pick up.
    I would like to know what kind of saving really is occurring. If I could get the pure gas and would go back to 33 MPG average over 22 MPG that would be a 33% increase the way I look at it so the state would be loosing a lot of tax dollars so would the federal government is that the trick here.
    I really think this is a loosing think for the public as we are paying the farmers who harvest the corn about a dollar a gallon for the ethanol and we are paying an additional .50 to .75 cents per pound for our beef and about .50 cents per box for cereal why not import the sugar from South America and then use the corn for food. The sugar has a higher burning ratio/power and would produce a better mileage per gallon.
    I guess the president desires to win the state of Iowa more than to help America with it fuel problems. That is the problem. First Bush now Obama. I did not vote for either and will not vote vote for him next time either. BTW not for nitwit perry either
    Frank Bowers of Austin, TX

  5. Dave77586 says:

    The French have no great stores of oil and gas within their borders. They have to import just about all of their petroleum. With Europe trying to clean up their air and lower carbon emissions 30 years ago the coal the French had was not suitable for mass use so they began constructing nuclear power plants in a big way. They devised reactors that were fairly safe and a government run recycling system for the reactor fuel. They produce over two-thirds of their electric power this way and usually have surplus power to sell to other countries on their grid. Most of their trains (and they have a vast mass transit system) are electric, quiet, fast, and about as on time as Southwest Airlines. We let them get ahead of us because of the EPA and various enviro-terrorists that would rather we got around on Schwinn bicycles. If we built two nuclear power plants the size of the one at Bay City every year it would take us about 45 years to catch up to the French on a percentage basis. This is also the same group of terrorists that prevents us from building any more refineries in this country.

  6. Larry E. Lutz says:

    It’s so sad when folks like pdh42 have to make ad homminen arguments, like “Nobama” and “his so-called scientific people” because they don’t have factual information. Who are the “so-called scientific people” being referred to and why are their credentials and expertise in doubt. Where did you get the notion that “clean energy isn’t economically viable”? A whole lot of folks disagree with you based on a lot more evidence than your belief that, “I saw it in a blog and it fit with what I wanted to hear, so it must be true.” Most of the stuff being propounded by so many commenters is merely based on fabrication, conjecture, misinformation, and disinformation, with no fctual evidence at all to support it. We need to go beyond the notion of “everyone’s saying it so it must be true” to the type of critical thinking that we should have acquired in high school. We need to examine the evidence and look carefully at the facts before we start spewing vile and hatred to the winds for no good reason at all/

  7. Andy says:

    Coal and natural gas are obvious choices since we have these natural resources. But we should be much further along in development and use of nuclear power. How in the world could we let France beat us out in this sector of energy production?

  8. pdh42 says:

    Nobama and his so called scientific people don’t even know or understand that their so called clean energy isn’t even economically viable…. The only reason anyone is using ethanol is because the government is subsidizing it to the tune of 1.00 per gallon…. Even then it is a energy negative so called clean energy as it takes more energy to plant it, grow it, fertilize it, harvest it and then to all of the energy it takes to turn the corn into ethanol then what we actually get out of it and even then it gives us worse mpg in our vehicles…. Of course people like you love it…. Just like wind or solar energy…. Neither are viable for the general public….