May 3, 2006

Boehlert on energy policy

In yesterday's Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, retiring Congressman Sherwood Boehlert had a guest column looking at problems in American energy policy:

We need to move now on two related fronts. We need to reduce or at least limit U.S. demand for oil as quickly as possible, and we need to develop new technologies that can further help address our addiction to oil in the future.

It's crystal clear where we need to start on the demand side. The U.S. uses most of its oil for transportation. We can limit U.S. demand for oil by requiring automakers to use the technology that already exists to improve fuel economy -- technology that the automakers refuse to bring into the market despite societal demand.

That is a classic market failure that the government ought to address. The National Academy of Sciences has made clear that mileage can be increased significantly with current technologies and without reducing safety.

We ought to take the same kinds of steps to require appliances and buildings to be more energy efficient. That won't do much for gas prices -- little oil is used to generate electricity -- but it will help our nation become more energy secure overall.

And then we need to invest more in coming up with new technologies that can move us away from our dependence on gasoline. Three obvious areas that require more investment are plug-in hybrids, biofuels and hydrogen. Our House Science Committee will be reviewing ideas on how to increase our investment in those areas, and we expect to move legislation swiftly.

I think Boehlert's right on about our need to reduce demand for energy. I have my doubts that the new technologies he proposes actually help us much in the long term even if they do move us further from gasoline specifically, but improving efficiency certainly offers another opportunity to reduce the amount of energy we consume.

(Plug-in hybrids shift our consumption from gasoline to coal, natural gas, and other electricity-generating systems. Biofuels sound great, except that you have to add fossil-fuel-based fertilizers to the land to generate the kinds of yield we need for commerical creation of fuel. Hydrogen - well, it takes lots of energy once again to create the hydrogen, and transporting it will requiring building a whole new pipeline and distribution infrastructure to extremely high standards. These can all shift our energy needs from one form to another, giving us a little more flexibility, but none of them reduces the energy we're actually consuming.)

Posted by simon at May 3, 2006 8:37 AM in
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