Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — What’s the most sensible energy policy for our government to adopt? The correct answer is not “all of the above.” At least that’s the opinion of Dr. David Schnare, director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute and director of the Environmental Law Center at the American Tradition Institute. Schnare discussed the issue in a recent presentation for the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society and in an interview with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)
Kokai: When you say that the answer is not “all of the above,” that’s because some people seem to think that the answer is “all of the above,” isn’t it?
Schnare: They do. It’s the easy political solution.
Kokai: And when we’re saying “all of the above,” what do we mean?
Schnare: Well, all of the kinds of ways to generate electricity, and that includes natural gas, coal, hydropower, biomass, nuclear power, and wind energy, and then solar voltaic, the solar energy. Those are all the ones that are commercially available, available out right now, but they’re not all equal.
Kokai: Some people might be hearing this and say, “Well, wait a minute, why shouldn’t we explore all of these and use them to the extent that we can?”
Schnare: Well, it depends on your philosophy. If you believe that energy is the master resource that is what drives the success of our economy, then what you want is that energy which is most cost-efficient and still clean. If, however, you believe that energy itself is poisonous and you should not have any more than you absolutely need, and whatever source of energy you have should have zero risk associated with it, well then you’re going to be looking at a different mix.
Kokai: And if you have that second perspective, your presentation seems to suggest that we’re going to end up using a lot less energy, and hence would need a lot fewer people on the planet.
Schnare: Well, the reality is that the so-called clean energies, such as wind power, are neither clean nor free, and they require backup from fossil fuel energy. So if you really, truly want to reduce the amount of air pollution that’s caused, you would not use wind power. But if you want to reduce it overall — for example, for greenhouse gases — the only way to do it is to reduce the amount you use, and that either means we’re going to have a poorer society with a poor quality of life or we have to get rid of some people.
Kokai: In looking specifically at wind power, your presentation made the point that if you like wind power, fine — you can’t rely only on wind power. And if you institute more wind power, you might end up getting more pollution than what you expected. Isn’t that right?
Schnare: That’s correct. And studies are beginning to show this in very quantitative terms.
Kokai: If the answer isn’t “all of the above,” what’s the answer?
Schnare: Well, I think there are two kinds of ways to address the problem. First of all, engineers want to make things more efficient; they want to do it better. And over time, the more pressure we put on them, the better we’re going to find ways to make equipment — refrigerators, for example — that use less energy. And we’re going to have some of that conservation through engineering. There may come some big breakthroughs on energy technology, although it’s hard to see what they are right now. But the reality is, if we want an economy that’s growing, we need to use the most efficient energy there is. Currently, that’s coal and natural gas. Those dominate our energy portfolio today, and they’ll continue to do so until we become so wealthy that we can afford something else.
Kokai: Even if the facts point in that direction, the groups that are pushing for alternative forms of energy are not giving up and saying, “OK, you’re right, we’re going away.” What has to happen to ensure that we do point the progress in the right direction?
Schnare: It’s difficult to say what we have to do because it’s so easy to say something else. The reality is, when the American public in particular — but if you want to look worldwide — when the developed nations’ economies are in such bad shape that unemployment rises dramatically, you’re going to get a population that says, “Enough, it’s time to stop.”
And we’re starting to see that. The most recent Gallup poll, for the first time since 1984, a majority of the people said they would rather put jobs and the economy ahead of the environment, even if it means a small reduction in the quality of the environment. That’s what’s happening now. People are fed up. They want to be able to feed their families, keep them clothed, and keep them sheltered. And until you can promise that, the extra bit of environmental benefit we might get from some of these approaches is not worth the money.
Kokai: Even if the polls suggest that people are moving in that direction, is the government moving in that direction at all?
Schnare: The government is pretty much stalemated. They stopped — at least at the federal level — they stopped the cap and trade. Even in California, the people are taking steps to say maybe we need to slow down. How far it will go, I don’t know. But the economic incentives that have been created to benefit wind power benefit energy companies; they get subsidies. Until those subsidies disappear, you’re going to continue to see higher-cost energy, less reliable energy, more pollution. And when finally people learn about this, one hopes that they will change their mind. But, frankly, I don’t think that’s how it’ll work. I think the driver, the great driver, is always going to be the economy. And when these things cost too much, people will say enough is enough.
Kokai: You’re involved in another effort that could end up driving some changes as well, and that is relying on the court system to help change what’s in place now. How is that moving forward?
Schnare: We have a case — the American Tradition Institute has a case — currently going on in the federal courts in Colorado, where Colorado has mandated that a certain percentage — 20 percent right now — of their retail electricity must come from renewables. In particular, it tends to come from wind power. We believe that this is a violation of the Commerce Clause because it allows benefits to Colorado companies that are not available to people outside of Colorado and because it doesn’t actually produce cleaner air or less greenhouse gases.
It doesn’t benefit Colorado enough to overcome the burden on the electrical grid and on companies who cannot compete. So we’re trying to move forward, as a pro-environmental group, to try to get sensible electricity generation put in place there. And we hope, because there are 30 other states that have these same mandates, we hope that as we do well there, we’ll be able to push that along the way to other states so that we can free the market and allow the most efficient energy to be used.
Kokai: Beyond that particular case, is [it] your sense that courts are going to be where real change is going to happen?
Schnare: Our view at this point is that the only place left where you can get a fair hearing is going to be a court of law, and ,then, only if you do a very good job explaining it to the judge.
Kokai: Do you have a perspective that suggests that this is going to work well, or is it going to be an uphill battle to get the courts to change the way things work?
Schnare: Well, I think you have to select your court with some care. You have to do all the things a good lawyer always does, which is to make sure that his case is as strong as it is, as it can be. But one of the things that has not often happened is to have a truly neutral fact finder. And when you have someone who is truly neutral — and most judges are — if you can get the right facts in front of them, they will look at it.
And if necessary, we can go to a jury — and this has been done in the environmental area — to where you can actually teach someone. It’s not easy, but you teach them where the truth lies. You allow both sides to beat up on the facts until the truth emerges. And we believe that when you do that, what you will not find is a headlong rush toward inefficient energy.