By Larry Carley January 2008
As the Presidential campaign winds up, I agree that the time for change is now!
This country needs a comprehensive energy plan to free us from our dependence on foreign oil, and to reduce energy costs for all Americans. Gasoline and diesel prices are heading for all-time highs with no relief in sight. People are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet because energy costs are rising much faster than paychecks (which aren't rising at all!). And rising energy costs are driving up costs across the board on everything from food to manufactured goods.
One reason why energy costs have been rising so rapidly is that the cost of the Iraq war is hitting home. A war that is costing us over a trillion bucks isn't cheap. Wars always create inflation because it's expensive for a government to conduct a war. It happened in World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the last Gulf War and now the Iraq War. The government has to crank up the printing presses to finance the cost of fighting a war, and that reduces the purchasing power of our money.
In my opinion, the first goal of a comprehensive energy plan is to end the war in Iraq. Ending the war will eliminate the major driving force behind inflation and the ongoing devaluation of our currency.
We can't do much about the growing demand for oil in China, India and the rest of the world, but we can take steps to reduce our own demand for oil by building and driving more fuel efficient vehicles, using more alternative fuels such as E85 and biodiesel, building and buying more hybrid vehicles (which we are finally doing), and moving to plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles as quickly as possible.
Personally, I think we should start building more nuclear power plants as quickly as possible to provide carbon-free power. Naysayers whine about nuclear wastes and worry about storing the wastes safely for tens of thousands of years. Fact is, we won't have to store it anywhere near that long. The way technology is advancing, we will probably have a means of neutralizing or recycling nuclear wastes within 50 years or less, a hundred years tops.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, currently there are plans to build 17 new nuclear plants in the U.S. The only obstacles holding us back are (1) getting our government to approve the building permits, and (2) obtaining the components to build these plants.
One of the essential components inside a nuclear power plant is the high pressure vessel for containing steam generated by nuclear heat. We no longer have any foundries in this country that can manufacture the large castings and forgings needed for such vessels (thanks to outsourcing, downsizing and foreign competition), so the only place we can buy the hardware is from GE-Hitachi in Japan. The Japanese foundry supposedly has a three-year backlog. Therefore, another element of an energy independence plan should include tooling up a foundry here in the U.S. to make the parts we need to build new nuclear power plants.
The U.S currently gets about 20 percent of its electrical power from 104 nuclear power plants. The last new nuclear power plant to be built in the U.S broke ground in 1977, over 30 years ago. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it will take 3-1/2 years to review and approve any new construction permits (hello people, we need those permits NOW!). There has been a moratorium on constructing new nuclear power plants in the U.S. since 1979 when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania overheated an leaked some radiation outside the containment building). The bureaucrats over-reacted and decided nuclear power was a bad thing. Yet in spite of the freeze, existing nuclear power plants have been able to expand their generating capacity to keep pace with demand and to partially offset some of the older plants that have been shut down.
I also think wind power and solar power will also make a significant contribution towards reducing our dependence on oil, and on lowering energy costs. wind farms are sprouting up in Iowa and Illinois. We're still waiting for the big breakthrough that will lower the cost of electricity produced by solar cells, but eventually it will come. Popular Science magazine has been saying such a breakthrough is only a few years away for the last 30 years, so eventually their prediction must come true.
We could also save millions of gallons of gasoline by installing smarter traffic lights that monitor oncoming traffic and give the green light to cars that are already moving when there is no cross-traffic. Stopping for a red light and sitting for several minutes when there is no cross traffic not only wastes gas but time.
I haven't decided which of the Presidential candidates I'm going to vote for yet, but I like the rhetoric I'm hearing. The question is whether their deeds will live up to their words after they are elected. A Presidential candidate can promise the public anything, but he or she also has to get Congress on the same page, otherwise nothing happens and nothing changes. That's been the problem for too long. Forget the politics of Democrats versus Republicans. The real issue is the American public getting royally screwed by high energy prices, and our own government doing little to stop it. We need a President and a Congress who can work together and solve America's problems, and not just talk about the issues.
Crude oil recently hit the $100 a barrel mark. Turns out the price was driven up by an east coast trader who placed a large order just to push it over the record mark. Even so, oil prices remain high because OPEC limits how much oil they pump to maximize their profits. The oil companies don't want to build any new refineries to keep gasoline and diesel fuel prices artificially high. The federal, state and local governments keep piling on new gasoline taxes to generate more tax revenue. If gas went to $5 or even $10 a gallon, most of use have no other option but to pay it. That's why we need to end our addiction to oil. The sooner the better. The time for change is NOW!!!!
We don't need endless debates and bickering between Democrats and Republicans. What we need is an American President and an American Congress who represent the interests of the American people, not special interests (the oil companies, trial lawyers, pharmaceutical companies, big corporations, etc.). We need these people to get off their over-paid duffs and start taking the kinds of actions that will move us away from oil toward low-cost energy independence. They need to reverse the depreciation and decline of the dollar, bring the war in Iraq to an end, streamline the regulatory process for building new nuclear plants and oil refineries, come up with meaningful legislation that moves us toward more fuel efficient vehicles, zero emissions and cleaner home-grown alternatives to fossil fuels. Oh yeah, and while they're at it, maybe they can do something about the health care crisis in this country, the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs to other countries, the financial squeeze on the working middle class, and illegal immigration. And if it's not too much trouble, maybe they could finally catch that Bin laden guy who's had safe haven in Pakistan since 911 in spite of the billions we given the Pakistan government to fight terrorism. Like I said, it's time for a change, a LOT of change.