GOP Punts on a Real Energy Plan

May 8th, 2011 at 3:43 pm | 22 Comments |

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Last Tuesday, online Johns Hopkins University hosted Congressman Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss) to speak to the College Republicans and College Democrats, discount as well as a handful of students from surrounding institutions.

Nunnelee entered the auditorium after the students had filed in and taken their seats.  Grinning, patient he made his way through the room, extending his hand to various students.  As he moved fluidly through the crowd, he stopped to chat with some, asking: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you study? After a brief introduction, Nunnelee approached the podium and his soothing southern drawl began to echo through the room.

Though Nunnelee was invited to Hopkins to discuss US energy policy, he took the opportunity to share his views on a variety of issues.  He started by telling his reasons for running for Congress. He said that becoming a grandfather compelled him to run. “The reasons for saying no were outweighed by the obligation to pass on a better life to my children and grandchildren,” he said, “the country was slipping away from us.”

Like many of the other 96 freshman members of the House, Nunnelee succeeded in defeating the incumbent and won himself a seat as Representative for Mississippi’s first congressional district. After a few more anecdotes about his personal history and ascension to US Congress, the policy portion of his speech began.

According to the Congressman, he and his fellow Republicans in the House are the face and voice of the Republican Party and it is their mission to first and foremost correct the “failure of the previous Congress to cut spending and balance the budget.” Nunnelee correctly asserted that excessive government spending puts a “severe strain on economic growth and saddles [future generations] with massive debt,” unfortunately he failed to both pinpoint which expenditures he believed to be “excessive” or provide an operative plan for how reduce the debt.  Instead, the congressman suggested that he wanted “congressional Democrats to come to the table and show real signs of commitment to limiting spending,” at which point he would consider raising the debt ceiling.

When it came to US energy policy, the lack of a realistic agenda was even more alarming.  Nunnelee urged complete energy independence by 2020.  Okay, awesome, but how?  “By beginning aggressive drilling throughout the US.” I raised the point that even if the government gave the green light for large-scale drilling in the Dakotas, Alaska, the Gulf, and other coastal regions, that still wouldn’t provide enough oil to cover all of America’s energy needs.  Nunnelee countered, asserting that with Canada’s “abundant” fossil fuel reserves “it would probably be enough.”  Even if this were an accepted and feasible assumption (it’s not) Canada isn’t in the United States, so how exactly would relying on Canadian fossil fuels make us “completely energy independent within the next decade”?

Nunnelee recommended that the U.S. “actively expand development of nuclear power” to advance energy independence and security.  Yet when I asked him about his plan to deal with nuclear waste (i.e. re-open Yucca Mountain), he responded, “I dunno, we’ve gotta figure out a way to deal with it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.” Promoting development of nuclear power with absolutely no plan for storage of radioactive waste does not constitute a policy agenda… it is an ideal.

And therein lies the problem with the Republican majority in the House, if not the entire Republican Party today: lots of valid criticisms, even more laudable goals, but only hazy plans for action.

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Rob_654

    This Nunnelee guy sounds like a real genius.

    This guy and far too many Republicans have no idea what an energy policy is, all they know is the talking points they have been handed and the information that they receive from the lobbyists.

    Those very simple questions really showed how shallow these folks are in their understanding of the issues and even more is a deeper condemnation of the people who vote, they likewise would have no answer to these questions but they hear the talking points and just assume that if they hearing something often enough it must be the right idea.

    • Bunker555

      Nunnelee is Santorum Version 2.
      Mississippi Republican Congressman Alan Nunnelee, debating on the House floor a measure that would defund Planned Parenthood, falsely said the GOP plan would not reduce the funding for women’s health. He then accused Planned Parenthood of supporting rapists.

      NUNNELEE: In this resolution not one dime or womens’ health or family planning health funding is reduced. It simply says those dollars cannot go to Planned Parenthood. This is an organization that has protected those who prey on our children and has protected those who have raped our granddaughters.

  • Arms Merchant

    Rachel Ryan logic: A GOP Congressman invited to discuss energy policy flubs it. Therefore, the Republican Party has no energy policy.

    We’ll see.

    • Bunker555

      It’s the same old “Drill Baby Drill” plan with no specifics.
      Eric Cantor on Energy & Oil
      Republican Representative (VA-7)
      Voted NO on enforcing limits on CO2 global warming pollution.
      Voted NO on tax credits for renewable electricity, with PAYGO offsets.
      Voted NO on tax incentives for energy production and conservation.
      Voted NO on tax incentive for homegrown renewal energy
      Voted NO on investing in homegrown biofuel.
      Voted YES on criminalizing oil cartels like OPEC.
      Voted NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies.
      Voted YES on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy.

      Voted NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels.
      Voted NO on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR.
      Rated 0% by the CAF, indicating opposition to energy independence.
      Cantor scores 0% by CAF on energy issues
      Cantor signed H.R.391

      Amends the Clean Air Act to:
      exclude from the definition of the term “air pollutant” carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride; and
      declare that nothing in the Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.
      Source: Clean Air Act Amendment 09-HR391 on Jan 9, 2009

      Signed the No Climate Tax Pledge by AFP.

  • balconesfault

    a) Where did this subtitle on the front page come from: His speech highlighted the party’s problem: bold ideas, but hazy plans for action.

    I don’t see any ideas at all, much less bold ones. His “plan” would be enough to draw a D on a Jr. High science test.

    b) Arms Merchant: We’ll see.

    Lol – what we see in the article you link to is “Drill Baby Drill!” Which as the author points out is no realistic plan at all.

    What we will see is spitballs aimed at Obama, and more pathetic posturing that has nothing to do with an energy policy that has a realistic chance of doing anything but enriching and empowering the Corporate sponsors who wrote it.

  • Bunker555

    “the country was slipping away from us.”

    What’s his plan to take the country back? And, who is this “us”?

  • Stewardship

    So sad. We are going to lose a lot of Republicans–rookies and veterans–next year, as candidates begin running ads connecting their political donations from fossil fuel companies to high gasoline prices. It’s not a direct line, but that’s never stopped a politician before. And watch as several get “primaried” by moderate R’s or enlightened tea partiers paint incumbents the same way.

    • Bunker555

      Probably rookies get “primaried” by mainstream GOP voters. The veterans should be okay, if they toe the Boehner line. The infighting within the base–> old fashinoned Medicare Tea Baggers, Tea Jihadists, Tea Militarists, Tea Birthers, Tea Anti-immigrant, Tea Anti-evolution,and Tea Cons, will split the votes badly, so whichever fringe wins the blame storming game, wins the primary. Expect high turnover, and a lot of new faces. Bottom line is, money spent on attack ads wins the prize.

      Enlightened Tea Partier is an oxymoron.

  • balconesfault

    sorry – but no incumbent’s going to lose a GOP primary these days to a more moderate challenger.

    I actually vote occassionally in the GOP primary here in Texas with the hope of nominating specific candidates who are more progressive on environmental issues … but that’s kind of a pipe dream. They never stand a chance.

  • Carney

    Nunnelee recommended that the U.S. “actively expand development of nuclear power” to advance energy independence and security.

    That would make sense if we still used oil in a major way to generate electricity. But 50% of our electricity comes from coal, 20% each from nuclear and natural gas, 5% from hydro-electric dams, and 2% from all “green” sources combined (solar, wind, etc.) Only 3% comes from oil, down from nearly 20% in the 1970s. So talking about promoting this or that electricity generating method as a way to free us from oil is a sign of ignorance or duplicity.

    Where we are dependent on oil is not in electricity, but in transportation, where oil is nearly the sole source of power to make things move. Even ships and trains, which once moved by coal, now use oil. So any real plan to free us from oil involves promoting alternative fuel (such as ethanol and methanol to replace gasoline) or alternative motive power (such as battery-electric vehicles).

    • balconesfault

      Well put Carney. I would add that anyone proposing to reduce oil consumption via alternative motive power needs a comprehensive approach to be taken seriously.

      You can’t just propose adding power to the grid – as Carney noted you need battery-operated vehicles to turn that into passenger miles. If someone wants to talk about nuclear as a way of reducing oil consumption they better be ready to commit significant resources to transforming our transportation fleet to electric power.

      At the same time, environmentalists who talk about electric powered cars as a panacea need to accept that a fleet of EVs will require power. And you’re not going to generate it simply by putting solar panels on the roofs. Even with the greenest tech – wind, solar – you’re going to need a lot more electric transmission lines (one nice thing gasoline has going for it is that regional transportation is conducted underground … while long distance subsurface electrical transmission lines are usually viewed as economically unfeasible) … and you’re going to need combined cycle gas power plants to accomplish load balancing when the wind and/or sun aren’t sufficient.

      In other words, there’s no silver bullet. Addressing these things takes rational, comprehensive planning. And unfortunately “planning” has become a bad word among Republicans.

      • Carney

        Balconesfault, thanks for the nod, but the counter-intuitive reality is that there’s actually no need for a massive beefing up of electricity generation capacity to accommodate even a large-scale shift to electric vehicles. This is because most EVs would recharge late at night or in the wee hours – times when there’s lots of unused slack capacity in the grid.

        • balconesfault

          Believe me – it’s my business to know exactly what you’re discussing.

          But even if relying on current base load there’s going to end up being a lot of daytime charging as the fleet of EVs expands. People are going to want destination charging capacity because of range anxiety – and that’s going to exacerbate during hot weather months when non-transportational electric demand is highest, and when people are needing to crank their AC units in their cars up to max for the drive home – they’re not going to want to do that if their battery is already down to 1/2 charge and risk running down a few miles from home.

          There are a LOT of structural changes that I think we’re going to have to incorporate in order to facilitate an expanded EV fleet. And because society has a strong interest in not having highways clogged with discharged EVs, there’s a very demonstrable need for government to be taking the lead in driving those structural changes – leaving it all to the free market will without a question slow implementation, and could create more (and more expensive) problems than it solves.

          And for those Republicans who have the brainpower and interest to actually think these things through … that prospect of weaning away from gasoline to more sustainable technologies leads them to conclusions that their ideologies reject (like the necessity to mandate flex-fuel vehicles or subsidize ethanol) … so they just turn stupid and doctrinaire on the issue like Rep. Nunnelee .

        • Churl

          Some of us have thought of these and other things already and wonder where the capital for the required investments will come from.

          Have the government borrow it from China, perhaps?

          Also, one would like more assurance about the reliability and scalability of the environmentally friendly generation technologies.

        • balconesfault

          Some of us have thought of these and other things already and wonder where the capital for the required investments will come from.

          Have the government borrow it from China, perhaps?

          A legit question that should always be asked when making an investment.

          That said – borrowing money for an investment which will leave you economically stronger at the end of the day is a reasonable action. We’ve been importing about 10 million barrels of oil daily – at $100/barrel that’s $1 billion a day being sent abroad primarily to cover our transportation needs.

          So there is a calculation to be made with respect to the investment in these new technologies, and how much of that (today) $1 billion a day/(tomorrow)$2 billion? a day can be reduced … and even to what extent the inevitable increase in oil prices from $100 to $200 can be slowed by converting a significant portion of our fleet from gasoline.

          Scalability/reliability are certainly legitimate concerns. Ones that won’t be answered purely on a research bench somewhere. If we decide that EVs and renewable power are the way to help cut our oil dependence and that $1 billion a day balance of trade deficit, we need to move in a structured comprehensive way towards developing those resources, and incentivize the free market to spend money on addressing those scalabilty/reliability issues. Because without the government commitment at this stage the free market money is going to stay in what’s tried and true and profitable – oil – for as long as people will keep paying for it.

  • iveyguy

    Ms. Ryan,

    Forgive me, but it is very hard to feel sympathy with your crop of “freshmen” members of the House.

    We just had a true “freshman” elected here last week: 19 year old Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who just completed his final exams in first year political science at the Université de Sherbrooke.

    However, he seems like a rock star compared to the “MP From Las Vegas”, Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Ms. Brosseau spent a good chunk of the campaign on vacation in Las Vegas. She lives 3 hours from her riding, has difficulty with French in an almost exclusively francophone riding, which she apparently has yet to (ever) visit.

    On the plus side, we are about to have the most entertaining Question Period since Confederation!

  • mickster99

    After 8 years of Bush/Boehner evidently a small minority still believes that Teabaggers are fit to govern. They aren’t and never will be. End of story.

    • balconesfault

      Tea Partiers aren’t fit to govern in large part because so many of them abhor the concept of governance.

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