To Help the Poor, We Should Increase Energy Supplies, Not Subsidies

To Help the Poor, We Should Increase Energy Supplies, Not Subsidies

My friend Myron Ebell, a true hero of the American environmental movement, had given a long interview on why he thinks global warming is less of a threat than some argue and why adapting to it, rather than fighting it, made the most sense.

“What if you’re wrong?” the interviewer asked. “Then I eat a lot of crow, and we have some serious problems,” Ebell said. “But what if they’re wrong? What if we’re doing all these things that hurt our economy, that hurt the poor … and it’s all unnecessary?

The second part of Ebell’s answer ended up on the cutting room floor, of course. But the perspective deserves further attention because momentum continues to build to do still more damage to the economy and the pocketbooks of the less fortunate in the name of stopping global warming.

There is President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the upcoming Paris climate conference.

On top of that, Pope Francis has called for us to reduce the use of fossil fuels and said we need to “touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the Earth.”

But he might be surprised where that leads because a lot of those who are looking for gain at the expense of the poor and the Earth are taking advantage of global warming hysteria to do so.

And it is hysteria. We’re going on 20 years of no actual global warming. The polar ice caps were to have been gone by now, but the South Pole has more ice than ever. In fact, some are now warning that decreased solar activity could make excessive cold – rather than heat – our more pressing challenge.

The more frequent and severe storms we were warned of haven’t occurred either. In fact, we’re in the longest period without anything more than a Category 1 hurricane making landfall in the United States since before the Civil War. We’re having fewer tornadoes and of less severity, fewer serious thunderstorms and of less severity, and less severe weather overall by virtually any measure.

But in New England, people continue to suffer in the name of global warming. An entire industry of charities has arisen to help the poor pay fuel bills. The utilities are the biggest contributors to those charities – often matching dollar-for-dollar all other money raised.

Residents are urged to watch each other for the “umbles” – mumbles, stumbles, fumbles, etc., that indicate neighbors are keeping their heat low to reduce costs and are beginning to suffer health consequences as a result.

New England has the harshest winters and the highest costs for home fuel. Rates can double in the winter, and even the year-round averages can be double that paid by those in energy-rich states, such as West Virginia and Louisiana. Heating oil – the primary fuel in the region – has jumped 38 percent in the last three years.

And even the New York Times agrees the green left is standing in the way of progress. The six states of New England – Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island – work together on energy policy because they have few natural resources of their own. Pennsylvania is producing ample natural gas to address the need and lower prices, but the New England states refuse to expand pipeline capacity to receive the gas.

An agreement last year by the governors of the six states to approve pipeline projects and get the fuel moving fell apart when Massachusetts’ legislature voted not to go along because lawmakers didn’t want to promote fossil fuel production at the expense of renewables.

“The impasse just kicks the can down the road, and I see no reason why this dynamic isn’t going to be repeated during the heating season for years to come,” John Howat, a senior policy analyst at the National Consumer Law Center, a Boston-based nonprofit advocacy group for low-income residents, told the New York Times.

“I think we need to be more aggressive in pursuing renewables and energy efficiency. But I doubt we can implement those solutions quickly enough and at a sufficient scale to relieve the economic burden in the short term on those 30 percent of households that don’t have sufficient income to pay these bills.”

New England lawmakers can get away with turning down energy expansion only because the rest of the country subsidizes its energy needs. LIHEAP – the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program – provides payments to utilities to keep the lights on in low-income homes. It was conceived as a Northeast-only solution but has expanded nationwide mainly to increase its leverage in Congress.

But even that has not kept LIHEAP off the cutting block – and payments have decreased by a fifth in the last three years as Congress has reduced its funding to meet Budget Control Act sequestration requirements.

But the answer is not more LIHEAP. LIHEAP is a typical government program — duplicative with broad inefficiencies, persistent fraud and structural difficulties, and it violates the user-pays principle. It is so inefficient that President Obama actually proposed more stringent cuts to it than did the Republican-controlled Congress.

The answer is for political leaders in the region to lead – to do what it takes to provide the energy at costs their constituents can afford. It is not for the country to continue to subsidize New England’s unwise choices.


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