It’s not surprising that the marquee energy bill moving through the Democratic-controlled Congress is really a global-warming bill in disguise. After all, in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, a plurality of Democrats said global warming will “pose a more serious threat to the world” in the decades ahead than global terrorism. Republicans and Independents, by contrast, see terrorism as the greater threat.
Indeed, during last week’s Senate debate, there were, at last count, 227 references to the need to combat global warming, outnumbering by two to one the references to increase production from traditional energy sources such as oil, gas and coal.
The Democrats’ rewrite of our energy laws is a high-stakes riverboat gamble. Americans would be forced to get more energy from the wind, the sun, the tides and the farmer’s field, and less from oil, natural gas, coal, hydro and nuclear. Renewable fuels such as ethanol, wood chips and agricultural waste are in; fossil fuels are out.
The Senate version relies on the heavy hand of government to force this new regime on consumers and includes the following major initiatives:
• Cars and, for the first time, SUVs would have to meet more stringent fuel efficiency standards. The permissible fleet average would increase from 27.5 to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 and continue to rise for another decade. Americans, environmentalists assume, would continue to drive the same number of miles in these more efficient vehicles (an assumption belied by previous experience). Thus, overall fuel use and, by extension, greenhouse gas emissions would decline.
• Drivers, by 2022, would be required to use gasoline containing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels (corn-based ethanol) each year, a sevenfold increase, and another 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels (non-corn-based ethanol).
• Utilities would be required to generate at least 15% of their electricity from unproven technologies that use wind, solar, wood chips and agricultural waste. Environmentalists beat back an effort by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) to allow utilities to meet a 20% standard by using nuclear power (which generates zero greenhouse gases) and power generated from “clean” coal.
• Consumers could purchase only those home appliances that meet the most rigorous energy efficiency standards. If you rue the day you bought that “low-flow” toilet that you have to flush twice, prepare for similar experiences when you wash your dishes or clean your clothes.
• Finally, Senate liberals would bestow more than $30 billion in new tax subsidies on favored fuel sources and technologies while increasing taxes on the production of oil and natural gas by the same amount.
Proponents argue that these new mandates will result in lower energy prices. The bill’s renewable fuel mandate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says, would “save the consumer … a net $69 billion at the gas pump.” Increasing the federal fuel efficiency standard to “40, 45 miles a gallon,” is win-win, according to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), because oil imports from Middle Eastern nations would fall to “zero” and “that means gas prices go down at the pump.” Calling their bluff, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment that would have created a point of order against any bill that would raise the cost of gasoline, but his amendment was soundly defeated by a cadre of liberals, including Obama and Feinstein.
But when Uncle Sam picks winners and losers, and restricts consumer choice, prices go up, not down. Consider a recent Iowa State University study where researchers found that the current ethanol mandate, by diverting so much corn from the food supply, has already increased food prices by $14 billion. Imagine if Congress increases the mandate sevenfold.
My Heritage Foundation colleagues examined how these new layers of regulation would affect the price of gas and found that by 2016 gas would cost an astronomical $6.41 per gallon, on a par with the cost of gas in stagnant European economies such as Germany ($6.70), France ($6.44), Denmark ($7.00) and Italy ($6.44).
To the average consumer, that translates into $1,445 in additional energy costs annually.
Liberals refuse to acknowledge the dirty little secret that there’s no politically painless way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Class warfare won’t work; carbon emissions, after all, are far more equitably distributed across all segments of the population than is income. There is no convenient “wealthiest 1 percent” of the population upon which liberals can impose all the burden and costs.
The consequences of liberal energy policies will be harsh — and will be felt by average Americans everywhere.