Ross Mackenzie

The primary campaigns have featured little discussion about energy.

Democrats tend to favor renewable fuels (solar, wind) and biofuels such as ethanol, but the prospects for such fuels adding much to the energy mix are limited. Democrats also favor tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and imposing strict emission controls for petroleum power — carbon output regulation (with federal penalties) and bagging stacks.

They favor reduction of gasoline usage through mandated fuel efficiencies (as in legislation signed by President Bush last month). They favor “excess profits” taxes on oil companies (remember?). And they favor international accords (e.g., Kyoto), wherein we would limit our industrial output while subsidizing Third World economies that lack our manufacturing capacity.

Republicans tend to favor building more nuclear plants (none authorized since the mid-1970s) and more oil refineries (none built in generally the same period). They also favor drilling on federal lands (e.g., the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge) and on the outer continental shelf.

To get the nation unhooked from petroleum long-term, Republicans favor — as well — incentives for nuclear-plant construction and tax credits for research and development of non-petroleum, alternative-fuel (especially hydrogen-driven) cars.

Generally, what Democrats favor Republicans oppose — and what Republicans favor Democrats oppose. This is why Washington accomplishes little to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum. And so, our foreign oil habit grows ever worse, with our principal suppliers (or, to continue the metaphor, dealers )too often regimes and autocrats accustomed to making their way in the world detesting Uncle Sam. Their economies require that we continue to be hooked on their oil.

When the Democrats controlled Congress, they did little to break our foreign-oil habit. When the Republicans controlled Congress, they lacked sufficient numbers or sufficient leadership to overcome Democratic obstructionism fostered by “greens” clustered on the eco-left. And the 1990s, for instance, boasted a mere $8 for a barrel of crude — and the consequently soaring “Clinton economy.” In the year of their most recent congressional control (2007), the Democrats felt insufficiently moved by the crisis of our foreign oil habit to do much about it.

Now oil (in December) has topped $100 a barrel. The foreign percentage of our total petroleum usage stands at all-time highs. And the federal pols are pushing stimulus packages to ignite a recessioning economy.

For their part, many foreign countries are going nuclear in big ways. Nuclear power produces about 19 percent of U.S. power generation, with seven new reactors now in early-planning stages — at last. France, by contrast, is self-sufficient for 79 percent of its energy, most of it nuclear-generated; it is a net nuclear-power exporter.

Notes French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

“I cannot forget that nuclear energy contributes in a decisive manner to the three objectives of our energy policy as defined by French law: to guarantee national independence in energy and the security of supply; to take action against the greenhouse effect (of carbon emissions); and to make sure that the price of electricity remains competitive and stable.

With the OPEC cartel’s 12 members controlling 77 percent of proven petroleum reserves, 40 percent of today’s supplies, and 55 percent of the petroleum traded in global markets, they effectively determine price. Other countries — most of them non-oil exporters — see the problem clearly. That is why they are turning to nuclear power generation. At least 78 new reactors now are planned, including: six in South Korea, eight in Russia, 10 in India, 11 in Japan, and 30 (yes) in China.

To too many, the cry “energy independence” translates into: “keep the U.S. independent of domestic oil.”

Yet while we develop hydrogen cars and triple or quadruple our nuclear-power reliance, we easily could (a) access more of our domestic petroleum, (b) build more refining capacity, and (c) as the Saudi Arabia of coal, use more of our black gold. And we could do those things if, politically, ideologized greens would let us — let us employ new, greatly cleaner technologies, to drill and burn.

The tide may be turning. Among others Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, and Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog and an early principal in the environmentalist movement, have moved away from their dogmatic opposition to nuclear energy. Brand views it as a way to “decarbonize energy production.”

It’s almost enough to make one weep with joy. Could such enlightenment spread to the Democrats, so in thrall to the greens, and persuade them finally to work with the Republicans in breaking our foreign-oil addiction? To stick it to the OPECs who detest us as we enrich them by driving ourselves down on their oil — and thereby to gain our own energy independence — we may stand at the brink of a historic bipartisan moment.


Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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