Sarah Palin’s speech on energy policy this morning focused on clean coal technology and nuclear power development. Not surprisingly, she wants to ramp up both.
And also not surprisingly, this approach to energy policy would do far more harm than good.
Clean coal is a huge misnomer. Despite what lobbyists and advertisers would like voters to believe, it doesn’t currently exist and is borderline unrealistic to develop. Production facilities burn coal in order to capture the energy that resides within, emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Carbon, of course, belongs in the ground. That’s a problem. These facilities, ten years down the road, could use systems to capture the carbon and sequester it back underground before it hits the atmosphere. But concentrating this much carbon in a relatively small area could cause catastrophes like earthquakes. That’s also a problem.
Carbon capture and sequestration systems are, like many emerging technologies, currently far too expensive to be practical solutions.
A sensible domestic energy policy would encourage generating supply from the cheapest sources (including the eventual environmental degradation that coal and oil would cause), and it’s true that nuclear power is a low-cost means of production — before accounting for the cost of waste disposal. The U.S. has more than 100,000 megawatts of nuclear power capacity, far more than anyplace else in the world, and storing the hazardous byproducts of this production is still an area of debate. There is one troubling certainty: it will cost, at the least, about $1 billion per reactor, according to documents released by the Department of Energy.
And this repository was supposed to be operational in 1981.
Nuclear power is not immune to the fluctuation of commodity prices; the plants generate power from uranium. When many of the nuclear power plants in the United States came online, uranium was between $5 and $10 per pound; today, it exceeds $60. Nuclear power, though it’s clean and relatively free from carbon emission, is still fixed on a natural resource that can be depleted.
At 14 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear power is also expensive when compared to wind or solar capacity.
Wind farms are where lawmakers’ attention should be. Wind farms can generate enormous capacity at the rate of about seven cents per kilowatt hour and could displace natural gas out of homes and into the auto industry, massively reducing dependence on foreign oil. (No one would debate the initial cost of natural gas infrastructure, but it would be money well spent.)
When Palin said that “America” – I assume she meant the United States and not North America and/or South America – has more coal than Saudi Arabia has oil, she had a decent point, save for it being factually incorrect. The United States does have enough coal to generate enormous capacity for the foreseeable future. But the flatlands in the Midwest are, for lack of a better term, the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. Recent research suggests wind energy could power the world alone if 20 percent of its potential capacity were captured. This is unrealistic, of course, because the infrastructure to make it work (like national power grids) just don’t exist, but it’s no more shortsighted than Palin’s clumsily-made coal comparison.
Barack Obama’s ticket has not talked about energy to this extent, probably because it has not purported to be an energy expert. But one of its policy ideas stands out as notably good: the creation of a $150-billion government-run investment fund to nurture energy technology. When I first heard about this, it sounded like needless meddling into the private sector, which I don’t support. But since then, lawmakers have seized AIG to create what I’ve been calling the United States Department of Insurance; a state-run private equity portfolio would, in my view, be less invasive to free-market dynamics.
Palin did say that Americans need to use less energy and conserve more. This is also a good point – as I’ve written before, conservation is akin to the cheapest form of new energy available.
But her focus on two means of generation that are clearly counter to voters’ best interests, however, is troubling, and one has to fear the policy she would support if, heaven forbid, voters elect her ticket next Tuesday.
It’s a useless reduction to write that voters’ internal narratives, and not the choices they’re presented with, decide elections. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
In elections, there are very few known variables compared to all of those unknown. Take taxation, an area of policy both candidates are campaigning on rabidly, as an example. Voters can observe that the United States tax code structures different income levels with different tax rates (Which tax bracket do you fall into?), and already, for lack of a better description, “spreads the wealth around.” Many taxpayers can also observe the senseless complexity of the tax code. Lawmakers can’t even agree on how long the code and its associated regulations are. Exponentially longer than War & Peace seems appropriate.
Realistically, the only taxpayers who are maximizing the code are wealthy taxpayers who can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a tax attorney to minimize their exposure. The rest of us go to H&R Block or do it ourselves.
Thus the important question: Which candidates are spending time talking about simplifying the tax code? Voters don’t have a good way of knowing; instead of seeing it for themselves, voters are left to deduce their best guess from the policies candidates are laying out. Just trust us; we’ll get it done.
Umm, no. There’s plenty explained but very little shown.
This is a problem that some progressive residents of our representative democracy need to solve.
The solution: Let voters see things for themselves. Less messaging; fewer talking points; more chaos. Let voters into candidates’ strategy sessions and give them access to your plans and documentation. Pin a damn FlipVid to your campaign support and your nominees. Live-blog your rallies. Share everything online. Replace your opaque web site with a wiki and crowd-source policy ideas. Even though you’ll use none of them wholesale, their existence will become an important part of your platform.
This, not Town-Hall-style meetings, is how to take the temperature of voters. Admittedly, it all sounds very reality-showish. But it’s the exact opposite of what voters resent: being talked down to and not knowing who’s talking about the issues and who’s just talking about how to get elected.
It’s what observers have taken to calling how the sausage gets made. How does the writer prepare to write? What makes the dancer dance? Some cable news networks wheel the camera into the assignment meetings and air footage of editors talking to producers talking to photographers talking to anchors as they collectively decide what to cover and how to cover it. How the sausage gets made: You wouldn’t like the final product if you knew what went on behind the scenes. Except sometimes, you would.
It’s like that, and it might be the future of political campaigning. Or at least a neat direction to think about.
Background: A Pittsburg College Republicans member and McCain/Palin volunteer Ashley Todd lied about being beat up by an Obama/Biden supporter (a “black guy, maybe homeless”) and having a letter “B” carved into her face. Thankfully, in fabricating a crime that didn’t happen, Todd has herself committed a crime. One only wishes that fabricating a hate crime were itself a hate crime too.
Here’s the gist of the story from CNN…young Jew boy imprisoned in a Nazi death camp falls in love with a German girl who risks her life by feeding him apples that she tosses over the camp fence on a daily basis for months. Eventually, he is moved to another concentration camp, but survives until the war’s end. Once freed, he moves to America.
Fast forward more than a decade later and these same two people get set up on a blind date in the Bronx. Over dinner, they discover who each other are, and marry soon thereafter.
They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
And a big part of my cold, cynical heart just melted.
Julia Allison gave you some great dating advice once. Julia Allison knows the directions to where you need to go. Julia Allison helped you clean your bathroom. Julia Allison brings you a cup of earl grey when you’re sick. Julia Allison told you what the best dish on the menu was.
Now I’m off to get ready for a photoshoot in my parents’ backyard for a magazine called “Sheridan Road.”
Screw you, Post, and your [probably unintentional] homophobic rhetoric.
“One of the “bundlers” who has raised $50,000 to $100,000 for the Barack Obama presidential campaign is Terrance Bean, who once controlled the biggest producer of gay porn in America.
the first gay [emphasis added] on Sen. Obama’s National Finance Committee, …”
The first gay what, exactly? Is Bean a gay man, a gay American, a gay supporter, a gay fundraiser, a gay campaign participant? No. He’s simply a gay, if you ask the Post’s Page Six. I’d love to go through the ole’ masthead and turn some more adjectives into nouns, but I don’t know many Post reporters or editors personally. Just as I’m sure Richard Johnson doesn’t personally know Bean, the first gay man on Obama’s finance committee, either.
John McCain’s campaign has very recently
enacted a ramped up its “guilty by association” character assault on Barack Obama. So why shouldn’t Obama supporters point out that this domestic terrorist, arrested yesterday, is an ardent McCain supporter?
The answer, of course, is that serving on a committee with a former political dissenter, living in the same neighborhood as a former political dissenter, or being supported politically by a very obvious racist waste of space are completely irrelevant to these candidates’ worldviews, judgment, and ability to lead.