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Senator Alexander “believes an inconvenient reality …”

October 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Earlier this afternoon, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) held a press call to discuss climate legislation.  There were those who were holding their breath, seeing Alexander as moving toward supporting the legislation if it met his desires when it came to nuclear power development.  Based on this press event, it seems that they might be holding their breath in vain.

Alexander spent much of the time repeating truthiness-laden talking points about Cap & Trade that rely on misrepresentations of government analysis and/or fossil-foolish think tanks that misrepresent reality.  Thus, Alexander repeatedly  attacked Cap & Trade on carbon emissions as a ‘jobs killer’, asserted that government analysis showed that it would send jobs overseas (‘in search of cheap energy’), that it ‘will raise energy prices’, take money out of the pockets of struggling families, and won’t have any impact.  Simply put, none of this is a true representation of either the Waxman-Markety American Clean Energy & Security (ACES) Act that passed the House earlier this year or the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act (CEJAPA) that is being consider in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, with hearings on this week.

Some of Alexander’s concerns and criticisms had more solid basis, such as stating that it was difficult to fully understand a 900+ page bill (even without the issue of it having been released only over the weekend) and that the CBO / EPA analyses have many inadequacies.

Senator Alexander strongly asserted this four-point plan for dealing with what he termed as the ‘inconvenient reality’ of climate change (which he stated he believes is a real threat):

  • 100 new nuclear power plants by 2030
  • Targeting no less than 50 percent of US vehicles as electric cars
  • Offshore drilling
  • Manhattan Project style research program for clean energy

Alexander stated that this program would mean that the United States would meet Kyoto targets by 2030 (that is, I think, the 2010 Kyoto targets 20 years late) and emphasized that we need “cheap, clean energy”.

Reporters challenged Alexander in multiple ways, along the lines of:

  • ‘Why would utilities buy nuclear power plants if there isn’t a restriction or price on coal?  [His argument, here, was basically a Clean Air Act argument: that between Mercury and other pollutants, there more than enough reasons to get off coal without considering carbon.]
  • ‘If you say you believe in the science and many scientists say the situation is dire, how can you advocate a plan which, you yourself state, might require putting in a cap or similiar additional levers in 5-10 years?’

Many of the questions focused on politics (‘Would Alexander join Jim Inhofe in a boycott of Senate EPW activities to undermine the bill’s progress forward?).  Amid these questions, Alexander emphasized (multiple references) that what was required for serious action was Presidential leadership. Implied was that, for Alexander, that Presidential leadership meant moving forward with Alexander’s four-point plan.

If I had had a chance to ask questions  …

As fun as it might have been to ask Senator Alexander what he meant by calling for President leadership, in terms of whether Senator Alexander would lead Republicans in following President Obama, if given a chance to ask questions, here are the two tacts/foci that I would have taken:

  • Every single expert study and energy expert emphasizes that the cheapest new energy is the energy you don’t require.  Coined by Amory Lovins as “negawatts”, analysis after analysis show opportunities to cut energy demand by 20+ percent over the coming decade at costs of just pennies a kilowatt hour equivalent.  Senator, you called for an emphasis on “cheap, clean energy” yet made no comment about energy efficiency.   Why is energy efficiency not a fifth leg in your “plan”?
  • Just last week, the National Academy of Sciences released a report documenting that fossil fuel use (not extraction and production) has a health impact in the United States of at least $120 billion / year.  This is just one example of what is described as externalities of energy use, with how CO2 is acidifying the oceans and driving climate change an even larger example. In your comments, Senator, you expressed dissatisfaction with CBO and EPA analysis of climate legislation. The CBO and EPA analyses explicitly do not consider such externalities. You discussed, as well, the value of nuclear power plants for cleaning up the atmosphere.  The value of cleaning up the air would not, as an externality, be scored by CBO and EPA. Would you support a change in guidance to the CBO (and EPA) so that such ‘externality’ benefits (and costs) would be including in their scoring of legislation.

In any event, have to assume that Senator Alexander won’t be joining Senators Graham and Kerry in OpEd writing any time soon.

Note: Unless there are “double quotation” marks, the words above are not direct quotes. ‘Single quotes’ is an indication that these words represent an honest attempt to capture meaning even if not direct wording.

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Tags: analysis · cap and trade · climate change · Congress · Energy