There are three great concerns to be addressed by a national energy policy: one, to provide energy for the American economy; two, to promote energy independence, in so far as that is a reasonable goal; and three, to protect the environment.
The big rub is between one and three. Is there a way to reduce the increase in greenhouse emissions in the future (let alone reduce the actual amount of green house gases emitted) without drastically retarding economic growth? The Obama Administration holds out green technologies like wind and solar power as solutions, and of course these are supposed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But what happens if these pretty ideas fail, and the lights go off and the cars stop running? I submit that Americans won't give a rats ass about global warming if they are reduced to cooking actual rat's asses on wood harvested from their cedar decks. So maybe the first thing we need to do is make sure the lights stay on.
Robert Samuelson, the most clear headed economist writing for the popular press, points out that the U.S. has a lot of untapped fossil fuel.
Contrary to popular wisdom, the United States still has huge oil and natural gas resources. The outer continental shelf (OCS), including parts that have been off-limits to drilling since the early 1980s, may contain much natural gas and 86 billion barrels of oil, about four times today's "proven" U.S. reserves. The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana may hold 3.65 billion barrels, more than 20 times a 1995 estimate. And there's upward of 2 trillion barrels of oil shale, concentrated in Colorado. If only 800 billion barrels were recoverable, that's triple Saudi Arabia's proven reserves.
None of these sources, of course, will quickly provide oil or natural gas. Projects can take 10 to 15 years. The OCS estimates are just that. Oil and gas must still be located -- a costly and chancy process. Extracting oil from shale (in effect, a rock) requires heating the shale and poses major environmental problems. Its economic viability remains uncertain. But any added oil could ultimately diminish dependence on imports, now almost 60 percent of U.S. consumption, while exploration and development would immediately boost high-wage jobs (geologists, petroleum engineers, roustabouts).
So item number two can be satisfied, if only we exploit our own energy reserves. Samuelson goes on to point out that the Obama Administration has a congenital bias against oil and coal. Obama's decision not to begin exploiting these resources will not affect his own Presidency. They will handicap the American economy ten or twenty years down the road. We are already twenty years behind when it comes to tapping proven reserves. That is the Democratic Party at work.
So what about 'renewable energy'?
In 2007, wind and solar generated less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. Even a tenfold expansion will leave their contribution small. By contrast, oil and natural gas now provide two-thirds of Americans' energy. They will dominate consumption for decades. Any added oil produced here will mostly reduce imports; extra natural gas will mostly displace coal in electricity generation. Neither threatens any anti-global warming program that Congress might adopt.
Encouraging more U.S. production also aids economic recovery, because the promise of "green jobs" is wildly exaggerated. Consider. In 2008, the oil and gas industries employed 1.8 million people. Jobs in the solar and wind industries are reckoned (by their trade associations) to be 35,000 and 85,000, respectively. Now do the arithmetic: A 5 percent rise in oil jobs (90,000) approaches a doubling for wind and solar (120,000). Modest movements, up or down, in oil will swamp "green" jobs.
If Republicans want an issue, this is one. "Alternative energy" is a joke. The only viable sources of energy sufficiently cheap to power a modern economy are fossil fuels and nuclear power. So far Democrats have not suffered from their relentless campaign to keep us from exploiting our own wealth. Sooner or later that will change.