In a speech that included a fine smackdown of the GOP's consistently destructive economic policies, President Obama also again bought into what has become a generic Beltway false framing about energy policy.
The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. (Applause.) Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation's fleet of nuclear power plants.
With all due respect, neither natural gas nor nuclear power is clean. If we are going to have the honest discussion we so desperately need to have about our energy future, it needs to begin with not promulgating patent falsehoods.
As explained by the Environmental Protection Agency:
The principal greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere because of human activities are:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of other chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is also removed from the atmosphere (or “sequestered”) when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.
Methane (CH4): Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste.
Fluorinated Gases: Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (i.e., CFCs, HCFCs, and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).
While it's true that burning natural gas doesn't emit nearly as much greenhouse gases as do the burning of oil and coal, it is still a fossil fuel, and burning it still contributes to climate change. It is not, by any honest definition of the word, clean.
And then there's nuclear power. The development of which Obama already has promoted, with $8,300,000,000 in new loan guarantees. Despite a Congressional Budget Office report that says:
Thus, we assume that the government loan guarantee would cover half the construction cost of a new plant, or $1.25 billion in 2011.
CBO considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high--well above 50 percent.
Which makes providing those loan guarantees just a bit curious. And even more curious is Obama's desire to increase the total amount of loan guarantees to a staggering $54,000,000,000.
But that's just the money. More to the point was this Reuters report, from a couple years ago:
Nuclear power would only curb climate change by expanding worldwide at the rate it grew from 1981 to 1990, its busiest decade, and keep up that rate for half a century, a report said on Thursday.
Specifically, that would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired, the report by environmental leaders, industry executives and academics said.
Twenty-one new plants a year, for fifty years. If that sounds like an impossibly enormous amount of plants to build, that's because it is. But the story gets worse.
While the report also supported storing U.S. nuclear waste at power plants until the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository opens, 10 dumps the size of Yucca Mountain would be needed to store the extra generated waste by the needed nuclear generation boom.
A 2008 DOE estimate put the cost of building and operating Yucca Mountain at $90,000,000,000. As in $90 billion. As in ten dumps that size would cost $900 billion. And siting the repository at Yucca Mountain has been so controversial, for so many years, that Obama Administration Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a 2009 Senate hearing that it was no longer even considered an option. In July of that year, the Senate voted to shut it down. So, let's try to find a new location. And ten more for the additional waste. And then let's try to fund them. Because the onus will be on us.
And who are the radical leftists (pdf), cited by Reuters, who say nuclear power is no solution?
Twenty-seven individuals from organizations spanning a broad ideological spectrum, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and GE Energy, spent nine months on the report, called "The Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding."
The report itself can be found here.
But beyond that, as reported on the Bio-Medicine website:
Physicist Joshua Pearce of Clarion University of Pennsylvania has attempted to balance the nuclear books and finds the bottom line simply does not add up. There are several problems that he says cannot be overcome if the nuclear power option is taken in preference to renewable energy sources.
In fact, despite the claims to the contrary, nuclear power isn't really even emissions free. Granted, the nuclear process itself doesn't emit carbon dioxide...
However, it is the whole-of-life cycle analysis that Pearce has investigated that shows nuclear power is far from the "emission-free panacea" claimed by many of its proponents. Each stage of the nuclear-fuel cycle including power plant construction, mining/milling uranium ores, fuel conversion, enrichment (or de-enrichment of nuclear weapons), fabrication, operation, decommissioning, and for short- and long-term waste disposal contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, he explains.
Pearce's research was published by the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, and can be found here.
We are in a global crisis of climate change, and the Gulf of Mexico is dying, all because of our addiction to fossil fuels. We need paradigmatic change. We need blunt honesty. Promoting natural gas and nuclear power as clean alternative sources of energy is not honest. Even if it is decided to use some amount of them as a bridge, we still should not even try to pretend that they are clean. Explaining that we need crisis level conservation would be honest. So would pouring staggering amounts of money into the research and development of truly clean alternatives.
This isn't a time for stale politics or cautious incrementalism. When discussing the economy, the president said:
We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward. And I don't know about you, but I want to move forward. I think America wants to move forward.
On energy, America needs to move forward. To fully embrace a clean energy future. Beginning now.
Take-Action Items (with thanks to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse):
League of Conservation Voters: Email message to President Obama and your senators to abandon failed energy policies of past and enact true energy reform that promotes clean, renewable energy, and limits carbon pollution.
NRDC: Send President Obama an email message asking that he lead us to a clean energy future.
Sierra Club: Send email message to President Obama to ban all offshore drilling.
DSCC petition: Help President Obama Hold BP Accountable.
Credo Action: Tell EPA to take away BP's billions in federal contracts.
Defenders of Wildlife: Support their lawsuits against Minerals Management Service's "continued lax oversight of oil drilling operations" and its lawsuit against BP for violating the Endangered Species Act by harming and killing endangered species by the oil gusher and use of dispersants.