While former Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is a fine scholar, he seemed to be lost when it came to drafting a federal energy policy that was evidence-based.
It's easy for an academic to postulate that $9 a gallon gas will be 'good' for us but when it comes to managing a national constituency, including a lot of people who will be ruined by expensive gasoline, there has to be some real thought before actions are taken. Government is not a sandbox.
His obsession with mitigating CO2 rather than building a better energy program was my primary concern when he was hired as the person responsible for managing our energy policy, but I saw a glimmer of hope when he recommended approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. His loan program, which threw money at almost anyone that mentioned solar panels, cost us $72 billion and didn't help much, so that was a downer, but the private sector managed to make improvements without a rational federal energy policy anyway.
Emissions from energy are back at early 1990s levels and emissions from coal are back at early 1980s levels. That wasn't due to federal policy, it was in spite of it - the EPA had to be blocked in court from blaming fracking for everything without doing any studies and the administration was blasted by another court for ignoring the science reports and stonewalling the Yucca Mountain repository. But the administration gets to take credit for the good things that happen on their watch, even if they didn't contribute to them, so that's fine.
Yet we clearly needed someone with a different skill set. Sure, I would have preferred a person with actual experience in energy (rather than academic expertise) but that was really too bold an idea for a president who surrounded himself with UFO believers, put an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and guy who thinks girls can't do math on his transition team (Larry Summers was on the final list for Treasury Secretary also) and has a Doomsday prophet as his Science Czar.
We got a reasonable compromise in Ernie Moniz. He had already worked for President Clinton, so he saw what could happen when a political party turned on science, like when the president and Senator John Kerry gloated about killing nuclear energy research in America, after they and fellow Democrats had already killed the Superconducting Supercollider.
Moniz has also adroitly managed to calm down environmentalists who were up in arms after the president said his approach to energy was going to be 'all of the above', which should include a sane nuclear approach, Keystone XL and fracking. Activists were concerned about his evidence-based mentality but they needn't have been. Yes, he supports clean coal - so does climate change authority James Hansen. Yes, he supports nuclear power - so does climate change authority James Hansen. He doesn't hate fracking, so that at least puts him in contrast to the EPA, though it concerns environmentalists.
And he is even taking an optimistic approach to his predecessor's loan program, noting that $30 billion of that is not lost. Let's hope that is true.
There are still challenges. Our irrational war on existing electricity, in the belief that a miracle of capitalism would arise from government subsidies of solar panels, has led to a drop in the supply of electricity per capita and an increase in cost. Here in California, we pay 50 percent higher utility costs because new energy must be "green" while rich people with solar panels in Malibu can sell electricity back to utilities at the same cost they buy it after we paid to have their panels installed. All of those costs are passed on to consumers and unfairly impacts the poor in favor of the 1%.
Thank you, poor people, for paying taxes so that rich people in California can have less liberal guilt about their giant homes. Credit and link: Candelariasolar.com
I don't expect Moniz to fix that any time soon, though it seems to be un-American to want poor people to pay more money for electricity. Projects like TVA were created specifically so poor people could have cheap electricity, energy lights the road to a better life. And progressives loved the idea back then and they were right, their quality of life improved substantially within a generation after they got electricity.
But, baby steps first. Let's get a nuclear policy that hasn't been hijacked by anti-science zealots, a pipeline in the one country guaranteed to make it safer than anywhere else in the world, and let's keep transitioning to cleaner natural gas.
Moniz may be the perfect person to pull it off.
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