By George Harvey
The world has been stood on its head.
The current administration in Washington was put there by a coalition of conservative Republicans and supporters of the “free market.” Among them, some seem to support fossil fuels, regardless of what is sacrificed to achieve this.
The conservatives want America to be great. They believe in democracy, the sanctity of the family, and expression of traditional religions. The “free market” supporters want to reduce government costs, eliminate subsidies and incentives, and cut taxes for everyone, even if it means government services vanish. The positions are not really compatible.
EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, wants to eliminate costs to the government and business, so he would stop paying for any EPA program he can. So, he is eliminating enforcing environmental regulations and has called for eliminating incentives for renewable energy. He has stopped work on the Clean Power Plan, despite the fact that the EPA was ordered to regulate carbon emissions in federal courts.
Meanwhile, we have had hurricanes, droughts, and wild fires that have cost hundreds of billions of dollars this year alone, in a trend of increasing economic costs that mirror temperature increases due to climate change. Much of corporate America is upset, being too pragmatic to believe climate change is not a real problem.
Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, has focused on the troubles of the coal and nuclear industries. Right now, there is only one nuclear plant under construction in the United States, and the owners of the only coal-burning power plant under development said they will probably give up on it. So, Rick Perry has decided we should subsidize electric plants that can store at least three month’s fuel, meaning nuclear and coal plants.
Perry’s move has been opposed by a wide number of environmental groups. But it has also been opposed by just about everyone who has no way to profit from the proposed subsidies, and this divides supporters of gas from supports of coal.
Of course, many politicians loyal to whatever fossil fuels industry financed their campaigns are still saying that the weather damage, which has been mounting rather steadily for over four decades, is just the luck of bad weather.
But the coal industry cannot recover. And the gas industry, which has been putting coal out of business, has gone into what appears to be a severe recession of its own. Over the last year, the amount of electricity generated by natural gas has been down every month from what it was in the same month the year before. The average decline is over 10%.
Most utilities seem to be supporting neither Pruitt’s position nor Perry’s, but the American Wind Energy Association has taken up the mantra: “Let the market decide.” The lowest prices for electricity in power purchase agreements from fossil fuels is about 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour. The lowest costs from solar or wind are already lower than that, even when battery backup power is included.
So, Republicans are stuck with a tough choice: Do they support their own principles, a healthy economy, and their constituents? Or do they support the fossil fuels industry?
I am sure they will let us know.