By John Pratt
Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton this week unveiled her energy energy
plan, calling for a vast reduction of carbon emissions and a
commitment to renewable energy sources in an effort to combat global
warming and wean the United States from relying on foreign oil
Perhaps the most surprising part of Clinton’s plan was her call for
raising fuel standards to 55 miles per gallon by the year 2030,
something energy experts say is a lofty goal because of a shortage of
both technology and American idealism.
“The notion of basing your energy policy on technology we don’t have
is an uncertainty,” said Dr. Henry Lee, an associate professor of
environment and natural resources at Harvard University. “Can you
develop an engine that’s efficient enough to carry around 3,500-pound
SUV’s at 55-miles per gallon? We haven’t done that.”
Lee said that Clinton’s standards would force Americans to forgo a lap
of luxury and climb into smaller automobiles.
“The big problem is you can mandate (55 mpg fuel tanks) only if you
buy small cars,” Lee said. “The only way you’re going to (raise fuel
standards) is by getting in smaller cars, and Americans have this idea
of buying whatever cars (they) want. So who’s to tell Americans what
cars to buy?”
Clinton has been talking up her energy initiative for weeks, proposing
a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund to invest in alternative energy
resources, something Clinton says will lead to U.S. energy
independence while providing a significant boon to the job economy.
The money for the energy fund, Clinton says, will come from an excess
profit tax on big oil companies, who, she noted, earned an estimated
$113 billion in profits last year.
Among those from whom she’s found a sympathetic ear is the
environmental group Friends of Earth Action, even though the group
endorsed one of her rivals, former Sen. John Edwards, last month.
Erich Pica, spokesmen for Friends of Earth Action, said her group
supports Clinton’s proposed fund and her dedication toward improving
the environment through cleaner energy.
“This plan is a good plan,” she said. “She’s fairly aggressive on
alternative sources, such as ethanol. And I don’t think there’s any
doubt the U.S. is sorely under-invested in alternative energy, and the
Federal Government should spend whatever it takes (to make up for
But Lee, a former director of the Massachusetts Energy Office before
joining Harvard in 1979, disagreed, saying Clinton’s high-spending
energy fund isn’t necessary because the money “is already there.”
“You don’t need this fund,” Lee said. “The venture capitalists, the
Warren Buffets, are the ones who can provide the money. Right now a
barrel (of oil) is $96, if someone can come up with something that’s
$40 (a barrel) for some other energy, they would make a mint. And
that’s what they’re trying to do right now.”
In pledging to end the nation’s “addiction” to foreign oil, Clinton
said the United States should cut its consumption of foreign oil in
half by 2025, and invest more heavily in the production of biofuels,
up to 60 billion gallons by 2030.
“In order to (cut the production in half) you would have to go with 25
percent biofuels,” Lee said. “It’s in the realm of possibility but the
key to biofuels is … materials which we don’t have right now. It
would be a very expensive thing to do.”
Biofuels have been a key part of nearly every candidate’s energy plan.
They’re fuels, such as methane gas, that can be produced from
renewable energy sources, thereby providing the United States with a
much needed alternative to high-priced foreign oil, which currently
sits at nearly $100 per barrel.
Biofuels are considered a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions
while providing energy security because they can serve as an
alternative to fossil fuels, such as heating oil and gasoline, which
are dropping precipitously in supply while demand remains at an
all-time high.
Pica raised another concern about biofuels: They have their own
environmental costs.
“Producing 60 billion gallons of biofuels can cause unknown
environmental problems,” he said. “Right now the U.S. produces 7.5
billion gallons, so you don’t know where the rest of it is going to be
grown. It could affect forests or grazed land, which we’re not in
favor of.”
Clinton’s plan also set a series of interim goals. It called for 20
percent of electricity to be produced by renewable energy sources by
2020. Clinton said dedication and investment to these energy sources
would lead to the creation of over 5 million “green collar” jobs to
help boost the U.S. economy.
Clinton unveiled her plan just over a week after Sen. Edwards
announced his own energy proposal.
While both candidates seem to have similar ideas, both failed to
mention the hard realities facing Americans as their respective
energy policies are put in place. Both Clinton and Edwards are making
big promises to help combat a number of serious issues, oil dependence
and global warming atop the list. But their lofty solutions seem to
rest heavily on undeveloped technologies that could still be years
away from fruition.
“They’re basing their plans around technologies we don’t have,” Lee
said. “Again, it’s an uncertainty to say you can provide these new
policies when we don’t have the capacity to do it right now.”