- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LIGHTS OUT: TEN MYTHS ABOUT (AND REAL SOLUTIONS TO) AMERICA’S ENERGY CRISIS
By Spencer Abraham
St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 256 pages

When in 1977 President Carter declared his “moral equivalent of war” (MEOW, as it appropriately came to be known) on our energy problems, and before being sabotaged by Iranians and killer rabbits, he gave us the Department of Energy (DOE), with no easily definable purpose and staffed by tens of thousands of superfluous bureaucrats, culled from various departments and agencies.

Today, with some 110,000 employees and a basic budget of $23 billion, plus a huge dose of stimulus funds, and led by the enigmatic Steven Chu, DOE still has no easily definable purpose beyond the maintenance of nuclear weapons and the management of nuclear waste, a radioactive political hot potato that no one else wants to touch.

Beyond that, DOE seems to dabble in an eclectic scattering of sub-issues, among them an attempt to persuade us to buy odd-looking new light bulbs that they claim are more energy-efficient. (Interestingly, news reports maintain that in its own buildings, DOE uses the old-fashioned variety.)

Given this apparent lack of purpose, coupled with a bottomless appetite for taxpayer dollars, sensible people might ask: Why not just abolish it? That’s a question frequently asked about other huge bureaucratic constructs - the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education or Health and Human Services - and a question asked about the DOE by Spencer Abraham when he served as Republican senator from Michigan (1995-2001). In fact, in 1999, he co-sponsored a bill to abolish DOE and transfer control of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the Defense Department.

But then, in 2000, on New Year’s Eve, Andrew H. Card Jr. called on behalf of incoming President George W. Bush to offer outgoing Sen. Abraham a Cabinet job as America’s 10th secretary of energy. Mr. Abraham told Mr. Card about his effort to abolish DOE. Mr. Card told Mr. Bush, then called back: “The president-elect is comfortable, so long as you still don’t want to abolish the department you’re being asked to head.”

“And so,” writes Mr. Abraham, “began my journey into the exciting, enormously important world of energy. Along the way I gained something akin to a doctoral degree in energy economics and a master’s in energy technology.” Among the lessons learned is that “the politics of energy and the environment have so come to dominate all serious discussion, we have refused to do what is necessary to protect our economic security and national interest.”

As a former member of the U.S. Senate, where the last totally positive contribution to energy development may have been its 50-50 vote during the Nixon administration to authorize the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (Vice President Spiro Agnew as president of the Senate broke the tie), Mr. Abraham might have been expected to have learned that lesson a bit earlier.

But no matter. Drawing on his experience as energy secretary and the best thinking of energy experts, he lays to rest what he perceives as “myths” - manufactured misperceptions and single-answer solutions to complex problems, promoted by various special-interest groups - and proposes a policy blending a variety of sources, among them natural gas, nuclear, clean coal, solar, biofuels, improved energy grids and a workable approach to energy conservation.

The last serious proposal for a comprehensive national energy plan was drawn up during the Nixon administration. The Carter administration failed, and neither President Reagan nor the first George Bush left office having appreciably improved our energy outlook. President Clinton had other things to worry about, and George W. Bush missed the chance to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration.

“Our failure to act responsibly on [our energy] problems has intensified them without resolution. We have a very short time left in which to act.”

Before the lights go out, those currently charged with developing energy policy would do well to consult Spencer Abraham’s thoughtful and clearly stated prescriptions for a healthy energy future.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley, 2007).

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