I have read with a sense of dark humor of the recent cry of despair from the downtrodden in California. It seems that heating bills and gas prices are at an all-time high, and look to be staying that way for quite a while.
I believe this is what's called "reaping the whirlwind." For the last 30 years, we as a nation have been pushed into progressively more restrictive environmental regulations by such sweeping legislation as The Clean Air Act. One of the main reasons that California is experiencing a power "shortage" is due to the fact that at least two of their larger power production plants were forced off-line because they have used up all their "emission credits". What this means is that under The Clean Air Act, and other EPA regulations, any one power plant or other emission source can only produce so much carbon monoxide, fluorocarbons, whatever, per year. They can "buy" emission credits by showing reductions in other areas, such as un-driven vehicles, etc., but if a power plant still uses up all of its emission credits before the end of the year, they have to shut down until the counter clicks back to zero on January 1st. This is exactly what happened in California. Due to the higher than expected demand caused by a colder than normal winter, and a gazillion Christmas lights (thank the inventor of those nifty icicle lights for that), many power plants were running at or near full capacity. Thus they were producing far more emissions than "budgeted", and subsequently used up their allotted amount of nasties too early.
I guess I'm just shaking my head in bemused wonder that this is coming as a surprise to anyone at this point. It again strikes me as darkly humorous that the very people that cry the loudest for cleaner fuels, reduced emissions, and against the horrors of nuclear power...cry even louder when, lo and behold, their cherished policies actually end up affecting their pocketbooks! One way to reduce emissions is to use cleaner burning fuels...ie natural gas. So now we have all these plants burning natural gas instead of coal or oil. Well, turns out that due to the nearly unprecedented levels of cold throughout the country this winter, natural gas and fuel oil are in high demand. However, due to the conservation programs of the radical greenies, and the loss of vast areas of potential oil and gas fields to Heritage sites and Herr Clinton's Executive Orders, there is now a shortage of natural gas. Sooo...in comes basic economics. What does al this do to the price of gas and oil? It skyrockets. So now California, long a hotbed of radical environmental activism, has to pay the piper, literally, for its noble but misguided ideals.
Under the auspices of such non-ratified tripe as the UN Convention On Climate Change (The Kyoto Protocols), The Convention on Biological Diversity, and UN Heritage Sites, President Clinton has managed to cordon off 40 million acres of public land from any kind of commercial use or natural resource exploration. Thousands of square miles of ocean and reefs have been set off-limits to oil and natural gas exploration under these treaties. Drilling in Alaska has been heavily curtailed in order to preserve the fragile tundra ecosystems, and any new offshore drilling has been banned or severely restricted to prevent the danger of damage to the ocean ecosystem as well.
All these measures have made us almost totally dependent on foreign sources of oil. So is it really any surprise when OPEC decides to flex its muscles and tighten the supply? They have us by the proverbial balls, and they know it. And the sad part is that we gave them this power ourselves.
As many conservative watchdogs have asked all along (and so were subsequently branded anti-environment despoilers of the earth): hard-core conservation sounds good on paper, and the Kyoto Protocol might look like a nifty plan on the surface, but are we, as a nation, REALLY willing to pay the "real-world" price for compliance with these ill-considered and commerce-killing plans? Forcing our nation to bear the bulk of the burden for the reducing worldwide emissions comes with an appallingly high price tag. I think what these Californians are experiencing is plain and simple "sticker shock". Like those popular SUV's, the broad-reaching environmental restrictions of these UN treaties might look good on the showroom floor, but when that first payment comes due...look out! It seems like a cold hard bite of reality is leaving a bitter taste in many global conservationists' mouths....
Now, as a caveat, I need to say that I'm not by any means opposing reasonable conservation measures or cleaner fuels. I've got to breath the same air as anyone else, and I'd really rather not be able to see what it is I'm breathing. It's just deeply, darkly humorous to me to watch as the realities of Kyoto clash with the idealism of the extreme environmentalist movement. I have to laugh at the oft-foretold gasp of shock from soccer-mom greenies, when they suddenly realize that saving the planet from fossil fuels and the byproducts of nuclear power means driving a Yugo instead of a Ford Expedition, as well as cutting down the selfsame sacred trees they are trying to save in order to burn the wood for heat because they can't afford to pay public utility prices to heat their homes. Forgive me if I laugh until my gut aches. These modern behemoth SUV's get the same kind of gas mileage my rumbling V-8 Chevy Blazer got 15 years ago! Somehow we can put a robot on Mars, and create solar panels and fuel cells that can power a space station, but our cars still rely on the same basic internal combustion engine that Mr. Ford put in his Model A?! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a large part of this current "energy" crisis stems from our own continuing stupidity. We talk a good game about protecting the environment, but we don't want to be so inconvenienced as to give up our luxury items. When I start seeing the delegates to the UN Convention on Climate Change pull up to their conferences on bicycles instead of stretch limos, and fly commercial with the rest of the proletariat instead of chartering private Lear Jets, then maybe I'll take them seriously.
Some have also suggested that there is price-fixing and behind-the-scenes legerdemain on the part of the Big Oil companies. I have no doubt that people are getting stinking rich at the expense of the consumer but that's been happening for as long as there have been haves and have-nots. It's one of the unfortunate, and unavoidable side-effects of capitalism. However, as long as it's been around, I don't think you can blame our current problems solely on corporate avarice. Political and economic greed on the part of these oil producers/suppliers is certainly part of the problem, but don't overlook the fact that the very reason they have this kind of power over us stems from the existence of much-embraced, yet heavily restrictive environmental pacts such as the Kyoto Protocol.
Big Oil Conspiracy? Maybe. Or perhaps we've just been letting the radical environmentalist agenda borrow on our credit for too long, and now the bills are starting to come due.
Published in the January 5, 2001
issue of Ether Zone.
1 jan 2001