Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Multiple Personality Presidency

President Bush is out on the road currently, attempting to drum up support for his new energy/environmental policy called the Advanced Energy Initiative. The interesting thing about this current round of public relations via stump speeches is that it shows a marked departure from Bush's previous policies. In fact, when Bush puts on his new "Texas oilman against oil" persona, he begins to sound remarkably like certain other politicians.

First, Bush, on automobile fuel standards, via The Ministry of Truth:

The first objective is to change the way we power our cars and trucks. Today's cars and trucks are fueled almost exclusively by gasoline and diesel fuel, which, of course, comes from oil. To transform the way we power the vehicles, we have got to diversify away from oil. I just gave you a reason from a national security perspective, as well as economic security perspective why reliance upon oil is not good for the United States.

And so here are three ways that we can do that, change our reliance from oil. First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do. Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil. And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all.

As an aside, when Bush refers to his national security reason for weaning us off of oil, his rationale is that oil providing nations are too unstable to trust with our energy security. I agree with that, to a point. I suspect, however, that Bush is largely referring to nations such as Venezuela and Niger; large crude suppliers that are not particularly friendly to U.S. interests. However, I also think that this particular justification for moving away from oil is a little weak. Crude oil is traded in a national marketplace, not regional. While India and China continue to demand more oil for industrialization, the U.S. still remains the largest source of demand for oil. That mitigates a great deal of the instability, even while the perception of instability remains. The U.S.'s voracious appetite for oil gives it some heavy market leverage on the demand side. The perceived instability of overseas oil suppliers serves more as a political tool and profiteering justification than a real threat to our national security, in my opinion. But, I digress...

The above paragraph from Bush's speech in Milwaukee yesterday actually makes good environmental and economic sense. It should, since it's not his.

From Earth in the Balance by Al Gore:

"We now know that their [automobiles'] cumulative impact on the global environment is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront. ... I support new laws to mandate improvement in automobile fleet mileage, but much more is needed. ... [I]t ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five-year period.... (page 325-326)

It makes me wonder: If this is the sort of energy policy conservatives wanted, then why vote for George W. Bush and not Al Gore? Gore wrote Earth in the Balance over 15 years ago. None of Bush's ideas are new; they're recycled from Gore's 2000 Presidential campaign!

So, now that Bush has co-opted Gore's environmental and energy policy on automobiles, all should be well, right? Or perhaps not. Policy talk of this sort is cheap from the President when he doesn't control the purse strings:

"The President's call for reduced oil dependence and new energy technologies is laudable, but to be credible, the Administration must reverse its record of cutting overall funding for energy efficiency and other clean energy technologies," said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel.


Two of the leading examples of the administration's shrinking commitment to energy efficiency are:

A 14% inflation-adjusted decline in energy efficiency RD&D funding since FY 2002. This funding decline includes the president's Freedom Car hydrogen vehicle program. What this means is that the Freedom Car and other administration priorities are being funded at the expense of other clean energy programs. So while the administration talks glowingly about these priority initiatives, the overall funding picture for equally important technologies has remained negative.

A $3 billion, 60% drop in clean energy tax incentives in the final Energy Policy Act of 2005. While the Senate bill would have spent $5.5 billion on efficiency and other clean energy technology incentives, the White House insisted during conference that these tax incentives be cut. The final bill spends $2.1 billion, largely due to administration pressure. This loss of funding will require the building of the equivalent of 27 additional 300-Megawatt power plants by 2020.

As usual, Bush talks a big game, but fails to deliver when it counts. Maybe it's an unfair assumption to make, but I find it very hard to believe that a former Texas oilman like Bush, who has been so committed to advancing the interests of corporate energy companies at the expense of the taxpayer, has suddenly seen the green light of sensible energy policy.

Further along in Bush's speech comes talk of expanding energy resources. Some old favorites get dusted off again. First coal:

I told folks when I was running for President the first time around that we would invest $2 billion over 10 years to promote clean coal technology. In other words, I believed, as did many others, that technology will help us deal with this dilemma. And we're on our way, by the way, to complete the promise several years ahead of schedule. In other words, we are committing research dollars to see if we can't use this abundant resource and, at the same time, protect our environment.

Then nuclear:

The administration has also launched what's called Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative. It's a $1.1 billion partnership between the government and industry to facilitate new plant orders. Chairman Niles Diaz of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking steps to streamline the licensing process for new plant construction. In other words, we're analyzing barriers and hurdles and trying to eliminate them so we can start this process.

In a time of huge deficits and federal debt, it seems suspicious that an allegedly conservative president would authorize some big tax give-aways to the electric utility industry. Wonder what he's thinking (from Public Citizen, via whitehouseforsale.org):

In late May 1999, Thomas Kuhn, president of the electric utility industry's main trade association, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), sent a memo to energy industry officials soliciting money for Bush’s nascent presidential campaign. The memo was extraordinary for two reasons: It was written on stationary labeled "George W. Bush Presidential Exploratory Inc.,"105 and it baldly declared that the Bush campaign would be keeping tabs on which industries helped
his cause.


In the 2000 presidential campaign, executives, employees and PACs of the electric utility industry - virtually all of which is affected by NSR – gave $4.8 million to the Bush campaign, the Republican National Committee (which was the GOP’s arm of the Bush campaign) and the inaugural committee. That total included $1.85 million from the four biggest givers among those facing NSR enforcement actions and the leading industry trade association. Another eight utilities also facing NSR lawsuits gave an additional $424,700. [See Figure 3] Employees and PACs of the four companies – Southern, Cinergy, FirstEnergy and Dominion – gave Bush $128,860 in "hard money" contributions in 2000.

They also gave $1.1 million in unregulated "soft money" to the RNC. Moreover, the RNC collaborated with the Bush campaign to raise $100 million for his election. 109 These four companies also gave $400,000 to Bush's inaugural fund and furnished Bush with another Pioneer – Anthony Alexander, president of FirstEnergy. 110 EEI, the trade group of electric utilities headed by Kuhn, gave $194,490 in soft money to the RNC and $13,500 to the Bush campaign.

Business as usual, it appears, from the Bush White House.

As a matter of policy Republicans always put short-term corporate gain ahead of all other considerations, and Bush is no exception. While he may talk about our energy future and building a more sustainable energy infrastructure, the reality is that he's merely laying the groundwork for billions more in taxpayer-funded giveaways to various corporate interests. It's the two personalities of Bush: the radical rightwing government reformer that he presents to the public contrasted with the staunch advocate of corporate welfare that his policies reveal. It's nothing more than a fiscal policy based around looting the Treasury. Cut taxes repeatedly for wealthy business interests, push legislation that gives huge government subsidies to the corporations owned by those same wealthy business interests and then explode federal indebtedness to cover the shortfall. Bush's wealthy supporters get the trifecta: low taxes, free government largesse and, via the low taxes, only a fraction of the future responsibility for the federal debt.

Bush's dedication to short-term economic gain puts the lie to any pro-environment rhetoric he espouses. The simple fact is that a nationwide change in energy policy is going to be expensive for businesses and a drag on the economy, in the short term. Prominent politicians with a realistic environmental policy, such as Al Gore, have long recognized this. Unfortunately, the Republicans are so beholden to corporate interests and their myopic love of short term share price bounces that no meaningful reform is ever likely to come while they are the party in power. Voters, liberal or conservative, for whom the environment is a key issue, should remember in 2006 and 2008 which party actually has the fortitude to lead in the area of energy reform and environmental protection. It's certainly not the one with "Pioneer" donors from the heaviest polluting energy industries.

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