Monday, August 25, 2008

I Want To Believe...

I really want to vote for Obama – I want to believe "Yes We Can", but he's just not giving me the objective evidence to do so.

As an example (and where I have some actual expertise), take the Obama Energy Plan.

I've read the Obama Energy plan – all eight (8) pages of it – and the meat just isn't there.  Unfortunately, as most of Obama's detractors claim, it's a collection of promises and aspirations that lack sufficient specificity to get from "abstract concept" to "workable plan".

For example, the Plan states that it will:

"Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025"

OK – that's a great statement.  But how, exactly, does the Plan "ensure" this?

"establish a 10 percent federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to require 10 percent of electricity consumed in the US is derived from clean, sustainable energy sources"

That's it?  You're Plan to get to 10% (and later, 25%) is to "require" it?  Is this divine fiat?  Other than federal legislation being enacted, how is this supposed to work? 

The answer Senator Obama isn't giving to this question is that federal legislation, to have any meaning, means taxation.  The plan to get to 10% (a Pollyannaish feat itself) then to 25% (??) of our electricity consumption from renewable resources is to raise your existing electricity rates through taxes (of one form or another) to the point that currently unmarketable technologies (such as wind and solar) become cheaper by comparison. 

I've written before that solar and wind are the most heavily subsidized sources of electricity in the U.S. (and the world) and have been for over 30 years – in the name of giving these "emerging" technologies (seriously, still "emerging" after 30 years?) a "level playing field" with the much, much cheaper alternatives of gas, coal, oil and nuclear power.  Yet, after over three decades of rich subsidies, these generation sources account for less, cumulatively, than 3% of our total electrical generation – and remain, even subsidized, our most expensive options.

So the Obama campaign answer?  We'll continue to prop up these failed methods – and add to their subsidies – and then pile penalties (in the form of taxes) on other methods, until the vast difference in the cost and value of the technologies is reduced.

But who pays for the subsidies?  Who pays for the penalties? You and I as electricity consumers do.

And because the Democratic party (like the Republicans party – but on different issues) has a large contingent of folks irrational on the energy issue, Obama can't give the one answer that every informed person knows is the right answer: nuclear power. So what he does is imply the answer, but embed it in a bunch of political gamesmanship so as not to raise the ire of the special interests (i.e., the anti-nuclear zealots) in his party:

"before an expansion of nuclear power can be considered, key issues must be addressed including: security of nuclear fuel and waste"

This is simply disingenuous.  Nuclear fuel and waste has been produced, manufactured, shipped, delivered, installed, used, removed, shipped, disposed and stored in this country for OVER 40 YEARS without a single public event or exposure or proliferation concern.  Over forty years, folks!  I'd say that's an amazing and proven track record – not a single event in nearly half a century – not a single event in the entire span of the industry since its birth.  It would seem to me we don't need to put caveats on these issues since it would appear to the reasonable person (or the hardened statistician) that the issues have been successfully resolved.

Now, if I believed that Senator Obama was actually concerned about these issues (even if the concern was irrational – as it would have to be given the data), I could at least say he was sincere, but mistaken.  But Senator Obama knows there are no issues in these areas – he's only saying it to be able to claim to his radical special interests that he isn't "caving in" on nuclear power.

He then goes on to make a damning statement about Yucca Mountain – the federal government installation designed as the final storage repository for spent nuclear power plant fuel and DOE nuclear weapons materials – saying he opposes it and would require the DOE to find another location.  What does this mean – that there are specific, real scientific reasons to abandon YM when it is finally nearing completion?  No. The vast majority of the scientific community who have reviewed the technical information believe it is sound, safe and should be completed.  

This makes Senator Obama's position especially troublesome because the project is directly funded by you and me because all utilities with nuclear power plants are paying for the project through fees paid to the DOE.  These fees currently amount to tens of billions of dollars – money already collected from you and me and (mostly) spent by the DOE on YM.  Senator Obama's plan would have the DOE walk away from that investment of the American people and begin again collecting tens of billions of additional dollars to build a repository somewhere else.  And why? Not because of scientific fact or legitimate safety or design issues.  But because of political maneuvering and grandstanding primarily by Senator Harry Reid.

This is not a reasonable plan to move forward.  It is a plan that will only deepen our economic and energy crises and very possibly thwart real attempts to design and retool our energy infrastructure in a meaningful way to deal with dependency on foreign resources and curb environmental disaster.

Sure, some of the ideas in the Obama Plan make sense – tax breaks for improved energy efficiency, encouraging domestic oil companies to drill on land already "opened" for oil production (though this is going to cost you and me more, too – the reason the folks aren't drilling there is that the price-per-barrel from those fields is too high to be competitive – so if we demand drilling, prepare to pay more per barrel), CO2 targets, etc., but on most of the big questions, the Obama Plan is just a sales pitch to special interests that does not present a workable solution for the American people.

Very disappointing.

And the more I read and listen to other areas – welfare reform, health care, education – I see the same fault lines: grand objectives underwritten by statements of intent that seem to rely upon the federal government's here-to-fore unknown (at least to me) ability to cause things to happen ex nihilo by executive-cum-divine fiat.  This doesn't give me great confidence that Senator Obama has a cogent, well-orchestrated plan to get "from point A to point B".  And my confidence is further eroded when what plan there is consists of political gamesmanship and catering to special interests.
I want to believe.  I wish I lived in a world where things could be made to happen if we chanted in unison long enough. But it's becoming clearer and clearer that, as I've been told before, there are no free lunches and no easy paths to success. Hard work, sacrifice, judgment based on objective evidence and clear-headed planning and thinking – not sentimentalism or wishful thinking, are the ingredients for real and lasting accomplishment.  That is what has made people in every nation and in every time rise up from difficulty or defeat.  That is the rhetoric of real success.


Steve said...

Good Points. Surely reality will force the issue on him to move in the right direction on this.

Jeff said...

Steve - I honestly think he has every intention of supporting nuclear power - as you say, there aren't a lot of options - but it troubles me that his policies remain vague and imprecise and continue to fold in political gamesmanship to cater to special interests. I'd originally thought he might be something different.

Tom said...

Great job, Jeff. I am not impressed with either candidate this time. While McCain is not quite the leader I would like, Obama has many shallow points and to me seems like a sleezy used car salesman. I just hope a Godly man will emerge victorious.

Steve said...

Obama does not seem to me like a sleezy used car salesman. I think he is authentic. McCain is a great man with a number of good attributes. We'll be OK whichever way the electorate takes us. I give the nod to Obama.

Tom said...

I hope I didn't offend you with my comment about Obama. That was not my intention. It just seems like everyone wants to sit on the fence and play the balance game. Every fourth year is just so tiring.