On Native Ground: CONSERVATION IS SANE RESPONSE TO ENERGY SHORTAG=
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The first load of our wood supply for next winter arr= ived a few days ago. Our wood guy said he sold nearly 1,000 cords of wood l= ast winter, and could have sold double that if he had it. Because we're lon= g-time customers, he made sure we got our supply ahead of the folks who are=
rediscovering wood heat after fuel oil prices nearly doubled in the past t= wo years.
We always order the five cords of wood we need to heat our house every s= pring, because the supply always goes down and the price always goes up as = you get closer to winter. That's why fuel oil in New England is cheap in Ju= ly and expensive in January.
Supply and demand is what's driving the supposed "energy crisis" that th= e United States is in. It takes a lot of energy to keep those big honking S= UVs on the road, to keep those big honking 4,000 sq. ft. "trophy houses" wa= rm and to keep all the other elements of the big honking "American Way of L= ife" humming along.
We're using more energy than ever, and the demand for more energy is dri= ving down the supply and driving up the price. So what's the solution? If y= ou are President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, two oil men= with lots of campaign bucks from the energy companies rattling around in t= heir pockets, the solution is to drill for more oil, dig up more coal and b= uild more nuclear plants.
In a comment earlier this month that set the tone for the Bush administr= ation's idea of a national energy policy, Vice-President Cheney said that "= conservation may be a personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for= a sound, comprehensive energy policy." The Bush administration backtracked= slightly from that extreme view to make some token remarks about the need = for conservation, but the 163-page energy plan released on May 17 talks mor= e about finding energy than saving it.
To downplay conservation is nothing short of stupidity. How stupid? Last= November, an Energy Department report concluded that simple energy efficie= ncy measures could provide enough energy to substitute for 610 new power pl= ants. Throw in expanded use of wind, solar and geothermal energy, and anoth= er 180 plants could go unbuilt.
The Bush administration has chosen to ignore these findings, andinstead = call for the construction of 1,300 new power plants rather thantake the ste= ps that could eliminate the need for 790 of them.
We could eliminate the need for most of the proposed oil and gas drillin= g off our seacoasts and in our wilderness areas by simply insisting that SU= Vs and light trucks meet the same 27.5 miles per gallon average fuel effici= ency standard that cars must now meet. SUVs and light trucks, which make up= 43 percent of the vehicles on the road in the U.S., now need to average on= ly 20.7 MPG.
How much fuel could be saved if the mileage loophole for light trucks we= re closed? According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Econom= y, it would conserve about a million barrels of oil a day. And if the long-= postponed goal of requiring U.S. automakers to have a fleet average of 40 M= PG for all vehicles was demanded, the group says we could save an amount eq= ual to 10 times the total predicted oil production of the Arctic National W= ildlife Refuge.
All the technology for these savings exists now. Our friends inEurope ha= ve been using them for years, but that's because they've beenpaying the tru= e cost of energy rather than have it artificially depressed,as it is here. = When gasoline costs $5 a gallon, you're not going to buy atwo-ton SUV that = gets 14 MPG.
But as much as Americans are screaming about having to pay up to $2 a ga= llon for gas, they aren't about to give up their big trucks and SUVs.That's= why, according to the Department of Transportation, the average fueleconom= y for the 2001 cars and trucks sold in the U.S. is 24.5 MPG, theworst avera= ge since 1980.
The only shortage of oil we have is the cheap kind. The U.S. canget all = it wants on the world markets for $25 a barrel. But since oureconomy is dep= endent on cheap oil, we now have a "crisis."
This is where conservation comes in. In the long run, our economywill be= nefit from using less energy and making more efficient use of whatwe do use= . Efficiency really does pay off. The Union of ConcernedScientists estima= tes that the energy efficiency improvements made since the1973 oil embargo = now save this nation about $400 billion each year.
And don't forget renew= able fuels, like wood, and non-pollutingtechnologies like solar and wind po= wer. Here in Vermont, many homeownersrely on these three energy sources. Wi= th tax credits and more money devotedto research, solar and wind power can = provide more and more homes withclean and plentiful power.
As long as we have big cars, big houses and big lifestyles, we'regoing t= o have to look for new sources of fossil fuels. But throughconservation and= development of alternative energy -- two approaches that havebeen virtuall= y ignored by the Bush crew -- we can slow down that search.
And forget Ch= eney's remarks. Cutting back on energy use is not onlypersonally virtuous, = it also saves you money.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).