by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 19, 2001
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).