Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Red-white-and-blue jobs"

That's the new catchphrase, if I and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming have our way.

The senator makes the case that "green" jobs simply won't support the country's energy demands. Also, he says that proposed new energy policies would drive up the cost of energy production, making us more dependent on foreign energy; particularly foreign oil.

Sen. Barrasso is from a coal mining state. Virginia isn't as famous for coal mining as our sister state, West Virginia, but we do okay. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has proposed a new "clean coal" plant in Surrey. Unlike wind power, which barely covers one percent of the nation's power supply, coal represents thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue for every state that mines it. If the federal government raises environmental and energy standards, it will cause a massive deficit in energy independence for the United States.

I've said for a long time now that energy independence is a national security issue, as much as it an economic issue; and I'm not the only one who says it. As the senator points out, there is no need to focus solely on green jobs in this country. In a time when people are desperate for work, and when people of every political stripe agree that we need more American energy sources, we need to create more jobs in the energy sector; what Sen. Barrasso calls "red-white-and-blue jobs". "American energy means American jobs", he reminds us. Clean coal is one such potential source of these red-white-and-blue jobs.

Another alternative source is nuclear energy. The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia hosted a debate on energy policy this week, which featured panelists: Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush; James Woolsey, director of the CIA in the Clinton administration; John Podesta, head of President Obama's transition team and chief of staff for President Clinton; and Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy. PBS reports on the debate:

Governor Whitman points out that nuclear energy accounts for 20% of the country's energy, though no one really wants to admit it. She says that, though we might wish it, there is no "silver bullet" that will solve the energy problem.

Director Woolsey reminds us that the infamous Three Mile Island disaster was thirty years ago, and that nuclear energy is now clean, safe, and relatively inexpensive to operate. The main problems with it, in his view, are the cost of getting plants running and the fact that countries that use nuclear power tend to create more nuclear weapons. "We do not want the United States with a pro-nuclear policy, particularly one that it extends to exports, to become the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear proliferation by traveling around the world." Governor Whitman responds by saying that not building a new reactor in three decades hasn't stopped countries like North Korea and Iran from trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The cost of developing a nuclear plant is again raised, by John Podesta, as the real reason no one has submitted a fully developed plan for building a new plant. But Karen Harbert tells us that no fewer than 20 companies have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to build new plants, so there is what she calls an "industry appetite" in this country. Right here in Virginia, as I've written before, is one of the proposed sites for a new plant.

One thing that no one on the panel denies is that, though building a nuclear plant costs money, it will in the long run cost very little. That's a principle that both Democrats and Republicans should find familiar. And both in the short and long runs, it will create thousands of jobs; jobs right here in the good old U.S.A.

The Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives just approved a bill that would impose a cap-and-trade plan on power plants, oil refineries, and dozens of manufacturers to curtail their emissions. This measure is part of the fight to protect the environment. It will also, in the long run, drive up the cost of doing business in this country, which will eventually trickle down to every American. The "green revolution" is supposed to offset that; and maybe one day, it will. For now, though, the energy bill still has a long way to go before the full House even votes on it, let alone the Senate.

Which means there's still plenty of time to write to your Congressmen about these issues.

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