“Energy Independence” Leading to Troubling Policy Prescriptions


In case you’re wondering why I’ve taken issue with so many officials who rail against dependence on imports of foreign oil, wonder no more.
The NY Times published a story today on the fight over coal-to-liquid fuels in Congress. Advocates of “energy independence” and “reducing dependence on foreign oil” say ramping up coal-to-liquid production will get us closer to our energy goals.
Edmund Andrews writes in the NYT:

“[The conflict over coal-to-liquid] reflects a tension, which many lawmakers gloss over, between slowing global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil.”

Of the two, slowing global warming is clearly the right policy goal. The ultimate goal should be even more broad and ambitious: shifting the global energy economy to reliance on abundant sources of clean and sustainable energy that are climate-neutral, pro-development, and cannot be used as geopolitical leverage. I’m still working on the bumper sticker, I guess.
With sequestration and coal burning technologies being where they are, the climate impacts of coal-to-liquid fuels would be at least as detrimental as those of oil. Plus, subsidizing these fuels in the U.S. would do nothing to address the oil addiction from we’re suffering from, which is global. No matter where the U.S. gets its energy, the global energy market – and U.S. energy prices – will continue to ebb and flow with the price of oil.
Calling out politicians who casually mention “reliance on foreign oil” and “energy independence” because they’re catchy and politically popular may seem nitpicky to some. But these terms are handcuffing a critically important policy debate.
— Scott Paul