RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif., October 17, 2014 — Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do our major political Parties. In the absence of a cogent resource policy, they rush to fill the void, not with long-term strategic plans, but rather with random musings that only have to survive an election cycle. We deserve better, but it appears that we will have to develop the solution ourselves.
Witness the debate over climate change. It sounds like an old Budweiser beer commercial with one side yelling “Man’s fault” and the other shouting “Natural cycle” in response. Of course, both sides are correct to a degree (no pun intended).
The real question becomes: Why argue about it? A real resource policy would establish acceptable parameters within which we could address the issue to the best of our ability and with far less histrionics.
Rather than endlessly arguing over our energy and environmental issues, we need to find common ground. No rational individual truly believes that we should haphazardly expend non-renewal resources until they are completely depleted. Similarly, no rational individual truly believes that we can gain an immediate benefit from technologies that do not currently exist or are so inadequately developed that their cost are prohibitive. Yet, those polar extremes are where much of the debate resides today.
For those who apparently have not grasped the full meaning of the term “non-renewable,” it suggests that at some time in the future the resource in question will no longer exist (i.e., oil, natural gas, etc.). While a failure to plan today may not significantly impact the next several generations, it still reflects an unacceptable level of contributory negligence that will negatively affect future generations.
Correspondingly, for those who think that Congress can “legislate” a solution, it simply cannot. We live in a biosphere; a closed system of multiple ecosystems that are largely self-regulating. Crafting solutions that are unique to our Nation have little to no impact on the behavior of other countries. Additionally, such laws are often used to assuage partisan agendas and to provide new sources of revenue generation for an otherwise inefficient government.
A logical framework to resolve the most complex and countervailing aspects of our energy and environmental challenges was established in FREEDOM: A resource policy for energy and the environment (Part 1). To wit:
In order to form a coherent, integrated resource policy, the United States shall constantly evolve and balance its energy and environmental interests in a manner that is consistent with the responsibilities and authority granted to it under the Constitution. Such policy shall acknowledge any temporal and engineering constraints and seek the most effective and efficient path to transition from a dependence upon non-renewable energy sources to renewable ones as well as from a dependence upon foreign resources to the ability to achieve energy independence. It shall also recognize the difference between controllable and non-controllable elements when formulating regulations, require the fair and efficient application of such regulations, and prioritize the same on a basis of their expected impact on health, safety, environmental preservation and other societal considerations. In addition, it shall use all reasonable efforts to educate and influence the rest of the world with respect to each nation’s fiduciary duty to function as a steward of the environment, which it shares with every other nation.
While Part 1 focused on the internally actionable elements of this resource policy, it did not address any cross-functional aspect beyond the obvious relationship between energy and the environment. Part 2 addresses that component as well as the global facets of the issue.
The United States’ energy and environmental strategies are critically dependent and extremely complex. They must be maintained in a state of dynamic equilibrium not only with themselves but within the context of other competing interests.
This can be readily demonstrated by applying the The FREEDOM Process™ to test how our Resource policy influences other policies within the FREEDOM acronym (see FREEDOM: A ‘Common Core’ enhancement for political leaders).
For example, improvements in our energy efficiency and independence impacts:
- Foreign policy by increasing our economic and geopolitical leverage with other producers (particularly with respect to the Middle East, Russia, China and South America);
- Education policy by influencing the direction of collegiate engineering programs associated with researching technological improvements pertaining to the more efficient, less environmentally invasive use of traditional fuels as well as the advancement of technologies that can deliver renewable energy;
- Economic policy through any job creation associated with the research and implementation of evolving technologies as well any related favorable swings in international trade that result;
- Defense policy by reducing the cost of operating aircraft, ships, vehicles, etc. to transport military personnel and supplies (noting that the United States military is the single greatest consumer of fuel in the world) while potentially also reducing foreign threats by suppressing the economic engines that currently serve as funding mechanisms for hostile entities;
- Operations policy by reducing regulatory replication and overreach within our own Government; and
- Ministerial policy by preserving and potentially improving the environment “for ourselves and our Posterity” as echoed by the Preamble to the Constitution.
Note how these interrelationships comply with the legislative mandate of Article I, Section 8 that directs us “to provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States.” One decision impacts the others, yet we have the ability to maintain an appropriate balance between each of these interests if we pursue them logically rather than politically.
Speaking of political motivation, unrealistic time frames are occasionally established for little more reason than to create a revenue opportunity for the Government (i.e., fees, fines, etc.) or to “repay” a particular constituency for its monetary and electoral support. These regulations negatively impact the economy because their associated costs are routinely transferred to the consumer who has already paid taxes to fund the development of the regulatory infrastructure necessary to promulgate, monitor and enforce such otherwise useless regulations. They also require the redirection of private sector money to fund compliance; money that otherwise could be distributed, reinvested, or used to lower pricing.
For example: At the end of 2011, the petroleum industry was assessed approximately $6.8 billion in fines for having ignored a regulation that required the industry to blend certain types of biofuels into gasoline and diesel products to lower greenhouse emissions. On the surface, this seemed to be a reasonable regulation instituted to protect public health and safety, and it certainly placated environmental advocates who disliked “Big Oil.”
However, the particular biofuel that was required did not exist outside of a handful of experimental laboratories. Production quantities were not commercially available at the time nor would they be well into the future. That being said, the “quota” was increased for the next year from 6.6 million gallons of the non-existent fuel to 8.65 million gallons. So, the fines invariably increased while the impossibility to comply remained the same.
Is this fair? No. Is it typical? Yes.
This practice (perhaps better described as a revenue-generating, constituent-calming “charade”) must cease. We deserve and need real solutions.
Using regulation to demand the invention of technologies that do not presently exist is also a benighted approach. Creating a rule that requires efficiency gains or the replacement of certain non-renewable resources with renewable ones by a specific date is political folly. There needs to be an honest admission that engineering advancements take time and are not always predictable. They also require innovation.
The latter is interesting because the Government’s current approach is punitive. Effectively: If you don’t comply, you will be fine, sued, imprisoned, etc. It represents a classic form of negative reinforcement, which generally is not the type of “motivation” that is associated with innovation.
What if the Government offered substantive incentives to those who developed more energy efficient solutions and new or improved renewable energy applications? Would we see an acceleration of development?
The answer is yes. Similar programs have been extremely successful in the private sector (e.g., XPRIZE® Foundation). Competition tends to accelerate development, enhance quality, and stimulate innovation.
The Government could design competitive programs that would “fuel” the excitement of developing enhanced energy solutions that provided favorable environmental results. In addition, successful corporate and university alliances could be fostered and performance-based scholarships could be awarded or student loan credits could be issued.
The funding for these programs is readily available at no additional cost to the taxpayer. In fact, the programs can be expected to produce a much greater return on investment than the parallel expenditures the Government makes today.
The EPA has a budget of over $8 billion, much of which is spent in a manner that was never anticipated when it was created by President Nixon in 1970. Similarly, the Department of Energy currently has a budget in excess of $26 billion and has not made a great deal of progress toward its mission of eliminating our Nation’s dependence on foreign oil for which it was established by President Carter in 1977. Positive rewards programs can be completely funded from those agencies’ budgets. (Note: It was a Republican that started the EPA and a Democrat that started the DOE.)
This approach represents the “most effective and efficient path to transition from a dependence upon non-renewable energy sources to renewable ones as well as from a dependence upon foreign resources to the ability to achieve energy independence.” It also inherently creates jobs and encourages the voluntary investment of capital in research and development without dictating it.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the most pragmatic issue surrounding our resource policy: We share the Earth with others.
The resource policy statement addresses this as follows: “In addition, it (the United States) shall use all reasonable efforts to educate and influence the rest of the world with respect to each nation’s fiduciary duty to function as a steward of the environment, which it shares with every other nation.”
This is an extension of the “controllable” versus “non-controllable” argument (i.e., that we shall “recognize the difference between controllable and non-controllable elements when formulating regulations”). It also parallels our previous discussion of foreign policy in The FREEDOM to form a rational foreign policy (Part 1) in which we need to acknowledge and respect the sovereignty of other nations.
While environmental issues that are specific to a particular geography may be controlled by regulation (e.g., forests, water, and other indigenous natural resources), others may not (e.g., winds, seas, etc.). Regardless of how powerful the United States is, it cannot define regulations and imposed them on other sovereign nations. To pretend otherwise is insolent.
However, the United States can establish reasonable regulations within its own borders that comply with the reasonable standards prescribed by the resource policy as described above. In turn, these standards can serve as an example to other nations.
Additionally, we can promote education that advances the beliefs that drive responsible environmental behavior.
Voluntary recycling in the United States provides an example of how effect this can be. Citizens were not threatened with fines (at least in most cases) nor provided any specific benefits for recycling glass, plastic and paper. They were merely educated on the benefits and made to feel that they could contribute in a meaningful way to provide a better environment for future generations. As a result, the vast majority of Americans willingly complied.
The same results can be achieved, at least in pockets of the world, through an educational process that affects a similar cultural shift in behavior. Most people share a common characteristic: They fundamentally want to do “good.” If they are educated on the benefit that environmentally responsible behavior can have on their lives as well as those of their children and future generations, it is extremely likely that they will begin to emulate that behavior.
In turn, this can stimulate innovation on a global basis. There is no guarantee that future environmental solutions will be within the exclusive domain of the United States. In fact, history suggests otherwise.
Some of the most innovative solutions to alternative energy and conservation have been driven by scarcity rather than abundance. Resource “poor” societies have often been required to be more creative in their consumption of energy and the sources through which it has been derived. Perhaps it is time to begin rewarding innovation rather than threatening to punish it. Now, that would be a breath of fresh air!
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TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every other Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 PM and Midnight PM Eastern / 5:00 and 9:00 PM Pacific. His segment appears about 35 minutes into the program.