by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
What is it about the weather that compels our government to ineptly dictate how we produce electricity and consume energy? This a worthwhile question to ask on August 4, the anniversary of the day in 1977 that President James Earl Carter signed legislation creating the brand-new, Cabinet-level Department of Energy.
When it comes to energy fecklessness, which was very costly to the Democratic party in the revolutionary election of 1980, Barack Obama’s policies are in Mr. Carter’s league. With global warming at the top of the president’s agenda and at the bottom of the electorate’s, a similar result may be brewing.
A trip back to 1977 reveals remarkable similarities between then and now, and some remarkable symmetries. Three consecutive winters, starting with the winter of Carter’s inauguration, were the coldest trio since comprehensive instrumental records were first kept in 1895. To show his new administration’s environmental sanctity, Carter had a solar-heated reviewing stand built for his inauguration. Wind chills were even lower than they were at Obama’s first inauguration. The stand was so cold that very few people stuck around after the ceremony. …
… Fast-forward to 2009. Ninety days after Obama’s own bitterly cold inauguration (his inaugural address, ironically, featured global warming), his administration’s EPA issued a “preliminary finding of endangerment” from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, ultimately resulting in regulation of carbon dioxide and the trancelike perseveration on global warming that has become the hallmark of his second term.
If it makes sense to be very, very scared of greenhouse gases while turning away from nuclear power, welcome to the weird world of Washington’s energy politics. Things really haven’t changed since 1977. President Obama hasn’t approved a single reactor for power generation, and instead continues to push solar energy (solar thermal is the single least efficient modern source of energy on the planet) and ugly wind turbines. The former, by definition, can’t be on roughly half of the time, and the latter produce power only when the wind blows sufficiently hard.
It is during clear, calm nights — precisely when these sources of energy do nothing — that we see our coldest temperatures, increasing dependence mainly upon fossil-fuel-powered generation.