Opinion

ANALYSIS: We’re going backwards

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

It’s the dawn of the 21st century and the country is on the verge of what could be the biggest energy boom in history, but out-of-control environmental policies could drag us back into the dark ages.

From renewable energy mandates to anti-genetically modified crop campaigns, extreme environmentalism and federal overreach threaten to undo progress and turn the lights out for good.

The green energy nightmare

U.S. environmental groups, regulators and Democratic politicians have been aggressively pushing a renewable energy agenda for the last five years, ramping up subsidies for fossil fuels while making it harder to drill for oil and natural gas or burn coal.

Luckily, the U.S. is in the midst of an energy boom. Skyrocketing natural-gas production has driven down energy costs for households across the country. However, the energy boom can be stopped in its tracks by government policies that favor green energy and one only needs to look across the Atlantic to see how green energy is pulling countries back into a dark age.

Earlier this year, Europe’s top energy companies warned that European Union policies favoring renewable energy production over fossil fuels could lead to blackouts across the continent. In Germany, lawmakers are wrestling with ways to scale back green-energy subsidies in order to lower prices for consumers — which are now among the highest in Europe. The German publication Der Spiegel even remarked that electricity had become a “luxury good” in the country.

In the U.K., politicians and environmentalists have been successful in delaying hydraulic fracturing operations from developing the country’s rich shale formations. The Brits are now paying the price of dithering and face skyrocketing gas prices. It’s become so expensive to heat homes during the winter time it’s estimated that more than 24,000 people will die from the cold this winter.

Many elderly pensioners within the country don’t even leave their beds so they can stay warm to avoid having to pay to high gas prices to heat their homes.

“Gas prices would not be as high in Britain had we seen shale development over the last five years,” Dr. Penny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Renewable energy is often touted as the energy “of the future.” It sounds nice, but it’s utterly false. Renewable energy is literally the energy of the past, not the future. Remember, Don Quixote wasn’t actually fighting giants.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world got 94 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 1800. Most of this power would have been used for agriculture. However, even in this golden age of renewable energy use, wind and hydro power only made up small percentages of total power use — 3 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, in 1800s Europe.

The onset of the industrial revolution brought on more efficient energy sources like coal, oil and natural gas. And today, renewable energy only made up about 13 percent of world energy use in 2011.

Biofuels Don’t Put Food on the Table

Biofuels were once touted for their alleged environmental benefits and their ability to help wean the the U.S. off its dependence on oil. It was seen as so crucial to the country’s energy strategy that its use was mandated under the George W. Bush administration in 2005.

However, this last year has seen huge backlash against the government’s ethanol mandate as prices for renewable fuel credits went through the roof and the industry approached the limits of what could safely be blended into the fuel supply.

In the short run, the policy has caused food and fuel prices to rise and now diverts about 40 percent of the country’s corn crop. In the long run, the federal ethanol mandate could actually serve to limit the U.S. fuel supply as refiners export more fuel abroad to avoid the law, which will drive gas prices up even further.

The ethanol mandate also raises food prices in the world’s poorest communities. Ethanol also does not yield the environmental benefits it once promised.

“The mandate on corn-based ethanol in particular has had a devastating effect on the entire food economy from livestock and poultry producers facing record feed costs, to food retailers facing record food costs, to consumers here and abroad struggling to balance food budgets in tough economic times,” reads a letter to Congress from anti-hunger and environmental groups opposing the mandate.

“Ethanol from corn also is concerning to many due to its global warming impact and the use of natural resources such as water and native grassland for producing fuel,” the letter continues. “The corn-based ethanol mandate is also having a devastating impact in communities throughout the world, where people living in poverty are facing increased food prices that threaten their food and land security.”

Faux Conservationism

As mentioned earlier, the U.S. is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. However, this boom is not being felt everywhere, as the boom is being blocked by the Obama administration from occurring on federal lands, and by environmentalists elsewhere.

The Obama administration has also been issuing only about half the number of the drilling permits as the Clinton administration did, and Obama has issued a third less than the Bush administration. All in the name of environmental conservation.

While the administration has slowed its drilling leases, it has fast-tracked leases for more costly and less reliable renewable energy. Recently, the administration suffered embarrassment when no one bid on a lease offer to build solar panels on federal lands in Colorado.

Furthermore, promoting renewable energy development on federal lands is anything but conservationist. For example, wind turbines are responsible for hundreds of thousands of bird deaths annually, including the deaths of rare and endangered birds.

The federal drilling standstill has had a much larger impact in the western U.S., where more than half the land is owned by the federal government. These areas sit on top of vast oil and gas reserves but largely lack the ability to access them.

Specifically, environmentalists have been targeting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a controversial drilling practice that pumps water, sand and some chemicals to loosen rock formations more than a mile below the surface to release oil and gas.

Activists argue that fracking damages water and air quality, despite the failure of the Environmental Protection Agency to link the drilling practice to groundwater contamination.

Environmental groups have been successful in lobbying the state government of New York to keep in place a moratorium on fracking that has lasted about five years. As a result, upstate New York — which sits over the natural gas rich Marcellus Shale — still suffers from high unemployment and young people fleeing the state as economic opportunity slips away.

“The Pennsylvania-New York border is the ‘Berlin Wall,’” Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, told TheDCNF. “Pennsylvania is West Berlin, and New York is East Berlin.”

“What’s happening in New York is just a continued decline in the economy of the Southern Tier. Those are the counties right along the border with Pennsylvania,” said Moreau. “Literally, people can stand there on the New York side and look just across the political border and see all this prosperity.”

Meanwhile, down in Pennsylvania gas production more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2011, thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling. About 240,000 were people directly or indirectly employed by the oil and gas industry in the Keystone State, a state official said in February.

Global Warming ‘Alarmism’

The threat of rising global temperatures has governments scrambling to expand their power and cut carbon dioxide emissions — allegedly the main driver of global temperature rises.

In the U.S., this means that the Obama administration has set about banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they install expensive and unproven carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Coal makes up 40 percent of U.S. power usage and the coal industry employs thousands of people in the coal mines. EPA regulations have resulted in the shutting down of more than 300 coal-fired generating units across the country, according to coal industry estimates.

The Obama administration has also made a pledge to not fund coal projects around the world, prompting other international lending institutions to follow suit and deprive the developing world of the fuel source that powered the Industrial Revolution in the West.

Only if there is no other viable option than coal power will the Obama administration consider funding, but even then the requirements for U.S. dollars are stringent.

Government funding for energy projects isn’t necessarily a good thing, but the administration is being hypocritical when handing money over for green energy projects while blocking coal projects.

“Coal has been vital to global development — almost half of this century’s incremental energy has come from coal alone,” said Milton Catelin, chief executive of the World Coal Association. “If coal-fueled China were taken out of the equation, the number of the world’s poor has actually risen since the 1980s,” Catelin added. “Virtually all of the world’s poverty reduction between 1981 and 2008 took place in China. No other poverty alleviation strategy in modern history has been more effective than the one implemented by China and driven by an economy fueled at over 70 percent by coal.”

The World Coal Association adds that reliance on traditional fuels, such as animal dung, have harmful health impacts on the 2.8 billion people who still use them. According to a National Institutes of Health study, the long-used fuel source “affects women and children and is the cause of significant global mortality and morbidity.”

Campaigns to end coal funding don’t only affect the developing world, but also affect developed countries. Germany actually protested the move by Europe’s investment bank to stop funding coal plants as the country expands its coal capacity to bring down its high energy costs.

“At least until 2030, or 2050, Germany will have to have some fossil-fuel energy,” said Jutta Blankau, Hamburg’s environment minister, in an interview. “Hamburg is one of the industrial centers of Germany. For now we can’t support that through renewable energy alone. We need coal and gas plants to complement power from renewables.”

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