U.S. Energy Policy, It’s All in the Balance

Posted on April 5, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Unrest in the Middle East and new concerns over the safety of nuclear power are muddying an already fractious debate over U.S. energy at a time when America should be striking a balance between its energy needs and protecting the environment.

As the world watches the bloodshed in Middle Eastern capitals and the nuclear crisis that followed the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it is critical that the U.S. remain clear-headed about the impact world events may have on our energy policy.

Safe nuclear power is essential if the U.S. is to move toward energy independence, a fact that cannot be overshadowed by clouds of radioactive particles rising from crippled plants in Japan. And if the events in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere tell us anything, it’s that U.S. reliance on Middle East oil has got to be contained.

President Obama made both points in a recent speech at Georgetown University: “Obviously, the situation in the Middle East implicates our energy security. The situation in Japan leads us to ask questions about our energy sources.”

Every time the price of a barrel of oil on the world market rises by $10, a gallon of gas goes up by about 25 cents here at home. And since the U.S. imports oil at a rate of 11 million barrels of oil a day, that price is largely determined elsewhere. Obama wants to cut oil imports by one-third in just over a decade, a worthy and achievable goal.

At the same time, Americans are expressing deep concern about the safety of nuclear energy. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found the number of Americans who are worried about nuclear energy safety increased from 57 percent to 70 percent in the wake the Japan disaster.
Here again, Obama is proposing a sensible plan: continue to exploit nuclear power, but make sure it is as safe as possible.

“I’ve requested a comprehensive safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make sure that all of our existing nuclear energy facilities are safe. And we’re going to incorporate those conclusions and lessons from Japan in design and the building of the next generation of plants. But we can’t simply take it off the table,” Obama said.

About one-fifth of the electricity produced in the U.S. comes from nuclear power plants which do not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This brings us to the environmental side of the balance sheet.
On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers want to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon-based emissions altogether. The Republican-controlled House has already passed such language and the Senate is considering attaching it to a small-business bill.

Under a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases unless science shows they aren’t to blame for climate change. Democrats argue that blocking that requirement is short-sighted and would stall investment in clean-energy technologies.

Clean-energy technologies are the long-term solution, but for now it makes sense to take reasonable steps toward easing our reliance on foreign oil while continuing to rely on safe nuclear power. And the environment must remain in the mix.

It is a delicate and elusive balance, but one the U.S. must pursue.

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One Response to “U.S. Energy Policy, It’s All in the Balance”

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Right now, we are between a rock and a hard place— where the probable and possibly best choice for energy in the US is nuclear energy, despite the recent crisis in Japan. What can the United States learn from Japan’s disaster? How can we prevent such a tragedy here?

Check out “Nuclear Energy: Lessons from Japan”: http://bit.ly/e02awE

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