A Recipe for Disaster

By Will Baker

President Bush unveiled his National Energy Policy this week. Although I am certain that Vice President Cheney, who led the task force that studied the issues and developed the recommendations, and his team, worked very hard on the 163 page document, the fact is, that in my opinion, if this plan is implemented it will result in an environmental disaster.

If my understanding is correct, this plan recommends the re-commissioning of coal-fired electrical generation plants, the opening of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling, the construction of new nuclear power plants, and a relaxation of the pollution standards associated with the Clean Air Act--so that oil refineries might increase the production of home heating fuel and gasoline.

All of the above would strike me as a very funny thing, were it not for the fact that these people, the folks running our government, are very serious about all of this. By the way, it is pretty much common knowledge that our President has seeded his administration with folks at high levels that have strong ties to the "energy industries." In fact, it should be of no surprise that their dirty fingerprints are all over this document --Cheney invited representatives of these industries to help craft the plan, while excluding environmental groups.

And what mechanism are they trying to utilize to roll back these hard fought environmental gains of the past decades? Fear: for this report likens the current situation to the fuel shortage of the 1970s. Now I remember that time vividly, therefore I should point out that, it seems to me that the current situation regarding the price of gasoline is dissimilar to the gas shortage in the seventies. If I remember correctly, the Arab nations were displeased with us due to our relationship with Israel. As a result, they undertook an embargo against us, which, resulted in a dramatic reduction in the supply of gasoline (much worse that the mainly distribution related problems which, we are experiencing today--that is why in some areas of the country gas is presently cheaper than in other areas). Yes, I do remember sitting in the gas lines with my father and mother--for those old enough to remember, here’s a blast from the past: odd and even days for gas purchasing. Anyway, I also remember a few other things from that time. I remember rivers so polluted that swimming in the water was a hazard, let alone eating the fish caught in them. I remember when the realization dawned on folks that the foul emissions from leaded gasoline were poisoning our children. I remember that we stopped burning coal because it was determined that serious health effects, asthma and other diseases of the lungs resulted from the pollution, as well as the environmental damage associated with acid rain and the green-house effect. And I remember Three Mile Island: the closest that we’ve come to a nuclear catastrophe in this nation’s history.

I also recall the reaction of the citizenry to these events: how a slow but steady awareness of the importance of mitigating these and other environmental issues developed over the years. And here we are, thirty years later and our President is comparing the current energy crisis to the situation in the 1970s. I wonder if he fathoms the irony associated with this assertion? For there was also an environmental crisis in the 1970s: I went to high school with a girl whose family relocated from a small town by the name of Love Canal. For those too young to remember, the town was located in upstate New York. And due to the dumping of industrial poisons, Love Canal was rendered unlivable. The entire town was condemned, and all of the people had to leave. Except of course for the townspeople that had died of cancer there. Oh, here’s another recollection from the seventies: a woman by the name of Karen Silkwood. Her experience in trying to expose the dangers of the nuclear power industry made her few friends. And where is she now? Well, she died in a mysterious automobile accident. Crazy, but true, you may have even seen the movie they made about her based on her life.

Gentle reader, I agree with the President. We have a crisis on our hands. But I disagree with him regarding the nature of this crisis. God forbid that we should have to spend two dollars a gallon for gasoline (when the rest of the word currently pays more than that), or experience a problem running our air conditioners when we want to. That is inconvenient, but that is not a crisis. It seems to me that the current crisis centers around the fact that we have turned the keys of government over to a fellow who, by his very actions has demonstrated his lack of a grasp on reality. During the 1970s we had a fuel shortage, but we also tightened air quality, and other pollution standards. For we realized that, it doesn’t matter if we have all the gas that we need, as cheaply as we would like it, if we can’t breath, our food isn’t fit to eat and our children are sick and dying of cancer.

You know, since our President made these recommendations, I have found myself immediately cast as a member of the loyal opposition. And that is unfortunate, for who among us would prefer to be an "outsider." But that is fine I suppose. I do love our country, but I abhor this energy plan. But surprisingly, I do feel optimistic. I can not fathom a circumstance where the American people would allow the harmful recommendations which, are expressed in the plan to move forward. And given our form of government, happily, we are in a position to do something about it. So, regardless of your political views, if you want to breathe clean air speak up. If you believe, as I do, that we should not reverse the environmental actions which, we have collectively taken over the last thirty years, complain loudly. There is a group of women and men in the House of Representatives who will listen to you.






 (Essay Collection)