While President Obama travels around the United States touting “green energy” as the solution to the nation’s spiraling energy costs, the wind farms of the Pacific Northwest are proving once again that alternative energy sources are having a hard time living up to the praise lavished on them.
“Load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt… ” — Tennessee Ernie Ford
Coal is very low on the scale of subjects for ballads or charming folklore. Like Rodney Dangerfield, it just doesn’t get any respect. What does a naughty boy get in his Christmas stocking? A lump of coal. As a career, few brave souls outside Appalachia would have a goal in life of riding a rail car several miles — down several thousand feet below the surface — to attack the “face” of a coal seam. The thought terrifies me — and probably many others.
One dilemma faced by environmentalists pushing the use of wind farms to generate electricity is that the machines are actually a deadly environmental hazard — to birds. For instance, the huge turbines of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles have recently killed two more golden eagles — bringing the total of these endangered birds killed by the turbines' blades at the Pine Tree facility to eight.
In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). In keeping with Bush’s 2006 State of the Union pledge to make ethanol “not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks of switch grass … practical and competitive within six years,” the law included subsidies for ethanol production and mandates for its use. By 2011, oil companies were required to blend 250 million gallons of this cellulosic ethanol into their gasoline. The mandate doubled for 2012, and by 2022 it will be 16 billion gallons.
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has imposed a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on one million acres of public land near the Grand Canyon. The ban would not affect 3,000 mining claims currently staked in the area, which is rich in high-grade uranium.
Due to new federal air pollution regulations, more than 32 power plants across the country will be forced to close their doors, according to a recent Associated Press survey. Those plants, which are mostly coal-fired, discharge enough electricity to supply more than 22 million households, the survey notes, and their closure will lead to job layoffs, depleted tax revenues, and a considerable hike in electric bills. The areas that will be hit hardest are the Midwest and in the coal belt (Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky), where dozens of plants will likely be retired.
The current political debate over “jobs” ignores a vital component of jobs and the economy: Government make-work jobs are simply another form of welfare; jobs produced by the private sector that help the economy are productive jobs. In places like North Dakota, where the economy is now benefiting from an oil boom, the importance of genuinely productive labor has been understood from the beginning of frontier America. The winter wheat farmers of the Dakotas led an unglamorous like of rising before dawn, eating a big breakfast by a hard-working wife who herself had worked long, hard days, and then turning the land into crops. These families created wealth; they work produced goods and services that people wanted.
Despite billions in taxpayer subsidies pumped into the so-called “green-energy” industry, almost 15,000 windmills — maybe more — have been left to rot across America. And while the turbines have been abandoned over a period of decades, the growing amount of “green junk” littering the American landscape is back in the headlines again this week.
Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (which was adapted into a mini-series by PBS in 1992) explored the shift of oil’s epicenter from the Middle East to the Western Hemisphere, expressing his surprise that “what appeared to be irreversible is being reversed.” He explains: