Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Energy Bill, Watered-Down, Is A Positive Step

For the first time in decades, the country has new energy conservation legislation, passed as a compromised package by such large, bi-partisan majorities that Pres. George W. Bush had little choice but to sign it.

I say, fine. The cliche about politics being the arts and crafts of compromise is true. This bill does some good things and leaves other issues on the table. So it goes.

There will be increases in vehicle fuel economies, phased in. The phase-out of the incandescent light bulb will take place over ten years, time enough for the price of replacement, energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs to come down (rebates and life-cost savings already make them attractive) and for disposal technologies to be perfected.

And if we're lucky, light emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be improved in the next few years, especially on true white lighting, and price, and compact flourescents will become antiquated, too.

Where the right and left can agree on energy issues is that technology and innovation are tremendously promising.

One political note to put the soon-to-disappear incandescent bulb into a truer light:

The country's leadership has taken other products off the market when their value has been exceeded by all their costs - - lead paint, lead hunting shot and lead-added motor fuels, for example - - and required other products, too, after the same sort of economic/broad public interest 'holistic' evaluation, such seat belts, air bags, and car seats for infants.

Sometimes regulation of what is permitted in the market is needed, and that doesn't turn us into what some call the nanny state.

The geopolitical realities of world energy demand, along with climate concerns, defines a new era.

Both the executive and legislative branch are saying that the true total costs of certain energy-consuming items, such as incandescent bulbs, outweigh their supposed value.

Don't be surprised if the same calculus gets focused on plastic shopping bags, as San Francisco is going, for example, as well as the plastic bottling industry - - certainly when it comes to bottling drinking water, as fresh water is becoming another resource to better manage.

You add up the petroleum used in bottle production, throw in the transportation ( I mean, really: Fiji water?) and land-fill or other disposal costs, and you've got a product just waiting to get the incandescent light bulb boot.

Grumpy, hyper-libertarians will try to turn this into a scare story about whether the cheeseburger or State Fair Cream Puff is next, but let's all relax: the slope is probably not that slippery.

Let's agree that saving oil (and water, too) is a smart thing, and move on.

Congress and the next President need to address gaps in the bill, notably the lack of strong requirements that utilities make faster progress on utilizing renewable energy sources.

But we finally have contemporary national policies that will reduce the power that hostile governments exert over our economy and energy usage, and maybe we can get a handle on the transfer of dollars for oil that is leaving them flush with cash and influence.

I'd say that's a good thing, so let's get to the business of problem-solving and policy implementation, so that a solid start gets even even better.

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