The Blog

No Hope for a Sensible Energy Policy

The presidential candidates' implausible plans to end our dependence on oil.

12:00 AM, Sep 5, 2008 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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But Obama is not alone in his inconsistencies. John McCain wants to see 45 new nuclear plants operating by 2030. But not a word about where he expects the capital to come from to fund such a massive program. Nuclear plants are dauntingly expensive--estimates of their cost seems to double every six months--and new nuclear plants cannot compete with existing coal- and gas-fired generation. So they would have to be subsidized, either directly or by guaranteeing that consumers will be forced to bear the costs.

Besides, for electricity from nuclear plants to make even a dent in our imports of oil, someone would have to develop the so-far elusive efficient car and truck batteries for which McCain would offer a taxpayer-funded prize of $300 million, and the infrastructure to service them. But the Arizona senator has given no indication of the government subsidies he has in mind to fund the replacement of your once-friendly gas stations with battery-charging substitutes. Some have proposed that drivers can stop along the way and trade in run-down batteries for charged ones, so that they need not wait while their existing batteries are re-charged. Rather like the old Pony Express riders traded in tired ponies. Skeptics abound.

Then there is cap-and-trade, the program many feel will make it too expensive for companies to continue to burn fossil fuels at current levels. Both candidates favor cap-and-trade, the major difference being that McCain would issue the first round of pollution permits without fee, and Obama (more sensibly) would charge companies for the privilege of emitting CO2. Neither concedes that consumers will end up paying the bill, or that the system has been a fiasco when tried in Europe, or that the battle for permits will keep the supposedly despised K Street crowd in fees for a decade as their clients vie for these valuable permits.

There's more, but space limitations forbid a fuller telling--now available from the Hudson Institute, no charge. But read further only if you are prepared to abandon hope that our political leaders will ever fashion a rational energy policy.

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).