I hadn’t intended to join the cacaphony of bloggers and pundits who are Monday-morning-quarterbacking the State of the Union address. But Sightline’s all-star board member, Laura Retzler, asked a great question last night that I’ve been puzzling over since: what’s Sightline’s take on Bush’s plan to end the nation’s addiction to oil?
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It later occurred to me—too late to answer Laura—that my reply should have been rather obvious to me. Sightline is developing a concise statement of values and principles, that will orient and unify our research. Among these values are two that are especially germane to energy security: “make prices tell the truth” and “build complete, compact communities.”
In his speech Bush called out technological innovation as the primary way to break the addiction. Certainly he’s right that technology should play an important part in diversifying our energy portfolio—especially certain types of biofuels, new clean energy sources, and lighter-weight vehicles, for just a few examples that Sightline promotes. Yet technological solutions may not be the surest path to ending our addiction.
That’s where Sightline’s principles come into the picture.
“Making prices tell the truth” is especially important. The price of gasoline does reflects only the direct costs of extracting, refining, and distributing it, not the full costs that are externalized to society, such as air pollution, climate change, and even entanglement in unstable regions. By the same token, “free” parking often carries with it high costs, similarly externalized. With a smart restructuring of parking incentives, including parking taxes, there’s reason to believe we can achieve substantial gains in both energy efficiency and conservation.
Another of the principles, “build complete, compact communities,” would improve home energy consumption and render driving, which has high energy demands, optional or even irrelevant for many people. We already know that compact urban development with good transit and pedestrian alternatives yields dramatic reductions in energy need, even while it boosts health for residents.
Sightline’s principles may not point to flashy promises of zero-pollution cars or safe nuclear energy. (And they may not come with strings attached to big subsidies.) But they point to hidden levers in our economy and society—small tweaks that can yield outsize results for energy security.
So that’s may belated reply, Laura. Thanks for setting me to thinking about this.
By the way, here’s the full text of Bush’s remarks on energy last night:
Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.
The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources, and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.
We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.