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Thursday, February 09, 2006


Reply to John Tamny re "George W. Bush, Oil Addiction, and Energy Sufficiency on NRO Financial"


I read with interest your essay on National Review's web site. What you wrote seems to be to be correct. However, I believe that you miss the point.

The problem with oil isn't oil; the problem is with the oil's suppliers. It is unacceptable to be dependent on suppliers who are politically, culturally, or otherwise incompatible with our Constitution and way of life.

Your point that oil is fungible is true... but it need not be so. Raising tariffs on imported oil and refined products would make domestic oil production more profitable within this country. Establishing tariffs for exported oil and refined products would keep domestic oil within the country.

It is true that this would impact our economy - an outcome that, in your essay, you seem to find wholly unacceptable. For me, however, greater national security is one of the few benefits which would justify such an impact. Nor should the current and foreseeable costs of our entanglement with the Middle East be ignored in this equation.

You may argue that, regardless of tariffs, regardless of greater domestic oil production, we would still be dependent on imported oil. That is true in the short term, but need not be for long. If I were creating policy, I would do the following as quickly as possible:

1) open ANWR and all other worthwhile areas of maximal oil production. Regulate the installations there for the greatest possible environmental safety, by all means. But produce all the oil possible as quicky as possible.

2) Develop a breeder-reactor program to vastly increase the available supply of electricity. The choice between oil and electric consumption is, for many purposes, simply economic, not technical. A rapid increase in electricity supply would reduce its cost, enabling an equally rapid transition in consumption. Further, promising developments in battery technology, including fuel cells, suggests that many more purposes will be able to transition away from oil in the near future.

The breeder-reactor program that I suggest would model itself on the recent proposal by Russia to Iran. The Federal Government would offer to supply fuel and reprocess waste for states and power companies who build and operate compliant nuclear power plants. To jump-start the project, perhaps the first twenty plants built would be provided these services for free for, say, 10 years. Thereafter, all clients would merely pay an appropriate fraction of the total cost of the program.

Some would argue against such a program based on safety concerns. However, such arguments are easily refuted. Nuclear plants operate, and nuclear fuel and waste are transported all around the world. What others can do, America can do. And, again, there are safety risks associated with our dependency on oil. These risks must also help to balance the equation.

As for other potential sources of energy: if they become viable, fine. But a plan of action must have as few unknowns as possible. If nuclear power can meet the need, it must be the starting point. This strategy can be expanded when and if alternatives prove themselves capable of large scale deployment.

I hope you found these comments worthwhile. Thank you for your time.

Solar Rhino

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