It always feels somewhat pointless being a green blogger after a Bush speech. Other than the repeated references to Iran — which might actually mean something, and not something good — little Bush said in the SOTU has any policy implications, especially when it comes to energy and environmental issues. The promises are inevitably forgotten, underfunded, or now, blocked by a Dem Congress.
But still — let’s have a look at the energy and environment portions of the speech.
Lots of greens were looking forward to Bush forthrightly acknowledging global warming for the first time in a SOTU. Turns out that happened with a fizzle, not a bang. A grudging reference to "global climate change" was tacked onto the end of the energy section, and Bush rushed past it like someone stepping over dog poop on the sidewalk. "Desultory" is a charitable characterization.
The fact that Bush doesn’t take global warming seriously is reflected in his proposals. Nothing he mentioned, even if he meets all his stated goals, will have the slightest effect on climate change.
What about energy? The big splash was "20 in 10," the goal to reduce U.S. gasoline use by 20% in 10 years.
The text of Bush’s actual speech is so sketchy and schematic on the proposal as to be incomprehensible. Sadly, taking a closer look at the White House cheat sheet doesn’t lift one’s spirits. For one thing, the vaunted 20% is a reduction in projected gas use, not current gas use. So it’s slower growth, not really a "reduction" at all. Shocking.
There are lots of buzzwords thrown around — renewable this, efficiency that, wind and solar and etc. — but the meat of the proposal is twofold:
A slight increase in CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards. This is long, long overdue, but the details of Bush’s proposal render it almost counter-productive:
- He would take the power to set concrete standards out of Congress’s hands and give it to a political appointee at the Dept. of Transportation.
- He would dispense with the current fleet-wide standards for cars and institute an "attribute-based" standard, with all its perverse incentives, like he did for light trucks last year.
- All increases in standards would come with "escape valves" in case, you know, automakers didn’t like it.
A plan to get 35 billion gallons of "renewable and alternative" fuels online by 2017, shaving 15% off of U.S. (projected) gasoline use. A few things to note about this seemingly pleasing proposal:
- The real meat is a huge increase in subsidies to corn ethanol — i.e., subsidies to Big Corn, mainly Archer Daniels Midland. This will enrich a few mega-corporations, enlarge the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, please a few midwestern legislators, take a lot of pressure off automakers, and raise the price of food. What it won’t do is appreciably reduce greenhouse gas emissions or oil imports.
- Yes, yes, he wants to boost research on the more environmentally benign cellulosic ethanol. But follow the money. The research grants are tiny; the subsidies to Big Corn are enormous and growing.
- Note the deliberate repetition of "renewable and alternative." Why the awkward phrase? There’s a reason behind it, as with most Bush admin. language games: "alternative" was added to include coal-to-liquid fuel, which is anything but renewable, and spews huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Bush is just one of many spokesflacks attempting to use fears of energy dependence and climate change to enrich the coal industry.
Those who held out hope that Bush would rescue his plunging legacy by doing something significant about America’s real "generational challenges" — climate change and energy security — have had their hopes shattered once and for all. The rest of us are just waiting for 2009.
(If you want to know what I would have liked to see on energy/environment in the SOTU, see here.)