Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Who Decides, Who Wins?

The “Governmental department whose mission is to advance energy technology and promote related innovation in the United States” has had the remarkably innovative idea to charge the National Petroleum Council and its chairman, former Exxon-Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, to head a federally(read: tax-payer)-funded study issuing recommendations for the U.S. energy future through 2025. First of all, it’s 2007, and we can’t make a plan for more than eighteen years out when geologists and climatologists are dealing with a data set that encompasses epochs? Secondly, it’s the U.S. energy future, not the U.S. petroleum future we are talking about. For history’s sake, this is what the Department of Energy’s website had to say about the National Petroleum Council:

“The National Petroleum Council was established by the Secretary of the Interior in 1946 at the request of President Harry S. Truman…The purpose of the Council is to advise the Secretary of Energy on matters related to oil and natural gas, or the oil and natural gas industries.”

Oil and natural gas. That’s it. That is their charter. Not coal or nuclear or, god forbid, renewables, just oil and gas. Here is a group of about 175 people, selected and appointed by the Secretary of Energy, who serve voluntarily—they are not paid a salary—as “representatives of their industry or associated interests as a whole, not as representatives of their particular companies or affiliations.” Meaning, these individuals are supposed to represent the industry in general, not Exxon-Mobil specifically, but is there really a difference?

Making recommendations for America’s energy future, even ones as short-sighted as 18 years out, seems to be outside their mission.

To say this is “alarming” does not cover it.

But it’s not exactly a shocker, given this administration’s track record on cronyism, corporate handouts, scientific obtusity, and focus on short-term gain for the few.

To be clear about why this is a problem, it’s not just about “the environment.” First of all, “the environment” is not an esoteric political issue which can be fobbed off on a few tree-hugging holdovers from the 1960’s. It is a category of issues that reaches into all aspects of American life, be it national security, education, health, and social issues. Secondly, it’s about who is making decisions that affect our long-term health, safety, and security, and why.

A secure nation is a nation that plans for the future and incorporates the principles of self reliance and responsibility into its policies. In order to be a force for democratic change in the international arena, the United States must begin to craft a present and a future based upon a safe and sustainable society here at home. Only when we can responsibly take care of ourselves can we be expected to be a responsible player in the welfare of the international community. This idea of security encompasses not only our military policies but our social policies, our environmental policies, our educational policies—indeed, our democracy as a whole. Our nation is only as strong as our citizens. Our businesses are only as strong as our workers. And our future is only as secure as our ability to sustain ourselves. We cannot sustain ourselves with short-sighted energy policies that both contribute to questionable regimes overseas and pollute our citizens, giving unimaginable economic succor to a very small minority at great expense to the majority. The continued support of a fossil-fuel based economy takes away from entrepreneurialism and opportunity for growth in the emerging field of renewable energy, to say nothing of the funneling of American resources into overseas coffers which may in turn support forces which radically oppose the United States.

Appointing individuals who have personal, financial interests in furthering these incredibly damaging policies is unethical, and it is antithetical to the security of the United States. Mr. Raymond and Exxon-Mobil have supported the anti-scientific denial of global warming for prurient economic reasons, and this is downright embarrassing. It is shameful to continue to reward individuals who persist in ignoring or obfuscating irrefutable scientific fact. It will be disastrous to craft our nation’s future energy policies on the recommendations of a self-interested minority. This is no time for the United States to lapse into a pre-Enlightenment fugue combining propaganda and denial with an almost pathological pursuit of power for its own sake. This appointment is a wrongheaded decision and a bold-faced giveaway to an industry that has been working against America’s future for decades.

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