Energy and Environment

This discussion with energy issues is combined with those of environment because the use and conservation of energy is the single most important consideration in the preservation of the environment. The United States has the dubious distinction of being both the world's second largest consumer of energy and emitter of greenhouse gases. If the United States were to undertake a long-range national effort aimed at eliminating all usage of fossil fuels for surface transportation, electricity generation, and building heating and cooling, its greenhouse gas emissions would decline by well over half from those occurring now. Recent reports on world climate change said that significant progress must be made on the production of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, during the next 15 years if irreversible adverse climate changes with catastrophic consequences are to be prevented.

In addition, replacing the need for imported oil and natural gas would have an immediate stimulating effect upon the domestic economy as the money formerly sent abroad for energy imports would be kept within our borders and used to create industries and employment with the United States.  The consequent reduction of foreign indebtedness and the ongoing balance of trade and balance of payments deficits would stabilize our economy as well as end the possibility of interruptions of foreign energy supplies with its risks for our economy and society.  Fracking has now become a controversial and uncertain source of domestic oil and gas supplies that should serve only as a transition fuel to reduce the present level of greenhouse gas production.  It should be gradually discontinued as increasing availability of wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal power generated electricity becomes available. Exports of hydrocarbons from fracking should be banned and all hydrocarbon exports including coal, oil, and natural gas must be gradually phased out before 2050.  It makes absolutely no sense to continue the export hydrocarbons for energy production abroad while restricting its use for energy production in the USA. We all share the same oceans and atmosphere!

Short (next 5 years), medium (5 to 20 years from now), and long (20 to 35 years from now) energy substitution and source replacement programs need to be implemented immediately at the national level.  Multifuel and hybrid cars, trucks, and buses are already operating in increasing numbers.  A national program to replace all newly manufactured and imported surface transportation vehicles (including diesel powered trucks and river boats) sold in the United States with compressed natural gas CNG or  E-85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) powered engines or hybrid power systems is possible and ought to be required and achieved during the next five years.  The present 53 cents per gallon tariff on imported ethanol from Brazil should be immediately ended because it restricts the supply of fuel needed for conversion to E-85 vehicle usage.  The tariff on ethanol imports is no longer needed to encourage domestic production.  The production of domestically produced ethanol from corn is expensive, only marginally beneficial for energy conservation, drives up the cost of food as well as stresses farmland fertility from overproduction. If E-85 or CNG powered hybrid vehicles with overnight home plug-in home electric battery recharging capability were introduced, many of the vehicles used in shorter daily trips would not need to use any carried fuel at all, except when driven on longer trips, and overall vehicle mileage could exceed 100 miles per gallon.  Although the efficient diesel- powered cars now in widespread use in Europe average about 40 miles per gallon of fuel, there are adverse health and environmental impacts from exhausr emissions. The technology already exists to build energy efficient and environmentally beneficial vehicles: all it takes is the political will to implement a national program to require their manufacture and use.

A one-half cent per ton mile tax on all freight transported within the borders of the country should be immediately imposed and the revenues raised therefrom used exclusively to pay for the infrastructure (new fuel pumps, etc) costs of CNG and E-85 substitution for gasoline and diesel fuel consumption.  Similarly, a one-half cent per kilowatt hour tax on all electricity used within the country should be imposed and exclusively used to pay for the construction of massive wind turbine and solar electricity generation facilities in remote high plains regions and other suitable locations throughout the country as rapidly as the funds raised from these taxes will permit.  Funds from both taxes should also be used to finance the electrification of all major railroads east of the Mississippi River and the three major transcontinental railroads during the medium term phase, with all remaining railroads throughout the country becoming electrified during the long term phase.  Eventually, intercity freight shipments and passenger traffic should be shifted to high speed railroads linking major cities throughout the country and Canada. China has constructed over 12,000 miles of high (185 mph) speed passenger railroads with a doubling of that total before 2030. These trains could replace all airline passenger traffic East of the Mississippi River using only renewable electricity as they require only eight percent per passenger compared to amount of energy which would be consumed by airliner travel.. Even higher passenger rail travel speeds in the future could replace aircraft travel in excess of 1,500 miles stage length.

The high plains region of the country is particularly well suited for wind powered turbine electricity generation because it is sparsely populated, economically depressed, vulnerable to crop failures and extreme weather, has abundant wind resources, and is in desperate need of an industry that is environmentally benign that would result in a steady and continuing source of regional income and employment. Farmland and pasture used for wind farms could be converted to natural grasses and consolidated initially into 20,000 acre or larger fenced cooperatively farmer-owned tracts that should be eventually incorporated into a National High Plain Energy and Resource Conservation Reserve. The Reserve also would restore the huge American bison (“buffalo”) herds that once roamed the high plains.   Buffalo are very hardy, can survive winter conditions that kill cattle, and produce nutritious lean low fat meat without the need for cruel and stinking environmentally destructive feed lot “finishing” that maltreats the animals or bovine hormone growth enhancement use that endangers the health of consumers.  Furthermore, the establishment of the Reserve would greatly reduce the present ongoing continuing depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Massive solar energy complexes are now being constructed in the Southwest and could contribute significant amounts of electricity in the future.  A national program to accelerate the construction of these facilities also should be undertaken by the Federal government without delay.

As mentioned above, the production of ethanol requires significant energy usage to grow, harvest, transport, and process the corn and other grains required by the industry.  One estimate claims that twenty percent more energy inputs overall are needed to produce a single gallon of ethanol than is contained and released when that gallon is burned as fuel.  Prolonged grain cultivation for ethanol production also is likely to be a major cause of the long term exhaustion of farmland with continuing loss of topsoil from the unrelenting tillage of farm land.  During the long term energy transition phase, surplus electricity generated by the national wind turbine electricity and solar power generation programs should be used to produce hydrogen (i.e., fuel cells) for powering all non-stored electrified vehicles employed in surface transportation (and aviation, as well, if feasible).  As fuel supplies become available, production and use of hydrogen powered vehicles should gradually replace the manufacture and use of ethanol and CNG powered vehicles.  Stored hydrogen made water using surplus wind farm or other renewable generated electricity could be used in stationary turbines or fuel cells during periods of peak electricity demand.

When the transition to the entirely renewable energy economy is completed before the year 2065, the United States will have totally ended its dependence upon fossil fuel energy sources, eliminated the majority of its greenhouse gas emissions, and preserved its remaining hydrocarbon reserves and agricultural lands for the benefit of future generations of Americans.
(Please read the Public Lands Use issue paper).

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