Energy Efficiency Is Not Enough

Conn Carroll /

Defending his call for the United States to adopt more European like laws mandating centrally planned levels of energy efficiency, The Center for American Progress’ Matt Yglesias writes:

What would be desirable would be to … reduce America’s economic vulnerability to supply shocks associated with political instability in the world’s major oil- and gas-exporting regions. One good way to do this would be to take measures to reduce the energy intensity of America’s society and economy. When such measures are proposed, the right typically responds that any such measures would be hugely detrimental to American quality of life. The example of Denmark, however, suggests that this is dead wrong — Denmark is far more energy efficient than the United States and its citizens enjoy a comparable high standard of living.

Setting aside the fact that the United States probably shouldn’t base is its energy decisions on the example of one tiny, much more urbanized European state, Yglesias also ignores that most Americans might not consider the Danes “comparable high standard of living” as “comparable” as Matt does. As Thomas Friedman informed us this weekend, Denmark “banned all Sunday driving for a while” after the 1973 oil embargo. That is simply not a liberty most Americans are willing to give up. Also, Friedman tells us that “50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles” during rush hour. Matt an Tom may find this appealing. Most Americans don’t. Oh, and the sky high energy taxes that Friedman and Yglesias want to copy have given Denmark the highest household electricity prices in the world. Americans just might not love that either.

Yglesias goes on:

It’s true that Denmark produces some oil domestically (as does the United States, even with the offshore drilling moratorium in place) but I don’t really see what this has to do with the merits of adopting Denmark-style conservation measures.

We know Matt’s been on a well deserved vacation for awhile so, in case he missed it, this is why the fact that Denmark produces 344,000 barrels of oil per day by drilling off of its own shore is relevant: Everywhere in this country, but the House of Representatives, there is a debate going on about whether or not the U.S. should drill for an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil a day from restricted ares in our Outer Continental Shelf and another 876,000 barrels a day from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Every barrel we produce ourselves is another $110 or so we do not have to send to Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Saudi Arabia.

Matt concludes:

Clearly, somewhat increased levels of domestic oil production combined with dramatic reductions in domestic oil consumption would be a net environmental benefit so if that’s something Heritage wants to start proposing I think progressives would be excited.

As a 501c(3) Heritage does not support specific legislation, but considering his willingness to consider “increased levels of domestic oil production” it sounds like Matt might support the House GOP’s “All of the Above” energy strategy which includes, tax incentives for businesses and families that purchase more fuel efficient vehicles, a monetary prize for developing the first economically feasible, super-fuel-efficient vehicle reaching 100 miles-per-gallon, and tax incentives for businesses and homeowners who improve their energy efficiency.

Like Matt, Heritage does believe the U.S. should reduce its vulnerability to oil supply shocks. This should be accomplished by unleashing free enterprise in the energy sector including a major overhaul in nuclear fuel regulations, making all domestic energy resources availble for marketable development, and eliminating ethanol tariffs (like the ones Barack Obama voted for to protect Illinois ethanol producers). Under a free market approach energy efficiency will play a roll in reducing out energy vulnerabilities, as will a much needed diversification of our energy portfolio. The U.S. will need 135 gigawatts of new capacity over the next decade to keep the lights on, but right now only 57 gigawatts of power are planned. Energy efficiency will not be enough to meet our energy needs.