Why not produce more domestic oil to amp up renewable investment?
We're ensconced in one of those pain-at-the-pump periods, which tends to focus the mind on the nation's energy policy – such that it is.
The "drill baby drill" chants of 2008 were replaced with "spill baby spill" retorts in 2010 (thank you, BP), but all the noise misses a key point: We're missing an opportunity to raise additional revenue for renewable energy development.
I'm not talking about raising the gas tax; I'm talking about producing more domestic oil in places like the north slope of Alaska, charging fees to the oil companies that get it out of the ground, and then using those fees to accelerate renewable development.
There's not a doubt in my mind that not only can we become more energy independent, but we can raise billions to hasten the day when we no longer need to get oil out of the ground.
This is hardly an original idea, but with our energy needs so large and complex, we need to be exploring every opportunity, both traditional and renewable. We're not.
Didn't it strike you as odd that President Obama, on his recent trip to Brazil, urged Brazilians to pursue offshore drilling – "We want to be one of your best customers" – while suppressing domestic production in the United States? Does he think American oil puts more carbon into the air than Brazilian oil?
Brazil is a case study in energy independence, not only because they get after their domestic oil resources, but because they have been so aggressive in developing renewables. Had the U.S. been that visionary in the early 1980s, we would be much better off today.
Regrettably, we've been late to the party, and it's going to take time for solutions like Virent Energy's "biogasoline" to scale up. This biofuel is developed by turning a variety of soluble plant sugars into renewable hydrocarbon molecules that can be used to make gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel fuel. Even though Virent is partnering with Royal Dutch Shell and venture investors to fast-track production, it could take another 10 years before larger, commercial-scale plants are built in different parts of the country.
As we wait for less carbon-intense pieces to our energy puzzle, we will need oil, natural gas, and coal. I'm content to defer to the states on offshore drilling – Louisiana and Texas want it; Florida and California do not. Fine, but Alaska wants to develop its resources, so let it.
I realize that Congress might be tempted to divert those oil fees away from renewable development, just as it now maddeningly diverts money away from the patent office for other purposes, but we are spending our way into a debt crisis. This would be a fiscally sound way to raise new revenue for renewable investments that need to be made.
And from an environmental remediation standpoint, it's easier to deal with a spill above ground than 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, is it not?
As long as we need fossil fuels, let's leverage the proceeds so that someday in the not-too-distant future, we can put them in the rearview mirror.
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