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ASK THE EXPERTS

Energy and the environment

POSTED: October 20, 2010 4:00 a.m.

As the chairman of the House Committee on Science & Technology and as a member of the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications, I have been asked to be a participant on the “Energy and Environment” panel for Georgia Tech’s annual Legislative Roundtable.

  

In preparation for the roundtable, I have been reading a number of documents, including J. L. Bast’s “Ten Principles of Energy Policy.”

  

Bast summarized three themes that I have already noted:

  

1. Energy issues are often environmental issues, and vice versa. Restrictions on access to energy are often defended in the name of environmental protection.

  

2. Newspaper stories and advocacy spin are often at odds with sound science and facts. Debates over energy policy often are driven by exaggeration and scare tactics used by advocates to boost public support for their agendas.

  

Environmental groups embrace these tactics as a way to generate public sympathy for their cause. Business groups embrace them to secure subsidies for themselves or regulations that harm their competitors.

  

3. Markets usually do a better job than governments at giving consumers what they want and directing capital and other scarce resources to their best and most efficient uses (economics 101). The collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Pacific Rim, China and India economies give testimony to the power of free minds and free markets.

  

The ideas of socialism and central planning, so influential at the beginning of the 20th century, are now viewed as flawed and discredited by real-world experience.

  

We need to make sure our government doesn’t continue down the path of putting up barriers to free markets and trade.

  

How do we balance energy and environmental concerns with the individual rights and freedoms we hold so dear? Those who say we must not use our least expensive fuel sources are putting small and hypothetical risks ahead of better understood costs and benefits.

  

We know that coal, natural gas and nuclear power can be used to generate electricity safely and cleanly. If we fail to protect free markets and trade for energy, we risk supply interruptions and rising costs, which in turn will reduce economic growth, job creation and weaken our security.

  

Unhindered and unsubsidized competition among energy technologies is the best means to discovering tomorrow’s new energy sources.

  

Market-driven energy policies will generate the wealth necessary to maintain a healthy environment and provide our homes and businesses with affordable and reliable electricity.

  

An article in the business section of the Oct. 14 edition of The Times of Gainesville gives a relevant example: “Natural gas supplies fueling energy scene.”

  

In the 1990s natural gas traded at near $2 per 1,000 cubic feet. Because gas was the cheapest source of energy, producers convinced many electric generating companies, including Georgia Power, to use gas-fired generators.

  

Suddenly, there were more uses than supplies and the price of gas climbed to $15 per 1,000 cubic feet in 2005.

  

The high price led to the development of new ways to find and drill for natural gas. Today the price has fallen to about $3.50 per 1,000 cubic feet, driven by rising production and falling demand as the various sources of energy compete in our free-market economy.

  

We import energy for two reasons. First, laws ban commercial access to billions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of tons of low-sulfur coal in the U.S. These laws were passed supposedly to protect wilderness areas, but the actual intent and their effect have been to restrict access to domestic sources of energy.

  

The second reason we import oil is economic. When the cost of imported oil is low, it is in the interests of our businesses and consumers to buy it — just as buying other goods and services from other countries when they are inexpensive is a boon to American consumers.

  

When the cost of oil is high, as it is today ($82/barrel), we continue to import until U.S. producers see profit opportunities and increase their production. This new production moderates prices and once again consumers benefit.

  

The U.S. has the world’s largest coal reserves. We are the third largest producer of oil, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, with the 10th largest proven reserves. Federal lands contain 635 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, but development of much of it is prohibited by federal law.

  

Finally, for those of you who are still wondering how our economy got in this mess, I recommend you read Kathleen Parker’s article: “Plenty of villains in ‘Inside Job’” (The Times of Gainesville, Oct. 14).

  

“From the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan deregulated banks, through the two Bushes, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, each administration has endorsed — and each Congress has helped tweak — laws and rules that made systemic abuses and the meltdown not only possible but, looking back, inevitable.”

  

Let me know what you think.

   

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee St., Dahlonega, GA 30533; by phone at (706) 864-6589; and by e-mail at hamerson@windstream.net. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788. Remember, the secret of good government is a well-informed electorate.

 

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