Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Richardson on Energy: “Change Fast, or Sink Slowly”

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 600

Meant to get this done a before heading off on vacation a couple of weeks ago, but haven't got around to it until now. Better late than never.

Like Hillary Clinton before him, New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson on May 17 called for an "Apollo" program on energy, expanding on the points I heard him address at last month's Polk County Spring Dinner.

Richardson's proposal aims to combine reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions to achieve specific targets tied to the year 2020. In practical terms, the plan consists of three main aspects:
I - Reduce US Oil Consumption
II - Increase Efficiency for Electrical Producers
III - Reduce Carbon Emissions by at Least 20% by 2020

Here are the specifics. Get your wonk hat on!

I - Reduce US Oil Consumption
Current US oil consumption is 21 million barrels per day; Richardson’s plan would seek to reduce this by at least 6 million barrels per day by the year 2020 through implementation of the following measures:
• Save 2 million barrels per day through widespread adoption of pure electric and low oil-consuming plug-in electrical passenger vehicles, with fuel efficiency up to 100 mpg . Richardson’s plan envisions “significant” rebates to consumers who purchase these vehicles, and support for manufacturers.
• Save up to 3 million barrels per day by increasing fuel efficiency standards for conventional cars and light trucks to 50 mpg by 2020.
• Save up to 2 million barrels per day through use of low-carbon alternative fuels; according to Richardson, this would also reduce the carbon impact from liquid fuels up to 30% by 2020.
• Save 1 million barrels per day through improved fuel economy for trains, trucks, ships and planes and non-transportation sectors.

According to Richardson, these measures will reduce America’s percentage of imported oil consumed from 65% to 10%.

II - Increase Efficiency for Electrical Producers
• Richardson’s plan calls for the renewable content of electrical production to be increased to 30% of all production by 2020 and 50% by 2050, through implementation of the following measures:
• Retire older, less efficient power plants
• Replace older plants with plants that utilize wind, solar, geothermal and biomass
• Legislation requiring 20% increase in electricity production by 2020

III - Reduce Carbon Emissions by at Least 20% by 2020
• Market-based cap-and trade system for carbon emissions, which means, under Richardson’s plan, that carbon-emitting factories will be required to produce 20% less carbon output by 2020. “It’s like musical chairs for carbon,” Richardson says. “By 2050 there will be 90% fewer chairs.”
• Expanded use of “carbon-clean coal”

There’s a lot to like about Richardson’s plan: it’s measurable, it recognizes the interdependence between energy and climate policy, it capitalizes on America’s strengths in science and technology, and it would help change our status from an energy dinosaur to what Richardson called a “beacon of the new energy future.” But there is one aspect of the plan, in my view, that calls for a bit of debate, and that is basing the carbon emissions reduction targets on a cap-and-trade system, versus an outright carbon tax as called for by Chris Dodd in his own energy plan. Both have advantages, in that cap-and-trade creates capital-driven incentives to reduce carbon emissions, and a carbon tax, as Dodd has said, would remove the last incentive for unrestricted carbon emissions – it’s cheaper. I’d like to see a bit more discussion of these two approaches and their respective merits as the campaign progresses.

Overall, though, these are the types of ideas that allow Richardson to display the practical advantages of his résumé, and that’s got to play well for his campaign. He’s riding a bounce in the polls driven by his “job interview” ads; it’s up to Governor Richardson now to build on that momentum by delivering a greatly improved performance in next week’s debate.


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