The Dernogalizer

August 1, 2009

Kathleen Parker Dead Wrong

Usually when I come across a column in the Washington Post by Kathleen Parker, it’s well written and makes some sense(even if I don’t agree with it).  So I was a little surprised when I see a column by Parker talking about how the American Clean Energy and Security Act(ACES) is going to make America less secure, and actually increase our dependence on foreign oil.  So, it’s time to put this column to shame.

Let’s see if I can sum up Parker’s argument.  By capping carbon, we’re going to make ourselves more dependent on Saudi oil, and therefore less secure.   The rationale is the carbon emissions from the tar sands in Canada(the dirtiest pollution in the world) , or the processing required from domestic sources offshore and in ANWAR, are greater than emissions from foreign sources.  Furthermore, the new CAFE standards and biofuel initiatives passed by President Bush and implemented under Obama will do more for security than ACES.

Okay, so lets start with the less secure part.  Parker does a wonderful job at not mentioning the ravages of climate change AT ALL in her entire column, which oddly enough is the largest threat to national security there is.  See the very recent U.S. Climate Impacts report compiled by 13 government agencies.  This automatically nixes Parker’s underlying argument that passing a bill which caps carbon would make us less secure.  Consider that the military considers climate change to have major security implications.  This is a statement from a military panel:

“Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world. Projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states.”

Okay, so the security argument is bogus, but only because of Parker’s ignorance of the issue the bill seeks to address.  What about the oil argument?  Parker doesn’t hesitate to credit Bush with getting weak CAFE standards passed, even though it was Obama who actually gave them teeth.  It’s also questionable at best, and whether energy intensive corn-based ethanol does anything other than make corn farmers more money.

Now where Parker is right is that CAFE standards will do a lot for energy independence, especially more than offshore oil drilling which according to our own Energy Adminstration would have no effect on production or prices until 2030.  The irony is that Parker cites these new CAFE standards without any hint of where automakers are going to get their money!  The truth is that ACES provides $20 billion dollars in funding for “electric vehicles and other advanced automotive technologies”.  It also sets up incentives and loan guaruntees for auto companies to utilize to meet the CAFE standards.  Sorry Kathleen.

Then there’s the increased price signal on oil(small at first yes) which will increase over time as the cap bites harder.  Combine that with the fact that in order to meet the 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels part of the Renewable Fuels Standard Parker so aptly describes in her column, you’re going to need the funding that Waxman-Markey provides both to the vehicles, and the concessions the Agriculture Committee won over offsets regarding the 24 billion dollars worth of estimated domestic agricultural offsets available to farmers yearly.  All of the above is why the Union of Concerned Scientists has a report saying the bill will reduce oil use by 6 million barrels a day by 2030, putting drilling for a few hundred thousand barrels to shame.

So yes Kathleen, ACES will discourage us from buying more oil from the Canadian tar sands, but that’s a good thing for the main issue the bills seeks to address which you ignore.  Your drill strategy screams “drill baby drill!”, so thanks for endorsing the Republican “all of the bad ideas” energy policy.  Your point about CAFE and biofuels leaves out where the funding for these new technologies is coming from. You omit the emphasis in the bill on mass transit.  You omit from mentioning the fact that the bill increases national security by reducing carbon emissions(although it needs to do more there) and makes a global treaty possible, hence giving us a chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.

In case you still think transportation issues are unaddressed, I’m copying part of a post from NRDC below which shows excerpts from the bill that address the issue pretty thoroughly.



Passenger Cars: In Section 221, the draft bill directs the President to use existing statutory authority to set vehicle performance standards for light-duty vehicles, to the extent practicable harmonizing fuel economy standards set by NHTSA and greenhouse gas emissions standards set by EPA and California. Standards have to achieve at least as much emissions reductions as would be achieved under a national implementation of California’s stringency targets (my colleague Roland Hwang provides an example of how to this can be done). Furthermore, the draft preserves California’s authority to continue to set its own emission standards for motor vehicles.

Trucks, Trains, Ships and Planes: Section 221 also requires the EPA to set greenhouse gas standards for new heavy-duty vehicles by the end of 2010, and for new marine vessels, locomotives and aircraft by the end of 2012. Standards for all vehicles “shall achieve the greatest degree of emissions reduction achievable based on the application of technology which the Administrator determines will be available at the time such standards take effect, taking into consideration cost, energy, and safety factors associated with the application of such technology.” Also credits can be generated for going beyond standards and those credits can be traded across mobile source categories.


The Waxman-Markey draft bill adopts a new paradigm for funding regional transportation planning that would boost public transit and other alternatives to driving. Passenger car travel makes up the bulk of transportation emissions and oil use, and curbing vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, is crucial to cleaning up the sector. Historically, about 80 percent of transportation funding has gone to road building, which encourages passenger car usage and sprawling development. As NRDC’s Deron Lovaas points out, President Obama is focused on making a change and recently commented, “I think right now we don’t do a lot of effective planning at the regional level when it comes to transportation. That’s hugely inefficient…”

The draft bill (section 222) adopts language from Congresswoman Matsui’s Smart Planning for Smart Growth Act of 2009 (H.R. 1780), which changes the direction of planning and investment by:

  • Requiring that regions set greenhouse gas emission reduction goals;
  • Requiring the establishment of standard models and methods for measuring progress;
  • Investing in public transportation, technology and other measures to reduce emissions;
  • Making regional plans available to the public via the internet; and
  • Authorizing a competitive grant program for regions implementing these plans.

Combined, these commonsense requirements make a sound foundation to design a program that reduces greenhouse gas pollution from transportation and land use patterns.

Provide Incentives to Overcome Market Barriers and Stimulate the Economy

Incentives can encourage a more rapid adoption of energy efficient technologies than standards alone, expediting the transformation of our entrenched transportation infrastructure and creating new jobs. Nearly 100 years of driving on cheap oil has created an infrastructure tied to the internal combustion engine. Clean mobility in the future will be across multiple modes and increasingly powered by efficient electric drivetrains. The Waxman-Markey bill establishes programs to start deploying advanced plug-in electric-drive vehicles.


Vehicle electrification holds significant potential to minimize oil consumption and global warming pollution.  This fundamentally different transportation system will require equally new ways to refuel our vehicles, regulate fuel supply, and invest in infrastructure. Thus, in Section 122, the draft bill directs electric utilities to begin planning the supporting infrastructure for electric drive vehicles. Utility plans will include ways to support a large fleet of electric vehicles such as charging stations and battery exchanges.

The components of our new electric transportation system must interact seamlessly. Careful planning will ensure compatibility between emerging vehicle and grid technologies. Towards this end, the bill requires utility infrastructure plans to achieve interoperability between new vehicle technologies and new grid technologies to the greatest extent possible. Utilities and regulatory authorities must establish protocols and standards for integrating plug-in vehicles into the electrical distribution system including a smart grid. This will include vehicle identification so that a vehicle owner can purchase electricity for fuel regardless of location. Cost recovery is left to the discretion of state regulatory authorities.


Despite their many benefits, plug-in vehicles are subject to market barriers such as upfront costs. Section 123 addresses this problem by providing regional large scale deployment programs for electric-drive vehicles. The deployment program actually serves several purposes at once. It introduces advanced vehicles into the market but also collects information to control the integration of plug-ins with existing and new infrastructure. For instance, the deployment program will collect and disseminate best practices across different regulatory environments and it will address electrical system performance and demonstrate protocols to facilitate vehicle and grid integration.

State and local governments can apply for deployment funds and may apply jointly with electric utilities, automobile manufacturers, technology providers, car sharing companies, and other entities. Funds may be used to offer plug-in purchase incentives, install electric charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles, establish battery exchanges, or pay for smart grid or infrastructure investments that integrate plug-in vehicles with the grid.


Existing fuel economy regulations are essential to keeping vehicle technology aligned with the nation’s need to reduce global warming pollution and oil consumption. But they are also interim steps that can be met with conventional technologies. Significant long term emissions reductions will require unconventional technologies that sharply break with today’s. Even so, technology deployment is inherently risky.  It poses significant upfront costs which some manufacturers are reluctant to incur. In Section 124, the Waxman-Markey bill addresses this by defraying the costs of electric drive vehicle manufacturing investments.

The bill provides incentives for automobile manufactures to retool their facilities so that they can build plug-in electric-drive vehicles that are produced in the United States. The incentive would also help plug-in manufacturers purchase domestically produced vehicle batteries for their final products. The program is needs-based: the applicant must demonstrate that without the incentive, it would be unable to reasonable finance plant retooling or vehicle batteries.


Section 223 of the draft bill authorizes continued operation of the EPA’s SmartWay program to promote energy efficient technologies in passenger transport and goods movement. SmartWay provides financing to upgrade existing heavy truck stock with technologies that improve fuel economy, reduce idling fuel consumption and cut criteria and global warming emissions. The program also promotes operational changes that can reduce truck mileage. SmartWay is also expanded to compile a database of the nation’s truck fleet characteristics and emissions performance, a task previously managed under the Census that has not been updated since 2002.

The Waxman-Markey draft houses the essential elements of a bill to promote clean transportation (essential elements are also described in NRDC’s transportation policy brief here). The draft includes fuels in the cap and establishes performance standards to push innovation. We don’t have time to wait when it comes to cutting our oil dependence and solving global warming, so incentives for clean technologies, such as vehicle electrification and the production of sustainable, low carbon liquid fuels, are key for kick-starting the transition


  1. Great content, very helpfull. The web needs more great sites like this.

    Comment by security locks — August 1, 2009 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

  2. […] eased the burden, with an extremely well done dissection that is entitled, simply and accurately, Kathleen Parker Dead Wrong. As Denerga highlights, Parker doesn’t even bother to mention that Global Warming, itself, […]

    Pingback by Blogging about WashPost OPED Editing: Inane or Insane? — August 2, 2009 @ 12:15 am | Reply

  3. […] the reduction of pollution from coal that damages human health at every stage of the lifecycle, reducing oil use by 6 million barrels a day, the creation of 1.7 million new green jobs, taking on big oil and big coal, bi-partisan […]

    Pingback by The State of the Union: Clean Energy or Bust « The Dernogalizer — January 26, 2010 @ 12:22 am | Reply

  4. […] the reduction of pollution from coal that damages human health at every stage of the lifecycle, reducing oil use by 6 million barrels a day, the creation of 1.7 million new green jobs, taking on big oil and big coal, bi-partisan support, […]

    Pingback by The State of the Union: Clean Energy or Bust « It’s Getting Hot In Here — January 26, 2010 @ 12:26 am | Reply

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