It's time for GWS's Not the Brightest Bulb, the first in a series (?) of posts on our presidential candidates' energy plans. First up, John McCain's "Lexington Project."
A couple snarky marketing pot-shots before we get to dat good shit, dat raaaaawwww policy sheeeit:
1. The Lexington Project sounds like a sinister shadow group in a Robert Ludlum or Dan Brown book. If GWS isn't mistaken, The Lexington Project is staffed by exiled KGB officers who didn't think the Illuminati's booze cruises were up to snuff. In a June 25th speech, McCain went to beat-people-over-the-head levels as he spelled out why his plan is called The Lexington Project:
"...named for the town where Americans asserted their independence once before...this nation will acheive strategic independence by 2025." Ohhhhhhh, thaaaaaaat Lexington. I get it, I get jokes... So to the residents of Concord, MA and Philly, the message is loud and clear: you didn't have shit to do with the Declaration of Independence, and John McCain would know because he was there.
2. John McCain really cares a lot about this issue. It's the first issue listed on the dropdown menu for "Issues" on his campaign site. See? Told you he cared a lot about it.
3. "An all of the above energy solution"? Who's the genius who selected this slogan? All GWS can think of when he reads this is that The Lexington Project is to energy policy as Potpourri is to "Jeopardy!" categories.
With his snark gland fully engorged, GWS now gets down to details.
If we can trust the graphical layout of priorities on McCain's website, a clear hierarchy emerges. McCain's energy policy will focus on the following, in the following order: expanded domestic production, better fleet-wide fuel economy, "clean, alternative sources of energy," carbon cap-and-trade, improved energy efficiency, and finally, not to be outdone by the Obama campaign, cracking down on those dastardly oil speculators. One at a time, please, no need to push...
Expanded Domestic Production: Fuck Flipper, fuck him right in his blowhole! The Outer Continental Shelf has tons of oil and "77 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas." Hot damn! And this shit's already here? Well what are we waiting for!?
In a word, common sense. Right-wing blogs like CNS News and the Conservative Beacon try to pull off some rhetorical sleight of hand, but it's clumsy. Why would McCain be so specific about how much gas is in American territorial waters but never offer similar figures about oil? The Department of Interior's Mineral Management Service estimates there's between 66 and 115 billion barrels of oil, mostly located in the Gulf of Mexico's OCS. These numbers, the MMS stresses, are representative of "Undiscovered technically recoverable resources," which, in layman's terms, means "back of napkin." The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration isn't quite so optimistic: they predict around 60 billion barrels of oil from the lower 48's OCS (GWS was unable to find EIA numbers that included Alaska).
Total U.S. oil consumption is about 21 million barrels/day, a figure which is sure to grow in at least the short-to-medium term. The EIA predicts that if we go balls-to-the-wall with OCS drilling, we can improve domestic production to 5.6 million barrels/day by 2030. So, in the next 22 years, John McCain's plan---at best---will fail to expand domestic production by 10%. Compared to the "reference case" the EIA uses to test its hypotheses, drilling the OCS will add only 200,000 barrels/day to American production. To be glib, that's not even a drop in the bucket. Yet this is what McCain leads with.
Expanded domestic oil production---FAIL!!!
Improving American fuel economy standards: GWS is unclear on how doctrinaire McCain's economic views are. Here, he's certainly hewing to accepted conservative dogma about the market delivering results. Basically, McCain would encourage greater fuel economy not by mandating higher mileage standards (like every other developed country) but by offering a $5,000 tax credit for any consumer who buys a "zero-carbon emission car." This, McCain says, will spur private industry to re-tool and somehow come up with a carbon neutral car. Along with this, McCain's willing to offer a $300m prize to people who find a way to increase battery life, and then he pays lip-service to flex fuel, lowering tariffs (finally some good policy! GWS would love to see Brazillian sugarcane ethanol on our shores), and stricter CAFE standards.
Unfortunately, McCain's market-based scheme doesn't hold water. First of all, what the hell is a zero-carbon emission car? Considering the amount of steel and plastic in a car, GWS finds it difficult to believe that any car could ever be truly carbon neutral. Secondly, McCain's plan is dependent on the existence of a latent market for said zero-emissions cars; without massive consumer appetite for these cars, the plan doesn't work because Detroit won't have incentive to change its fleet. And a $5,000 tax credit, while lovely, doesn't seem likely to spur consumers to buy buy buy. Without this massive consumer demand, McCain's reasoning breaks down. Interestingly, he never feels the need to trot out any statistics about this link in his value chain.
Bringing American fuel economy standards up to par---FAIL!!!
Clean, Alternative Sources of Energy: Thomas Friedman should be upset, because the first paragraph in this section is clearly cobbled together from his last 1,000 op-eds: green technology + green industry = green economy! But oh, oh goodness...McCain stumbles right out of the gate on this one. He advances the cause of clean coal, but deftly stays away from the question of carbon sequestration, thus obviating his contention: we've known how to get multiple forms of fuel from coal since the first quarter of the 20th century, but it's among the dirtiest processes (in terms of carbon released) we've got. Moreover, McCain's later cap-and-trade system would seem to make the business case for coal liquefication unfeasible...and once again, he feels no need to address this seeming contradiction.
McCain also wants to build 45 nuclear power plants between now and 2030. GWS is undecided on the nuclear option and welcomes readers' comments. Where McCain plans to put these plants is, of course, not mentioned. Last and certainly least, McCain throws in a passing mention of wind, solar, hydro, and other tree-hugging forms of power.
Cap-and-trade: Cap-and-trade schemes are the darling of most economists who see a market-based way to regulate negative externalities. In truth, it may be the most politically palatable option, but GWS is brought back to his intro to econ course in college and once again finds himself wondering "But...who gets to decide what's an acceptable level of pollution?" McCain seems to think that getting back to 2005 carbon emission levels by the end of his first term is a good first step, and wants to get back to 1990's levels by 2020. GWS feels it's necessary to point out that McCain does not mention a steadily shrinking pool of total carbon credits or a steadily increasing system of penalties for non-compliance, which would seem to be necessary if the goal truly is reduction in overall carbon emissions.
Understanding how to structure incentives---FAIL!!!
Improved Energy Efficiency:
1. Hectoring government employees to turn off the lights when they leave a room
2. Deregulate deregulate deregulate.
Also, SmartMeters. Is Matlock on yet?
Do you kids think electricity grows on trees?---FAIL!!!
Oil Speculators: Seeking to prevent a flanking maneuver from Obama, McCain promises that if oil speculators are indeed distorting American gas prices, he'll bring down the swift hammer of justice and righteousness on their Brooks Brothers-wearing asses. He then also
Speaking in code---ur doin it rong!
All in all, McCain's energy plan doesn't seem like much of a plan at all. If George Bush's diagnosis of America as an addict is true, McCain's plan seems to be just finding more, cheaper drugs. GWS knows very few alcoholics who quit drinking because they found a store just out to sea with slightly cheaper Jim Beam than they were used to.