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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 5:09 am | Light Rain 60º


David Landecker: Investing in the Past Is Not the Way to a Clean-Energy Future

Once you drill down into it, oil-based solutions just won't get us where we need to go

Tom Watson’s recent commentary on energy is based upon incorrect statements of fact and faulty premises, and he therefore reaches the wrong conclusions. In his rush to discredit Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and propel his next campaign against her with oil company donations, he simply misrepresents reality.

David Landecker
David Landecker

First, Mr. Watson incorrectly states that Rep. Capps is a supporter of corn-based ethanol. In fact, Rep. Capps voted against ethanol subsidies several times, including when they were included in the big Republican energy bill a few years back. In fact, Rep. Capps, in her statement opposing that proposal, specifically cited its failure to “root out waste in our tax system — like ... those that go to giant ethanol corporations.” Rep. Capps has correctly said that if biofuels are to play a role in our energy security, the United States must move beyond ethanol.

Second, Mr. Watson is wrong and Rep. Capps is right about whether this nation can drill its way out of our energy problems. The United States has 3 percent of the world’s petroleum supplies, yet we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That’s a lot of demand, but little domestic supply to fill it, even were we to allow every single oil development proposal to move ahead immediately, regardless of its environmental and social impacts.

Even Mr. Watson concedes that development of alternative energy sources is important to our future, although he first dismisses them as “a dream.” Solar energy, wind, wave and geothermal power are much less of a dream today than was modern computer technology just a generation ago. But today, those who dreamed about computers, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, drive our economy while those who invested in old technologies are bankrupt. We all know that oil supplies are limited, and it cannot be our long-term energy source. Yet Mr. Watson insists that “oil will be the primary transportation fuel for the foreseeable future.” It only indicates how limited his foresight is.

The United States is already producing more domestic oil than ever. In the last two years, offshore oil production has actually increased by more than a third. Although oil companies continually seek to obtain more leases to increase the assets on their books, they are not utilizing about 37 million acres of U.S. waters already available to them. Of course, they would gladly turn more of our offshore areas into corporate assets based upon fear created by the rising cost of oil, but shouldn’t they develop what they already control first? It’s hard to believe that less than one year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, Mr. Watson would have local residents agree to more oil rigs off our coast based on economic arguments that ignore the risks inherent in offshore oil development.

Finally, Mr. Watson correctly reminds us that nearly 35 years ago President Jimmy Carter tried to change our energy policy to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. But that effort was halted by President Ronald Reagan, stymied by Republicans in Congress, and then simply discarded during the Bush-Cheney era. The effort to break our addiction to fossil fuels hasn’t failed. Too many of our leaders, and would-be leaders, have simply been seduced by oil company money. Won’t we ever learn?

Moving to a clean energy future is a long-term project. It’s not too late to make the changes we need. But we’ll never get there following Mr. Watson’s advice to keep investing in the past and the cost of our future.

— David Landecker has been an environmental activist is Santa Barbara for more than 30 years.

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