Power Lunch

When Vice President Dick Cheney and his controversial National
Energy Policy Development Group met last year, they were supposed
to come up with a plan that would best serve the country. Instead,
Cheney’s task force, made up exclusively of energy-industry
executives and lobbyists, sought massive subsidies for the oil,
gas, coal, and nuclear industries; construction of 1,300 to 1,900
power plants; and increased drilling and mining on public lands.
The only serious attention conservation and renewable energy
received was when the Department of Energy dipped into those
programs’ budgets to pay for printing 10,000 copies of the White
House plan.

Sierra decided to bring together our own energy task force.
We didn’t talk only to environmentalists. We also invited the head
of a multinational oil company, a labor leader, an architect, a
state public official, and a utility executive. Six leading energy
experts took part in this discussion moderated by executive
director Carl Pope.

There were genuine surprises, including an environmentalist arguing
that growth can be good if we’re growing the right things, and the
man once responsible for some of our largest nuclear plants saying,
‘In this age of terror, we just can’t have them.’ But all agreed
that the path ahead can and must lead beyond fossil fuels-and that
a peaceable, sane, and sustainable energy policy is within reach.
All we need is political leadership in Washington with the vision
and courage to choose wisely how we light the way ahead. Here are
some highlights.

‘If, after the oil crisis of 1973, we had decided we wanted to pay
attention to 19th-century writer Jules Verne, who told us that we
were going to eventually get our fuel from water-namely, by
separating water into hydrogen and oxygen-we would probably have a
hydrogen economy by now.’
-David Freeman, energy policy coordinator for Presidents
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, now chair of the California
Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority

‘I, too, see the goal in this century being an
electricity-hydrogen-energy economy that will make us independent
of fossil fuels. . . . If we like Gulf wars and all the other
issues that are dependent on our addiction to that oil source, then
we don’t need to do anything.’
-Kurt Yeager, president and chief executive officer of
the industry-funded Electrical Power Research Institute

‘Three of the wind-rich states-North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas-have
enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy all the nation’s
electricity needs. . . . We’re looking at a situation now where,
within five years, thousands of ranchers in this country will be
earning far more from electricity sales than from cattle
Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, is
president and senior researcher at the Earth Policy

‘Instead of simply building clustered wind farms, which are
basically central power plants, we are looking at a dispersed
system that provides more benefit to more people. The distribution
systems would be different, and they would look beautiful in the
landscape. Additionally, we’re working on small-scale generation .
. . microturbines every three blocks.’
William McDonough, one of the world’s leading green
designers, leads innovative architecture and industrial design

‘The Sierra Club conducted a poll in Michigan last winter: . . . 77
percent of the general public thinks we should make the auto
companies produce cars that get 40 miles per gallon; 84 percent of
the members of the United Auto Workers think so. This is not the
official position of the United Auto Workers, which worked hand in
hand with the Bush administration to defeat an effort by Senators
John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to raise
fuel-efficiency standards.’
-Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra

‘In poll after poll, when union members are asked about solar
energy, wind power, efficiency, conservation, hydrogen fuel cells,
and so on, they are even more in favor of these things than the
general public. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the policies
that unions champion and the rank and file.’
-Jane Perkins, a research fellow at the George Meany
Center for Labor Studies and adviser to the Blue/Green Working
Group, a coalition of labor and environmental leaders

‘After September 11, we are surely not so dumb as to build more
Trojan horses in our country. The danger of penetration into a
nuclear reactor-which is difficult but not impossible-is so
horrendous that we’ve got to be out of our minds to build more
nuclear power plants. And I say this as a person who’s had as much
experience with nuclear power as anyone in this country.’
-David Freeman

‘I question whether technological growth can keep us ahead of the
consumption wolf-particularly if we’re trying to export a
consumption-based economy to the whole world. At some point we need
to say enough is enough.’
-Kurt Yeager

‘The key to rapidly moving from fossil-fuel dependency to renewable
energy resources is leveling the economic playing field. Either we
eliminate the subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear [power] or we
do something like extend the wind-production tax credit. We need to
get the market to tell the ecological truth.’
-Lester Brown

Marilyn Berlin Snell is writer/editor at Sierra, the Sierra
Club’s magazine. Excerpted from
Sierra (July/August 2002).
Subscriptions: $15/yr. (6 issues) from Box 52968, Boulder, CO
80328. The complete text can also be found online at

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