October 14, 2020
In his new book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, journalist David French underscores the many divides — political, geographic, and religious — that are undermining our cohesion. As French told me on a recent episode of the Power Hungry Podcast, “there’s a measurable and severe increase in enmity, in anger between our red and blue tribes. And all of these things can’t keep happening forever.”
French’s book only mentions energy in passing. But it is readily apparent that America is also deeply divided about policy approaches to energy and climate. That fact was made clear to me last week when I testified (via WebEx) before the Subcommittee on Energy of the Committee on Energy and Commerce on a hearing titled “Generating Equity: Improving Clean Energy Access and Affordability.” I was invited to testify by the Republican members of the subcommittee. (The subcommittee, like the rest of the House, is controlled by Democrats.)
My remarks focused on the regressive effects of policies that mandate renewable energy, restrict the use of natural gas, and subsidize electric vehicles. I explained how renewable mandates have driven up electricity prices in Ontario, Germany, Minnesota, and California. After that, I discussed my recent research paper for FREOPP, which shows how bans and restrictions on the use of natural gas in California will force consumers to use electricity instead of natural gas. That is a form of regressive taxation. Why? On an energy-equivalent basis, electricity costs four times as much as gas.
My discussion of EVs reprised some of what I wrote recently for Forbes about how low- and middle-income Californians are subsidizing the automobile predilections of their wealthier counterparts. As I explained, “A single California Senate District in the Bay Area, has collected EV rebates from the state totaling $55.3 million. That sum is more than what was rebated to residents of seven other senate districts in the state, combined.”
I added that those subsidies represent only a fraction of the cost of EVs. “Consumers are also facing increases in electricity rates to pay for the public charging stations needed to refuel those cars, as well as tens of billions — or even hundreds of billions of dollars — in grid upgrades that will be required to supply the huge amounts of electricity that will be needed to electrify transportation,” I said. “In California alone, I have calculated the state may need to increase electricity use by 50% or more to accommodate a statewide move to EVs.”
I concluded by saying that efforts to increase access to cleaner energy and power sources are laudable. “But decarbonizing our energy and power systems cannot be done quickly or cheaply. If the goal is to decrease inequality, policymakers must be attentive so that the cost of decarbonizing America’s enormous energy sector is not borne by low- and middle-income American families.”
After I — and the other three witnesses, all of whom were invited by the Democratic members of the subcommittee — finished giving our allotted five-minutes of oral testimony, the hearing was opened to questions from the members. That was when the energy divide was made most apparent.
The other witnesses only got questions or comments from the Democratic members. I was queried by nearly every Republican member of the committee but didn’t get a single question from any of the Democrats. As I recall, only one Democrat, Rep. David Loebsack from Iowa, mentioned energy prices. He said that his constituents in rural Iowa were paying far more than their urban counterparts.
In short, each side — the Republicans and the Democrats — came to the hearing armed with their talking points and they were not going to talk about anything else. That is deeply unfortunate. The energy sector is the world’s biggest and most important industry. Every facet of the economy depends on the energy sector. Alas, when it comes to Congressional hearings, factionalism appears to matters more than energy realism.
As French points out, America is divided now more than it has been in decades. The growing divide over energy policy provides yet another example of that unfortunate reality.
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