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Edward Flattau Headshot

Anger Management

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On the eve of the 2010 midterm election, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana), a leading member of the soon-to-be Republican House majority, couldn't contain his exuberance at his party's anticipated victory. In a moment of unvarnished candor, he boasted in a radio interview that "Americans are not interested in getting things done. They are interested in getting things undone."

That was it. Pence added no qualifiers to how congressional Republicans would wield their newfound political power. If this is their game plane when the nation desperately needs decisive responses to a shaky domestic economy and a seemingly endless overseas war, it is the height of irresponsibility. To cite an ancient proverb: "Time and tide wait for no man."

Despite some snippets of positive GOP rhetoric, the prevailing view in the nation's capital is that Pence's vision is the Republican game plan. It's a partisan search and destroy mission to demolish President Barack Obama's reelection chances. The formidable challenges at home and abroad will receive full attention after the Republicans reclaim the White House.

Assuming this is indeed the Republicans "grand design," the majority of voters in 2010 have engaged in an exercise of futility. Frustrated at what they perceive to be Washington's ineptitude in performing its functions, they punished the Democratic majority only to end up solidifying gridlock.

A House GOP majority has been put in place that would seemingly rather conduct investigatory witch hunts and nullify every Obama Administration accomplishment than directly confront the nation's most pressing problems. It is a formula for a paralytic stalemate with a Democratic-controlled White House and Senate.

According to polls, independent voters by healthy margins believe that global warming is a serious human-induced threat that requires aggressive governmental action. Yet they voted overwhelmingly for a GOP House majority, most of whom think global warming is a hoax, or if not, attribute the phenomenon to natural fluctuations of sun spots.

Average Americans' distrust and resentment of Wall Street reached a peak after the 2008 taxpayer bailout of the nation's largest investment banks. Nonetheless, voters delegated power to a political party heavily financed by -- and thus beholden to -- the very business interests that ignited the public's ire in the first place.

Finally, the electorate has awarded control of the House to a political party that appears to regard the plight of more than 40 million medically uninsured Americans as an afterthought if even that. Instead of adopting the humane policy of subordinating fiscal concerns to public health, the GOP has reversed the priorities.

Sure, money is important, but is that all that America is about?

In succumbing blindly to anger over a struggling economy, voters may very well have "cut off their nose to spite their face."

Some in the fossil fuel industry, along with their ideological sympathizers both inside and outside of government, are not content with pronouncing global warming a hoax in defiance of scientific consensus. In a further unprincipled effort to ease regulatory curbs, they are opposing a governmental mandate requiring some standardized use of renewable energy, arguing that such technology is not an economically viable alternative to oil, gas, and coal for the foreseeable future.

If that false premise can be sold, a legislative mandate compelling utilities to level the playing field between fossil fuels and solar power, wind, and other relatively clean renewable energy sources will never get off the ground. Healthy competition will be stifled and the United States will invariably fall behind other nations in the transition to a modern, sustainable national energy infrastructure.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a Washington-based free market think tank that frequently acts as a shill for corporate polluters. Ben Lieberman, a senior fellow at CEI, contends that without generous federal subsidies, wind could not come close to competing with coal and other fossil fuels. Lieberman estimates that absent these subsidies, wind would cost approximately 15 cents per kilowatt hour (per KWH) compared to 10 cents per KWH for coal.

What Lieberman conveniently omits are the substantial subsidies and other considerable external costs that accompany coal and are not factored into the market price. Yes, wind has its subsidies, along with storage and transmission issues and a drain on natural resources through its demand on building materials.

But the costs that coal generates (and that are not incorporated into the market price) dwarf the expense of producing and operating wind power. Princeton Professor Robert Williams estimates that the adverse effects from coal-related air pollution alone would add 13 cents per kilowatt hour (per KWH) to the price of coal. Were the hefty additional medical expenditures, lost work hours, and cost of pollution cleanup and prevention built into the price of coal, renewable energy would look a lot more enticing.

More than a decade ago, a senior economist at Southern California Edison Electric Company calculated that with the addition of all external costs, coal would actually be priced at 17 cents per KWH rather than the 1.8 cents per KWH at that time. He pegged wind and solar at between five and 12 cents per KWH (and renewable energy production costs have been brought down since the date of his study).

The bottom line is that the price of an energy source should reflect not just its production costs but its impact on health, natural resources, and aesthetics. Without those inclusions, fossil fuels will be enjoying an economic advantage they don't deserve.

Edward Flattaus fourth book "Green Morality" is now available.

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