Robert Samuelson On Energy: “Intellectually Shallow”

Bill Scher

In today’s W. Post column from Robert Samuelson, at one point he writes, “This is intellectually shallow.” If he was referring to his own work, he’d be right.

But he was trying to attack the President as dishonest about his energy policy, claiming that Obama is peddling a clean energy “pipe dream” when the bravely candid Samuelson embraces more oil drilling, coal with carbon sequestration, natural gas and a price on carbon pollution.

Samuelson’s column is riddled with distortions and sloppy logic.

He chastises the President’s Oval Office address for urging the “end [to] America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels.” Samuelson responds: “we won’t soon end our ‘addiction to fossil fuels.’ … Unless we shut down the economy, we need fossil fuels.”

Uh, did he miss the President say just three weeks ago, as he has often said, that: “I understand that we can’t end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That’s why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe, and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.”

Did Samuelson miss the part of the Oval Office address where he expresses support for the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act, a compromise measure which caps greenhouse gases yet is being supported by several oil companies as well as environmental leaders? They all seem to realize that ending the addiction to fossil fuels and averting a climate crisis does not mean we will literally stop consuming any oil at all, just that we will reduce our consumption to sustainable levels.

Samuelson then throws out another slipshod claim that other conservatives have done in the past, citing current projections for renewable energy use to argue that significant increases are impossible. Samuelson writes: “The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects energy consumption to grow only an average of 0.5 percent annually from 2008 to 2035, but that’s still a 14 percent cumulative increase. Fossil fuel usage would increase slightly in 2035 and its share would still account for 78 percent of the total.”

But that’s the protection if we do nothing to change our energy policies, which is an argument for … changing our energy policies. (It’s not an argument to make disingenuous claims against those actually trying to change our energy policies.)

Samuelson then implies that the President wants to make this transition without any use of coal or nuclear power, writing: “‘Clean energy’ won’t displace oil or achieve huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — for example, the 83 percent cut by 2050 from 2005 levels included in last year’s House climate change legislation. Barring major technological advances (say, low-cost ‘carbon capture’ to pump CO2 into the ground) or an implausibly massive shift to nuclear power, this simply won’t happen.”

That’s quite an assertion without any evidence. In fact, the World Resources Institute concludes the House bill would basically meet it’s target — achieving between a 72% and 81% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, the exact number depending how the law was implemented.

Furthermore, the House bill includes subsidies for the “carbon capture” technologies to allow for continued coal use that Samuelson claims to support. The House bill would also lead to a doubling of nuclear power capacity, and the Kerry-Lieberman seeks to support nuclear even more.

You and I may not like the support for coal and nuclear, but Samuelson is simply wrong to pretend the President and congressional leaders are ignoring coal and nuclear in their attempts to shape a transition towards a clean energy economy.

Which is what makes Samuelson attack so bizarre and infuriating. The policy he claims to support, more oil drilling, coal with carbon sequestration, natural gas along with a price on carbon pollution to make clean energy affordable and prevalent, is exactly what Obama and congressional leaders are advocating.

The fact that Samuelson won’t support the current legislation shows that he is utterly insincere and his attempt to sabotage the President’s clean energy agenda should be dismissed.

Comments