Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Nonsensical arguments

The raging but one-sided debate over energy and climate policy, which has focused on our little state because we have about the only two U. S. senators who straddle the fence on the great issues of the day, has produced some exotic arguments.

Nonsensical is another word that comes to mind.

You get some of it from network and local television shows, which now come with commercials from the oil, gas and coal industries and their friends warning that the climate-change bill moving glacially through Congress will drive up your taxes and drive down your living standard. Full-page ads in the daily papers bleat the same message: Capping the carbon emissions from refineries, power plants and big energy-consuming manufacturers and making the industries trade carbon credits to drive down the greenhouse poisoning of the atmosphere is going to cost you your job and destroy the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office figures it will cost the average family the price of a postage stamp a day by the year 2020 without calculating the offsetting benefits of clean and renewable energy, which is the aim of the bill.

Then you have Claiborne Deming’s dog-and-pony show. If you haven’t been to one of the business forums around the state to hear it, you’ve read about it. Deming, the popular executive of Murphy Oil Corp., says the bill favors coal and electricity over the poor oil industry and that its penalties against the oil and gas industries will destroy the country’s economy and ruin us all while doing nothing to make China stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. China is the real culprit, Deming said, because it recently passed the U. S. as the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas poisoning. That’s true, but China has nearly 1.4 billion people and there are 310 million of us. Per capita, no one comes close to us in the volume of greenhouse poisons. Besides, China can’t make us change our energy habits, and our government can’t change China’s.

The Arkansas legislature joint tax committee listened to Deming’s pitch last month and rushed out a proclamation to Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor telling them they must block the cap-and-trade bill to save Arkansas. Lincoln and Pryor are pivotal to the industry’s strategy of blocking a vote on the bill in the Senate. It has already passed the House of Representatives, but with Lincoln’s and Pryor’s help, Republicans aligned with the petroleum industry can prevent a vote in the Senate.

Deming is a good fellow with at least one public-spirited stand to his credit — Murphy Corp.’s scholarship program for El Dorado youngsters — so no one in the media or any of the forums dared raise the obvious point. He is hardly a disinterested or even slightly objective analyst of the debate. Like the Middle East oil oligarchs, who also oppose legislation that would reduce the country’s and world’s oil dependency, Deming’s industry stands to lose, though not so much, if the nation moves to cleaner and more efficient energy sources or if petroleum and coal are forced to clean up their products. It is not so that the carbon industries’ interests are necessarily the nation’s best interest, but the campaign would have you believe it.

Our favorite of all the quaint arguments for maintaining the status quo on energy and climate policy came last week from Progress Arkansas, a new lobby group made up of the big energy industries and their business allies.

In a news release and testimony before the state Public Service Commission last week, Progress Arkansas boasted that Arkansas ranked 15th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia in the per-capita consumption of electricity, oil and gas.

The point was that the government shouldn’t be trying to curb energy consumption or change energy habits.

Here is what it said: “Arkansans use a lot of energy, and that’s a good thing. It means we have industry and businesses here that provide jobs.”

We’re not kidding. That’s what they said. Arkansas a leader in industry? Hardly a state has a smaller industrial base or a lower average wage.

Their figures were right. The U. S. energy information center said that in 2007, Arkansans burned almost twice as many BTUs per person as California and the New England states, where the state governments have directed utilities and industries toward greater efficiency. Each Arkansan consumed 407 million BTUs, each Californian 233 million (at the height of the state’s prosperity). Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York burned even less.

That is a good thing for Arkansas?

Trying finally to do its small part toward protecting the climate and cutting the terrible waste in energy consumption, the Arkansas Public Service Commission was holding hearings on how to glean efficiency from Arkansas gas and electric utilities.

The commissioners didn’t seem terribly impressed by Progress Arkansas’ argument. But we’ll bet that it will still carry the day.

Watch our senators’ votes on the climate bill.