Goals are Good

FARGO, N.D. – A requirement that at least 20 percent of electricity sold in this city come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020 is headed for a vote in November.

Representatives of the South Agassiz Resource Council have turned in 3,677 signatures to the city auditor’s office to get the issue on the Nov. 7 election ballot. About 2,850 signatures were needed, Auditor Steve Sprague told city commissioners in a memo.

The City Commission will be asked Monday to accept the petitions and approve the ballot language.

The amendment to Fargo’s Home Rule Charter would require that at least 20 percent of all electricity sold in the city come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020 and at least 30 percent by 2030.

Goals like these are good.

I don’t like the idea of arbitrary mandates, but we need to get away from fossil fuels.

Even solid conservatives like Newt Gingrich agree:

America will be stronger if it develops coherent technology and market-oriented solutions to environmental conservation and energy consumption. Consider how much better we can do in each field.

It is possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy. It is possible to build incentives for a cleaner future. It is possible to have biodiversity and wealthy human beings on the same planet. And it is possible to have free markets, scientific and technological advances, and an even more positive environmental outcome. There is every reason to be optimistic that if we develop smart environmental and biodiversity policies our children and grandchildren will experience an even more pleasant world.

A sound American energy policy would focus on four areas: basic research to create a new energy system that has few environmental side effects, incentives for conservation, more renewable resources, and environmentally sound development of fossil fuels. To its credit, the Bush administration has approached energy environmentalism the right way, including using public-private partnerships that balance economic costs and environmental gain.

The Bush administration’s investment in developing hydrogen energy resources may be the biggest breakthrough of the next half-century. Hydrogen has the potential to provide energy that has no environmental downside. In one stroke a hydrogen economy would eliminate both air pollution and global warming concerns. Since hydrogen is abundant in the air and water around us, it eliminates both the national security and foreign exchange problems associated with petroleum. Suddenly oil would become a source of petrochemicals and cease to be a source of energy. The relative requirements for oil would shift to making plastics and away from providing fuel. The result would be a lot less reliance on the Middle East and a lot less concern over balance of payments.

A hydrogen economy is probably twenty years away but there seems to be no scientific reason the hydrogen engine cannot be mass-¬produced. General Motors and virtually every other major automobile manufacturer have major programs underway to develop hydrogen energy designs and production. The potential is real that many of the pollution problems of our lifetime will begin to disappear after 2020 or 2025.

Conservation is the second great opportunity in energy. Already the United States has adjusted to earlier oil price increases by becoming a dramatically more efficient user of energy. But companies like Honeywell and Johnson Controls believe we could achieve 30 to 60 percent improvements in energy conservation if our tax policy better encouraged it and if we set the standard by optimizing energy use in government buildings. A tax credit to subsidize energy efficient cars (including a tax credit for turning in old and heavily polluting cars) is another idea we should support.

Renewable resources are gradually evolving to meet their potential: from wind generator farms to solar power to biomass conversion. Continued tax credits and other advantages for renewable resources are a must.

Finally, it is time for an honest debate about drilling and producing in places like Alaska, our national forests, and off the coast of scenic areas. The Left uses scare tactics from a different era to block environmentally sound production of raw materials. Three standards should break through this deadlock. First, scientists of impeccable background should help set the standards for sustaining the environment in sensitive areas, and any company entering the areas should be bonded to meet those standards. Second, the public should be informed about new methods of production that can meet the environmental standards, and any development should be only with those new methods. Third, a percentage of the revenues from resources generated in environmentally sensitive areas should be dedicated to environmental activities including biodiversity sustainment, land acquisition, and environmental cleanups in places where there are no private resources that can be used to clean up past problems.

With these kinds of investments we can have an energy strategy that meets our economic and environmental needs, and a generation from now we can be a healthier and wealthier country that is less reliant on foreign sources of energy.

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