We Rely on Dirty, Dangerous, and Non-renewable Energy Sources
The U.S. energy portfolio is overwhelmingly reliant on fossils fuels that threaten the planet by warming our atmosphere and harm the public by causing unacceptable levels of unhealthy air. Coal, oil and gas provide 85% of the total energy we use for transportation, electricity, heat and industry.
We Use Too Much Energy
The United States is the single worst culprit in the world’s profligate use of energy. Our nation contains only 5% of the world’s population, but is responsible for 25% of the world’s energy use.
In the last half century our nation’s total energy consumption has tripled, but our population has not even doubled. Nearly 55% of that energy is used by the commercial/industrial sector. More than 25% is used for transportation. 20% is used to heat and power our homes.
We waste too much of the energy we use. Automobile fuel efficiency has declined over the past two decades. Two-thirds of the energy used to generate electricity is lost before it reaches our homes and businesses. We fail to make use of proven technologies that would help power the nation with less energy at lower costs.
With a population of 6.4 million people, Massachusetts is the 13th largest state. We use 1.7 quadrillion Btus of energy annually--20th among the states. And our per capital energy consumption is 271 million Btus of energy annually--42nd among states. In other words, we are already ahead of the curve compared to other states in the nation, largely as a result of successful energy efficiency and conservation programs established over the last few decades.
Public Health and Safety Problems
Global Warming -- The facts on global warming should compel us to dramatically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels in cars and power plants releases carbon dioxide, the primary gas responsible for global warming. By building up in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise escape. As a result, the average temperature of the earth rises. As the world's leading contributor of global warming emissions, it is irresponsible for the U.S. to delay implementing currently available solutions. Procrastinating and avoiding our responsibilities as a world leader, is foolish when the solutions to the problem are available now. The 1990s were the warmest decade in the past millennium. Because global warming gases accumulate over time, the longer we delay, the worse the problem will get. We are already seeing the effects in the increase of extreme weather events and paying the price with increasing insurance costs.
Air Pollution -- The burning of fossil fuels to generate power, heat our homes and to move our motor vehicles is the biggest source of air pollution known to harm human health. A landmark study by Abt Associates, the leading source of health impact statistics for EPA, estimates that particulate pollution from electric utilities cuts short the lives of 30,000 Americans each year. Smog from power plants and automobiles triggers an estimated 6 million asthma attacks per year, as well as tens of thousands of additional health effects including hospitalizations, chronic bronchitis, and emergency room visits. Senior citizens and children are most susceptible to these adverse health effects. Coal-burning electricity plants produce fine soot pollution, which is responsible for an estimated 60,000 premature deaths each year
Coal burning power plants are also the largest industrial source of toxic mercury emissions. Mercury in coal is released into the air and is rained into our lakes and streams where it accumulates in fish tissues, posing serious risks of neurological damage to those who eat the fish, particularly young children whose brains are in early stages of development. An estimated 8% of all American women who are of childbearing years have already consumed enough mercury-laden fish to threaten the development of their children.
Water Pollution -- Environmental damage from coal plants is not limited to air pollution. Each year, an average coal plant generates more than 300,000 tons of ash and sludge containing highly toxic substances like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, most of which is dumped in unlined landfills which often threaten drinking water supplies. In addition, coal plants consume immense amounts of ever more precious water. Each year, an average coal plant consumes enough water to serve a city of 250 thousand people.
The mining of coal also wreaks havoc on land and water. In West Virginia, an area half the size of the State of Rhode Island has been devastated by the practice of surface mining, which involves taking the tops off of mountains. Mining also results in wastes that pollute water downstream. And mining itself is a significant health threat. According the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health, coalmine dust kills 2,000 U.S. miners yearly. The Federal Government’s black lung disease program has cost taxpayers $33 billion dollars over since the 1970’s.
Government assistance to the energy industry has been consistently directed toward some of the most profitable companies in the dirty energy industries. . Historically, the federal tax code has heavily favored the oil, gas, coal and nuclear power industries. The existing Tax Code contains more than $11.7 billion in tax breaks for energy production and conservation over the next five years. These tax breaks are heavily skewed toward polluting industries with approximately 96 percent, or $11.2 billion, going to the oil, gas, coal and nuclear power industries. The remaining $500 million benefits renewable energy and energy conservation. This is a 22 to 1 ratio. The beneficiaries of the tax breaks for oil and gas include such energy giants as British Petroleum, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil Company. The beneficiaries of the $2 billion the federal government has spent on “clean coal” technology include Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation, Bechtel, Texaco and General Electric—all companies that continue to record billions of dollars of profit. Some of the beneficiaries of the federal government’s subsidies to the nuclear industry include Entergy Nuclear, Dominion Energy, Exelon Corporation, and Duke Power.
The Solution: Clean, Renewable Energy
We are at a critical juncture. With increasing demand for energy pushing against diminishing supply, dysfunctional energy markets, and the increasingly urgent need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we must adopt energy policies that will reliably and sustainably provide for our future energy needs. We can choose to continue to depend on fossil fuels and nuclear power, or we can make the landmark decision to use and produce our energy more wisely, and to transform our energy infrastructure in ways that enhance our security and our economy with minimum impact on the environment.
By promoting policies, subsidies and incentives that enhance our ability to take advantage of these energy options, we can take the first steps down a new, secure energy path that will help to secure our future and improve the quality of our lives. A smarter, cleaner energy policy would:
- Use less energy. Design better communities, construct better buildings, and promote better alternatives to driving; encourage an economy and society that consume less energy.
- Use our energy sources more efficiently. Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to save energy and money and reduce pollution. Energy efficiency means using energy more intelligently, such as building cars that go farther on a gallon of gas and making light bulbs that use one quarter the energy of traditional bulbs. We can make great strides through better building codes, more efficient appliances, industrial motors, lighting, less centralized energy delivery systems, much more efficient transmission wires and, importantly, through better auto fuel efficiency.
- Stop Building Unsafe and Polluting Fossil Fuel and Nuclear Power Plants. We do not need more energy supply and should not build these facilities that will burn fuel for more than 40 years.
- Shift to clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. All are becoming economical and, when incorporated in a smart energy strategy, save consumers money. The potential for renewable energy sources in the U.S. is many times greater than our total electricity consumption. For example, the wind power potential in just four states––North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska––is more than the total current electricity use in the U.S. As much as one-third of our energy could come from renewable energy in the next 20 years, if we made the commitment to do so. By increasing power production from renewable sources we will have more zero-pollution energy and be less vulnerable to dramatic fuel price hikes. We can do this through policies; which shift the subsidies from the polluting and risky energy sources toward clean renewable resources. And, by ensuring that polluting energy sources are forced to restrict their pollution and absorb the societal costs associated with their pollution.
- Bring current fossil fuel facilities up to modern pollution standards. The Clean Air Act of 1977 grandfathered in old fossil fuel plants under old clean air standards. All fossil fuel plants, regardless of their age, should have to operate under current standards.
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