Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama's Energy Plan -- Part II

Read it in Obama’s own words here. And I covered the back ground of the U.S. and energy policy yesterday.

Let’s start with the bad—Obama wants to increase the tax on oil companies and then take that money and give Americans a rebate to cover the increased costs of oil, gas, electricity, heat, air condition, etc. In theory this sounds great, a bit like Robin Hood even—the oil companies are reporting record profits, why not help out the very people they’re making their money off of?

Well here’s the catch—increasing the tax on oil companies will boost the price of production. All the oil companies will do is pass on their increased costs to the consumer AND the higher taxes will discourage investment which will lower domestic output—increasing the U.S.’ dependence on foreign oil and maybe even decreasing supply. The end result? Higher gasoline prices for consumers and the world. While in theory the government’s tax revenues should increase, Lord knows where and how that money will be spent, but if production drops eventually the increase in revenue will turn into a decrease.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Obama also supports the use of corn ethanol as an alternative fuel. At this point there is little reason to support corn ethanol—that’s a post for another day—but it’s not as efficient as other bio-fuels, it takes as much energy to produce as it saves, it uses a lot of water, and on and on.

His website also wants to put a million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. Sounds like a great idea and I’m sure GM is happy to hear that, but how will this be accomplished… well I’m not sure. He says he’ll hand out a $7,000 tax credit, but the odds of Congress approving that are pretty small. You know what, let’s give this proposal an OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM.

Is there anything good in Obama’s energy proposals? Well, he would like to raise fuel standards for cars, something that the U.S., because of the Detroit lobby, has been reluctant to do. While one could argue that the market and consumers have rejected more fuel-efficient cars for big SUVs, Greg Easterbrook wrote a very good op-ed about this very topic last summer and the relationship between building cars with better fuel-efficient and horsepower and fatal car crashes (which I can’t find but he touches on here). Sometimes it is necessary for the consumer to be regulated (Marshall Field be damned). Obama is also more likely to support and seek public transportation funding.

Although details are a bit sketchy, Obama would also like to invest about $150 billion of government money on scientific research—most of it going towards green collar jobs. Obama claims that this will create 5 million jobs, but I’m not sure were his team came up with number. Therefore I’m a bit skeptical.

Obama would like to up grade the electricity grid and make it more efficient for using renewable energy. And the same time, he wants 10% of all the U.S.’ energy to come from renewable sources by 2012. T. Boone Pickens is on board with this and it’s not a bad idea. The problem will be getting the funding—especially after the bailout and War in Iraq.

Finally, Obama does not want to drill off shore for oil, but reasons as to why this is remain unclear. Back in August he kind of sort of said he’d consider it, but that’s about it.

Overall, Obama’s energy policy leaves me with more questions than answers. Other than raising the fuel-standards for automobiles, it’s hard to find good policy in here. From a policy perspective, this is probably Obama’s weakest issue. But as you’ll see later, McCain’s isn’t much better.

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