Host, Miles Grant:
Does Firedoglake’s Book Salon have a mole in the White House? Amanda Little’s Power Trip has been on the schedule for today’s Salon for weeks, but it was only days ago that we learned President Obama would be unveiling new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks yesterday. Regardless of whether it was covert or coincidence, it’s a great time to dive into the energy debate.
Little sees electric cars as a key to ending America’s addiction to oil, and the fuel efficiency standards are an important step. But can our electric grid support them? Little details her experience being left in the dark by the epic Northeast Blackout of 2003, a painfully vivid demonstration of America’s outdated electric grid. The Senate’s refusal to act on clean energy and climate legislation last year may be Congress’ best-known failure on energy and environmental policy, but the concept of a smart, decentralized electric grid has been almost completely ignored. “We’ve seen almost no expansion or evolution of the grid that struggles to sustain our skyrocketing digital demands,” Little writes.
While Congress has remained unable – and in many cases unwilling – to tackle America’s energy problems, the Obama administration has used the regulatory powers of the executive branch to take small steps forward. Beyond the new fuel efficiency rules, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a new mercury and air toxics standard and carbon controls under the Clean Air Act. In the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, the administration continues to tighten drilling standards.
But is it enough? Al Gore called out the president in a Rolling Stone essay, saying “President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis.” The Obama administration has put off action on other regulations, like an air toxics standards for boilers and certain solid waste incinerators. And it got caught trying to score political points off bashing environmental regulations.
Little makes the case that the road to our new energy future runs not through Washington, DC but through the prairies of west Texas, where wind energy can be cheaply harvested, and the South Bronx, where activists like Majora Carter are leading a new environmental movement based on protecting public health. The great energy debate will be settled not with a single headline-making event, Little argues, but gradually as dropping clean energy prices first converge with rising dirty energy prices, then leave them in the dust. Why keep paying to drill ever-deeper under the Gulf of Mexico with all its accompanying risks if it’s cheaper to charge our electric cars with wind energy? Why send our soldiers out to battle weighed down with pounds of batteries if they can unfold a flexible solar panel to keep their gadgets charged?
Do you share Amanda Little’s optimism that American ingenuity can create a brighter future for our children and grandchildren? Join us in comments to share your thoughts and questions for today’s Book Salon author.
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