Energy Policy Needed ASAP, Don't Call It Manhattan Project

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Energy Policy Needed ASAP, Don't Call It Manhattan Project


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


Washington surely loves a Manhattan Project.

Calls for Manhattan Projects have almost become mandatory, especially in response to tough problems that nobody seems to know how to fix.

After U.S. troops in Iraq became targets of roadside bombs, generals urged the Pentagon to launch a Manhattan Project to counter the deadly attacks. Lawmakers also called for a Manhattan Project to expedite the delivery of armored trucks to Iraq to protect the troops. Numerous Manhattan Projects have been summoned by various congressional committees to eradicate cancer and other deadly diseases. The Department of Homeland Security laid claim to its own wish for a Manhattan Project, one aimed at protecting cyberspace from hackers and viruses.

The latest, and definitely the loudest, of the demands for a Manhattan Project has been fueled by the nation's energy crisis.

Politicians, scientists, economists and even regular citizens have rallied behind the notion that the nation needs a Manhattan Project to achieve "energy independence," "clean energy," "freedom from foreign oil," "relief at the pump"--whatever the slogan of the day might be.

What has become evidently clear amid the cacophony of cries for solutions is that the usual way of doing business in Washington is not going to help solve the energy plight. So far, this Manhattan Project that we hear about in the media 24/7 is shaping up to be yet another grab bag for special interests, and will fail to tackle systemic issues, experts warn.

"There are too many different 'vested interests' in how we deal with energy security," says Sharon Burke, a foreign policy and energy scholar at the Center for a New American Security.

In the name of "energy security," backers of nuclear power have called for investments in new plants to generate electricity. The automobile industry is hoping for federal grants to fund hydrogen-powered cars. Advocates of domestic drilling promise that only if we keep digging can the United States end its dependence on foreign oil. The coal sector is demanding more funds for carbon-capture research. Alternative energy producers guarantee that they can deliver quick results if only they can get enough tax credits.

When it comes to energy policy, decisions typically are shaped by the preferences of members of Congress, notes Josh Busby, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas. Regional economies are dependent on the production of certain kinds of energy--coal in West Virginia, petroleum in Alaska and the Gulf Coast, biofuels in the Midwest. …

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