Powell for the Poor

The U.S. State Department is often the bane of conservatives' existence, mostly for its institutional embrace of the multilateral, let's-not-offend-anyone (particularly the Europeans), kumbaya-ism. Even in the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell provides the bulk of the grist for angst over the current agenda. Yet despite all of this, attentive conservatives hailed State's performance at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development, not merely for what it failed to do but for what it achieved. Unfortunately, some of State's key achievements appear to be on the verge of being squandered at home.

The U.S. negotiators in Johannesburg obtained a tremendous victory for affordable energy, in coalition with unified LDCs (Lesser Developed Countries, or the Third World). This coalition rejected European Union insistence that if LDCs should develop economically, it must be according to the Europeans' preferred method. That method is through the least efficient, most land-intensive, and most expensive energy technologies, wind and solar (“renewables”). Europeans insisted on this even though LDC's desperately want and need cheap, abundant sources of reliable energy to help them develop. The victory in the final language that emerged was symbolic but significant. After paying requisite fealty to the goal of increasing the contribution of renewable technologies, the Jo'burg summit included a breathtaking requirement to also ensure “that energy policies are supportive to developing countries' efforts to eradicate poverty.” Take that! Further, “renewable” was redefined expressly to include hydroelectric power, inexplicably stripped over time from the acceptable U.S. domestic definition in order to please some domestic green pressure groups. The U.S. negotiators also successfully demanded specific recognition, twice, of fossil fuel technologies. This was indeed a sea change. Now compare what Colin Powell's gang achieved with what seems ready to emerge from the current House-Senate conference on energy legislation. It is legislation the White House has signaled it will sign. The bill includes a “renewable portfolio standard” demanding that wind and solar power provide 10% of our nation's electricity. Those sources currently provide 2% (and we're the world's leader in production). A five-fold increase cannot be accomplished by market forces or even through the massive subsidies renewable providers receive. Thus a requirement for an otherwise unobtainable level of use of expensive energy sources will raise energy prices. This from a bill initially designed to respond to an energy crisis! Our State Department was able to defeat precisely that same anti-poor measure in Jo'burg. The White House has not yet bothered to round up allies similar to those who locked arms with the State Department in South Africa. Where are the advocates for the poor? For seniors, and minorities? They should be featured, yet they are nowhere to be found (except for the odd self-appointed spokes-group sprinkled throughout the “green” coalition). Compounding the dreary outlook is that the White House has signaled their top energy priority is getting a signing ceremony. There are other, deeply troubling provision in the current energy legislation, particularly stealth provisions codifying global warming assertions that scientists refuse to make. All other problems notwithstanding, however, Johannesburg's victory over international eco-elites clearly illustrates that, barring unexpected developments, the energy bill must be abandoned in hopes of a better product in the future. Maybe we can get the “moderate” Colin Powell to run for Senate and support some energy legislation that “conservatives” would really like, since it seems no elected conservatives are willing to do it themselves.