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Is the Tea Party the Alternative Energy Party?

Jeff Siegel | Thursday February 11th, 2010 | 10 Comments

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party- Alice in Wonderland

I have to be honest. I don’t know much about the Tea Party movement. But as someone who sees our two party system as offering little more than the illusion of a real and effective democracy, I applaud any group that stands up and forces the status quo to take notice.

In fact, after doing a little research, it seems to me that the Tea Party – based on their core beliefs – should actually be a very pro-alternative energy party.

You see, there’s little doubt that the Tea Party champions real fiscal responsibility. No more excessive taxes, a balanced budget and no excessive national debt. This is all great stuff, and you’ll get no argument out of me.

But if we take a look at where we are today, you will find that much of our economic burden can be traced back to our reliance on fossil fuels. Certainly the tax burden is real.

According to the Environmental Law Institute, from 2002 to 2008, subsidies for fossil fuels totaled approximately $72 billion. And for those quick to play the “renewable energy can’t compete without subsidies” card, know that during the same time, subsidies for renewables came to about $29 billion. And of those renewable subsidies, more than half were set aside for corn-based ethanol – providing even more kickbacks for an already heavily-subsidized agricultural system that typically excludes small, local and organic farms.

You can read the details of that report here.

There was also a very interesting study that came out a few years ago that showed the security costs of having the U.S. military protect the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf. That bill came to around $44 billion in 2007.

And don’t forget that little-known, and somewhat hidden DOE study from 2000 which found that oil supply disruptions, price hikes and loss of wealth suffered through oil market upheavals have cost the U.S. economy around $7 trillion (in 1998 dollars) over the thirty years from 1970 and 2000.

My friends, that’s more than half the total U.S. national debt!

Now you won’t see any of this stuff figured into the equation when you pull into the gas station. But the truth is, if we weren’t directly and indirectly subsidizing our reliance on oil, we’d be shelling out anywhere between $8 to $10 a gallon for 87 Octane.

That’s not a free market. That’s a welfare scam. And you better believe that if we were paying the real cost of gasoline, it wouldn’t take long for the entire country to rally around Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles, high-speed rail and expanded mass transit, and more walkable communities.

Of course, many, including Tea Party supporters have championed increased domestic oil production as the solution to our oil supply problems.

But if the Tea Party is legitimately concerned about national security (which from what I’ve read, they clearly are), then I would think their support for domestic drilling (at least as far as it being the solution to our energy woes) would be very limited.

I’m not so naïve to believe that we can transition our energy economy without a continued reliance on domestic oil. But it cannot be looked at as anything more than a transitional vehicle. Because the truth is, domestic oil production can never meet our total consumption needs.

As far as domestic offshore oil is concerned (and this is where most of our domestic supplies can be found), the Energy Information Association tells us that we have about 59 billion barrels of “technically recoverable undiscovered” offshore oil. This is not proved reserves, by the way.

However, the USGS tells us we have about 85 billion barrels of “technically recoverable undiscovered” offshore oil. So let’s play the role of the optimist, and go with the USGS numbers.

Now U.S. demand is around 6.7 billion barrels per year. Assuming there were 85 billion barrels of domestic offshore oil for us to consume, this would give us about a 12.7-year supply. And that’s based on current rates of consumption and the assumption that there will be no demand increase going forward. Clearly not a safe assumption to make.

Then there’s ANWR, which the USGS tells us could deliver about 16 billion barrels – or about a 2.4-year supply.

So between ANWR and offshore, we’re looking at about a 15-year supply. But don’t forget flow rates.

Even if we tapped every ANWR and domestic offshore resource today, the flow rate of that oil would still dictate how much we can produce. That would come in at around 3 million barrels per day. Sorry folks, that’s not going to cut it.

Of course, we do have those tar sand resources. Although with a limited history, we have little in the way of good data on long-term production rates. There’s also the issue of net energy return. In the case of these tar sands operations, you’ll find that most legitimate energy analysts will agree that it takes more energy (primarily natural gas inputs) to produce this oil than is actually delivered. For those trying to make a quick buck, this is not an issue. But for the sake of long-term energy security, this is not something we can rely on for our future transportation fuel needs.

Treehugging Tea Parties?

I would also make the case that the Tea Party movement should support an aggressive environmental agenda.

You see, I have noticed that Tea Party supporters are very vocal about the right to protect themselves and their families, often focusing on the importance of the 2nd amendment as a way to secure this right. Bottom line: You have every right to protect and defend yourself. And I certainly support that right every step of the way.

But just as I have the right to protect myself from a home invasion or a car jacking, don’t I also have the right to protect myself against those who are harming me and my family by poisoning our air and water?

Think about it. You can’t live without clean water. And if you want to see what toxic air can do to you, take a look at the average lifespan of a Beijing traffic cop, which is 43. It ain’t car accidents and lack of job fulfillment that are to blame. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to wade through the thick smog that blankets Beijing during rush hour, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So, it seems to me that Tea Party members would agree that it’s completely acceptable to do whatever you can, legally, to protect yourself and your family from any operation that denies us clean water and air.

These include, but are not limited to. . .

  • Tar Sands Operations – It takes between two and four barrels of water to extract one barrel of oil from a tar sands operation. And once the water has funneled through the production process, it becomes toxic, and cannot be released back into the environment. While some is reused, most is pumped into large settlement ponds that become polluted with heavy metals. In Alberta, a recent University study found that the expansion of the sands projects there could kill the Athabasca River – the only abundant source of water in the area, supplying fresh water to two northwest territories, 300,000 aboriginal people and the Mackenzie River Basin, which is Canada’s largest watershed. Are we going to do that to our own water supplies for a few years of oil?
  • Coal-Fired Power Generation – A typical 500 MW coal-fired power plant draws about 2.2 billion gallons of water each year from nearby lakes, rivers and oceans; relies on the transportation of coal, which relies on subsidized petroleum; and generates 170 pounds of mercury. It only takes 1/70th of a teaspoon in a 25-acre lake to make fish unsafe to eat. Kind of puts a damper on that next fly fishing trip, huh?
  • Industrial Agriculture – Industrial agriculture has become a huge drain on our resources. Irrigation systems are pumping water faster than they can be refilled, an over reliance on pesticides is disrupting the food chain, and massive amounts of synthetic fertilizers are draining into our water systems causing algae blooms to form. These algae blooms can suffocate marine life that many hard-working Americans rely on for food and income-generation.

So how do you protect yourself from these operations?

You stop giving them your tax dollars, and you add in every bit of environmental damage to their operational costs. It’s not a new concept. You make a mess, you clean it up.

Will that trickle down to the consumer? You better believe it. But if you want a real free market, you better be ready to start paying the real, unsubsidized costs for goods and services. I don’t know about you, but I prefer that to what we have now – a system that takes your hard-earned money and hands it out to folks that are making your water unsafe to drink, and your air unsafe to breathe.

Of course, when you stop subsidizing the oil, coal and industrial agriculture machines, you quickly see the real value of clean energy generation and responsible, non-polluting agricultural systems.

No matter how you slice it, there is just much less in the way of water and air damage with renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation measures and sustainable agricultural systems. Not to mention, with alternative energy sources, you also get an extra bang for your independent buck.

It’s no secret that the Tea Party desires freedom and independence. I proudly wave that flag too, and believe those who seek real independence must also be staunch environmentalists and alternative energy advocates.

Think about it…

With solar PV on the roof or a residential wind turbine in the backyard, you can produce clean energy and become completely independent of the grid. This ultimately provides economic independence as well as energy independence.

And with your own personal garden or greenhouse, you can grow your own fruits, vegetables and grains – thereby eliminating the reliance on heavily subsidized agriculture. And take it one step further by going organic. This eliminates the reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers – both of which require fossil fuel inputs to create. Fossil fuels that are, you guessed it – subsidized.

In theory, it does seem that the Tea Party’s call for fiscal responsibility, free markets, and personal liberty makes it a strong environmental and alternative energy champion.

But will they put their money where their mouth is?

Will they support alternative energy integration and environmental protection and preservation?

If they truly practice what they preach, they will.

If not…

Well, they’ll prove to be nothing more than just another bullhorn for empty rhetoric, and just as useless as the jackass and the elephant.


▼▼▼      10 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • chrisarkenberg

    One point to consider regarding new fields is EROEI – energy return on energy investment. This is, roughly, the amount of energy it takes to find, extract, refine, & sell the developed energy. Across the globe, new fields are more often found in remote areas, far offshore, and/or bound to additional materials, eg tar sands, making them much harder to extract and refine. So when the USGS says “technically recoverable undiscovered” they are implicitly acknowledging the greater and greater energy cost required to develop new fields. As energy gets harder to develop, it consumes more energy. So linear approximations of remaining domestic oil are inaccurate and should really be logarithmic since we will burn more & more to get less & less.

  • greenreader

    So maybe what we really need is a Green Tea Party!

  • Vadrosaul

    Unfortunately the tea party is nothing about the actual constitutional freedoms. That's simply what they cloak themselves around and mindlessly bleat about. They are really just toeing the line of a tired old far right political ideology that has wrapped itself in a crude oil blanket. They'd rather to use their 'god given rights' to abuse the environment

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  • algaepreneur

    Alge is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2. Algae is one solution to get the US off foreign oil, create new green jobs in the US and become energy independent. To learn more about the fast-track commercialization of the algae production industry in the US, you may want to check out the National Algae Association. The Tea Party should support alternative fuels that can be made right here in the US.

  • caribousteaks

    While talking energy Siegel completely misses the point that roughly half of oil and gas consumption is used for base materials for products such as plastic, fertilizers, rubber, medicine, paints, resins, etc. Take away oil and gas and good-bye modern lifestyle. Talking in such sweeping terms of thinking we can just drop one energy source and take up another any time soon is ridiculous and wrong. The transition, which will of course happen, will take 50-100 years or more. Certainly making ridiculous claims that ANWR or Mid-East oil only would last 2 years or what only shows how silly Siegels mindset is. It is physically impossible to develop and consume a field all at once, just as it is physically impossible to suddenly build millions windmills and have them up and running 100%. Current legislation on the national energy dilemma actually does provide some good middle ground. To use the hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue generated from oil and gas production (revenue that easily overcomes Siegle's claimed subsidy total to the point of being the largest single industry tax contribution to the US coffers) to help fund alternative energy production. This idea allows both routes to take place and allows for a more sensible and realistic approach to our energy future. There is no doubt fossil fuel use will decline over the next 100 years as supplies run out, but hastening that trend when we rely so heavily on fossil fuels for absolutely everything we do, eat, and use is a silly myopic and highly unrealistic approach. Tea partier or not, Republican or Democrat it matters not, we all use oil and gas in absolutely every single aspect of our lives, thinking we can get away from this anytime soon is false.

    • Joe

      Look at the data caribousteaks. You can either review it and come to a logical conclusion, or can continue to deny, push the oil&gas agenda and keep giving all your hard-earned money to the fossil fuel machine. Siegel is right on point with this one. His claims are backed up. If you can find something, peer-reviewed, that disputes this, then post it.

  • laura l

    Is the teaparty the alternative energy party? I cannot believe we actually have a Home Depot media that looks exactly like the rest of the world. One sided and biased.If I wanted to read this stuff I can pick up just about any paper in the U.S. Be original and make a stand for the truth! You can find any number of “studies” to back your opinion and thats all it is still just your opinion. Look at the Global Warming fraud they are uncovering.

  • energytruth

    Laura, if you believe what you just wrote, then you are clearly a part of the problem. There isn't a single thing in that article that isn't true. But enlighten me. Show me anything that suggests otherwise. And please provide references. My bet is you'll either scurry away like the cockroach you are, or you will provide some report from the Heritage Foundation or something that was funded by Exxon.

  • laura l

    Is the teaparty the alternative energy party? I cannot believe we actually have a Home Depot media that looks exactly like the rest of the world. One sided and biased.If I wanted to read this stuff I can pick up just about any paper in the U.S. Be original and make a stand for the truth! You can find any number of “studies” to back your opinion and thats all it is still just your opinion. Look at the Global Warming fraud they are uncovering.

  • energytruth

    Laura, if you believe what you just wrote, then you are clearly a part of the problem. There isn't a single thing in that article that isn't true. But enlighten me. Show me anything that suggests otherwise. And please provide references. My bet is you'll either scurry away like the cockroach you are, or you will provide some report from the Heritage Foundation or something that was funded by Exxon.

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