Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s speech February 18th in Muncie, Indiana, at Ball State University’s Emens Auditorium was primarily a pitch for a new clean energy economy and how it can happen. In making this pitch, he discussed the politics that have impeded this transformation as well as how policies should change to pave the way, the technologies he believes will best bring clean energy to the U.S. and how much this clean energy will benefit our environment, quality of life and economics.
In discussing why we have not made more progress, RFK blamed what he calls “corporate crony capitalism” that reflects business as usual in Washington. He placed blame on former President George W. Bush for expanding on this damaging Washington culture, even calling out numerous Bush cabinet members and backers as being part of the oil, coal, and pharmaceutical industries that they were meant to regulate. He also argues that a true free market that eliminated subsidies for coal and oil would do for energy what the breakup of telecom giants did for the price of telephone service, while simultaneously promoting increased corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFÉ) and a carbon cap and trade system to facilitate the energy transformation.
The technologies favored by RFK for ushering in clean energy seem to be massive solar thermal energy towers such as ones already being used in the Mojave Desert region. These would be used in combination with wind turbines and a new smart energy grid so that generated power could be distributed around the country more efficiently. This new clean, smart grid would then be used to power PHEV’s and eventually all electric vehicles.
The economics of all this according to RFK would work themselves out. The $1 trillion investment needed to implement the plan would pay for itself in one year without having to buy foreign oil. Quality of life would, of course, increase due to the lack of fossil fuel emissions and the increased number of competitive paying jobs brought about through energy efficiency measures and the renewable technologies implemented.
The plan RFK Jr. outlined is very similar to the new Apollo Project promoted by Congressman Jay Inslee of Washington State and the one that President Obama seems to be working toward. This makes the plan more plausible, because in order for it to work it will certainly need the backing of powerful people. I applaud the ambitious nature of these plans and the fact that he is exposing the entrenched special interest inflence on current energy policy. His statement that the two most important environmental regulations would be campaign finance reform and the restoration of the fairness doctrine make sense. It is suspect however that RFK Jr. himself has a business interest in the solar thermal power towers he is promoting, it seems he may benefit from a bit of “corporate crony capitalism” himself.
I was very impressed by his knowledge, not only of the politics of energy but the technicalities behind things such as the smart grid and I agree for the most part with his assessment of where our energy future should lead. I do wish that he would place more emphasis on distributed or “micro grid” systems, as they not only provide for less loss along power lines but serve to increase the level of environmental justice, and would encourage consumer independence. The advocating of carbon cap and trade and increased CAFÉ standards is essential for a clean eergy agenda because although they are not the ideal way to eliminate fossil fuels they are most likely the quickest politically feasible way.
The major failing of the speech as it pertains to sustainability in the U.S. is that continued expansion of the U.S. economy through clean energy is not the panacea for sustainability. While clean energy is a step toward the idea of sustainability it does not address our fundamental problem of natural resource depletion, and how we create a truely sustainable way of life.