Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
Prisoners of Azkaban
Friday, May 17, 2002
A new column by Joe Conason (I saw it following a link from atrios) has some fun quoting the 'experts' and pundits who were mocking all suggestions last year that California energy prices were being deliberately manipulated.
As good as Conason's column is, it only tells half the story. Those who made fun of 'conspiracy theories' to explain the shortage did have an alternate explanation: blame it on environmentalists. While we're finding out what really happened, let's look back at their wisdom:
Blame for this can be laid at the feet of the environmental community first and, second, government regulators who adopted the negawatt vision of people like Amory Lovins and the Natural Resources Defense Council's Ralph Cavanagh.
For years, environmentalists have said we use too much electricity and don't pay enough for it. For years, they have blocked construction of new power plants in California and tried to eliminate coal-fired electricity from the generating mix in adjacent states and the country at large.
Environmental groups were taken aback when Bush blamed them for California's crisis. In addition to citing a flawed energy deregulation law, Republicans pinned California's problems on air-quality regulations and environmentalists blocking new power plant construction.
"If there's any environmental regulations ... preventing California from having a 100% max output at their plants, as I understand there may be, then we need to relax those standards," Bush said.
Perhaps it's not surprising to see that Krugman completely ignores a much more obvious cause of California's energy woes — namely, this country's backward energy policies. One of the reasons why California is in such trouble electricity-wise is that power plants across the state have been shut down for violating increasingly stringent clean air laws (though some of them are being reopened as a result of the current crisis), thus causing a power shortfall. Compound this with a Clinton administration that has not only done everything possible to stymie domestic oil exploration (roping off millions of acres from any sort of development via executive order) but has encouraged natural gas usage while discouraging new sources of the stuff from being developed, and you have a recipe for exactly what is going on in California now. More worrisome, California's troubles could also be a harbinger of things to come across the country.
But instead of looking to the true perversions of the market, caused by an EPA and administration who refuse to acknowledge that a limited amount of pollution is the acceptable consequence of industrial activity, Krugman sees evil only in those outfits that are trying to make the best of a bad situation, and warns readers against being seduced by "enthusiasts for market solutions for everything from prescription drug coverage to education."
As the California electricity crisis worsened, aides to President Bush repeatedly cited the state's woes as evidence proving environmental restrictions should be relaxed -- specifically recommending that the nation move quickly to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil and gas drilling. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, told the Los Angeles Times that California's crisis is essentially a lesson on the consequences of "environmental extremism."
The misbegotten government of California does a miserable job of deregulating by keeping one set of prices high and another set of prices regulated. They have -- but their environmental restrictions, they do not permit the sufficient building of powerplants as they have elsewhere. And now you want the federal government to put price controls on wholesale electricity. Did I did summarize it correctly?
In truth, this idea never did make any real sense. California has had tight enviromental restrictions for a long time - most were passed in the 1970s, almost all were in place by the time Jerry Brown left office in 1983. California got along quite well through decades of booming economic and population growth with those environmental restrictions, then deregulation was passed in 1996. Within a few years of its taking effect, the state ran into a catastrophe - at which point it was suddenly discovered that the 'real problem' was those decades-old environmental rules.