Real lessons on energy

Aug 8, 2020 in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel by Eric Engle

On July 23, Congressman David McKinley (District 1-WV) penned an op-ed titled “Learning Lesson on Energy Security” in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. The Congressman claims in the piece that we cannot afford to rely on precious metals and rare earth materials from overseas countries like China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the production of electric car batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. I guess the Congressman assesses risks and what we can and cannot afford a little differently than the global climate science community and environmental scientists.

Where the Congressman is worried about the stability of governments in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and things like the water use involved in extracting lithium, I’m comparing those concerns to the massive global climate destabilization being caused by the CO2 and methane emissions of coal and oil and gas and the fact that “clean coal” technology is not even remotely the success the Congressman claims. Carbon capture and storage currently cannot be scaled to anywhere near the level of the problem (30 to 40 gigatons — a gigaton is a billion metric tons — of C02 emissions annually) and is prohibitively expensive. Nuclear, another recommendation for focus from the Congressman, is also prohibitively expensive and so-called “new age” nuclear, with less danger of meltdowns and less waste is, like carbon capture and storage, years or even decades from being practical, cost-efficient and scalable.

Since when has the Congressman and his party really been concerned about water usage? The Congressman mentions that it takes 500,000 gallons of water to obtain 1 ton of lithium, but the Congressman fails to mention the enormous amounts of water it takes to extract and use coal, oil and gas (especially with hydraulic fracturing) and the enormous amounts of waste that come from the use of these fuel sources. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that total water used for coal mining in the United States ranges from 70 million to 260 million gallons a day. Scientific American estimates that fracking uses 9.6 million gallons of water per well and puts farming and drinking sources at risk.

The Congressman mentions use of hydrogen as a clean energy source. I agree, we should absolutely be exploring and investing in hydrogen use, especially for high energy processes like steel and cement-making, that way we could even leave metallurgical coal in the ground.

A long-standing narrative suggests that the federal government is the reason for the export of American manufacturing and our reliance on foreign goods, but what this narrative deliberately misses is that corporations and industries are even more to blame. Cheap labor, even more lax environmental oversight, poor public health oversight, even less corporate taxation, it all means that these industries and corporations choose to produce overseas. The Congressman and his party act as though that means we should devalue American labor, fail to protect our environment and public health and fail to fairly tax hugely profitable industries and corporations. When you think of it that way, “business friendly” doesn’t sound nearly as good, does it? Isolationism doesn’t solve these problems and it doesn’t solve a global climate crisis or global environmental degradation. When it comes to securing our energy future in a clean, efficient, healthy way, perhaps it is the Congressman who is in need of a lesson.