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  March 2002 Features:
Seeking Clean and Green Energy
Improve Our National Security with Clean Energy
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The Planet
Improve Our National Security With Clean Energy

What's the Difference: The Sierra Club Wants & Cheney's Energy Plan
Sierra Club Activists take action on energy issues.

We need a safe, clean and secure energy plan that decreases our dependence on oil, dirty power plants and nuclear power.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 revealed as nothing before how vulnerable our energy systems are to terrorism. The threat of terrorism compounds the severe inadequacies of our country's domestic energy infrastructure and compels us to take steps to ensure a safe, clean and secure energy future.

The Cheney Energy Plan will increase our insecurity

Vice President Cheney's National Energy Plan is dangerous -- not just for our health and environment, but also for our security. Most of the vice president's plan passed the House of Representatives, with members of Congress adding subsidies totalling more than $38 billion for some of our dirtiest and most vulnerable energy sources -- making the bill even more dangerous than Cheney's original proposal. The administration would like to see a similar bill become law.

The vice president's plan perpetuates our dependence on oil by failing to increase fuel economy for our automobiles

Fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks have stagnated at 27.5 and 20.7 miles per gallon, respectively, for more than a decade. Congress' failure to improve these standards deepens our dangerous dependence on oil. The United States uses 25 percent of the world's oil, yet has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. We import about 11 million barrels of oil each day, or more than half of the nearly 20 million barrels we use. This makes us the largest importer of oil in the world, with a quarter of our imports coming from the Persian Gulf region. A disruption in Persian Gulf oil supplies could result in significant oil shortages and soaring gasoline prices.

Vice President Cheney's proposal to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other special places will not relieve our dependence on foreign oil supplies. It would take 10 years for any oil from the Arctic Refuge to come on line, and government estimates show that the Refuge would likely provide less oil than the United States consumes in six months. Development of the Refuge would destroy this last great wilderness and threaten the abundance of wildlife there. We cannot drill our way to oil independence.

The House energy bill directs the Department of Transportation to set fuel economy standards for light trucks at a level that amounts to less than a 1 mpg increase in fuel economy. This miniscule increase would reduce about one day's worth of consumption per year at current rates.

Vice President Cheney's proposal would also leave us vulnerable to the insecurities of our domestic oil infrastructure. There are 155 petroleum refineries and 200,000 miles of petroleum pipelines in the United States today. These structures are vulnerable to outages or attacks, either of which could cause major disruptions to supply and gasoline price spikes. In the fall of 2001, gasoline prices in the Midwest spiked steeply in part because of a refinery outage in Illinois. The Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was shut down for three days in October 2001, when a drunken man shot a hole in it, causing a spill of tens of thousands gallons of oil. In 1978, a bomb attack on the pipeline resulted in a spill of 670,000 gallons of oil.

SOLUTION: We need to raise fuel economy so that our automobiles will average 40 miles on a gallon of gas. Our cars, sport utility vehicles and other light trucks guzzle 40 percent of the oil used in the United States every day - 8 million barrels of oil. Raising fuel economy standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon over the next 10 years will save 2 million barrels of oil per day. By 2020, we will be saving 4 million barrels of oil per day - more oil than we currently import from the Persian Gulf and could extract from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, combined. This step will save consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump and slash carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming. And it will ease our dependence on foreign oil sources and vulnerable domestic infrastructure.

Vice President Cheney's energy plan would perpetuate our dependence on dangerous nuclear power plants

There are 103 operating nuclear power plants at 66 sites in the United States. None of these power plants was designed to withstand attacks of the magnitude of Sept. 11. Moreover, most pools for storing used ("spent") nuclear fuel are located outside massive concrete containment structures and are even more vulnerable to terrorist attack. A meltdown or fire in a nuclear reactor or spent fuel pool could cause catastrophic releases of radioactivity and severe disruption of energy, environmental and financial systems. The worst-case radiation doses would be sufficient to cause tens of thousands of cancers and economic damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

The House energy bill awards $2.5 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the nuclear industry. Vice President Cheney offers incentives for aging plants to operate for longer periods and to expand nuclear power capacity. In addition, he would like to reinstate the practice of nuclear "reprocessing," in which plutonium is separated from used fuel in order to be reused. The use of plutonium as a commercial fuel, because of the increased amount of radioactive material needed, would increase the damage from an accident or attack and also increase proliferation risks, since commercial plutonium can be used to make nuclear bombs. A key vulnerability of proposed plutonium use would be the truck shipments that supply plants with fresh fuel. These shipments travel on U.S. highways and roads and could be seized by terrorists and used to make weapons.

SOLUTION: We must reduce our reliance on nuclear power by speeding the transition to clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power and by using our electricity more efficiently. No new nuclear power plants should be licensed, and plants should be retired at the end of their licensed lifetimes. As a first step, U.S. taxpayers should be freed from shouldering the financial burden for this dangerous and expensive industry. Because no private insurance company is willing to insure a nuclear power plant, Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the nuclear industry's liability to about $10 billion in the event of an accident. The Act will ultimately leave taxpayers with responsibility for additional cleanup costs, which could be hundreds of billions of dollars. We should not reauthorize the Price-Anderson Act.

Vice President Cheney proposes virtually nothing to increase energy efficiency or promote clean, renewable energy

The United States depends on approximately 3,000 large power plants across the country -- powered mostly by coal, nuclear and natural gas -- to generate our electricity. A vast web of 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines delivers this electricity to us. When you turn on a light switch; or run your dishwasher, hairdryer or power saw; or plug into an outlet for any number of daily household needs, you are tapping into the very complex and interconnected electricity grid.

Power plants and transmission lines could be inviting targets for terrorists because a well-planned attack on key facilities could affect whole cities. One major attack on key transmission facilities -- or in some situations even on a single large power plant -- can cause cascading failures, widespread blackouts and immense economic damage. Technical failures, weather, accidents or war could cause similar problems. For example, in November 1965, a technical failure in one major transmission line shut off power in New York City, most of New England and some parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Restoring power took from hours to days, depending on the area.

Vice President Cheney wants to build at least 1,300 new power plants by 2020, and the House energy bill provides $38 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear industries. This type of financial assistance, which dwarfs assistance to energy efficiency or clean, renewable forms of energy, perpetuates our dependence on large, dirty and centralized power plants and the vulnerabilities that come with them.

SOLUTION: We need to reduce the pressure on our overburdened electricity system and find new, less vulnerable ways to provide power. We must increase our energy efficiency; we must diversify and decentralize our electricity system; and we must build more local, clean, renewable sources for energy. Better efficiency standards for our appliances and buildings will ensure that we use less electricity, thereby reducing the pollution spewed by large power plants and decreasing our reliance on a vulnerable infrastructure. In a diversified system, single family homes would rely partly on local power sources such as fuel cells, solar panels or wind turbines. Commercial and industrial cogeneration systems would generate much of their power onsite with efficient technologies to make their power go farther, and municipal utilities would use renewable and natural gas generation in medium-scale plants. Such a diverse mix of power sources will provide the most stable system and could absorb disruptions from outages or terrorist attacks.

By requiring that 20 percent of our power be provided from renewable sources by 2020, we can achieve dramatic reductions in global warming pollution -- a 137 million metric ton decrease in CO2, according to the Energy Information Agency -- without increasing overall energy bills for consumers. The vice president's energy plan mentions the benefits of this type of "distributed grid," but offers no significant proposals to move toward such a system.

Congress must reject Vice President Cheney's National Energy Plan

The vice president's proposals seriously undermine our energy security, in addition to subsidizing polluting power companies, increasing our addiction to oil, perpetuating the dangerous nuclear power industry and increasing global warming pollution. We must chart a course toward a safer, cleaner and more secure energy future. We can only do this by reducing our demand for energy with efficient technologies, reducing our dependence on oil by increasing fuel economy, and making a transition to clean, renewable forms of energy that will create jobs, reduce pollution and reduce our use of finite fossil fuels. These ends can and must be achieved in tandem with policies to protect our precious public lands, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for future generations.

The Sierra Club retained the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) to assist in its analysis of energy system vulnerabilities. For details of IEER's analysis, see its Securing the Energy Future of the United States at

Sierra Club Activists

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind: Since the Bush administration announced its energy plan last June, the Club has ramped up its efforts to promote an energy future that is less dependent on oil. Club member Ruth McMurray and three friends (above left) greeted President Bush when he came to Lancaster, Pa., and told him not to drill the Arctic Refuge for oil. Activists (above left) in Washington donned salmon costumes to push for conservation and renewables at a June 2001 Department of Energy hearing.

What's the Difference?

The Sierra Club calls for:

Vice President Cheney's Energy Plan calls for:

Raising fuel economy standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2012. Would save 4 million barrels of oil per day, cut global warming emissions by 734 million metric tons and save consumers $51 billion a year at the gas pump in 2020. Continuing our oil dependence because it fails to make meaningful improvements in fuel economy.
Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. Drilling the Arctic Refuge for oil even though the oil wouldn't be available for 10 years and it would produce less oil than the U.S. consumes in six months.
Increasing clean renewable energy sources to provide for 20 percent of our electricity by 2020 (not including hydropower). Generating only 2.8 percent of our electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 (not including hydropower).
Freeing U.S. taxpayers from subsidizing the nuclear industry. Not licensing any new nuclear plants. Expanding nuclear energy generation and limiting the industry's liability for accidents.

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