Background to the KDL 2007 Topic
US Policy Towards Energy



Resolved: That the United States Should Substantially
Change Its Policy Towards Energy

 

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An appropriate song for this topic





Pulling the Plug:

The Introductory Debate Reading 2006-2007

 

I. Introduction: Energy Policy in the USA

A. Introduction

Oil hit a new record high on the spot market. Consumers feared, perhaps with some reason, the return of gas rationing. Meanwhile, minor wars raged in the Middle East and terrorist bombings hit the news. Beyond that, larger potential conflicts loomed in the background as the USA exchanged angry words with Iran. As if on cue, bad financial news rang out as well: American carmakers lost ground and sales to leaner, less fuel-thirsty, Asian rivals. Politicians, not missing a beat, blamed the government or their opponents depending on the color of their politics for this mess. .

News headlines lamented, "the death of cheap oil."

The year was 1982.

Yes, 1982!

Surely, though, this sounds familiar, perhaps too familiar. In 1982, at beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, oil prices hit an inflation adjusting height recently matched in April of this year. Though prices receded a bit, they ended up above $60/barrel. The price remains at Iranian War levels.

The parallels with that time continue. Some claim that Iran, feeling its oats, fuels the violence in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. This alarms Arab neighbors enough that they send money and support to Sunni terrorists in Iraq even as Iran funds the Shiite Maadi militia. When in doubt, they bomb the oil fields, both as a means of drawing attention to their side and as a means of preventing the Americans from becoming a permanent occupying force in the region.

Yet even ten years ago, the idea of consumers spilling out large amounts of funds for "gas guzzlers," the phrase for the full-sized, two cars of twenty years ago would have seemed ludicrous. However, slowly but surely a decade of cheap oil wedded Americans of a new generation to the idea of a truly "family-sized" family car, the SUV. Since GM and especially Ford, enjoyed high premiums selling vehicles to that audience, they switched away from less profitable vehicles and got caught, once again, with a line in need of rapid change. Their rivals, in Japan and Korea, who always needed to produce domestic vehicles to deal with both tiny roads and very high fuel costs, simply adapted their own domestic range to the American market; again, they caught the Americans off-guard.

As for the larger economy, experts claim that the higher price of oil cost Americans a full 1% of GDP growth. A measly 1% does not sound like so much unless one considers that GDP growth only equaled 4% for the entire year. In effect, the US economy lost 25% of its growth or rather transferred it to foreigners who sold imported oil.

Meanwhile, environmental concerns continue unabated. In 1990, the US debated the topic of "resolved the US should substantially reduce global pollution." The US, by itself, contributes 25 % of all global pollution. In 1982, and even in 1972, the new environmental movement predicted that by the Millennium the world, meaning the US, would possess wonderful alternative fuel technologies that do not pollute. Instead increased burning of fossil fuels means an ever-larger hole in the ozone layer. This hole, at least according to some experts, effects climate patterns enough to cause an increase in hurricanes, which then leads to destruction of oil refineries. This, famously, lead to higher fuel prices (again).

However not every experts, even among the economists and environmentalists believes that a "crisis" really exists. They point to the fact that, as noted above, oil prices did fall in the 1990s, even as the US enjoyed record economic growth. Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed, famously pointed out the fact that the US's exports continue to get lighter, i.e., consisting more of services than of things. Even the most dire of environmentalists may also question whether global warming data really "proves" anything more than a temporary aberration in global weather.

Perhaps the most interesting of all aspects of this "fuel crisis:" the President of the United States comes directly from the energy sector. He claims a certain expertise in manners concerning energy and some carry-over effect into economics. Believe it or not, a lot of the best economists recommend pursuing Bush's own brand of cure for the environment.
How did this happen energy crisis (again)?
Is it a crisis?
Are current policies sufficient?
If not, what are the alternatives?
What are the environmental costs of an "answer" or of finding no answer.

 

B. Economics 101: Supply and Demand

While a degree in economics will not necessarily make a debater win a debate, some basic knowledge will help with this year's debate.

For every commodity or good, one can graph a "supply and demand graph" (see below). Supply is the willingness of the producers to sell certain quantities of the good. Needless to say, the higher the price, the more they willing the suppliers since for all quantities they sell, they get that same higher price.

Demand measures the willingness to purchase the good. Logically, the lower the price of a good or commodity, the greater willingness of buyers to purchase it. If suppliers literally "give it away," as the Venezuelan government does with gas, everyone buys enormous quantities.

The actual amount of a good to sell or buyers to buy sometimes remains open to question. In general, though, since suppliers of a commodity such as oil spend large sums simply to provide it to the market, one can consider their statistics as fairly reliable. Certain types of buyers, such as factories, provide a fairly reliable and dependable market for sellers. The point here is that, while economists can, from data, construct supply and demand, graphs showing the relations between the two with some accuracy. For example, the drawing presents the supply and demand for oil about 2000.


The energy market circa 2001.


Note the price at about $20 where supply meets demand. This situation, as explained below, obviously benefits the consumers and did not make the producers particularly anxious to explore for new oil sources.

However, demand and supply move CONSTANTLY with price following these changes. Therefore debaters need to know a few of things that effect supply and demand.

Among other factors that shift supply, one can include alternative uses of a raw material, newer methods of production, lower labor costs. A major new find of oil would naturally shift this curve outward, lowering price and increasing consumption. Unrest such as the War in Iraq, civil tensions in Venezuela, and arguments with Russia can all effect supply. As mentioned above, on the local level in the US, hurricanes temporarily shift the supply curve inward, raising prices.

Similarly, a number of factors can increase demand. All of those new SUVs in the US with much worse gas mileage obviously encourage more use of gasoline. However, most economists consider several other factors as significant. Specifically, China and India's industrialization puts them on the world stage as major buyers of petroleum. Even as late as 1990, both countries actually produced all of the oil they needed (believe it or not) due to their modest demands. Further, good economic conditions in general (as explained below), expand the demand for fuel.

Considering some of these factors mentioned above, one arrives at something like today's equilibrium price, pushing $80/barrel, as supply shifted in a bit but more significantly demanded shifted out.


The energy market circa mid 2006.


 

Another factor, however, effects demand: the availability of substitutes. This will have a potentially dramatically effect on the debate topic as oil forms only one of a vast range of energy choices.

The high price of oil, then, results from a combination of supply and demand. In the immediate future, even the most optimistic economists expect relatively little change in the basic situation or the high prices. That leaves it to debaters to come up with proposals to change either supply or demand.

 

C. The American Situation: Economics 101A

Believe it or not, America produces more gasoline than any nation in the world (by far!). Unfortunately, Americans on a per person basis consume far more oil than anyone else. Partly, this results from a geography that both curses and blesses America and partly from national choices.

The blessings come from geographic and climatic riches unmatched in the world. No other nations possesses more economic climate types than America, resulting in a plethora of food resources, making America the world's largest producer of foods. Furthermore, an abundance of mineral wealth leads to the ability to produce almost any goods from raw materials, leading to America's rich industrial sector, which has, in turn, spawned its vibrant service, and high tech sector. As a single nation, the USA can match all of Europe in total GDP and still, if temporarily, surpass that of all of Asia.

Of course, there IS a catch. The United States spans an enormous area, not as large as that of Russia or Canada, but with a very dispersed population. Similarly, its riches come from all over the country, not in one geographic region as with nations such as Saudi Arabia.

These lead to a relatively dispersed population and dispersed resources. To make a contrast, both Japan (with a 1/3 of the US's population) can easily reach all of its major population centers by train. The Europeans, again in contrast, can not only reach all their entire population centers by rail but move all of their major mineral and grain resources as well. Trains move passengers, raw materials, and goods at very inexpensive prices per pound. In contrast, the American passenger railways, with the exception of those on the East Coast, went out of business 50 years ago, and the freight rails can only handle a limited amount of raw materials. To put it another way, nearly every resource used in production and nearly every partially finished good covers part of its journey in a truck, 75% by weight. This means that raising the price of gasoline means raising the price of EVERY good made in America. The more heavy the good, the greater the distance, the more the price goes up.

The same holds for citizens as well. Except on the East Coast, few Americans take a train to work, let alone walk. Of course, lifestyle plays a part. Many Americans prefer to live in the more comfortable suburbs far from the polluted, decaying cities, and cheap oil lets them do this. Raising the price of gas means more of the family budget goes to driving to work and more of the leisure budget goes to the gasoline pump.

Further, all of these problems experienced by Americans do not, as noted above, bother their rivals abroad to the same degree. Even as American good become more expensive to produce, their rivals do not rise by as much, encouraging the purchase of foreign goods. As Americans spend more buying foreign oil, the value of the dollar goes down. In effect, more American money goes abroad.

Put these three things together and you have the economics of a crisis. "Joe American," gets hit from three directions. First, he must pay more for American goods, second he must pay more for gas, and third he must pay more for the imports.

Naturally, this seems to have nothing to do with the environment. Well, not too much. Of course, burning all of these fossil fuels damages the ozone layer, so raising their prices actually improves the pollution situation a bit. However, more to the point here, every proposed alternative, whether to increase the supply of oil, lowering the cost, or to decrease the demand, through alternative fuels, imposes an economic cost. The ideal policy, if one does not consider simply tolerating a worse lifestyle, raises the American standard of living AND improves the environment, IF such a policy exists.

The affirmative's will find and propose such a policy.

The negatives will argue that the current system, the status quo, while not necessarily ideal, does the best job possible.





Defending the Status Quo: What is US Energy Policy?



A. The Status Quo I: Introduction

To use a suitable analogy for this year's topic, one can consider the status quo as consisting as a layer of sediments. This exact same process, of course, led fossil greenery to become oil. Here, to pursue the analogy, the bottom layer also exhibits the most "life" as it exerts the greatest influence on the market.

The surface (the status quo)

Successfully passed and implemented Bush policy initiatives

<-Existing government regulations, laws, taxes, and subsidies on energy, the DoE--->

<----------------------The free market: supply and demand for energy.-------------------------------->

 

B. The Unregulated Free Market

Unlike other countries, the United States "national energy" largely consists of "letting the markets do the work," a distinct contrast to socialist countries such as Venezuela in which the government owns all of the oil or Kuwait. The market, then, in the absence of other interference, determines the price of energy in the United States. Any discussion of altering that "status quo" would entail some sort of a government intervention into the market, which economists generally deplore except under certain circumstances, such as protecting the environment (see below). Thus one can consist of the "bottom layer" of the status quo as the unregulated market.

Having said this, however, one cannot ignore two very important realities. First, the government already possesses literally kilograms of legislation regarding energy. Various Federal agencies pursue the policies outlined in these rules, guidelines, and laws. Most importantly, the Department of Energy, created in wake of the FIRST energy crisis, largely pursues something like a national energy policy.

Department or no, the main effect of the Federal government on energy falls through tax legislation and its mirror image, subsidy legislation. If the free market determines the price of energy, through taxation, the government can influence this production or discourage it. For example, in the wake of Exxonmobile's mammoth profits two years ago, Congress quickly a special tax to take part of that money out of the hands of the stockholders and put it into the government's hands.

Another important reality consists of the fact that the United States works as a Federal government. This means that different states differ substantially in needs. Texas and Oklahoma literally sit on oil. However, California, even in 2001, suffered its own energy crisis, brought on, critics say, by its own supertough environmental laws and restrictions on firms. California holds more than 25% of the entire US population so that a debater might EXCLUSIVELY concentrate on California and prove significance just on this account. Obviously, this also the possibility of counterplans involving the states.



C. Taxation, Regulation, Subsidization, and Government Action

In socialist countries like Sweden and Russia, governmental agencies and supersize corporations like Gasprom "own" the energy market. In effect, the government can simply tell these companies what to do in order to influence policy. In Japan, for example, the government owns all of the nuclear power plants. Note that while relatively little direct action in the energy markets occurs in the US, this does not mean none SHOULD occur. Indeed, democrats in particular argue that the government should directly involve itself in this issue.

The US possess its giants, Exxonmobile, Texaco, Haliburton, etc., but it does not own them. Until the 1980s and the Reagan era, the government did closely oversee the electric industry, i.e., General Electric. Any time GE wanted to raise prices, the government need to agree. This process of close government supervision is called REGULATION.

In general, however, the US policy in place involves taxation and subsidization. Taxation of any good has the effect of raising the cost of such a good and decreasing demand (due to the higher cost). One can picture it as effectively shifting in demand inward. Some countries in contrast to the United States heavily tax gasoline. In Japan, with no oil whatsoever, the government effectively TRIPLES the price of gas through taxation. This discourages ownership of cars, or at least fuel inefficient ones. In addition, the government taxes each size of car sold a larger amount, in effect taxing its fuel use. This somewhat ironically causes car ownership to become a much bigger status symbol among consumers, but it also led to the fact that Japanese cars deliver a tremendous amount of "punch" per liter, largely an effort at responding to taxation.

In distinct contrast, a SUBSIDY, money paid either to consumers of a product or to producers of the same produce encourages production and purchase. Many gasoline producing nations, Nigeria, Kuwait Indonesia, Iraq, and Iran all subsidize the consumption of gasoline as a way of giving some of "gas money" back to consumers. In every case, this led not only to massive, wasteful consumption per person but also consumers smuggling gasoline out of their country for resales, lead to shortages at the pump.

The American market shows a curious mix of subsidies and taxes. On the one hand, the Federal government taxes the producers, so long as they profit, and their stockholders. On the other, they subsidize increased exploration and a wide range of alternative fuel products. For example, a third of the profits on ethnolyl comes from government subsidies to farmers; without it, they would not produce it at all.

The status quo, then, consists of a maze of regulations, subsidies, taxes, and a small amount of direct government action.

Any initiative by an administration, Bush, Clinton, or X either comes as a way of altering some of this maze, cutting away parts of it, or as an attempt to make sense out of it as a "national policy."

 

D. Beating Around the Bush: The Bush "Energy Policy"

The administration of Bill Clinton and George Bush form an interesting set of contrasts, some of them purposeful, on the part of Bush. When Clinton won election, he promised to deal with an existing crisis, health care (the debate topic some years ago). He appointed his wife, his "the best person for the job" to head a task force, and he strongly hinted at a governmental solution to a market problem, i.e., something like the socialized medicine of Canada or the UK. The administration began with a series of very public meetings at which individuals testified as to their health care problem. None of the Clinton initiatives really came to anything, and little happened.

In distinct contrast, when Bush came to office, he tried to tackle a problem, which did not then exist, the lack of a national energy policy. Like Clinton, he picked his "best person," vice-president Cheney, to head a task force. Here the parallels end. The task force met in almost secretive meetings. Instead of individuals showing their "pain," the task force included almost exclusively members of the oil industry. The task force came out with a set of recommendations, which, instead of advocating governmental intervention, recommended getting the government OUT of the picture completely.

The Bush "Energy policy" then is a policy largely in that it advocates cutting away some of the regulations on the industries, less taxation, and, in certain cases, even higher subsidies.

First, Bush asked for an ending of moratoriums on oil drilling in environmentally controversial areas, especially Alaska and the Gulf Coast. In recent legislation, Bush got at least part of what he wanted.

Second, Bush asked that the US increase its usage of nuclear energy. In effect, again, this chose the energy industry over environmental interests. So far, not much has happened on this front.

Bush proposed these changes as a mean of decreasing American dependency on foreign oil. In effect, he argued that more US production meant less importing and less foreign vulnerability. Critics derided his plan as simply giving money to the oil industry.

One can consider the Bush foreign policy as, in some respects, an additional component to this strategy. While ideally, the US would not want to import oil, as a second best it would want to import from politically reliable producers. Before the War with Iraq, one could classify Iraq as an unreliable producer and Iran as well. With a "stable" Iraq, the US would have a trustworthy supplier of oil, particularly if American firms basically ran the industry, as they do today. Unfortunately, the insurgency effectively puts a cap on Iraqi production and Iranian influence in Iraq makes it hardly more reliable as a producer today than 5 years ago.

In a nutshell, or an oil shell, one can classify the Bush policy as a push towards less regulation of the oil industry, increased production, less taxation, as a means of increasing production, especially domestic production. One cannot consider it a particularly radical exaggeration of the trend already underway in American energy production but one of orientation.

 

E. The Environment

Thus far, this reading made occasional but recurring references to the environment. One cannot totally divorce the environment from the discussion of energy. Basically, every unit of energy extracted or produced of energy exacts a toll on the environment.

One can think of it this way. If no regulation existed whatsoever, firms could produce energy in the cheapest way possible. This would result in a lower price of goods, making everyone happier. Furthermore, American actually possesses vast quantities of energy both cheap and available.

This may sound like a paradise until one visits Beijing. Like most Communist governments, the power in the Great Hall put the environment as bottom priority, well below that of avoiding revolution and bolstering the military. This kind of mindset sent Soviet nuclear subs to the Arctic to dump their nuclear wastes out the window. In Beijing a black dust covers the air and citizens suffer what they call "Beijing lung," a permanent cough from breathing coal dust. A hundred years ago London, in a similar state of mind, reeked of dust and soot.

In the 1970s, the environmental movement swept the industrialized countries. No more, the young proclaimed, would firms dump their refuse in rivers or shoot black soot into the air. The parties in America responded, passing a series of regulations designed to protect the environment and, in some cases, to tax polluters according to their crimes. Thus American cars all carry $500 catalytic converters, which more effectively burn pollutants, and every smokestack carries a scrubber to cut down on the emittants.

All of these regulations come at a cost, a cost that most Americans pay without thinking. Regulation raises the prices of American produced goods, the cost of operating an automobile and the cost of living in general. Yet Americans accept this or remain unaware of it.

To a certain extent, also, these regulations effectively transfer pollution and profits to other countries. If an American firm cannot afford the cost of producing a good and paying for its environmental damage, it locates across the river in Mexico. In effect, the Mexicans get paid for enduring a worse environment. In some cases, entire industries simply no longer exist in the United States, Europe, or Japan. Japan, perhaps the master of this technique, pretty much outsources all of its pollution.

The problem with this "solution" to pollution in terms of energy is two-part. First, a goal of most policy change envisions lessening foreign dependence on energy. Second, some forms of energy simply do not transport particularly well or their pollutants contain themselves so easily. For example, few would want a nuclear power plant located across the border in Mexico. The form of energy that transports most easily, ironically enough, is OIL.

This results in a fundamental paradox for any solution to the energy crisis. If such a solution simply advocates "throwing away" American love for the environmental, then no crisis exists in the first place. Experienced debaters will recognize this as a classic "inherency argument."

If, for example, the US wanted to lower the price of energy, it could use coal-fired powerplants without scrubbers and lop of the catalytic converters. Using coal would free up all of the gasoline for use in automobiles, and dumping the converters would raise fuel mileage. Oil prices would drop back to 2001 levels, and pollution would return to the level of the sixties. Obviously, no one images this as a "solution" to the energy crisis!

Debaters, then, cannot IGNORE the environmental in their solution and the negative side needs to take these values to account. In short, any solution must either:

(1) Not make the environment fundamentally worse or more reasonably

(2) Show benefits in terms of energy independence that substantially outweigh the environmental degradation that may occur.

Having discussed the "status quo," one can start to explore possible "harms" of the current situation that an affirmative might want to consider.





III. Harms of the Status Quo



A. Introduction

For any debate plan, the affirmative needs to assert a set of harms. Sometimes, the debate topic elicits an agreed upon set of harms. For example, the debate topic on health care started with nearly every affirmative talking about people dying due to unaffordable (not unavailable) health care. Any plan, then, needed to somehow decrease the harms to their health.

Similarly, in the topic regarding the homeless, every affirmative started with the spectacle of the homeless living on America's streets in peril. Every affirmative tried to get them off the street in an affordable, reasonable way.

Not all topics, however, particularly foreign policy and science subjects, elicit the same consensus. Last year, Kuwait debated the topic of "changing policy towards the Moslem world." Within that topic, the affirmative could debate topics as diverse as changing religious education to invading Saudi Arabia. The topic created a wide variety of harms, and it became as much the affirmative's responsibility to debate the harms as their solution.

Similarly, 15 years ago, the topic involved substantially changing US policy towards space. Some sides asserted the need for greater exploitation while others wanted less. Some actually wanted to substantially increases NASA's funding while others wanted to eliminate it altogether.

This year's topic creates a rather unique situation in that involves three different set of generally-agreed upon potential harms that all inter-relate. In other words, a single problem may cause any or all of them. More confusing, as already indicated above, improving the situation in one might involve making it worse in another.

Correspondingly, many affirmatives will likely choose their solution first and then find the harms it best addresses. The affirmative, though, will need to prove the importance of their harms and the relevance of choosing one set ahead of another. This unique situation occurs because this issue appears on the "national agenda" (i.e. important politicians wish to discuss it) for distinctly different reasons, and the policymakers’ motivation often as not does not follow strict party lines.

Having said this, logically every plan will address at least ONE of the following three directly and an affirmative must defend their plan against any "counterharms" caused by negative effects on the other three. These three sets of harms include: (a) economic, (b) political, and (c) environmental

 


B. Economic Harms of Current Energy Policy

As indicated above, Bush and others brought this agenda to the forefront initially for these reasons and the subsequent skyrocketing of the price of oil brought this to everyone's attention.

As touched upon in the earlier situations, higher energy prices put a drag on American production in all forms. This occurs partly due to the transportation by truck mentioned above. Further, as mentioned below, since foreign oil fires some powerplants, this means a generally higher price for energy.

The secondary effect includes the direct costs to taxpayers. Not only do they pay higher prices for US goods; they all consume gasoline for their cars. Further, like the firms above, many use gasoline to heat their houses. The higher price means a cost in their standard of living.

This reading constantly mentions gasoline, but these higher prices also include prices for gasoline derived products such as plastics.

An affirmative policy targeting the high price of gasoline would do so either directly or indirectly by lower the cost of alternatives OR decreasing demand, which would have the same effect.



C. Political Harms of the Current Energy Policy

Contrary to popular theory, as mentioned above, the US produces a large amount of oil, coal, and other fuels. Unfortunately, it imports a higher percentage of its energy with each passing year. This makes the US particularly vulnerable to political events that happen in major oil producers, including OPEC nations (the Gulf States, Venezuela, Iran, and Iraq) and in major non-OPEC producers such as Russia, Nigeria, the North Sea (Norway/UK), and potential producers in Central Asia and Africa.

Furthermore, it makes America's relations with major consumers increasingly important. This includes Europe and Japan, but also increasingly thirsty China and India. Remember that a decrease in consumption by these nations effectively decreases demand-making oil cheaper in the US. However, the world economy, which once rode upon the three "engines" of Europe, Japan (and the Little Dragons of ASEAN), and US, now rides on Four or Five Engines. While growth in the US/Europe/Japan did little in the 1990s, India and China made up for it. Wishing a recession on India would leave fewer consumers of American exports. Thus, most affirmatives will concentrate on relations with producers, not fellow consumers.

Affirmatives pursuing this line of thought will pay attention to the Democrats, especially, who claim a harm ALREADY exists. Like many Middle Easterners, they believe that the US attacked Iraq for oil, and while Arabs see an American conspiracy, the Democrats see a conspiracy of particular Americans, i.e. Cheney, Bush, and their oil partners who substantially benefit from the war in terms of oil contracts even as the American public pay for their War.

Many, indeed, argue that a harm already exists. They claim that the US basically supports bankrupt/repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf because the US needs their oil. Democrats in particular argue that US purchases of oil prohibit democracy. Buy less Middle Eastern oil, they claim, and democracy would come to the Middle East and elsewhere, as the regime can no longer buy oil. For their "nightmare scenario," they recall that during the 1973 Israeli War, an Arab oil embargo dramatically raised the price of oil. With oil markets currently so tight, and Israel and Iran making belligerent remarks, this scenario does not seem unbelievable at all.

Other lines of thought pursue a different tack. Oil, they cynically argue, always creates a small group who uses the money to stay in power and enjoy it benefits. They argue that the Nigerian dictatorship, the coup in Venezuela, and even the Islamic regime in Iran all stand to reason. Rather than trying to get rid of dictators, the US should take no opinion on them other than whether to buy at the price they offer. They would argue that less US dependence on foreign oil could just as easily result from buying Iranian oil, coming to peace with Castro in Cuba (who possesses large amounts of recently discovered offshore oil), and making deals with Hugo Chavez. A less political policy would achieve the same ends as a more political one.

Others may pursue some variation of these schemes. Some may argue less foreign purchase coupled with a wider variety. Some would cut a deal with Iran while cutting out Hugo Chavez. Basically, all, however, wish to make the US less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and the unending problems of the region, by making foreign policy/energy policy changes.



D. Environmental Harms of the Current Energy Policy

As indicated above, the environment usually figures as a constraining factor on current energy production. However, it can also figure as either (1) its own set of harms or (2) counterharms on any policy choices above.

Some argue that the current energy policy ALREADY creates a set of harms. To take a simple example, they talk about the US's failure to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which would set a series of targets for nations in terms of carbon pollutants. The US puts out more CO2, which destroys the ozone and causes global warming, than any other nation. In defense of the Bush regime, which refused to sign, they do not attack the GOALS of Kyoto, but the methods, which they consider flawed. However, in the absence of any treaty, all nations continue to pollute. Similarly, drilling in the Alaskan wilderness causes environmental damage, exemplified by the Exxon Valdez oil spill some years ago. The list goes on. An affirmative may easily argue that current US policy, either through allowing too much use of energy or usage of the WRONG energy, allows this destruction to go forward.

Clearly, though, one can see how the environment figures into other harms cited above. Consider an affirmative plan to use (a) less foreign oil and (b) more electric cars. The logical and cheapest way to produce electricity comes from mine coal, and the cheapest method of mining coal uses strip mining. The affirmative's plan would dramatically decrease the local price of gasoline, but at the cost of putting coal pollution into the air OR expensively taking steps to counteract such pollution. Any sharp negative will ask if the cost of such anti-pollution technology costs more money than simply buying foreign oil.

Similarly, the same holds true for any dramatic switch in foreign policy. Increasing the purchase of a wider variety of foreign energy products brings about the possibility the suppliers may use the cheapest, most polluting means, of obtaining such energy. Alternatively, simply producing more energy in the US brings about the question as to how the US will generate such energy and at what cost to the environment.

 

E. The Triangle of Harms

As indicated above, then, any solution to the "oil problem" will mean considering all three sets of harms simultaneously. An affirmative may, for example, simply go after the third harms, environmental, by themselves.

Typically, however, the affirmative will pursue some set of harms involving a set of all three that goes together.

Affirmatives, however, keep this in mind. The best minds of government came up with the status quo, and it exerted a certain logic, particularly economic, since supply and demand causes a great part of US policy. To put this another way: If a magic solution to the energy problem existed, firms would already be selling it to the USA. Thus, one can assume that substantial obstacles exist to any policy alternative. After all, none of the proposed solutions in 1982 came about except to a minor degree.

 

 



IV. Policy Alternatives to the Status Quo


A. Introduction

As mentioned above, many will invert the normal order of operations and start out with a preferred solution and then try to find some harms to support it.

 

B. Alternative sources of energy

To many, this will immediately occur as at least some portion of their proposed solution. Basically, the more energy consumed of something other than oil, the less pressure on oil resources, whether imported or not. The problem, however, arises from a certain inherency argument: If these alternatives held such promise, someone outside the government would already propose them, unless, as one can argue with something like fusion, the costs involved to start up effectively REQUIRE governmental intervention. In fact, each of these alternatives poses disadvantages, some of them severe, against their uses, and many of them again come from environmental harms. To go quickly through a short list:

Note that all of the alternative below cost more per liter (or BTU for electricity generation) than foreign or domestic alcohol. However, this does not mean the affirmative cannot either (a) find studies disputing these costs or (b) proposes ways to lower these costs or (c) assert that regulations CAUSE the higher prices.

 

1. Nuclear energy

Obviously, this uses no imported oil, and the US possesses ample, if not unending nuclear resources. The hitch lies in either, depending on whom one believes the environmental harms of nuclear energy or the harms of FEAR of nuclear energy. Nuclear accidents, even such as that transporting nuclear fuel as occurred in Japan, pose enormous risks. On the other hand, nuclear advocates claims these risks vastly exaggerate the dangers and that, in fact, fear of these dangers and the almost UNENDING series of environmental checks a plant must undergo before operation really prevent the industry from starting. Due to the legal costs, the US opened ZERO nuclear plants since 1978. During this period, nuclear generation became Japan and Sweden's most important power sources.

 

2. Natural gas

The US also possesses an abundance of natural gas though, as the situation in California proved, delivery can prove a problem. Countries other than US actually use natural gas to power vehicles, but the conversion kits do not cost anything. They add to the cost of every vehicle. Natural gas does not transport easily, but in this case, that makes for something of a benefit since it prevents exporting to other countries if the affirmative concentrates on energy independence.

 

3. Solar and wind power

A couple of very attractive alternatives, again, to conventional generation, both almost reek of environmental friendliness. This may explain their popularity with California and with the Federal government. Few taxpayers would put solar systems into their houses without the generous Federal subsidies to those who do. Both pose substantial problems in terms of storage. How does one heat a cold house in Michigan on a windless, overcast evening? Even their fondest advocates claim that they can only solve a part of the problem, but if this part constitutes a SUBSTANTIAL part, then proceed.

 

4. Fussion and Fuel cells

These two belong together and both need substantial technical breakthroughs to become feasible. In even the best fusion experiments, more energy went in than went out (like the US budget), meaning no gains. Fuel cells, which can actually go on cars and larger structures burn very small amounts gasoline, but rely on heating hydrogen. Ten years ago appropriate technology lay ten years away. It remains so today! An affirmative advocate either of these would need to propose technical breakthroughs.

 

5. Coal

Sure enough, America possesses lots of it. Further the US possesses a reasonable technology to make it clean...at a price. Even cars can run on the coal. The problem relates to either (a) the cost of making it "clean" or (b) the cost to the environment

 

6. "Gasohol," "Alcool," and "Ethnol"

Like early cars, Brazilian cars today can run on "Alcool," a fuel made from grain alcohol. America grows lots of corn [and without burning the rain forest]; hence American cars can run on "Ethly," a blend using 20% grain. This makes for a particularly patriotic fuel as it involves purchases from America's farmers instead of "evil" Arabs or corrupt African dictators. The problems come from two things: (1) first, it costs three times as much per gallon of pure ethyl as per foreign oil and (2) the more food burned, the less eaten. Perhaps obviously, farmers receive a generous tax subsidy to grow and ethyl. Further, taking all of the grain off the American market raises prices for farm produce. Naturally, the farm states' Senators trumpet this idea very loudly, and the Senate passed the price subsidies.

7. Other?

Lots of other good ideas for alternative energy exist. Undoubtedly, the affirmative will come up with them.

 


C. Conservation, Decreased Usage, Etc.


1. Introduction

During the recent energy crisis, Japan suffered the same as America. Given the fragile state of the Japanese economy, politicians predicted Japan would reenter recession. Much to their surprise, increased fuel prices actually resulted over time in spending LESS on energy. In other words, the Japanese reacted to the higher prices with almost ruthless amounts of conservation. Their economic resurgence continued.

Advocates of this approach argue that to some degree Americans corporate and individual will naturally reduce their use of oil. However, an affirmative could encourage such conversation. To cite a simple example, during the LAST energy crisis, American appliance makers turned to much more fuel-efficient refrigerators [forget your computer, your refrigerator eats up the current], leading to a natural decrease in electricity. At the same time, governments and schools lowered the temperatures in all buildings.

More forcefully, the government set tougher fuel standards on US vehicles. These standards resulted in increasingly lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles until, with low prices in the 1990s, the government effectively froze those standards.

Similarly, the government gave a tax break to any taxpayer that insulated his house. Surely this encouraged reluctant taxpayers, but it also made the average home 10-15% more fuel-efficient.

 

2. Taxes and Subsidies

Obviously, the government could more aggressively tax fuel wasters and award conservers. This, by the way, effectively explains the Bush government's own proposed solution to global warming: taxing pollution to encourage polluters to think of the most creative means of avoiding the taxes. Taxation, particularly, can help as the government can use the money for other energy-related purposes.

The affirmative choosing this approach needs only identify whom to tax.



3. More radical government action to decrease demand

The Americans who live in the suburbs work in the city. The American who lives in the city generally doesn’t work at all. This leads to the endless procession of cars driving at low, inefficient speeds in and out of the cities. Obviously, the government could simply force those who work in the city to live in the city or encourage businesses to move outward to the suburbs. It can also "encourage" mass transportation, car-pooling, etc.





D. The REST of the Bush solution: Increasing Supply

As indicated above, the Bush solution constitutes PART of the status quo, but a lot of the Bush proposals remain just that. Importantly, the Bush administrations' ideas differ markedly from those in C+D. These propose to DECREASE demand via conservation through alternative sources; the Bush regime wants to INCRASE SUPPLY. A leftward shift of the supply curve would not only decrease price but increase usage. This means that it would automatically carry with it the environmental costs of increased drilling for oil, whether in Alaska (recently passed), off the Gulf Coast, or elsewhere. The affirmative, if it proposes a SIGNIFICANT increase in supply, must argue that its supply comes at not so high a cost.


1. Refineries

As recently noted, however, one can't consider the "Supply Problem" as simply dealing with exploration. A single hurricane can devastate the US market because the US possesses only a limited number of refineries. As noted in many economic surveys, refineries make only modest profits FAR LESS than if the same firm explored for oil. As a result, the US has not built an oil refinery in TWENTY YEARS. Some go so far as to claim that refineries ARE the problem, not the oil itself.

Gulf countries have recently started building new refineries, but using them would not solve the political problems above.


2. New resources in the USA

As indicated above, an affirmative could go after sources in the Alaskan wilderness, the Gulf Coast, or elsewhere. However, most of these initiatives recently passed in Bush's energy bill.


3. Going elsewhere

Imagine that Iran and the US suddenly became allies again. Such a move would lower the price of oil in the US (though obviously the US would need to accept a nuclear Iran, something of a nightmare to Israel and its neighbors). More creative affirmatives could look at oil in Africa, overthrowing the Chavez government, or violating international law and drilling off Cuba's indefensible coasts.

 

E. Excluded Topics

In order to simplify the ground covered, this year several subjects will be excluded:

(1)Wars in the Middle East

In the past these formed the subject of some debate plans regarding Iraq. Experts predicted little would change in terms of supply and demand. These predictions largely proved correct. Further, debating such plans would involve an almost endless series of military "What-ifs."

(2)Iraq

Iraq seemed to have not come has much effect on the oil market beyond that already figured into the Status quo. Hence, it seems wasteful to debate it again.

 

F. Other topics

If you have any other questions regarding topics, please email me.