When the GOP tries to get serious

WHEN THE GOP TRIES TO GET SERIOUS…. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today on energy policy, and I really like the headline: “An Energy Strategy for Grown-Ups.” What’s not to like? So much of our political discourse seems child-like, so if good ol’ Lamar Alexander wants to bring some maturity to the debate, I’m delighted.

To that end, the op-ed includes “10 steps for thoughtful grown-ups” to embrace “if we want both clean energy and a high standard of living.” Several of the points are shallow but unobjectionable (“Figure out what went wrong and make it unlikely to happen again”), and some are predictable for a GOP lawmaker (“If we need more green electricity, build nuclear plants”). Alexander manages to write 700 words about energy policy without mentioning climate change or global warming at all, but since Republicans have decided to reject science altogether, this shouldn’t be too surprising.

Alexander runs into trouble, though, when he contradicts himself and fails to think things through. On his list, #7 downplays the importance of wind power as a way to reduce oil dependence because wind generates “electricity — not transportation fuel.” But in the same op-ed, Alexander calls for electrifying half the nation’s cars and trucks. Jon Chait tries to help him understand the problem.

You see, Senator, if half our cars are electric, then electricity would be transportation fuel. Still with me? No? Okay, I’ll break it down. The wind would turn the windmills round and round. This would generate electricity, which would be sent to people’s houses through wires. The electricity could then be used to run electric cars.

This is not the only problem with Alexander’s piece. He outlines goals, like increasing conservation and electrifying half the automobile fleet — but he has absolutely nothing about how to obtain these goals. His electric car plan is literally what you read above: “Electrify half our cars and trucks.” Who would do this? How? He does not say. Cars and trucks run on gasoline because gasoline is the cheapest fuel available. If you wanted half the cars to run on electric power, you’d have to change this so that gasoline was no longer the cheapest fuel available. It could be a tax on carbon emissions, enormous subsidies for electric batteries, regulatory fiat, something. Likewise, if you want people to conserve energy, you need to increase the cost of using energy.

I’m not sure how you have a debate with people like this.

I wonder the same thing, every day, about every issue.

Indeed, Alexander’s op-ed went on to say that officials should “find a way for utilities to make money from the CO2 produced by their coal plants.”

What a great idea! Kevin Drum explained, “There’s just gotta be something we can do with all that CO2! I dunno. Freeze it and sell it to Spinal Tap for their live shows? Mount a campaign to increase soda sales a hundred million percent? Build a time machine and then hire some alchemists to figure out how to turn it into liquid gold? Honest to God, where does this stuff come from?

Remember, Lamar Alexander is not only supposed to be one of the more responsible members of the Senate Republican caucus, but the piece was labeled, “An Energy Strategy for Grown-Ups.”

Grown-ups who don’t really understand energy policy and brush over inconvenient details, perhaps?