Over the past few days, a strange and unexpected role reversal has come into focus in the realm of international energy policies.
On September 21, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of the “Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act,” an aggressively anti-environment call which, despite the lofty title, represents a shrill call to live in the past.
The bill, in fact, had far less to do with protecting all those precious lung-destroying jobs in Appalachia than it did in defending the corporate interests of coal and other fossil fuel industries.
Loyalty at a price: the bill’s chief sponsor, Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, receives more money from the the coal, oil, and mining industry than from any other industry: his single largest financier is Murray Coal — the largest coal corporation in the US. (Details of his contributions, here.)
The bill, called ‘the worst environmental bill’ ever, seeks to strip away fundamental public-health safeguards, many of them in place for decades, including the ban of mercury emissions from power plants and CO2 emissions from cars. It even strips away standards on coal waste disposal — standards which limit exposure to some of the most toxic of all industrial waste products: cadmium, arsenic, and berrilyum, for example – laying bare as a striped mountaintop the lie that the bill’s sponsors care about coal miners.
This serves one purpose only: to make the continued industrial use of coal and other highly potent greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuels economically feasible for the corporations behind them — regardless of the the climate change or public health implications (the latter being estimated at $345 billion in direct public health costs of coal combustion by Harvard Medical).
That’s the United States House of Representatives in 2012.
Meanwhile, in another society, far away, community leaders are moving in another direction — the direction of the future — lessoning the country’s dependence on fossil fuels while embracing the promise of renewables, especially solar power.
Which tree-hugging, anti-oil, liberal communist society of environmental alarmists might be doing this?
The world’s largest exporter of oil, Saudi Arabia, is now turning its sights to the sun. It has announced an ambitious plan to generate up to 1/3 of it’s entire electrical needs from solar energy within 20 years, by 2032. The Kingdom has set a target — 41 GW of solar capacity — which represents “as much energy as it pumps out of the ground and exports in the form of crude oil,” according to Viridor, a UK–based energy and waste managment firm.
One of the first stages in this transition will soon be underway in Mecca — the large city in the nation, populated by two million people, and one of the holiest sites in Islam. The Mayor, Osama al-Bar, has announced that the city is now taking bids on the construction and operation of large-scale solar facilities as part of the nation-wide plans to shift toward solar power.
The national plan involves an investment of $109 billion – to raise the national capacity to meet the 41 GW goal in 2032. To put this in perspective, the world total for solar energy investments last year was just slightly more – $136 billion, according to Bloomberg.
The Saudi kingdom’s plans for solar may go beyond it’s domestic energy needs. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi has predicted the nation could technically produce enough solar power to meet four times current world electricity demand. The UK’s BusinessGreen reports: “… the Saudi kingdom could well could become an exporter of renewable energy potentially saving the equivalent of more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
That’s Saudi Arabia in 2012.
So, even as recent reports confirm the rapidly declining arctic sea-ice, the collapse of the global coral reef system, rising sea levels, and more; as atmospheric scientists proclaim “we now are in unchartered territory” vis/vis the extreme effects of climate change; as this is accepted by nearly universal consensus in the global scientific community as the result of excessive greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, which, if left unabated, will initiate even more dramatic climate effects with profound effects on the quality of life of the children of our world (that includes Oklahoma too, Mr. Inhofe); in the midst of all this, the US House of Representatives is stuck in the tar-sands-like goo of the fossil-fuel past, denying science, public health, and climate change realities, while remaining loyal to a dinosaur industry which inevitably must cease. Meanwhile, countries like Saudi Arabia – SAUDI ARABIA of all places – where women still aren’t allowed to drive cars – leap ahead in progressive energy policies.
Thank you, US House of Representatives — for being the laughing stock of the world.
- H.R. 3409 – The “Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act”
- The Guardian
Image: Sunny Saudi Arabia via Shutterstock
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.