Molly Ivins

Flaking Democrats, Cockroaching Republicans

Oh, great. The most important thing to happen in politics in years and it has a sexy name like “the non-severability clause” of the equally sexy-sounding campaign finance reform bill. Try selling the passionate importance of that one: “Give me severability or give me death!”

While the U.S. Senate lurches toward campaign finance reform, with everything riding on this one obscure provision, we’ve got flaking Democrats (thanks, Sen. Clinton) and cockroaching Republicans (to cockroach–a Texas political verb stemming from longtime UT coach Darrell Royal’s observation that the trouble with cockroaches isn’t “what they eat and carry off; it’s what they fall into and mess up”). And one glorious demagogue in Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Meanwhile, the administration’s “Back to the Future” approach to everything took a fresh wing when Veep Dick Cheney appeared on television to tout a solution to our energy problems: nuclear power! “If you want to do something about carbon dioxide emissions, then you ought to build nuclear power plants, because they don’t emit any.” True. They just have this one small downside–highly radioactive waste that has a half-life of tens of thousands of years, and no one has figured out a way to dispose of it safely. Mankind produces other garbage, including toxic garbage, that we don’t know how to dispose of or disarm, but nothing that’s this dangerous for this long.

We have been proceeding on the cheerful Micawberite theory that “something will turn up,” but you can’t buy insurance on that. To most people, producing increasingly huge piles of radioactive waste–which have already polluted places like Hanford, Wash.; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Paducah, Ky.–just doesn’t seem… smart.

The Bush administration is currently considering a plan to cut $400 million from the clean-up funds for recycled uranium sites for nuclear weapons and power while the costs of clean-up are still escalating.

If you think we’ve got NIMBY (not in my back yard) problems now, try building a new nuke power plant. As our experience in Texas has shown, nukes are not cost-effective; financial disaster is closer to the mark. (I always thought we could solve the NIMBY problem by building power plants, chemical plants, and such in the backyards of their CEOs and directors. People who explain to you that life involves risk, and that we should all be prepared to face some risks for the greater good, should be required to name which one of their children they want to see exposed to the risk in question.)

This oilman-heavy administration is looking for solutions in oil, gas and coal–the extractive industries. That there might be a better way to do it does not seem to register on their radar. Just for starters, the current Harper’s index of useful numbers in the magazine of that name offers:

Gallons by which daily U.S. oil consumption would drop if SUVs’ average fuel efficiency increased by 3 mpg: 49,000,000.Gallons per day that the proposed drilling of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is projected to yield: 42,000,000.

Fuel conservation alone, whether by increasing taxes on gasoline or by moving forward on the long-delayed fuel-efficiency requirements for automobiles, would seem a smarter move than increasing the risk of global warming.

In a recent speech, Bush touted: “Our people must read better. They must calculate faster and more accurately. They must understand science more deeply.”

Good advice for everyone, including the president.

His budget math doesn’t add up. He seems to think that the only way to solve energy problems is by degrading the environment, and let’s not get started on his reading problem. (I did like his new word, “Hispanically,” though–I feel that’s a contribution.)

The concept of investing in renewable energy resources–solar, hydro, steam, wind–seems not to impinge on our current leadership. Yet it is perfectly feasible and much cheaper than such pets of the extractive industries as mining shale oil.

New Zealand, admittedly a land blessed with hydro resources, has invested heavily in renewable energy. It gets 67.9 percent of its total electricity from hydroelectric sources.

On another topic entirely, Bill Moyers recently had a stunning documentary on PBS. “Trade Secrets” is based on a mountain of documents from the chemical industry making it appallingly clear that the industry knew the dangers of PCBs, benzene, and other highly toxic products years before they told their own workers or the public. Chemical industry reps promptly complained that they had not been included in the documentary. (They were on a post-program panel.) Hell, the entire program is based on their words.

Again, I’d just want them to choose which one of their children they want breathing benzene fumes and standing in PCBs.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her book with Louis Dubose (Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush) is out in paperback. You may write her at [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST