NPR’s Morning Edition had an item on Wednesday about the major-party candidates’ energy plans. They talked with a professor from MIT:
An economics professor, talking about energy? They don’t make clear why he’s an “expert” in this field, but, still, I eagerly listened to Professor Pindyck’s analysis of the two candidates’ plans.
Expert Assesses Candidates’ Energy PlansMorning Edition, July 16, 2008 — Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his Republican challenger John McCain have proposals for dealing with the tight supply of oil. Steve Inskeep talks with Bob Pindyck, a professor of economics and finance at MIT, about whether the candidates’ energy plans would make a difference as Americans face rising energy costs.
He likes an idea that John McCain supports, of removing the tariff on Brazilian ethanol (made from sugar cane) for adding to gasoline, to provide a cheaper alternative to making our own ethanol from corn. Barack Obama opposes that idea, and Prof. Pindyck figures it’s political pressure from middle-America corn farmers, looking to keep the price of corn high, that’s the reason for his opposition.
I’m not convinced. I see, now, where his expertise is: he’s looking at it from an economics point of view, which is, after all, one of the primary issues right now — the price of fuel. But he’s just speculating on Senator Obama’s reasons for opposition; he says, “I think that, politically, it’s hard”. Has he considered other reasons? Does he have any statements from Barack Obama about this?
When asked directly about his opinions on Senator Obama’s plans, Professor Pindyck begins, “You know, it’s all very vague.” Oh, that’s not good; vague is not good. Tell me more about that. Prof. Pindyck does:
He talks about providing subsidies to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and it’s not clear what those subsidies would look like, where they would go. And in addition, it’s not going to have a large impact, and any impact it has is many years away. So that’s the big problem with that.
Hm. Subsidizing the development of renewable energy sources doesn’t sound vague at all. And it sounds to me like a fine start. But you know what does sound vague? The statement that “it’s not going to have a large impact.” Any more detail on that, Professor? Anything to back it up?
Well, Steve Inskeep does press him on that point:
NPR: What do you mean, "not going to have a large impact"? Because we were talking the other day to a guy who’s investing in wind farms, and he’s saying there’s enough wind in the Dakotas to run the entire United States.
Pindyck: Well, that’s a nice assertion. I’m not sure that’s true, though. Look, wind energy to produce electricity is something that’s going to be part of our energy mix in the future. It’s not going to produce all our electricity; it’ll produce something. It has its own environmental issues. As you might know, there are proposals to build wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts. There are a lot of groups that oppose that, because they think it won’t look nice, it’ll destroy the view.
I’ll note that he hasn’t answered the “large impact” question, but has just focused on one aspect of using wind power. Perhaps that’s because he’s not an expert on renewable energy sources, energy production, or environmental issues. So his contention is that subsidies to developers of wind power will not have a large impact because wind power will “produce something”, but, he implies, not much. It’s a nice assertion, but, again, he doesn’t support his statement.
He then goes on to talk about increased use of nuclear energy — which John McCain supports, and Barack Obama does not. Are we seeing a pattern, here?
I have to include one more quote from the Professor:
There are very few ways you can produce electricity without using fossil fuels, and nuclear is one of them.Well, yes, that’s true — and, in fact, I, too, think we have to continue using nuclear power as we work on developing other sources. But he completely dismisses the other renewable energy sources. There are a few ways you can produce electricity without using fossil fuels, and wind, water, and solar generation are some of them. It’s OK to tell us that research and development in those areas is not practical, but you have to back such a statement up. Otherwise, you’re just being vague.
What a misdirected, misdescribed article! There’s nothing wrong with having this guy on the radio and hearing what he has to say. But don’t bill him as an “expert” who’s making an “assessment” of the two sides. Here, let me rewrite the headline and the lede:
McCain Supporter Opines On Candidates’ Energy PlansPresumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his Republican challenger John McCain have proposals for dealing with the tight supply of oil. Steve Inskeep talks with Bob Pindyck, a supporter of John McCain, about what he thinks of the candidates’ energy plans as Americans face rising energy costs.
There. That’s better.