Columns / Discourse / February 13, 2013

Sally Jewell nominated for Secretary of Interior: How the environment can help the markets

Environmental issues don’t get much media attention. The only major issues that the press constantly brings up are either drowning polar bears and/or melting ice caps. That kind of reporting gets an audience; however, there is a lot more to the issue than that.

Environmental policy should not solely revolve around climate change. The environment can go hand in hand with the recession. As obtuse as it may be, there is still unclear scientific data for the government to commit to a specific set of policies that may in the end hurt industries and squander jobs.

There are simple fixes that the government can take that can help both the environment and the economy.

The government can promote an even playing field where all energy industries are treated the same. Major gas corporations still acquire significant tax breaks and subsidies that should not be given in the first place. The government currently debated to cut $20 billion in tax breaks from gas companies but unfortunately failed.

It’s not just big oil companies. This includes major farms and industries that are given special treatment to develop wind farms, along with major farms that get subsidies to produce ethanol and host wind energy, including solar energy.

Gas companies received $72 billion comparing to renewable energies’ $29 billion from 2002 to 2008. That number remained the same for the year 2012. Both should compete fairly.

The difference lies in the costs for fossil fuels and non-fossil fuels. The Energy Information Administration shows that renewable energy sources are far too expensive for consumers. The cost per megawatt-hour for natural gas is $66.1 comparing to solar thermal’s $242 and wind’s $96. These prices remain high due to no competition.

The economy is changing though. The good news is that renewable energy industries are picking up in profits in the markets. The government should promote all energy sources by allowing them to compete.

For example, natural gas is booming. North Dakota, a state abundant with natural gas, has a 3.2 unemployment rate due to the robust economic development. Natural gas is cleaner than fossil fuels and can compete with big gas companies. Natural gas can also be used as automobile fuel but is still not given permission by the government. This would compete against conventional fossil fuels.

President Obama can shake things up. His appointment to the Interior Department should advocate more free market solutions while improving the environment. Senators should ask Obama’s new nominee, Sally Jewell, whether the federal government will end government subsidies or not and whether environmental policies will conflict or compliment the recession?

Sally Jewell is both a chief executive of Recreational Equipment and a former oil company engineer. She can use both her entrepreneurial experience and conservation passion to promote a policy that helps the environment and the economic crisis.

The energy market should be up to the forces of the free-market. No industry should get special treatment from the government. If an industry cannot survive at the hands of consumers, then it’s not ready to perform. Jewell should address the myth that environmental policy is dangerous to economic policy.

As for Republican senators, they should be open to discourse and push for both an eco-friendly and economically friendly agenda instead of debating climate change. Ms. Jewell’s vision for environmentalism is vital, but the American people are more interested in what the government can do right away.

Less politics and more substance — that’s what matters.

Tags:  Department of Interior energy environment industry Jewell jobs Recreational Equipment Secretary of Interior

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