Congressman Anthony Weiner is the most recent politician to tweet himself down the political toilet with photos that are tacky and gross. But for mind-boggling inappropriateness, Weiner's spree was topped by a fully naked toot of political pandering on behalf of fossil fuels.
And it was done by Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs when he tried to eliminate all funding for Colorado's National Renewable Energy Laboratories. NREL employs 2,300 people and, with the help of over a hundred million in private contracts, it boosts our state's economy by over $700 million.
Lamborn's gesture was made within weeks of voting to maintain billions in subsidies for big oil companies. Joining a team of nine Republicans asking for the complete dismantling of the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy which funds NREL, he signed a letter to a House subcommittee with this bit of jaw-dropping nonsense: "We should not follow the president's poor planning in increasing the funding for these anti-energy boondoggles."
Anti-energy? Perhaps the thought is that efficiency is anti-energy -- even though every family, and especially companies like WalMart, know that the cheapest energy is the energy you don't need in the first place. Remember that, conservatives?
Walmart has pledged to be efficient and sustainable throughout its operations and supply chain, with milestones such as saving $25 million per year by installing devices that limit truck idling, and selling 100 million CFLs in 2007, which would save customers about $3 billion in electricity, enough to power the city of Philadelphia. To know more about Walmart and other Fortune 100 companies raking profits through sustainability, read Climate Capitalism by my friend Hunter Lovins.
However, with few exceptions, today's Republican mind seems to be stuck in Dick Cheney's basement, where if you don't toe the pro-fossils, pro-consumption line you're liable to get shot in the face. Really, the free market of lobbying has spoken: the flow of campaign riches from fossil fuels to Republican officials is three times that given to Democrats.
Since the mid terms, the Republican stand seems to be that more oil is better and damn the climate and all the fuss about spills. And to heck with asthma and other chronic ailments directly linked to automotive pollution -- which along with coal use is bloating our nation's health care costs by hundreds of billions per year according to two well-funded studies (see here and here). And those costs pour directly over to our deficits.
On the president's aim for this nation to seize the energy "Sputnik moment," Lamborn's said: "I welcome the president's desire to have more energy, but a lot of his plan is based on tried and failed strategies in the past," adding that renewable energy "is not something that is available yet and is more wishful thinking."
This is a deeply addled statement for a Colorado pol whose state saw economic growth in only one sector lately -- clean energy. And his party's most dependable source of electoral votes for presidential races, the great state of Texas, is the planet's sixth largest source of wind power. Texas gets one-twelfth of its power from wind turbines, in a program started by Governor George W. Bush.
The disconnect between Mr. Lamborn and political reality deepens when one considers that his voting district and funding base are dominated by military personnel and defense contractors. The reality here is that the US military has targeted a goal of 50 percent renewable power by 2020, and energy efficiency is high on the list because the US military uses nearly 80 percent of the federal government's energy consumption. Bases in this nation are now installing solar capacity in the hundreds of megawatts; and the Air Force Academy in Lamborn's district now gains 11 percent of its power from a newly commissioned solar field. The Academy has a goal of 100 percent renewable energy in 2020.
And some outposts in the Middle East are now powered and cooled with solar electricity, with some marines sporting solar panels on their packs so they can carry less in the way of batteries for their high-tech equipment, and in turn they can carry more ammo.
So Mr. Lamborn, who's the new defense contractor in town? Solar companies.
And which lab in Colorado has numerous contracts with Department of Defense installations in Colorado Springs, to enhance their energy performance with renewables and micro grids? NREL.
The hue and cry from Coloradans over Lamborn's lame error has been so sharp -- from all corners -- that Lamborn has made an immediate though transparently lame correction. He has said he didn't know that NREL was funded by the EERE department of DOE. D'oh!
Well he can run, but he cannot hide; the Pentagon, which rules the military chunk of his district, has announced its intention to reorder its operations with goals and protocols to get away from the use of oil in a plan called Operational Energy Strategy. Research from Pike Research has drilled down in this development, finding that "officials up and down the chain of command at DoD have been forthcoming about the need for the U.S. military to transition out of oil and into safer and more readily available forms of energy," according to Reuters.
The military's need for renewable power is clear -- it's to push back on oil dependency for distant bases where transporting oil is a distinct killer of troops. Such oil costs from $20 to $1000 per gallon and comprises between 30-80 percent of every convoy's load.
On another economic note, thanks to Republican disdain for investing in renewable and efficient technologies through consistent policy such as a national renewable energy standard, or a ten or twenty-year production tax credit, US competitiveness is losing out. Governments of Europe, Asia and Latin America have supported this sector and are now exporting their goods and expertise into the States.
Lanborn has spoken of renewable energy research needing to stand on its own two feet, but big oil can still lean heavily like a drunken lover. His twisted position that's right in keeping with his party's is more embarrassing than Anthony Weiner's -- with the added effect of being outright dangerous. It's time we use words like anti-American.
A version of this column appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.