Two years ago this month, a blackout plunged 50 million people in Northeastern U.S. and the Canadian province of Ontario into total darkness for more than a day, wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy. Now, it’s the devastation in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi wrought by Hurricane Katrina that has killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.
The common thread in both disasters is that energy and environmental experts sounded early alarms about the potential for catastrophes like this unless the White House immediately took the necessary steps to upgrade the country’s aging power grid to stave off widespread power failures, and in the case of Hurricane Katrina, backed the Kyoto protocol, which aims to curb the air pollution blamed for severe climate changes that is no doubt the reason Katrina turned from a relatively small hurricane to a destructive monstrosity, due to high sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Weather Service.
While supporting the Kyoto treaty would not have done anything to prevent an act of God like Hurricane Katrina or the destruction left in its aftermath, it would have been a step in the right direction. Global Warming isn’t some harebrained scheme cooked up in a laboratory by mad scientists. It’s an issue that is as real as terrorism. And it’s just as deadly.
In keeping with this column’s theme, power shortages and daily blackouts have become a daily occurrence around the country over the past few years as the antiquated power grid is continuously stretched beyond its means -- mainly a result of electricity deregulation, whereby power is sent hundreds of miles across the grid to consumers by out-of-state power companies as opposed to power being sent to consumers by local utilities, which is what the grid was designed for.
Still, the Bush administration, and Democratic and Republican lawmakers, has refused to treat the issues with the same type of urgency given the so-called war on terror, which makes the president’s sympathetic response to Katrina’s victims and those who are trapped inside elevators during blackouts insincere.
Keep in mind the White House refuses to change its stance on the issues because it would be economically unfriendly to President Bush’s financial supporters -- the oil and gas industry who just got $15 billion in tax breaks under the new energy bill that guarantees these corporate behemoths will end up emitting more toxic emissions and greenhouse gases into the air from their power plants and refineries, further eroding the environment and, as a result, ensuring that Global Warming, and unusual weather related disasters like Hurricane Katrina, are here to stay.
On the electricity front, all may appear to be back to normal since the worst blackout in the nation’s history struck an unsuspecting public two years ago. But there’s a crisis in the making there too and it’s only a matter of time before another catastrophic power failure hits.
Just last week, more than 500,000 Southern California residents fell victim to rolling blackouts after a transmission line linking California to Oregon tripped, creating a shortage of more than 2,600 megawatts. One megawatt can light about 750 homes.
Two years ago, President Bush promised that the nation’s aging power grid would quickly be updated to stave off the potential for future blackouts and to handle growing demand, but so far nothing substantial has been done and the likelihood for a Hurricane Katrina-like disaster remains all too real. Demand for electricity is expected to increase by 45 percent by 2025. The Bush administration has not developed a plan to handle, at the very least, the annual increase in demand.
Spotting the potential for a disaster similar to the August 2002 blackout, Pat Wood, the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a close friend of Bush, distanced himself from the do nothing attitude of his friends in the White House.
“The reliability of the transmission grid is too important to let another year go by without legislation providing for nationwide mandatory reliability rules,” Wood said at a June 8 Energy and Resources Subcommittee hearing on the reliability of the nation’s electricity system.
Currently, power companies maintain grid reliability by following voluntary guidelines designed by the power industry, just like the voluntary emissions limits the fossil-fuel industry says it upholds. A measure that would have imposed mandatory grid reliability rules and mandatory limits on fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions was defeated by the Senate earlier this year at the urging of President Bush, who said the voluntary rules were working.
Jason Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be released in early 2006 by Process/Feral House Books. Visit Leopold's website at www.jasonleopold.com for updates. © 2005 Jason Leopold
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