Much government interference with our peaceful pursuits is based on junk science and junk economics. Politicians know a lot of stuff that isn't so. So do reporters.
Let me count some of the ways. (I'll elaborate on tonight’s Fox Business Network show.)
Congress now spends your money on a host of intrusive new programs designed to make America "energy independent." President Obama recently announced $8 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power plants.
I smiled when I heard. Finally, even Democrats woke up to the benefits of nuclear power. But Cato Institute energy analyst Jerry Taylor set me straight:
"If nuclear power made economic sense, we wouldn't need to subsidize it."
Affordable nuclear power, says Taylor, is a Republican fantasy. Promoting it makes no more sense than Nancy Pelosi's promotion of wind and solar power. "Take a Republican speech about nuclear power, cross out the phrase 'nuclear,' and put in 'solar'—you've got a Democratic speech about energy."
All these "alternative" fuels are economically impractical. Natural gas is practical. And plentiful.
I thought the only reason that nuclear didn't pay for itself is the burden of excessive regulations and objections from silly environmentalists. Apply for permission to build a plant, and their cumbersome lawsuits impose ruinously expensive delays.
Again, Taylor set me straight. He says the nuclear industry itself is comfortable with today's level of regulation. The big problem today is not environmental rules, but simply the huge cost. The same high costs, he says, are found in countries that have long been friendly to nuclear power.
He also notes that when the Department of Energy proposed offering to guarantee 80 percent of the cost of new nuclear plants, the big investment banks told the department that even 80 percent loan guarantees wouldn't be enough. They needed 100 percent guarantees, or they wouldn't make the loans.
"To me that's a market verdict that you're supposed to respect.... We need to leave these (matters) to markets. And in the marketplace, investors will not spend a single red dime on nuclear power because it's too expensive.... It's not Jane Fonda or Greenpeace that killed nuclear power. It's Wall Street investment banks who've looked at the bottom line."
He's convinced me. Then he moved on to more Republican candy: the claim that drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska would dramatically lower oil prices and move us toward energy "independence."
Taylor says such drilling would do neither. Yes, it would create wealth. New offshore fields might produce a million barrels of oil per day. While that would be good, the benefits are oversold. "We consume 15 million barrels of oil a day. We produce 5. We'd go to 6." Nice, but no game-changer.
Of course, subsidizing wind and solar makes even less sense. Taylor calls them 12th-century technologies. They require lots of land to produce forms of energy that are hard to store and hard to move, and are too variable throughout the year. Even if we covered most of America with wind farms, there's no guarantee that they'd produce energy when we need it.
Other junk science abounds: banning plastic shopping bags, as 10 cities have done, is pointless. Plastic bags take up a tiny fraction of landfills. When supermarkets are stopped from handing plastic out, people looking to dispose garbage buy more big, black plastic bags.
Banning incandescent bulbs, as Congress has done starting in 2012, is also pointless. The ban will have only the tiniest effect on America's energy use. In addition, fluorescent bulbs often use as much power as incandescent bulbs because people leave them on longer.
People are ignorant enough about science that it's easy for politicians to scare them into supporting absurd regulations. For my show, I went to Times Square and asked if people would sign a petition demanding a ban on "dihydrogen monoxide," a colorless, odorless chemical that kills thousands. Most everyone signed.
They were embarrassed when they realized that dihydrogen monoxide is... H2O. They eagerly endorsed a ban on water.
John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.
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