Gore’s Empty Vision on the Environment

On September 6, Vice President Al Gore released “Prosperity for America’s Families,” a document intended to provide details about his plans for the United States. A main chapter, as one might expect from an avowed environmentalist, is energy policy and the environment.

While providing few real specifics, Gore offers up a laundry list of $150 billion in new spending, much of it on policies that are proven losers.

With Americans facing the highest gas prices in a generation, Gore places “energy independence” front and center, proposing to “free American families from dependence on big oil and foreign oil.” This would be a dramatic change from the past eight years. Under the Clinton-Gore administration, America has become more dependent on imported oil than at any other time in history. As Gore led the fight to block new exploration and drilling, domestic oil production fell by nearly 20 percent. Ironically, he now suggests “expanding our domestic exploration of oil and natural gas.”

The vehicle for Gore’s “energy independence” is a new “Environment Trust Fund,” paid for from the budget surplus. A key component of the fund is the “Technologies for Tomorrow’s Challenge” program, which would spend $68 billion on “technologies that reduce climate and health threatening pollution.” This noble sounding program is actually nothing more than a throwback to the failed energy policies of the Carter administration, including lavish cash handouts to companies dabbling in wind and solar power, and other questionable technologies.

Another $45 billion in subsidies, incorrectly called tax cuts, would encourage the purchase of energy efficient products. This includes many goods already being successfully sold in the marketplace, such as fuel-efficient vehicles, propane, and home insulation. A bustling private sector ought to negate any need for these additional subsidies.

To enhance the reliability of the country’s electrical system, Gore advocates a new organization that would “set mandatory standards for utilities and penalties for violations that endanger the reliability of people’s power.” Were this unnecessary bureaucracy created, one of its first targets would have to be Gore himself, whose refusal to stand up for the electricity-generating dams in the Pacific Northwest poses an imminent threat to the reliability of the region’s power.

“Prosperity for America’s Families” goes on to address more traditional environmental concerns. First and foremost, Gore advocates ratification of the U.N. global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. This seems an odd goal, since even treaty supporters admit that it is unworkable, unfair, and offers virtually no environmental benefits. Moreover, ratification would directly harm Americans. Respected economists estimate Kyoto would cost consumers almost $400 billion a year, including a 60 cents per gallon increase in gas prices.

Gore also seeks to overturn a federal court decision that scrapped the administration’s 1997 air quality regulations. According to the court, these proposed rules were unconstitutional, poorly designed, and provided no quantifiable benefit to public health. Should Gore succeed in reintroducing these regulations, economists estimate it could cost Americans $150 billion per year.

Additionally, Gore wants to “increase the diversity of lands held in trust for future generations,” and he brags that the current administration has protected more land than any other since Teddy Roosevelt’s. Unlike Roosevelt, however, Gore’s method of “protecting” land is to keep Americans off it entirely. There are plans to increase the arbitrary use of monument and wilderness designations throughout the West regardless of local resident’s views; to ban road building and almost all other human activity on 40-50 million acres; and to create a new $30 billion slush fund for land acquisition — as though the nearly one-third of the country already owned by the federal government were not enough.

Another goal is to save the Everglades. Gore intends to do this with a project called the Re-Study, an $11 billion boondoggle that could ruin South Florida’s water supply. Oddly enough, Gore makes no mention of eliminating the federal sugar subsidy, which continues to damage the Everglades to this day.

Last, but not least, is a grab bag of initiatives costing almost $30 billion. These programs allegedly are intended to prevent “urban sprawl.” What they will really do is subsidize pork-barrel transportation projects and permit federal meddling with local zoning decisions.

Gore’s plan fails to offer a bold new approach to environmental stewardship or a realistic energy policy. Instead, it proposes little more than billions in wasteful spending on failed schemes from the past. Gore’s favorite theme this year has been ‘the people vs. the powerful.’ In the future envisioned by “Prosperity for America’s Families,” both would find prosperity elusive.