During Mitt Romney's surprise visit last week to the East Bay, the Republican presidential nominee made it clear that renewable-energy subsidies will be at the center of his campaign. At the shuttered Solyndra solar plant in Fremont, Romney characterized public investment in green energy as an assault on free enterprise and an example of big government excesses. The free market, Romney contends, doesn't need help from Uncle Sam, and Solyndra was the number-one "failure" of President Barack Obama's first term.
However, as much as Romney and the Republicans want to demonize public subsidies for green energy, the truth is that they still pale in comparison to the taxpayer giveaways for aging, polluting industries like fossil fuels and nuclear power. Indeed, even though Obama's Energy Department made the wrong bet on Solyndra and its expensive solar technology, oil and gas companies currently receive $4 billion in annual subsidies from the US government — and that figure doesn't include the hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent in the past two decades on foreign wars whose true intent was to protect our oil supply.
There are other hidden costs as well. Paul Epstein, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, has estimated that the public health costs associated with coal power, from mining to air pollution, could be as much as $500 billion annually in this country. Moreover, if the true costs of oil, gas, and coal — including the subsidies and the costs to our health and environment — were added to the consumer price for these energy sources, then what we pay at the pump, not to mention on our monthly utility bills, would be unaffordable.
In truth, the United States and other industrialized nations have a long, storied tradition of subsidizing energy exploration, development, and production. Nuclear power, the major new energy source of the last century, absorbed $50 billion in public subsidies in the US from 1973 to 2003. Subsidies such as these have made our daily energy costs much less expensive. And so the idea that we shouldn't make the same investments in green energy, and that renewables are now receiving unprecedented and unwarranted public help, is not grounded in reality.
Obama, in fact, deserves credit for his efforts to end the $4 billion in annual giveaways to Big Oil and Gas, rightly noting that the prime beneficiaries of this taxpayer largesse have been reaping record profits and don't need our money. Obama's efforts, of course, likely will fail this year because of staunch opposition in Congress from Republicans who also happen to receive huge campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. Romney, not surprisingly, also wants to keep the oil and gas subsidies in place — apparently because, in his world, only companies that make billions in profits while polluting our planet and harming our health deserve government handouts.
Romney and the Right also contend that green energy is just a pipe dream and that it will never supply our needs. As a result, investing in it, they say, is just a waste of money. But late last month, Germany proved that this argument has no merit either. According to Reuters, Germany has installed so much solar power in recent years that it produced one-third of the country's electricity needs on a weekday, and supplied half of the total electricity used on Saturday, May 26. Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry, said that a whopping 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into Germany's national grid that day. "This shows Germany is capable of meeting a large share of its electricity needs with solar power," Allnoch said. "It also shows Germany can do with fewer coal-burning power plants, gas-burning plants, and nuclear plants."
Big Crime Bust in Oakland
The announcement last week that a coordinated effort involving Oakland police and undercover federal agents had resulted in the arrests of sixty violent criminals in the city was welcome news. Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said that operation Gideon III netted the capture of the "worst of the worst" in the city. It was also good to see US Attorney Melinda Haag involved in a positive effort to reduce violent crime in Oakland, rather than unnecessarily harassing law-abiding medical cannabis operators. Hopefully, the big bust will have a real impact on crime in the city.
This year, unfortunately, has been a rough one in Oakland in terms of violent crime. Through May 27, violent crime was up 20 percent in the city, and homicides were up by 15 percent compared to the same period last year. In some categories, violent crime has skyrocketed — rapes are up 29 percent over last year, robberies by 31 percent, burglaries by 35 percent, and arson by 52 percent.
The Oakland Tribune reported that Jordan said violent crime was already going down since the big bust, and that federal agents said the operation resulted in the arrests of criminals involved in Oakland's notorious drug gangs, which have been responsible over the years for a significant amount of crime in the city. But the question is: Will the criminal activity by these gangs be affected over the long-term, or will other gang members merely replace the people arrested? Obviously, only time will tell.
Still, nabbing violent criminals is a positive step. As the Express has reported, OPD has had a miserable record over the years in terms of solving crimes and capturing lawbreakers. Hopefully, operation Gideon III will help the department refocus its efforts on solving crimes rather than patrolling the streets and harassing young people of color.
Also, Oakland police and city leaders deserve credit for keeping Gideon III under wraps until the undercover operation was completed. It would have been very easy for Mayor Jean Quan, who has taken a beating in the press for her 100 Block crime plan, to have revealed the coordinated federal effort as evidence that her administration was working hard to address violent crime in Oakland. But she waited and endured the criticism, allowing the operation to conclude without the public knowing about it.
Finally, as the city's economic fortunes brighten and tax revenues increase, Quan, City Administrator Deanna Santana, and the city council should revisit the issue of increasing the size of the police department. OPD simply does not have enough cops to deal with all the violent crime in the city, and city leaders need to find creative ways to address that issue.