Almost 90 percent of the nation's electricity comes from plants powered by nuclear energy or by the burning of coal or natural gas.
This is unfortunate because emissions from burning coal and natural gas heavily contribute to global warming and lead to health problems for many people. Also, coal emissions are largely responsible for the buildup of acid in lakes and the world's oceans.
Nuclear power, meanwhile, produces deadly waste for which no safe, permanent disposal solution has been discovered. A federal plan conceived in the 1980s to bury the waste northwest of Las Vegas at Yucca Mountain is so scientifically flawed it is now, quite properly, moribund.
The federal government should be setting timetables for reducing conventionally produced energy and increasing the amount of energy generated by renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.
President Bush, however, has failed this leadership test during his more than seven years in the White House. He talks of the need for more renewable energy, but makes only token gestures in that direction.
His fiscal year 2009 budget, released this week, is a prime example. Las Vegas Sun reporter Phoebe Sweet noted in a Wednesday story that the budget does not extend soon-to-expire tax credits for emerging renewable energy industries.
Sweet also quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said the budget improves funding for coal by 25 percent and for nuclear energy by 37 percent. In contrast, Reid said, the budget reduces spending by almost 30 percent for renewables and programs striving for greater energy efficiency, such as the home weatherization program for low-income families.
The budget stubbornly resists forward-looking energy trends that even major lenders are adopting. Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley, three of the nation's largest investment banks, announced this week that they will be assiduously assessing the environmental impacts of coal-fired power plants before making any decisions to finance new ones.
Bush's budget even includes $495 million for continued work at Yucca Mountain. As Congress sets about revising the budget, it should eliminate the Yucca Mountain money and dramatically change the funding priorities for energy to give the country the start it needs toward a cleaner, healthier future.
© Las Vegas Sun, 2008