Frank Zarb was the pragmatic energy advisor to President Ford during the period between the Arab Oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis. It was a period when plenty of people were thinking hard about how to reduce America’s vulnerability to petroleum supply disruptions caused by uncontrollable events in unstable areas of the world. On May 23, 2007, Mr. Zarb published an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled How to Win The Energy War.
He starts off by claiming that the Ford Administration had some good ideas about how to improve our energy supply system and make us less dependent on imports. Here is what the plan included
“Within the next 10 years,” he announced, “my program envisions 200 major nuclear power plants, 250 major new coal mines, 150 major coal-fired power plants, 30 major new refineries, 20 major new synthetic fuel plants, the drilling of many thousands of new wells, the insulation of 18 million homes and the manufacturing and sale of millions of new automobiles, trucks and buses that use much less fuel.”
Ford’s prescription did not please anyone, but it would have worked well in its objective of increasing energy supplies and improving American security. Partly as a result of the courageous plan, but mostly as a result of frustrations over his decision to pardon Richard Nixon, Ford was defeated in the 1976 elections and the plan was never implemented.
Aside: I have some sneaking suspicions that the first plank in the plan was a big part of his downfall. Have you ever really thought about how much emphasis was placed on Jimmy Carter’s nuclear training during the campaign and how quickly his administration moved to reduce American confidence in nuclear power developments? As I have said several times before, it really makes one wonder especially if you realize that Jimmy Carter knew less about nuclear power than I did when I was an ensign fresh out of the classroom phase of nuclear training. (See Picking on the Jimmy Carter Myth for a history of Jimmy Carter’s Navy nuclear training.) I want to make my thinking on this matter clear and understandable – I believe there is a good chance that Carter’s handlers wanted people to believe that he knew a lot about nuclear power. They wanted to make that a part of the campaign so that when he expressed his personal doubts about atomic energy, those doubts would appear to be well founded and cause others to shy away from seeing nuclear power as a solution to some very pressing energy supply problems.
Now back to Mr. Zarb’s opinion piece – he apparently still likes that first plank in the Ford energy plan that emphasizes the importance of building new nuclear power stations. Here is what he said on that topic:
The other major way to wean us from oil is to resume construction of nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy is the cleanest and best option for America’s electric power supply, yet it has been stalled by decades of unproductive debate. Our current commercial nuclear power plants have an outstanding record of safety and security, and new designs will only raise performance. How can Washington help? One thing would be federal legislation to streamline the licensing of new plants and the approval of sites for them.
The basic elements of a responsible energy policy are not complicated, but the politics are horrendous. Still, we can’t continue to throw empty rhetoric at the issue, using the oil companies as political punching bags and relying on our troops to keep the oil flowing.
I knew there was a reason why I liked the Ford Administration!