Edwin Black's Plan for the Coming Energy Crisis

Matt Yglesias writes on an issue of particular concern to me:

What if six months ago, the economy is actually growing? Not growing rapidly. But just growing. Like, the number is above zero rather than below it.

Well it seems to me that we’ll be right back where we were in the summer of 2008 where sky-high gas prices were clobbering everything. And we haven’t really done anything over the past year to leave ourselves better-prepared for that situation.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about this in the context of partisan politics.

Republicans should spend a great deal of time talking about energy. In the very near future, we’re going to face a severe energy shortage, and the president’s alternative-energy agenda won’t move quickly enough to resolve it. There’s a case for relaxing or at the very least expediting the review process for new power plants, particularly for nuclear power plants. And there’s a pretty decent case for launching a crash government-funded program to build new power plants. This will offend environmentalists and free-market conservatives, but it might be the only way to stave off an even deeper economic crisis. As a wise man once told me, financial crises play to Democratic strengths. Energy crises play to Republican strengths—but only if the party is at the ready with an agenda.

There is an easy, straightforward objection to this: there is no way we’ll get 20 ready-to-go nuclear power plants in the next decade, let alone the next two years. We need to take drastic and immediate action. One place to start is an eccentric but useful book from Edwin Black called The Plan. I don’t agree with every step Black advocates — I can’t stand price controls and anti-gouging measures strike me as unenforceable — but many of them strike me as urgent necessities. Among other things, he calls for lifting tariffs on Brazilian sugar ethanol, carpools, staggered commute times, telecommuting initiatives, HOV2s become HOV3s, idling restrictions, steep mass transit discounts. And then there is my favorite idea, which has a disruptive pro-competition angle:

PTP Shuttles. Ad hoc Point-to-Point Shuttles shall be encouraged and implemented through fast, same-day licensing procedures requiring only a valid driver’s license and a permissible, inspected alt-fuel vehicle — allowing willing individuals to shuttle passengers from point to point within a metropolitan area or from city to city, even across state lines. The government shall provide pool insurance to such shuttles, and “Good Samaritan” rules will apply in the event of an accident or other unforeseen liability. Such vehicles will be clearly identified as authorized PTP Shuttles.

Black spends the bulk of the book calling for aggressive retrofitting efforts, etc. The Plan is motivated less by environmental concerns than by what Black calls “petropolitical” concerns — what happens if we face a sudden disruption in supply?