Thursday, July 25, 2024

AMLO’s energy policy hard on environment, jobs and investment

My dad is a political scientist and a passionate political activist. As children, my sister and I heard countless speeches about what the powers-that-be were actively trying to do, and what they were actively trying to prevent.

They didn’t like poor people or black people (Oh Dad, please!), and worked hard to make sure their kids didn’t have to go to school with them. Speaking of school, he always believed there was a concerted effort to make history classes both boring and incomplete, never getting past World War II in subject matter — basically, the last time that the U.S. could really be widely considered heroes.

He explained why a “flat tax” was not actually the fair idea that it sounded like: 20% of a poor person’s income accounts for a lot more of their essential income than 20% of a rich person’s income. Credit cards were evil and designed to put people into permanent debt so that others could make money off them indefinitely.

And when it came to energy, he assured us that oil companies gave (and I quote) “beau coops” of money to make sure that energy policy favored the use of fossil fuels and gave priority to their continued use even though it was not in the best interest of the environment. Why else would we have so many cars and so few options for public transport?

We always thought he was being hyperbolic. Now we know that his “radical” ideas and resistance in “going with the flow” were pretty much right on the money.

So, here we are.

I am interrupting my regularly-scheduled coronavirus-related hand-wringing to gasp and puzzle over something else: why on earth Mexico is not running with open arms toward becoming the leader in clean energy production that it was poised to become a very short time ago.

We’ve got everything we need to get the ball rolling. A variety of clean energy companies at the ready, many with experience in selling energy to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) already at a greatly-reduced price, and with a multitude of investors ready to make sure it happens.

The country, and the world, are ready. While environmental degradation is literally carrying us all into a free fall at an accelerated pace, our actual environmental policy seems to be saying, “What’s the problem? Look, we’re still in the air, relax!”

I’d like us to focus on the first question there: what’s the problem?

If you’re to believe CFE chief Manuel Bartlett, the problem is that private renewable energy companies are corrupt and literally cheating and robbing the poor, defenseless CFE. (I mean seriously, what is it with powerful men here — and everywhere, I suppose — that they’re so good at simultaneously holding on to inordinate amounts of power while throwing themselves dramatically on the ground in a show of unparalleled victimhood? Did they all learn it from watching professional soccer matches?)

Then there’s AMLO (sigh). He’s said that private energy companies “contribute nothing,” and I think it’s worth examining why he’d say something like this when it’s clearly not true. He must, of course, know that it’s not true, so what’s the deal?

From the same article: “Private energy companies generate 46% of the nations electricity, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE), and they do so at a cost up to 85% less than the CFE.”

My suspicion is that he’s made a deal with the CFE to ensure they stay in business and don’t lose money. Perhaps that seemed like a logical extension of his animosity toward and suspicion of private industry in general, a way for him to stay faithfully “on message” before his supporters.

To some extent, I get it: I am also generally suspicious of for-profit services. But my goodness, his penchant for putting his foot down on some large organizations that cheat and turning a blind eye to others is disingenuous, to say the least.

And besides, whatever happened to his promise of “letting the people decide,” of putting everything to a vote? It seems that’s only a route to take when it’s convenient. Other times, it’s a condescending “no, no, no, people just aren’t smart enough to get this complex issue.”  

Maybe they aren’t, but my goodness, stop saying then that it’s the only way to do things. Why not surround yourself with qualified, forward-thinking people who are smart enough to understand it and not only to make a good decision, but explain their conclusions in layman’s terms?

I hope he sees that he would be even more “on message” by giving the green light to create jobs for thousands of Mexicans who, especially now, desperately need them. Even if this does eventually get fixed, what kind of confidence will future investors have here next time we need it?

The investment, in this case, is not simply a cheap labor-motivated “race to the bottom.” This investment is revolutionary, and has the potential to put Mexico on the map as a world leader in renewable energy. AMLO, please don’t hold us back here! Those who are fighting for renewable energy’s place in our policy, please keep fighting (thanks governors and Mario Molina for speaking up)! This is not over.

I see a future in which Mexico is a leader in the Americas for clean energy. The hardest part of this whole thing seems to be getting some very large egos out of the way.

Try some humility, people. It’s good for us all.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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