Category Archives: Energy

Micah Caskey gives utility contributions to poor ratepayers

Micah Caskey general

So far, I have not once regretted having Micah Caskey as my state representative. I received this release from him today:

Rep. Caskey Donates SCANA Contributions to Ratepayers in Need

Former Prosecutor Caskey Seeks to Protect Integrity of Investigation   

(West Columbia, SC) – S.C. Representative Micah Caskey (District 89-West Columbia/Cayce/Springdale) announced he has donated all contributions to his political campaign by utilities to the Salvation Army’s Woodyard Fund. The Woodyard Fund helps residents in need pay their utility bills.  Rep. Caskey was recently selected to serve on the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, which is charged with investigating the abandonment of the VC Summer nuclear facility in Jenkinsville, SC.

“The scale of this debacle is deeply unsettling and I am firmly committed to getting to the bottom of it all. I am looking at this entire situation with eyes wide-open and that includes looking in the mirror. While campaign contributions are vital to re-election, I cannot in good conscience keep contributions that might undermine my neighbors’ confidence in the integrity of my part in the investigation into this debacle.  As a former prosecutor and U.S. Marine, my deep and abiding sense of duty demands I do what I can to eliminate the possible appearance of impropriety,” Representative Micah Caskey stated.

Caskey chose to deliver the $1,750 in donations from Utility-related entities to the Salvation Army Woodyard Fund. The Woodyard Fund traces its roots back to 1816, when the Ladies Benevolent Society provided firewood to needy families during winter months. Today the fund works to help our community’s neediest families stay warm in the winter.

“I initially considered returning the funds directly to SCANA, but I decided that helping Midlands families who can’t afford the high cost of energy was a better use of the funds. SCANA just announced they made $121 million in profit last fiscal quarter – despite gross mismanagement of the Nuclear Project – so why not try to help someone else with their money?  Apparently, they have plenty; there’s no sense in giving it directly back to them.  I’d rather the money help our neighbors that need it most,” Representative Caskey explained.

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas has called for Representative Caskey and 19 other House members to begin holding hearings next week to investigate and study the abandonment of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant construction and offer viable solutions.

“Hopefully, even this small amount will provide some relief to the hard-working people that need help.  I encourage my colleagues and neighbors to join me in supporting the Salvation Army’s Woodyard Fund. To the extent this can help reinforce people’s confidence in my commitment to be a voice for them, all the better.” Representative Caskey concluded.

###

Senate panel to hold hearings on abandoned nuke project

You know what I hate? I hate it when somebody sends out a release on a PDF, and it’s the kind of PDF that won’t let you highlight and copy the text. Meaning you have to retype it to quote it, which not only is a hassle, but leads to a greater chance of making errors. So I end up having to show you a picture of it, like so:

rankin

Anyway, here’s the whole PDF if you want to look at it…

Harry Reid’s leaving. So can we open Yucca Mountain now?

That was my first thought when I heard that at long last, Harry Reid will be leaving the Senate.

By Image by Daniel Mayer taken on 2002-03-25 © 2002 and released under terms of the GNU FDL. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Daniel Mayer taken on 2002-03-25 © 2002 and released under terms of the GNU FDL. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, the place the nation decided long ago would be our permanent repository for nuclear waste MAY open, with its chief obstacle retiring. It’s long past time that Yucca Mountain provide South Carolina (and other states) some relief on this. That was the plan, and it was always a good one.

So now it can happen.

Hey, I can hope, can’t I?

But beyond that, can you think of anything about Reid’s tenure as majority/minority leader that was good? Neither can I. His name just conjures up a lot of unpleasantness for me. He’s not alone in that; I have similar impressions of names such as Boehner, Pelosi and McConnell. Together they’ve presided over a particularly ugly and unproductive period in congressional history.

Dare I hope he’ll be replaced by someone who will turn that around?

Ummmm… Maybe I should just stick to hoping for the Yucca Mountain thing. That’ll be tough enough…

Sheheen asks Moniz to spare us the nuclear waste, thanks

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This came in earlier today from Vincent Sheheen. Make of it what you will:

Sheheen to DOE Secretary: SC Is Not A Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
Camden, SC – Today Vincent Sheheen urged Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to join him in preventing South Carolina from becoming a dumping ground for international nuclear waste, as the Secretary toured the Savannah River Site and visited the Aiken area.
The text of Sen. Sheheen’s letter to Secretary Moniz is pasted below.  View a PDF of the signed letter at: http://vincentsheheen.com/?p=594
July 28, 2014
The Honorable Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy
US Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave. SW
Washington DC 20585
Dear Secretary Moniz,
As you will no doubt see on your visit today, South Carolina is a beautiful state, blessed with tremendous natural resources and hardworking people. We are also proud to have the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, which provides jobs in the community and does important work for our country.  But South Carolina is not a nuclear waste dumping ground.
I write today to ask you to join us in preventing German radioactive waste from being dumped in our state. We’ve been down this road before, and South Carolina won’t be fooled by promises again.
The federal government’s proposal to ship nearly 1 million highly radioactive graphite spheres from Germany to Charleston and then transport it to the Savannah River Site is deeply troubling. The proposal is unprecedented in its scope and size – and for the sake of the local families and businesses, for the sake of our state, the proposal should not move forward.
This German commercial nuclear waste was created by experimental reactors in Germany. The clean-up or storage of the radioactive by-product should be the responsibility of the German government. It’s not right for Germany or for the US federal government to throw this responsibility off to the people of South Carolina.
We know that once these highly radioactive graphite spheres are at the SRS they are going to stay here, likely forever. There is currently no disposal system at SRS – or anywhere in the United State for that matter – to handle the reprocessing of this waste. So, once it’s here, it will sit here. And sit here. And sit here.
Until we have made headway in dealing with the 37 million gallons of waste that we currently have at the SRS, we should not take on this burden from other countries. Our focus must remain on cleaning up the tanks at SRS remaining from its time producing plutonium.
These are tough issues that affect the people from Aiken to Charleston and around our state. Governor Haley refuses to speak out on this issue, but that does not mean South Carolinians support this proposal.
South Carolina is not a nuclear waste dump.  Please help us keep it that way.
Sincerely,
Sen. Vincent Sheheen
###

 

Tom Ervin won’t say how HE’D pay for roads, either

Well, we know that Nikki Haley wants to fix SC roads, but doesn’t want to say how she’d pay for it — at least, not until after the election.

Vincent Sheheen at least says he’d issue bonds for pay for part of our infrastructure needs. Beyond that, he’s vague. From his website:

South Carolina is too dependent on the “gas tax” and needs to diversify how it pays for roads and bridges. In addition to the $1 billion Vincent helped secure for road reconstruction in 2013, he believes we should continue using South Carolina’s bonding authority to make long-term infrastructure investments, dedicate more General Fund revenue from surpluses to roads, and look at new revenue sources to help make our roads safe again. All options must be on the table for discussion.

What I’d like to see from Sheheen an elaboration on what he means when he says SC is “too dependent on the ‘gas tax’,” and therefore must go on some grail-like quest for mysterious “new revenue sources.” I suspect what he means is that SC is simply unwilling, politically, to raise our extremely low gas tax. He certainly can’t mean that he thinks it’s too high.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Tom Ervin takes the governor to task for not saying how she’d pay for roads, and then declines to say how he would do it:

Greenville: Independent Republican candidate Tom Ervin issued the following statement:

Governor Haley’s “secret plan” to fund improvements for our roads and bridges is nothing more than a “secret tax increase” and another blatant example of her lack of transparency and accountability.20140525_0138-300x300

Call Governor Haley now at (803) 734-2100 and demand that she disclose the details of her secret funding plan.  When Nikki Haley hides the ball on funding, that’s her political speak for taxpayer’s having to foot the bill.  Haley’s secret plan shouldn’t surprise anyone.  It’s Haley’s lack of leadership that has forced a county-by-county sales tax increase to make up for her failed leadership.  This has resulted in a back door sales tax increase on top of her “secret plan” to raise taxes next year.

And I’m shocked about Governor Haley’s stated approach.  We are a legislative state.  For Haley to say she will “show the General Assembly how to do it” confirms just how irresponsible Haley’s approach is to our serious infrastructure needs.

If South Carolinians want to maintain or roads and bridges and invest in our infrastructure, it’s going to require a change in leadership.  When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding for our crumbling roads and bridges. And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate.  The legislative process is a deliberative process.  We already have a dictator in Washington, D.C.  We don’t need another one in Columbia.

Tell, me — in what way is the governor’s promise to come out with something after the election different, practically speaking, from “When I am governor, I will work with our elected representatives to build a consensus for long term funding?” Yeah, I get that he’s saying he’d respect lawmakers more than the incumbent does. But beyond that, he’s doing the same thing she is — declining to say what he would propose until after the election.

Are we supposed to read “And I’ll be honest with you up front that all suggested solutions are on the table for debate” as some sort of code that the one responsible plan, raising the gas tax, will be part of his plan? Maybe. But why not come out and say it? It’s not like he’d be endangering his chance of getting elected, because that chance does not exist. (When one is tilting at windmills, why not go for broke and propose the right thing, rather than being cagey?)

So, having surveyed the field, one thing I must say in Todd Rutherford’s behalf is that at least he’s proposing something, even though it’s a really bad idea.

Environmentalists beg to differ with Gov. Haley

This just in from Ann Timberlake with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina:

Dear Conservation Voters,

Governor Haley appears to have been misinformed on South Carolina’s ability to meet standards for reducing emissions that threaten our state’s valuable coast.

“This is exactly what we don’t need,” the governor said after addressing a gathering of the S.C. Electric Cooperatives at Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms. “This is exactly what hurts us. You can’t mandate utility companies which, in turn, raises the cost of power. That’s what’s going to keep jobs away. That’s what’s going to keep companies away.” She added that officials in Washington “stay out of the way.”

Governor Haley,  Post & Courier, June 4, 2014

It appears that she has been given incorrect information about South Carolina’s ability to meet carbon pollution standards.

Here are the facts.  Since 2005, South Carolina has reduced its energy carbon emissions by 30% even while growing our economy and our population.  Not only that, our state is already on track to continue those gains as our utilities plan to retire numerous outdated pollution-belching coal plants while also expanding solar power and energy efficiency.

In fact, just last week, Governor Haley signed a bill to unleash the Palmetto State’s vast solar capacity.  That’s progress and it will create many jobs right here at home. South Carolina now has a valuable competitive edge over other states when it comes to meeting proposed carbon pollution standards.  That is something to brag about — not attack. That’s what is going to bring companies here.

For 40 years, vested fossil fuel special interests have tried to scare citizens away from protecting their air and water by saying the sky would fall economically.  But those scare tactics have been repeatedly disproved. In reality, jobs and economic growth have gone hand in hand with cleaner environment.

South Carolina has more to lose from climate change than almost any other state. Our coastal communities are iconic. But they are extremely vulnerable to increased flooding and extreme weather.

We will continue to work with DHEC, our conservation community, energy providers and other stakeholders to map a prosperous way forward that protects the South Carolina we love.

South Carolina is poised to be a twenty-first-century powerhouse.   We can do it and we can do it our way.

Ann Timberlake

Clyburn says MOX to keep going until end of year

This just in from Jim Clyburn:

“I have spoken with Secretary Moniz and he has informed me that the Department of Energy will continue construction of the MOX facility through the end of this fiscal year.  This should allow all of us ample time to develop a way forward that would enhance our national security interests and benefit our state economically,” Clyburn said.  “I am pleased that the Administration has responded swiftly to concerns I raised over plans to place the facility into ‘cold standby.’  I look forward to working with DOE and my colleagues in Congress on ways to ensure the MOX program’s continuity and viability.”

Somehow, “until the end of the year” isn’t all that encouraging. I doubt it’s going to satisfy the critics — especially the Republican critics — of the “cold standby” decision. Or am I wrong?

Graham grills Moniz on MOX

Lindsey Graham put out this video so voters could see him being tough, curt, and impatient with a member of the Obama administration on a matter of concern to South Carolina.

But the main thing I came away from it with was, Have you gotten a load of this Moniz guy? What century does he think this is?

He and Richland County Councilman Jim Manning should form a club or something…

Moniz_official_portrait_standing

Conservation voters want you to know they’re all for the solar bill

This release came in a little while ago:

Friends,

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the path for the state legislature to give us the sun with solar energy legislation.

The vote was 19-1 in favor, which is unheard of for a piece of legislation like this and a testament to the hard work of our negotiators and a resolve by all the stakeholders to find consensus. As for the sole vote against, we can only assume that the legislator had his judgment temporarily blocked by the bright glare of the sun.

Because the legislation is currently under attack by solar industry groups from out of state, we want to be clear: we wholeheartedly support this bill. We hope this is the beginning of a new era in energy independence for South Carolinians.

Thank you for being a supporter of solar in South Carolina. We still need your help to push this legislation through the Senate and House and to Governor Haley’s desk. The Senate takes its first vote on S.536 this week. Learn more about this issue and contact your elected officials to encourage them to vote YES. To contact your legislator click HERE and just type in your address.

Once S.536 gets through the Senate it moves to the House, so let’s keep up the “heat” to assure that South Carolina’s brightest days are ahead.

Thank you for all you do.

Sincerely

Shawn Drury
Field Director, CVSC

I thought it interesting that the out-of-state industry group is headed by Barry Goldwater. Junior. If he manages to pose a problem to passage of the bill, maybe CVSC could do an advocacy ad featuring a little girl and a daisy

Going after the stimulus

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR

WOLF BLITZER: Should South Carolina take the money?
GRAHAM: I think that, yes, from my point of view, I — you don’t want to be crazy here. I mean, if there’s going to be money on the table that will help my state….

                — CNN, Wednesday

LINDSEY Graham said that in spite of his strong opposition to the stimulus bill as passed. His aide Kevin Bishop explained the senator’s position this way: “South Carolina accepts the money, future generations of South Carolinians are responsible for paying it back. South Carolina refuses the money, future generations of South Carolinians are still responsible for paying it back.”
    Good point. And now it’s time to think about how South Carolina gets its share.
    A number of local leaders were already thinking about, and working on, that issue while debate raged in Washington. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble and University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides led a group of local leaders who came to see us about that last week. (It included Paul Livingston of Richland County Council; Neil McLean of EngenuitySC; John Lumpkin of NAI Avant; Tameika Isaac Devine of Columbia City Council; John Parks of USC Innovista; Bill Boyd of the Waterfront Steering Committee; Judith Davis of BlueCross BlueShield; Ike McLeese of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce; and attorney Kyle Michel.)
    The group, dubbed the “Sustainability and Green Jobs Initiative,” sees the stimulus as a chance to get funding for projects they have been promoting for the advancement of the Columbia area, from Innovista to riverfront development, from streetscaping to hydrogen power research.
    The idea is to make sure these local initiatives, which the group sees as synching perfectly with such national priorities as green energy and job creation, are included in the stimulus spending.
    Mayor Coble, who had already set up a “war room” in his office (President Pastides said he was setting up a similar operation at USC, concentrating on grant-writing) to track potential local projects and likely stimulus funding streams, saw little point in waiting around for the final version of the bill, saying we already knew what “90 percent” of it would be, whatever the conference committee came up with.
    Some specifics: Mayor Coble first mentions the North Main streetscaping project, which is already under way. President Obama wants shovel-ready projects? Well, says Mayor Bob, “The shovel’s already out there” on North Main. Stimulus funding would ensure the project could be completed without interruption.
    He said other city efforts that could be eligible for stimulus funds included fighting homelessness, extending broadband access to areas that don’t have it, hiring more police officers and helping them buy homes in the neighborhoods they serve.
    But the biggest potential seems to lie in the areas where the city and the university are trying to put our community on the cutting edge of new energy sources and green technology. With the city about to host the 2009 National Hydrogen Association Conference and Hydrogen Expo, Columbia couldn’t be in a better position to attract stimulus resources related to that priority.
    The group was asked to what extent Gov. Mark Sanford’s opposition to stimulus funds flowing to our state created an obstacle to their efforts. “There’s no use arguing with the governor,” the mayor said. But the local group’s efforts will be focused on being ready when an opportunity for funding does come — whether via Rep. James Clyburn’s legislative end-run, or through federal agencies, or by whatever means.
President Pastides says, “The governor has deeply held beliefs and philosophies and I respect him not only for having them,” but for being straight about it and not just telling people what they want to hear. At the same time, with the university looking at cutting 300 jobs and holding open almost every vacancy, “there are almost no lifelines for me to turn to” to sustain the university’s missions. An opportunity such as the stimulus must be seized. He sees opportunities in energy, basic science and biomedical research.
    As big as the stakes are for the Midlands regarding the stimulus itself, there are larger implications.
    A successful local effort within the stimulus context could be just the beginning of a highly rewarding partnership with Washington, suggested attorney Kyle Michel, who handles governmental relations for EngenuitySC. He noted that many provisions in the stimulus are the thin end of the wedge on broader Obama goals. This is particularly true of the effort toward “transitioning us away from… getting our energy from the people who are shooting at us,” which he describes as the administration’s highest goal. “What are we going to do over the next four years to play our part in that goal of the Obama administration? Because this 43 or 49 billion is just the start.”
    He also said what should be obvious by now: “If we don’t draw that money down… it doesn’t go back to the taxpayer. It goes to other states.”
    President Pastides said, “This is almost like someone has announced a race with a really big prize at the end,” and you don’t win the prize just for entering; you have to compete. That appeals to him, and he’s eager for the university and the community to show what they can do.
    This group is focused less on the ideological battle in which our governor is engaged, and more on the practical benefits for this part of South Carolina. It’s good to know that someone is.

For links and more, please go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.

Obviously, he hasn’t met OUR governor

Seeking a column for tomorrow's page, I took a look at a writer I haven't run before (near as I can recall), Dick Polman of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who had written a column headlined, "Governing in the Real World."

It was pretty standard stuff, noting a tendency that usually holds true: The more local the level of government, the more pragmatic the people who serve in it. Governors are almost always more practical and less ideological than members of Congress, and mayors even more so. To cite the cliche, there's nothing Republican or Democratic about filling potholes or picking up the garbage.

But reading this column at this moment, with our own governor on my mind, I was struck by the fact that if Mr. Polman only knew Mark Sanford, he'd rethink his premise. An excerpt from the piece:

One big difference between governors and congressmen is that governors are out there on the front lines, dealing with the real everyday needs of their citizens. Whereas members of Congress can afford to retreat into ideology, governors have no such luxury.

Which brings us to Charlie Crist, the popular Republican governor of Florida, who today may well be known nationwide for two things: (a) the deepest tan since George Hamilton, and (b) the man-hug that he shared on Tuesday with President Obama.

Crist epitomizes the gap that separates Republican governors (who are trying desperately to safeguard the welfare of their citizens), and Republican members of Congress (who are opposing the Obama stimulus package that would help the governors safeguard the welfare of their citizens). Many of the Republican governors face huge budget deficits, thanks to the recession; they would welcome the infusion of federal money, which would allow them to keep paying (among others) the teachers and the firefighters and the unemployment checks of the jobless.

In other words, governors have to be practical. They can't take refuge in right-wing talking points that play well on the cable network talkfests, where ideological conflict makes for good TV.

That last sentence sounds as though Mr. Polman were describing Mark Sanford, which reminds us that 
at heart, our governor is still that congressional hermit who slept on his futon in Washington and advanced no significant legislation. Most people who leave that environment to become governor realize, even if they didn't before, that NOW they have responsibility to run things, to lead, to make sure government does what voters expect it to do. Not this guy. I've never seen anyone so unaffected in that way. You'd think he never left the futon.

Every move he makes — from lashing out at an Employment Security Commission that is embarrassing him by serving way to many unemployed people to jumping up and down and demanding look at me; I'm a governor who doesn't want stimulus money — is about a national audience of like-minded people, not about South Carolina and the challenges that face it. It's about the Club for Growth and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. The only logical explanation for his behavior would be national ambitions that make me shudder even to contemplate, so I'm not even going to mention them.

Even when he steps out on an issue that would seem to be about something else, we return to that same concern with ideology and a national audience. Environmentalists applauded his coming out yesterday against the coal-fired plant to the Pee Dee. But he didn't do it for their reasons (even though the environment is one of the few areas where he sometimes makes common cause with folks who might call themselves progressives). He was careful to make the point that no, this was more about the cost. He didn't want this state entity, Santee Cooper, spending the money. Which sort of makes you say, huh? Until you realize, oh yeah, he's not talking to US. He's talking to like-minded Republicans outside of South Carolina who will be thinking about whom to contribute money to in a year or two…

I just shuddered again.

Do we REALLY need people to be making RVs?

Yesterday, Mayor Bob Coble of Columbia said President Obama either had been, or would be, invited to address the National Hydrogen Association’s annual conference here in April. The mayor said, rightly, that such would be a great opportunity for the president to demonstrate his seriousness about the "green economy" and energy independence.

I heard the mayor say that yesterday afternoon.

So imagine my surprise to see that the president's first high-profile road trip beyond the Beltway (or one of the first; I'm not really keeping score) was to Elkhart, Indiana, which is suffering double-digit unemployment because…. well, because people aren't buying so many Recreational Vehicles these days.

Now, I consider it to be a BAD thing that all those people are out of work. But as the author of the Energy Party Manifesto, I have to say it's a GOOD thing, in the grand scheme and all that, that fewer people are buying RVs… In other words, I'd like to see all those good people of Elkhart working at good jobs doing something else.

One would think, given the things that he says about green technologies and energy independence, that Obama would think that, too. So I have to puzzle over the choice of Elkhart as a place to go campaign for his stimulus plan that is all about putting people to work AND protecting the environment and making us more energy-independent. It's just an odd setting. I mean, why not choose another town that's hurting, only from people losing their jobs building tubines for windmill farms or something, or printing Bibles or doing something else virtuous.

Obama's speechwriter seems to have been aware of this, so while he empathized with folks and promised jobs, he did NOT promise them jobs making RVs. Nor did he mention, specifically, that they needed to be something OTHER than making RVs, for the good of the country and their own economic future. He finessed it.

But he wouldn't have had to finesse it if he'd just made the speech somewhere else.

It’s not a scientific fact that peas and carrots go well together

For some time, I've gotten these regular e-mails called "Peas and Carrots Reports" from a South Carolina-oriented group called "Citizens for Sound Conservation." (Get it? Citizens for S.C.? I assume that's intentional.)

I've never had time really to look into what sort of group this is, or even read these reports, but I gather that it's one of those groups whose philosophy can be summed up as "Protecting the environment is great and all, but let's not get carried away." You know — we can have all the growth we want without really seriously hurting the environment. Which I don't necessarily disagree with, although I find that folks who start from that proposition generally drift more and more toward the growth, and farther and farther from the environmental protection.

No, what has vaguely bothered me about these reports is the "Peas and Carrots" part. It apparently arises from what I take to be the group's motto, "Because growth and protection go together — just like peas and carrots." The irritating thing about this to me is that I always thought the line was dumb when Forrest Gump said it, and I'm pretty sure it was meant to sound dumb, Mr. Gump being, you know, the way he was. Sort of an endearingly goofy thing to say. It was sort of meant to suggest that since peas and carrots were often packaged together and (I guess) his mama served them to him that way, he thought there was some sort of inherent connection. But there isn't, not really. Root vegetable and legume, green and orange — not a whole lot of similarities that I can see. And personally, I never thought they tasted good together. At best, an odd combo.

Anyway, that's about as far as my analysis of these reports had gone until the one I got today, which said the following (the boldfaced emphasis is mine):

    Despite the near 24-7 coverage focusing on how cool President Obama is and how his wife has already become a fashion icon, there was a good bit of news on the environmental front.  First, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Americans are skeptical of global warming – which means any state and federal policies being based upon that theory must be re-evaluated.  Second, while the causes of climate change continue to be debated our dependence on fossil fuels remains strong.  As such, support for more offshore exploration for oil and natural gas continues to grow.  And last, the private sector continues to embrace and transition into a more green economy – but government doesn’t need to overstep its bounds.  That’s the big question for 2009.

Come again? You say polls show that the propaganda campaign to cast doubt on global warming has gained some traction, so since more Americans doubt the science on this, we should change our policies?

Say what? Does that mean that if a majority of Americans comes to believe that the Earth is flat and you'll fall off if you go too far, the U.S. Navy should stay in the Western Hemisphere. (Yeah, some of our isolationists would love that, but it would still be nuts.)

I tend to get impatient with liberals who rant about how policies should be based in sound science and nothing else. Not that I've got anything against science, but because their real point is that our policies in no way should be based in deeply held values (specifically, religion-based values). Take that far enough, and you get eugenics or something equally horrible and "scientific." So when Obama said "We will restore science to its rightful place," I winced, because I know among Democrats that's code for "We'll do stem cell research whether you think it's morally right or not." That made it my second least-favorite part of a speech that on the whole I liked a lot.

But the idea that we should reverse policies meant to protect the Earth (not that we have many such policies to any serious extent) because a poll shows the average person doubts the science (never mind what the doubt is based in) is crazy.

Our republic is based in the notion that our elected representatives study issues and become more knowledgable about them than the average poll respondent. It too seldom works that way as things stand, with the ubiquity of polling and other pressures on elected officials to do the popular thing whether it's the right thing or not. This takes it to an absurd degree.

As to the larger point: Doubt is cast on global warming by people who simply do not want to do what it would take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have gathered that they would not want to do it whatever the science is, and therefore they have resolved not to believe the science, and to cling to anything that might cast doubt on it.

I have a very different attitude: The way I look at it, even if there were only a 10 percent chance that our emissions were causing global warming, and that that was a bad thing, I say why the hell not reduce our emissions — especially since there are so many other good reasons (such as our strategic position in the world) to burn less gasoline, and to move past coal to nuclear, and all that other good Energy Party stuff.

And yeah, the fact that it MIGHT help the planet is an additional reason to do things that ought to be common sense.

Here's the thing — I'm pretty much open to any good argument. And I'm concerned enough about economic development that I still haven't made my mind up about that new coal-fired plant proposed for the Pee Dee.

Some actual GOOD news about the U.S. auto industry

I'm not up to posting a lot of commentary on it, but I didn't want to let the day pass without noting this positive development, from an Energy Party point of view:

Fourteen U.S. technology companies are joining forces and seeking $1
billion in federal aid to build a plant to make advanced batteries for
electric cars, in a bid to catch up to Asian rivals that are far ahead
of the U.S.

The effort, the latest pitch from corporate America to inject
federal dollars into a project, is similar to an alliance that two
decades ago helped the U.S. computer-chip industry restore its
competitiveness. Participants include 3M Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc.

Many experts believe battery technology and manufacturing capacity
could become as strategically important as oil is today. Auto makers,
including General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor
Co., say they plan to roll out plug-in electric cars by 2010. But the
U.S. has limited capacity to make the lithium-ion batteries those cars
will need. Asian producers such as Panasonic Corp. dominate the car-battery field.

About time we got off our duffs on this. That could be a decent thing to spend federal dollars on, rather than more of the same

How Detroit got to where it is now

Make_suvs

Earlier today I wrote an editorial for tomorrow’s paper that warns against being too eager to give Detroit the means to keep doing what it’s been doing, as some in Congress seem to want to do.

My reading prior to writing that led to my post about cheap gas, and in responding to a comment on that, I was reminded of something Tom Friedman wrote the other day:

O.K., now that I have all that off my chest, what do we do? I am as
terrified as anyone of the domino effect on industry and workers if
G.M. were to collapse. But if we are going to use taxpayer money to
rescue Detroit, then it should be done along the lines proposed in The
Wall Street Journal
on Monday by Paul Ingrassia
, a former Detroit
bureau chief for that paper.

“In return for any direct government
aid,” he wrote, “the board and the management [of G.M.] should go.
Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a
government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical —
should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and
return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean
tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers,
closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company
… Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto
Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant
— would be an enormous mistake.”

That, in turn, reminded me of something else Paul Ingrassia wrote recently, and that’s what this post is about. Basically, I wanted to recommend his primer, "How Detroit Drove Into a Ditch," which is a nice reminder of everything the Detroit Three (formerly the "Big Three") and the UAW did to mess up the auto industry in this country.

Energy Party’s worst nightmare: gas at $1.87

You may think it’s the Republicans who were the big losers last week, but you’d be wrong. It was the Energy Party.

I realized how awful things were last night as I passed the gas stations on the way home. Hess was at $1.879.

Folks, that’s the same as less than 30 cents a gallon back when I started driving in 1968. Which is less than we were paying then. And when I think of the 1968 Buick LeSabre I used to drive (before I bought my Vega, which was really a mistake), and the mileage it got, it sends a chill to the heart.

Even I, Energy Party stalwart that I am, thought about stopping to buy some of that cheap gas, even though I had plenty in my tank.

So now everybody’s going to start buying SUVs again (which of course will create upward pressure on the gas price, but we never learn), and Obama’s going to make sure we don’t drill in Utah or wherever, and Congress wants to bail out Detroit (or perhaps we should say, it wants to bail out the UAW), whether it gets its act together or not.

As The New York Times noted on Election Day,

Just a few weeks ago, the Big Three American automakers convinced
Congress to give them $25 billion in cheap loans to retool their plants
to make fuel-efficient cars. Then, with nary a blush, the Ford Motor
Company introduced the new star in its line: the 2009, 3-ton,
16-miles-per-gallon, F-150 pickup.

Lord help us, because we won’t help ourselves.

Just to review, here’s what we should do, and are not going to do:

  • Impose a tax increase to get the pump price of gasoline back closer to $4, so the money stays in this country, and demand is curtailed, thereby driving down world prices, thereby putting more money in our national coffers for hydrogen research, developing electric cars, paying for the War on Terror, credit bailouts, a National Health Plan, and all the other stuff we can’t actually afford now.
  • Produce more of our oil domestically, whether it’s off-shore, in Utah, in Alaska, wherever — for as long as we continue to need the stuff, which will be for quite a while.
  • Put all the resources we can muster into an Apollo/Manhattan Project to make our need for oil a thing of the past ASAP. How will we pay for it? I just told you.
  • Use "stimulus" funds to build mass transit, nuclear plants and other critical energy infrastructure, rather than throwing the money to the winds the way we did with the earlier stimulus program.
  • Do all the other stuff in the Energy Party Manifesto.

There. I said my piece. Nobody’s listening, but at least somebody said it.

Just glowing with happiness

Well, now, here‘s a congratulatory message I wouldn’t have anticipated:

“The nuclear energy industry congratulates Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden
on their election. One of the most important and compelling challenges facing
their administration is to put in place a national energy policy to achieve
energy security and to protect the U.S. economy and the
environment.

“If the United States is going to meet the
predicted 25 percent growth in electricity demand by the year 2030, as well as
achieve its environmental goals, we must begin that work now. And we must
recognize as a nation that we cannot reach our energy goals without the
reliable, affordable and carbon-free electricity that nuclear power plants
generate to power our homes, businesses, telecommunications, military and
transportation infrastructure. Senator Obama recognized this linkage early in
his campaign by noting, ‘It is unlikely we can meet our aggressive climate goals
if we eliminate nuclear power as an option.’

“The development of U.S. energy policy must
transcend partisan politics. There must be a bipartisan effort to develop a
diverse portfolio of energy resources, including nuclear energy, which is the
only large-scale source of carbon-free electricity that can be expanded to meet
our nation’s electricity needs. Building new nuclear power plants will expand
U.S. industry and manufacturing, creating thousands of green jobs and enabling
America over the long term to electrify its transportation sector. Affordable
around-the-clock electricity also helps to strengthen the U.S economy and
protect America’s neediest citizens.

“The executive and legislative branches have
shown considerable support across the political spectrum to work with the
nuclear industry in a public/private partnership to enable the construction of
new-generation nuclear plants and to move ahead with
scientifically sound solutions for used
nuclear fuel storage and disposal. We will work with the new administration to
pursue an integrated used fuel management strategy that includes interim storage
of used nuclear fuel, research and development into advanced technologies for
recycling used fuel without contributing to proliferation concerns, and
development of an appropriate geologic repository for permanent disposal of the
used-fuel content that can’t be recycled.

“It is crucial for the new administration to
continue with these and other efforts to shape a comprehensive energy policy
that recognizes the value of nuclear energy and other low-emission electricity
sources. We look forward to working with the Obama-Biden administration and
Congress to assure that nuclear energy continues to be recognized as a key tool
to deepen economic prosperity and achieve enduring environmental
stewardship.”

###

The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy
industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear
energy are available at www.nei.org.

Mind you — my jocular headline aside ("Doh!") — I’m a big fan of getting as many nuclear power plants up and running as we can, as fast as we can. But last time I checked, I don’t think Obama shared my eagerness. Or did I miss that?

Who’ll resurrect the electric car? Chrysler says IT will

Just as everyone is ready to write off Detroit, Chrysler (of all companies) tells the WSJ that it’s going to have a fleet — "portfolio" is the term it used, actually — of electric cars and trucks year after next:

Chrysler LLC is aiming to launch a full "portfolio" of electric cars and trucks, and sports-utility vehicles starting in late 2010, a person familiar with the company’s plans said.

The lineup will include front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive cars as well as so-called "body-on-frame" trucks, this person said.

At least one of the models will be a pure electric vehicle with a rechargable battery pack that Chrysler expects to have a range of 150 to 200 miles, this person said.

Others will have a battery that can last for about 40 miles and a small gasoline engine to provide power and recharge the battery for longer trips.

Chrysler expects these "range-extended" electric vehicles to go about 400 miles on eight gallons of gasoline, this person said….

I’m guessing that there will be a great deal of interest in this "portfolio" if it materializes. After all, my video short "Who Resurrected the Electric Car?" is my second-most watched video EVER on YouTube, with 27,748 views. (Which is first? Don’t ask. What that says about America is more disturbing, and a subject for another day.)

When I saw this breaking news on my Treo this morning, I thought it particularly ironic in light of the three letters to the editor I read in that same paper this morning, trashing Detroit all the way around for failing to do such things as this. I agreed with the letter writers, by the way.

I’ll believe Chrysler can pull this off when it does so. But the news is encouraging, from an Energy Party perspective.

However we pay for it, we all need a better transit system

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor

On Wednesday, my truck was in the shop. This sort of situation may mean slightly different things to different people. Here’s what it meant to me:

Wednesday morning, I needed a way to get from home — out west of West Columbia — to work, if for no other reason than I needed the paycheck to pay for getting my truck fixed.

Fortunately, my eldest daughter was staying at our house with her children — her husband is remodeling their home — and she works downtown. So she drove me way south of downtown to my office, before turning around and going back to her office.

(My wife couldn’t take me because she had my daughter’s six-month-old twins, and her car isn’t set up to accommodate the Apollo-capsule-type arrangements that they call baby carseats these days.)

From that point, I was stuck. I knew I was going to have to stay late at the office that night — later than anyone in my department — because I was going to be off Friday and needed to get at least a week’s worth of work done in the four days available. Besides, no one in my department lives anywhere near me. In fact, I started writing this column on Wednesday to get ahead, and as I typed this sentence at 5:23 p.m., I had no idea how I’d get home.

As it happened, my daughter got me at 8 p.m. Fortunately, she and her children had to go back into town anyway; otherwise picking me up would have involved a long round trip for somebody, with gasoline at $4 a gallon. I wasn’t quite at a stopping place when she arrived, so she waited downstairs for me with, as near as I could tell over her cell phone, at least one of the twins screaming.

Then, on Thursday morning, my truck still wasn’t ready. So we improvised a whole new plan, in which I drove my wife’s car into town, and my daughter left work at midday to take her car out to my wife so that she could go to work in the afternoon. But at least I was covered in case the job required me to be somewhere else in the course of the day, which sometimes happens.

This is ridiculous, folks.

Yes, I know: Poor me. These are decidedly spoiled American, middle-class problems.

But never mind me. The truth is, if you are less fortunate, you have a harder time owning a vehicle, fixing it when it’s broken, filling it with gasoline, or paying to park it. Nor can you afford to do without that job that the vehicle would take you to.

There are many places in this country where folks don’t have these problems. I have a New York subway card in my wallet from my last trip there, which I can’t bring myself to throw away because of the wonderful thing it represents: freedom from driving and pumping gas and finding a place to park, simply ducking down a few steps, and moments later finding myself in whatever part of town that I need to be in.

In the Columbia metropolitan area, we have our own sort of mass transit system, in theory. But it isn’t fully adequate to anyone’s needs. It doesn’t go from enough places to enough places often enough, and it’s tough for someone who just needs it occasionally to find out quickly and easily how to use it.

What we need is a better transit system, but what we’re in danger of having now is a worse one, or none at all. That’s because Richland County — the one local government that’s done the most to step up to the challenge of funding said system — is going to stop stepping up in October. That’s when the vehicle tax the county levied for that purpose runs out.

Last week, the County Council ditched a plan to hold a referendum asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund the buses and other transportation needs and wants. I don’t blame the council. As we said in an editorial before the action, the Legislature has jacked up our sales taxes too high already. And besides, some of the things in that transportation proposal were more wants than needs, and only in there to get people who don’t ride buses to back the proposal.

No one knows where we go from here. The County Council doesn’t know. The citizens group that put together the plan the council rejected doesn’t know.

And just in case we got the notion that the city of Columbia would be taking up the slack, I got a preemptive call from Mayor Bob Coble Thursday morning to tell me that the options range from few to none. (While the mayor didn’t say so, that’s largely thanks to the Legislature’s tireless efforts to make sure local governments can’t pay for any local need that they aren’t paying for already.)

About the only person offering new ideas last week was regular contributor “bud” on my blog, who suggested using the city’s and county’s shares of the “hospitality tax,” a lot of which currently goes for things a whole lot less essential than a mass transit system.

As I write this, I don’t know what the best way to pay for a better transit system might be. What I do know is that Midlands governments need to find a way, for the sake of:

  • Those who have no other way to get to work now.
  • Those of us who would like a better way to work than we have now (and sometimes need one).
  • Those “knowledge workers” who are supposed to make the planned Innovista work, and who have the option of working instead in a community where it’s easier, and cheaper, and cleaner to get around.

For more, visit my blog at thestate.com/bradsblog/.

Driving slower

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
            — the late George Carlin

When I drove to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, I did a new thing — I drove under the de jure speed limit. Normally, I do what most people do, stay under the de facto limit — staying carefully under a speed that is 10 mph over the limit.

This change on my part wasn’t due to some newfound respect for the law. We know that here in the United States, no state actually means for us to drive below the stated speed. If they did, the police would stop and ticket us for exceeding it. We all know that a trooper will sit right there and watch you go by if you’re doing 78 in a 70 zone, for instance. But go 85, and he’ll get you. (One exception to this may be the Mississippi patrolmen, who are apparently too busy speeding themselves to notice anyone else doing it.)

Nor was I doing it to help fight the War on Terror. I agree with Samuel Tenenbaum that we should lower the limit to 55 and enforce it, but in the meantime, driving that much slower than the surrounding traffic is not only unsafe, but will not have a sufficiently measurable impact on energy independence to make taking your life in your hands worth it. We’ve all got to do it for it to help.

No, I drove below the limit because my family was packed into three cars, and one of those contained my wife and daughter and the six-month-old twins, and they had to stop frequently. My wife said it made her nervous to try to stay within sight of each other, so I went on ahead, but tried not to get too far ahead.

And you know what? I kind of liked it. It was … more relaxing.

Anyway, when I was getting ready for this trip, I ran into Samuel, and he said "Drive 55!" And I said I didn’t think I could do that, because I had to drive to Pennsylvania, pack my daughter’s belongings into my truck, drive back from Pennsylvania with all the stuff, and unload it at the place where she’s going to be living back in South Carolina, all between Friday morning and Monday afternoon. But I did promise to stay below the posted limits. "But that means you’ll be driving 70!" Actually, no, I assured him — since so much of the trip is in Virginia (limit 65), and the limit in PA is 65 or 55, and the small bit of Maryland is 65 or 60 (around Hagerstown), and the first 50 miles of North Carolina is 60, my average would be far below 70.

So I did it yesterday, and the results were good.

I drive a 2000 Ford Ranger. And for those of you who wonder why the founder of the Energy Party doesn’t drive a Prius, consider three things:

I can’t afford a Prius. I don’t foresee a time anywhere in the near future when I will be able to afford a Prius.

I am the designated truck owner in the family — my large, extended family. No one closely related to me owns a large, truck-type vehicle of any kind — certainly no SUVs, I’m happy to say. Whenever one of my 20-something children has to move from one apartment to another, or building materials are needed, or an attic full of stuff has to be hauled either to Goodwill or the dump or whatever, I’m the guy; I’ve got the truck.

I’ve done everything I can to be responsible about this truck-ownership thing. I went out of my way to find a 4-cylinder, manual transmission. (What this means is that I’m not only the designated truck owner, but the designated truck driver, since no one else has confidence with the manual shift, and I prefer to drive my own truck anyway.)

This brings up an ironic digression. We looked into renting a truck for moving my daughter from PA. It was going to cost more than $700 — we tried several vendors — plus the cost of renting a car to get up there. So we decided to give away a lot of her stuff — my daughter’s fine with that — and haul back only what I could get onto my Ranger. (To get your mind around this, picture the Beverly Hillbillies, only we opted not to take a rocking chair for Granny.) But I needed new tires. So I splurged and bought (via credit card) four new tires. Changing the tires revealed bearings that needed repacking, the need for new tie rod ends, and original shocks that were overdue for replacement at 110,000 miles. Total: $1,450 dollars. Samuel and Jerry Whitley, who is a CPA, told me that at least I was investing it in my truck instead of wasting it on a rental. So I guess that’s something. And it drives really well down, without that shimmy every time I went over the slightest irregularity in the road.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, my point: I drove under the speed limit the whole way. Normally, my truck gets about 22 mpg in town. I had never had it on the highway for an extended period before. Driving below the limit, I got 27 mpg on my first tank of gas. I refilled when we finally rolled into Carlisle, PA, last night, and I had gotten an awesome 28.7 mpg on the second tank. Not as good as the 31 or so we had done in my wife’s car on the Memphis trip, but this is a truck — and as we know, Detroit has put zero effort into making the things efficient, on account of their being exempted from CAFE standards all those years.

So I think it was worth the extra hour and a half or so it took — or whatever. I didn’t want to actually do the math, because that might make me want to hurry on the trip back. It’s like a Zen thing. We left Cola at 10 a.m., stopped several times, and got to Carlisle at about 8:10 p.m.

And it was also a more relaxing drive. Once you drop the usual "Gotta get there! Gotta press the guy in front of me!" mode, your head gets into a better place. I noticed this on the Memphis trip as well.