Category Archives: Energy

Going after the stimulus


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

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


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

“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


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

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

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

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.

RichCo Council agrees with us on sales tax hike

The proposal to put a local penny sales tax increase for Richland County transportation needs on the November ballot presented us with a dilemma as an editorial board. Some of the main points to consider:

  • With the vehicle tax expiring in October, some way to continue funding the Midlands bus system was needed.
  • The road work identified in the plan a citizen study group came up with DID identify real needs — although the road construction, along with bike paths, etc. — were in our minds mere sweeteners (in this plan, that is) to draw more votes for the bus funding. There is indeed a need for some road construction, and MUCH road maintenance, not only in Richland County, but across our state. That has been neglected by our Legislature, which has also refused to reform the DOT, making us reluctant to see any additional funding passed, since it would pass through such an inefficient and unaccountable agency.
  • With the tax swap of last year, the Legislature has already put far too much stress on sales taxes, and too little on other mechanisms such as property and income. Another penny would exacerbate an already serious problem. It’s not as bad here yet as Tennessee, but we’re getting there.
  • The Legislature — see how often the Legislature is the source of problems? — has given local governments no better options for funding local needs.
  • Putting the question on the ballot is not the same thing as supporting it.

So, faced with all that and more, we noted the problems with a sales tax increase in our Tuesday editorial, although we reluctantly granted that at this point, perhaps the only way forward was to go ahead and have the referendum. Then, when it failed, the council would know it had to find another way to fund the buses.

Now that it has voted down even having the referendum (which we did not think the council would do, or I  didn’t anyway), the county has reached that point even more quickly.

The best option at the moment would seem to be continuing the wheel tax, while looking for a longer-term solution to paying the county’s share of operating the inadequate transit system that we have.

We may have an Energy Party candidate in Texas

You know how I’m always getting stuff about politics in other parts of the country that, in order to get through the day and pay attention to the stuff I need to pay attention to, I just automatically delete, by the gross?

Well, I stopped and backed up and undeleted one today because something caught my eye just as it was going away. It said, in part:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Noriega Charts Course for Texas, U.S. Energy Self-Sufficiency
U.S. Senate Candidate Calls Current Energy Situation Both a Short-Term Crisis and Long-Term Opportunity for Texas
Dallas – Calling our current energy situation both a “crisis and an opportunity,” U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega unveiled his energy plan at a press conference at Dallas City Hall this morning. Entitled “Bold Solutions for a Better Future: Energy Self-Sufficiency Now,” the Noriega energy plan is designed to provide immediate relief for Texas families; build the road to energy self-sufficiency; and develop a sustainable energy and economic future for Texas and the U.S.
    The Noriega energy plan is centered on the belief that by becoming a world leader in renewable energy, Texas will create jobs, strengthen the state’s economic base, provide a more sustainable future for state natural resources, and strengthen our national security. At the heart of the plan is the ambitious 100% in 10 effort – the goal to use entirely renewable sources for Texas household electricity needs by 2019….

This Noriega guy is apparently a Democrat, although he doesn’t go on an on about it. You mostly have to pick up on that from the use of key code phrases, such as "Take Texas Back," yadda-yadda.

But hey, with an agenda like that, he might want to think about joining us in the Energy Party. Around here, the politicians of both parties just pander to our anger over gasoline prices, without proposing to do much that is substantive.

So I don’t know much about this Noriega guy, but at least on this point, he’s capable of thinking roughly in the right direction.

Yeah, he’s real skimpy on the details — where is this plan, by the way? — but at least, as I say, he starts in the right direction.

What did you think of Al Gore’s speech?


On tomorrow’s page we’ll be running a Tom Friedman piece that holds up Al Gore’s speech as the kind that the actual current president of the United States ought to be making — and the kind that an Energy Party president would certainly make. Here’s how Friedman described it:

    … If you want to know what an alternative strategy might look like, read the speech that Al Gore delivered on Thursday to the bipartisan Alliance for Climate Protection. Gore, the alliance’s chairman, called for a 10-year plan — the same amount of time John F. Kennedy set for getting us to the moon — to shift the entire country to “renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources” to power our homes, factories and even transportation.
    Mr. Gore proposed dramatically improving our national electricity grid and energy efficiency, while investing massively in clean solar, wind, geothermal and carbon-sequestered coal technologies that we know can work but just need to scale. To make the shift, he called for taxing carbon and offsetting that by reducing payroll taxes: Let’s “tax what we burn, not what we earn,” he said.
    Whether you agree or not with Gore’s plan, at least he has a plan for dealing with the real problem we face — a multifaceted, multigenerational energy/environment/geopolitical problem…

Me, I’m really busy trying to get pages out without Mike, which is not easy, let me tell you. But maybe y’all can go read Al’s speech and tell me what you think. All I know is that what I’ve heard about it — from Friedman and others who have filtered and condensed its points — sounds good. But maybe the devil’s in the details.

What do y’all think?

T. Boone Pickens’ plan for energy independence


Assuming the link works for you, I invite you to go read T. Boone Pickens’ piece in the WSJ today, headlined, "My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil."

Now I know what you’re thinking: Mr. Pickens being an oil man from way back, his plan for independence is likely to be as simple and monolithic as Joe Wilson‘s — specifically, drill.

But while he says, way down in the piece, "Drilling in the outer continental shelf should be considered as well," it plays less of a role in his vision than it does in the Energy Party‘s, if that. It comes after he urges us to "explore all avenues and every energy alternative, from more R&D into batteries and fuel cells to development of solar, ethanol and biomass to more conservation."

TurbinesAll of that follows his exploration of his main idea, which is to convert a large portion of our energy
generation to wind power, which he lauds by saying "Wind is 100% domestic, it is 100% renewable and it is 100% clean." He would use natural gas thereby freed up from power generation to run our vehicles.

All that is great, but I think the best passage in the piece is when he explains why we must take extraordinary measures to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I leave you with that excerpt:

    Let me share a few facts: Each year we import more and more oil. In 1973, the year of the infamous oil embargo, the United States imported about 24% of our oil. In 1990, at the start of the first Gulf War, this had climbed to 42%. Today, we import almost 70% of our oil.
    This is a staggering number, particularly for a country that consumes oil the way we do. The U.S. uses nearly a quarter of the world’s oil, with just 4% of the population and 3% of the world’s reserves. This year, we will spend almost $700 billion on imported oil, which is more than four times the annual cost of our current war in Iraq.
    In fact, if we don’t do anything about this problem, over the next 10 years we will spend around $10 trillion importing foreign oil. That is $10 trillion leaving the U.S. and going to foreign nations, making it what I certainly believe will be the single largest transfer of wealth in human history…

The troubles with ethanol

One reason we need to pursue every potential avenue in trying to achieve greater energy independence (and save the planet) is that some of the things we try are going to fail. Others are going to turn out to be bad ideas. The sooner we know that, the better.

Most of us now know that about ethanol. But in case you thought that the only reason why it’s a bad idea is that converting cropland to growing energy instead of food leads to famine for millions and higher food prices for everybody else (as if that weren’t enough), Venkat Laksmi provided a more complete list for us today on our op-ed page. An excerpt:

    …Ethanol is not a long hydrocarbon chain like gasoline, and as a
result it is only two-thirds as efficient as gasoline. In other words,
a gallon of ethanol will provide two-thirds of the energy of a gallon
of gasoline. Ethanol mixes with water, which is not the case with
gasoline, which means the transportation systems used for gasoline
(i.e. pipelines and trucks) cannot be used for ethanol.

there is a lot of inefficiency in the production of ethanol. For
example, corn-based ethanol requires 54 percent of the energy to
process the corn into ethanol and 24 percent to grow the corn. As a
result, there is a return of only 30 percent or so of the energy,
making this inefficient as compared to conventional gasoline, which
produces five times the energy required to produce it, and even
biodiesel, with its 93 percent efficiency. Even though biodiesel is
efficient, it has a long way to go for large-scale production….

Hearing on Santee Cooper’s coal-fired power plant

For those of you who are motivated and have the free time to attend such, here’s a notice I just got about a public hearing regarding Santee Cooper’s proposed coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee:

July 9, 2008

Public meeting set for air application for proposed Santee Cooper power

COLUMBIA – A public meeting on an air quality application submitted by
Santee Cooper for a proposed new coal-fired power plant in Florence
County will be held July 22 at Hannah-Pamplico High School, the S.C.
Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

DHEC’s Bureau of Air Quality received an application for a
Case-by-Case Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT), also called
“112(g)” air permit by Santee Cooper. The public meeting is being
held for local citizens and other interested persons to ask questions
and offer comments on the proposed project to be located near Kingsburg
and Pamplico.

The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. at the school located at 2055 South
Pamplico Highway in Pamplico.

At the meeting information on the 112(g) application and DHEC’s air
permitting process will be provided, along with an opportunity for the
public to ask questions and provide comments on the application.

The U.S. Court of Appeals eliminated the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule
for power plants. Until a new mercury regulation is issued by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, each new power plant will have to
propose emission limits to control hazardous air pollutants, including
mercury. DHEC is required to review the proposed limits and application
and make a MACT determination.


Charlotte’s success with light rail

The Charleston paper this morning has this story about Charlotte’s initial success with light rail. Note this excerpt:

The Lynx is an electric light-rail system that started running in
November and quickly exceeded ridership predictions. Near many of the
15 stations along the 9.6-mile line, new condominiums and other
buildings are under construction, and property values are rising fast.

Those of you who believe in the market as arbiter of all things should note that last bit: "property values are rising fast." That’s the mark of success. Me, I’d call it a success if they’d just extend it out to that mess around Lake Norman and relieve it just a little, so it doesn’t feel like I spend half the drive to Pennsylvania dragging through that part. You don’t actually escape the gravitational pull of that hyperdense mass until you’re 50 miles into North Carolina.

Hey, if Charlotte builds on this, and Charleston imitates it, can my Midlands Subway System be far behind?

I keep dreaming the dream anyway…

Neither Obama nor McCain meets Energy Party standard

JOHN McCAIN and Barack Obama are lucky there’s such a thing as Republicans and Democrats in this country, because neither would be able to get the Energy Party nomination.
    They’re also lucky that the Energy Party exists only in my head, because I believe its nominee could tap into a longing, among the very independent voters Messrs. McCain and Obama need to court for victory, for a pragmatic, nonideological, comprehensive national energy policy. This independent voter longs for it, anyway.
    What is the greatest failure of George W. Bush as president? If you answered “Iraq,” you lose. His greatest failure was summed up well by Sen. Joe Biden, who said at the 2006 Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting, “History will judge George Bush harshly not for the mistakes he has made… but because of the opportunities that he has squandered.”
    The biggest wasted opportunity was when he failed, on Sept. 12, 2001, to ask Americans to sacrifice, to work together to shake off “the grip of foreign oil oligarchs,” and “plan the demise of Islamic fundamentalism.”
    Gasoline was between about $1.40 and $1.50 a gallon then. If we had applied a federal tax increase then of $1 or $2 — as voices as varied as Tom Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Jim Hoagland and Robert Samuelson have urged for years — we’d still have been paying less per gallon than we are now, and the money would have stayed in this country, in our hands, rather than in those of Mahmoud Ahmajinedad, or Hugo Chavez, or our “friends” the Saudis (you know, the ones who underwrite the Wahhabist madrassas).
    And who, on the day after the terrorist attacks, would have refused? Most Americans would have been glad to be asked to do something to fight back.
    We could have used that money for a lot of things, from funding the War on Terror (rather than passing the debt to our grandchildren) to accelerating the development of hydrogen, solar, wind, clean coal, methanol-from-coal, electric cars, mass transit — on something useful. We would have started conserving a lot more a lot faster, reducing demand enough to deliver a shock to world oil prices. Demand would have resumed its rise because of such irresistible forces as Chinese growth, but we would have had a salutary effect.
    But we didn’t. We didn’t do anything to defund the terrorists or the petrodictators, or to reduce upward pressure on the national debt, or to respond to rising world energy demands, or to save the planet. We didn’t do it because we can’t do it individually and have an appreciable effect — it would take a national effort, and that takes leadership. And no one in a position of political leadership — not the president, not his fellow Republicans, and not their Democratic opposition — has stood up and said, Let’s get our act together, and here’s how….
    Getting our act together would require leaders who are no longer interested in playing the Party Game. In Messrs. McCain and Obama, we had an opportunity. No major Republican is less into party than John McCain, which is why so many Republicans wanted to deny him the nomination. And in Barack Obama, Democrats have finally settled on the far-less-partisan alternative.
    But in the energy realm, what have we gotten? Sen. Obama generally sticks to the liberal/Democratic playbook: No drilling offshore or in ANWR. Play down nuclear, play up solar and wind.
    Sen. McCain, at least, is not doctrinaire Republican on energy. For that, you have to look to someone like Jim DeMint, whose op-ed piece on our pages a week ago extolled drilling, but excoriated “cap and trade.”
    Sen. McCain will at least take some items from the left (cap and trade, CAFE standards) and some from the right (let states decide whether to drill offshore), but he’s mushy about it. And any credit he gets for ideological flexibility is overshadowed by his being the author of the biggest pander on energy this year — the proposal for a “gas tax holiday.”
    An Energy Party nominee wouldn’t propose to lower the price of gasoline at the pump, so if that’s what you want — and a lot of you do want that — you can just stop reading now. Making it temporarily easier to buy more foreign oil is in no way in the national interest, and a leader would have the guts to explain that.
    The Energy nominee would increase domestic production in the short term and lead a no-holds-barred national effort to take us beyond major dependence on anybody’s oil. He (or she) would put America at the forefront of both energy innovation and environmental stewardship, and would not let any sort of ideology stand in the way. (We must distinguish, for instance, between an environmental goal that matters, such as global climate change, and the inconvenience of a few caribou.) The Energy nominee would, given the chance:

  • Drill off our coast, something we’ve seen can be done with minimal environmental risk.
  • Drill in the ANWR (which, as detractors note, would not solve the problem, but it would help, and would demonstrate that we’re serious).
  • Prohibitively tax the ownership of SUVs, and any other unconscionable, antisocial behavior.
  • Lower speed limits, and enforce them (use the fines to pay for more traffic cops).
  • Take money away from highway construction, and devote it to mass transit.
  • Build nuclear plants with the urgency of the Manhattan Project.
  • Develop electric cars at Apollo speed.

    We need leadership that respects no one’s sacred ideological cows, left or right — leadership that will take risks to do what works, both for the nation and ultimately for the planet.
    Is that really so much to ask?

How much do YOU spend on gas?

Back on this post, Susanna K. reminded me of this letter in Monday’s paper:

Gas is still relatively cheap in U.S.
    Wake up, folks. Once again our media friends have created the myth that gas is expensive, fueling an already weakened economy.
    In 1963, I spent 4 percent of my income on gas. For me, personally, gas is very cheap. My wife and I drive two large SUVs, and we spend 1 percent of our income on fuel.
    Stop this ridiculous pump patrol. We are fortunate to have gas at about $4 a gallon. Our retired friends in the Netherlands pay $9.52 a gallon.

West Columbia

Susanna made the point that if Mr. Monroe is really only spending 1 percent of his income on fuel, he’s "definitely in the minority, especially in South Carolina." She also tried to direct us (TypePad messed up the link) to this graphic in the NYT. It shows where in the country gas prices hit the hardest, as a percentage of income. As the caption says, poor, rural areas are hit the hardest. Californians pay more, but they can afford it better.

Anyway, it reminded me that I tried to do the calculation in my head when I was reading that letter on the proof, and I’m pretty sure I spend a lot more than 1 percent (of gross, never mind net), considering gas for my wife’s vehicle and mine as percentage of total income. And I make more money than the average, and don’t drive all that much, beyond going to work and back.

So that made me wonder — are any of y’all as fortunate as Mr. Monroe?

I should say that his point is well taken — we’d be much worse off in many other countries. But if his figures are right, I don’t think he’s very representative.