Posts Tagged ‘ Energy ’

The upside of a gasoline crisis

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices: “This administration’s policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive.”

First, I have to admit that Barbour is cynically correct, but only if you read the above sentence like this: Haley Barbour … today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices … in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive. It is true, Obama himself has stated that he is not opposed to higher prices on gasoline (maybe because a sustained gas crisis would actually generate the political willpower to detox our foreign oil addiction). However, administration policies have NOTHING to do with the current rise in gas prices. Let me repeat that: ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CURRENT RISE IN GAS PRICES!!! The federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has not changed since 1993; it is currently 18.4 cents. There is an excess supply of oil in world markets, so the lack of new drilling permits in Gulf is not restricting production. In short, the sharp increases in gas prices around the country over the last couple of weeks are purely the result of market volatility and uncertainty about political developments in the oil rich Middle East and North Africa.

Even if the U.S. were suddenly able to tap all of its possible reserves (note, there is still debate about what amount of this is ‘proven’), it is only enough to last about 31 years at current consumption levels. And given that we presently produce 6 million barrels a day while consuming 20 million, it is beyond even my wildest dreams to think that our production could ever completely supplant foreign sources. In short, an energy policy that is based on oil and other fossil fuels will never allow us to be self-sufficient and will not support future generations of Americans that Republicans love to crow about protecting (i.e., me and my future children).

So what good can come from a gasoline crisis that would hit working-class Americans the hardest? It would force us to confront the fact that domestic politicos have very little long-term control over the price of oil and, subsequently, gas prices. And that if we truly want energy security, we’re actually going to have to invest in sources that won’t dry up unless the earth stops spinning or the sun explodes (wind- and solar-power, for those keeping score). So while the Obama administration is not actively raising gas prices, it is not afraid to confront the realities that underlie those rising prices because, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu points out, “When the price of oil goes up in the short-term, everybody gets very worried. But when it subsides, people forget that this is a long-term problem.”

While Democrats and Republicans agree that our energy sector should not be held hostage to foreign policy crises, Republicans’ (and some Democrats) belief that we can simply use domestic fossil fuels to solve our supply problem is simply ludicrous. Well, I guess it’s not ludicrous to Baby Boomers who will be dead before the oil is gone; but to someone like me who actually will have to deal with a post-oil society, I would prefer not to have to start developing that new infrastructure when the oil runs out. Instead, we need to recognize that there is still a place for oil in this world, but that it should be as a bridge to maintain supplies as we transition to renewable sources which can power our nation for generations to come. If politicians (like former energy lobbyist Haley Barbour) who oppose alternative energy development in favor of increasing oil production want to be taken seriously by working-class and younger Americans about protecting them from energy price fluctuations, they should cut the bullshit and get off the oil industry’s dick.

And maybe it’s just because I’ve had Gary Jules in my head all day and want to talk about it, but I think this really sums up the conservative solution to energy security: “And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad/The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”

Cheesehead cronyism

In this country, we love to say that politicians with whom we disagree are corrupt, controlled by special interests, inept, etc … Though usually we have little else to go on aside from our own disdain. Here, however, is a pretty stark example of corporate cronyism in the works ….

By now we’ve all heard about the protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. Hell, a handful of the state senators were even hiding out here in Rockford. But removing public employee protections without any consent is only one part of the Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill.”

Equally as troubling is the proviso allowing the governor to sell off state-owned utilities to whomsoever he pleases without needing to even glance at another bid. Not that this should be any surprise; it’s the bog-standard conservative line of the last few decades: privatize. Privatize. PRIVATIZE! What is troubling, however, is the role of Charles and David Koch and their PAC, Americans for Prosperity, in helping elect and advise Walker and a sympathetic Republican-controlled legislature in the first place.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico’s Ben Smith all report that the Kochs do not have any financial interest in the outcome of the bill, and they point to Gov. Walker’s previously stated desire to break up the unions as proof that this is a state matter. But that still leaves the focus on the collective bargaining parts of Walker’s bill, and doesn’t address the tangible interests Koch Industries has in Wisconsin’s energy sector (nod to for the link).

Finally, Susie Madrak over at Crooks & Liars found this little gem of a job advertisement:

Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin. You need 15+ years of operations & maintenance experience in a power plant environment. You should have at least 5 years of experience managing operations & maintenance teams in an operational power plant. The ideal candidate has experience in a coal fired power plant. Salary is commensurate with experience.

Why would a company describe itself merely as an “energy client” in a job advertisement if it was serious about attracting top talent? A prestigious name alone is usually enough to flood an HR department with applications. Now I do happen to believe in coincidences, and I cannot say for certain that something sinister is going on here, but these events are lining up just a little too perfectly for me not to believe that. The saddest part is, if it turns out that the Koch brothers did engineer a corporate takeover of Wisconsin’s energy sector, it will have been done in public view and perfectly legal.



An Epic Quest, Indeed

Lately I’ve been reading Daniel Yergin’s seminal work on the history of oil entitled The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. If you happen to have any interest in oil or energy, then I cannot recommend this book enough. Going above and beyond developments specific to the oil industry, Yergin deftly weaves the tale of this brown goop into the last 150 years of global sociopolitical history. Beyond the usual figures of John Rockefeller and Henri Deterding, characters such as Alfred Nobel, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain all make interesting and relevant appearances, further highlighting oil’s importance to our story as a species.

But while the The Prize is a swashbuckling good yarn of immense proportions, there is an underlying context which is very important to apprehend given the current attitudes surrounding oil in much of the developed world: namely, that it is not some Great Evil foisted on us by an elite cadre of businessmen looking to make a quick buck at humanity’s expense. Rather, oil was seen as an eminently useful and available tool for progress. Was there profit to be made? Sure. But that was because the potential great uses for oil were foreseen by some clever businessmen, who were then able to capitalize on its convenience when the rest of the world got a taste of it.

Are there problems associated with oil? Of course. Extraction is often a very dirty and destructive process (one need only look at the broken pipe currently gushing millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico as a stark contemporary example). Is there corruption and cloak-and-dagger-type nonsense surrounding the oil business’s history? Definitely. Do we need to move beyond oil as our primary energy source? Without question. But the key point is that we’re human and we make mistakes. If it hadn’t been oil providing our energy, we would’ve found something else. And we would’ve made a mess of that, too.

The main idea here, then, is that we need to take a conscientious look at oil as an energy source, and not as some devilish temptation that only drives men to madness. By understanding its development, we understand our own history, so that we can work to not replicate the mistakes made in pursuit of oil as we address the energy needs of the 21st century.