The nation’s fuel economy standards have been the subject of heated debate, in Washington and beyond.
There’s one element of the discussion that has bridged the political divide, however: the potential for higher-octane fuels to satisfy the interested parties, not to mention benefit the country in a variety of ways. Read more
Congress just left town for recess. Should we feel relieved that it can do no (or at least minimal) harm while it’s out of town, or should we feel bad that it went on vacation without enacting several important bills or making a real dent in establishing the ground rules for a fair and effective budget for next year?
We live in the world’s second-largest democracy, and a democracy whose political leaders frequently claim that we are an exceptional people and nation. Yet, can we and they really look in the mirror and say we and they are exceptional, particularly with respect to Congressional behavior itself? One of the three institutional pillars of our democracy – Congress – is almost dysfunctional. Ideology often substitutes for intellect and thinking; the urging of lobbies replaces study and analysis; and shouting and name-calling replace debate and dialogue. What a model for an exceptional nation to provide other countries looking to the supposed nation on the shining hill and yearning for the democratic way!
In this context, I found myself laughing and crying simultaneously after reading a recent Bloomberg article, “Congress Looks Underground for Cash.” Unwilling to face the possibility of new taxes for legitimate programs aimed at speeding drug development and medical research or funding the nation’s infrastructure needs (or finding consensus on budget cuts), a number of House and Senate members have proposed to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for part of each program’s costs. Good objectives but bad policy!
Now, as you let the idea of using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for domestic purposes, unrelated to oil and energy needs, sink in, remember, if you’re old enough, that the Reserve grew out of the Arab oil boycott in the early seventies. Its purpose, at the time, was to allow the nation to survive future supply shocks and to grant the U.S. a tool to withstand tension in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Maybe it’s time to look at and possibly amend the initial objectives of the Reserve. But for the safety and security of the U.S., this reevaluation should be done reasonably and rationally. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve shouldn’t become a grab bag to avoid hard budget choices.
Think of it in terms of numbers: The Reserve has close to 700 million barrels in it now. America uses about 19 million barrels every day and still is dependent on foreign oil for 25-30 percent of its oil consumption. Put another way, we have, in theory, around a five-month supply of oil if an international oil crisis emerges and imports are reduced to zero.
You might say that, because there are so many complex variables, this theory is likely never to be converted to practice. Really! Again, remember the five-month Arab oil boycott in 1973!
The U.S. might be able to negate major economic and consumer impacts for a longer period by relying on increased shale oil development. Oil companies could respond by producing more oil, assuming a significant decline in imports was telegraphed well before they occur. Well, before any foreign boycott, global prices for oil would have to move to much higher levels than they are now to stimulate new wells and production. Refining and distribution capacity would have to exist and result in increased efficiency as well as now-absent policy consensus concerning environmental issues among citizens and federal, state and local governments.
But magic probably won’t occur. Despite American ingenuity, past experience tells us there will be a time gap between positive market signals, if they exist, and positive oil-company responses. International oil prices – not patriotism – will govern behavior, and it is conceivable that U.S. production, minus export numbers, will not measure up to U.S. needs.
The proposed withdrawals by Congress are just under one-third of the reserves – not a trivial amount – and this is only for two programs! Gosh, why not include housing or early childhood education programs? What about agricultural initiatives? Maybe job training? I know a few college presidents who are pleading for more money to hire faculty or engage in research. I am surprised that no one thought of funding the Export-Import Bank through petroleum reserves. Remember Puff the Magic Dragon and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?
Maintenance of the integrity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve seems still important for security reasons – its original purpose. We may need the leverage and the strategic edge the reserve provides some day.
To assure its ability to withstand dependence on foreign oil, the nation should also be looking at options to supplement or complement the reserve. Vehicles in the United States now use nearly 45 percent of oil consumed in this nation every day.
What if, as the president has proposed, the nation begins to wean itself off oil and moves toward expanded use of ethanol as well as other alternative fuels, such as methanol, electricity, a range of biofuels and natural gas, when they are ready for prime time? Increased market share for alternative fuels would reduce reliance on or extend the efficacy of the Reserve, as well as the need for oil imports. It would help lessen the importance of oil as a critical defining element of U.S. Middle East foreign and defense (or offense) policies. In this context, it would also permit the nation to become a leader internationally with respect to curbing GHG emissions and other health- and environmental-related pollutants.
Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw and Robert Kennedy, some people ask why and I say, “why not?”
Combine the lyrics from 4 Non Blondes with the personal frustration suggested by the “it’s a puzzlement” comment from the King of Siam in “The King and I,” expressed when he was perplexed by a changing world, and you will understand why many are confused by three relatively recent actions that limit or impede the growth of alternative fuels.
Most advocates of consumer choice at the pump and the end of Big Oil’s near-monopoly concerning transportation fuel praised the president’s State of the Union address a couple of years ago. He proposed that the nation wean itself off of oil. Wow, some fuel choice advocates were thrilled, almost orgiastic. Just think, in a couple of years customers might search for fuel stations selling a range of lower-cost alternative fuels, instead of only gasoline. Environmentalists welcomed the president’s comments. Less pollution and fewer GHG emissions! Most economists were pleased. They saw more jobs and further GNP growth. Servicemen were happy. They would be asked to fight fewer wars for oil.
In this context, there was hope that the cheaper cost of oil, and its derivative, gasoline — both of which are now rising in cost — juxtaposed with the regulations resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Shell’s failure to use its original drilling permit to drill successfully and the availability of less expensive competitive fuels, would end the prospect of drilling in the pristine Arctic Circle off of Alaska’s coast. It would be just too costly. Good news! We can dream, can’t we!?
Similarly, some of my colleagues and friends who support fuel choice and a better shake for consumers than gasoline (concerning costs and GHG emissions), were hoping that improved technology, lower prices, and inventions like Elon Musk’s just-announced solar storage unit, could soon generate an increased ability for solar energy to power many coal-fired utilities, homes and even vehicles. In the aggregate, the U.S. would produce significantly fewer emissions and pollutants. What a welcome, possible, short-term happening! Musk for president!
The increased popularity of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) from Tesla (among those who can afford them) and the emergence of cheaper battery-powered vehicles from Detroit have also lent hope to those who are fuel agnostic or favor a long-term, robust renewable fuel market and more consumer choices at the pump. While electric cars offer a vision of the future, their broad acceptance by the public depends on design and technology improvements to both end the fear of running out of battery power while on the road, and provide more internal space — both at costs most Americans can afford. Both problems seem to be on the way to resolution, based on the pronouncements from Tesla and Detroit. We can only hope!
But despite the optimism gene internal to most Americans, the great “big hill of hope” has recently become even bigger to climb. While alternative fuel advocates remain relatively quiet and often unable to speak with one effective voice, federal and state policies and regulations have been changed to limit the ability of alternative fuels to secure significant market penetration. Despite large subsidies to the oil industry, neither the administration nor Congress has been willing to seriously try to weaken the ability of Big Oil to restrict alternative fuel sales at local gas stations. Indeed, several attempts to enact open fuels legislation have failed to even get out of Congressional committees.
Although the country seems awash in oil, just this week, the president gave conditional approval to Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea off of Alaska, despite the company’s mismanagement of earlier attempts to do the same, and despite the objections of many environmental groups and Alaskan natives. Both industry and critics of the permits note that drilling will be risky, given very high waves, icy seas, strong winds, bitter cold weather and the need to protect the routes of migration and feeding areas for marine mammals. As The New York Times indicated this week, the permit is a “major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists,” and for consumers, I would add. Estimates of the oil in the Chukchi Sea range all over the place. However, if oil companies are able to overcome high drilling costs and secure a significant flow of oil, even for a relatively short time, they will increase their ability to limit sales of alternative fuels among their franchises and through differential pricing, the sales of alternative fuels by independent retailers.
It doesn’t get any better. Just as opportunities to secure and store solar power — power that could be used to power homes, autos and utilities — seem almost ready for prime time, many of America’s utility companies — another great supporter of competition (excuse the cynicism) — have begun to seek legislative relief to impede solar’s growth. Their argument deserves discussion. If solar power grows, it could well be at the expense of improvements in the grid. But the use of their political power with state legislatures to seek ad-hoc remedies, different in each state, is not in the public interest. Legislative efforts to lower the price solar users secure from utilities when they put excess power on the grid may or may not be good policy or practice. Shouldn’t we know before such policies are enacted by states? Similarly, putting up regulatory impediments impeding the sale of solar units, including storage units, would likely really hurt what is now a risky start-up industry. The net result of poorly conceived state-by-state initiatives to protect the utility industry would be to limit the capacity of solar energy to substitute for coal in powering utilities and to reduce options to produce cleaner electric cars with almost zero GHG emissions. Similarly, restricting the storage of solar energy would end up slowing down the development of another alternative fuel — one based on solar-derived power.
Finally, the continuing efforts by several states to change Tesla’s business model have and will reduce competition for fuels and the use of electricity as a fuel. Why? Several state legislatures, under political pressure from auto dealers, have banned its direct-sales approach. If Tesla wants to sell its electric-powered cars in Texas, for example, it must sell through an auto dealer. Remember, some Texans recently wanted to secede from the union in order to free the state from “federal dictatorship” and, ostensibly, extend personal freedom and its corollary market competition! (I thought of signing the petition that was floating around to let Texas go.) Passing laws to protect one kind of business from another is un-American…almost like sending the Texas National Guard to monitor the training of U.S. soldiers to be sure they are not digging tunnels under Walmart and engaging in other nefarious activities contrary to the interest of the good citizens of Texas. Davy Crockett would be offended. The bottom line is that Texas and other states with similar regulations are limiting fuel choice by placing a Berlin Wall around their boundaries and not letting Tesla and its electric vehicles in. Ah. Freedom!
So, supporters have some big hills to climb and sometimes it may be a puzzlement to the climbers. But, as the singer Billy Ocean once vocalized, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Building a coalition among the willing supporters of alternative fuels should not be difficult. They share goals concerning the need for increased consumer choices and the value of open fuel markets. If they reach out to include, rather than define boundaries to exclude; if they acknowledge that absolute wisdom concerning strategies does not exist; if they are willing to work toward consensus and bring their respective constituencies along with them; and if they recognize that time is of the essence concerning achievement of key public interest and quality of American life objectives, following Robert Frost, they will travel the road less traveled, and will likely soon begin to see light at the end of their travails and travels.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
As expected, Senate Democrats prevented a bill authorizing construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from advancing in the Senate.
The fate of the pipeline still remains with the State Department, because the pipeline would cross from Canada through the United States.
President Obama already has made his feelings known, saying through a spokesman that he would veto any bill that emerged from Congress.
According to media reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to end debate on the bill, a version of which had already cleared the Republican-controlled House. But Republicans could only muster 53 votes for cloture, or an end to the debate, on two separate roll calls. Under parliamentary rules, 60 votes are needed for cloture.
The New York Times reported: “The move ensures that senators will continue to debate the bill — most likely for another week — before Republicans again try to bring the measure up for a final vote.”
The GOP had no doubt hoped for more Democrats. As Politico reported:
The legislation … on Monday lost a vote from one of its longtime backers, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — now a member of party leadership as chief of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — but picked up a vote from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), the former DSCC chairman who has not formally signed onto the pipeline bill.
Two other Democrats who have backed stripping Obama’s power to decide on a Keystone permit, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner, missed the Monday vote.
“I’d like to see us decide Keystone and move on,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of the pro-Keystone Democrats who voted with the GOP to cut off debate, told reporters.
Keystone’s backers initially expected the pipeline votes would end this week. But Democratic anger over the majority leader’s move to close off the debate on their amendments last week has made the pipeline bill a power struggle, with Democrats pushing McConnell to continue the freewheeling energy debate on the floor that has delved into topics ranging from climate change to eminent domain.
American crude and the international benchmark, Brent crude, met at the same price point Tuesday: about $46. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, briefly traded below Brent, the first time that’s happened in a year and a half.
Brent closed down 84 cents, to $46.59 a barrel. U.S. crude closed down 18 cents to $45.19. Read more in the Reuters story.
On average, Brent traded at $6.64 higher than WTI last year.
Bloomberg offers a reason why U.S. crude might be on the upswing: The news agency reports that the United States might be edging closer to relaxing the ban on oil exports.
The 40-year-old ban on most U.S. crude exports is set to be loosened after Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, asked to import 100,000 barrels a day of light crude. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, plans to propose an amendment to a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline that would lift the export restrictions.
“WTI is relatively strong because it looks like exports will be rising,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts, said by phone. “The Mexican request could be the first of many.”
Cruz must know something the rest of Washington doesn’t yet know, since President Obama already has promised to veto the Keystone XL bill if Congress passes it.
On the same day two Republican senators introduced a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil-pipeline extension, the White House said President Obama would veto such a bill if it reached his desk.
“If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.
Republicans took over control of the Senate as the 114th Congress was sworn in Tuesday. The GOP, and some Democrats, have supported the pipeline project for much of the past six years that it’s been in limbo, and the party wasted no time in sponsoring a bill to pressure the Obama administration to approve it: Sens. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, introduced the Senate bill, and a committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
The House is expected to begin deliberations on its own Keystone bill on Friday.
The last time the House passed an authorization, in November, it was blocked from proceeding by Senate Democrats. But with fewer numbers, the measure has a greater chance of passing this time.
However, the Senate needs 67 votes — two-thirds — to override a presidential veto. As BusinessWeek reported, Hoeven says he has 63 votes in favor of approval, four shy of a veto-proof majority.
Reaction to the White House announcement ran the gamut. House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said in a statement:
On a bipartisan basis, the American people overwhelmingly support building the Keystone XL pipeline. After years of manufacturing every possible excuse, today President Obama was finally straight with them about where he truly stands. His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy, and no to more American jobs.
By contrast, environmental activist Bill McKibben, writing in The Guardian, praised the effort that led to the veto threat, considering the pipeline once was considered a shoo-in for approval.
Keystone’s not dead yet – feckless Democrats in the Congress could make some kind of deal later this month or later this year, and the president could still yield down the road to the endlessly corrupt State Department bureaucracy that continues to push the pipeline – but it’s pretty amazing to see what happens when people organize.
The State Department has concluded that the 1,179-mile pipeline extension, which would carry oil-sands crude from western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, wouldn’t significantly add to carbon emissions, but the project would create only 35 permanent U.S. jobs.
Regardless of what happens between Congress and Obama, the final decision on Keystone rests with the State Department, which reports to the president. State has responsibility because the pipeline, to be built by TransCanada Corp., would cross the Canada-U.S. border.
The Post added:
“I think the president has been pretty clear that he does not think that circumventing a well-established process for evaluating these projects is … the right thing for Congress to do,” Earnest said.
Obama rejected a Canadian firm’s application to build the pipeline in 2012.
At a year-end news conference in December, Obama sought to downplay the benefits of the pipeline. He said the benefits for U.S. citizens and workers from the pipeline would be “nominal.”
“I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy,” Obama said.
I have a love for folk music. I recently heard the cantor sing “Where have all the Flowers Gone?” at a service for the Jewish High Holidays. It brought back a lot of memories concerning the ‘60s: a period of hope, achievement and tragedy in America.
Excuse me if I take one line from the song by Pete Seeger, perhaps out of context, to explore the current intellectual and real politic difficulties we have in weaning the nation off of oil. Remember the continuous refrain in every stanza concerning the human costs of war, “Oh, when will [we] ever learn?”
I think we should ask the Seeger question now, in addition to thinking about war, about the issues involved in America’s transportation sector’s continued dependence on oil and the nation’s inability to come up with a coherent transition to a renewable fuel.
Look, I hope that we can make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable fuels as soon as federal policy, technology, design and costs make the renewables and cars competitive for most folks. The sooner the better! But even when the market penetration of non-fossil-fuel powered vehicles is double, triple or quadruple what it is now, the percentage of such cars on the road will be infinitesimal compared to the cars fueled by gasoline — a derivative of oil. Think about it! 254 million vehicles exist in America. Fewer than 100,000 renewable fuel powered cars, primarily electric and electric hybrids, were sold in 2013. Given the average life span of cars, it will take a long, long time before the fleet is predominantly gasoline free. Given these facts, establishing a national strategy that, through research and development, makes renewable fuel-powered vehicles cost efficient and marketable to most Americans as soon as possible, and that, simultaneously, encourages the use of transitional fuels in flex-fuel vehicles, while far from perfect, makes common sense. The dual-linked approach is better for the economy, the environment, the consumer and the country’s security. (Ain’t going to have go to war no more…or at least less war based on oil needs.)
What is it that makes many America’s leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sector unable to act even semi-rationally concerning alternative fuels? Sure, Washington is dysfunctional and partisanship as well as special interests have prevented the development of consensus around fuel policy, but to some extent, we as citizens have not become “energized” to advocate for change. Push alternative fuels, including those derived from renewables, and the oil industry demurs with shrill “earth is flat” type lobbyists; advocate for flex-fuel automobiles, and you get both the oil industry and some in the auto industry leveraging their often negative weight in Congress and in state capitals. Try building strong bipartisan coalitions around development of choice at the pump and you are seen as a dreamer, and subject to the often challengeable absolute wisdoms shouted by different interest groups and their leaders.
Sit back and take it all in! The dialogue, or what purports to be the dialogue, concerning fuel choice often reminds me, at least, of the religious arguments about whose God is better. I don’t think anyone has recently had a direct line to God! The tolls are too expensive. Federal regulations in light of separation of church and state prevent it. Similarly, I do not know any respected analyst who finds complete truth in his or her numbers supporting one fuel over another. We hope for perfectibility, not perfection, in analytical theology.
But repeating the dysfunctional “woe is us” analysis over and over again becomes boring and seems to be an excuse for political inertia or failed leadership in all sectors — public, private and nonprofit. Paraphrasing the Pogo comic strip, we have met the enemy and he is us.
So, “when will we ever learn?” that making love is better than making war with respect to building an agreement on alternative fuel strategies? The oil industry, according to recent analyses, has reason to want to think about the future before it continuously tries to restrain our choices at the pump. Prices per barrel may soon reach the level where drilling for tight oil may be too expensive and alternative fuels may be worthy of investment. (Nothing like the profit motive to bring folks to the table!) The auto industry recently has been increasing production of flex-fuel vehicles and CAFE standards, combined with a successful push for open fuel standards and lower cost fuels, could induce even higher production levels of flex-fuel vehicles. Many environmental groups, some of whom already support a dual strategy leading to expanded transitional fuel choices and support for a faster path to renewables, seem willing to discuss a road less traveled, that is, continued use of fossil-based transitional fuels until renewables are ready for prime time. Maybe all we need now is a leader or leaders supported by informed constituencies who will bring relevant groups and individuals together around a consensus building learning table.
Thank you, Pete Seeger!
My favorite automobile service group — the AAA — has once again treaded without fear or trepidation into analysis. Remember earlier, when it suggested that E15 harms engines, based on what looked like an oil-industry-generated study? The AAA’s methodology was weak and its conclusions suspect, a judgment supported by the EPA’s response. According to the agency, AAA’s conclusions were erroneous and based on a limited sample. EPA’s own findings were generated from a relatively large sample of cars, indicating that E15 is safe for most engine types and reaffirmed the wisdom of its approval of E15 usage.
I was surprised to find an article in Oil Price by blogger Daniel Graeber, based to a large degree on comments from AAA’s Michael Green suggesting that the oil shale boom has prevented gas prices from going higher than they are now. Graeber approvingly quoted Green, who said, “Sadly, the days of cheap gasoline may never return for most American drivers despite the recent boom in North American crude oil production.” Assumedly, Green meant that the cost of drilling tight oil will remain high and the costs per barrel of oil will follow suit.
Green apparently went on to indicate that political leaders, particularly, members of Congress who argue for a drill-baby-drill policy, are wrong to link more wells to significant price relief for folks who find gas costs a real problem.
The AAA is right when it suggests that, despite the oil shale boom and signs of increasing demand in America, refineries are sending increased amounts of oil-based products overseas. Understandably, their patriotism doesn’t extend to accepting a lower price for oil in the U.S. when they can get higher prices overseas.
The article appears inconsistent, when at one point it mentions that crude oil inventories are running above average, and later blames current exports for low supplies and low supplies for preventing a drop in prices at the pumps.
Both are correct in indicating sales of oil products abroad probably do have an effect on costs-up to now probably marginal. Certainly, if Washington extends export privileges, increased sales of oil abroad may have a more significant impact on consumer costs. More relevant, however, concerning gasoline costs at the pump, will be economic recovery in the U.S., investor speculation and the oil sector’s ability to manage prices.
Cheap oil has been, recently, and likely will be in the future, a fantasy. The cost of oil per barrel has hovered at around $100 and upward for an extended period, and drilling in shale is relatively expensive. Continuous exogenous and existential (don’t you like those words — they create great passion and emotion) threats from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, also, will likely tilt oil prices upward in the near future.
I would commend the AAA, assumed by many to be the leading advocate for automobile owners in the nation, for grasping the fact that the behavior of producers is likely to lead to higher gas costs and create burdens, particularly for low and moderate-income groups. Now with this knowledge, shouldn’t the AAA argue for breaking oil’s near monopoly on fuel? If the AAA was really interested in helping vehicle owners lower their cost of fuel, it might take the lead in arguing for choice at the pump. Wouldn’t it be great if they really stood up for more open fuel markets as well as alcohol-based transitional fuels, such as ethanol and methanol? Competition at the pump from flex-fuel vehicles, combined with conversion of older vehicles to flex-fuel cars would, over time, mute increases in gas prices and, at the same, time generate environmental benefits for a better America. Support for alcohol-based fuels is consistent with support for renewable fuels, if one is concerned about the environment and GHG emissions. Let’s bring them on as fast as we can. But let’s acknowledge that renewable fuels are not really ready yet for prime time. They are too expensive for many Americans and their technical limitations, particularly concerning electric batteries, are not yet coincident with the desires of most Americans.
I don’t like the idea of advance pledges by candidates concerning how they would vote, if they were elected by us. I believe it is contrary to representative democratic government and denies the fact that economic, security, social and environmental conditions change, often rapidly, and must be responded to with studied intelligence and common sense, not constant polling or focus groups.
I guess I am, at least, part Burkian. Although it departs from present reality, as the great philosopher and British MP, Edmund Burke indicated, our elected leaders , should use their “…unbiased opinion…mature judgment…enlightened conscience…(our) representative(s) owe …not (their) industry only, but (their) judgment; and (they) betray, instead of serving (us), if they sacrifice ( judgment) to (our often fleeting ) opinion(s).” Voters can, at least in theory if not always in practice, dismiss their representatives at the next election. I am not sure Burke won again after he made his plea for more thinking and less pandering.
I am suffering emotionally (not too significantly) by being tempted by a Kaplan analogue to Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge, required of candidates for office. While the tax pledge, I believe, is responsible for at least some of the dysfunction in Washington, there is a certain romantic, almost utopian appeal to it with respect to frustrated advocates for more and better fuel choices at the pump than just gasoline. As Emerson wisely indicated, perhaps, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
The new Kaplan analogue to the Norquist pledge would acknowledge that the natural gas train has left the station. Indeed, it has! One has only to look at the number of wells/rigs now in place compared to just a few short years ago and the relatively rapid escalation in gas production.
The natural gas sector has become, and likely will remain, an economic and political powerhouse. In this context, advocates of a “renewable transportation fuel only” approach, risk, implicitly, supporting a short and intermediate term future dependent on oil and gasoline. As a result, their success would likely result in increased environmental degradation, more greenhouse gas (GHG), higher costs for consumers, increased security problems and restricted economic growth. Clearly, the enemy of a short term good would become a distant perfect.
The Kaplan pledge would commit candidates to help secure reasonable and effective federal and state regulations to protect and enhance the environment and significantly reduce GHG production during production, distribution and sales of natural gas-from wellhead to automobile.
The pledge would commit candidates, once elected, to help foster a collaborative public, nonprofit and private sector effort to wean the country off dirty oil and gasoline. It would require them to develop and support initiatives that open up the now almost closed transportation fuel market to safe, environmentally sound, cheaper alternative transition fuels. Finally, it would commit candidates, should they take office, to support the development of renewable fuels and vehicles that would reflect competitive costs and mileage capacity that match the budget and occupation as well as life-style needs of low, moderate and middle income Americans.
I feel sinful in departing from the philosophy of Edmund Burke. I need to contemplate my fall from philosophical grace. I apologize! I hope I am treated with grace and redemption. My excuse in proposing a Congressional pledge was only a temporary errant fantasy. It “ain’t” going to happen. It is a flight from reality.
But, was it all bad? Perhaps, the Kaplan pledge points the way to an alternative that is not antithetical to Edmund Burke. What if, instead of trying the impossible with elected officials, many of whom try to fit their views to the, often of the moment, views of their constituents, advocates of a free fuel market and alternative transitional transportation fuels worked to form a coalition of nonpartisan or bipartisan groups: business, labor, environment, government, academic and community . Each group would join because they are consistent in heart and mind with the Kaplan fuel freedom pledge. Each would accept the intent explicit in the pledge; that is the nation’s need for a comprehensive fuels strategy that would bridge the gap between renewable and natural gas advocates, between environmentalists and the natural gas industry, between liberals and conservatives.
Free market business and conservative adherents would put muscle behind their ideology in seeking a more open fuel market. Liberals would put meaning behind their desire to aid the needy who suffer from the high cost of gasoline and limited job opportunities because budget constraints limit driving. Environmentalists would match their concern for the environment with support for natural gas, ethanol and methanol as transitional fuels — fuels that would reduce GHG and other gasoline generated pollutants. The nation would be better able to secure the stimulus now required to improve economic growth because of the reduced dependency on foreign imports. Every one of us would benefit from success in assuring research and development of renewable fuels. The coalition would inform and increase Congressional understanding of the need for an integrated coherent national fuel strategy. The payoff to elected leaders: The Coalition would promise to help voters comprehend the nation’s need for alternative fuels and a comprehensive fuel freedom strategy. It would meet with measured success. Sign me up! The best of all possible worlds! Oh Happy Day! I can dream can’t I?