Setting the Record Straight


Off the Dime on Energy

An Energy Plan–But Just a Start

      The real presidential campaign has begun, reluctantly. This is not to suggest idiotic campaign claims are no longer going be perpetrated by both sides, but the fact we now have a discussion about a key policy issue—energy—is encouraging.
     Having said that, both candidates are pandering, one to the oil industry, the other to a fearful public.
     Republican John McCain keeps insisting on the ludicrous proposition of opening more public land to oil drilling now. House Republicans staged a protest in front of nobody but a handful of reporters and TV cameras to dramatize a demand that Congress end its just-begun vacation and return to pass the proposal to lift the drilling moratorium. We have already spoken of the ridiculous- ness of that suggestion: One Last Scam for the Sleazy GDB Era.
     Now we have Barack Obama’s more thorough energy policy, designed mostly by one of President Clinton’s energy secretaries, Frederico Pena. (These surrogates are well-schooled to speak of policy as “Senator X believes,” or “Senator X says” when it is actually the adviser who is forming the policy).
     The Obama plan offers only one positive response to dealing with the current crisis of oil prices—drawing from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a reserve held by the federal government for emergencies. McCain and others claim it is only for military uses, but those statements are not accurate. The origin was a fear of emergency military needs during the OPEC embargo of 1973, but Congress intended it as an emergency supply without restric- tions, as illustrated by subsequent drawdowns for domestic purposes.
     Another suggestion of the Obama energy policy is worth implementing, as was done after the embargo—a windfall profits tax. It is obscene the U.S. oil companies realized such record profits April-July this year as the American (and world’s) economy went into the tank.
     The oil industry argues the problem is the supply and cost of foreign oil, that they are not to blame. Check out how closely involved U.S. oil com-panies are with foreign oil production, where they obtain most of their oil and how much they bother to oppose the decisions and policies of oil-producing nations. Go ahead and tax windfall profits.
     Otherwise, the Obama energy policy is more of the same, a repeat of suggestions made after the 1970s crisis, implemented in part, but mostly junked in the 1980s, leading to the current repeat of history. His policy says nothing about the auto fuel-efficiency standards that have so many loopholes they allowed the proliferation of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks, which many buyers are now trying to unload. There is a new push for nuclear energy, but history again should be heeded—the same problems that led to its rejection still remain, problems with safety and spent-fuel and water disposal.
     When biotechnology emerged as the new popular science, it became apparent we did not have to rely on fossil fuels any more and could burn cleaner fuel in our cars and factories. Congress had a great idea, but as usual, in a fit of excessive exuberance, it overreacted and passed incentives for producing ethanol as a fuel alternative (that’s why 10 percent of your gas today is ethanol).
     But we now know that proposal was overreaching and the incentives should have stressed alternatives other than those that affect the food supply, such as corn, contributing to the stagflation the nation finds itself in.
     What is needed, from Obama as well as McCain, is a deeper-thinking and longer-term energy plan.
     We need to begin thinking outside the box on energy. What- ever solution is proposed should exclude the oil industry, a firewall if you will, between the industry that has acted to impede oil efficiency as far back as the attempt by Preston Tucker to market a more fuel-efficient car (most of Tucker’s innovations were adopted many years later) and other efforts to supplant the internal-combustion engine. Do not look to that industry for a solution, so bar it from any attempts to achieve one.



The Big Energy Crisis Lie

One Last Scam for the Sleazy GDB Era

     One of the most sordid 14-year periods in U.S. history is about to come to an end, but not without one last scam about to be perpetrated on the American people.
     The Gingrich-Delay-Bush era that began in 1995 is not ending before its members try to line the pockets of their friends in the oil industry, and probably eventually themselves, describing their cause as independence from foreign oil and lower gas and heating oil prices. This is as big a lie as those told to get us into the Iraq fiasco.
     Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay resigned from Congress under scandal clouds, but George W. Bush remained untouched because Democrats would not undertake impeachment proceedings. And now Gingrich is trying to get his finger back in the political pie once again.
     The scandal now swirling around the arrogant and hateful Sen. Ted Stevens is not just a coincidence. As with most other sordid deeds of the GDB era, this one is connected to the oil industry and personal greed.
     The earlier GOP lobbying scandal centered around some of the most cynical people ever to operate in the nation’s capital–Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed–was tied directly to the GDB crowd and their Republican friends state and federal politics. They sweet-talked clients and then took their money to fund special interests, provide bribes and basically buying elections unrelated to their clients’ interests.
     Not content with leaving town with their tails between their legs, the GDB crowd, this time aided by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, is trying to convince the American people they can ease the energy crisis by opening more federal land to drilling by the U.S. oil companies.
     Democratic opponents of the proposal note it would take 10 years for any oil from newly opened sites to reach the consumer. That argument is irrelevant. Opponents should be noting that in reality, it would more likely be their children who would see the first benefits, assuming there would still be benefits to anyone other than the oil industry in more oil pro- duction.
     The American oil industry is the father figure to those who participated in the Enron scandal. What those in Enron did, the oil industry has been doing for years and apparently plans to continue doing—manipulating supply and demand and bamboozling the public.
     The industry’s plea for lifting a moratorium on leasing federal land for oil and coal mining so more resources are available to the industry has nothing to do with the present. It is part of a long-term strategy to ensure more oil resources will be available to the industry in the future, the future as in decades from now.
     For some reason, the truth is not being absorbed by the American people. Even some Senate Democrats appear not to be absorbing the truth, for they have offered a compromise that would open some additional land. And Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has naively endorsed that compromise.
     That truth is the oil industry already has access to enough oil on federal land to double its current production of about 4.8 million barrels of oil a day. But the industry is not taking advantage of that access in the form of leases.
     During the past four years alone, the government has issued 28,776 permits for companies to drill on public land, but only 18,954 were used. That leaves unused about 10,000 permits, a third of those available, while the oil industry pleads that it needs more and more public land opened while gasoline prices remain at price-gouging levels and home heating oil is about to skyrocket to fatality-causing levels.
     It is no coincidence the major domestic oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron reported record net income during the April-June period. And there is no coincidence within a coincidence that those same companies would have seen greater profits if their refining and production sectors had not lagged. They lagged because the industry did not choose to use the refining and production resources it already has to put more gas on the market.
     Hmmm. Could the weak refining and production parts of their busi- nesses and the inactive leases they hold for drilling on public land have anything to do with keeping the supply tight and prices in the $4 per gallon neighborhood?
     Foreign oil producers see the same scam and that is why they have declined to increase their own production. That’s right; foreign oil companies know what is going on while the American public remains ignorant.
     Much of the GDB crowd will be out the government after this year. Keep an eye on where they end up in the private sector.



A Solution to Our Fuel Crisis

Saudi to Bush:

 No Crude Shortage, It’s U.S. Refinery Shortage

           The economic mess in the United States, a mess reverberating throughout the world, should bring a renewed focus on the basic element of the mess–fuel prices on the verge of having quadrupled since 2000.
          The federal government may not yet have the figures to declare a recession or to measure a huge rise in inflation, but the public from the middle-class on down know both already are here. The housing crisis was only fuel to a fire made inevitable by a steady and unconscionable increase in fuel prices.
          This may be the time to give the federal government a new tool. It would be a tool to be used not necessarily to make more oil available, but to allow the government to prevent manipulation and gouging of the supply and price. 
          It used to be the oil industry made convoluted, confusing excuses for price increases, throwing around various figures and arcane reasons few people could ever unravel. Notice you do not hear any of that today. They say almost nothing, and when they do say anything, they simply shift the blame to speculators in the stock market. And, as they did before Congress recently and anytime they are put on the spot, the use the occasion to be freed for more domestic oil exploration.
          This is the second time around for a modern-day U.S. oil crisis. Between the other one and now, the federal government failed its citizens. We are suggesting a correction of that failure and a new way of thinking this time around. It may not work, it may not be feasible, but it is worth a look. Just the fact it is an option on the table could have an impact on the current mess.
          The U.S. government should build its own oil refinery, preferably away from the current Gulf Coast area where most domestic oil work is concentrated.
          This mess is not new.
          Back in the early 1970s we had the previous fuel crisis. Before the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries decided to impose a year-long embargo on exports of oil to the United States, causing a shortage of gasoline and a concomittant jump in prices, a gallon of gas had cost not much more than a quarter in the United States for decades, a period when the word “inflation” was never uttered.
          The crisis began when OPEC, largely for political reasons, embargoed U.S.-bound oil. Cars were lined up at service stations (they actually provided service up to that time), often for several blocks, to get access to fuel pumps that could run out of gas at any moment. The cars were gas guzzlers by today’s standards, about equal in mileage to most of today’s trucks and SUVs.
          Supply and demand being what it is, the price of gas quadrupled to well over $1 a gallon (an increase that would equal more than $15 a gallon at current prices), and inflation followed close in its wake, leading to interest rates that had been steady for decades at 2 percent or 3 percent, to jump to 20% and more later in the 70s.
          Over the ensuing years, the government responded with laws to encourage alternative energy explorations, coupled with all sorts of subsidies for the oil industry itself to encourage domestic drilling, including greater freedom to explore for oil in formerly off-limit areas. The government also made inflation a major area of concern and enacted stronger fuel-efficiency laws. The inflation rate fell back to more sensible levels, although never to its pre-OPEC level except in odd instances.
          After the change of administrations (Carter to Reagan), the incentives to the oil industry remained, the incentives to explore alternative fuels were dropped. The number of refineries on line had crept up to more than 300 until 1980, when the administration changed. Suddenly, the number of refineries on line began a long plunge to our 149 today.

            Not so curiously, the price of gas never fell, almost defying the laws of supply and demand. In fact, prices continued on a steady rise, notwithstanding the waverings of politics, supply and demand and other factors. All the increases were accompanied by those aforementioned convoluted excuses.
          Part of the government response during the oil crisis included creating, in 1975, the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves for the sake of future security, comprised of a storage of oil now totalling about 727 million barrels of crude and all located in four salt domes below ground, in a single part of the United States, on the coast from Texas into Louisiana. Even when released, to be offered to the oil industry on the commercial market at a set price, it still must be refined by the oil industry.
          This area includes or is close to the greatest concentration of U.S. oil refineries where basic crude oil has to be processed to make it usable, refineries jammed into a highly vulnerable area of the country. There are now 149 refineries in the United States, more than a third of them in hurricane-vulnerable Texas and Louisiana, producing fewer than 18 millions of barrels of usable oil a day. That is the same level of oil refining that existed before the last one new one was completed in 1976, at a time when we had more than 300 refineries.
          Although shutting down those refineries has not changed production levels, overall refinery production level has not been increased in nearly three decades as our usage, and even needs, have skyrocketed. Of course, with half the number of refineries, more than a third in two hurricane states, we are twice as exposed to weather and transport disruptions.
          The U.S. petroleum industry is one of the top profit-making industries in the United States. Individual companies claim they are just passing along their added costs, but never mention they also are including the U.S. norm of about a 100 percent markup. Before the 1970s crisis, the normal business markup was about 40 percent.
          If the U.S. government had its own refinery, it could refine its own strategic reserves, already-refined, with a built-in capability of diverting some of that refined oil immediately to the public market in competition with the private oil industry whenever such a move would serve the public iinterest.
          Such a move bypassing much of the oil industry with which it would then be in partial competition, also would give the government greater power to support alternative fuels and play that power off against the price of oil to make the industry somewhat honest. The government already has the ability to do some of that by releasing supplies from its oil reserve. A refinery would greatly increase that impact, by being able to tweak the price to a level that would discourage increased use, but low enough to help balance inflation and other economic concerns.
          The crude oil it refines could come from two sources, foreign and domestic. With a world crying for foreign oil–check out China and Japan –the U.S. government as a buyer would give it added political leverage, something it badly needs after its recent foreign policy gaffes.
           Domestically, it could force the oil companies to donate crude in lieu of greater taxes, including windfall profits taxes, something that already should have been restored. The cost of all this could be paid for, in part, by ending the subsidies to big oil, in a huge part by ending the massive cost of the fool’s errand in Iraq.
          There would be an ancillary benefit. Remember the oil industry ruse of switching refineries over twice a year between heating oil and gasoline? A government-run refinery could step in and ease the impact of that semi-annual chicanery.
          Or, the federal government could simply nationalize the oil industry and operate it in the public’s interest on grounds no industry should be allowed to hold the nation in a stranglehold.
          Either solution is fraught with all sorts of problems, chief among them lack of a political will. But the federal government is filled with geniuses–yes, among those much-maligned civil servants–who could work on the issue (and probably already have) if asked.





Guess What. Water Almost Never Wasted

          National Geographic’s cable channel airs an entertaining and informative show, “The Human Footprint.” It’s intention is to illustrate the impact human consumption has on the Earth.
          Unfortunately, it often is more entertaining than informative and suffers from a lack of detailed editing that has been the hallmark of the magazine. The on-camera commentator is too “gee whiz,” cliche-ridden and ungrammatical. But the point the show delivers is stunning.
          The show, however, states at least twice a myth that clouds, at best, and interferes with, at worst, the credibility of the extremely valuable environmental movement.
          The myth is that we waste water by using it. The fact is we do not.
          We contaminate it and the impact of that contamination should be avoided or at least reduced, but we do not waste it globally. The waste that people cite during water shortages is purely local. If an area is suffering a drought or their water is foul, that does not change the fact there is ample water on Earth and always will be unless we find a way to move it into outer space.
          Regardless of how it is used and abused, and whether it travels through a sewer pipe or drainage system, all water ends up eventually back in the ocean or aquifers of the Earth.
          Water has followed a set cycle ever since it has existed on Earth. Mother Nature does a good job of cleansing the water and getting it ready for its endless cycle of evaporating without its salt content and rising in the air to be supplied back to Earth as potable rain.
          Basically the same water is used over and over and over. Just be careful what you put in it. Mother Nature’s abilities are not finite.



 Paper or Plastic?

It’s Really Not a Toss-up

News Peg: China Adds To Effective Ban On Grocery Plastic Bags

      The confusion over whether it is better to ask for paper or plastic bags at the

grocery store stems from a failure by most people to complete the recycling circle. For recycling to occur, the entire circle must be completed.
     Separating something into a recycling bin does not mean you have recycled. You have only performed one of the many tasks that go into completing the circle of recycling.
     Similarly, if you do not consider the making of the product in the first place, you have not gathered enough information to make a decision about something such as whether paper is better than plastic.
The cycle of plastic:
     1. The plastic bags you receive in retail stores are made from the same crude oil that is refined into the gasoline you burn in your automobile or heating oil that keeps homes warm during cold weather.
     When the crude oil is refined, the stuff (dross) that is left by that process happens to be the highest-quality portion of the oil. But to become gasoline or heating oil, it would have to be refined again. Oil companies consider it more profitable to turn that dross into things such as plastic bags than to run it back through the refining process.
     If that dross were re-refined, it would add enough oil to the nation’s supply that the cost of a gallon of gasoline at the pump at today’s prices would be reduced by about 10 cents. (The first analyses of this issue, which set the cost at four cents a gallon, were performed when gasoline prices were less than a dollar a gallon.)
     Also, by receiving plastic instead of paper, you are at least encouraging further use of finite, not renewable, fossil fuels that also have a gotcha of contributing to carbon dioxide levels, all at a time we are supposed to be trying to become independent of foreign sources.
     The law of supply and demand being what it is, that means that driving up the demand for plastic by accepting it instead of paper at the store costs you an extra 10 cents a gallon for gas.


      2. After its contents are removed, a plastic bag usually is thrown away or saved for use as a container for discarding other material, mean- ing it ends up along with other garbage either disposed of in a landfill or burned or, as is too often the case, to be carried by the wind or water along with other trash.
      People often believe they are doing good and contributing to the environment by “recyling” the bags. They believe they have done so simply by putting the bags in a recycling bin, supposedly to be collected and made into something else. They have not.
      Despite two decades of research, no one has developed a cost-effective way to reuse those plastic bags (thus completing the recycling loop) even on a massive scale. Thus, today just about all plastic bags turned in for recycling are wasting away in warehouses waiting for a profitable solution, or, quite likely, they’ve already been dumped or burned.
      Plastic bags are not recycled.

The cycle of paper:
       Check the fine print on the bottom of a paper bag supplied by a retail store. Safeway’s says its bags include 40 percent recycled content. Most paper bags made today claim similar content.
       That means nearly half of that bag already has gone through a recycling process and that by demanding it instead of plastic, you not only are providing encouragement for continuing that initial process, you are encouraging repetitions of it.
       The 60 percent of the bag that has not already been recycled usually is made from shavings, sawdust and other detritus left over from processing wood into other products. There is a negative impact for asking for that bag, however—you are making it cheaper to produce those other wood products made from trees cut down for those purposes. On the other hand, trees are, in theory, renewable resources.
       Just as with plastic bags, paper bags can be put to use for other purposes—storing items, holding discarded newspapers until the bag and the papers can be recycled together, or reused to carry home the next set of groceries. In those cases, it is best to put one bag inside the other for extra strength.
       Eventually, a paper bag no longer can be used, but it can be recycled and usually is. That is the source of much of that 40 percent recycled content.
       Paper bags usually are recycled, often many times.

       All sorts of money and energy have been spent on life-cycle analyses trying to determine which is better, or put another way, less offensive. Arguments are made that the manufacturing process for making paper bags and later for recycling them consumes more extra energy than does the process for making plastic bags in the first place. But what if the plastic bags actually were recycled? The manufacturing process for paper still might be more energy-consuming than that of the paper bag, but the gap would be smaller.
       It would be nice if everyone could or would “go totally green,” but that is simply not realistic in today’s society. We all make choices, about which charity to support over another, and about which part of “going green” we find it convenient to support, based upon their own experiences or environmental concerns.
       Retail stores prefer plastic because it means they just have to tell the clerk not to put some products in with others, and don’t have to train them in how to load a paper bag. And plastic takes up less storage space at the store than paper.
       Most consumers prefer plastic because it is easier for them to han- dle in most cases.
       It’s nice that these life-cycle analyses have been done, and it would be nice if the environmental issues could be reduced to objective terms. But in today’s society, we have our individual lifestyles and will continue to look at things subjectviely. Given that, few of us are going to delve into the minute study of life-cycle costs, but we do understand what we are willing to do to help the environment.
       If one considers the entire recycling process for each, paper bags are clear winners over plastic ones.



Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: