I listened to Bush's press conference last night with a growing sense
of frustration and irritation. Does the man know nothing? Is
he unable to see how his own policies have accelerated us to the crisis we
now face? Or is he just a sociopath like Clinton, able to say
whatever serves his immediate purpose with all apparent
sincerity? Regardless, what he said wasn't right; to the extent
that it wasn't irrelevant, it was some of the worst political posturing
I've listened to since Clinton's talk about firearms and interns.
One comment that really got to me was Bush's anecdote of the soldier
who asked him to lower the price of gasoline. Bush's response was
that this was beyond his abilities. Well, of course it is...
now. But was it always? Had I been there and able to
interrupt, I would have had to ask "Mr. President, the high price of
gasoline is due to high world demand for oil and an excess of gasoline
demand over refining capacity in the USA. We used to have programs
to do something about that. But didn't you cancel the Partnership for
a New Generation of Vehicles, and didn't you sign tax breaks which
encouraged people to buy gas-guzzling trucks for business use whether
they needed them or not?"
Among Bush's first acts in office, he cancelled a program which was
ready to produce highly economical vehicles in the very near term; he
substituted a hydrogen-vehicle program which is still unlikely to yield
products before 2015 and will require tens or hundreds of billions in new
infrastructure to support. The first-year tax writeoff for vehicles
over 6500 pounds used in a business helped to run up gasoline demand,
creating windfall profits for gasoline refiners. He also funneled
a bunch of research money to the auto companies for the long term.
Was it worth it? Here's what we lost:
- Valuable capacity margins in fuel refining.
- A better situation with regard to foreign exchange.
- An American hybrid program which would have been market-ready by now.
- Domestic vehicles ready to be converted to
- A ready response to high world oil prices.
- Product lines at domestic manufacturers ready for the shift in consumer demand.
We should be so much further along than we are. PNGV vehicles like
were delivering 72 MPG back
in 2000. The diesel engines might not have met new EPA NOx standards,
but so what? Even if they had to be powered with gasoline engines and
some of the more expensive technologies had to be left off, it is hard to
see how the ESX3 and its like could have achieved less than 50 MPG. With
the addition of removable battery packs, such cars could have operated entirely
on grid power for short trips while maintaining their cargo capacity and
highway fuel economy;
with the Toyota Prius
have shown that this can
be done by dedicated amateurs. But they've got to buy Japanese cars
to do it, because Bush decided that his predecessor's program wasn't
Bush's idea of an energy policy seems to be to:
- Meet with the Saudi oil minister and ask him to pump more oil;
- Hand out lots of subsidies and tax breaks to existing producers;
- Throw money at farmers and ADM (but producing little new energy)
through ethanol and biodiesel subsidies.
None of these initiatives affects anything where the rubber meets the
road. None of them are going to do anything for the budget deficit
or our balance of trade. Arguably, none of them are going to improve
our situation; they are just going to create financial empires based on
Bush ought to have expertise in the oil business. He ought to have
seen all of this coming; he certainly knew the right people to ask for
advice (and if he didn't, Cheney did). He should have known what
programs should have been kept on the back burner for the sake of the
nation and our domestic industries. He was only too happy to use
largesse (e.g. tariff barriers on steel) to buy votes, but he could have
made it go much farther with some statesmanlike vision.
We didn't get it. What we got instead appears to be programs
designed for the benefit of a favored investor/CEO class and the very
foreign oil interests who are waging religious war against us.
This isn't leadership. Neither is it patriotism. And when
the American people figure this out (probably about the time the Democrats
break with the forces of P.C. and get serious about national security),
there's going to be some mighty big scores settled in Washington.
Either that, or the USA becomes one more banana republic.
Ethanol from corn appears to be a loss,
A recent paper
claims that it's bad for just about
everything it touches. Corn (maize) is planted, cultivated, sprayed
and harvested with petroleum products, fertilized with nitrogen fixed using
natural gas, and the ethanol product is distilled using more natural gas
or petroleum-derived propane. This does nothing for our security;
due to the cost of natural gas,
our nitrogen fertilizer is now imported
. The only purpose
served by these subsidies is to transfer
taxpayer dollars to the pockets of those chemical producers and agribusiness
interests like ADM, with a little trickling down to the farmers almost by
accident. If Bush wanted to cut the price of gasoline, he could
push to eliminate the use of ethanol in gasoline and pay farmers to idle
some of their acreage instead; all the fuel the farmers are using on that
idled land would make motorists happier. And that
done in time for this year.