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The Debate Continues

Speaking of gas prices, global warming, off shore drilling and all the other jazz that seems to set so many of you off, courtesy of The New York Times ...

An in-depth business story looks back at the federal government's failure to improve fuel efficiency since the last oil shock.

"Over the last 25 years, opportunities to head off the current crisis were ignored, missed or deliberately blocked, according to analysts, politicians and veterans of the oil and automobile industries. What’s more, for all the surprise at just how high oil prices have climbed, and fears for the future, this is one crisis we were warned about. Ever since the oil shortages of the 1970s, one report after another has cautioned against America’s oil addiction."

The Sunday Magazine interview this week was with Robert Reich, Big Dog's secretary of labor. Says he of 4 foot, 10 inches:

"When you consider that the oil we pump goes into a global oil market, offshore drilling makes no sense. We take the environmental risk, but we’d have to share the negligible price gains with Chinese consumers and every other user around the world."

Have at it, people.

We just don't get it

Do many Americans remain ignorant to global warming? Or are they so self-absorbed that they simply don't care? (There's a poll at the end of this post.)

The Pew Research Center has come out with a poll showing that in the face of higher gas prices, a growing number of Americans want to hang on to their energy way of life, regardless of the consequences. As recently as February, 55 favored an emphasis on energy conservation and the environment vs. 35 percent who favored a push for more energy production. Now, its a dead heat. All over $4 a gallon gas.

Oil_rig Reports the Pew Center:

"Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy – rather than protecting the environment – is the more important national priority."

I don't like $50 a tank fill up any more than the next guy, but the answer isn't a $40 fill up. Something's gotta give.

Ice_berg_2 We as a country account for a quarter of the world's oil consumption. We're emitting twice as many global warming gasses than we did in 1990. Our economy, our lifestyle is the biggest driving force behind global warming. But, according to the Pew poll, nearly half of America wants to stay the course.

The scientific community says the answer is two-fold: conservation and development of clean, renewable energy. (Al Gore's Web site has a good overview.)

The president and Congress have been reluctant to provide the the same kind of incentives to promote clean energy that it has long provided Big Oil and Gas.

And conservation and recycling efforts are far from running on all cylinders. The current issue of Co-op America Quarterly is loaded with practical tips on how the typical homeowner can cut his energy consumption by up to half. How many of us are even trying?

A few more pieces worth reading:

-- New York Times comparison of gas prices worldwide.

"Gasoline in the United States is cheap.

"Not as cheap as American drivers would like, of course. And not as cheap as it is in Venezuela and other major oil-producing countries, where it is heavily subsidized. Compared to prices in most other industrialized nations, however, the American national average of $4 a gallon is a bargain.

"The chief reason for the disparity with the high-priced nations is taxation. Take away the taxes, and the remaining gas price is similar from place to place."

-- Recent Congressional testimony of climate scientist James Hansen.

"A wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public.

"We have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.

"Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse-gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control.

"Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are clear. But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who hold sway in Washington and other capitals."

So, what do you think?

The false promise of off-shore drilling

OK, OK, gasoline is expensive. I spent the weekend outside Pittsburgh and almost felt like I was getting a bargain paying $3.99 a gallon (there's a lower state gas tax south of the border).

Off_shore_oil_rigThe high prices have given Bush 43 a pretext to call for a major relaxation of restrictions put in place when Bush 41 was president on drilling off both the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coastlines. High gas prices have some of the public, as well as the politicians who pander to it, saying that perhaps it's time to start drilling where no man has gone before. After all, it will mean lower gas prices. Right?

Wrong.

But don't take my word for it. Let's hear from Dubya's own Department of Energy, in a report issued by its Energy Information Agency.

"Access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017."

So, that means no help for another nine years. Well, at least then, we'd have a lot more oil, right? Well, actually not. Domestic production would increase only 7 percent by 2030, the agency said.

Yeah, well, even that increase would have to help drive down gas prices, right? Not really.

"Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

Further examination shows that much of the rest of the argument for offshore drilling also doesn't hold up.

There's the claim it would help make America less dependent of foreign oil suppliers. No, we're beyond hope in this regard. The. U.S. has 2 to 3 percent of the world's known oil reserves, but we consume 25 percent of its oil. You do the math.

Then there's the claim that the tree huggers in Washington have cut energy companies off at the knees in their efforts to find more domestic supplies. The Center for American Progress notes in a nifty checklist of myth-busters that the number of drilling permits issued by the federal government jumped by 361 percent between 1999 and 2007. Moreover, energy companies are sitting on some some 4,000 undeveloped oil and natural leases in the Gulf of Mexico alone.

Critics believe the debate over offshore drilling diverts the attention away dealing with real solutions, which involve energy conservation and development of alternative energy supplies.

As the San Jose Mercury News said in an editorial over the weekend:

"We can't drill ourselves out of this mess."

Moreover, it would be a waste of money if we could, the Merc said:

"The billions of dollars it would cost to pull finite supplies of oil from the bottom of the sea instead should be invested in renewable energy sources."

A New York Times editorial last week last week was even more dismissive: 

"This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America’s leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation."

The outcome of this debate - keep looking for more oil or step up the effort to develop alternative energy resources - has particular import for Western New York, as parochial as that may sound.

We're well positioned to be a renewable energy center, particularly if the national government decides that alternative fuels are the way to go. We're already good to go with hydropower. We rank as the 4th windiest urban region the nation, which would make us a significant player in the wind-power industry. The major local chemical companies produce a lot of hydrogen, which could be the basis of a hydrogen industry if someone was to take the initiative. And the planned opening of the Globe Metals plant in Niagara Falls next year could make us a hub for the production of solar panels.