Monday, February 06, 2006

Groundhog Speech

The President gave his State of the Union speech the other night. I didn't watch it because I can hardly bear to hear the man talk. I see a breathtaking amount of hypocrisy in this administration and don't like the culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence it has engendered. Still, reading the post-game reports, one bit sounded familiar:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

We've been hearing about this before. In 2003, President Bush...

"...announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative to reverse America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with no pollution or greenhouse gases. Combined with the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) initiative, President Bush is proposing a total of $1.7 billion over the next five years to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells, hydrogen infrastructure and advanced automotive technologies."

Hmmm, we're three years in, how's that going? I think Honda has a couple of hydrogen cars (a couple of vehicles, not a couple of models) it's leasing to families, was that part of the initiative? It's always great to announce these programs with long time frames so that the real costs arise after the current administration is gone, and this administration is by no means the first to engage in this bit of long-term grandiosity.

In 1998, Bill Clinton was on the case in his State of the Union speech:

"We have it in our power to act right here, right now. I propose $6 billion in tax cuts and research and development to encourage innovation, renewable energy, fuel-efficient cars, energy- efficient homes. Every time we have acted to heal our environment, pessimists have told us it would hurt the economy. Well, today our economy is the strongest in a generation. And our environment is the cleanest in a generation. We have always found a way to clean the environment and grow the economy at the same time."

In 1980, Jimmy Carter gave a terrific speech. It's hard now to remember what a good man he was, how uncynical compared to recent presidents. It's worth reading the whole thing, but unlike the empty rhetoric we get now with no action to back it up, Carter was clear:

"The single biggest factor in the inflation rate last year, the increase in the inflation rate last year, was from one cause: the skyrocketing prices of OPEC oil. We must take whatever actions are necessary to reduce our dependence on foreign oil--and at the same time reduce inflation.

As individuals and as families, few of us can produce energy by ourselves. But all of us can conserve energy--every one of us, every day of our lives. Tonight I call on you--in fact, all the people of America--to help our Nation. Conserve energy. Eliminate waste. Make 1980 indeed a year of energy conservation....

Our material resources, great as they are, are limited. Our problems are too complex for simple slogans or for quick solutions. We cannot solve them without effort and sacrifice. Walter Lippmann once reminded us, "You took the good things for granted. Now you must earn them again. For every right that you cherish, you have a duty which you must fulfill. For every good which you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer."

The Oil Crises predated Carter. Here's Gerald Ford in 1975:

During the 1960's, this country had a surplus capacity of crude oil which we were able to make available to our trading partners whenever there was a disruption of supply. This surplus capacity enabled us to influence both supplies and prices of crude oil throughout the world. Our excess capacity neutralized any effort at establishing an effective cartel, and thus the rest of the world was assured of adequate supplies of oil at reasonable prices.

By 1970, our surplus capacity had vanished, and as a consequence, the latent power of the oil cartel could emerge in full force. Europe and Japan, both heavily dependent on imported oil, now struggle to keep their economies in balance. Even the United States, our country, which is far more self-sufficient than most other industrial countries, has been put under serious pressure.

I am proposing a program which will begin to restore our country's surplus capacity in total energy. In this way, we will be able to assure ourselves reliable and adequate energy and help foster a new world energy stability for other major consuming nations.

But this Nation and, in fact, the world must face the prospect of energy difficulties between now and 1985. This program will impose burdens on all of us with the aim of reducing our consumption of energy and increasing our production. Great attention has been paid to the considerations of fairness, and I can assure you that the burdens will not fall more harshly on those less able to bear them.

I am recommending a plan to make us invulnerable to cutoffs of foreign oil. It will require sacrifices, but it--and this is most important--it will work.

I have set the following national energy goals to assure that our future is as secure and as productive as our past:

First, we must reduce oil imports by 1 million barrels per day by the end of this year and by 2 million barrels per day by the end of 1977.

Second, we must end vulnerability to economic disruption by foreign suppliers by 1985.

Third, we must develop our energy technology and resources so that the United States has the ability to supply a significant share of the energy needs of the free world by the end of this century.

To attain these objectives, we need immediate action to cut imports. Unfortunately, in the short term there are only a limited number of actions which can increase domestic supply. I will press for all of them.

I urge quick action on the necessary legislation to allow commercial production at the Elk Hills, California, Naval Petroleum Reserve. In order that we make greater use of domestic coal resources, I am submitting amendments to the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act which will greatly increase the number of powerplants that can be promptly converted to coal.

Obviously, voluntary conservation continues to be essential, but tougher programs are needed--and needed now. Therefore, I am using Presidential powers to raise the fee on all imported crude oil and petroleum products. The crude oil fee level will be increased $1 per barrel on February 1, by $2 per barrel on March 1, and by $3 per barrel on April 1. I will take actions to reduce undue hardships on any geographical region. The foregoing are interim administrative actions. They will be rescinded when broader but necessary legislation is enacted.

To that end, I am requesting the Congress to act within 90 days on a more comprehensive energy tax program. It includes: excise taxes and import fees totaling $2 per barrel on product imports and on all crude oil; deregulation of new natural gas and enactment of a natural gas excise tax.

I plan to take Presidential initiative to decontrol the price of domestic crude oil on April 1. I urge the Congress to enact a windfall profits tax by that date to ensure that oil producers do not profit unduly.

The sooner Congress acts, the more effective the oil conservation program will be and the quicker the Federal revenues can be returned to our people.

I am prepared to use Presidential authority to limit imports, as necessary, to guarantee success.

I want you to know that before deciding on my energy conservation program, I considered rationing and higher gasoline taxes as alternatives. In my judgment, neither would achieve the desired results and both would produce unacceptable inequities.

A massive program must be initiated to increase energy supply, to cut demand, and provide new standby emergency programs to achieve the independence we want by 1985. The largest part of increased oil production must come from new frontier areas on the Outer Continental Shelf and from the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 in Alaska. It is the intent of this Administration to move ahead with exploration, leasing, and production on those frontier areas of the Outer Continental Shelf where the environmental risks are acceptable.

President Ford was also wringing his hands about a budget deficit that might hit $45 Billion and a national debt that would top half a trillion dollars. Funnily enough, only Democratic President Bill Clinton's administrations have run budget surpluses since then. Fiscal conservative Ronald Reagan ran big deficits; so did George Bush I, though he tried to rein them in with some tax increases and got savaged for it; George Bush II has spent money like a drunken sailor, seen huge budget deficit increases yet finds tax cutting to be the correct policy prescription for nearly all our ills. We will one day rue these developments. Now we have an $8 trillion national debt and it rises about $2 billion a day. The half trillion dollar national debt isn't as much as is proposed for defence spending in the budget just submitted (ok, I'm being unfair here and using nominal dollars, not constant).

Richard Nixon, soon to resign under threat of impeachment for, among other things, domestic wiretaps and coverups, addressed the issue in early 1974:

Looking at the year 1974 which lies before us, there are 10 key areas in which landmark accomplishments are possible this year in America. If we make these our national agenda, this is what we will achieve in 1974:

We will break the back of the energy crisis; we will lay the foundation for our future capacity to meet America's energy needs from America's own resources....

We will establish a new system that makes high-quality health care available to every American in a dignified manner and at a price he can afford....

In all of the 186 State of the Union messages delivered from this place, in our history this is the first in which the one priority, the first priority, is energy. Let me begin by reporting a new development which I know will be welcome news to every American. As you know, we have committed ourselves to an active role in helping to achieve a just and durable peace in the Middle East, on the basis of full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The first step in the process is the disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces which is now taking place.

Because of this hopeful development, I can announce tonight that I have been assured, through my personal contacts with friendly leaders in the Middle Eastern area, that an urgent meeting will be called in the immediate future to discuss the lifting of the oil embargo.

This is an encouraging sign. However, it should be clearly understood by our friends in the Middle East that the United States will not be coerced on this issue.

Regardless of the outcome of this meeting, the cooperation of the American people in our energy conservation program has already gone a long way towards achieving a goal to which I am deeply dedicated. Let us do everything we can to avoid gasoline rationing in the United States of America.

Last week, I sent to the Congress a comprehensive special message setting forth our energy situation, recommending the legislative measures which are necessary to a program for meeting our needs. If the embargo is lifted, this will ease the crisis, but it will not mean an end to the energy shortage in America. Voluntary conservation will continue to be necessary. And let me take this occasion to pay tribute once again to the splendid spirit of cooperation the American people have shown which has made possible our success in meeting this emergency up to this time.

The new legislation I have requested will also remain necessary. Therefore, I urge again that the energy measures that I have proposed be made the first priority of this session of the Congress. These measures will require the oil companies and other energy producers to provide the public with the necessary information on their supplies. They will prevent the injustice of windfall profits for a few as a result of the sacrifices of the millions of Americans. And they will give us the organization, the incentives, the authorities needed to deal with the short-term emergency and to move toward meeting our long-term needs.

Just as 1970 was the year in which we began a full-scale effort to protect the environment, 1974 must be the year in which we organize a full-scale effort to provide for our energy needs, not only in this decade but through the 21st century.

As we move toward the celebration 2 years from now of the 200th anniversary of this Nation's independence, let us press vigorously on toward the goal I announced last November for Project Independence. Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.

To indicate the size of the Government commitment, to spur energy research and development, we plan to spend $10 billion in Federal funds over the next 5 years. That is an enormous amount. But during the same 5 years, private enterprise will be investing as much as $200 billion-- and in 10 years, $500 billion--to develop the new resources, the new technology, the new capacity America will require for its energy needs in the 1980's. That is just a measure of the magnitude of the project we are undertaking.

But America performs best when called to its biggest tasks. It can truly be said that only in America could a task so tremendous be achieved so quickly, and achieved not by regimentation, but through the effort and ingenuity of a free people, working in a free system....

I think all of us recognize that the energy crisis has given new urgency to the need to improve public transportation, not only in our cities but in rural areas as well. The program I have proposed this year will give communities not only more money but also more freedom to balance their own transportation needs. It will mark the strongest Federal commitment ever to the improvement of mass transit as an essential element of the improvement of life in our towns and cities....

Unrelated to energy but of remarkably current interest:

One measure of a truly free society is the vigor with which it protects the liberties of its individual citizens. As technology has advanced in America, it has increasingly encroached on one of those liberties--what I term the right of personal privacy. Modern information systems, data banks, credit records, mailing list abuses, electronic snooping, the collection of personal data for one purpose that may be used for another--all these have left millions of Americans deeply concerned by the privacy they cherish.

And the time has come, therefore, for a major initiative to define the nature and extent of the basic rights of privacy and to erect new safeguards to ensure that those rights are respected."

Nixon would resign that summer in the fallout of the Watergate scandal. We were driving down the 401 in southern Ontario at the time he resigned and my parents let me, a new driver, try driving 1t 65 there since the U.S. speed limit had been dropped to 55 to conserve oil. Something was being asked of us.

There are a number of things that stink about getting older (although, as my mother once said, it's better than the alternative!) but one satisfying thing is seeing the fuss and buzz of daily news resolve itself into longer story cycles. The Peak Oil predicitions made in the 1950s said U.S. oil production would go into decline around 1970; sure enough, it did, President Ford alludes to it above. The resulting increase in dependence on foreign oil combined with Arab anger at the Yom Kippur war got us an OPEC embargo, higher gasoline prices and, in some places, lines at gas stations (though I never saw any personally). This was around the time I began driving.

The reaction to that lasted a decade, as we dumped the huge, heavy inefficient (and often pretty crappy) cars for smaller vehicles that polluted much less and got better mileage. My own experience saw me go from a 1972 Plymouth Valiant, a compact in the parlance of the day, which had a 318 cubic inch (5.2 litre) V-8 and just managed 20 mpg on the highway, to a 1986 Saab 900 with a 2-litre inline 4-cylinder that would manage the upper 20s. 1986 also happens to be the year the U.S. passenger fleet reached its peak in fuel efficiency. That year oil prices collapsed to around $10 a barrel, cars started to creep up in size and the expectation for horsepower went up as well. The 110 horsepower of my Saab 900 would be laugable now; our Totota Avalon has 225 and the new ones have 280. In the last decade the number of vehicles exempt from even our unambitious fleet fuel efficiency requirments has increased, particulary pickup trucks (and yes, I have one, a 1996 Ford Ranger, 25 mpg on the highway, around 20-21 in mixed driving) and sports utility vehicles. Attempts to raise the requirements or to impose the same safety and efficiency requirements on these vehicles in get shouted down amid cries about the safety of America's children (lighter vehicles=less safety, goes the logic) even though it has been shown that SUVs have higher death rates than sedans.

So, OK, gas is $2.09 a gallon, sounds like a crisis, any call to sacrifice? Any "For every right that you cherish, you have a duty which you must fulfill?" Any "Ask not what your country can do for you?" Any "I have nothing to give but blood, sweat, toil and tears?" How about raising gasoline taxes, perhaps 10 cents a gallon a year for the next five years? How about eliminating tax breaks that encourage the purchase by individuals of trucks over 6,000 pounds? How about encouraging some conservation?

Nope. The extremely patriotic Vice President Dick Cheney (patriotic now that he doesn't need to worry about his draft deferrments) went on the very patriotic Rush Limbaugh's show (for you Family Values types, that's the drug addict guy who recently divorced his third wife, which seems not to faze the Bible bashers despite the good book's clear injunctions against divorce) to say the Administration would continue to push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. How about some sacrifice? Samuel Bodman, the Energy Secretary, said that "many Americans believe they're already sacrificing by paying the prices they're paying for gasoline and heating oil and natural gas." Hmmm, it's $2.09 a gallon over at the corner gas staion, cheaper than it was in 1981 in real terms. That's some sacrifice! Our leaders, supposedly engaged in a war againt terrorism, have asked nothing beyond that we keep flying and go shopping. And don't worry about those wiretap things.

So in the meantime, our oil imports continue to creep upwards. The lofty goal of eliminating our dependence on Mideast oil is pushed out to 2025; even though it's under 20% of our oil consumption, we continue to send tens of billions of dollars a year to the Middle East, including to Saudi Arabia, our strong ally and, oh yeah, home of 15 of the 19 September 11, 2001 hijackers. Our purchases help keep the price high for everyone, ensuring plenty of funding of our adversaries, of those who work to kill our troops. Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents don't get their money from bake sales, they get it from oil.

Will the situation be any different in 2025 than it was in 1974? That's a 50 year span, and 30 of them have passed and the situation has deteriorated. Will we still have brave talk, rousing calls to action and a continuing addiction to hydrocarbons produced by unsavoury regimes, a continued drain on our economy and a continued funding source to those who hate us? Probably. Our leadership is unwilling to take any hard steps. Jimmy Carter asked for sacrifice and was voted out for an Alzheimers sufferer. George Bush I tried to be responsible and pay for our spending and was summarily despatched from office. Bill Clinton ran surpluses, attacked Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and contained Saddam and he was savaged by the party who has found it preferable to spend money like water, expand entitlements, involve us in a needless war and alienate our allies.

For all the brave talk Monday of biofuels and switchgrass, the Energy Department is about to lay off 40 scientists who work on biofuels due to budget cuts proposed by this President and passed by this Congress. For all the talk of increased competitiveness in technology and research, this Congress just passed cuts in student loan programs that help university students.

I'll keep riding my bicycle to substitute for some trips in our cars, I'll keep working to make the house more energy-efficient, but I fully expect to hear a State of the Union speech twenty years hence saying that our dependency on imported petroleum is reaching a crisis point and something needs to be done about it, just like I heard last Monday and just like I heard thirty years ago. By then it will hardly be my problem any longer, and I can pass it on to my children and to theirs. The time for brave action is, ummm, then. In the meantime, keep the gas flowing.

5 comments:

George said...

Well said Matt!

Freedom said...

I think that we as a country are getting far too deep into debt. A lot is due to we be consumers. I for one am trying to get out of this cycle of spending. I am trying to get out of debt.

Slave To the Lender Blog

Pete said...

Nicely done.

michael said...

Best blog entry I've read in a while. Thanks for writing.

Nathan said...

Awesome post. Great job tying so many administrations to the subject! I do have to admit to not reading all the quotes in their entirety, though. And that Alzheimer's shot was pretty low - I mean, was he even affected by it during his presidency?