Wednesday, April 16, 2008

High cost of fallout

During the past few years, I have written a couple of times about biofuels – making diesel or gasoline out of stuff other than oil. Most anything that contains hydrogen, oxygen and carbon can be turned into fuel – including old tires, and even diapers.

Recently, we’ve seen an upsurge in ethanol production, fueled by a strong push from the Bush administration and strong lobbying by companies that had been struggling to make their ethanol units prosper. Corn’s a great crop for making ethanol, and corn growers and processors have been harvesting the benefits of growing demand (as well as tax breaks, subsidies, etc.).

Never mind that ethanol doesn’t contain the same energy as an equal amount of gasoline, say, or that it takes so much energy to produce that the net saving for the planet is dubious. Nor that farmers are plowing under other crops to grow corn.

Never mind until now, that is. The international news has been reporting for weeks that the mad dash toward biofuels is cutting into food production and raising food prices not just here – bought a gallon of milk lately? – but around the world.

Many of those experiencing the fallout can least afford it. (Maybe some of those are you?)

Or not. But in an interconnected world, we have to at least wonder how what we do affects our neighbors (if we can’t love them as we love ourselves).

In 2007, for instance, the skyrocketing price of corn put the bite on Mexican wallets because corn is a major staple of Mexican diets. Small family farms in Mexico that grew corn found that increasing American production had driven the price down below their subsistence level. Farmers went under – or went north to look for work. Some likely wound up helping harvest some of that U.S.-grown corn that had put them on the road to begin with.

Other factors played into this – bad weather, political instability, the lure of a better overall life. But corn, like tobacco and cotton in another era and another place, is a crop of potential trouble.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore every avenue to alternative energy. We SHOULD explore EVERY avenue and also consider the impact of it on ourselves and the rest of the world.

Wonder if you can turn kudzu into biodiesel?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Witnesses called in case of Gas v. Diesel

Your honor, we would like to see the case of Gasoline v. Diesel resolved.

It seems that a number of major media, when reporting about various trucker protests in recent days and weeks, said truckers were protesting over “gas prices.”

Many truckers own personal vehicles fueled by gasoline, but I would argue that the protests were not about gas but concerned the price of diesel fuel.

Although both fuels burn in combustion engines to produce driving power, their physical properties differ. They are certainly not interchangeable and, at this period in history, differ greatly in price.

Overall, the media did an excellent job in covering the issues facing today’s truckers. They were fair and got to the real issues about a demographic struggling with increasing costs.

However, we see no need to merely lump everything together as “gas” in the news. The average consumer should be aware of the differences by now.

Please rule once and for all and set the precedent. Thank you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

McCain breaks ranks on filling the SPR

Another U.S. senator has come out against buying up more and more oil for our emergency store while prices are so high.

This time, it’s from the other side of the aisle and you might call him a guy with some standing these days. Sen. John McCain addressed the economy last week in a speech before a small-business roundtable in New York.

The most important item in my opinion was his comment on adding oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. McCain said there was an adequate supply in the SPR and it was time to “suspend purchases.”

This breaks with the policy of the Bush administration, which wants to keep buying sweet light crude and storing it underground. This course of action might give us a massive stash of oil in case of emergency, but right now it’s simply forcing the price of oil higher.

This is an issue that OOIDA has been pushing for since January as truckers are in desperate need of relief, and not the kind that it takes two years to realize.

Last week I blogged about Sen. Byron Dorgan, who introduced legislation to suspend purchases for the SPR back in February, and is in an uproar about it as well. Dorgan is a Democrat from North Dakota. Until McCain spoke out on Thursday, April 10, Maine’s Susan Collins was the only other GOP senator to speak out on putting the brakes on the SPR fill.

Here’s what the Arizona senator said: “Right now I think we should stop adding to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The SPR is intended to offset the impact of physical disruption of oil supplies. But with oil at over $100 a barrel and an adequate supply in the SPR, it is time to suspend purchases. This will lessen worldwide demand for oil, and if the classic laws of supply and demand hold, we should see a welcome decrease in the price of oil. And I ask every American to consider how you can sacrifice a bit for the common good and cut back where you can on your energy use.”

McCain said he plans to “pursue a national energy strategy that won’t be another grab bag of handouts and a full employment act for lobbyists. It will promote the diversification and conservation of our energy sources, including a robust expansion of nuclear power, that will in sufficient time break the dominance of oil in our transportation sector.”

This is good news not only for Sen. Dorgan and the Democrats whose bill would require the administration to stop purchasing oil for the stockpile for the rest of the year or until the price of oil falls to less than (negotiable) $50 a barrel. It’s also good news for truckers who need something to reverse the upward pressure on the cost of diesel.

In case you are wondering, now all three presidential hopefuls are onboard with the stop-the-fill train.

Now let’s see that legislation get movin’.