A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Passing gas
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:24 PM

So now the War President is taking off the fighter pilot costume and donning the white lab coat of Dr. Alt-Fuel (not to be confused with his arch-nemesis Ozone Man):

Think about how your children or your grandchildren may be able to spend a President's Day in the future. If you're planning a trip to visit relatives, you can plug in your hybrid car the night before and drive the first 40 miles on your lithium ion battery. If you've got more distance to go, you can fill up at your local ethanol station. If you're in Wisconsin, you'll be filling it up with corn product. In Crawford, it may just be switch grass. (Laughter.) You may decide to travel in a hydrogen-powered minivan, and refuel at a station with hydrogen generated by a local nuclear power plant. When you finally make it to where you're going, you can sit at a house that is lit by clean coal, or wind energy, or solar-powered roof over your head.

There's something very curious about this vision of the future. I'm all for renewable energy, and I'll be the last to suggest we don't need to do something about our reliance on petroleum. But what does Bush have to say about the latter?

And so here are three ways that we can do that, change our reliance from oil. First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do. Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil. And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all.

The one thing he will absolutely not suggest is using less oil with our current technology. He's talking up hybrids and hydrogen and running cars with tumbleweed, but what about the 13 MPG SUV that's in the driveway today? Keep on truckin'.

It doesn't take much to deduce why. While singing paeans to marginal and/or largely theoretical tech doesn't upset the status quo, suggesting that people drive less is anathema to Bush's base -- business interests. Oil companies swimming in profits definitely don't want consumption to go down, of course. (Hybrids don't bother these interests much, I would think. While the 40 MPG Priuses get all the press, it looks like the popular hybrids in the real marketplace will be things like the Lexus RX400h and the forthcoming Chevy Tahoe hybrid -- the big vehicles Americans love getting the same mileage that normal passenger cars get, or less [the Tahoe hybrid is expected to weigh in at around 20 MPG]. While any savings is a good thing, I don't think the total consumption of gas is going to be noticeably affected.)

In addition, retail, travel and tourism detest the idea of conservation. You can bet the struggling airlines don't want people to think twice about a business trip that could be accomplished with a phone call, or flying out to see Grandma once this year instead of twice. Plus, if there's a call to eliminate unnecessary trips, chances are many of those trips would be pleasure shopping jaunts that could be replaced by Amazon.com.

So you won't hear calls for actual conservation from this administration. Lots of talk about miracle tech, but nothing that would affect our current profligate lifestyles. Bush isn't serious about dealing with energy dependency, he just wants the voter on the street worried about gas prices to think he's doing something about it.

Not convinced this is a sham? Via AMERICAblog, we learn an interesting fact from the AP:

On Tuesday, Bush plans to visit the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to talk about speeding the development of biofuels.

The lab, with a looming $28 million budget shortfall, had announced it was cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers. But in advance of Bush's visit, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman over the weekend directed the transfer of $5 million to the private contractor that runs the lab, so the jobs can be saved.

The department "has been informed that the NREL lab director will use these funds to immediately restore all of the jobs that were cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls," the department said in a statement Monday.

If Dr. Alt-Fuel was serious, and not just playing dress-up again, he wouldn't be slashing alt-fuel research.

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