"Energy Independence"

Oct 5, 2008

Murray, KY – A bit of homespun wisdom from a friend who grew up in Mississippi: The hogs don't look up till the slop stops coming.

This pithy saying comes to mind with the alarming rise in gasoline prices and the frantic scrambling for half-gassed solutions. As if we have not been on this inexorable march for decades

One earlier wake-up call came during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Fuel prices went up, availability dwindled. Living in the New York metropolitan area at the time, I found myself pulling out of the driveway at 4:30 a.m. to get into line at a gas station so I'd be sure of enough fuel to get to and from work. We car-pooled, slowed down, and decreased driving mileage. A short-term solution made gas available on an odd-even basis, depending on the last digit of your license plate.

In spite of an obvious need for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, Detroit seemed to prefer producing gas-guzzlers. Nevertheless, other countries got the message. Despite accusations of being un-American, millions of solid citizens started buying Toyotas, Hondas, and VW's. Eventually, many of these brands moved manufacturing and assembly facilities to the USA, providing good paying jobs and stimulating economies in states like Kentucky.

Over the past thirty years, the misfires in America's energy policies have had us shooting ourselves in the collective foot, so when opportunity for innovation presents itself, we fall back on old standbys - oil and coal.

With almost a thousand permits currently open for oil exploration, speculators large and small are itching to drill off the east and west coasts, the Gulf shores and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Kentucky has jumped on the clean coal technology bandwagon with both feet, even to the extreme of dynamiting the tops off mountains. Meanwhile, there are unanswered questions: Where and how will the byproducts of the process be handled? Can carbon dioxide really be stored safely and economically underground? What happens if the groundwater is compromised?

You can bet the big shots' backyards will be safe.

Unfortunately, the good guys and bad guys in the complicated issue of energy policy are not so easy to identify. Republicans swear that Bill Clinton is at fault for not allowing drilling in ANWR in 1996. Democrats tag the current administration, headed by two oil men, as the culprit.

Verily, it was President Clinton who got the ball rolling in one wrong direction in 1996, when tax laws were changed so business owners could claim $17,500 in accelerated depreciation on equipment, such as trucks. Under George W. Bush, new tax code definitions shifted so that weight, not function, determined whether or not a vehicle was eligible for the tax break. As a result, the cap on business equipment (including luxury SUVs) was raised to $75,000, making it possible for business owners to write off the entire cost of most high-priced gas hogs, including some models of the ridiculous Hummer.

Adding insult to injury, stepped-up efforts to convert corn, grain and soybeans into fuel are causing food prices to soar. Now, those of us who have been outraged at the gas pumps can be found at the grocery store muttering about the cost of bread, meat, milk, etc. Who knows where it will end?

As July 4th nears, energy independence is a relevant topic. We need leadership and vision to make the transition from old sources and methods to others, including solar and wind. We need leaders who are willing to make hard decision and not cave into demands of lobbyists and fat cats who can afford to drive huge SUVs and fly in private jets while the rest of us put up with rising inflation and shrinking buying power.

Surely the USA, a nation born through revolution against tyranny, can come up with innovative solutions to solve our energy problems, stimulate economic growth and foster individual prosperity.

The slop as stopped coming. Are you paying attention?

Speaking for myself, this is Constance Alexander at WKMS in Murray, Kentucky.