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Politics and Economics

Powering up for 2006 — and beyond
Hillary Clinton joins the pack in calling for greener energy policy

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine
Hillary Clinton has joined a growing claque of both Democrats and Republicans swigging from the cup of clean-energy Kool-Aid as they gear up for the 2006 congressional elections. In the past two months, the New York senator has popped up at a major Arctic Refuge rally, a high-profile global-warming conference, and a clean-technology investor symposium to make fervent calls for cleaner, greener energy policy.

In a speech delivered two weeks ago to a group of investors gathered at the Cleantech Venture Forum in Washington, D.C., Clinton staked out her ground, outlining a plan “to get America on track for a smarter, more secure, and cleaner energy future.”

…Energy looks increasingly likely to be a key issue for Clinton not just in her 2006 Senate reelection campaign, but in her much-anticipated bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. She has been careful, however, to couch her energy vision largely in terms of its economic and security advantages, giving less prominence to eco-benefits — perhaps because they might detract from the hawkish persona she likes to project.

Clinton’s newfound enthusiasm for energy is likely also spurred on by the efforts of some of her political foes to seize the issue. Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly is one recent right-wing convert to conservation. “You can get fuel efficiency by demanding efficiency out of Detroit,” he said during an Oct. 24 radio broadcast, radically departing from his usual regulations-be-damned rhetoric. “You know, the government has a right to protect the environment, and it is a national-security issue, so they can say to Detroit, ‘Look, we know you have the technology to do it. And if you have [cars that get] 30 [miles per gallon] and up, we’ll, you know, we encourage you. And if you don’t, then we’re going to tax your vehicles more because they’re harming our country.’ The government has a right to do that.”

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, even the Bush administration talked up energy conservation and introduced Energy Hog, an antihero mascot meant to remind Americans to curb their consumption.

Prominent members of Clinton’s own party are getting in the game too. Sens. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Harry Reid (Nev.), and Maria Cantwell (Wash.) have lately been delivering ever-louder clean-energy messages. Last month, Lieberman unveiled a plan that calls for oil savings of 5 million barrels a day by 2015, as well as the mass production of alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles. …

And where were leading Democrats this summer when the energy bill chockablock with Big Oil handouts — and embarrassingly weak on support for renewable energy and efficiency — was being rammed through Congress? … In the end, more than half of Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the full energy bill, including Durbin, Lieberman, Obama, and Cantwell. If Clinton wants to be a leader on clean, forward-looking energy policy, she could start by convincing her own Democratic colleagues.

With anger over soaring fuel costs and anxiety over U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the nation is primed as never before to hear substantive new energy proposals. Whether Clinton — or any other leader, Democrat or Republican — can meet that demand with more than lofty rhetoric remains to be seen.
(8 November 2005)

Energy companies feel the heat on the Hill

Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington, Washington Post
With voters fuming about high fuel prices, two Senate committees want answers from oil company executives about why they are ringing up record profits.

Senior officials from ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP America and Shell Oil Co. are to appear tomorrow before a joint hearing of the Energy and Commerce committees, to try to deflect a push by Republicans as well as Democrats for anti-price-gouging legislation, including a windfall profits tax.

The executives will be asked to explain why prices for oil, gasoline and natural gas have spiked, to outline the reasons behind massive third-quarter 2005 corporate profits, and to describe how they will deal with future increases in global demand.
(8 November 2005)
Many other news stories online on the same subject, including Oil chiefs unfazed by Republican grilling at the Financial Times and Fireworks Expected at Wednesday’s Oil Hearings at ABC News.

Four questions for Big Oil

Chris Isidore, CNN/Money
Here are 4 questions senators can ask oil company CEO’s to get at some causes of high fuel prices.
NEW YORK – The oil industry’s top executives Wednesday head into dangerous public relations territory when they appear at a joint Senate committee hearing on energy prices and profits. are some questions worth asking the oil industry executives at their hearing Wednesday if the point is to drive down consumer prices rather than score political points:

What can be done to create more investment in U.S. refining capacity?…

Can’t all gasoline just get along?…

What can be done to increase secondary storage capacity?…

How much more oil is out there?

This is a basic question, and one that might be raised by senators looking for debating points about opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

But no matter where new sources of oil are found, oil is a true global commodity and prices are far more driven by the amount of oil available, rather than its nationality.

That’s why there’s so much concern in world markets about some estimates recently that Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are nearing their peak capacity and that they could soon see declines in production.

While that question is hotly debated, no one questions that worldwide demand for oil is poised for steady increases as China and India see their wealth, and their number of automobiles, grow rapidly…
(8 November 2005)

China to promote small cars to save energy

Reuters via Planet Ark
BEIJING – China will encourage production of small, efficient cars to cut oil consumption, clean smoggy city skies and reduce traffic jams, an official said on Monday.

Beijing would back up the talk with new standards for small, low-emissions cars, Liu Zhi, head of the National Development and Reform Commission’s industry policy bureau, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Many big cities in China had previously banned slow-moving small cars from expressways, but those rules would have to be lifted, Liu said.

“With international oil prices consistently rising and pressure from China’s oil consumption growing day by day, (the bans) do not match the national situation,” he was quoted as saying at a conference in Beijing.

Car ownership has exploded in recent years in China, the number of vehicles per thousand people rising from fewer than five in 1990 to 21 last year.
(8 November 2005)

Diamonds are forever

Wade Sanders, Military-dot-com
If you think the price of oil doesn’t affect national security, remember that our nation’s military is the oil industry’s biggest single customer. The price of oil is eating up defense appropriations at an accelerated rate, and we are paying that price.

…Consumers need to understand that the petroleum industry is a cartel, and they deal in a commodity whose availability and price is manipulated, just like another plentiful commodity: diamonds.

…The oil cartels are precisely the same, and petroleum is just like a diamond. They govern and maintain the price their product garners in the world’s commodity markets by manipulating both availability and distribution. One need only recall the so-called gas shortage of the late seventies. While refineries were complaining to the public that there was a shortage of oil to refine, scores of huge tankers laden with oil loitered off the coasts, timing their arrival and off-loading to maintain the appearance of a shortage. That “shortage” was reflected in skyrocketing gasoline prices, and the shortage lasted until the public and political outcry reached a critical level.

…So, how does the consumer fight this? Short of federalization of the industry (which might not be a bad idea, since gasoline is an essential commodity), the only relief that the consumer has is to not use the product, or to diminish dependency on the product. Don’t expect serious political intrusion; insurance against that has already been obtained through campaign contributions. However, be aware that the oil companies are pretty savvy at this game as well. Just as soon as really serious measures regarding alternative energy sources appear on the horizon, they will lower the price of oil to garner the return of their prodigal customers, thus squelching any realistic trend towards fuel efficiency. Unless gasoline consumers are willing to abandon their Hummers and Escalades to embrace hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars or the oil cartels permit a true substitute for oil to be developed, nothing will really change.

About Wade Sanders: Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, distinguished combat veteran, and retired Navy Captain, Wade Sanders is much published on matters of national security in major newspapers and the Naval Institute Proceedings.
(8 November 2005)

Households, businesses suffer as Albania faces severe electricity crisis

Erlis Selimaj, Southeast European Times
Many Albanians are now going most of the day without electricity, due to a crippling electricity shortage. The country’s communist-era hydroelectric plants cannot keep up with demand, and supplies from abroad do not bridge the gap.
(8 November 2005)