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A troubled U.S. - Dec 2

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


U.S. Senator Reid to change U.S. energy plan

Ben Lando, UPI
When he takes control of the U.S. Senate in January, Harry Reid's agenda will include moving the country toward energy independence -- a U.S. security issue, he says -- which he blames the Republican Congress and president for hindering.

In an exclusive interview with United Press International in his Las Vegas office, the future Senate Majority Leader said Thursday he's astonished by how much oil the United States consumes and by the lack of attention paid to drawing down the crude habit.

"Think about this: We use 21 million barrels of oil every day," said Reid, D-Nev. "But then to make it even more profane, we import 65 percent of that."

He said voters Nov. 7 decided on the Democratic Party, partly because "energy independence" was part of its platform.

"With the Republican-dominated Congress and the president, we couldn't change it. We offered amendments that were turned down easily. We were voted down on party line basis most every time."

Reid said Congress needs to invest away from fossil fuels and more in solar and wind power, geothermal (generating power from the natural heat deep in the Earth) and biomass (converting plant matter to fuels).

"We can't do it overnight but I think we have to set goals. How about something as simple as reducing the importation of oil by a million barrels a year," Reid said.
(1 Dec 2006)
U.S. politicians are starting to say intelligent things about energy policy. Note that Sen. Reid is due to assume the influential post of Senate Majority Leader.

In a side note, we know that staffers of Sen. Reid have been readers of Energy Bulletin. So take heart, energy crusaders, your voices are heard!

Incidentally, United Press International (UPI) has had a number of "sleeper" articles about energy. Let's hope they run more. -BA


Energy industry: Give us something solid

Steve Hargreaves, CNN Money
Utility execs see carbon restrictions as inevitable, want regulations 'soon rather than later;' seek stability in oil markets; questions linger over nuclear power.
----
NEW YORK -- Uncertainty over nuclear power, impending carbon regulation and the desire for predictability in the global oil market are some of the leading issues in the energy industry today, according to executives at some of the world's big energy companies.

At a luncheon Thursday on Wall Street, closed to reporters but opened for a recap and questions later, executives from companies including Royal Dutch Shell (Charts), Entergy (Charts), Duke Energy (Charts) and Saudi Aramco outlined what they saw as some of the major trends unfolding in the near future.

On restricting carbon emissions, some of the major utilities thought federal government restrictions are inevitable, and said clear rules would help them plan future capital projects.

"Our belief is that carbon control is coming," said Cathy Roche, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, the North Carolina-based utility and one of the nation's largest."We want the rules written sooner rather than later, so we can budget our projects."
(1 Dec 2006)


Shutdown of EPA Libraries Worries Scientists, Advocates

David Goldstein, McClatchy Newspapers via Common Dreams
WASHINGTON - Concerned about the kinds of pollutants spilling into your local rivers and streams and how they could affect your health?

As the Environmental Protection Agency closes some scientific libraries around the country, EPA scientists and other environmental advocates worry whether that kind of information could become harder to find.

They fear that the agency's plan to save money by replacing printed resources with digitized versions on the Internet could make information less - not more - accessible.

"Nobody is against modernization, but we don't see the digitization," said Francesca Grifo, a botanist and the director of scientific integrity at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group for the environment and other scientific issues. "We just see the libraries closing. We just see that public access has been cut off."

The EPA has closed three of its 10 regional libraries, branches in Kansas City, Mo., Dallas and Chicago that serve 15 states. EPA officials said that no information would be lost and that public access would be improved rather than compromised.

"EPA is committed to ensuring the agency's library materials are available to employees, the public, the scientific community, the legal community and other organizations," Linda Travers, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Environmental Information, said in an e-mail.

Travers said material from the closed libraries would be available on the agency's Web site (www.epa.gov) in January and was accessible now through interlibrary loans. She said EPA-produced documents from all 21 libraries in the agency's network that could be digitized would be accessible through the Internet within two years.

But the closing gives ammunition to scientists, open-records supporters and members of Congress who think that the Bush administration is weakening the EPA. An internal agency memo last summer spelled out plans to close laboratories, cut senior-level scientists and reduce environmental oversight.

Steve Kinser, a Superfund project engineer in Kansas City and the president of the local chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the EPA's professional employees, said the developments had made him look forward to his retirement next year even more.

"Our ability to do our job is being tested at every turn," he said. "I don't know if I can say anything more plain than that."

Unions that represent 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other employees have complained to Congress about the library closings. Several lawmakers have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate.
(2 Dec 2006)


US dollar: everybody's problem

Leader, UK Guardian
First it was blamed on Thanksgiving: the sell-off in the US dollar was the result of turkeys being digested by Wall Street. But the dollar's decline has continued long after that holiday ended and now threatens to slide all the way to Christmas. Some argue that a dollar worth only 50p or 70 euro-cents is the best gift the US could hope for, by making America's exports more competitive. Is it time to dust off the old quote from a US treasury secretary that "the dollar is our currency, but your problem"? Actually, this time the dollar's gymnastics on the currency markets look like giving the US some problems of its own. The wider ramifications, too, look far more serious than the prospect of cheaper iPods for British tourists.

Currency markets can seem to jag up or down from day to day, but underlying movements are prolonged and relatively slow. The dollar has been on a downwards trend for some time - so far this year it has lost 10% against the euro - and the latest bout of weakness is a symptom of deep imbalances in America's economy, in particular a tendency to live on borrowed money. A weaker dollar makes US exports cheaper and imports more expensive, so in time it should rebalance things. But the initial effect, given the US appetite for imports remains voracious, will be price rises, creating inflationary pressure requiring interest rates be set higher than they otherwise would be. That would be painful, especially as indicators, from a faltering housing market to poor WalMart sales, already suggest a slowdown.

Any damage done to the US will depend on the relative speed of a domestic downturn compared with the happier revival in exports. A collapse in the property market, to take the most likely scenario, when combined with a depreciating currency will give the US economy a sickly pallor for a while, hitting the eurozone and Japan in particular by reducing demand for their exports. Europe looks robust enough to cope. The biggest issue will be how the Asian central banks who have been hoarding dollars will react, especially China's.

A US recession would increase pressure in Congress to take a tough line with China over trade. But with perhaps $600-700bn in dollar assets, China's central bankers are sitting on huge potential losses, along with India, South Korea and Japan. They face the difficult decision to maintain their reserves by continuing to support the dollar, or allowing their domestic currencies to strengthen. Neither is an attractive option. To update the old quote: "the US dollar is our currency, but it's China's problem."
(2 Dec 2006)


Stalled subdivisions leave Metro homeowners on barren blocks home alone

Robert Snell, Detroit News
... Stalled subdivisions are becoming an increasing part of the landscape across Metro Detroit amid a slumping housing market for single-family homes and condominiums, threatening increases in property values and quality of life for neighbors.

As builders such as Neumann Homes auction new houses and struggle with plots that aren't selling, residents are coping with empty lots and blight. They cope too with envy, as neighboring homes built after the housing-market bubble burst are selling for much less.

"It's probably been the worst year I've ever seen in my life," said Anthony Sorrentino of Clinton Township-based Sorrentino Development. "It's like the whole world completely stopped."

New home construction has fallen 44.3 percent across the region compared to last year as customers are wary or unable to sell their current homes. One builder called it the worst market he's ever seen and conditions are triggering construction delays and, in some cases, leaving brand new homes next to empty lots and barren blocks.
(1 Dec 2006)
Contributor KC writes:
At some point, the housing market crash will affect transportation demand. In SE Michigan, the collapse of the low-mileage US auto industry is having huge ripple effects in housing.

BA: Are Kunstler's prophecies coming to pass?

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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