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NY Times on the gas tax

Editorial, New York Times
… it might be time for the president-elect and Congress to think seriously about imposing a gas tax or similar levy to keep gas prices up after the economy recovers from recession.

Americans did not buy enormous gas guzzlers just because Detroit marketed them relentlessly. They bought them because they wanted big cars — and because gas was cheap. If gas stays cheap, Americans would be less inclined to squeeze their families into a lithe fuel-efficient alternative.

Furthermore, even if the government managed to convert General Motors, Chrysler and Ford to the cause of energy efficiency, cheap gas could open the door for a competitor — Toyota, perhaps? — to take over the lucrative market for gas-chuggers, leaving Detroit’s automakers eating dust once again.
(26 December 2008)

Braddock, Pennsylvania: Out of the Furnace and into the Fire

Jim Straub, Monthly Review
As far as scenic ruins go, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area sets a high standard. The natural beauty of the Monongahela Valley and the built legacy of deindustrialization make gorgeous scenery out of blue-collar defeat.

Beauty is no compensation for lost jobs though. The old steel towns of this region have been imploding for decades. No place has lost a greater share of its population than Braddock, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. This ravaged, near-empty stretch of abandoned homes, storefronts, and buildings was once a storied cornerstone of the industrial age. After losing 90 percent of its peak population, today it looks more like the nightmare at the end of the American Dream.

… After winning the Democratic primary there by just one vote, John Fetterman became the mayor of an economic disaster zone. He began an unorthodox reconstruction program, calling on urban pioneers to help rebuild a devastated place, but not for the gentrified benefit of real estate speculators. In a part of the country where Braddock is only the hardest-hit example of hundreds of de-industrialized places, any success at revitalization through green design and the arts here might light a path for other small rust-belt cities out of poverty and population loss. But larger questions about the lack of jobs cast a shadow over such hopes, and a new expressway proposed to run straight through Braddock threatens to kill the town’s last chance at resurrection in its crib.

Mayor of a Ghost Town

“Statistically speaking, Braddock is an outlier among outliers. I don’t know of any other place in the rust belt that had a 90 percent population loss,” Fetterman notes, on one of the countless tours he gives to anyone who will listen. He goes on, “Pittsburgh, for instance, still has an economy. So the powers that be there are trying to break the unions and reorganize the city’s finances. We don’t even have finances.”
(December 2008)

‘The nurses’ birthed a better place at Stinking Creek

Mindy Fetterman, USA TODAY
Midwife Peggy Kemner, 78 years old and bent over with osteoporosis like a tiny question mark, climbs into her dented car,

… For 50 years, “Miss Peggy” and her schoolteacher friend, Irma Gall, have volunteered as missionaries along the winding watershed of Stinking Creek in Knox County, Ky., one of the poorest counties in America.

Kemner has been midwife for the births of 507 children, most in bleak mountain cabins with no running water and one light bulb stuck in the ceiling. She’s nursed the sick, sat with the dying.

Gall has been a teacher and farmer, riding her horse up the hollows on muddy, rutted roads to teach at one-room schoolhouses in the late 1950s and 1960s. Together, they set up a community center called Lend-A-Hand Center, taught Sunday school and 4-H classes, and ran one of the nation’s first home health care services.

Quietly, they advocated birth control and education for women. Viewed at first with suspicion and distrust, the women known as “the nurses” have, over the decades, proved how much hands-on caring can make a difference in the lives of individuals.

… President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” brought billions of dollars in federal aid to the Appalachian region, from food stamps and health insurance for poor children to Head Start early-education programs and payments for men who suffered from black lung disease after mining the coal-packed mountains.

Women went to work, family incomes doubled and more children graduated from high school. More went to college, too. As throughout Appalachia, many people left for better opportunities elsewhere. But for those who stayed, particularly women, opportunities grew.

As family size shrank, the abject poverty that encased Stinking Creek began to ease.
(25 December 2008)