Thursday, May 04, 2006

Conservation as Important as 18 Cents of Savings

A couple days ago I wrote an article about the credibility of the different candidates running for New York's 24th District seat in the US House of Representatives in discussing the energy crisis. In that article I focused one side of the issue: Reducing the price of energy through the extension of alternative energy technologies.

A reader who commented on that article last night reminds us that there is another side to the energy issue: Consumption. The reader wrote,

"I want a politician who straight up tells us we can't continue to lead a lifestyle with such extravagent energy use. I want a politician who gives us a smart direction to significantly reduce our energy consumption while maintaining a high standard of living.

Energy is in demand and the price is rising significantly but you miss the other half of the coin. Commodities are rising just as fast. We simply can't afford to continue a highly consumptive lifestyle. No sense bitching about it. Time to deal with it."


I think that this reader has a good point. Most of the political debate in Congress right now is focused on extremely short-term solutions to what is basically a long-term, and probably permanent, problem. Fossil fuels just aren't going to cut it, and temporary measures like that ridiculous one-time $100 rebate won't help Americans.

There is a temptation for candidates for Congress, as well as sitting members, to offer quick fixes for the short term. Just yesterday, for example, Michael Arcuri stood in front of a gas station sign with a small group of people from his campaign, and for the television cameras, declared that he supports a repeal of the federal tax on gasoline. That would save drivers 18 cents per gallon.

Mike Arcuri said, "If we suspend that, we would give some relief to the people who use their vehicles each and every day to get back and forth to work and, just as importantly, the small business owners, the people that own construction companies, the people that have trucks on the road, the people that drive for a living, they need help."

Well, we do need help from energy costs. That's undeniable. But, will a one time 18 cent reduction do the job? That 18 cents would be more than made up for by the time we hit summer, and if the Gulf gets another major hurricane or George W. Bush starts a new war against Iran, 18 cents will look like nothing in comparison to the price hikes we'll see.

To be fair to Arcuri, he also proposes investment in research into alternative energy. That's a good part of the solution - but it needs to be funded by sources like the gas tax. If anything, the tax on gasoline needs to be increased by a few cents per gallon, and that money needs to be put directly into the kind of research that Arcuri, Les Roberts, Ray Meier, and all the other candidates say they support. The reality of the budget is that America's surpluses have been drained into huge deficits by the borrow-and-spend Republicans in Congress. Reducing the gas tax and calling for increased alternative energy research at the same time just won't work.

The other important function of the gas tax is to encourage conservation. The patterns last year showed it quite clearly: When gas prices went up, people stopped buying SUVs, and got in line for hybrids. They stopped driving long distances for vacations, and spent more money locally. They stopped driving in separate parallel cars to work, and started carpooling. Reduce the gas tax, and you'll encourage people to keep driving more, reducing supply, and moving the price of gasoline right back up again.

I'm glad to see that Michael Arcuri's ill-thought gas tax amnesty plan has some balance in talk about conservation. On the Arcuri for Congress web site, under "issues", Arcuri states, "we need policies that encourage energy conservation. It would make far more sense to give tax breaks to encourage state-of-art energy policies for the future than to give tax breaks to oil industries to build new refineries which permit them to continue to profit from exploiting oil."

That's a nice sound bite. Now, Arcuri needs to show that he can get serious about energy policy, in both funding alternative technology and in encouraging conservation, by issuing a comprehensive energy policy paper.

Les Roberts has released a policy paper on the energy crisis that is much longer than Arcuri's short statement, though it could still include much more detail, especially about conservation. In that paper, Roberts writes:
"Our federal government must lead an Apollo-like effort to develop and promote renewable energy alternatives. The effort must involve researching and developing new energy sources, providing start-up capital and tax incentives to apply those technologies, and developing a social commitment toward creating a sustainable economy. An initiative like this will end our dependence on fossil-fuels, which will promote improved national security and will help to protect our nation’s natural resources. New York’s 24th District would benefit from such an initiative more than many others in the country. With 10 four-year universities in the 24th District, we could see millions of research dollars pour into the District. This translates to more high-paying, high-quality jobs. The work needed to convert our buildings systems to alternative sources of energy would create thousands of new jobs for our region. Furthermore, every resident and business in the 24th District would see the benefits of this initiative through reduced energy costs associated with living and working in our region."


Les Roberts has put his support behind Maurice Hinchey's bipartisan Energy for Our Future Act, co-authored with Moderate Connecticut Republican Congressman Christopher Shays. The bill "repeals the billions of subsidies for oil and gas industries given away in the Republican Energy Policy Act of 2005, encourages innovative mass transit solutions, increased conservation and weatherization, requires renewable energy portfolios and increases the corporate fuel economy standard to 40 miles per gallon."

The Energy for Our Future Act is the kind of comprehensive effort that we need to see coming out of the House of Representatives. It would be an easy thing for Mike Arcuri to follow the lead of Les Roberts and endorse the bill, thus adding to his own credibility on the energy issue, and moving away from cute gimmicks like the promise to save 18 cents for a few months. Will Arcuri make the move?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice positive publicity about two democrats in a primary. No problem.

http://www.news10now.com/content/
top_stories/default.asp?ArID=65515

And hey, look at all the wannabees looking to get in the limelight in the background!

Richard Saunders said...

The author chooses to focus on a small piece of Arcuri's plan.
Arcuri's plan as reported by News10Now includes:

Temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.

The creation of a one time windfall profits tax.

End "Royalty Relief" offered to oil companies drilling on public land.

Invest in the development of alternative energy.

Les Roberts was asked what he thought of the Arcuri energy plan. News10Now quotes him as saying:
"It's a great start".

Norway said...

While I agree with the reader in principle, telling it straight didn't work very well for Jimmy Carter or Al Gore. The Lieberman plan is absolutely a bandaid that does nothing to reward conservation or solve the real problem of supply and demand. We do need to keep talking about this, though.

Anonymous said...

You know, the more I read about Les Roberts, not just on this site (or its 500 counterparts all run by the same guy) but on the web in general, the more I have to ask:

Isn't this guy too smart, ethical, and sensible to be in CONGRESS?

He should be the Secretary of Energy, or our Rep to UNESCO.

To limit a guy like this to horsetrading and backbenching, and who knows else seems like a waste.

I feel no such compunction about relegating Arcuri to such a fate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Roberts about it being a "great start." But that is all. I think each of these refund and tax schemes being discussed in Congress are temporary moves to distract for a bigger reality - If we spent a fraction of what we are spending on the war in Iraq on converting our country to sustainable clean energy sources, we could make that transition within this decade. An 18 cent tax break - okay, good move. For the average driver that will likely save them less than $100 this year. Meanwhile, Ford says a mass production Hydrogen car is over 10 years off. It amazes me that we could build a space station in less time than it takes to turn an already working car into mass production. Henry Ford translated the Model T into mass production faster than 10 years.

It is time to shift the discussion in Congress from temporary bandaids to global solutions.

Curious said...

Q: What has the DCCC done for Arcuri?
A: Sent him down to Cortland! Talked him into putting his contact information on his website! Finally! Some acknowledgement that not "everyone knows Arcuri"!!! After all, it's MAY already!!!

Anonymous said...

Arcuri should know better than to support even a temporary gas tax reduction. Doing so undercuts the highway trust fund which pays for your roads. Its a non-starter in either a Republican or Democratic Congress.

Furthermore, the gas tax is not driving up the price of gasoline. It has been fixed for years. If you don't target the wind fall profits, you are not solving the problem. Exxon Mobile made more money yesterday, than most of the citizens of NY 24 will ever make combined.

Norway said...

11:57--I absolutely agree. The reaction where I live was, "Is he kidding?"

Anonymous said...

Sure we need to deal with the long term issues, but it's all well and good for people like you to dismiss Arcuri's gas tax proposal. What do you have to say to the working couple that is now paying an extra $100 a week for gas? If they have a family income of $45,000, that's a huge dent in their disposable income. Add in the fact that they were already scraping by because of higher heating oil or natural gas prices this winter. Arcuri's proposal won't fix everything, but it's a way to help people who are hurting right now. Dismissing it out of hand is like telling them to eat cake.

Most of the people on this blog pretend to be real Democrats, but they have no concept of what real working people face every day. Until you do, you might as well get used to Republicans winning elections.

24 Independent said...

Last anonymous commenter, do the math:

If a family drives a car that gets 25 miles per gallon, and uses 10 gallons of gas a week, that's 250 miles per week.

Now, if Arcuri gets into Congress and works to help get a short term fix from temporary repeal of the 18 cent per gallon gas tax, that's .18 dollars multiplied by 10 gallons.

The savings you say are so important? $1.80 in gas money every week.

You say I am out of touch?

The proposal is meaningless, in the big picture.

Anonymous said...

Sure we need to deal with the long term issues, but it's all well and good for people like you to dismiss Arcuri's gas tax proposal. What do you have to say to the working couple that is now paying an extra $100 a week for gas? If they have a family income of $45,000, that's a huge dent in their disposable income. Add in the fact that they were already scraping by because of higher heating oil or natural gas prices this winter. Arcuri's proposal won't fix everything, but it's a way to help people who are hurting right now. Dismissing it out of hand is like telling them to eat cake.

Most of the people on this blog pretend to be real Democrats, but they have no concept of what real working people face every day. Until you do, you might as well get used to Republicans winning elections.

Anonymous said...

7:07 - let's use your math.

At $100 per week, and $3 per gallon you are using 33 gallons of gas per week. At 18 cents per gallon, that comes to a whopping savings of $6 a week. You'll save a lot more by quitting smoking and at least as much by passing up a burger a week.

However, you can buy three extra loaves of bread for that six bucks so there is absolutely no reason to eat cake.

The much smarter way to deal with this is to use less gas. In fact, given that worldwide demand for energy is growing as instability in OPEC nations also grows, the only smart thing to do is to develop a new lifestyle in the US that simply uses considerably less energy.

On a more personal level relative to your example, why would you spend $5,200 a year in gasoline to commute? Why would you not move closer to your job and commute less? Why would you be expecting the government to bail you out for a poor economic decision on your part?

Anonymous said...

24Dem:

Two cars (especially if both are working) and gas mileage is probably closer to 20 per gallon. Assuming 250 miles a week (and that might be low for people living in rural areas), that comes to about $234 a year.

Maybe that's chump change for someone like yourself, but for some people that's a month of groceries.

Also, if Arcuri's plan is worthless, how come "Les Robert says he thinks Arcuri's plan is a great start."?

http://www.news10now.com/content/top_stories/default.asp?ArID=65515

24 Independent said...

This stuff about not understanding the real needs of working Democrats is a red herring. What, do you think I'm living off a trust fund?

This much is clear: There is no point in a candidate for Congress proposing a short term solution for a problem in May 2006 when, if elected, that member of Congress could only BEGIN to work on implementing that solution in January 2007.

Given the time delay from candidate to congressman, the only proposals that really make sense are proposals that improve the situation in the long term. Working families need long term solutions, not flash in the pan gimmicks.

I've said in this article that Mike Arcuri has made some hopeful sound-bite statements that indicate that he might be thinking about long term solutions that will bring enduring benefits for working families. Sound bites aren't enough, though. Arcuri needs to start spelling out his policies in detail, not in short paragraphs, so that Democrats can make an intelligent choice.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:20 wrote:

"On a more personal level relative to your example, why would you spend $5,200 a year in gasoline to commute? Why would you not move closer to your job and commute less? Why would you be expecting the government to bail you out for a poor economic decision on your part?"

Comments like this just go to show that many of Les Roberts's supporter are economic elitists and would be more comfortable in the Republican party. Many people can't move closer to work for family or economic reasons.

Even worse is the next comment. Going with the logic that the government shouldn't "bail you out for a poor economic decision on your part," then we can just gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. And hey, all those folks in New Orlean knew they were living in a hurricane zone, so why should the government bail them out for their poor decisions?

If these kinds of comments typify Les Roberts supporters, then they should switch their party registrations and go vote for Ray Meier or Brad Jones.

Anonymous said...

24democrat wrote:

"This stuff about not understanding the real needs of working Democrats is a red herring. What, do you think I'm living off a trust fund?"

Guys like you typify the "What the Matter With Kansas?" problem. Sure, you're not Bill Gates, but you have a much higher socio-economic status than the average voter in this district. To the extent that the Democrats listen to guys like you instead of real working class voters, then they will continue to lose elections. You can complain all you want about how the Republicans use social issues to divide working class voters, but you're part of the problem too.

Other than living in Trumansburg, you have nothing in common with Harry Truman.

24 Independent said...

Listen, if you think I haven't worked my ass of to get where I am, you're mistaken. I have this much in common with Harry Truman - I started my own business from scratch. No starter loans, no rich uncles. Nothing but hard work.

It's mighty telling that you're unwilling to deal with the substance of what I'm saying. You can't argue against the substance, so you try to make where I have chosen to live an issue.

Honestly, I don't think that you know very much about Trumansburg. For one thing, Harry Truman never lived here, and it's not named after him. For another thing, we've got a lot of people with not much money at all living here.

You don't really know who I am or where I come from, so until you do, try sticking to the substance.

I'm writing about establishing energy reforms that will bring lasting reforms to working people. You're defending a get rich quick gimmick. Who's out of touch?

The Utican said...

"Arcuri’s proposal also includes a roll back of the federal gas tax for 60 days" - Arcuri fuel savings plan.

My apologies to all of you rapidly figuring how many gallons * so many weeks = $$$

If you used 10 gallons of gas a day for the 60 days that the tax relief would be in effect; at 18 cents/gallon your total saving is $108 dollars.

While I don't speak for Mr. Arcuri or the campaign, I believe that the tax relief portion of his Plan to Help New Yorkers Afford the Price of Gasoline, is obviously a small part of the overall plan.

The meat of the Arcuri solution is this, "...we need to get at the root of the problem: we must end the unnecessary tax breaks currently enjoyed by oil industry companies and the Department of Justice must investigate oil companies and refineries for price fixing and withholding production."

Oh and my favorite, the windfall profits tax!

The entire plan is posted for your edification and viewing convenience at:
http://weeklydemocrat.blogspot.com/
and,
http://oneidadems.org/

Anonymous said...

Face it 24Democrat, you clearly sit on one side of the real fault line in this race-class. Roberts is the candidate of the wealthier and better educated (but certainly not smarter), the kind of people who until recently thought of themselves as Rockefeller Republicans. Sure they threw in a bit of noblesse oblige, but at the end of the day, they were still Republicans.

From day one, you and most of the commenters on this blog have done nothing but look down your noses at Mike Arcuri and his supporters. By some miracle if you win the primary and take that attitude into the general election, the voters of this district kick your asses and deservedly so.

24 Independent said...

Again, anonymous, you're not dealing with the substance.

Attacking me will only distract the weak minded for that.

Noblesse oblige? I'm a liberal blogger, not a Rockefeller Republican. Get some perspective.

Anonymous said...

9:43 - Posters like you explain why people in upstate NY can't seem to get ahead. You need to have a pretty high paying job to spend $5,200 a year just for gas to commute to your job. You buy a place close to your job. You find a job closer to your home. You don't have a right to cheap gas for a long commute because you can't decide to live your life differently.

I'm no economic elitest. I'm a lifelong democrat living on a lower middle class income who doesn't expect the government to continue to provide me cheap gas.

Anonymous said...

Slice and dice statements of Arcuri and Roberts and there is still no substantive difference between them. Both agree we need to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Both agree that Republican economic policies have been terrible. Both agree that we need to find a way to get health care for all Americans. Both agree that we need to conserve and develop alternative fuels. And on, and on, and on.

For all your claims about how Roberts is better on "the issues" you are really just pushing for the candidate that reinforces your own social and class biases. If you really care about working class issues and voters, then shouldn't you pay at least a bit of attention to what unions are doing? From what I can see, they want nothing to do with Les Roberts and are throwing their support to Arcuri.

Curious said...

3:37--Really? Where are you getting these opinions from Arcuri? Not from his website, certainly. From the campaign office? Well, they'd better get the word out, then, because no one where I live has a clue what he thinks about anything. Maybe he only cares about Utica voters. Maybe he should run for Mayor of Utica. And his sister's a union professional, I'd be shocked if he didn't get union support. Is this the new Arcuri message: Les Roberts isn't really a lefty, he's exactly like Mike? Message to Mike: Get a MESSAGE.