One of the advantages of being one of Floppy Aces newest authors is the opportunity to participate in some of the phone conference Q & A sessions with our legislators. Heaven knows, getting a US Congress member, outside your district, within your voice or email for interactive communication is no easy task.
So I welcomed the opportunity to have a group phone session with the NC GOP Senator, Richard Burr, on his visions for America’s energy future. And mind you, public “speaking”… even via a group on phones… makes me nervous as a kitten. So getting out a couple of questions with this shyness handicap proved to be a large hurdle for me personally. Yet the Senator was accommodating, exhibiting southern charm directness with the 13 or so bloggers and print media representatives on the conference call.
But first, to bring you up to speed – excerpts from an interview a few days ago with Sen. Burr from the BlueRidge Now Times-News to introduce you to the Senator and his plans for an energy “blueprint”.
In an exclusive interview with the Times-News, Burr, a Republican, said the Democratic leadership in Congress is dragging its feet on comprehensive energy legislation.
“I think the American people want to do something about energy,” Burr said. “There seems to be a reluctance of the majority to have a debate.”
Burr is a proponent of the “drill here, drill now” philosophy of energy exploration, but said only “if it is matched with the right amount of conservation efforts and clearly communicates a two-decade blueprint for energy independence.”
The country must invest in hybrid technology, along with solar and wind, Burr said. The senator met Thursday with oilman T. Boone Pickens, who is spending billions of his own money to promote the use of wind and solar energy to power electrical plants while using the excess natural gas to power commercial vehicles.
“Any energy policy we have has to incorporate all,” Burr said.
Many oppose plans to drill off the North Carolina coast. They argue it would take a decade to develop oil along the continental shelf and are concerned about the potential environment damage of drilling. Burr said the country has procrastinated for too long and should have been increasing exploration decades ago.
“If we had it in 1970s, 1980s or the 1990s, it would be doing something now,” he said.
Yes, it’s easy to acknowledge the day late-barrel short failures of our Congresses of past… composed today of still all too many of those same members. Sen. Burr can attest to, and admit culpability for, a few of those years himself as a member of the House from 1995 – 2004, then taking John Edwards seat in the Senate in 2005. And he fully admits they had their heads up multiple times. But then, as he points out, we didn’t have the $4 gas prices, nor the astronomical growth of China and India which today demands Congress reprioritize their energy visions.
In fact, the Senator took a moment to theorize that had we reached this critical stage of gas prices, and their effect on the economy, prior to the current Congressional chasm, they would have set their noses to the task and pounded out some bi-partisan solutions. He points to the housing bail out passed in the recent days as an example.
I’m not so sure I agree, in light of the long running battle about oil between the parties. But then speculation isn’t the feedback intended here.
Burr opens with a well thought out statement, and an overview on the GOP led energy proposition that is best described as an “all of the above” type of approach… oil, gas, exploration, alternative energies, and a plan to wean the US off of foreign oil dependence – all without destroying our existing economy and sinking the lower and middle classes into further financial stress.
The price per barrel is having a “dramatic effect on our economy”, disproportionately affecting the lower and middle classes. He deems even today’s “lower” $121 BRL price as unsustainable, citing that the average household budgets about $2 per gallon. Everything above and beyond that depletes educational funds, pension funds, or daily living expenses.
The Senator is quick to point out that this isn’t just about supply and demand for petroleum – nor the part speculators may have played. He’s well aware we cannot make an immediate leap to alternative fuels without economic repercussions. Nor is he blind to the fact that petroleum is the very foundation for the US’s product exports, much of our technology and daily needs. As he correctly points out, we’ll never do without oil unless we don’t want to drink out of “plastic bottles”.
Instead, the Senator sees a very specific drive simultaneously on all fronts – increase American source oil production, promoting conservation, and pursuing independent and innovative technologies in alternatives. But most importantly, he believes America needs a “blueprint” on what that goal is, and how to get there.
I found “blueprint” an interestings choice of words… i.e. a specific architecture or detailed plan. Because what I find most disconcerting about traditional Congressional approach is they work in bandaids – passing legislation that is not only short sighted, but often disjointed by conflicting and counter productive incentives, measures and legislation. I see the current approach to energy being no less chaotic… what with nuke and coal plants, tossed by the wayside or saddled with impossible to meet caveats. Or the DNC refusals to reap American resources for oil/shale and gas, and laying the nation’s energy needs totally onto unfinessed alternative energies. In short, Congress prefers to apply gum in the dike leaks, and ignore the entire dam structure’s integrity.
When it comes to our energy and future, this will not do. This isn’t just attacking one issue – like auto designs and emissions, or throwing up a few solar and wind farms. All these individual measures need to be pieced together with their realistic limitations. Only until some architect can plan out a power grid of ethanol, grid wiring for electrical cars, best locations for solar and wind farms, can these interlocking puzzle pieces best fit a growing nation’s needs a decade down line. Patchwork quilt legislation, without the planned grid as a final goal, can be more costly and detrimental than helpful.
Listening to Sen. Burr, one got the sense that he was asking his peers to put their heads together and create this “mechanical drawing”, if you will, of a nation’s new power grid and transportation system. i.e. – what alternative energies would take center stage and for what purpose, when they’d come on line, how we were to sustain ourselves in the interim, and the make up of a future of American fleets of vehicles. America needs to clearly see not only where we envision ending up, but the order of the steps taken to get there.
All sounds good in theory. Tho I have to wonder if any individual in Congress is capable of this redesign of America. Thus my heart somewhat sank at his pronouncement that hybrid plug in cars were at the top of the priority list. It was then I felt the dread of an upcoming suggestion of “mandate”. And my second question was directed to just that. Or, parapharased, just how was he proposing making Americans “conserve”. i.e was he hinting at mandates via extra taxation? Limitation of types of vehicles or fuel useage?
His answer was that he’s not a mandate kind of guy to force behavior change… thank heavens. But that he did believe in providing purchase incentives/credits for energy saving products – from cars to appliances, for example. There is a sense of relief on my part. Needless to say, we country folk can’t be depending upon plug in hybrids unless their mileage and recharging becomes vastly improved. I would not support only plug in hybrids as the sole vehicle choices for the nation. Yet only time will prove if Congress intends to limit what kind of personal vehicles can be sold in this country.
Another question I had that left me wanting… In light of the legal impediments that invariably are thrown in the path of everything from refineries and oil production, to wind and solar farms (by both government and enviro entities alike), just how did the Senator suggest any “all of the above” legislation could be implemented with these predictable delays?
He fully admitted – i.e. in the case of nuke plants – bureaucratic red tape gets in the way of progress. The only way he sees out of that quagmire is for an agreed upon “blueprint” by both parties in support of the plan, and trying to plan for legal impediments that may be encountered with legislation.
While that may minimize government interference, it will not stop the enviromentalists from continued delays in the courts… even on the alternative energies. Afterall, you can’t forbid legal recourse in legislation – except again Congress and the Judicial branch, of course. The impact of these legal speedbumps slow, or halt completely, solar and wind farms even now.
Questions posed by others involved whether he supported mandating flex fuel vehicles… which he opposed – pointing out that while we need somewhere to transition to, an overabundance of ethanol, and it’s lack of a distribution network was not a plausible answer. He responded to another question INRE lifting the mandates on ethanol… something he’s tried to do, sans success.
The Senator’s biggest beef is still the Congressional infighting, thwarting any constructive remedies to emerge. Both Reid and Pelosi are blocking debates and/or votes for amendments or just about anything to do with energy that they oppose. As he says, there is “no way to weather the storm”, as this is immediately affecting the family budget.
In light of how complex the “blueprint” he proposes actually is, I’m not so sure we want “quick” action from Congress. In fact, it may be more wise to engage specific engineering firms to reconstruct various parts of this “new America” energy grid and transportation system. And that won’t happen overnight.
Yet the first question posed was how long he thought it would take Congress to act… an indication that most American’s are looking for the fast fix that just plain doesn’t exist. The qualifier to that question? Did the Senator believe this Congressional dodge ball game was a political ploy for campaign purposes? With all the aplomb of a diplomat, he replied the gridlock certainly gave the appearance of being political in nature.
His suggested cure to force Congress into action? Public outrage. Email or phone the offices of Pelosi and Reid, and demand performance. Right…. I’ve never gotten anything but an auto response when emailing representatives outside my district.
I hear the House DNC got a plurality to adjourn today… that majority being the DNC, while the GOP wanted to stay and accomplish something. So I’d say the Speaker’s feet are hitting the road, and you’re more likely to find her at her district office in SF (415) 556-4862. Her beltway office is (202) 225-4965
The Senate appears to be hanging in there a bit longer… a slow process to nowhere, as usual. You’ll find Harry Reid at 202-224-3542. There’s three district offices in Nevada for him listed on his website. So once he leaves the D of C, all bets on finding the Senate Majority leader are off.
One the other conference participants was Betsy Newmark out of Raleigh. You’ll find her report at her blog, Besty’s Page. Noel Sheppard from Newsbusters.org was another caller. When he posts his feedback, I’ll provide the link.
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.