Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Political Reality is Not as Important as Reality

Have the political realities of Washington weakened the momentum of those of us who elected President Obama?

... Is this all the change we're going to get?

I believe our political system can't ignore us if we keep pushing. But recent news has me very concerned.

Funds are being cut for the development of hydrogen powered cars. The Department of Energy will be cutting research money for hydrogen fuel by almost 60% ($100 million). Yet at the same time, the budget now includes $2.4 billion for “clean” coal.

Hey wait a minute. We can't afford to spend $100 million for a fuel that essentially burns totally clean, but we can afford to spend $2.4 billion on a fuel that can never be clean? (The very best we can hope for with “clean” coal is that they bury those millions and millions of tons of effluents.)

Now, before I go off, let me say a couple of things (and then I'll go off).

I heard a rumor that a lot of the money for hydrogen research has been wasted. I don't know this, but I do know how hydrogen research has been funded. You may recall Bush Jr.'s call for hydrogen research. His plan was to get hydrogen from hydrocarbons and distribute it to hydrogen gas stations.

Now, whether this is the best way to utilize hydrogen or not is a great question, but it begs the real question. Why should a politician be telling scientists what to study?

There is another option, of course. We could make hydrogen by running an electric current through water. But, for some reason, the Bush Jr. administration didn't even want to think about that. Now why would they not want to fund research into a fuel you could make at home?... They're oil men, remember?

So when it came time to fund research, it only made sense (in the political reality of Washington) to keep the money coming in for the oil companies. I have my suspicions that the scientific research for hydrogen for cars was intentionally misdirected. Maybe it was time to clean house at the DOE.

But, my fear is that the political reality has not changed.

Could the Obama administration have folded to pressure from the fossil fuel industry? Did the Obama administration shut down hydrogen research to keep hydrogen fuel from displacing gas and diesel?

This video about hydrogen from Honda is the best advertisement I have ever seen:

To see Honda's hydrogen powered FCX Clarity, which is already on America's roads today - click here

The National Hydrogen Association and the US Fuel Cell Council issued a joint statement that stated:

The newest fuel cell vehicles get 72 miles per gallon equivalent with no compromise in creature comforts. Fuel cell buses operating in revenue service achieve twice the fuel economy of diesel buses. Hydrogen production costs are already competitive with gasoline. Projected vehicle costs have been reduced by 75%. These are accomplishments of the Department's (DOE's) own program in partnership with industry. It would truly be a government waste to squander them by walking away just as success is in sight.”

Oh... did I mention that the price of gasoline is rising again?

One more thing; there is a NASA backed project that would produce hydrogen power from a windmill and solar panels to generate hydrogen from water with an electrolyzer. This hydrogen is to be used in buses in Cleveland Ohio. (If the Obama administration chose to increase funding on projects such as this, I'd be really impressed.)

You have to wonder though; engineers in Spain have announced manned flight with a hydrogen fuel cell powered airplane – yet, Energy Secretary Steven Chu claims that hydrogen fuels for cars are over 20 years away. Something just doesn't add up. The evidence doesn't warrant giving up on hydrogen cars. Especially when Masatami Takimoto, an executive vice president for Toyota has recently said about hydrogen; “by 2015, we will have a full fledged commercialization effort.”

The truth is, at this point, we don't really know what technology will provide us with the best option. Battery technology just keeps getting better. But hydrogen electrolysis and storage just keep getting more practical too.

Energy Secretary Chu has claimed that we should concentrate on electric hybrids. Sounds good, but is this just a political move to assure that gasoline stays in the mix? There is no clear answer. But some reports are questioning the advantage of electric hybrids. In real world conditions, people get lazy and don't plug in their hybrids. Moreover, they often floor it to make up for the lack of power – which negates any gas savings for these hybrids.

This all sounds a little too convenient for the oil companies, who, by the way haven't spent much money on renewables. (Don't believe the hype.) The oil and gas industries have, however, spent $44.6 million on lobbying Congress this year. And the electric utilities have spent $34.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. With that kind of spending, is it any wonder the Climate Change Bill is becoming a subsidy bill for the oil and power companies.

The political reality in Washington is as ugly as ever. The bureaucrats who gave away the nation during the Bush Jr. presidency are now back as lobbyists. Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama's choice for the top environmental post in the Department of the Interior until Interior Secretary Salazar backed down on stopping illegitimate Utah oil leases. Robert Kennedy Jr. claims Obama is an “indentured servant” to the coal industry. And the surprise winners in the Climate Bill have been the coal industry and the electric companies. I have to wonder sometimes, is Washington even capable of doing the right thing?

The self-evident truth is that our political movement is losing momentum. We worked hard for change – and to some extent, we got it. But the American people get tired easy. Many have quit in the last mile of the marathon. And unfortunately, Obama can't fix things on his own.

In the political “real world” of Washington, this Climate Bill may be the best we can hope for. It may be that the only way this Climate Bill will ever get passed is if decent Representatives and Senators sell out to the very corporations we want to change. This Climate Bill is a step in the right direction, but we need a leap.

We all know that there's no such thing as a perfect bill in Washington – but if we're diligent, we can put pressure on them to do better. And if we keep paying attention, we can weed out the self-serving politicians in the next election.

The political reality in America is that if an elected representative tries to cut of the profits of an established (rich and powerful) industry, no matter how wrong those profits may be, that industry will do everything within it's power run he or she out of office.

But also, the political reality is that we can play that game to. Can you say boycott?

Moreover, we can realize the obvious;

  • The more money a candidate has, the more suspicious we should be of them.

  • The more the corporate media attacks a candidate, the more likely that candidate is on the people's side.

  • And if WE don't make the difference, politics will always be a corrupted system of too little, too late.

If we act too late on the environment, it will be too late for our economy, it may be too late for our civilization, and it may even be too late for humanity.

Reality is more important than political reality.

(If you live in Nevada, check out the Nevada Conservation League to see which politicians have the best and worst environmental records.)

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