Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Parading Past the Federal Government

Interesting column today from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Bill Virgin on the "energy parade," as he calls it. Virgin notes that the political classes are all a-twitter about how to handle rising energy prices, but in their haste to come up with solutions, they're missing much of the progress that already exists:

Those promoting the idea of a national parade toward increased energy independence may be so engrossed in the idea of organizing such a march that they've missed one small development -- the parade not only has already been assembled but has progressed several blocks down the street.

Delay much longer and they'll miss the opportunity to run around in front of the parade and pretend they're leading it.

The absence of a national resolution does not mean the absence of effort on energy research and development. In fact, a quick perusal of news items and tip sheets from organizations such as 25x25.org, as well as government agencies such as the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, make it strikingly evident just how much is going on. A sampling, just from recent weeks:

Volvo has unveiled a car that will run on five different types of fuel (biomethane, natural gas, HCNG, gasoline and bioethanol E85). ... Bank of America is offering $3,000 cash incentives to employees in three cities to buy hybrids. ... The ethanol industry has reached a milestone of 100 operating plants in the United States, with 33 more under construction. ... The wind industry expects to increase generating electric capacity by a third this year.
Virgin's main point is that, even in the absence of a national plan to address higher prices, the private sector and state governments are already moving forward and creating promising solutions. I'm not sure, though, if he's saying the feds should lend a hand to these efforts, or if they should get out of the way. With out current federal government, I'm tempted to favor the latter solution, but the folks in Washington could certainly add fuel to these fires through tax policy (more incentives for renewable development, a gradual introduction of a carbon tax), or by implementing a cap-and-trade system for CO2, just for starters. You've probably figured out that I don't favor a government solution to every problem, but the government can certainly prime the pump... if its members don't focus more on grandstanding then on working with industry and state and local governments to develop sustainable (in all senses of the word) solutions. We'll see what happens...

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