Business & Technology

Carmaker knows most efficient freight system: trains

Interesting presser from Honda this week:

Big bad boom

Radioactive deja vu in the American West

This is a guest essay from Chip Ward, author and board member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. It was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom’s kind permission. —– In the American West, we take global warming personally. Like those polar bears desperately hunting for dwindling ice flows, we feel we’re on the frontlines of the new weather regime. The West is drying up. For example, canyon-hugging conservationists and jet-boating gear-heads have argued for several years about whether to “drain” Lake Powell, the 200 mile-long reservoir that once drowned the redrock Eden which was Glen Canyon. …

What do oil lobbyists think about drilling for oil?

Here, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell discusses McCain’s plan to drill, drill, drill with RNC deputy chairman and McCain supporter Frank Donatelli: What Mitchell didn’t tell you: Before joining the RNC, Donatelli was a registered lobbyist. For whom, you ask? What type of clients? Three guesses! Oh, fine, you got it the first time: ExxonMobil Corp. and Dominion Resources. But why would MSNBC viewers need to know that?

Pause for effect

Iconic Ford SUV plant to be idled for summer

Photo: Dean Souglass Ford will close its Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne for nine weeks -- four weeks longer than previously announced -- starting on June 23. Birthplace to Lincoln Navigators and Ford Expeditions, the MTP has come in for hard times due to the plummeting market for SUVs. Since January, Expedition sales are down 31 percent; Navigators, 22 percent. Once bread and butter for American automakers, SUVs have fallen victim to $4-a-gallon gasoline. To the lay observer, the temporary MTP closure is just another symptom of the shift away from SUVs, but it actually signifies a whole lot more for American automakers: At the height of the SUV boom in the late '90s, the MTP was the most profitable factory, in any industry, anywhere in the world. Keith Bradsher, Detroit bureau chief of The New York Times from 1996 to 2001, wrote in his book High and Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV:

Coal credit?

NYC comptroller urges scrutiny of tax-free bonds for coal-fired power plants

It hasn't made big news yet outside of specialty publications such as Bond Buyer. But a call this week by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson could cast a new cloud over a half-dozen or more planned new coal-fired electric power plants. Thompson called on the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate the practice of using tax-free bonds to finance new coal plants. In the letter, online at, Thompson pointed to recent research which found that coal plants were poor candidates for federal financing and problematic for investors. There are at least a half-dozen planned new power plants that would rely on tax-exempt bonds. The Treasury Department has announced it would take a hard look at use of such bonds for sports arenas. You'd think they ought to take an even harder look at old-fashioned coal plants.

The politics of clean energy

Considering recycled energy will politically facilitate a national clean energy plan

There is a tendency to frame the politics of clean energy as a debate between the enlightened, forward thinkers on the coasts and the paleolithic environment-hating coal barons in the Southeast and Midwest. It makes a good sound bite, but confuses the ends and the means. Yes, there are strong vested interests in the coal belt and the rust belt that consistently resist GHG caps and clean energy policy. But so long as we frame the clean energy conversation as a wealth transfer from dirty states to clean states, our success will remain contingent upon our ability to get senators, representatives, and voters in those states to act against their near-term economic self interest. Three maps below clarify the problem, and suggest a solution.

It's not about the fuel

The case for fuel-agnostic efficiency

Those of us who care about energy and environmental policy have a bad habit: the lazy but rhetorically convenient tendency to refer to energy issues as if they were fuel issues. From solar to coal to uranium, we have developed a shorthand that uses these words to describe a whole fuel-chain, from raw fuel extraction/recovery to end-use consumption. But the language is dangerous. What matters is efficiency -- true, fuel-agnostic efficiency, applied equally to every possible fuel-chain we know. Not because efficiency is an alternative to any given fuel, but because any other energy policy is ultimately unsustainable, in every sense of the word.

Oil industry turns to PR offensive to diffuse anger over record prices

Faced with angry consumers incensed at high oil and gasoline prices, oil companies in the U.S. and Europe have turned to well-funded PR campaigns in an attempt to shift their image from profit-hungry oil-mongers to responsible innovators fulfilling their duty as energy providers. ExxonMobil has led the most recent effort to sway the public; on June 1, Exxon released a barrage of TV and print ads, peppering the airwaves and major newspapers with a message of innovation and utility. Meanwhile, car manufacturers have been eager to paint themselves as being equally innovative and oh-so-close to divorcing petroleum altogether. General Motors …

A kind word

Will wonders never cease: not only sane economist, but author of a textbook!

Upon occasion, I've been accused of having, shall we say, an uncharitable attitude towards the self-styled "science" of economics. I firmly believe that not all economists are Dungeons and Dragons geeks in suits or political sycophants whose only talent is covering their guesswork with a fog of intentionally obscure jargon. It's just the 98 percent who give the rest a bad name. However, when one stumbles on one of the rest, it's worth noting. I'm greatly enjoying The Political Economy of World Energy: an introductory textbook by Ferdinand E. Banks. Professor Banks is like vodka: sharp, clear, and delivers a strong kick. He has his flaws -- he has a serious jones for nuclear power stations, greatly underestimating their capital costs, and is quite a bit too optimistic about hydrogen as a fuel. But he freely admits his limitations, and his writing is so good that you can forgive him his mistakes. Here is an excerpt from his brief introductory survey of world energy. I chose this excerpt because it's not only fun but because he makes a number of important points about how we tend to think about energy and economics. Enjoy:

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