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Sunday, May 02, 2010
Good luck pinning me down

Like most of us, I've spent the past week looking at pictures from the Gulf Of Mexico, and the spread of the oil after an offshore rig blew up on April 20th. It's a disgusting thing, seeing oil floating in the Gulf, and made worse by the fact that BP isn't anywhere close to shutting off the flow, even after something like a million and a half gallons have been spilled.

I'm old enough to remember the Exxon Valdez spill, and how grotesque and widespread the damage was. I've seen footage of enough oil spills to know how damaging they can be. Interestingly, this is the first large one I recall since the advent of Facebook.

I've noticed a few people "sending prayers to the plants and animals in harm's way." 12 people are missing and presumed dead in the explosion that set off the spill, but I think I understand why no one has much sympathy for them or the bereaved left behind.

They were complicit, right? Their hands were, quite literally, dirty, no? Would you be so bold as to suggest that they got what they deserved? I hope not.

The "drill, baby, drill" crowd is, in a moment of reasonableness, largely keeping their simpleton mouths closed on this one. Truth be told, I'd prefer it if someone in a position of responsibility would make a sensible case that justifies this inevitable result of a backward-looking US energy policy, but I likely won't hold my breath.

The Gulf Coast is about to be inundated with toxic sludge, and should the tides fall badly, a lot of inland areas, lakes, streams, wetlands, will suffer catastrophic damage. It's even possible that this floating cesspool may drift into the Gulf Stream, and let a whole lot of the rest of the world share in our special brand of energy security.

Also this week, after nearly ten years, the people who want to build an enormous wind farm off the coast of Nantucket, finally received the go-ahead to do so. My feelings about the project are mixed, although not for the normal reasons.

On the pro side: Hey, wind power! Neato! The stuff is out there, let's harvest it.

On the con side: Wait, there aren't any places left on dry land to build these turbines? There are vast areas of North Dakota, Texas, and other areas in the Southwest to build these things. The cost of building a 440-foot high structure in the ocean is far more expensive than doing it on dirt. Let's grab the low-hanging fruit first.

What I don't care about is people on Nantucket bitching about their view being ruined. I've seen projections, and on a clear day, if you stare way the hell out to the horizon in just the right spot, you might be able to see these things from shore. They aren't going to be 50 feet out in the harbor.

And a special dishonorable mention to Ted Kennedy and his powerful family, who have been instrumental in holding up the process. I have a great deal of respect for the late senator, and the decades of great work he did for the country in his service. But for my money, on his list of shameful acts, this isn't up there with Chappaquiddick, but it makes the top 5.

Getting back to the energy question, I was reading a column by David Brooks this week, and one of his figures jumped out at me.

Technology companies spend 5 percent to 15 percent of revenue on research and development. Energy companies, on the other hand, spend only one-quarter of 1 percent. The federal government spends $30 billion on health research, but only $3 billion on clean energy research.

BP's first quarter profit rose to $6.1 billion in the first three months of this year, which I suppose is nice, because even if they spend a billion dollars trying to clean up their own mess, everyone is still going to walk away with nice fat dividends.

But getting back to Brooks' column, my question is, why doesn't the government use a gigantic stick & carrot to get us on to the next thing?

The oil companies, in an adorable attempt to appear green, have re-branded themselves as energy companies. Well, I should hope you are, we need a great deal of it. Maybe you ought to consider spending more than one dollar in every 400 on researching what the next viable method of providing energy will be.

So, how about this? For every dollar of revenue you put back in to research on solar, wind, tidal, more efficient methods of moving electricity over great distances, etc, you receive a 1-for-1 free pass on your profits. Let's say, for the hell of it, you make a profit of $6.1 billion dollars in a quarter.

Ridiculous, I know, but I'm in a silly mood.

If you want to have 20% of it absolutely untaxed, all you have to do is put $1.2 billion into research. Not only have you effectively lowered your overall tax burden, you've also kicked some money into a future, where you'll have to opportunity to continue making fat profits, only on cleaner, safer forms of energy that don't require the fouling of our coastlines, or funding of insane people who want us to pray like they do.

Besides, you're going to want to get that tax break, because the taxes on revenues from carbon energy sources are going to rise significantly. I'll set it up so that you can continue to make a ton of money, but only if you start realizing those profits from cleaner energy sources. It'll be in your interest to make it work, because otherwise, you'll be taxed out of business.

So liberals, don't take too much shameful joy in this shaming of the Palin philosophy and the energy companies. And conservatives, don't become too fearful that I am trying to steal your way of life and ability to make a good living in America. You can still charge me too much for your energy services, you're just going to need to stop fouling beaches and exploding rig workers while you do it.

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posted at 1:50 AM

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