• $4 A Gallon? Some of Us Are Already There!

    April 13,2011, 07:20 AM

    by Jim Ball

    Gas must really be cheap somewhere else other than where I fill up here in northern Virginia, because yesterday I paid $3.99 for regular unleaded. A little over a month ago, on March 3, I posted a blog saying there was a chance that by this summer the average price for gas would be over $4 a gallon. A report yesterday from the federal government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that

    "Current market prices of futures and options contracts for gasoline suggest a 33-percent probability that the national monthly average retail price for regular gasoline could exceed $4.00 per gallon during July 2011."

    Well, I hate to break it to you EIA, but some of us are already there! The EIA predicts that the national average for gas during what they term the "summer driving season" (April 1 thru Sept 30) will be $3.86. So we've already entered the summer driving season, and for some of us, we've already experienced $4 a gallon.

    According to Lisa Margonelli at the Energy Policy Initiative of the New America Foundation,

    "Every 25 cent jump in the price of gas siphons $90 million a day away from the recovering American economy."

    Margonelli and her colleagues are running an excellent program called "The Energy Trap" (see the nice little YouTube video) where they are telling the stories of how our lack of choices for American consumers is hurting the average family. As she explained in a blog for the NYTimes,

    "Last week I interviewed a man in Maine, who, with his wife, works three jobs. One of their jobs basically pays for their transportation to the other two. He told me he has no choice."

    That lack of freedom of choice when it comes to energy is what they call "The Energy Trap."

    Last month our country spent $41 billion on gas, money mainly being siphoned out of our country primarily to unstable regions and countries that don't like us very much. To get out of this trap will require a comprehensive energy independence policy that focuses on fuel economy, alternative fuels, and electric vehicles powered by clean sources. We won't get there with pandering political slogans like "Drill, baby, drill."

    The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

  • President Obama's Blueprint for Creating a Clean Energy Future

    March 31,2011, 16:30 PM
    President Obama delivering a major address on energy at Georgetown University, March 30, 2011. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
    President Obama delivering a major address on energy at Georgetown University, March 30, 2011. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

    by Jim Ball

    There are many things to like about President Obama's speech at Georgetown University yesterday on creating a clean energy future, some things to go along with, some things we have concerns over, and one important issue that went unmentioned -- whether the President is going to stand by the EPA's authority to regulate global warming pollution in the current budget battles.

    Let's start with the positive.

    First, the President painted a realistic picture of our situation:

    "But when you look at the long-term trends, there are going to be more ups in gas prices than downs in gas prices. And that's because you've got countries like India and China that are growing at a rapid clip, and as 2 billion more people start consuming more goods -- they want cars just like we've got cars; they want to use energy to make their lives a little easier just like we've got -- it is absolutely certain that demand will go up a lot faster than supply. It's just a fact.

    So here's the bottom line: There are no quick fixes. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn't telling you the truth. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for a secure, affordable energy future.

    We're going to have to think long term "

    There are no quick fixes, and we need to think long term. Right.

    Second, the President, while recognizing the reality of our situation and some of the costs of inaction, was very bullish, very committed to creating a clean energy future:

    "We're already paying a price for our inaction. Every time we fill up at the pump, every time we lose a job or a business to countries that are investing more than we do in clean energy, when it comes to our air, our water, and the climate change that threatens the planet that you will inherit -- we're already paying a price. These are costs that we are already bearing. And if we do nothing, the price will only go up.

    So at moments like these, sacrificing these investments in research and development, in supporting clean energy technologies, that would weaken our energy economy and make us more dependent on oil. That's not a game plan to win the future. That's a vision to keep us mired in the past. I will not accept that outcome for the United States of America. We are not going to do that."

    Third, the President offered some positive goals and policies for both moving our country towards energy independence and a clean energy future, announcing the release of his Administration's Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.

    President Obama at a Chevy Volt factory.
    President Obama at a Chevy Volt factory.

    A major goal is to reduce oil imports by one third by 2025, primarily achieved by: (1) additional improvements in fuel economy; (2) putting 1 million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015, including electric vehicles; (3) continuing advances in biofuels, and: (4) increasing the use of natural gas in vehicles.

    As the President said:

    "Just last week, our Air Force -- our own Air Force -- used an advanced biofuel blend to fly a Raptor 22 -- an F-22 Raptor faster than the speed of sound. Think about that. I mean, if an F-22 Raptor can fly at the speed of -- faster than the speed of sound on biomass, then I know the old beater that you've got, that you're driving around in -- (laughter) -- can probably do so, too. There's no reason why we can't have our cars do the same."

    Energy independence and a clean energy future have a common technological bridge: the electric vehicle. Again, the President:

    "Now, one other thing about electric cars -- and you don't need to talk to Chu [Energy Secretary Chu] about this -- it turns out electric cars run on electricity. (Laughter.) And so even if we reduce our oil dependency, and we're producing all these great electric cars, we're going to have to have a plan to change the way we generate electricity in America so that it's cleaner and safer and healthier. We know that ushering in a clean energy economy has the potential of creating untold numbers of new jobs and new businesses right here in the United States. But we're going to have to think about how do we produce electricity more efficiently."

    Here at EEN we've also been emphasizing this connection via electric vehicles between energy independence and clean electricity. And so I was very glad to see the President making the same connection.

    The President went on to once again call for a Clean Energy Standard with an ambitious but achievable goal of having 80% of our electricity be produced by clean sources (including hydro, nukes, natural gas, and clean coal) by 2035. This was something he devoted a good deal of attention to in the State of the Union, and we were glad to see the President emphasize it again.

    So those were some of the good things about the President's speech and the Administration's Blueprint.

    There were also some things we could go along with as part of a long-term strategy on creating a clean energy future: (1) utilizing more natural gas as a transitional power source while we ramp up efficiency and renewables, and (2) continued reliance on nuclear power, as long as it is safe and we more adequately deal with the waste.

    But here is where our concerns lie as well. Natural gas has already been serving as a transitional power source for creating electricity. And while it is better than coal in that burning it produces lower levels of nitrogen oxides (major contributor to smog), hardly any particulates (soot), and no mercury (a very damaging neuro-toxin to the unborn and young children), it still produces global warming pollution (about half as much as coal). So from a global warming perspective, it is better to have renewables and efficiency be the primary places we make our investment in the electricity sector.

    Recently there has been a push to also use natural gas in vehicles instead of gasoline produced from oil (i.e. the stuff we all put in our tanks). This additional potential use of natural gas is aided by the ability to extract heretofore untapped domestic natural gas reserves via new technologies like horizontal drilling and a controversial technique called hydrofracking.

    While the President in his speech and the Administration's Blueprint talk of having this done in a safe and creation-friendly manner, serious concerns have been raised about water pollution in relation to hydrofracking, including in a recent series of articles in the New York Times. And, frankly, our concerns are not assuaged by what the Administration's Blueprint proposes --studying the issue, "leading by example," calls for the industry to disclose the chemicals being used. None of this is sufficient, frankly. Industry needs to be required to make sure such extraction methods like hydrofracking are safe and creation-friendly. Unfortunately, the 2005 Energy Policy Act amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to explicitly exclude procedures like hydrofracking from the regulatory authority of the EPA. This needs to be changed.

    The second proposal we could go along with if our concerns are met has to do with nuclear power. As news accounts highlighted, the President stuck with nuclear power even after the terrible events in Japan. The political reality is this: any major efforts like a Clean Energy Standard are going to have to include nuclear. And yet safety and storage of waste remain chronic problems that still have no adequate solutions. Such solutions need to be found for nukes to continue to be a part of our energy mix. The bright side is that nukes produce no air or global warming pollution. Those are huge pluses.

    Finally, a huge concern for us is what the President didn't say. While he very briefly mentioned concerns about global warming in relation to creating a clean energy future, he didn't say anything about defending the EPA's authority to regulate global warming pollution.

    As I type this, there are major threats to the EPA's authority in Congress. Several votes in the Senate have been hanging over our heads starting last week and through this week and now look like they will occur next week. Right now none are likely to reach 60 votes and be able to move forward. But we still need to keep up the pressure and drive down the votes for inaction and demonstrate support for action.

    Where we especially need the President to stand tall is in the current budget negotiations with the Republicans in the House. Their budget has a rider that prevents the EPA from spending money to enforce its regulations on global warming pollution. However, there are news reports from anonymous sources saying the Administration may be ready to throw the EPA's authority under the bus to achieve a budget deal.

    This would be a terrible outcome. It would reflect very poorly on the President's leadership on global warming. We certainly hope the President will stand by his strong and repeated assertions that global warming must be overcome and defend the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Right now, and for the forseeable future, at the federal level the EPA is the only game in town.

    The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

  • Energy Independent, Award-Winning Credit Union Building in Florida

    March 28,2011, 13:26 PM

    by Jim Ball

    In my book, Global Warming and the Risen LORD, I talk about a near-zero energy home built in 1998 in a subdivision of Lakeland, FL in cooperation with the Department of Energy (DOE). I highlighted this project to show that over a decade ago we had the capacity to build such houses.

    Now comes word that another pioneering effort in Lakeland, this time the state of Florida's first net-zero commercial building, a branch of one of the local credit unions called Magnify. This credit union building has just won an award from the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC). Bud DeFlaviis, Executive Director of SBIC, said that the award committee "was thoroughly impressed with Magnify Credit Union," and that its building and commitment "should serve as an example for other communities to follow."

    As the term "net-zero" implies, over the course of a year Magnify's building will not consume any more energy than it produces. Indeed, not only is Magnify's building net-zero, it will actually produce more energy than it consumes during the year. Solar panels on the roof, a highly efficient design, and Energy Star (or efficient) appliances make the difference. In October of last year, for instance, 45% of the electricity being produced by the solar panels was being put back on the grid and being sold back to their electric utility (according to a ClimateWire story).

    Magnify's President John Santarpia, holding one of the roof's solar panels, during construction.
    Magnify's President John Santarpia during construction, holding one of the roof's solar panels.

    This medium-size credit union has shown what's possible when people make a commitment to do so. "Our goal is to educate the community," said John Santarpia, Magnify's President and CEO.

    The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President of EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

  • Sen. Richard Lugar's Remarks on Energy Security at Christian Coalition Event

    March 16,2011, 07:47 AM

    by Jim Ball

    In an earlier post I told of an important event on energy independence by the Christian Coalition held yesterday on Capitol Hill. One of the keynote speakers was Sen. Richard Lugar. I've included the text of his speech as prepared in its entirety below.

    It is a great pleasure to join you today for this important discussion on energy, faith, and family. I want to thank Roberta Combs for her invitation and for her personal leadership and advocacy that solving our energy crisis is fundamental to ensuring the security, economy, and well-being of all Americans.

    Hoosiers and Americans feel the pain of our foreign oil addiction each day at the gas pump. This morning at the Phillips 66 station at the corner of Ohio and East Streets in Indianapolis, regular unleaded gas cost $3.65 per gallon. The situation for consumers could get worse if costly oil stokes inflation, driving up the cost of consumer goods and food. For many Americans, and especially for the nearly 1 in 10 Hoosiers without a job, high pump prices require difficult choices between what they can and cannot provide to their families, churches, and communities.

    Rising oil prices also threaten job growth and economic recovery. In the first three quarters of 2010, Americans sent approximately $927 million per day overseas for oil. The figure will be even higher when updated reports arrive. That steady outflow is money that cannot be reinvested in American productivity and jobs. In general, every 10 percent increase in the price of oil cuts about a quarter of one percent off global GDP. That amount may not send the world into recession, but it would be a major setback to job creation.

    One group of Americans that feels the consequences of foreign oil dependence even more than motorists is our military and civilian personnel serving overseas. They and their families have endured long deployments to the Middle East on missions that are connected to maintaining the stability of that oil producing region. But despite the strategic risks of our dependence, the United States is importing more oil now than we were prior to September 11, 2001. This is especially concerning when you consider that some of the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on oil each year are diverted to governments and groups that do not wish us well. Governments rich in oil from Iran to Venezuela are emboldened or insulated by their dominant position in oil markets. For example, we continue to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program, yet other nations are hesitant to endanger their access to Iran's oil and natural gas supplies. In many oil rich countries, revenues are used to entrench corruption and authoritarianism even as citizens live in dire poverty.

    The problem of our foreign oil dependence is especially severe now because global demand is once again surging and at the same time production from conventional oilfields is dropping faster than expected. This puts a squeeze on the amount of oil that producers could put on the market but are holding back, which is essential for preventing market volatility. Violence in Libya dramatically demonstrates that Americans are directly affected by events far beyond our borders.

    Recently, Saudi Arabia announced that it is increasing production to calm oil markets. We welcome what relief this can bring to rising prices. But Americans understand that we should not have to depend on the good will of rulers in the Middle East.

    Ending our dangerous over-reliance on oil imports necessitates greater use of domestic resources, improved efficiency, and strong international cooperation. I am working to reverse the Obama administration's de facto prohibition on new oil drilling, promote new forms of liquid fuels such as from Indiana biomass and coal, and encourage dramatic increases in vehicle fuel efficiency. I also am working to improve reliability and transparency in global markets by encouraging diversified supply routes and increased trade with reliable suppliers such as Canada. Transition will take time, but that is all the more reason to work quickly and assertively. In a world of tight oil supplies, every barrel produced or saved is important for America's security and prosperity.

    The energy plan I introduced last year would have cut foreign oil imports by 40 percent by 2030. I am revising this plan to find even more gains.

    As a legislator, it is my duty and privilege to address fundamental challenges to American society such as energy security. As a Christian, I join you in recognizing that we have a duty to be good stewards of the Earth that has been given to us. I recall working with my father Marvin and brother Tom on our 604 acre family farm in Marion County. When we were boys, Tom and I put our savings into planting wheat that was subsequently destroyed by a flood. Loss of our investment was a good business lesson. Our Dad built a higher and longer levee that prevented future floods. But it also was a profound testament that the resources provided by God's Earth cannot be taken for granted.

    When we care for the Earth, it provides in abundance. How we use and generate energy is critical to stewardship.

    Thank you for the opportunity to join with you in fellowship today, and I look forward to our conversation.

    The Rev. Jim Ball is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

  • Christian Coalition Announces Major Initiative on Energy at Capitol Hill Gathering

    March 16,2011, 07:20 AM

    by Jim Ball

    Yesterday our colleagues and friends with the Christian Coalition of America held an important briefing on Capitol Hill for their grassroots leaders and invited guests focused on the importance of energy for families and our responsibility as stewards. Roberta Combs, President of the Christian Coalition, announced a major initiative by the group to build support for energy independence. We heartily welcome their efforts and look forward to continuing to work together to be better stewards of our energy resources.

    Here are some excerpts from a Greenwire story by Sarah Abruzzese published on the NYTimes website on yesterday's event.

    The Christian Coalition of America came to Capitol Hill today, not to proselytize or discuss issues like abortion or gay marriage, but to talk about the United States' energy policy and the need to end the country's dependence on foreign oil.

    The conservative group often comes to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues with lawmakers, but the "Capitol Hill Roundtable Discussion on Energy" marked the first time the group has focused on energy issues with members of Congress.

    The group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson has traditionally focused on social issues but has broadened its reach in recent years to include the environment and related topics.

    Announcing the event, the coalition said in a statement, "We believe that there needs to be a conservative discussion on a national energy policy that speaks to the values of energy independence, national security, prosperity, family and stewardship. That is why we are sponsoring this discussion."

    Among the speakers was Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) -- a target of conservatives as he prepares to run for a seventh term next year. He told the assembled group of more than 50 people that "solving our energy crisis is fundamental to ensuring the security, economy and well-being of all Americans."

    Larry Schweiger, the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, lauded the president and CEO of the Christian Coalition, Roberta Combs, for taking a stance that is unusual in the conservative community. Schweiger noted that energy independence is a "family value as well as an issue of faith." ...

    Other speakers who addressed the group were C. Boyden Gray, who was a U.S. special envoy, White House special counsel and ambassador to the European Union under Republican administrations; Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); Sen. Richard Burr (S.C.); and Rear Adm. John Nathman, the retired former commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command ...

    Gray spoke about the perils the nuclear industry is facing as well as the unrest in the Middle East that is negatively affecting gas prices.

    "The solution to it is not going to be found in 'Drill, baby, drill,'" Gray said, "because the increase in U.S. production is not going to be big enough to impact the price."

    Meanwhile, Burr promised that legislation he has crafted with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) will be introduced soon that focuses on promoting multiple forms of energy, including nuclear.

    That is not to say that the country has not been "impacted by what has happened over the weekend, the tragedies in Japan," he said -- only that it will take time to figure out exactly what happened.

    Gray said the best way is to find a solution to the energy shortage that is not linked to the price of oil and that the country must develop products that are not "held hostage" to events in the Middle East.

    He went on to say that "rising oil prices also threaten job growth and economic recovery."

    In a forthcoming blog I will post Sen. Lugar's speech in its entirety.

    The Rev. Jim Ball is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

  • $4 A Gallon Here We Come? And We're Still Giving Subsidies to Oil Companies?

    March 03,2011, 15:42 PM

    by Jim Ball

    In the summer of 2008 gas prices reached over $4 a gallon, helping to tip the economy into the Great Recession from which we are still recovering. Could we be heading towards $4 a gallon once again, this time helping to stall our still fragile recovery?

    According to the federal government's Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price for gas around the country was higher than any February in history even before the crises in Egypt and Lybia kicked in. Subsequently, gas prices during the last week alone jumping 20 cents a gallon.

    One reason gas prices spiked in 08 was due to speculators, a situation that probably won't be repeated this year. However, unease in the Middle East has been driving prices upward, and no one can predict what the situation there will be when the summer driving season hits.

    Even without such instability, EIA projects that prices will continue to rise. Looking even further out to 2012, a recent CEO of Shell, John Hofmeister, has predicted that gas could be over $5 a gallon in 2012. And secret State Department cables on WikiLeaks has revealed that even a senior Saudi official privately admits that Saudi reserves may have been overstated by as much as 40%, and that by 2012 his country could no longer be counted on to pump enough extra oil to keep prices from rising too high.

    Meanwhile the current rise in gas prices threatens our recovery and is already having detrimental impacts on US consumers. According to an economic analyst at Moody's, if the price for a barrell of oil averages over $90 this year -- and EIA's projection even before the Middle East unrest was $93 -- it would erase a quarter of the $120 billion payroll tax cut recently enacted to further stimulate the economy.

    As for consumers, the NYTimes reports:

    Rising gasoline prices have already led Jayme Webb, an office manager at a recycling center in Sioux City,Iowa, and her husband, Ken, who works at Wal-Mart, to cutback on spending.

    In the last month, they have canceled their satellite television subscription and their Internet service. They have also stopped driving from their home in rural Moville to Sioux City on weekends to see Ms. Webb's parents.

    Along with making their commutes to work more expensive, rising oil prices have driven up the cost of food for animals and people. So the couple have stopped buying feed for their dozen sheep and goats and six chickens and instead asked neighboring farmers to let them use scraps from their corn fields.

    "It's a struggle," said Ms. Webb, 49. "We have to watch every little penny."

    Interestingly, in the same NYTimes article they interviewed an owner of a company that makes church pews:

    "Revenue is down, costs are up, and you can't make anymoney," said R. Jerol Kivett, the owner of Kivett's Inc., a company that manufactures pews and other church furniture in Clinton, N.C. "You're just trying to meet payroll and keep people working, hoping the economy will turn. But it just seems like setback after setback after setback."

    Given all of this, isn't it well past time we really started moving the country towards energy independence through increased fuel economy and the development of alternative fuels and electric vehicles powered by clean electricity?

    Rising gas prices are bad news for most of us and the economy in general, but good news for oil companies because their profits go up. Indeed, the big 5 oil companies have done exceedingly well over the past decade, earning nearly $1 trillion in profit.

    So here's an idea. Why not take the billions in subsidies we give to oil companies and use it instead to invest in efficiency, renewables, electric vehicles, and alternative fuels -- in a true transition towards energy independence, in other words? Certainly in an era of national debt and budget cutting some of the richest corporations in America don't need public assistance to incentivize them to find and produce oil when it's at $100 a barrel? Indeed, former President George W. Bush, a former oil man himself, proposed that the oil companies do without public assistance when oil was at $55 a barrel. So, surely, they don't need our subsidies when it's at $100 and they've earned nearly $1 trillion in profit in the last decade? Surely this rich and mature industry, which began receiving subsidies in 1916, is ready to be weaned off public assistance? Let's take the $36 billion they would receive this decade and create a better future with it, ok?

    Well, unfortunately, House Republicans still think these rich oil companies need our tax dollars even as they cut funding for research that would help to create energy independence and a clean energy future (see my earlier blog). On Tuesday (Mar 1) every single House Republican (except for 4 who didn't vote) voted to keep the billions in public assistance/subsidies flowing out of the US Treasury and into the oil company's coffers. As they vote to protect public assistance for oil companies, they do so against the wishes of the American people, as reflected in a NBC/WSJ poll out this week showing 74% approval for eliminating these unnecessary subsidies.

    With gas prices once again approaching $4 a gallon this summer and many families like the Webbs already struggling just to get by, the oil companies certainly don't need any more of our money. And it's well past time for us as a country to make real investments in energy independence and clean energy.

    The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President at EEN and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.

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