Opinion : A Natural Gas-Centric Revitalization Program
March 21, 2009
Congress turns over US tax-payer money to the same financial “geniuses” that got us in this financial mess to begin with and then expresses surprise that the money ends up in their bank accounts. Meanwhile, the talking head tools on CNBC want us to feel sorry for these guys … and keep reminding us that there is no way out of this mess unless these geniuses help us out … because they are the only ones that know how everything works. If we don’t reward their excellent performance with multi-million dollar bonuses they might quit! What a steaming pile of cow dung! Let them go!! Let them go earn an honest living for a change! Besides, how could anyone that replaces them do worse?
Meanwhile, Congress, Bernanke, and Geitner keep trying to fix a commodity problem (oil) with financial trickery. Long term, this is a failed strategy. As a result, middle class Americans will continue to experience a falling standard of living, more financial distortions, weak US equity markets, and a less secure future.
Obama has not been the performer many people, including myself, believed he might be. There were three main challenges facing Obama: the financial markets, energy policy, and the environment. Although it is early in this administration, I believe he has failed badly on all three accounts.
On the financial side, he needed to restore trust, transparency, and accountability. He’s failed. The thievery of the US treasury unabatedly continues the trend set by Bush and Paulsen. His appointment of Ms. Shapiro to lead the SEC was a disaster. Madoff? Milken? Long Term Capital Management? Hello?? Is there a trend here? Duh! Shapiro is part of the well connected inner circle of NYC financial fraudsters. Putting Shapiro in charge of the SEC is like the fox guarding the chicken house. I wish someone could explain to me how the “Patriot” Act’s financial controls enable the government to track every dime I invest and spend but somehow couldn’t seem to notice the billions of dollars Madoff was moving around. How is that possible? How can Homeland Security be successful tracking terrorist money if they can’t detect the movement of hundreds of billions of dollars? The answer is, of course they detected it! The SEC protects its own. Obama’s financial policy grade: an “F”.
Things aren’t much better on the energy front. Sure, the stimulus package contained monies for solar, wind, and electrical transmission line initiatives among other goodies. These are a welcome break from the previous administration. That said, where are the robust natural gas initiatives? If the goal is to reduce foreign imports as Obama said, how come he has yet to even utter the words “natural gas transportation” in any energy related discussion since elected? As a result, America’s greatest industrial asset, the 2.2 million mile natural gas pipeline grid connecting 63,000,000 homes where 130,000,000 cars and trucks park every night, remains underutilized. Obama seems content to rely on the Gore environmental purists for energy policy.
I wish someone would explain to Obama that over the next 10-20 years, there is simply no realistic way that wind and solar energy source will significantly reduce the 390,000,000 gallons of gasoline the US burns every day. In this era of government and professional double-speak, it’s very apparent that the environmental purists are actually responsible for increasing CO2 emissions. An ideology that lumps natural gas in the same category with coal and oil simply because it is a “fossil fuel” is simply wrong headed, illogical, highly polluting, and keeps us addicted to foreign oil. Obama’s energy policy grade: “D-“.
Combined with an off-track energy policy which will do practically nothing to reduce foreign oil imports, Obama’s lack of initiatives to replace coal electrical generation with natural gas generation is another environmental mistake. Despite the huge release of toxic sludge and ash into the Tennessee Valley by the TVA’s Kingston Coal fired power plant, Obama has yet to use his bully pulpit to publicize the event which is undoubtedly one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in the history of the country. Likewise, the EPA (which RFK, Jr. calls the “Environmental Destruction Agency) continues to be a pathetic excuse for a government agency (right up there with the DOE). Obama has yet to hold the EPA’s feet to the fire for policy which simply reinforces the oil and coal interests and constructs barrier after barrier in the way of natural gas transportation and power generation. Despite having direct access to smart people who know better and have advised him so, Obama is continuing the oil and coal centric policies to the detriment of the country’s future. Obama’s environmental policy grade: “D+”.
We may have traded in the “C” student cheerleader for the “A” student lawyer, but the overall result is still miserable financial, energy, and environmental policies. For those who chastised me for my relentless criticism of George Bush, I told you I would criticize Obama with the same zeal if he faltered. Well, faltered he has so here I am. A few SA readers warned me that Obama would be more of the same old school Republican/Democratic inept leadership. As much as I hoped Obama would be different, he really isn’t. Underneath the great speeches and sound bites, actual policy remains abysmal.
I make mistakes too, and I must admit to an error of mine which was recently pointed out to me by SA user “WiseGas” (thank you!). I mentioned in several articles that the Honda Civic GX NGV (HMC) was only available to citizens of NY and CA. While this was told to me by a Honda rep over the phone, mirrored my own experience, and was indeed the case at one point in time, it is no longer true. WiseGas is from Florida and referred me to a local Honda dealer. I called the dealer and sure enough, you can buy a Civic GX in Florida and other states as well. To find the Honda dealer closest to you with a GX sitting on their lot, enter your zip code on this website.
Speaking of Honda, the company is sitting on a gold mine. Heading into the era of Peak Oil where worldwide oil supply will not keep up with worldwide oil demand, American Honda Motor owns and manufactures two critical assets:
1. The “Phill” 2. Honda Civic GX
Honda owns Fuelmaker and it manufactures the Phill. The Phill is a natural gas appliance which can be installed in the garage so the Civic GX can be refueled at home. The mere fact Honda considered selling FuelMaker to Boone Pickens’ Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE) last year indicates Honda management doesn’t understand their huge advantage. Although the deal was nixed, apparently by Honda Motor Corp, in talking with individual Honda dealers around the country, it is quite apparent that Honda marketing and management has yet to figure out the synergies possible in selling both the Civic GX and Phill as a package deal. Sure, there are some state regulations in the way, but there are many steps Honda could take to ease the availability issues with both the GX and Phill.
If the personal emails I receive on my NGV related articles on SA are any indication, there must be thousands of frustrated consumers (like myself) who would jump at the chance to buy a GX and Phill if only sales, installation, and service were available locally. Honda is sitting on a gold mine! All they need to do is figure out how to leverage the strategic advantage they now possess. If Honda hired me I could mold the Civic GX and Phill businesses into a multi-billion dollar cash-cow over the next 3 years. Promise.
On the other hand, if Honda waits until Toyota (TM) wises up and manufactures this vehicle, Honda will lose its leadership position much as Motorola did in cell phones. Honda cannot afford to waste time while others catch up. It should press its advantage until it pays in gold. That means spending a little money to entrench the Civic GX and Phill all over the country and to make it available to anyone anywhere. A Natural Gas Centric Industrial Revitalization Program
Instead of more ridiculous financial bailouts (does anyone other than me think the Fed buying US treasuries simply incest?), what America really needs is a reindustrialization plan based on natural gas transportation. If Obama and his leadership team would focus an energy and industrial revitalization program based on natural gas transportation, the US could once again become a world leader instead of a world problem. America’s abundant natural gas resources combined with its tremendous asset of the existing 2.2 million mile natural gas grid is our key competitive advantage over many other countries. If Obama set a goal to convert half of America’s vehicle fleet to NGV’s over the next 5 years, we could:
1. Save millions of jobs in the automotive industry. 2. Reduce foreign oil imports by 5-6 million barrels a day (around 50% of total foreign oil imports). 3. Save trillions of dollars which would otherwise go to foreign oil producers. 4. Increase royalty payments to thousands of farmers and landowners sitting atop American natural gas. 5. Create thousands of jobs in the energy, infrastructure, and CNG sectors. 6. Reduce CO2 emissions by hundreds of millions of tons annually. 7. Drastically reduce particulate emissions from gasoline powered automobiles responsible for the smog in so many American cities. 8. Restore American energy and climate leadership and our reputation as a wise and moral country capable of attacking its own problems instead of other countries. 9. Rally the country behind a goal everyone could understand, participate in, and profit from. 10. Strengthen the US dollar and balance our financial trade and budget deficits. 11. Protect us from dire economic and social consequences of Peak Oil.
The costs of such a program would pay for itself very quickly by reducing the expense of foreign oil, including huge military expenditures to fund oil wars and securing foreign oil transport. Like the interstate highway system, cross country railroads and telegraph lines, the man-on-the-moon project and so many other government sponsored programs, natural gas vehicles and a natural gas refueling infrastructure would pay dividends to all Americans for decades to come. They would remove oil as a critical variable in the energy equation until clean energy capacity is online and clean vehicle technology is robust and mature enough to make the total transition to renewable fuels. Anything less than this natural gas centric policy will not keep America addicted to foreign oil. As we already know, our 65% reliance on foreign oil will continue the economic, environmental, and national security problems which are already at crisis levels.
Will Obama step-up? He hasn’t yet. I sure hope he does.
Disclosures: The author does not own HMC or TM, although he would invest heavily in TM should it decide to mass produce the concept car mentioned in this article.