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Transportation Nation

News Analysis: As Political Climate Shifts, Obama Energy Policy Holds

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

((Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)   At the almost-end of the 2008 presidential primary season -- May, 2008 -- gasoline prices went through the roof , up to $5 a gallon in some areas of the country.  The price hike prompted near-panic, along with car-pooling, more mass transit rides, more careful grocery lists (just one trip to the supermarket) -- and a very big policy debate.

As it happened,  Hillary Clinton, fighting the last days of the primary, got behind a gas tax cut.  Most economists dismissed the idea -- not only would the gas tax cut simply disappear in the rising price of gasoline, they argued, but it would also bankrupt the already broke highway trust fund.

Barack Obama did not get behind the gas tax cut, even though, as I trailed the two candidates through the rolling hills of Indiana, cutting the gas tax got some of the biggest whoops of any proposals during Hillary Clinton's speeches.  Obama called it a gimmick.

He still thinks so, today.

"We’ve been down this road before," he told an enthusiastic audience of Georgetown University students at a speech (video here) on energy security today. "Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. Working folks haven’t forgotten that. It hit a lot of people pretty hard. But it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas – when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem. Imagine that in Washington.

"The truth is, of course, was that all these gimmicks didn’t make a bit of difference. When gas prices finally fell, it was mostly because the global recession led to less demand for oil. Now that the economy is recovering, demand is back up. Add the turmoil in the Middle East, and it’s not surprising oil prices are higher. And every time the price of a barrel of oil on the world market rises by $10, a gallon of gas goes up by about 25 cents."

Indeed, President Barack Obama has had a remarkably consistent position on energy through his campaign and his presidency, even as the political climate has dramatically shifted.

In September of 2008, I was watching Rudy Giuliani give his address to the Republican National Convention with Congressman Peter King.  "Drill, Baby Drill," Giuliani said, as King cringed "we're not supposed to use the 'D-word,' we're supposed to say 'explore.'"  Still - the genie was out of the bottle. The crowd roared when Giuliani said that, and when Sarah Palin picked up the refrain during her acceptance of the Vice Presidential nomination later during the Minneapolis convention.

But despite the popularity of that slogan, talking about developing solutions to climate change and oil dependency was, in those days, a much more bi-partisan issue than it has since become.   Just two years later, In the elections of 2010, several Republicans won by practically spitting when mentioning Democratic support for what they called "cap and trade" legislation.

But Barack Obama?  In 2008, he supported a combination of nuclear power, alternative energy, and mass transit use.  Today?  He supports a combination of nuclear power, alternative energy, domestic oil drilling (the "Drill,Baby, Drill) part of his policy, and mass transit use.

"Seventy percent of our petroleum use goes to transportation," he said today."Seventy percent."

His speech today (full text here) made a careful argument.  We must, he posited, reduce oil consumption by a third in a decade.  To get there, he proposed, first, the US must exploit its own supplies -- "as long as it's safe and responsible."

"When it comes to drilling onshore,"  he added, in a line of argument that might surprise some of his 2008 primary voters -- "my Administration approved more than two permits last year for every new well that the industry started to drill.  So any claim that my Administration is responsible for gas prices because we’ve “shut down” oil production might make for a useful political sound bite – but it doesn’t track with reality.

And, then, in an adroit Obama-esque intellectual maneuver, he added "But let’s be honest – it’s not the long-term solution to our energy challenge.  America holds only about two percent of the world’s proven oil reserves.  And even if we drilled every drop of oil out of every one of those reserves, it still wouldn’t be enough to meet our long-term needs."

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Transportation Nation

Obama: Cut Oil Imports by a Third in the Next Decade

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(File Photo: Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) President Obama is vowing the U.S. will cut oil consumption by a third in the next decade.  Speaking before a group at Georgetown University, Obama said:  "So today, I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary. When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third."

To achieve this, Obama said, he would take several measures:  continue to expand domestic drilling, pursuing increased natural gas drilling while ensuring it didn't endanger oil supplies, and, as he put it, keeping nuclear power "on the table," because he said, nuclear power doesn't produce carbon.  But he said that must be done safely.

His biggest proposals, however, were on the consumption side. By 2015, he said, all federal cars purchased will be hybrid or electric.

"The fleet of cars and trucks we use in the federal government is one of the largest in the country.  That’s why we’ve already doubled the number of alternative vehicles in the federal fleet, and that’s why, today, I am directing agencies to purchase 100% alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015.  And going forward, we’ll partner with private companies that want to upgrade their large fleets."

Obama noted that even if the US were to drill "every drop" of U.S. oil, US oil only accounts for 2 percent of the world supply, while the US consumes 25 percent of the oil.  He also pointed out that 70 percent of US petroleum consumption comes from the transportation sector.

Most of the oil consumption part of the speech focused on alternative-fueled personal and commercial vehicles, but he did make reference to increasing mass transit options: " We’ve also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, because part of making our transportation sector cleaner and more efficient involves offering Americans – urban, suburban, and rural – the choice to be mobile without having to get in a car and pay for gas."

The administration has invested about $11 billion in high speed rail, and wants to spend more than $50 billion more.

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Transportation Nation

Obama: Time To Secure Energy Future

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Text Of President Barack Obama's Obama's Speech at Georgetown University:

We meet here at a tumultuous time for the world.  In a matter of months, we’ve seen regimes toppled and democracy take root across North Africa and the Middle East.  We’ve witnessed a terrible earthquake, catastrophic tsunami and nuclear emergency batter a strong ally and the world’s third largest economy.  And we’ve led an international effort in Libya to prevent a massacre and maintain stability throughout the broader region.

As Americans, we are heartbroken by the lives that have been lost as a result of these events. We are moved by the thirst for freedom in many nations, as well as the strength and perseverance of the Japanese people. And of course, it’s natural to feel anxious about what all this means for us.

One area of particular concern has been the cost and security of our energy.  In an economy that relies on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody – workers and farmers; truck drivers and restaurant owners.  Businesses see it hurt their bottom line.  Families feel the pinch when they fill up their tank.  For Americans already struggling to get by, it makes life that much harder

But here’s the thing – we’ve been down this road before.  Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon.  Working folks haven’t forgotten that.  It hit a lot of people pretty hard.  But it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas – when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem.  Imagine that in Washington.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Transit Cuts May Hit Minneapolis, DC, Following Canadian Oil's Tension-Filled Trek South, and Will Poetry Return to NY's Subways?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will "Poetry in Motion" placards make a return to NYC's subway cars? Signs point to maybe. (New York Times)

If Congress cuts $150 million from DC's Metro, the agency's general manager says "the customers will really bear the burden...They will see the system deteriorating at a more rapid rate.” (Washington Post)

Twenty years from now, Canada may be supplying one-fourth of the US's oil needs. Which means more megaloads in Montana now. (NPR)

But Canadian drivers have their own problems: "In a new survey of major world cities by the Toronto Board of Trade, Toronto and Montreal have the worst commute times, worse even than London or New York City...Canadians need real options, and that means more public transit." (Globe and Mail)

A Wall Street Journal opinion piece takes President Obama's high-speed rail plan -- and Amtrak -- to task. "With Amtrak now the key to the President's rail program, a review of Amtrak's recent performance reveals that this "transformational" event will take place upon a foundation of epic failure, gross mismanagement, and union featherbedding."

Two freshman Republican representatives from upstate New York want to derail plans for high-speed trains across the state, leading to a new division in the state delegation. (The Buffalo News)

But a few hundred miles away, the Southeast High Speed Rail Association is holding an event called "The Conservative Case for Intercity & Higher Speed Passenger Rail” in Richmond. “Not every conservative — not even every libertarian — believes America’s unofficial motto should be ‘drive or die,’ ”the center's website reads. “There is a long conservative tradition of not wanting to see America reduced to nothing but strip malls, gas stations and pavement.” (The Hill)

The Minnesota House voted to trim the state budget deficit by reducing spending on Twin Cities transit, a strategy that could trigger fare hikes and service cuts. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Clinton Hill (Manhattan) residents say that the intra-city bus company, Megabus, has made the area of 9th Avenue in the lower 30s a "circus." (DNAinfo)

FastCompany passes along an infographic that shows, by state, what percent of commuters use bikes -- and then breaks down the 10 most popular bike cities.

The latest installment of WBEZ's "Dear Chicago" series interviews a bike advocate who wants the city's transportation infrastructure to pay more attention to pedestrians and bicyclists:

And finally:  a plot synopsis of a new movie about a killer tire. "Rubber is the story of Robert, an inanimate tire that has been abandoned in the desert, and suddenly and inexplicably comes to life....Leaving a swath of destruction across the desert landscape, Robert becomes a chaotic force to be reckoned with, and truly a movie villain for the ages." Metaphor alert!

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York City’s effort to create a fuel-efficient taxi fleet is getting a new legislative boost. Demand for fuel-efficient cars is "sluggish" -- despite high gas prices. And recent fatal bus crashes have led to a disagreement between the drivers' union and management.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: EU Wants To Ban Conventional Cars in Cities by 2050, and NY's Bike Lanes Continue to Fascinate the Media

Monday, March 28, 2011

A European Union policy paper calls for halving conventional cars in cities by 2030 -- and banning combustion engines altogether by 2050. "Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas also set out plans to shift half of "middle distance journeys" from road to rail, and to cut shipping emissions by 40%. He said: 'Freedom to travel is a basic right for our citizens. Curbing mobility is not an option. Nor is business is usual.'" (BBC, Bloomberg)

Massachusetts is vying for the high-speed rail funds rejected by Florida, and the Boston Globe writes about the state's application process -- and how state officials all got on the same page.

Meanwhile, New York City's bike lanes continue to be covered by the world's major media outlets. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal says the lawsuit over a Brooklyn bike lane "isn't a culture war, as many would have it. It's about New Yorkers who want to walk safely across the street—maybe even while smoking a cigarette or eating a salty pretzel." The New York Times writes of Senator Charles Schumer's reticence to go on record about whether he supports the bike lane -- or the lawsuit. And the British paper The Guardian asks: "is New York really "too New York" for cycling ever to be acceptably mainstream?"

Banner recently spotted on Bergen Street and 4th Avenue, Brooklyn (photo by Jody Avirgan/WNYC)

San Antonio launched a bike-sharing program this weekend, the first of its type in Texas. (Houston Chronicle)

New York collects 90 tons of garbage a day on the subway system. (NY Daily News)

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is backing legislation that would allow cities to rail fuel-efficiency standards in taxis.  From an email sent by her office: "Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a New York City program aimed to create a fuel-efficient taxi fleet, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and TLC Commissioner David Yassky will announce federal legislation ...(today)  MARCH 28th that would allow all major cities to raise fuel efficiency standards for taxis. With the City’s green taxi plan now at a legal impasse, an act of Congress is required to give the City and other local governments the ability to upgrade to fuel-efficient taxi fleets."

The Cincinnati Zoo installed four acres of solar panels over its parking lot, which should produce 20% of its energy needs. (USA Today)

A Baltimore Sun transportation reporter writes about driver's ed and bicycles: "Most likely, the subject of interacting with bicycles got short shrift in your driver's ed class...many of us could use such a bit of midlife education in the things our driving instructors failed to mention. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the devastating consequences of clumsy interactions between motor vehicles and bicycles."

San Mateo County's "Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan" has some people worried about what they call a lack of coordination at the county level, leading to a patchwork network of bike routes. The plan lists projects throughout the county’s 20 cities that would cost an estimated $57 million to build and cover some 290.4 miles of roadway. (San Francisco Examiner)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York State is continuing to issue thousands of parking placards -- despite Governor Cuomo's promise to end "business as usual." A recent air traffic control issue has raised larger questions about how towers are staffed. And: high-speed rail might be dead in Florida, but some are hoping that the governor will agree to move forward with a commuter rail project.

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The Takeaway

What if Gadhafi Wins? What if the Rebels Win?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On day six of the United Nations-backed, U.S.-led Operation Odyssey Dawn operation in Libya, the outcome of the crisis is still unclear. But the future of the country doesn't just depend on which side comes out on top of the military conflict. It may come down to whether a leader is able to keep the petroleum and gas export-fueled economy going long enough to make real reforms, and keep the country fed in the process. However, at this point there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the situation.

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The Takeaway

Japan, Middle East Crises Push Up Oil, Gas Prices

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oil prices are solidly back over the $100 dollar per barrel. Political unrest in the Middle East has kept oil rising for the past months followed by concerns that Japan, the world's third largest economy and a nation that imports 60 percent of its fuel, would be reducing its oil usage, knocked oil futures back down briefly last week. But Monday, oil futures for April rose by more than $1 hitting $102.96 a barrel in trading on Wall Street.

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It's A Free Country ®

Sen. Menendez on Libya, Oil and the Federal Budget

Monday, March 21, 2011

WNYC
In order to establish a no-fly zone and leave our coalition allies together, and the men and women who serve us safe...it takes a degree of military strikes to stop the command and control abilities to knock out the air monitoring systems, to ensure that the very civilians that the Arab League wants us to protect, can be protected...If we could do it with a magic wand and stop all of Libyan air fights from taking place...then we'd love to do that, but that's not the way it works.

Sen. Robert Menendez, N..J. Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Brian Lehrer Show.

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WNYC News

Week Ahead: AT&T, Libya and Japan and Housing

Monday, March 21, 2011

With the president traveling in Latin America and Congress on recess, there's no one issue driving the economic agenda and markets this week. As a result, investors will be pay close attention to the allies' air assault in Libya as well as other developments in the Middle East and what they mean for oil production and prices.

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Transportation Nation

Megaloads Travel Through Montana City

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A megaload waits on a snowy road (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – ConocoPhillips successfully transported its two huge megaloads of refinery equipment through the city of Missoula early this morning.

Hundreds of protesters and onlookers flanked the 15-mile route through a major city street.

Each load is 26 feet high and 29 feet wide. The loads are so big crews had to move traffic signals and utility lines out of the way. As described in an earlier TN story, each load is “heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high.”

Rich Johnson is a ConocoPhillips spokesman who flew to Missoula from Houston to accompany the loads. He says this is the first time he’s worked on a project this big that’s been the focus of intense media and public scrutiny.

“We had a lot of people out watching,” he says. “I mean there were the protesters. But there were many more people out watching to see this pretty amazing, unique site of these huge coke drums being transported through their city.”

The loads are not without controversy. A few protesters did try to block the loads. But they were removed by police. One person was arrested. Last month, the Montana Legislature was set to consider a bill that would have required separating permitting for megaloads, but it was tabled.

The route this morning through Missoula totaled about 15 miles. Johnson says the transport went smoothly.

“It went very well,” Johnson says. “We were able to safely transport our shipment from Lolo through the city of Missoula and ended up at our designated stopping point well before our required stopping time of 6 am.”

It took about an hour and a half to travel the 15-mile route. The load is destined for the company’s refinery in Billings.

The total miles to be traveled over the road is about 700. The loads were manufactured overseas, arrived via ocean freighter after traveling some 5,300 miles and then were sent by river barge to Lewiston, Idaho

When these two coke drums arrive at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, the crews will return to Idaho for the two remaining vessels, also bound for the Billings refinery. The equipment is to be installed next year.

Montana is awaiting another set of megaloads. That one is for an ExxonMobil project destined for the oil tar sand fields of Alberta, Canada.

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You can read more TN coverage about this issue here and here.

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Transportation Nation

Rising Gas Prices Affect More Than Your Wallet

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) As the average price of a gallon of gas hit $3.50, The Takeaway looked at how that determines the price of... just about everything. It affects the cost of things that we make out of oil (plastic, fiberglass, petroleum based products), and it also affects the cost of shipping nearly every product to our doorsteps.

According to guest Christopher Steiner, of Forbes Magazine and author of  the book, $20 Per Gallon, "We know that Americans start to change their behavior at four dollars [per gallon]. We saw it in 2008, when Americans drove 100 billion less miles than they did in 2007, and that's something we've never done before as a nation. And that was a clear reaction to four dollar gas."

Listen below to how oil prices will determine the future of American consumer and social trends.

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The Takeaway

Gasoline and the Price of Everything

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The average price of gasoline reached just over $3.50 per gallon on Monday — a number that made the financial markets shudder. While gas prices vary widely from state to state, the upward trend, driven in part by the nearly two weeks of civil unrest in Libya, shows no sign of retreat. Daniel Singer, President of Robison Oil in Westchester New York knows that there's more to the story for the average consumer than the pump price.

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The Takeaway

This Week's Agenda: Libya, Budget, Muslim Radicalization

Monday, March 07, 2011

Whether or not to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya is becoming a hot issue in Washington. Many lawmakers like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), are calling for a no-fly zone, as rebels in Libya face rough times against the better equiped Libyan armed forces. Callie Crossley, host of The Callie Crossley Show on WGBH in Boston, looks at what we can expect next in the Libyan crisis this week.

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The Takeaway

Government Weighs Opening Strategic Oil Reserves

Monday, March 07, 2011

As prices at the pump go up, the government is considering tapping into our strategic oil reserves. Coming up on The Takaway, oil expert Lisa Margonelli says what makes sense in the short term is not a solution for the long term.

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WNYC News

Financial 411: Weekly Business Roundup

Friday, March 04, 2011

The nation posts its best monthly jobs report in many months, but there's still a long way to go to recovery.

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The Takeaway

This Week's Agenda: Budget, Middle East, Jobs

Monday, February 28, 2011

The government is on the verge of a shutdown Friday, as Democrats and Republicans try and come up with some kind of resolution on the budget. Chrystia Freeland, global editor-at-large of Reuters, and Charlie Herman, economics editor for The Takeaway and WNYC Radio, will look into their chrystal balls and see if any resolution is in sight. While Washington makes attempts at a budget resolution, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Switzherland to come up with a resolution on dealing with Col. Moammar el-Gadhafi and Libya. Are Gadhafi's days numbered? 

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Unrest in the Petrol States

Friday, February 25, 2011

Steve LeVine of "The Oil and the Glory" blog at Foreign Policy, and Dan Dicker author of Oil's Endless Bid: Taming the Unreliable Price of Oil to Secure Our Economy, discuss the unrest in the Middle East and its relationship to the soaring price of oil and the rising price of gas.

Read a Recap and Join the Conversation at It's A Free Country

World Weekly with Gideon Rachman

Libya and the potential oil crisis

Friday, February 25, 2011

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Oil Prices Up -- As Are Airline Prices, NJ Transit Riders Exhale, and Florida Still Without Top Transpo Official

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A California Democrat introduced a bill that would fire the current members of the board governing California's high-speed rail project and replace them with experts who don't have a financial stake in the undertaking. (Oakland Tribune)

Oahu's $5.5 billion, 21-station rail project has officially broken ground. (Examiner)

Maryland's newest toll road opens to traffic today. "The full cost of the Intercounty Connector - the exchange of woodlands for asphalt; the effects on residents along its path; debt payments that could require raising tolls throughout the state - will be analyzed for years. The immediate question is how opening the first 7.2 miles will affect traffic." (Washington Post)

Higher oil prices send airline fares up. (Dallas Morning News)

NJ Transit riders issue a collective exhale after Governor Christie's budget address yesterday. (Asbury Park Press)

DC's Metro Transit Police Department says that thefts of electronic devices accounted for 76% of all robberies on the Metro in 2010 (Washington Post). So they've created a helpful PSA:

The Brooklyn Paper says that ambulances are no strangers to the Prospect Park West bike lane.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has yet to name the state's top transportation official, but already he has installed the agency's chief of staff, hired its lawyer and pulled the trigger on a major decision to blow up plans for high-speed rail. (St. Petersburg Times)

The Massachusetts woman who lost her boa constrictor on a Boston subway car has been hit with a $650 cleaning bill by the MBTA, which had to "sanitize" the car. (Boston Herald)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NJ Governor Christie's budget increases transpo funding. Controversy continues over whether a new ring road for Houston is a must -- or a road to nowhere. And opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane don't want new bike lanes, anywhere in the city.

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It's A Free Country ®

Bahrain 101: Putting the Unrest in Context

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I think the US is going to everything it can to keep a distance on many levels... It doesn’t want to have the image of an outside force causing the disruption in any of these countries. I really think that they are on their own.

— Steve LeVine of "The Oil and the Glory" blog at Foreign Policy on the Brian Lehrer Show.

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