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By Robert Rapier on Jun 22, 2006 with no responses

DGA Conference Call on Energy

Update: They now have a news release on the teleconference: Democratic Governors Discuss America’s Energy Future. You can download the audio of the 30-minute teleconference at the bottom of the news release.

Today (6-22-06) the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) hosted a conference call on energy policy. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski hosted the call, and listeners were able to submit questions beforehand. They answered 4 questions, including the one that I submitted.

Overall, it was a mixed bag. Gov. Granholm came across like a politician, offering solutions, but also out to score political points. Gov. Kulongoski sounded sincere, really focused on conservation, and did not attempt to score political points. It felt almost like a “good cop, bad cop” routine from my perspective.

I took notes, but hopefully they will make the transcript or a recording available. Gov. Granholm went first. Her “left hook” was “oil companies are bad”. Her “right cross” was “ethanol is good”. She went for the left hook most of the time. Here was the gist of her comments:

Fuel prices are too high, and oil companies are making too much money. She wants legislation to cap profits. She claimed that oil companies are not investing in alternative energy technologies (this is not true, but maybe they aren’t investing in the ones she wants them to invest in). She made a passing remark at conservation, but didn’t sound too passionate about it. She piled on oil companies again and really vilified them. (My concern before-hand was that this would be the tenor of the call). She really pushed ethanol, and she said Michigan needs a huge number of ethanol plants. She thinks we need more E85 pumps, and complained that the oil companies have not been eager to embrace them. Near the end of her opening statement, she reiterated that oil companies are not eager to cap profits. (What sector is eager to cap profits?)

At this point, I was thinking that America really needs a new political party. But they then went to Gov. Kulongoski. He really focused on the conservation angle, and he came across as less political, and more focused on finding solutions than in scoring points. He discussed what Oregon is working on. He has established targets for government agencies, and in 4 years wants all government agencies to run off of 100% renewable electricity. He said the state is making large investments into alternative electricity – wave, geothermal, wind, solar. He also noted that Oregon has no coal or oil deposits, which is one driver in their push for sustainability. He did mention biofuels, and also seemed to think ethanol will play a big part. He said he drives an E85 vehicle.

They then went to the Q&A. We were allowed to submit questions prior to the call, and they selected four questions to answer. I don’t like this format, because it lends itself to easy political posturing. Question 1 reaffirmed my fears.

Question 1 from Pittsburgh: “Why have oil company profits gone up as gasoline has gone up?” Of course Gov. Granholm took this one, as it was another opportunity to score political points by attacking oil companies. Her answer: Because they aren’t regulated, and they can get away with it. Says we need to regulate oil companies like public utilities. She said that profits are too high, and that we need to restrict profit margins. (I hope she understands the difference between a profit, and a profit margin).

Question 2: I already had a favorable impression of Governor Kulongoski, but he chose to answer question 2 from “Robert in Billings, Montana.” That’s me. :) They omitted part of my question, so here is the complete question I submitted:

I am a chemical engineer in the oil industry. One of the things that I, and many others, have been bothered by is the level of political pandering that has accompanied the present energy crisis. The Republicans say a solution is to drill in ANWR. Some Democrats say the solution is ethanol (not a chance), or they merely grandstand and point fingers at oil companies. I believe the root problem is our reluctance to embrace conservation, and unless this is addressed all other solutions are doomed. Who among you has the courage to get tough on this politically sensitive issue? And how will you address it?

And here is what they read and answered:

I believe the root problem is our reluctance to embrace conservation, and unless this is addressed all other solutions are doomed. Who among you has the courage to get tough on this politically sensitive issue? And how will you address it?

Gov. Kulongoski: “Robert is absolutely correct”, and he sounded like he meant it. He went on to describe some of Oregon’s conservation measures – such as increasing standards for appliances. He said we must learn to live sustainably. He said that he believed the state, and not the federal government, would lead on this issue. He said state governments must lead by example, and concluded with “Again, Robert is correct. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and decide that we must change our behavior.” Gov. Kulongoski scored big points with me.

Question 3, from Michigan: Do you support PHEVs, solar, wind, etc? Gov. Granholm: Absolutely! She talked about giving personal property tax breaks to alternative energy providers, and said she was sitting in her hybrid as she was answering the question.

Question 4, from Oregon: How do you get the private sector to buy into alternatives? Gov. Kulongoski: He explained how Oregon moved to sustainable forestry practices, and said they must do the same for energy. He also mentioned the importance of combating global warming. Again, I thought he sounded passionate and sincere.

That’s my assessment. If you listened in and heard something different, or think I missed any important points, let me know. I was much more impressed with Gov. Kulongoski than with Gov. Granholm, even before he answered my question. :) I guess the one thing that struck me as ironic is that Gov. Granholm’s “cheap fuel for everyone” routine is at complete odds with Gov. Kulongoski “we must conserve” routine.