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Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WORDS vs. DEEDS....Addicted to oil? Fine words. So why is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory the Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research laying off 32 people, including eight research staff, because of a budget shortfall?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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Comments

you didn't think he meant it, did you? We need that couple of hundred thousand to fight for real energy resources.

Posted by: northzax on February 8, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I notice that "earmarks" are mentioned as a cause for the shortfall. Your K Street/congress at work?

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 8, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Don't listen to what they say. Watch what they do.

Watch how they treat the average soldier.

Watch what they actually fund.

Easy to figure out what's important when you do that.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 8, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Go ahead Charlie Brown, kick the football

Posted by: Martin on February 8, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

As long as they say "tax cuts," and speak the anti-choice, "I hate gays" code words, the Als and tbroz's will vote for them.

And Diebold.

Posted by: Gore/Obama '08 on February 8, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Because Bush likes to say high-minded things in his SOTUs but he doesn't really intend to act on what he proposes. He's hoping Americans won't notice what he's doing, only what he's saying.

Posted by: Taobhan on February 8, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I don't believe in god, but I sure hope there is a hell where Shrub can spend eternity, but only after he, Cheney and the rest of his gang die slow painful deaths.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 8, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Duh. Research is the private sector's job, not government's. (At least, that's what he would say if you could somehow compel him to respond.)

Posted by: biff3000 on February 8, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

So why is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory the Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research laying off 32 people, including eight research staff, because of a budget shortfall?

Because research in cutting use of oil is best done in the private sector. The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job. Laying off people will allow us to cut taxes which the private sector will use to put more money into research for alternative energy.

Posted by: Al on February 8, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's really just another coincidence, where something that actually happens makes a Bush statement seem misleading.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on February 8, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Hah! I beat Al to it!

Posted by: biff3000 on February 8, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

(Good ahead Charlie Brown kick the football)^ n

Posted by: koreyel on February 8, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Because research in cutting use of oil is best done in the private sector. The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job. Laying off people will allow us to cut taxes which the private sector will use to put more money into research for alternative energy.

Please rip the government mandated air bags out of your car right now.

And since I know you are a Christian fuck how about taking Koreyel's challenge?

I will give up prayer forever it you give up medical science forever.

Funny... how you can't find one fundamentalist willing to sign up for that one.

Posted by: koreyel on February 8, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Al - which private sector would this be? Which industry will benefit from funding research into cutting the use of oil?

The private sector IS often more efficient than government agencies, because they are motiviated by profit potential. From what I've seen, development of alternate fuels is currently being led by companies whose main revenues still come from existing energy sources. I see a profit-motive paradox here.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on February 8, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Don't believe any of that anti-Bush, terrorist inspired talk. Just the other day I was driving my freedom car past the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and I saw lots of activity. This administration takes global warming seriously even though its not really a problem.

Posted by: NeilS on February 8, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Way OT --Per Josh Marshall, Bush has put Social Security phase out into the budget...

http://tinyurl.com/8bm4q

Posted by: pol on February 8, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Research better done in the private sector? Tell that to the private sector inventors of the atomic bomb, the apollo moon landings oh and dont forget the CDC and while we are at it why dont you ask the pharmaceutical companies if they want to do all of their own research.

Posted by: Jammer on February 8, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if it's renewable and competative with oil, why do we need to government?

If it not competative with oil, then what good is it.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing up my sleeve...

Posted by: craigie on February 8, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

How much better is the private sector than government at research, Al? Got any facts or statistics to back up your opinion there?

Posted by: matt on February 8, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

"How much better is the private sector than government at research, Al? Got any facts or statistics to back up your opinion there?"

Matt you are such a duffas. Let me give you a list:

Your house. Your car. Your electric hand drill. Your Apple Macintosh. Your shoes. Your tennis racket. Your baseball. Your football. Your wife's lace underwear.

I could go on, but let me just say that 90% of what you consume probably comes from private research and development, even though 2o% of what you earn goes to the federal government.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

but let me just say that 90% of what you consume probably comes from private research and development

And consumption is the best measure of the quality of life. The more stuff you have, the more life! Stuff is good.

Time is money, life takes time, life is money.

Money gets you stuff.

Life is stuff.

Republicans want you to have more stuff!

Get stuffed America!

Heed their sage advice, and our operatic heroines will die of consumption no more!

Posted by: Robin Ublind on February 8, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

IIRC, a couple years ago there was a distinct trend where Bush would visit someplace, praise it, and the next day (or week, or whatever) they would cut the funding.

Watch what they do, not what he says.

Posted by: VOR on February 8, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

"The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job" ?????

Better tell that to the American Universities which are the greatest research institutions in the history of the world.

Posted by: NeilS on February 8, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

How much better is the private sector than government at research, Al?

You are such a duffas. Let me give you a list:

Yes, I remember when Campbells developed the atomic bomb and Lucky Strike put a man on the moon.

Government sometimes trumps the private sector in its ability to solve large scale problems.

Although I have to confess, my wife's lace underwear are government issue, as is my Freedom Football (TM).

Trying to defend this administration's cognitive dissonance on this issue is foolish.

Posted by: Windhorse on February 8, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with NeilS on this.
Corporations by and large tend to like to ride coat-tails.
And of course, who the hell would be stupid enough to trust a corporation or other profit-driven entity with research into anything related to security or cutting edge physics?

Posted by: kenga on February 8, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

" but let me just say that 90% of what you consume probably comes from private research and development

And consumption is the best measure of the quality of life. The more stuff you have, the more life! Stuff is good."

Well, we have nailed it finally, we agree. The government must do the research on stuff we do not want or need.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Because research in cutting use of oil is best done in the private sector. The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job. Laying off people will allow us to cut taxes which the private sector will use to put more money into research for alternative energy."

- Al

Arguing that the private sector is a panacea to all social ills is highly problematic. Observe that American healthcare has spawned a layer of bureaucracy which costs amazing sums of money merely for the ends of finding someone else to pay the bill. Ideed, the market doesn't provide for what is necessary, only what is profitable. Please don't conflate the two.

The theoretical underpinnings of the market are also highly dbious. Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations makes the general argument that the invisible hand of the market is guided by individual actors pursuing their own self-interest. Since when was the average consumer rational when it comes to their own self-interest?

Moreover, American technical innovation has often come from government funded projects at the university level. Observe that the Manhattan Project produced one of the most technologically advanced feats in a short period of time and was funded by government money. American research institutions have the capacity and educated personnel to carry on this kind of research.

Your argument implies that the corporate sector is better equipped to carry out technical innovation, but experimenting with drastically new technologies is generally considered to be "not a safe investment," which is why corporations have their engineers tweak and refine existing technology developed in the university laborotories. A good example of this is that in Japan, most engineering is done at the corporation level. Japanese companies typically take American technology and refine it, making excellent cars and computer products. But of course, computers and the internet were developed by an amalgam of American universities which received government funding.

A better strategy for the administration would be to heavily invest in university level funding to come up with drastically new technologies, and then once developed, challenge corporations to integrate them into their existing technological framework.

And even if you don't buy all of that, extra funding for universities can't hurt, especially since, according to you, the private sector will pursue new technolgies anyway.

Don't make excuses for blatant lying, please. Sustainable resources are more important than partisan posturing by an administration with an overt hostility to academia.

Posted by: American in Osaka on February 8, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Well, we have nailed it finally, we agree. The government must do the research on stuff we do not want or need."

- Matt

No, you don't discern between long term and short term interest/needs. Moreover, you don't discern between macrocosmic and microcosmic interest/needs. Sure, gas in the short term makes more sense to your average middle-class American with a myopic worldview. But, in the long term oil resources harm the environment and engage the United States with hostile regimes and force a foreign policy based around securing resources (this isn't OMG BLOOD FOR OIL, the US is self-interested and should do what it needs to to secure necessary resources).

Because the market is driven by consumers who can't negotiate or distinguish between long and short term (proof: Americans have the lowest savings rate in the world), government intervention becomes necessary.

Here's a brain-teaser for you market oriented classical economic liberals:

Japan has the lowest rating of income disparity. The number of individuals living below the poverty line is statistically insignificant. Equal access to education is phenomenally high. The government intervenes in health care and economic development.

Your move.

Posted by: American in Osaka on February 8, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Just how "profitable" do we suppose that the major oil companies (yes, I know it's not the only fossil fuel) would be without all their direct (tax breaks) and indirect (US Dept of Defense) subsidies?

Can you say "penny stocks"?

Posted by: kenga on February 8, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

I have to admit - I'm kind of shocked.

This Arvizu may actually be competent and suited professionally to his position.

http://www.nrel.gov/director/

Posted by: kenga on February 8, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The Fake Al strikes again!

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 8, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Bah. Remember--the internet to which you are posting wouldn't exist if it weren't for DARPA. There would be a bunch of private, incompatible networks all about selling shit and creating "branded user experiences" etc. all controlled by marketroids. The more short-sighted ones are still trying to rip it apart and take it over to this day. Of course the internet could only take off exponentially once the private sector got to run with it, but that was after the basic DNA of interoperability and open network standards was established.

Oh, and on a kind of low-tech note, most of the "green revolution" (the growing more food kind, not the more recent eco kind) came out of ag departments and cooperative extensions. That affects everyone on the planet--nobody's starved because we couldn't grow enough food for decades (people have starved for other reasons of course.) We can argue about whether the first green revolution was green in the second sense, but that's another issue entirely (and one that big private ag cares not a whit about, except in their PR stance.)

Posted by: me2i81 on February 8, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Bah. Remember--the internet to which you are posting wouldn't exist if it weren't for DARPA.
Posted by: me2i81

Idiot conservatives (as if there were any other kind) and libertarians (whatever the hell they are) hate the government and hate taxes, but the always seem to forget the first "super highway" was also built by the nasty old federal government. One of government's primary functions is to build and maintain infrastructure. I sure don't want something like that done by profit driven corporations.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 8, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II,

Why would any profit driven operation attempt to compete with a "free" highway. It very well may the fact that, without government, the highway system would not have been built, however it is not the case that it could not be done (private contracters actually did build most of it, but served the client of government), only that it might be the market would not have supported one.

I have always thought it ironic that you and others like to point to the highway system as a proof that government must do some things, yet the highway system is often held up as an example, by the very same people in many cases, as an example of a very bad thing.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 8, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Private Army.? Why not they could do a much better job than Bushco.But a two year old could do better.

Posted by: a poor Iraqi on February 8, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

"I could go on, but let me just say that 90% of what you consume probably comes from private research and development, even though 2o% of what you earn goes to the federal government."

So, 10% of what we consume comes from public R&D, and far far less than 10% of what we earn goes to public R&D? Which side are you arguing on?

Posted by: jefff on February 8, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Twenty-seven are regular staff, and five are temporary employees. Of the 32, eight were research staff and 24 worked in support positions."

The NREL has well over a thousand employees, and a budget of over $200 million. Based on this, I don't think they're going to be folding up any time soon.

More information on the Department of Energy and the new budget here.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 8, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

New staff will be hired to develop faith based alternate fuels.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 8, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

There are three words that sum up the Bush Administration, in my mind: Talk is cheap!

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on February 8, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

This should be a primary point of contention by Democrats in the upcoming elections.

Even as Bush is saying in the State of the Union we must end our oil addiction, and invest in alternative energy, he is laying off a good portion of the DOE's renewable energy professionals.

Bush is a liar.

He says one thing, and does another.

There are dozens of other examples, and they should all be put together on a postcard and emphasized in cogent 30 and 60 second spots, with the further emphasis that the Republican Congress just goes along with it, time after time, always giving in to Karl Rove's hardball.

Do congressional Republicans represent their consitutients, or are they dependent on big checks from Rove and his army of special interests.

Perhaps even mention that if you have a nephew who can't seem to hold a job, just write Bush a big campaign check and before you know it your nephew will have a cushy job in the Bush Administration.

Posted by: Jimm on February 8, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

You know, Bush has to contend with the likes of Kevin Drum and company when they propose to purchase more Saudi oil to subsidize their inefficient energy schemes, mandated by government.

You wanna pay for an extra barrel of Saudi oil to support a solar system that is not cost effective? You wanna buy an extra barrel of Saudi oil to support a switchgrass harvest that is not cost effective? How much Saudi oil did we poour into synfuels?

There is a simple rule, if it is not cost effective against Saudi oil, then, no doubt, it causes more energy dependence, not less.


Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

There was something that came out of goverment research during the moon shot days - Can't recall what ever happened to the "microchip" - Did it ever have a future, anyone? Did it ever really change anything of note?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 8, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

You energy independence folks might consider why the oil is flowing to China, the U.S. and Western Europe; rather than Tasmania. I think because we are more efficient at using oil than Tasmania. So the world economy conspires to put people and oil where it is most efficiently used.

So, you say, if we make the economy more efficient what happens? If we raise the MPG on our cars by 50%, what happens? We import more people and more oil because we are more efficient, not less. If you really want to eliminate dependence on Saudi oil, try this: make everyone drive 1952 Plymouths. Do that and much less oil flows this way.

What about China? Well their oil dependence resuts because they can efficiently produce goods with less oil then their competitiors.

Let us say we found renewable sources that provide half our current energy. What happens? We import more Saudi Oil, not less, because the world will flood us with workers and demand we manufacture less, not more, with our new found efficiency.

Anything that makes your consumption of natural resources more efficient, not less, will increase your consumption of natural resources, (relative to your economic competition) not decrease it. Given a stable world population, a more efficient economy will just suck the other economies dry, China being the example.

Try this. Take half of everyone's paycheck and fund energy research. Within a few months you will be energy independent without even inventing a thing.

You are stuck.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Switchgrass - "they say" it is cheaper to turn into ethanol than corn - how true? Is there any good in it? Would hemp-oil diesel be cheaper and better?

Posted by: Neil' on February 8, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Don't know whether the hemp-oil diesel would be cheaper, but it could give the driver a temporary high and make the drive so much more golden.

Posted by: stupid git on February 8, 2006 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon mark, for all we know Kevin lounges around his house all day in his pajamas. I would guess his oil and energy usage is on the low side, perhaps even in the sustainable range. I'm pretty sure he's not driving around the OC in a Hummer aimlessly blasting Too Short and ogling girls.

Posted by: Jimm on February 8, 2006 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

Sweden's aiming to have a 100% oil-free economy by 2020. Maybe the sacked workers could find work there - where, apparently, the government is doing more than making meaningless speeches...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4694152.stm

Posted by: floopmeister on February 8, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Bart Simpson: "I did't do it."

George Dubya: "I did't mean it literally."

Posted by: ben on February 8, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Because research in cutting use of oil is best done in the private sector. The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job. --Al

DARPA has done fairly well with things like the Internet, and right-vision goggles, and stealth technology. Then there was the Manhattan project, going to the moon, and all the university research labs with federal funding. All in all, the feds have a decent record in groundbreaking research.

Posted by: anandine on February 8, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Switchgrass - "they say" it is cheaper to turn into ethanol than corn - how true? Is there any good in it? Would hemp-oil diesel be cheaper and better?
Posted by: Neil'

Hemp pulp also makes better paper and is a suitable substitute for cotton fiber. One time is was the largest cash crop in the U.S.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 8, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

There was something that came out of goverment research during the moon shot days - Can't recall what ever happened to the "microchip" - Did it ever have a future, anyone? Did it ever really change anything of note?

Most of the history of the microprocessor is commercial. The last landings on the Moon were already taking place at around the same time that Texas Instruments and Intel were building the first microprocessors.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 8, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, the Sweeds, here is their plan:

*Large-scale investments in renewable energy and in research.

It is going to take a lot of Saudi Oil to fuel this research effort, if it is as big as they say. After all the effort is used up, what proof do they have that the result will be more energy efficient?

*Expansion of district heating initiatives (co-gen and use of waste industrial and utility heat for domestic needs) as was done famously in Denmark, and emulated in the US in a few rare instances. "

Maybe a good idea, depends on how much energy is needed to move plants and build infrastructure. Remember, right now the plants are sited for maximum efficiency, if economic laws are correct.

*Not subjecting fuel that is free of carbon dioxide to the energy tax or the carbon dioxide emission tax."

This is a bad idea. Making oil use more inefficient by taxing it implies the alternative uses must be subsidized and are not therefore economically efficient.

*Exempting efficient vehicles from the congestion tax that will be introduced in Stockholm in January."

What is an efficient vehicle, when Saudi oil still remains the most efficient source of energy?

*Taxes on energy and on carbon dioxide emissions were raised, while other taxes, such as those on payroll were decreased by an equivalent amount."

Taxes on energy may be a good thing, but taxing a particular energy because it is the most efficient source of energy is bad.

Sweden is stuck, just like us. They can use energy less efficiently, disparaging Saudi oil through taxes. In a free market, the natural tendency is to use resources efficiently. Taxing one efficient form of energy in favor of a less efficient form of energy does not cut the mustard.

Energy independenc advocates need to identify hidden costs that prove their case for a resource switch, hidden costs that are not calculated in the free market.

This is why they need global warming or economic monopolies. They need a hidden inefficiency, one not represented in the economy to justify what they do.


Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Not subjecting fuel that is free of carbon dioxide to the energy tax or the carbon dioxide emission tax."

This is a bad idea. Making oil use more inefficient by taxing it implies the alternative uses must be subsidized and are not therefore economically efficient.

Oh, and heaven forbid we upset the God of Economic Efficiency.

Taxes on energy may be a good thing, but taxing a particular energy because it is the most efficient source of energy is bad.

Until we run out of it, of course. It ain't so efficient when you don't have any.

Is this really so hard to understand?

This is why they need global warming or economic monopolies. They need a hidden inefficiency, one not represented in the economy to justify what they do.

No, it's called the Public Good. Call that a hidden efficiency, if you will.

Posted by: floopmeister on February 8, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Rocket Man,

"the last landings on the moon were taking place"

Have to help out my buddy, ttp, by stating that Jack Kirby of Texas Instruments, working on the Micro-Module Program, funded by the US Army Signal Corps, first successfully demonstrated the microchip on September 12, 1958. Commercial industry passed, but the US Air Force used this for their first computer in 196l. The system was used in the Atlas and other rockets, including the Minute Men programs. Without this system, they moon shots would not been feasible because of the weight problems of the transistors. The system allowed space flights, the flight to the moon, medical diagnotic machines and have been invaluable to industry.

The chip and the systems were developed prior to the moon landings, not either while or later. They, of course, have been modernized, but the development, paid largely by government money to Texas Instruments, is perhaps the greatest event in the 20th Century.

Posted by: stupid git on February 8, 2006 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

Al:
Because research in cutting use of oil is best done in the private sector. The government is inefficient and does a horrible job of finding groundbreaking research unlike the private sector which does a great job. Laying off people will allow us to cut taxes which the private sector will use to put more money into research for alternative energy.
--

Can someone please... please, please, please put this SOB Bushbot Al in the passenger seat of a Iraqi suicide car bomber.

Th private sector does a great job of groundbreaking research? I would love to strangle this Al bastard with my bare hands. Private companies have been cutting and getting rid of all research and development funds and people since Reagan. Basically, in machine design and industrial development... it doesn't exist.

American patents have been in a fast decline. Research to American industry is when you purchase some crapola product from China and marketing asks you to figure out how to copy it or label it with your companty logo.

Without government funding and interest... what is left of academia, research, and development would die quicker than Al in the suicide car.

FU Al. You are so ignorant.

Posted by: Jay in Oregon on February 8, 2006 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

git:

The problem may be in the definitions of "microchip" vs. "microprocessor," and looking back at the original post, he did say "microchip," so I stand corrected on my dates. Still stand my my assessment that the vast majority of progress in this field has been driven by private research and development.

More on Jack here.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 8, 2006 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Do not despair, read this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/crossing_continents/4693600.stm

Posted by: contentious on February 9, 2006 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

super star
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pic, song, star, actress, actor

Posted by: 343sdfsd on February 9, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Switchgrass - "they say" it is cheaper to turn into ethanol than corn - how true? Is there any good in it? Would hemp-oil diesel be cheaper and better?

bio diesel would be cheaper and better in everyway. Hemp-oil would just be the smartest way to go about it.

Posted by: Edo on February 9, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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