Friday, June 27, 2008

Heller's Provincialism Shines Through: Rural NV Rep. votes against public transportation

Cross posted at Desert Beacon

Representative Dean Heller (R-NV2) was the only member of the Nevada congressional delegation to vote against H.R. 6052, the “Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, on June 26th. [vote 467] H.R. 6052 is a straight-forward enough bill, providing funding for public transportation authorities to receive grants for expanding and improving their services, or to reduce fares for their riders.

The Los Angeles Times reported that public transit systems recorded their highest ridership levels in the last 50 years, and during the first quarter of 2008 ridership on light rail increased 10% while vehicle miles traveled decreased 2.3%. The American Public Transport Association reports that Last year 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation – the highest number of trips taken in fifty years. In the first quarter of 2008, public transportation continued to climb and rose by 3.4 percent. [APTA]

“Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) complained that his constituents not only must pay higher gas prices, "but now they have to subsidize people in big cities with the luxury of access to public transportation." [LAT] Evidently, it hasn’t occurred to Rep. Lucas that if more people in urban areas use less gasoline, the demand drops and by the free market standards he claims to uphold – if demand drops so do the prices.

Increasing the use of “the luxury” of public transportation (Perhaps Rep. Lucas hasn’t been on the Metro, MARTA, BART, or the T during rush hour?) also has the salutary effect of diminishing green house gas emissions. But, then, Rep. Lucas is from Oklahoma where global warming is a giant hoax. Unfortunately, it is with this kind of parochial provincialism that Representative Heller has chosen to associate himself. Perhaps it didn’t occur to Representative Heller, as it did to Representatives Berkley (D-NV1) and Porter (R-NV2) that a gallon of gas saved in Las Vegas or Reno (or Boston, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta) might be a gallon of gas just slightly cheaper in Winnemucca, Lovelock, and Elko?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Heller says no silver bullets, fires blanks at energy issues

Cross posted at Desert Beacon

The Republican befuddlement over energy policies to address the current spike in gasoline prices and the need to devise a rational nationwide energy policy were never more evident than in Congressman Dean Heller’s (R-NV2) in a conference call with reporters. [EDFP]

Attempts to solve the overall problem included in the recently passed Energy and Job Creation Act met with Heller’s disdain: “It goes to show who controls this place now. The environmentalists that Congress has sold out to ... trial lawyers and big labor,” Heller said. “That is why you are seeing tax credits for trial lawyers in energy bills.” [EDFP] One should give Heller credit for cramming all three of the Grand Oil Party’s traditional boogey-men into the same sentence; however, the Representative provides no substantiation for their involvement in the current price spikes at the pump.

The 2nd District Representative calls for an investigation into whether there has been market manipulation with oil futures and brags that he is asking for a hearing on this topic. How this hearing would add more information to the discussion than that already gleaned from the Senate Commerce Committee’s session on the subject early this month isn’t clear; or, for that matter, from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s investigation into the self-same subject. [CNN] Nor is it clear how Representative Heller missed the fact that there is already a bill (H.R. 6238) sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell on the subject, co-sponsored by the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). [ECcom]

Heller also boasts of writing to House leadership asking about an energy plan calling for more drilling and the construction or expansion of more refineries to depress prices in the long run; and, then inexplicably adds “I’m concerned if we don’t do something quickly we will see $5 or $6 gasoline.”

Congressman Heller has probably long since sold his Economics 101 text, but might be well advised to review the basics, like “equilibrium pricing,” and “economic incentives.” If the Congressman adheres to the basic free market tenet that an economic entity will act in ways to best secure its profitability, then the present lack of drilling development and refinery capacity should make perfect sense. When prices are high there is no economic incentive to increase supply.

The solutions Congressman Heller is setting forth actually aren’t in the best economic interests of the oil corporations he seeks to support. As noted in a previous post the oil giants could have increased their refinery and drilling operations at any time, but chose not to do so, thus increasing the price of their products and thereby the profitability of their companies.

This is partially evident when it is considered that the Bush Administration’s leasing of oil and gas fields has out-stripped the industry’s ability or interest in terms of drilling. Oil and gas industry corporations have leases on about 44 million acres of public land in the Rocky Mountain region, but have developed only about 10 million to date. Prices for gasoline have not dropped in spite of the fact that according to the Baker Hughes Rig Count the U.S. has 1,901 rigs operating in the U.S. compared to 1,305 on the remainder of our entire planet. Since taking office in January 2001 the Bush Administration has issued leases for over 26 million acres of on-shore public lands. [WSpress]

There also appears to be some confusion about what might be done and what can be done. Some of the oil shale operations mentioned by the President haven’t begun because the technology isn’t in place: “Government regulations do not prohibit development of this potential resource, technological feasibility does. Current federal policy supports a robust oil shale research and development program on federal lands managed by the BLM. However, despite a significant investment, industry admits they are a decade or more away from establishing the economic viability, technical efficiency, and environmental performance of the technologies. Even Shell admits its new technology remains many years away from viability.” [WS Press Release June 18, 2008]

The hard fact is that the United States has 3% of the world’s oil resources but consumes 25% of the planet’s oil production. Drilling every possible acre and refining every possible domestically produced gallon won’t alter this simple fact of life – Representative Heller’s standard “enviro-bashing” talking points notwithstanding.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Heller makes noise, other members of Congress address oil price manipulation

Cross posted at Desert Beacon

Representative Dean Heller (R-NV2) would have us believe that he “can do little more than make noise about gas prices.” [RGJ] He’s managed the noise part, first writing provocative epistles to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (hardly a format designed to enhance his reputation for working across the aisle to find solutions), authoring a going-nowhere ‘demand’ for an energy “plan,” and finally asking the Financial Services Committee to hold hearings on price manipulation and speculation.

Perhaps Representative Heller didn’t get the memo: There have already been hearings concerning price manipulation and speculation, in both houses of Congress.

On the House side - Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) said that his U.S. House Energy Oversight Committee’s investigation [CNN] hasn’t uncovered illegal practices in oil and gas trading, but that loopholes in current statutes were allowing the biggest traders to ‘game the system.’ Stupak’s committee will hold a second hearing to announce the results of the entire investigation on June 23rd. [CNN]

On the Senate side - Senator Maria Cantwell chaired a Senate Commerce Committee hearing [McClatchy] (D-WA) on the subject, and is pressing both the FTC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to more closely regulate oil and commodity markets, and wants the FTC to issue an interim rule under the provisions of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act while the agency completes its ‘formal regulatory rule making process.’ Cantwell is also calling for the CFTC to revoke its ‘no action’ letters issued by its staff that allow electronic exchanges outside U.S. borders to continue trading West Texas Intermediate crude and related commodities. The Washington Senator and 20 other colleagues wrote to the CFTC on May 23rd demanding the revocation of those “no-action” letters. [OGJ] This exchange prompted the CFTC to admit that it had been ‘investigating’ the trading policies and practices in London (ICE) and Dubai since last December.

Representative Heller also voted against legislation seeking to ameliorate the current situation.

Concerning the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, (H.R. 6) cited by Senator Cantwell as offering a means to allow the FTC to address the issues immediately under its interim rule making provisions, Representative Heller voted as follows: [GovTrack]

(1) On consideration of H.R. 6, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: NO (vote 37) January 18, 2007.
(2) On a motion to recommit the bill (to kill it) YES (vote 38) January 18, 2007.
(3) On an appeal of the ruling of the chair (‘yes would sustain the measure) NO (vote 39) January 18, 2007.
(4) On final passage of the bill NO (vote 40) January 18, 2007.
(5) On agreeing to Senate Amendments NO (vote 1140) December 6, 2007.
(6) On agreeing to Senate Amendments NO (vote 1177) December 18, 2007. Representative Heller was the only member of the Nevada delegation to vote against the final passage of the bill as amended.

Thus do we see the difference between making noise and being a ‘grown up’ member of Congress?