Energy Policy and Alternative Fuels

When President Bush asserted that the United States was “addicted to oil” in his most recent State of the Union speech, it took many by surprise.  Given the fact that he was a former oil company executive, had close ties to the energy industry, and essentially ignored energy policy during the first term of his presidency, it was notable that he would frame the policy issue in the lexicon of “addiciton”–a characterization more in line with environmental critics.

Today, the Wall Street Journal discusses the status of Bush’s energy policymaking more than 6 months later.  In the weeks after his State of the Union remarks, Bush trumpeted the possibility of the bio-fuel, ethanol, as being an alternative to oil.  The article does a good job dicussing the numerous challenges in such an approach: lagging distribution systems, and the relative poor efficiency of ethanol as compared to gasoline.  There are other challenges, as well, with ethanol, particularly the large governmental subsidies that currently go to agribusinesses that produce the base material for the fuel.

Similarly, there is a crucial contradiction relating to ethanol in our national energy policy: if it is such an attractive replacement, why do we continue to levy tariffs on imports from our allies and trading partners who want to export the fuel to the United States?

The New York Times has a story today on the social impact of current energy policies that serves as a good companion to the WSJ piece.  The article discusses how people are coping with rising gas prices.  Generally when prices rise for a good, it is expected that demand drops.  A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center indicated that people lower income groups have reported changing their behavior in the face of rising gas prices by carpooling, making fewer trips, taking public transit, etc..  But, overall, there has been a rise in consumption.

This suggests that individuals and businesses that are more prosperous may be in a better position to withstand price fluctuations.  It will be interesting to see how this progresses in the wake of the closure of BP’s Prudhoe Bay pipeline which will decrease the amount of domestic oil produced in Alaska.

Animals in the Suburbs

When city zoning became formalized in North America during the first decades of the twentieth century, one of the first things many cities and suburbs began to regulate was the presence of livestock and farm animals.

While animals have been part of the urban landscape for centuries, aesthetic and health concerns accompanying industrialization caused cities to question the advantages of hosting certain types of animals. Livestock had provided urban dwellers with important nutritional supplements but with industrialization, the argument went, people no longer had to rely on their own husbandry for protien. They could simply buy their food in markets.

Recently, however, people are beginning to question the wisdom of these zoning codes–although, not without intense political argument.

The Chicago Tribune reports today about a battle brewing in the exclusive suburb of Lake Forest pitting the ex-wife of the heir to the Walgreens drugstore chain against her neighbors. Estelle Walgreen apparently is fond of pot-bellied pigs and keeps several as pets over the objection of her neighbors. The article implies that Lake Forest has an ordinance prohibiting farm animals, but Walgreen did not feel that it applied to her pot-bellied since they are pets–not meat. The city council did not buy her argument and has voted to have them removed.

Evanston is also in the midst of a controversy on the appropriateness of beekeeping in the suburb. In this case a teenager developed an interest in apiculture and installed a honeybee hive over neighbors’ objections. The city has an ordinance relating to animals–but not insects. After several weeks of debate, the city is still weighing its options.

Evanston may be more sympathetic to urban beekeeping as there has been a significant trend in recent years to encourage ecologically-friendly activities in urban and suburban settings and Evanston has recently adopted a strategic plan that encompasses sustainability.

The outcome of the bee controversy may be an indicator of the city’s committment to sustainable policies.