Friday, July 11, 2008

Fuck it, I'm voting for T. Boone.

There's an old military axiom that a good plan executed well immediately is better then a perfect plan finished too late. That is true in many areas, and one of our huge national problems today is we have far too many people who want the perfect plan instead of compromising on what is reasonable. Being environmentally responsible and making a profit are not mutually exclusive -- we can exploit our resources rationally. It may mean companies can't make as much money in absolute terms, and it may mean some rare species are allowed to go extinct -- rather then trying to maximize profits or environment, we should grab the big middle ground and progress as a society.

That's the moonshot folks.

In a paragraph:

Let's build a line of windmills across the high great plains that is capable of generating 20% of our nation's electrical need, and take the natural gas now providing that 20% of our electricity and instead use it to power our cars. And have it completed in 10 years.

Ok, yes part of it is T. Boone Pickens wants his tax breaks...and no tax breaks are not good public policy. They interfere with the market in many ways, often unexpectedly and unplanned.

But the government does have a critical, and important, role to play in big infrastructure projects. Ranging from emminent domain powers to build public utility works like power transmission lines, to fast tracking regulatory approvals of new car models using CNG.

I'm an unrepentant supporter of nuclear, but with the combination of high plains winds and the long distance capability of High Voltage DC transmission which can get power to either coast I think you can see wind take over 20% of our energy needs sooner then nuclear could double to 40%. Their environmental footprint is relatively small -- you can still farm and ranch around them for the most part, and certainly they don't pave over large blocks of land like some of the recent solar proposals do.

Other parts of a new energy plan -- from conservation, to plugin hybrids, to domestic oil drilling are important too. Renovation, expansion, and electrification of our railroad network is another big and worthwhile project. Expand nuclear too, selling the coal saved to China, a nation that uses twice as much coal as we do and has only one quarter as much in the ground.

But this is the single, simple, big, bold plan that's both transformative and will goose American manufacturing like nothing we've seen in years. The boom of Reagan's military build up comes to mind, but military spending doesn't leave a lasting economic improvement -- this does by reducing our trade deficit. Suddenly several hundred billion dollars a year going to third world dictators instead is paying wages to Americans in good paying jobs...who in turn are spending it in this nation and saving and investing it too.

It doesn't need government to run the program or finance it. But it does need government help to overcome obstacles, and to make sure regulatory approvals are done fairly but quickly. No matter your politics, this is needed and needed yesterday -- for the economics of it, for the confidence in our future it would suddenly give people, for the tax revenue that's needed to pay down the debt and to pay for future government programs.

Commit to projects like this and rebuilding the railroads on a timeline of 10 years or less and watch a lot of today's market troubles disappear in a few weeks. You hear the President always give the State of Union as, "strong." And truly it is, despite our momentary gloom from time to time. No nation matches us in the combined quality and quantity of agricultural land, our fresh water supplies are inexhaustible, no one has more coal, we have large reserves of natural gas, and new discoveries of fossil and non-fossil fuels like methane hydrate are likely in the coming years. The incredible richness of our lands that we've enjoyed and that have built this nation remain very rich. There are reasons for our malaise today, but there is no reason to be pessimistic about the future.

It's the moonshot. And it's time we start the countdown.

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