May 18, 2006

"Kick the Oil Habit" on CNN Larry King Live

The Center for American Progress Action Fund has mounted a "grass roots" campaign to deluge the oil companies with emails in support of installing more E85 pumps throughout the country. Their website for the Kick the Oil Habit campaign features an automated email form for blasting your opinion to the oil companies:

Tell ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Valero, and ConocoPhillips to double the number of E85 pumps over the next year and provide E85 at half of all gas stations within a decade.

Actor Robert Redford appeared on Larry King Live May 17th to draw attention to the campaign. In turn, Larry King hosted a panel exchange between the CEO of Chevron, David O'Reilly (see their Will You Join Us? Campaign), Richard Branson, and several key legislators.

The brief excerpt below from the lengthy transcript is by Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group:


A Lively Discussion on Rising Oil Prices

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, why are gas prices skyrocketing? How high will they go? We'll ask Robert Redford, the legendary actor and filmmaker, also an environmental activist who's advocated alternative energy for decades. Plus, a primetime exclusive, David O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO of energy giant Chevron, who enjoyed huge first quarter profits. He'll tell us how the price at the pump is set.

And then some heated debate over gas prices and America's energy future with Sir Richard Branson, and more.

BRANSON: What we need is something called cellulose ethanol, which is basically enzymes which will break down the waste products in the fields that currently gets burnt off. And there's enough waste product in the world to replace our energy needs completely.

The great thing about cellulose ethanol is that it's 100 percent environmental friendly. But what cellulose ethanol needs is government support, because at the moment it's more expensive to produce and it needs a lot of investment by government in getting the enzymes right so that it can be produced. If it can be produced, I think that is the exciting future and hopefully in the next handful of years, there will be big break throughs with the enzymes.

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corndog said...

I don't understand why we have to petition oil companies to help with ethanol. The overwhelming majority of the distribution controlled by oil companies is pipeline distribution, their trucking is done almost exclusively by independents.

It looks to me like ethanol distribution already has a network, and it is outside the oil company sphere. Both destributors in Virginia are ethanol-only distributors. If the oil companies see no money in ethanol, fine, I say let them remain asleep.

I find it ironic that outfits like this one, affiliated with, would WANT the oil companies to have a piece of the action. Why does the enemy always have to be big business? Retailers are going to decide whether they can make money or not with ethanol, and the oil companies cannot legally prohibit any of their retailers from selling ethanol.

Personally, I believe that what we are trying to achieve can operate quite a bit better without asking a potential competitor to join in.

The second thrust of KICK THE OIL HABIT has to do with petitioning CONGRESS to force ethanol availability. This is ludicrous. There is not enough demand to make these pumps profitable, and as soon as there are enough flex-fuelers out there, trust me, there will be money to be made and no one will have to FORCE anyone to put in an E85 pump. I'm afraid these anti-business zealots are going to muck things up by moving too fast when JUST A LITTLE BIT OF PATIENCE would be prudent.

What do you think, Scott?

C. Scott Miller said...

As you wish, corndog...

I have been working with my cellulosic ethanol/conversion technology contacts here in Southern Caifornia for over 3 years. The R&D is great, emissions reports fantastic, the commercial scale-up design has been worked out, the public is clamoring for anything that will reduce our dependence on gas, progressive environmentalists recognize the benefits - reducing pollution and landfills - to our super-consumer culture. We even have a 20-year plan for implementation in Los Angeles - RENEW LA. So what is the problem?

Key legislators (at least in California) are NOT voting to upgrade regulations and legislation that would permit, much less provide diversion credits for, building biorefineries that employ bioconversion technologies. Not only that, they have engaged in bad faith negotiations, they have completely ignored the positive study findings ($1.5 million of public money) of objective utility agencies of Los Angeles Co. and the will of most local communities, they have ignored positive emission studies. They have even ignored the obvious windfall in tax income should venture capitalists achieve in energy what they have achieved in computers and the internet - invest in bleeding edge technology. In short, California legislators have not only shone no vision or leadership, they have actively supported the opposition. Smells like corruption to me.

A grass roots uprising and vote appears to be the only way to change the dynamic in the legislature. Even if I disagree with a particular solution - like "Kick the Habit" or the Californians for Clean Energy campaign - it is time for the "grass roots" to "shake the tree." Change is in the air.

One more mistake by oil producers, refineries, and distributors and no one will ever trust them again, especially during wartime when we need their patriotism most. How long can these behemoths last with a negative image?

I am reminded of Lily Tomlin's operator routine, "We don't care. We're the phone company - we don't have to." An energy industry that fails to build one refinery in 30 years, thereby jeopardizing supply to their own benefit is beyond PATIENCE - prudent or not. They haven't learned anything about P.R. since before Exxon Valdez.

I used to work with Unocal, Getty, Conoco, and Arco. They look more and more like dinosaurs to me - eating each other and devouring the public that has fed them for so long. They need a rude awakening. They should lead the next energy paradigm shift, because it would be good for their shareholders if they did.

I understand your position - government involvement is largely counter-productive unless it is in the tax credit or regulations arenas. Punitive measures - new taxes, fines, and levies - don't solve anything. Supporting innovation through tax credits and funding guarantees seems more prudent.

Pushing E85 pumps into gas stations won't work without compatible vehicles. That's why I think the most obvious course for them would be to pass legislation mandating flex-fuel compatibility for all new cars and pick-ups by the 2009 model year. GM and Ford appear to be well on their way. No cost impact to the consumer or manufacturers and an inducement for enterprising distributors to capitalize on selling competitive blends as they become available. As we hear more and more often - Brazil did it, why not US.

corndog said...

Somehow, you Californians will have to vote the obstructors out. I sense there has been a general anti-construction attitude in Cal for some time, perhaps in time you will.

I'm so glad to hear that the cellulosic process has been studied there, and is still promising. Next you say, time to mandate flex-fuelers. I sense GM and Ford would not resist such an edict. When enough Californians are actually DRIVING flex-fuelers, and understand what's at stake, they will vote the obstructors out, no doubt.

Virginia has two bio-diesel plants, no one producting ethanol at this time, but I'm hearing rumors. I don't suspect that we will encounter the same anti-construction bias in our legislature, we'll see.

C. Scott Miller said...

I think GM and Ford are banking on getting capturing the P.R. benefit from leading in the adoption of flex-fuel technology across their product lines. That and, cynically, the fact that selling more gas efficient vehicles allows them to sell more gas-guzzlers. A state or government mandate supporting flex-fuel implementation might actually hurt them because it would force their competition to nullify their temporary advantage.

Everyone in California calls themselves a "green" environmentalist. They just define it differently. It is insideous how often the "green" card is pulled to obstruct progress - even in the face of overwhelming evidence that pro-active policies will benefit life quality across the board.

Just so you know, solutions-oriented Ed Begley Jr. endorses the kind of conversion technologies I support. As a visible green celebrity, he has massive grass-roots credibility and appeal.

corndog said...

Well yes, I agree. GM exists to make a profit. They will have an advantage for years to come in flex-fuel tech because of the fact that Asian manufacturers use a lot of rubber o-rings and steel components in their fuel delivery systems and gas tanks which will require a complete redesign to become flex-fuel capable. This is why Toyota just announced that it will be 2008 before they can produce anything flex-fuel capable, and begged for legislation which would foster E-10 instead of E-85. The asians have staked their future on hybrids, and because this has been the favorite of the media and a good portion of consumers, they have the billions required to change course, but who picked the winner here?

I suppose that remains to be seen.

You apparently occupy the same pragmatic "middle ground" that I do. As you point out, the "green card" is mis-used consistently. I harbor some faith and hope that this issue, the issue of renewables and their relationship to security AND environmental concerns, can unite the two juxtaposed ideologies. I hope I'm not dreaming. As you probably have surmised, I come at this issue from a rightward lean, and I have given the enviros the benefit of the doubt, I think, in that I have embraced the renewable revolution as the most prudent course, but only because they have succeeded in eliminating petroleum from the equation.

Ed Begley? Wow. I'll have to get used to that, but on this issue, I'm with him. See what I mean?