Better World Club

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Instead of Tossing More Money at the Detroit 3, the Government Should Help You Trade in that '94 Mercury Sable

They Might Also Want to do Something About that '90s Hairdo of Yours

We opined in last month's 'Kicking Asphalt' that instead of dumping truckloads of money on the doorsteps of the Detroit automakers, the government should use the money to guarantee auto warranties for US consumers.

When the Obama Administration included this idea in its effort to help the U.S. auto industry, Obama's political opposition caricatured the idea as putting the government in the auto business. This is silly. As we argued, its real purpose is to facilitate bankruptcy, likely the only answer for the industry.

Sure enough, GM just announced that it was preparing itself for bankruptcy.

OK, Obama Administration, as you appear to be listening, here's another idea: incent consumers to trade in their old, gas-guzzling cars for new, more fuel-efficient models*.

This is not a new idea, but Americans have been slow to consider this progressive automotive policy (a far too common occurrence in the US). Similar policies have been enacted or are being considered in Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and South Korea. The program in Germany caused new car sales to immediately jump 21 percent.

There are several versions of this plan being considered by Congress. Here's how one representative plan would work: consumers would receive vouchers for vehicles at least nine years old. In this scenario, the vouchers could well be worth more than the current value of their vehicles. The consumer could then use a voucher worth $4,000-$5,000 as a down payment on a new car for $20,000.

It is estimated that this proposal could sell an additional 2.5 million new cars if only 2 percent of eligible vehicles were traded in. This could go a long way toward preserving jobs and keeping the US auto industry in the black.

Reviving the auto industry is a critical goal of this proposal, but it should accomplish much more: greater oil independence and lower carbon emissions. Of course, this assumes that the voucher is only available for new cars that attain a certain level of fuel efficiency.

The faster we can adapt to new technology, the faster we can make progress. The most fuel inefficient, most polluting cars tend to be older - and we will only make limited progress in fighting global warming and oil dependence while these cars remain on the road.

So, how about it, President Obama? BWC is not against federal assistance to the auto industry in principle, but the assistance has to be shaped to be as publicly interested as possible. The right kind of vouchers to get older cars off the road should be included.

*This idea can also work in other areas, though we don't recommend using it to trade in your old, inefficient spouse.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Washington D.C. -

Isn't Something Happening There Soon? Wait, Don't Tell Me...

Oh right, on January 20th, some 4,000,000 people are expected to converge on Washington, D.C. to experience and celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama. If you don't already have reservations in hand, you still have a shot at being able to join in the revelry. Consult the city's tourism website, Destination DC and the Presidential Inauguration Committee's website. There is lodging available for next week on Craig's List, although we obviously don't vouch for their style.

If you can't make it - not to worry. D.C. has become (while no one was watching) an exciting, vibrant city that's eager to entertain you night and day, no matter when you choose to visit:

Donovan House - Hotel
For proof that D.C. really is on the fast track to trendiness, just look at Thomas Circle and the Donovan House hotel holding court there. This Thompson Hotels Group property positively oozes coolness, from leather-wrapped beds (you've always said you're into leather), pod-like chairs, and cocoon spiral showers in the guest rooms to the swanky rooftop bar and lounge. The cutting-edge design lures a fashion-forward crowd to match. Deluxe rooms: $300-$400.

Hay-Adams - Hotel
You can teach an old horse new tricks. The classic D.C. hotel just across Lafayette Square from the White House has become a shining example of environmentally friendly standards. From recycling to serving organic food to sourcing one-quarter of its electric power from renewable resources, the hotel shows a decided effort to minimize its carbon footprint. The bonus? The hotel hasn't sacrificed one bit on luxury or comfort to do so. Deluxe rooms: $400 and up.

Newseum - Unique Museum
OK, you're under 30 and won't even read the newspaper on your computer? How about if we gave you one on a 700 foot screen? Play a reporter in an interactive newsroom, feel virtually "on the spot" in a 4-D theater experience of a journalistic moment, or otherwise indulge your inner news hound. Play historian at one of the 130 interactive stations, which help visitors explore five centuries of news history. Or play with your...imagination in the 2 broadcast and 15 theaters. This is not to miss. Tickets: Adults $20, Youth: $13.

Oldies but Goodies: Tours of the White House and The Capitol. (They're not the Newseum, but still...) Contact your Senator or Representative's Office for tickets/help. Better idea: make a large contribution to your Senator or Congressman and get a personally guided tour. (OK, maybe that isn't a "better" idea.)

Adour - French Restaurant
What do Tom Daschle, Chevy Chase, and Mario Batali have in common? Starred in the Three Musketeers? No. They were all among the first to dine at Adour, the Alain Ducasse restaurant. From a gougere (this is why wikipedia was invented) beginning to a tray of raspberry-pin and chocolate macaroons at dinner's end, each meal here is an exquisite pleasure. With shimmery silver and gold decor setting a romantic mood, and enough space between tables to induce secret-spilling, Adour is the perfect pick for both a sexy tete-a-tete and getting your Congressperson to introduce some pork-barrel legislation. Entrees: $30-$40.

Black Squirrel - American Restaurant
If you have trouble figuring out which beer to order at a football game, imagine the trouble you'll have with the Black Squirrel's 50-beer list, including the Belgian Chimay, one of 11 brews on tap. The long, slender room features polished wood floors and red walls hung with posters of pop-culture icons. Just when it seemed that Adams Morgan's non-stop party scene had chased away D.C.'s fine-dining establishments, along comes the Black Squirrel, brandishing a fine-pedigreed chef and a menu of scaled-up American comfort food. Entrees: $10-$20.

Central - French Bistro
Don't even bother trying to call: this hot spot's reservation line is eternally clogged. The man responsible for Central's unflagging popularity is internationally known chef Michel Richard, whose restaurant Citronelle is Washington's very best. Central is Richard's love letter to America, presenting an enticingly affordable menu of French and American favorites, served in a very cheery and casual bistro setting, complete with a television (mon Dieu!) mounted in the corner of the adjoining on-view bar. Entrees: $20-$30.

Gin and Tonic Tavern - Bar
For those that like bars that hail from the "less is more" design philosophy, it's high time to spend some quality time at Gin & Tonic. This no-frills watering hole is a long, brick-walled tavern with two bars, a DJ booth, a smattering of tables and chairs, and, well, not much else. But you'll hardly notice the sparse decor when the prepster crowd swarms in for hearty drinking and heartier dancing. The bar's namesake is obviously always a cocktail option, but the sixteen brews are the most popular libations of choice.

The Gibson - Bar/Lounge
Serious about its cocktail and its old-school cool atmosphere, The Gibson is a bar-bar, no questions about it. An old-timer concoction lent the place its name, but there are plenty of new creatively named mixes that are sure to raise a couple eyebrows--Salad Days Sour anyone? Atmosphere is paramount as well: dim lighting, a no-standing-at-the-bar policy, and a strict 48 max capacity all make for an exceptional experience minus the classic crush of people. Gibson eschews lines and all the nasty attitudes that go with them, so the key is to book a spot (they'll accept reservations for half the seats).

Special offer to BWC members: Order Night+Day D.C. for $8.95 with free shipping through February - that's half price! Enter code BWCDC.

[NOTE: BWC does not accept advertising revenues from establishments that we review. Thus, unlike many travel providers, our reviews are completely unbiased.]

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

BWC Members Demanded it, and the EPA Complied:

They Got the Lead Out (Of the Air We Breathe)

However, New, Stricter Lead Emissions Standards Aren't Being Enforced the Way they Should

It's no secret that lead isn't good for you. Ingestion of lead can cause nerve damage, slow brain and nervous system development; it can affect the cardiovascular system, kidney function, the immune system, and the reproductive system.

Despite all this, national pollution standards for lead had not changed since 1978. The EPA has finally come out with an updated ruling on lead emissions standards, reducing the allowable amount from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms.

We're proud to say that Better World Club members helped the EPA reach this decision.

Just two years ago, the EPA even considered delisting lead as a pollutant altogether. Once again, Better World Club members made their voices heard and let the EPA know what a bad idea that was.

It's great that lead standards have been tightened based on science instead of the wishes of entrenched special interests (yes, we're talking about you, Battery Council International). However, the new ruling does have some controversial aspects.

The first version of the new rule stated that any facility that emitted a half a ton of lead or more per year would need to be monitored. The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to this standard and forced the EPA to back away from it. The final version of the EPA's ruling doubles that standard, allowing lead-emitting facilities to spew up to one ton of lead per year without monitoring.

So while we're pleased that EPA Administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, listened to his own scientists (and BWC members!) and tightened lead emissions standards, we're not so pleased with the watered-down way the new rule is being implemented.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

With Washington shut down, the professional reporters at Driving Change have been moonlighting covering the conventions. Here are some of their convention headlines from the past two weeks:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Michelle Obama Says She's Just Like Us!

Boy, You've Got To Do Better Than That

Wednesday, August 27th
Hillary Tells Supporters: "Don't Look Back. Keep Going!"
To What? 2012?

Thursday, August 28th
Biden Gives Up Delaware Senate Seat to Move Back to Pennsylvania
"I Missed My Hometown of Scranton So Much, Win or Lose, It's Worth It"
Denies It's Like Cheney Moving Back to Wyoming in 2000
"Heck, I'm Giving Up a Senate Seat. Isn't That Smarte...Whoa, Wait a Second..."

Friday, August 29th
Good Speech Overshadowed As Obama Forgets Martin Luther King's Name

Saturday, August 30th
Liberal Slur: McCain Chose Palin Because She Has Breasts!
Hardly. Have You Ever Seen McCain In A Swimsuit?

Tuesday, September 2nd
Republican Conventioneers Celebrate As Bush, Cheney Speeches Wiped Out by Gustav
Survival of New Orleans Considered a "Bonus"

Wednesday, September 3rd
Lieberman Endorses Palin, Then Meets Her
"I'd Do The Same For Mrs. Butterworth"

Someone Revives Thompson
Proves He Can Act by Acting Human

Thursday, September 4th
Investigation Reveals Palin Has PhD in Demographics
Her Research Shows That More Americans Live in Small Towns Than Previously Thought

Friday, September 5th
McCain Defends Community Organizers From Palin Broadside
Encourages Americans To Go Out and Help Somebody
Palin: "It Almost Made Me Barf"

McCain Also Names Three Pitiful Citizens
No Program Addressed To Them, Just Felt Americans Should Know Who They Are

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EPA Announces Plan for Habitat Protection in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A "Caribou Rehabilitation Zone" is Planned in Oil-Rich Area

ExxonMobil to Create Nonprofit "Caribou Foundation" to Aid in Area's Rehabilitation

The EPA is partnering with the Department of Energy and ExxonMobil to save the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. The announcement was made at a press conference today, attended by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson.

"We're especially pleased to have ExxonMobil, a for-profit company, onboard for this project," enthused Johnson. "They've agreed to invest millions in this caribou-saving project. Their generosity is just amazing."

"We at ExxonMobil are just trying to do what's right," Tillerson averred. "We're investing in our nation's future, and the children, and, um, nature. We hope that within twenty years we'll be producing millions of gallons"

The focal point of the project will be several large metal structures dubbed "Caribou Social Areas" (see diagram above). These are designed to provide caribou with a safe and inviting environment. Special features include a large drill that creates low-level vibrations in the ground that caribou apparently find pleasing, as well as several thousand miles of pipelines that serve as a meeting ground and "coffee klatch" for the lucky animals.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Energy Crisis Raises Questions: Do Conservatives Believe In America?

When Everyone Wants to Be Prudent, Which Policy Is?

Should We "Drain America First"?

One of the many slanders exchanged by liberals and conservatives is that conservatives believe in America and liberals don't.

Well, liberals believe that our technological ability is so great that we could soon have alternative energy technology available. If so, why waste money and generate environmental damage on an outdated technology like fossil fuels?

Conservatives have so little faith in American know-how that they don't think we can develop alternative technologies in the near term.

OK, we don't really mean this. This is the overstated way of taking a sliver of truth and using it to slice up the other side.

In fact, on various issues, each side gets accused unfairly. Often, the opposing side will parry the attack by saying that they are just being...prudent.

This enables conservatives to use the same rationale to advocate drilling that liberals use on global warming: the future is unknowable. Conservatives believe the downside is greater if we put all of our eggs in the new technology basket just as liberals believe the downside is greater if we ignore oil and coal's devastating potential for global warming.

However, there is another argument that falls under "prudence" that should enter the oil vs. new technology debate: Should we drain America first?

Is this an argument against ever drilling anywhere again? No. But remember, each barrel of American oil that we use today is one that we won't have available tomorrow. Few believe that the U.S. has close to the deepest untapped reserves. Some research concludes that the U.S. has as little as 3% of world oil reserves. So, if we do tap them and no new technology comes along, then one day, maybe in twenty years, maybe in thirty or forty, but one day, we are going to find ourselves in much deeper trouble than we are today.

So, let's put as much effort as we can into developing alternative energy sources. And let's take careful steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But if our well-being depends upon using up American oil reserves, just keep in mind that as our oil runs out, we will be dependent once again. Just more dependent than ever.

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Pelosi Wants to "Save The Earth"

Hmm...How About Wanting to "Save Our Economy and Defend Our Country and the Environment"?

We're all for Nancy Pelosi being attracted to the title of "Environmentalist-in-Chief" as reflected by her comment that she wants to "save the earth". But she must do a much better job of educating the American people that her desire to get off fossil fuels reflects concerns about the economy and national security as well as the environment.

The Speaker could start by teaching the American people that environmental damage is an example of marketplace failure. The market does not require business to internalize the cost to the environment. Just the opposite, it encourages them to externalize these costs and impose them on others--whether it is global warming (which is just another form of pollution), oil spills, impact on health... whatever.

Product prices should reflect all of their costs. Otherwise, businesses are receiving a form of subsidy, hardly the only hidden oil subsidy given the amount of military spending to protect its delivery.

But these subsidies hide the real cost of fossil fuels--as well as impede the development of new technologies. Gasoline, like other products, should be priced so that the environmental and other costs are internalized. Of course, gasoline prices would be higher than people desire--and other policies should then be adjusted to help people cope. But Americans need to be wedded to economic rationality, which includes full internalization of costs.

This argument also should be built on the fact that there is no "marketplace", at least as we think of it, in oil to begin with, as the supply is controlled by a cartel.

The Dems have also been pointing to the disconnect between the oil companies holding "unproductive" leases yet wanting more. But the case has not been well made. How can there be predictions of over 100 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves on US property, when so many leases are unproductive? This seems to mean either that the oil companies are holding back on exploiting productive leases or that the reserves aren't nearly as great as the oil industry claims. Which is it? This loop needs to be closed.

Finally, if U.S. oil is so valuable and if we hold only a fraction of the world's reserves, should we be running to use all of it? Should we be draining America first?

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