On Thursday, Mitt Romney campaigned at the headquarters of Solyndra — the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan under the stimulus — and reiterated his debunked claims that its bankruptcy symbolized the corruption and cronyism of the Obama administration. But just one day later, a solar panel developer “that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor” went belly up, the Boston Herald reports, creating an inconvenient storyline for the GOP presidential nominee.
The company, Konarka Technologies, “filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate”:
“Konarka has been unable to obtain additional financing, and given its current financial condition, it is unable to continue operations,” CEO Howard Berke said in a statement. “This is a tragedy for Konarka’s shareholders and employees and for the development of alternative energy in the United States.”
The demise of Konarka could become a hot topic on the campaign trail because Romney personally doled out a $1.5 million renewable energy subsidy to the Lowell startup in 2003, shortly after taking office on Beacon Hill.
Konarka is the second Massachusetts solar company, along with Evergreen Solar and Beacon Power, to receive taxpayer dollars under Romney’s tenure and subsequently declare bankruptcy.
Romney, meanwhile, routinely dismisses the nation’s 3.1 million clean energy jobs, even as clean energy is booming in Massachusetts. The industry has created 64,000 jobs across the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, June 2, 2012
Gas prices continue to rise, which is finally giving Republicans an issue. Mitt Romney is demanding the president open up more domestic drilling; the super PAC behind Rick Santorum just released a new ad in Louisiana blasting the president on gas prices; and the GOP is attacking the White House on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
But the rise in gas prices has almost nothing to do with energy policy. It has everything to do with America’s continuing failure to adequately regulate Wall Street. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Republicans to tell the truth.
As I’ve noted before, oil supplies aren’t being squeezed. Over 80 percent of America’s energy needs are now being satisfied by domestic supplies. In fact, we’re starting to become an energy exporter. Demand for oil isn’t rising in any event. Demand is down in the U.S. compared to last year at this time, and global demand is still moderate given the economic slowdowns in Europe and China.
But Wall Street is betting on higher oil prices in the future — and that betting is causing prices to rise. The Street is laying odds that unrest in Syria will spill over into other countries or that tensions with Iran will affect the Persian Gulf, and that global demand will pick up as American consumers bounce back to life.
These bets are pushing up oil prices because Wall Street firms and other big financial players now dominate oil trading.
Financial speculators historically accounted for about 30 percent of oil contracts, producers and end users for about 70 percent. But today speculators account for 64 percent of all contracts.
Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — the federal agency that regulates trading in oil futures, among other commodities — warns that too few financial players control too much of the oil market. This allows them to push oil prices higher and higher — not only on the basis of their expectations about the future but also expectations about how high other speculators will drive the price.
In other words, a relatively few players with very deep pockets are placing huge bets on oil — and you’re paying.
Chilton estimates that drivers of small cars like Honda Civics are paying an extra $7.30 every time they fill up — and that money is going into the pockets of Wall Street speculators. Drivers of larger vehicles like the Ford Explorer are paying speculators $10.41 when they fill up.
Funny, but I don’t hear Republicans rail against Wall Street speculators. Could this have anything to do with the fact that hedge funds and money managers are bankrolling the GOP as never before?
Wall Street isn’t bankrolling Democrats nearly as much this time around because the Street is still smarting from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law pushed by the Democrats, and from the president’s offhand remark in 2010 calling the denizens of the Street “fat cats.”
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is trying to limit how much speculators can bet in oil futures — a power it was given by Dodd-Frank. It issued a rule in October, but it won’t take effect for another year.
Meanwhile, Wall Street has gone to court to stop the rule. It’s already won a stay.
As rising gas prices start wagging the election-year dog, the president should let America know what’s really causing prices to rise.
By: Robert Reich, From The Robert Reich Blog, Published in Salon, March 15, 2012
Stop me if you’ve heard this attack: There’s a presidential candidate out there who wants high gas prices to force the government to finally increase regulations on cars, persuade Americans to stop driving those beastly SUVs, nudge people toward clean electric cars — all with the goal of combating climate change. And don’t even think about lowering gas taxes to help car owners out at the pump: That’s just a gimmick. Take a moment and guess which politician is behind these positions.
If you guessed Mitt Romney, you are correct. And his long history of enviro-friendly rhetoric during past surges in gas prices is proving awkward as he slams the White House for taking similar positions today.
The best example yet is probably an audio clip dug up by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, purportedly from a 2007 town hall, that contains in just two minutes just about everything Republicans hate about Democrats on energy.
In it, Romney is asked how he feels about requiring higher fuel-efficiency standards from car companies. He says he would consider them, explaining that the government has not required high enough efficiency standards in recent years and that loopholes encourage people to drive SUVs. Not only that, he’s rooting for high gas prices to help get the job done.
“The CAFE requirements have not worked terribly well over the last 20 years in part because they haven’t applied to trucks, so America has moved more and more to trucks and SUVs,” Romney said. “So the average fuel economy over the last, I think it’s 20 years, has been almost flat. I’m hopeful that with $3 gasoline being charged by Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad and Putin and others that you’re going to see Americans slowly but surely move to vehicles that are far more fuel efficient and you’ll see our manufacturers start competing on the basis of fuel efficiency.”
Today Romney proudly touts his opposition to fuel efficiency standards on his website, telling one conservative radio host that car companies’ woes came after “the government put in place CAFE requirements that were disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers.”
There’s more from that town hall. Romney specifically praised hybrid cars and electric car technology — now widely mocked on the right — as a potential solution. Romney himself has called the plug-in Chevy Volt “an idea whose time has not come” on the campaign trail and joked this month that “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”
But back in 2007: “I sure hope that you’re going to see more and more hybrids and much better fuel economy,” Romney said. “Plug-in cars, electric cars with better battery technology, might be a way of reducing our emissions.”
This was in line with other past Romney statements that surfaced this week in which he urged Americans to channel the reality of high gas prices into support for alternative energy and conservation. The New Republic noted that Romney specifically opposed cutting the gas tax in his state in 2006 during a spike in oil prices for that very reason.
“I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline,” Romney said then. “I’m very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay.”
Today Romney insists that gas prices are the White House’s fault, even as the overwhelming consensus among experts is that it’s out of the government’s hands, and says that more drilling will help fix the problem. And he wants Obama to fire anyone in his administration who thinks that there are benefits to higher gas prices.
“This ‘gas-hike trio’ has been doing the job over the last three and a half years and gas prices are up,” Romney said last week, referring to Cabinet members Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. “The right course is they ought to be fired.”
Even Romney’s own energy advisers are reluctant to back him up on his claims this week. Two of them, Glenn Hubbard and Greg Mankiw, have supported taxing energy in order to decrease emissions that contribute to climate change. In other words: increasing gas prices for the sake of the environment. That’s to the left of the Obama administration.
Romney surrogate John Sununu defended Romney’s 2006 and 2007 positions to TPM on Monday, suggesting that the governor was merely putting an optimistic spin on a lousy time for gas prices.
“I think if you look at those interviews what he was saying is we ought to take advantage of the terrible situation,” he said. He added that Romney, then and now, supports both “the production side of energy, where the governor is absolutely committed, and the conservation side” as part of the solution to America’s energy problems.
But add it all up, and Romney and his advisers are on record minimizing the government’s ability to influence gas prices and supporting many of the same goals and policies espoused by Democrats to help promote energy efficiency and combat climate change. Just as his health care bill’s similarities to the Affordable Care Act have made him vulnerable to attacks, Romney’s latest energy offensive might open him up to more of the same charges he’s faced throughout his campaign — that he’ll say and do anything to get elected.
By: Benjy Sarlin, Talking Points Memo, March 26, 2012
Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Actually, it’s the noise a great political party makes when it loses what’s left of its mind. And it happened — where else? — on Fox News on Sunday, when Mitt Romney bought fully into the claim that gas prices are high thanks to an Obama administration plot.
This claim isn’t just nuts; it’s a sort of craziness triple play — a lie wrapped in an absurdity swaddled in paranoia. It’s the sort of thing you used to hear only from people who also believed that fluoridated water was a Communist plot. But now the gas-price conspiracy theory has been formally endorsed by the likely Republican presidential nominee.
Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.
First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket” — an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.
And it’s a lie wrapped in an absurdity, because the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.
Finally, there’s the paranoia, the belief that liberals in general, and Obama administration officials in particular, are trying to make driving unaffordable as part of a nefarious plot against the American way of life. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. This is what you hear even from thoroughly mainstream conservatives.
For example, last year George Will declared that the Obama administration’s support for train travel had nothing to do with relieving congestion and reducing environmental impacts. No, he insisted, “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Who knew that Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive heroine of “Atlas Shrugged,” was a Commie?
O.K., this is all kind of funny. But it’s also deeply scary.
As Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” crazy conspiracy theories have been an American tradition ever since clergymen began warning that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the Bavarian Illuminati. But it’s one thing to have a paranoid fringe playing a marginal role in a nation’s political life; it’s something quite different when that fringe takes over a whole party, to the point where candidates must share, or pretend to share, that fringe’s paranoia to receive the party’s presidential nod.
And it’s not just gas prices, of course. In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans — and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters — firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.
Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did. Naturally, people who constantly hear about the evil that liberals do are ready and willing to believe that everything bad is the result of a dastardly liberal plot. And these are the people who vote in Republican primaries.
But what about the broader electorate?
If and when he wins the nomination, Mr. Romney will try, as a hapless adviser put it, to shake his Etch A Sketch — that is, to erase the record of his pandering to the crazy right and convince voters that he’s actually a moderate. And maybe he can pull it off.
But let’s hope that he can’t, because the kind of pandering he has engaged in during his quest for the nomination matters. Whatever Mr. Romney may personally believe, the fact is that by endorsing the right’s paranoid fantasies, he is helping to further a dangerous trend in America’s political life. And he should be held accountable for his actions.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 22, 2012
As they ruminate at the pump, Americans may have finally figured out the new global deal on gasoline: there’s no magic bullet to bring prices down as long as the United States remains hooked on oil.
No matter how many billions of dollars oil companies rake in, the world market, not individual oil producers, sets the price of oil. Likewise, there is little, if anything, U.S. presidents—or their political opponents—can do to ward off $4 per gallon gasoline.
The reality is that oil supply concerns in Iran, Nigeria, and other trouble spots married with heightened oil demand in China, India, and other burgeoning nations will largely determine what Americans pay for gasoline. We can drill doggedly in our own backyards, but the price of gasoline will remain more a matter of speculation over externally-driven factors than tapping new sources of oil at home.
America is at an oil crossroads, emotionally and financially. We can continue griping about gasoline and maintain false hopes of controlling crude oil prices. Or we can face the truth, stop subsidizing oil with hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and abandon extreme efforts in search of new oil supplies. Surviving $4 gasoline depends on sipping oil and providing fuel substitutes, not subsidizing and promoting petroleum production.
As the world’s largest oil consumer, home to a transportation system that is a whopping 94 percent dependent on oil, the United States is precariously positioned. Conventional thinking—the more we drill at home, the better off we’ll be—is dangerously misguided. No matter where in the world oil is found, the price is tied to the global market.
Moreover, much of the heavier new oil supplies found in the western hemisphere yield diesel and fuel oil that is destined primarily for export markets. New heavier oils are not well suited for consumption by American cars and jets. So drilling closer to home will do much more to pad the oil industry’s deep pockets than bring down prices at the pump.
Since business-as-usual isn’t likely the answer, and may make matters worse, it’s time for unconventional thinking.
America is desperately in need of an oil policy that reduces dependence on petroleum, regardless of the source. The more fuel efficient our cars become and the faster we diversify into new transportation fuels, the brighter our energy and economic future will be.
President Obama already set in motion the first part of the solution. Tomorrow’s cars and trucks will consume less fuel than those they replace. And despite rising gas prices—or perhaps because of it—automakers’ new vehicle line-ups contain some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in industry history.
In the next five years, new cars and trucks will use 20 percent less fuel per mile driven. And by 2025, new cars will average about 50 miles per gallon, nearly double levels initially mandated for 1985. Sticking to the president’s plan, or even accelerating it, will be key.
But there is much more to be done. America can no longer rely on oil alone to fuel mobility. We need to step up the transition to oil alternatives by moving to hybrid-electric and electric vehicles, and using advanced biofuels.
Electricity can be generated by a diverse array of clean energy sources, leaving oil out of the power mix. And biofuels can be made from many different nonoil sources, including algae, grasses, woody crops, wastes, and various other nonfood feed stocks.
High gasoline prices help motivate the shift away from oil. But a market transformation will take direct policy action, for example, through a price stabilizing oil security fee or other fiscal measures. Oil is entrenched in America. Moving away from perpetual oil dependence to a robust, diversified fuel system will take clear, enduring policy action.
Americans are justifiably anxious about what the future holds when it comes to gasoline prices. But many motorists are beginning to appreciate that anger over pump prices will not relieve pain at the pump. Nor will political promises.
Oil markets have globalized to the point where prices are beyond our control. Given oil’s dangerous monopoly power over our mobility, it’s time to entirely reinvent our habits, innovate technologically, and adopt bold new policies aimed at reducing the use of oil and substituting instead of subsidizing and searching for oil. This is how America will ultimately survive $4 gasoline.
By: Deborah Gordon, U. S. News and World Report, March 22, 2012