Sunday, July 24, 2005

Remembering Hetch Hetchy

The SF Chronicle reports on the rebirth of a century-old issue: draining Hetch Hetchy Valley and bringing back one of America's most striking natural wonders. The fight that started over 100 years ago in 1903 revolves around a continuing debate between conservation and development and preserving our wilderness areas. Heralded by American naturalist John Muir as, "one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples," Hetchy Hetchy was largely unknown to the American public (as the idea of conservation and National Parks in general were just beginning to evolve in the national conscience)until many years after the valley had been inundated. This prompted the NY Times to write, "The American people have been whipped in the Hetch Hetchy fight," upon authorization of the O'Shaunessey Dam by the U.S. Congress on December 6, 1913.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has asked for a report from the California Department of Water Resources on the possibility of draining the Hetch Hetchy Valley and re-establishing one of the wonders within Yosemite National Park. According to the CDWR doing so would not limit the supply of water to San Francisco and the Bay Area and wouldn't cause any significant loss of electric power. The downside: depending more on fossil fuels for power (like coal and oil), loss of quality water (h20 from the High Sierras is some of the cleanest in the country), and no more gurantee when severe water shortages hit one of the driest regions in North America.

Once again the discussion comes back to the question, "How much is wilderness worth to us?" Seems to me a simple answer is putting forward some serious conservation measures. Maybe its time for California and the rest of the semi-arid desert west to come to grips with the fact that living in such an environment will require some sacrifices on their part and in the end those sacrifices will enable natural wonders like Hetch Hetchy to remain.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Un-Hybrid

Matthew Wald of the NY Times writes about how today's new hybrid vehicles aren't as green as they seem. Car companies like Honda have started "hybridizing for performance," meaning that the new hybrids get about the same gas mileage as their non-hybrid sisters in exchange for slightly faster acceleration and pickup. What might be questionable in all of this (besides the fact that the companies are selling the cars as "green turbochargers") is that the buyers of the new Hybrid V6 Accord (or the Lexus RX400h, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Civic)still get the $600-$1300 tax rebate at the end of the year, even though they are burning just as much gas as their neighbor driving the standard Honda Accord or Civic. Not sure Joe Merica will be excited about the fact that vehicles targeting upper-middle class motorists is giving out questionable tax rebates for a car that chews through just as much gas as anything else on the market but happens to get off the line a few seconds quicker. The EPA ranks the vehicles as getting a mile per gallon more than the standard models but these rankings are always considered inaccurate because they don't reflect the way in which cars are actually driven.

One line from Wald's article sums it up nicely:
"Hybrid technology seems to be heading the way of earlier technologies, which got more work out of a gallon of gasoline, like four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, that have been used in the end to make cars accelerate faster, rather than to hold them steady in performance and to cut fuel consumption."

Anyone else worried our hybrid euphoria could crash before it actually takes off?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Republicans Bad for Business?

In a strange twist of events, the Chinese government is criticizing the U.S. Congress for "erecting barriers" in the monumental deal between China's energy firm CNOOC and the American oil company Unocal. Congress has urged the White House to block the deal under the banner of "national security." Odd that the GOP is now hankering to control business. What happened to free-trade and beauty of private enterprise? Apparently, those ideals are only applicable for certain situations.

The truth of the matter is, in the forum of small business vs. the federal government, the Feds usually win. But not in a competitive, "I have more money than you" sense. It is inherently impossible for all small businesses to work easily and in accord with the federal government. To help this relationship, Congress has always passed special rules and procedures to help these businesses navigate the federal marketplace. Yet, we are now witnessing Congress urging a sitting president to effectively control the outcome of a international business deal? Not sure i understand the national security threat either...unless they're talking about global warming which will increase dramatically if China becomes the American dream of two SUVs per family.