On the day of our forum, the price of gas in Des Moines hung at about $2.90 a gallon. But only two of the panelists reported that expensive fuel had noticeably affected their business. "We've got 40 vehicles on the road every day," said Wayne Hansen, while Hank Johnson noted that " We get fuel surcharges on a lot of the materials we buy from suppliers."
The subset of our panel for whom energy policy was a major voting issue -- four raised their hands to that -- was split on the motivation. Two were concerned by economics and national security; two were focused on the environment. Interestingly, they divided by age, and it was the younger men who thought most about the environment. Everyone on the panel favored an emphasis on new energy technologies, but that's about as far as consensus took us.
INC.COM: Who would you like to see taking this active hand developing new technologies -- is that a role for government, or for private industry?
WAYNE HANSEN: The more we can get done privately the better off we are.
ADAM CARROLL: An unnamed other business magazine had an article about a guy who was getting 60 to 100 miles per gallon out of Hummer H2s. He can do it for $20,000, you know, using GM parts. And he was put in front of a board of GM mechanics and engineers and they said, "It can't be done." It makes me wonder how much special interests affect politics. Washington's asking for ten more miles to the gallon, but, come on, lets be aggressive, lets go after 30, or 40 or 50 more miles to the gallon. Because it's obviously being done, and it's being done by a mechanic in Kansas, for crying out loud.
ROBB SPEARMAN: One thing would be government incentives for private enterprise to create hybrid vehicles.
JOSH MORE: Would that reduce the cost of hybrid vehicles? Realistically, hybrids would solve a lot of problems, but the people that can afford to buy the hybrids tend to be driving low-emission vehicles anyway.
ROBB SPEARMAN: I think it would help encourage it. Not immediately, but I think the cost can go down after you started mass-producing them.
WAYNE HANSEN: I think it's the wrong solution. I don't think vehicles that drive 100 miles a gallon will change anything. In the past, when a new car that gets five more miles a gallon comes out, what happens? People drive more because they've got this much money budgeted to spend on gasoline, and now they can afford to go further. The amount of driving goes up as the mileage goes up.
It goes back to the fuel, and where it's coming from. If that money's staying in the United States, it's churning here. If it's all going over to Saudi Arabia, it leaves our economy. They're building their big buildings over there, then. We need a full-scale, two-front war on the energy issue, one in Iraq and one here at home and try to replace all the billions of barrels of oil that we pay for out of this country. If we've got money to spend on a war in Iraq, we should have money to spend on a war at home to create new methods of energy production.
INC.COM: Are candidates saying what you want to hear on this?
ROWENA CROSBIE: I think the energy question touches on so many different topics and different candidates are talking about them. There's probably three or four topics, and the candidates each seem to have a perspective on one of them."
INC.COM: But nobody's got a holistic approach, from your point a view.
WAYNE HANSEN: I haven't heard it.
JOSH MORE: I haven't heard anybody link the emissions from all the fossil fuel consumption we've been doing to the water crisis that we're starting to encounter in the Southeast. And to me, those are clearly linked.
Part III will conclude tomorrow with a discussion of how energy impacts the environment.
Actually that magazine Adam refused to identify is our sister publication Fast Company and we don't mind referring you to the article, which you can find here.
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