Santa Barbara prides itself as being a leader in the Green Revolution. Unfortunately, when America’s most influential chief executives and policymakers on the subject took over Bacara Resort & Spa for last week’s ECO:nomics summit hosted by The Wall Street Journal, the general public was left out in the cold.
This was a gathering of big shots in the Green movement exploring how to create environmental capital from their own perspectives. This was not Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Das Williams congregating to explore a plastic bag tax. These were internationally renowned movers and shakers who lobby, sponsor bills and have real influence over federal laws that affect average folks across the nation.
Coincidentally, Bacara is built over one of my favorite environmental capitals, Haskell’s Beach. Some may remember when gaining access to the secluded surf spot required hiking across natural terrain, one of the pristine gems of Santa Barbara County. Now sits a monstrosity of a resort where our country’s elites gather for a conference on how to save the environment. The irony is profound.
The goal of this swank conference was to seek new solutions for a green marketplace when “prospects for a global carbon-emissions regime are in flux,” as stated on the conference Web site. In flux indicates a struggle for power. These special-interest groups were all lobbying for position in the uncertain future of mandated emissions standards. The entire Bacara Resort reportedly was bought out for this event and closed to the public. Some of the big-name players in attendance included Energy Secretary Steven Chu, proponent of a cap-and-trade carbon emissions tax; Robert Iger, president and CEO of Walt Disney Co.; Peter Voser, chief executive of Royal Dutch/Shell; and Michael Morris, president and CEO of American Electric Power.
I was one of the fortunate attendees and not because I paid the lofty $3,800 entrance fee or received an invititation from Dr. Chu himself. Sometimes all you need for VIP access is a sport coat, a Batman shirt, and a tough-as-nails woman from Bakersfield at your side. I had all three. We stumbled upon keynote speaker T. Boone Pickens, an oil-industry billionaire and personal friend of Sens. Harry Reid, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman.
Pickens made the argument against foreign oil dependence and high-emission energy production. He talked about his vision for wind turbine farms extending from the Texas Panhandle to the Canadian border. However, his plan is currently at a standstill because of problems with capital and credit markets. In other words, these turbine wind farms are not financially feasible in the free market. Pickens was also advocating natural gas for transportation, another industry in which he has a vested interest. He tried to paint a rosy picture of the natural gas industry, citing bipartisan support for HR 1835, the “Nat Gas Act.” The two prongs of this Pickens Plan are:
» $1 trillion worth of wind facilities to be installed across the “Wind Belt,” plus another $200 billion for transmission infrastructure, to provide 20 percent of our annual electricity needs. Hey, when you can’t get it done in the free market, lobby Congress for $1.2 trillion worth of help. That’s the new America, right?
» Transfer natural gas from fire power plants to be used for transportation fuel instead.
The problem with Picken’s second prong was highlighted by Ford Motor Co.’s representative at the conference, Susan Cischke, vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering. Ford had just released a favorable fourth-quarter earnings statement in a very unfavorable car market. Ford has its thumb on the pulse of car consumers. Cischke touched a bit on the challenges of compressed natural gas, or CNG, in vehicles. She noted that entry-level CNG cars cost more than $50,000 and require much larger tanks for fuel storage. Also, converting to CNG guzzling in cars will cost at least $10,000 on average. I thought to myself, “How many people can afford a $50,000 car in this economy or fork out $10,000 for a converter kit?” This is what people want to impose upon us? I guess Americans can demand federal subsidies to pay for the cost. Or they can simply charge the credit card, default on payments, and ask Big Brother Obama for a bailout. After all, this is about saving the world, America. What’s another trillion dollars of national debt at this point? Principles are now a remnant of the past.
Furthermore, natural gas refueling stations cost upward of $800,000 to build. Again, if this was a cost-effective model, these would be popping up in the free marketplace. Quite simply, they are not. Pickens did offer some hope on the matter. He said compressed natural gas for transportation will be competitive in pricing when regular gasoline hits $7 a gallon. Unfortunately, that change in cost of living is not appealing to the average citizen. I guess that’s just what hope and change is about: hope that people will buy into some obscure world vision, even if it requires change that will alter one’s economic well-being. It’s all about sacrifice for the collective good of society. Someone quote that. Oh, wait, Karl Marx already did.
While Santa Barbara remains animated on the environmental cause, real power players congregate behind closed doors at Bacara, exploring real policy actions and laws that will affect our everyday lives. There are so many vying for a piece of the pie: politicians, business opportunists and activists alike. Ultimately, average citizens suffer the consequences of these new laws. Elitists may be able to afford natural gas-consuming vehicles at $50,000, converter kits for $10,000 and $7 per gallon gasoline, but most of us cannot. Economically viable solutions like domestic drilling are practical and drive down the cost of living for all Americans.
Unfortunately, the only people with a real say in the debate are those with a $3,800 VIP pass to Bacara Resort & Spa. For one day I was a part of that elite inner circle and found solutions that do not resonate in the real world. Their ideas would drive up our cost of living, pile on to our country’s ballooning national debt, and allow special-interest groups to impose their vision of America on our society despite grave consequences.
— Justin Tevis is a former Santa Barbara City Council candidate.