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October 18, 2005


One thing I'd like to see is a bailout of the American auto companies TIED TO increasing CAFE. Relieve their pension commitments in exchange for very aggressive CAFE increases. They'll go bankrupt, anyway, if they don't get relief. This will pre-empt that and save a number of high-paying jobs (so long as they're not in bankruptcy, they can't void union contracts). And it'll be a quick way to make American cars more competitive.

this is awesome.

you mention improving efficiency of existing public transportation systems. did you discuss encouraging more cities to develop & expand their mass transit? mid-scale systems, like BART in SF bay area, MAX (I think) in Portland, Oregon and NJ Transit and PATH here in NY area run terrifically, and it seems they could help uncouple urban sprawl and heavy automobile use in cities like Austin and many other mid-size population centers.

I guess I'd also say that for me the limiting element of Amtrak isn't speed, but price. Even if it's slower, with the added time and hassle of travel to airport and being in the airport, plus the cramped nature of planes, I always prefer train travel. Unfortunately the ticket cost is usually comparable. I don't understand Amtrak finances at all, but have you discussed ways not of speeding the trains but of making even the slow trains cheaper?

I am so glad that this is being done, especially by three of my favorite posters. I have yet to read this in detail, but one thing caught my eye and I wanted to mention it right away. Why are you restricting the NE Amtrak high-speed service to NY-Washington? Wouldn't it make sense to take it to Boston? I travel from NY to Boston about twice a month on Amtrak, and the Acelas are full of business travelers even with the current 3.5 hour time (at least they were full before the faster trains were taken out of service because of brake problems). There are at least 2 air shuttles per hour all day between Boston and NY. If the train time could be brought below 3 hours there would be no reason for most of those people to fly.

I agree with emptypockets that the cost of train travel is too high. At the moment the one-way fare from NY to Boston is $117 for the Acela and $73 for the regional train (4.5 hours instead of 3.5 hours). Fares have increased recently. I was paying less than $60 for the regional train and less than $100 for the Acela not too long ago.

The other competing mode of travel is the car. Boston-NY is about 4 hours and if you are a family it is much cheaper to drive.

Like emptypockets, I also prefer train travel. It's so much more pleasant, and I get a lot of work done on the train. I have not even been tempted by JetBlue's $25 NY-Boston air fare.

This is good.

As a general suggestion, I think you should emphasize that renewable energy is also a business opportunity. For instance, for the 4th basic principle ("invest in renewable energy to create jobs and enhance America's technological leadership"), note that these technologies will become profitable when oil gets scarce, and government support now will help position American businesses to compete.

Now I've read the whole thing. Bravo! I love the fact that it begins with a link to Jimmy Carter's prescient speech. I'm not an expert in this area (these areas, rather), but the proposals appear sound. One aspect of our dire situation that is alluded to but not developed is the poor urban planning that makes it necessary for people to live in their cars. I wonder how many homes in non-rural parts of this country have nothing other than other houses within walking distance? But I agree with your focus on actions that can be taken quickly. Remodeling the exurbs will probably happen naturally as changing conditions make these wastelands untenable.

We aren't limiting our proposal for a high-speed rail demonstration project to one particular line of the Northeast, merely suggesting one possible line. We have no dogs in that fight.

1. Does high-speed rail really make sense? The costs I've seen of a proposed LA to SF rail line seem rediculous (on the order of $1,000 subsidy required per passenger for the first twenty years.) I believe that the United States is just too spread out for long distance passenger rail service except in heavily-traveled and relatively compact northeast corridor. I'd love to be wrong, though. On the other hand, it is likely that regional rail transport makes a lot of sense even on fairly short time scales.

2. I wonder why you feel it will take so long to get renewable energy sources to 20% of our capacity. From what I have seen, solar (both photovoltaic and thermal) and wind power are very close to competetive with natural gas generated power -- and that was back when natural gas cost about 1/4 of what it does now. The price of that gas is likely to double again very soon. Wouldn't these renewable sources just be fantastically profitable at those natural gas prices -- paying back the investment in just a few years? Why won't we see Nevada disappear under solar collectors over the next very few years?

Everything else looks very good indeed. I particularly agree with the need to emphasize that energy conservation is absolutely key -- it is by far the cheapest way to reduce our need for imported energy sources, and has tremendous positive ancillary side effects.

I also agree that this is a spectacular Democratic issue that is just begging to be exploited. After a winter of freezing in the dark (ok, being colder than they'd like in dim light) there will be many people convinced that something is horribly wrong, and that a new direction is necessary. We *have* to be there to show that new direction.

just to continue on scientistmom's comment on ny-boston amtrak prices:

I just looked it up and here are various price options for travel from NY to Bos, in ascending order

chinatown bus $15/person
jetblue or American special rate $25/person
even without special rate, American is $88/person round trip, or $44 each way
Amtrak $73/person
limoliner (luxury bus with tv, snacks, free ethernet access) $79/person
Hertz rental car $86 (so for a pair of travelers, $43/person)

and as I note, if it's a pair of travelers, renting a car jumps up near the top. Amtrak prices would need to get down around half what they are to be competitive. Amenities help -- not having to do the driving yourself, having a little room to spread out for work, or walk a bit if your legs get cramped -- but they can't make up for a two-fold difference.

As with Acela, I'm afraid higher speed trains will be a huge public investment to develop and end up costing twice what it does to just rent a car -- myself and I think others are soured on Acela for just that reason.

Improving the lower end of travel is worthwhile. And MB, just a side note, as scientistmom mentioned, most of these proposals are so far outside anything I really know about that my reaction like I think many others will be "sounds terrific!" except on the very few areas where people have strong opinions: subways, buses, and amtrak. So in the public comment phase those sections may get overrepresented in discussion, and if this gets to the wider media, overrepresented in hype... so they really need to be bulletproof.

MB, I'm not talking about a separate NE Amtrak line. As it is, the main line goes from Boston (Providence, New Haven, Stamford) to NY (Newark, Philadelphia) to Washington. Your proposal cuts off the Boston-NY leg. There are twice hourly air shuttles, I believe, between all pairs of Boston, NY, and Washington.

emptypockets, I think you are too pessimistic about the cost of high speed trains. I agree that the cost to the consumer must come down to encourage people to use it. But I don't agree that the investment to put high-speed trains (the Acela is not really high-speed because of track deficiencies) on the NE corridor is all that great. If you calculated the true cost of taxpayer subsidy of air travel, including pollution, periodic bailouts of airlines and taxpayer funding of their pension plans, airport expansion, etc., I don't think train travel would look so expensive.

Thanks for the comprehensive list of NY-Boston travel options. I thought the Chinatwon bus was $10, guess it's gone up.

The "study" shows an arrogant "bias" that indicates that the United States is "alone" inthe world...."Energy independance; "...(continuing) technological leadership," etc...
We do not live alone in this world.
Most others will also "need" the energy sources we now slaughter to obtain.....
Is it not time to predicate "energy independance" on that premise?
We are no longer "exclusive" but, must think "inclusive."
We have abrogated "leadership" many years ago.
Incidentally, both parties, Democrats and Republicans are to blame.
The premise is also to open all doors for debate.......
Restructure the debate.
Otherwise, there is no "debate."


This is completely anecdotal. But my secular nationalist conservative dad has lately taken to being pissed at the refining companies, blaming their doubled (?) profit margins for the high price of gas.

I've never looked up the stats on that. But given the broad character of the refining industry, and the electricity industry as exposed in California's crisis and again during Enron's collapse, a pointed analysis of the larger energy industry might be useful as a part of your proposal. I think Americans would be willing to hear a slightly leftish critique of that industry, cause it's not one they trust so much nor one where they have strong positive or negative personal impressions, as with their doctor or their lawyer (or their beloved SUV or their subway).

Our policy problems might be compellingly explained by reference to a history of legislative failure due to the influence of the industry. Critiquing the industry directly might open the door to policy changes in the short term aimed specifically at that industry's operations. It would also help name and discredit in advance the opponents your plan will surely draw. If you talk about the existing industry directly, you'll have addressed more of the realities of the situation, especially the political realities that got us here and the political opponents who will line up to keep us from getting out. Properly handled, that could provide an added "ring of truth" for many people; the narrative elements that underlie our problem and your solution are easier to understand when this major actor is referenced more directly.

There is much reason not to overdo it; in the current media environment, it would be all too easy, and completely toxic, to be pigeonholed as motivated by "anti-industry" rancor. But an excessively calm, sane discussion of "you know, this is part of how we got here, it's just too easy for this powerful class to control Congress and their own markets" could still be well-received. It helps the narrative, helps show how your proposals are a departure from the historical norm, helps identify the problem, follows closely to the larger liberal mind-set, and could easily be well-received by Americans whose minds have been prepped by California, Enron, Halliburton no-bids, the secret Cheney plan, et al.

Also, awesome stuff.

And my first reaction to the experimental energy plant in every state was "that sounds like it'll cost a fortune."

Thanks for working seriously on this. The liberal internet could use more of that.

This is really a great effort. It is so comprehensive and clear.

I have the following suggestions, before I digest it more thoroughly.

1. I would move the last (4th) paragraph of the introduction to first.

2. Three of the 4 principles are stated as positives, and give a good overall tone to the piece. I'm wondering about recasting "reject current energy policies that weaken America" into a positive phrase. The key things here are ending subsidies that perpetuate the current imbalanced reliance on oil and gas; recognizing the threat posed by global warming and reinstating environmental policies designed to incrementally and consistently improve technology and the quality of air and water.

3. Keep the goals on the high side of what is achievable. Remember, we would not have achieved what is possible if people had not tried to achieve the impossible, to paraphrase Weber. Or, a man's reach should exceed his grasp. These are aspirations. Wherever the goals are set, they will be watered down at least to some extent.

4. One thing that would help all this is an advertising campaign that makes conservation and saving energy cool. People buy humongous cars in part because advertising plays on their fears and fantasies. Advertising can also play on desire for acceptance and desire to do good. So have a campaign that gets the best minds in the ad business to come up with approaches that make energy guzzling uncool and savings cool. Make conspicuous consumption uncool. Kind of like the campaign that California has funded to discourage smoking. During our energy and water shortages such "we're all in it together, do your part" campaigns have produced great savings, and much of the savings (like using sompact fluorescents, being diligent about turning off lights and appliances) persists because there is an immediate payoff. Tie a "walk more" campaign with weight loss and kill two birds with one stone. People do need incentives.

5. Finally, target the lower income consumer. Buybacks of old, polluting vehicles. Making public transit safer and better, especially for commuting and short trips. City car share programs with hybrids. Vanpooling for longer commutes.

I like the rebate for cleaner burning cars. I wish it was retroactive to last month when I replaced my old car for a Scion xA that gets (supposedly) 35 mpg for a cost of only around $15,000 and slips into the tiniest urban parking places.

Again, great job. Now let's see whaich candidates are willing to sign on next year. We could make it a part of any blogoshpere fundraising.

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