Sunday, July 13, 2008

A must read: "Peak Convenience" (corrected)

Robert Rapier's always-excellent "R-Squared" energy blog (motto: "Because everyone is entitled to my opinion") has a great piece today that should be must reading for all Salem and Marion County officials. Marion County is the leading ag county in Oregon and yet we are as fully dependent on cheap fossil fuels as Las Vegas.

Yet, the Salem City Council is preparing to blow $5M on an airport upgrade that will sit idle and unused, even as the local bus "system" faces further service cuts if a bond doesn't pass this November -- which is precisely when the city* proposes to offer a huge bond that, they hope, will enable them to pour more concrete and keep the current auto-dominated party going, AND the Salem-Keizer school board is offering a huge bond designed to make up for decades of neglect and to buy even more diesel for the massive fleet of school buses. James Howard Kunstler notes that these buses are perhaps the most telling symbol of a vanishing suburban affluence: rather than have an integrated transit system available for all, we build communities that make it difficult or impossible for people who can't drive to get anywhere, then fund a separate transit system that operates twice a day to serve a select few of the victims of our "planning."

In other words, people in various parts of Salem and vicinity are going to face several enormous bonds for things they value greatly -- their kids and the All-American right to drive whenever and wherever I want -- along with a homely little bond for the bus system. This doesn't bode well for the transit bond at all. So we really are likely to face a huge increase in inconvenience, because we will lose Saturday bus service if this bond doesn't pass. And I'm not even sure the other bonds will pass. The economy is already getting hammered, and we're still in the salad days of summer; oil hasn't hit $200/bbl yet, the winter heating season is still a distant cloud on the horizon, PGE hasn't jacked up its rates yet. By November, all that will change. Oil is likely to remain at or above $150/bbl, possibly much more, unlikely to be much less. The first frosty days of winter will send natural gas prices spiking up. It's quite possible that voters will respond to these circumstances --- and their fury at seeing Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae bailed out, while ordinary people lose their houses in record numbers --- by adopting a "vote no on anything with a dollar sign attached" mantra, even when they would only hurt themselves by denying themselves something that we are very much going to need (a functioning bus system).

[* Text corrected to insert "city" for "local transport planning body, "SKATS"]