Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Houston, in bumper stickers

I'm back from a long month of being away from home, thanks to various projects and vacations. The good news is that all of the travel has given me lots of things to write about.

Two weekends ago Jess and I were in Houston for Seth and Maria's wedding. It was really fun, and reminded me how much I love that city. Here's the back of a minivan I found parked in the progressive/gentrifying Montrose neighborhood:

Sure, it's a bit of a contradiction. But when your city is the "energy capital of the world," home to most of the global economy's biggest energy firms as well as dozens of refineries and power plants, you'll find a lot of opinions about energy policy. I certainly don't always agree with them, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss their ideas out of hand, either.

The desire to choose clean wind energy AND drill more oil wells probably reflects this car owner's opinion that what kind of energy we burn is less important than where we get it from - and that it's better to generate energy close to home than import it from dangerous overseas petro-states.

I half agree with this sentiment. If we must burn oil (and it's the rare environmentalist who does not), it would certainly be better if we produced that oil close to home, so that we can at least be honest with ourselves about the consequences of oil extraction and refining, instead of exporting those problems Somewhere Else.

As it is, most of Houston's air pollution, which is some of the worst in the nation, comes from its cluster of oil refiners, which supply gasoline and heating oil to the rest of the nation. Because New England wants gasoline, but doesn't want oil refineries, we're effectively exporting train-loads of toxic air pollution to poor areas of East Texas and Louisiana. [see "Exporting Pollution to Dixie," December 2007].

By producing and refining much of their oil locally, at least Texan consciences can be cleared of our blue-state petro-hypocrisy. I suspect that if any New England or "left-coast" state were forced to refine its oil products locally, they'd probably get a lot more serious about reducing their oil consumption. As it is, they're happy to make it Texas's problem, and Texas is happy to take their money for it.

Besides its slightly more honest position in the sad story of America's oil addiction, the Lone Star State also produces more wind power than any other state (almost three times more than California, the second-biggest wind power producer).

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