A Tale of Two Cities, and Two Americas
Nov 5, 2012Posted by Carter Page
Rarely does one city's mayor make national news on two seemingly unrelated stories within a few days. Last week's decisions by Michael Bloomberg to endorse President Obama and cancel the New York City Marathon represented just such an occasion. Each story reflects elements of the energy-related political challenges and opportunities that the United States faces today as it adjusts to a rapidly changing world.
Upon closer examination, the two developments are more connected than might otherwise seem immediately apparent. The environmentally-focused sentiment of his endorsement has the potential to offer greater hope for the future while the political battles he faced surrounding the Marathon demonstrates some of the governance challenges associated with achieving that very vision. Despite the significant political uncertainties that lie ahead in the coming days, these developments last week provide valuable insights into the state of today's political landscape.
A Pathway to Environmental Progress
Like the N.Y. Yankees pitcher Carsten Charles "CC" Sabathia, Mayor Bloomberg threw a curve ball at the Presidential Election on Thursday with his endorsement of President Obama. Environmental issues stood as the principal foundation of the short 2-page article that outlined his reasoning. Although the brief endorsement has been criticized in some quarters for its lack of specificity, it is worthwhile taking this opportunity to dig a bit deeper into some of the more specific ideas that Bloomberg has lately had in mind for achieving continued improvements to the nation's environmental policies.
As Mayor Bloomberg announced this summer, his Bloomberg Philanthropies initiated a partnership with the natural gas pioneer George Mitchell to, "Support organizations that seek to work with states and industries to develop common-sense regulations that will protect the environment — and ensure that the industry can thrive." The balanced ways in which they jointly plan to achieve these objectives focus on natural gas hydraulic fracturing. As Bloomberg and Mitchell noted in their August OpEd:
"…Fracking reduces U.S. dependence on coal, which is one of the best things we can do to improve air quality and fight climate change. Modern gas-fired power plants produce effectively no sulfur dioxide or fine particulates and no mercury or toxic ash pollution. They use less water and generate about half the carbon dioxide pollution of coal. The more natural gas we produce, the more quickly we will be able to close dirty-burning coal plants."
The vast impact which such fundamental changes may have on the environment is widely expected to outweigh the near-term potential of wind, solar and biomass technologies. In parallel, the leadership initiatives which T. Boone Pickens has been leading on the demand side of the natural gas equation with his natural gas transportation initiatives have provided transformational leadership which builds upon these same trends.
The respective technologies of natural gas and alternative energy have the potential to feed off each other's strengths and corresponding contributions. Following Bloomberg's position as an independent, Tom Friedman has also recently pointed out that, "The only way our country can progress is with some grand bargains forged at the center." One of the three pillars that Friedman similarly describes in spelling out his strategy for achieving this goal is, "A deal that opens the way to exploit our newfound bounty of natural gas, but with a plan that is environmentally sound and doesn't divert us from our long-term goal of a clean-energy economy that mitigates climate change." But sometimes finding that sensible center path can prove challenging as Mayor Bloomberg found in other quarters last week.
Renewable Energy: A People's Marathon Returns to Its Entrepreneurial Roots
In a bike ride through lower Manhattan on Saturday, the miraculous recovery that had occurred within just a matter of days seemed extraordinary. While many unrecognizable street corners near the Hudson River and East River had looked like movie scenes on all of the major television networks just a few days earlier, they appeared almost completely back to normal by Saturday evening. The work crews from the Army Core of Engineers, representatives of other government agencies and countless private contractors and volunteers from around the country continued to work around the clock to fix the problems created by Hurricane Sandy. Their continued successes represent a reminder of why this city has long stood as a tremendous source of optimism for countless individuals.
But the successes of these citizens stand in sharp contrast to the experience of runners from around the world that were denied the opportunity to compete in an event that many had spent much of this year preparing for and at significant personal expense. At a restaurant in New York Saturday evening, a large group of marathoners from South America expressed patience and understanding for Mayor Bloomberg's decision. After their 10+ hour flight to the recently reopened JFK airport, their only complaint was the reversal of his decision at the 11th hour. The Mayor's change of heart was all but forced by the unforgiving chorus of critics that responded to his earlier decision to go forward with the Marathon. Following the more entrepreneurial history of the race, this group of runners and countless others were seen in Central Park and throughout the city on Sunday running an equivalent makeshift course on their own.
The politically-forced obstacles that a myriad of international and domestic marathoners faced last week are reminiscent of statements that have frequently been heard in China and other parts of the world in recent years. Many Chinese energy investors often compare investment roadblocks in the United States with those in Canada, which otherwise typically offer significant similarities in terms of asset profiles, the rule of law and other governance structures that are widely consistent between the two countries. Ironically, they often describe the difference between the two states as relating to a higher level of "political risk" south of the border in the U.S. - a term that has more traditionally been associated with countries in the developing markets. These frequent preferences offer valuable insights into the constraints brought by voices on the political extremes within American society. As Mayor Bloomberg had accurately noted in his earlier statements regarding the Marathon, the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue may indirectly hit those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Perhaps the most inspirational characters in last week's true story were the individuals that completed the revised version of the race on Sunday and still contributed to the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, either through donations or good works following the race. In avoiding the political extremes that had created obstacles on their path, the middle ground that they successfully represent can offer a valuable political model for the future of the United States and the world. Although not always the case, this time the sensible center emerged victorious in Central Park.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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