Settled science or mere theories?

Our industry is facing multiple and significant challenges in the coming decade. Ten years from now there will be another set of significant challenges that will have replaced those, as the current ones did with their preceding set of game-changing issues. That seems to be the way it goes, and for that matter, always has gone.

“Special interest group” has always been seen as a pejorative or negative term. That is, of course, until you find yourself with some of the same feelings as a group that wants to help a cause that you feel is important.

I find myself, from time to time, sharing some interests with groups that otherwise would seem to be filled with “nuts” or “whackos.”

Unfortunately, most of the time, special interest groups are organized to the point that it could be difficult to completely write-off, ignore or oppose them, particularly if they have sound scientific or other factual data backing some of their core positions. The additional positions they take are where things start to get a little sticky.

Where am I going with this? Carbon and carbon-based fuels have taken on a worldview of being as close to evil as it gets. Legions of special interest groups from all over the world are lobbying each other, national governments, the UN, the EU, the U.S. and others on the evils of carbon and carbon-based power generation.

Cleaner Air

Much of this is related to coal, but most is about petroleum products and their use for various fuels and chemicals.

With regard to coal and fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel, they are cheap, highly efficient, remain hugely plentiful and are readily available on a global scale. Much of modern age development needs to give credit to the billions of tons of ancient dinosaurs and vegetation that died millions of years ago for these highly concentrated energy sources.

In the interest of cleaning up the environment, producers and users of these fuels have done a remarkable job of nearly eliminating their emissions of harmful post-use byproducts, like soot and NOx. Much of that has been helped along by government regulations and other laws enacted to force progress.

Do we all want cleaner air? The knee-jerk response is: “Yes.” The question needs to be: Compared to what?

Zero Emissions

There is no such thing as a zero-emission power source, although much of the current argument is centered on just that. Is a plug-in hybrid motor vehicle considered 100-percent zero emissions? No, because the electricity generated for the power used to charge up the battery probably comes from a fossil-fueled power source, potentially fueled with a mix of organics, like methanol or biodiesel.

Even wind turbines and solar panels require huge amounts of fossil fuel in the production and transportation of making the products.

We are currently in the middle of a period of time where the entire world is doing what it can to stop greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, climate change, carbon emissions and a range of other related issues.

Whether or not you believe in any, none or all of these matters isn’t the point. They are all aimed at the fossil fuel industry and their customers: you.

Real Relevance

There are a number of theories on this, with many of them in the category of “whacky” or “nutty.” Regardless, driven by these special interests, anti-carbon laws and regulations have been enacted all over the world.

These are concerns such as the alternative fuel industry, wind and solar power-generating equipment makers, socialists that want to use the trillions of generated wealth for redistribution, anti-oil and coal groups - mainly opposed to the huge amount of money made off of energy, people who believe we need to return to the days of the horse and buggy or all use bicycles or light rail, and on and on. There are thousands of laws on the books and in process to address the matter of cleaning up the environment, which is far from settled science and is in reality, a theory.

It doesn’t do any good to just get mad over some of this. We need to use cost-benefit analysis on any and all regulation, particularly as it relates to energy. A government forcing the use of technology that is not, nor ever will be, cost effective is not energy independence. Although in an increasingly global economy, one has to wonder if that is really relevant anymore.

Taxing or regulating against a core element of the global economy makes very little sense, especially when you think back a couple of years when oil prices nearly caused its collapse.

True Reason

My message is very simple. We need to all begin to apply much more critical thought to these “mantra-like” themes that emerge with elected officials and in the media.

Challenge the messenger (usually the media) on why this issue is being presented as fact, when in reality it is usually a pet theory of a special interest group or groups.

Corner your elected officials when it appears that they are going along with some special-interest-group driven theory, possibly in the interest of election funding support, more than the greater good.

Keep in mind that I run a special interest group. This was not an easy column for me to write.

Tim Kraus is Executive Director of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. Prior to joining HDMA, he served as director of sales and marketing at Triseal Corp. The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) is the heavy duty market segment association of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Associations (MEMA). HDMA exclusively represents the interests and serves heavy duty product manufacturers.