All posts by Steven

Pinellas County Manatee Rule

Pinellas County is on Tampa Bay, Florida. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is proposing a bunch of new manatee speed zones in Pinellas, with the goal of reducing the number of manatees struck and killed by boats. This concern first emerged in 2007. It took seven years for FWC staff even to distribute a set of draft rules. Seven years. Without spoiling the outcome (OK, we’re opposed to the new zones), readers need to realize that all this effort, put toward something that just plain is not needed, is due to one big problem: the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act were written decades ago, and are oftentimes — thisentimes — detrimental, even downright dangerous.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission has almost unlimited power to regulate boats. And because its power is unlimited, it is always fearful of being sued for not doing enough. (Yes, I even have that in writing from them!) In this case, the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service issued “comments” to the Army Corps, which issues permits for marina and dock construction. Based on the negative comments (in 2007), the Corps denied the permits. The comments kicked the ball downstairs to FWC to do something about it. So FWC — after seven years — is proposing more speed zones.

The trouble is — a lot has changed in seven years.

This piece was written on behalf of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways, a boating group whose membership includes a bunch of bonafide Cape Kennedy rocket scientists.

CFFW has repeatedly stated, where sound sciences leads, it will follow. The following four objections are firmly grounded in science:

1)       The original reason given to support the need for more zones in Pinellas County has been disproven.

A 2007 Biological Opinion from the Fish & Wildlife Service, which led to Army Corps denial of several Pinellas County permits applications, concluded that since the manatee population in Southwest Florida appeared to be declining, adding more boat slips in Pinellas would adversely impact the manatee. FWS’ Dave Hankla opined that until more speed zones were added, permits would not be issued.

That was seven and a half years ago.

Nothing was done until last year, 2014, when FWC staff advised Pinellas County to form a Local Rule Review Committee to consider more zones.

But, before the Commission convened the local rule review committee, new information released by FWS and the US Geological Survey showed that the Southwest manatee stock is NOT in decline. It’s growing rapidly. Indeed, manatees are growing rapidly in all four Florida stocks, and are being seen much more frequently beyond Florida, too.

The 2013 Runge, et. al. findings project a zero possibility of manatee extinction in 100 years, and show that boat mortality is – these are our words – so insignificant a threat that they are a distraction from what we should be doing to ensure a healthy and sustainable manatee population.

CFFW asked the US Geological Survey author, at a Manatee Forum meeting, if the improvements were because of better protection. He said, NO. It’s because of better data and methods, not better protection. Moreover, he said that if the current methods and data had been available in 2007, the results would have been positive back then, too.

Following the release of this new and better information, the appropriate conclusion should have been for FWS to issue a new Biological Opinion finding there would be no “adverse affect”. FWC’s plan to create more speed zones is an unnecessary and inappropriate action, given the new data showing the Southwest population is not in decline.

2)       FWC data is based on a flawed approach that ignores and violates the long-established Law of Large Numbers, a fundamental principle for research. In simple terms, FWC’s data plays fast and loose with statistics, using small numbers to generate dire-sounding percentage-based findings.

Jacob Bernoulli first described the LLN as so simple that even the stupidest man instinctively knows it is true (Ars Conjectandi: Usum & Applicationem Praecedentis Doctrinae in Civilibus, Moralibus & Oeconomicis, 1713, Chapter 4).

FWC attempted to show that watercraft mortality in Pinellas County – more specifically, Western Pinellas County – is rising at a faster rate than in other counties. However, the sample size – a handful of manatee mortalities – is so small that no trend can be established, and no comparison to other, larger, samples, can be made. FWC has not established a viable reason to implement more zones.

Science strongly cautions against the use of rates and percentages based on small numbers. The National Center for Health Statistics advises against the use of statistics based on a numerator of less than 20, which is consistent with standard CDC (Centers for Disease Control) practice. Moreover, it’s recommended that rates (percentages) be suppressed when using small numbers, to avoid the kind of statistical inflation that happens when a number increases from 1 to 2 (that’s 100%!). A good review of these issues is available for the Washington State Department of Health and from CDC.

FWC ‘s report authors never heard about the LLN, or ignored it.

3)       There is no good evidence to suggest more zones will be effective in reducing watercraft mortality, nor any evidence to support the premise that a reduction in watercraft is needed.

When speed zones are proposed, the result has always been the addition of new zones. As manatee population continues to grow (doubling every 12 years), more and more zones follow. Several years ago, CFFW, working with then-Executive Director Ken Haddad, asked FWC staff to develop a “black box” that would help inform decisions on where zones should be located – where they are most likely to have a positive effect. The result was the “fast overlap” maps used in Pinellas and elsewhere. (When this method was used to review changes in zones proposed by CFFW in 2004, and supported by a Brevard County resolution that was co-authored by CFFW and the manatee club, this rather primitive tool clearly showed that several Brevard zones were unnecessary; nonetheless, the zones remain in place.)

Haddad was dissatisfied with this new tool, as were we, given that it uses agglomerated data that seeks to put manatees and “fast boats” in proximity, but ignores both time and water depth. That is to say, the boat may have been in the area at 5AM, and the manatee at 6PM, yet the “dots” coincide. The manatee may be in deep water (and thus able, according to peer-reviewed studies, to dive safely beneath recreational watercraft), but the charts are only two-dimensional, ignoring depth.

We have recommended improvements to the model several times, but without success. The existing situation is that we have no goal for the new zones, other than a hope that more zones will somehow reduce watercraft-related mortality.

Moreover, the very process of selecting zones is at best part scientific, and part political. There is give and take.

In its review, the local rule review committee voted against some zones in channels. FWC staff’s proposal includes those zones in channels, including another half mile of the intracoastal.

Because FWC has not developed a reasonable tool for determining zone placement, and has not developed a means to evaluate the effectiveness of its zones, we are left with a question: what possible evidence is there that the proposed zones will reduce watercraft mortality? And, if the LRRC recommendation was allowed to stand – no zones in channels – how would that change the effectiveness of the zones? We don’t know, because FWC does not have the ability to tell us, other than to opine that more zones is always better (which, in itself, is often not true).

FWC and FWS admit they do not know if speed zones work, or what zones are most likely to reduce mortality. But, even if zones do work, what’s being demanded here in Pinellas County will reduce watercraft mortality by one per year at the most.


At a minimum, FWC staff should abide by the LRRC determinations and not add more zones than the LRRC supported.

4)        Even if the Commission establishes more zones, there is no guarantee that any of the denied permits – or future permit applications – will be approved. CFFW has asked for that assurance, in writing. It has not been forthcoming.

In discussions with FWS, the issue seems to be that a “carte blanche” letter of support could open the gates for other applications that may not be advisable. This avoids the core issue: FWS should provide a letter listing those permits that will be released if the rule is approved; a list of those that may be approved; and a list of those that will not.




In conclusion: the original justification for these zones is disproven. We don’t know that these zones will be effective. Even if the potential decrease in mortality is achieved (one fewer death per year), the net benefit will have no effect on a manatee population that is doubling every 12 years already! And we have no assurance that permits will be released.

FWC should advise FWS that no additional zones are necessary, and that permits withheld now for more than seven years – seven years – should be released.

Oysters are Habitat-Forming

Credits to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for the headline. It was spotted on a sign in Charleston Harbor, pointing out a local oyster restoration project.

Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.
Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.

The importance of oysters as more than a mouth-watering delight is sparking  renewed interest in the bivalve. Oysters filter and clean vast amounts of water. Put them in a tank of typical Florida estuary (near shore) water, wait a day, and the water will be clean. Move oysters from dirty water to clean water, and in two weeks, they are completely safe to eat (a very neat trick; tainted nutrients we eat tend to stay in us a long time, even forever. Not the oyster. What goes in, really does come back out).

Oyster bars — the kind in the water, not the Amen Street bar in Charleston — are hugely significant environmentally, doing everything from blunting the force of bad weather and providing food and shelter to other marine critters, to capturing CO2. That’s right, even “climate change” is aided and abetted by the oyster, which removes CO2 from the water and turns it into calcium carbonate — literally the oyster shell.

Not surprisingly, for a long time, we have done not been doing right by oysters. New York Harbor, for example, used to be almost brimful of them. Apalachicola Bay in Florida, one of the most southerly oyster harvest sites, has been suffering for years, as far-upstream Atlanta siphons off more and more of the freshwater oysters need to thrive.

While it’s certainly true that a desire to make a buck from oysters was at the root of the significant declines we’ve been seeing in oyster production, it’s equally true that the decline could not have happened without the help (or hindrance) of government. Pretty much everyplace you care to look where oysters have suffered, government has permitted the problem, usually with the best of intentions, but oftentimes not.

Oystermen working an oyster “relay,” where oysters are moved from conditionally closed areas to open water where they can be harvested in a few weeks. Relays can be good employment when many oysterbeds are seasonally closed.

Now we’re in a time when rebuilding oysters is the marine ’cause du jour’. Lots of proposals are seeking funding — including one of ours — and many groups, from the Ocean Conservancy to the Nature Conservancy to SeaGrant, are urging action to restore oysters. In September, the US Department of Commerce finally declared a “fisheries disaster” for Florida panhandle oysters, largely in response to the collapse of oystering in Apalachicola Bay, which was already hurt by reduced water flow and then hammered by the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

But — there’s hardly any funding yet for any of the proposed projects. The bit that’s been made available, through the National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA, a Federal-state program that funds restoration of resources damaged by oil spills and the like), has yet to be spent. Three years into what’s called “early restoration,” and nothing’s happened so far.

Eventually, funds will flow and some improvements will be made. Unfortunately, for too many of the men and women who have been struggling to make ends meet in the oyster industry, too little will come too late.

We’re trying to help speed things up. Wish us — and the people whose livelihoods depend on it — luck.

Deepwater Horizon Bust or Boom?

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010 was a shocking disaster resulting in a tragic loss of lives.

But, if there had been no deaths, it would be easier for us to look at the oil spill another way: It could be a bonanza for people along the Gulf struggling through a sour economy. Or, it could be a bust, a repeat of the stimulus fiasco.

In the immediate aftermath of the oil spill, thousands of people — many of them already laid off in the Great Recession — were put to work in one of the biggest public works projects since the Great Depression, setting boom, skimming oil, cleaning beaches.

MW Consulting’s crew demonstrated boom made from natural, oil-absorbing kenaf.

Everyone living along the Gulf Coast knew someone — or were themselves — involved in the clean-up. MW Consulting was itself involved. We convinced Florida’s DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) to put out a call to inventors and builders to demonstrate restoration products. More than twenty groups from around the world participated, on an oil-soaked stretch of Pensacola Beach, FL.

Most of the people who worked in the clean-up, especially those involved in the “Vessels of Opportunity” program — privately owned boats hired by BP (British Petroleum) for inshore and offshore work — loved the money but were disdainful of the actual work.

Repeatedly, “it’s being done for the cameras” was heard. Members of land crews also raised issues, the most common being that oil wasn’t being removed from shores and beaches: it was being buried.

Despite the negativity, most everyone was grateful for the work — and the money. No one knows for sure how much was spent, but it was in the billions.

Now: round 2. The money from fines that will flow into the Gulf States will be at least $5 billion, and perhaps as much as $20 billion. In addition to fines, there will be lawsuit money, someday. Even at the low end ($5 billion), that works out to about $25 per gallon in fines for each gallon spilt (about 5 million barrels, or 200 million gallons).

In short, a lot of money, with 80% of it going to the affected states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida).

In Florida, every Gulf Coast county is guaranteed some part of what the state receives.

What will they spend it on? MW Consulting is working with various counties on their project lists, which then go into a state consortium plan, which then goes to a Federal council. As there is no deadline to spend it all — and no real timeline on when the greenbacks will start flowing — this will be a story for years to come.

What we hope is that this opportunity isn’t botched the way the stimulus program was. We had predicted from the start of stimulus that governments were not capable of efficiently spending vast sums of money quickly, and indeed they were not. The Inspector General for Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which last year assumed control of the state’s foundering Energy Office, has just concluded exactly that (click here to link to a press release and copy of their audit).

A related question is whether or not the oil well has actually been contained. Reports of significant seepage and still-uncollected spillage continue.

Our goal is to help our clients manage their way through what will be a challenging process, resulting in projects that create and retain jobs, and that are worth doing. We will do our part to ensure the goals are met!

Primaries? Who Needs ‘Em?

Why did a political party’s choices for candidates for office become a government-run process? In short, why must we have primaries?

Most readers will conjure up images of smoke-filled rooms where sacks of money are exchanged for slots on a party’s slate of candidates, and conclude that’s a bad way of running a country. If every party did that, we’d end up with a bunch of scalawags and worse on the election ballot every time.

Or would we? Refer to other articles here for the mantra:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.

Have government-run primaries improved the quality of candidates and officeholders? Or does the “smoke-filled rooms” scenario simply take place much earlier, followed by the long, tortuous, ridiculously expensive primary season?

Who really benefits from primaries anyway? Certainly not candidates who, egged on by media, tear into each other so vigorously and viciously that almost no one casts a ballot without a bad taste in the mouth. Certainly not we voters, whose choices are limited to the folks willing to hustle for the kind of bucks needed to buy the advertising to — well, to buy the election.

Here in Florida, even a State House district race — where the winner brings home about $30,000 a year — costs a quarter million to stand a chance.

Perhaps that’s why this article is on a website not supported by advertising. Whether primaries are a good thing or not, the news and advertising industries sure aren’t going to endorse a different nominating process.

What could that process be? For starters, parties should have the option of participating in a primary or not. If they prefer to gather in a smoke-filled room — or a vegan resort, whatever — to select their candidates, fine. As long as they qualify for the ballot, life is good.

For parties that want the added exposure, as negative as that always seems to be — sure, stay in the primary process. But if there is one law for all primaries that ought to be  created, let’s allow  independent voters (not registered with a particular party) to vote in the party primary of their choice.

This path would likely (hopefully) improve the process in three ways:

For parties that opt out of primaries, the cost to run would be much less, which hopefully would mean more (and more qualified) candidates would seek office.

For parties that stay in the primary, independent voters would almost certainly moderate the views of the winner. This means the kowtowing to a party’s “core” that goes on during primaries, which is then replaced with strained explanations of how Ms Candidate is not really in favor of government financed abortions for all illegals (ooops, undocumented workers), while Mr Candidate wants antennae implanted in everyone’s heads only after they’re arrested — well, it probably won’t go away, but there should be less of it.

For parties that just plain really want the a candidate on the ballot because of that abortion  / antennae thing, they can opt out of the primary to ensure the candidate with their views is on the ballot.

The downsides? The one we’ll hear most is that the public won’t have as much time to “assess” candidates. Maybe there’s substance to that, but given the big story in late July — did someone on Romney’s staff use the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ — c’mon already.

Of course, New Hampshire will still have its primary in January and Iowa will still hold its caucuses months before any of us should be seriously thinking about this stuff. And, except for the early date, they probably should. But any large state like California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois, would do well to reconsider.


Take the Balanced Budget Amendment Pledge!

Everyone knows that politicians take more pledges than a frat house during Rush Week.

So let’s ask ’em all to take one more:

“If elected, I will return each year to the Treasury my family’s share of the National Debt,  except during a time of war, or in any year where Congress passes and the President signs, a budget with a surplus.”

Copy this succinct little sucker and email it to your local candidates! Ask them to sign on.

Think how many Republicans took Grover Norquist’s “no taxes” pledge. (In the 112th Congress, 236 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge.)

Consider this pledge Version 2 of the Norquist Pledge. Some folks have issues with Norquist’s approach, arguing, “It asks politicians to outsource your principles and convictions,” as former Florida Gov Jeb Bush put it.

Not so this pledge: it puts politicians’ money in the same purse or wallet as their principles and convictions. (Another carefully parsed analogy, by the way.)

Let’s hope this idea catches on. If candidates step up, there would be no need for a constitutional amendment, a US law, or even a Congressional rule to require what we’re proposing here, although all three of these would be completely legitimate and legal approaches.

Congress has become so bad at managing our affairs that current members should offer to repay their family’s share retroactively from their first day in the hallowed halls, exempting those years of declared war (none in office would be so affected) or a balanced budget. Maybe that will be Version 3.



Making Votes Count — Part 2

Voting is a right, not a requirement, in the US and in most of the world. However, some 30 countries, ranging from Australia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, require adults to cast a ballot.

There are arguments pro and con to a compulsory vote. The greatest factor in favor is that elections are decided by a true majority of the population, rather than the slice that makes its way to the polls. The biggest factor against is that voting can be a real pain in the butt — and what to do if you don’t, in fact, like any of the candidates?

Another argument against compulsory voting is it would “dumb down” the election, as many people forced to vote might do so in spite, or ignorance, or (as in the case of some honest-to-goodness ballots), use the dots to create pretty patterns.

The question of fraudulent voting — which is attracting a great deal of attention of late as Republicans pass laws to require photo IDs to cast a ballot, and the Democratic US Justice Department files lawsuits to prevent this — is likely the greatest challenge to compulsory — therefore universal — voting.

All of that said, would not we as a nation be a more democratic republic (and please take note of that careful phrasing) if more of us took part in the process?

Based on the 30 or so countries that require voting,  whether compulsory balloting is good for the country (or not) is unclear.

Perhaps that is because they only require voters to cast a ballot, nothing more.

Finally, the idea

On each ballot, include  three questions:

  • Who is the president of the US (Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama: pick one).
  • Who is your state’s current governor? Pick from a list of recent candidates.
  • Does the US Government run at a deficit? Yes or no.

It would need to be multiple choice. And fairly simple. There’s a “civics test” making the rounds of the internet (click here to try it out) that’s tough — and also subject to quibbling over what answers are correct. These questions are clear-cut. Create a list of 20 similar ones and spit out different questions on different ballots.

Here’s the deal: For a ballot to count, the voter must answer at least two of the three questions on his or her ballot correctly.

Not an especially high hurdle, and maybe the bar needs to be higher. Then again, look at what we got with our current system:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama. Hmmmm.

And one other requirement: for national offices, there should be a “none of the above” choice. And if “none of the above” prevails, elections are held until someone takes the prize.

Jeffersonian Democracy is based on this notion:  democracy demands an educated and informed electorate. Would it even matter if voters took the answers to the questions into the booth with them? They can take a sheet saying whom to vote for with them now, after all. And would it even matter if “illegals” voted, as long as they are “educated and informed?”

Would educated and informed voters have changed “Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama?” Would this idea help make votes count?





Why Biofuels Haven’t Succeeded in Florida

Why isn’t the biofuel market taking hold in Florida? Here are five reasons:


Their intent is good, but their process is a disaster. The military insists on purchasing “drop-in” renewable fuel, which can be used in place of petrofuel. While there are several approaches being developed, none of them are commercially viable yet, and none of the resulting products are certified for use as a replacement fuel. The military blends all of it with petrofuel before use (50-50 blends of several crops are now certified). Drop in facilities cost hundreds of millions to build; couple that with the short-term, competitive, contracts the military uses, and the cost per gallon is enormous, as the producer shoots for the highest price possible to help recoup their enormous investment.

We can make competitively priced biodiesel easily that can be blended with petroleum, but the military doesn’t want what we can make.


Federal (and previously State) grants to build or test or research, etc., fuels, kept just about everyone scurrying after those “free” dollars — and that in turn has kept private sector funding largely out of the picture. There are exceptions — companies like GEVO that are developing products like isobutanol made from corn are doing pretty well (I picked up some GEVO shares a few weeks ago, in fact). Typically, you’ll find these companies have backing from oil companies. In my opinion, grants have delayed, rather than aided, the development of alternative fuels. Companies and other researchers chase these dollars, spending a huge amount of time developing proposals, waiting for review, and then not receiving a grant. Waiting for funding through a grant program has kept a lot of good ideas from being implemented.


The carbon cap restrictions — the military by law can’t buy non-petro fuel that does not have a lower carbon content than petroleum — has been a complete failure. For example, a Florida firm we do some work with can make a gasoline equivalent out of coal, for less than the cost of petrogas. But, because of the restriction, they have no buyer. It’s likely this restriction will be removed, which is a good thing. Interestingly, it’s the Republicans pushing for the rescission of that requirement, while Dems like Udall and Murray want to keep it.


One sad truth we’ve learned over the past four years is that there is no strategy at the state (much less Federal) level for development of alternative fuels. The old Climate Change Commission grants were awarded with no path forward. For example, they granted some money to grow feedstocks, but there were (are) no facilities in Florida that could crush/squeeze the crops into a product that can then be processed in a refinery. This is because the state has never done an inventory of what facilities exist, what crops or other resources are available, or what products can be made — to say nothing of finding buyers for them. Commissioner Putnam understands this and is working on a resource inventory. The initial inventory will be of forest resources. Farm crops are not yet being inventoried.

As an example of the problems caused by a lack of strategy, the kenaf crop (which is a good energy crop) that has been planted the past two years is sitting in round bales around south Florida, with no buyers. The farmers who grew it lost a good bit of money on that one.

MW Consulting has proposed a series of workshops between regulators, refiners, growers, and investors to help develop this path forward. It’s cheap, easy, and effective; we did a similar series for the marine industry a few years ago with great results. But…. not yet. $250,000 would pay for the whole program.


We’ve been aggressively seeking support for a proposal to refine RP-1 — Rocket Propellant used for pretty much everything launched at Cape Canaveral — from feedstocks sourced here in Florida. It’s a small, lucrative niche market. The challenge has been to get all the government agencies involved in space to act. Very honestly, they don’t know how to be proactive.

To sum up, government has been a hindrance — not a help.

Making Votes Count — Part 1

On Father’s Day, ABC News aired photos of presidents and other celebrity dads with their kids. The photo of JFK and daughter Caroline was just plain adorable. The one of Nixon (do you prefer RMN?) and daughter Tricia — he looked angry and she looked scared.

That’s how JFK and Nixon are always — always — portrayed.

Make no mistake about it, media didn’t hate Nixon: they loved him. They loved to ridicule him, attack him, portray him as the ugliest American. In a weird way they probably loved Nixon more than JFK, whom they could only cover in that dog-loyal to the point of drooling on your leg sycophantic kowtowing that even today requires a handsome Jack and shadowy Tricky Dick.

So what’s that go to do with voting? Quite a lot. Long before JFK made media swoon, pundits fretted that granting women the vote would turn elections into popularity contests — like voting for homecoming king and queen, as women would be unaware of the real issues of the campaign. An insult, to be sure.

The same’s been said about African-Americans (and pretty much any immigrant). In the nation’s early days (ending about 1850), only those white men with property could vote, because arguably they were the only ones with “skin in the game”, and thus motivated to vote intelligently.

Insults, to be sure. A slap in the face to the bedrock concept of inclusiveness in a democracy.

Just look at who those white men elected President back then. Washington. Adams. Jefferson. Madison. Monroe. Another Adams.  What a bunch of losers!

Compare that to whom we elect now:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.


Let’s be honest: Those who sought to disenfranchise everyone but themselves may have  been correct — albeit for very, very wrong reasons. They argued that (insert group here) should be denied the vote because (repeat group name) is insufficiently informed to vote responsibly.

Prejudice, of course, is BS. The truth is, people of any and all groups who are ill-informed cannot vote responsibly. Still, we cajole and plead for people to vote, despite all the hoopla about “purging” voter rolls, then ridicule the fools who cast a vote for (insert candidate here).

Voting has become a right detached from responsibility. Which goes a long way toward explaining that Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama electoral report card….

And, just as truthfully, too many of us form opinions and cast ballots based on infotainment: such as pictures of cuddly presidents and kids. Take a look at pre-TV Presidents. Who would vote for a shocker like Lincoln? With a madwoman wife? And those kids! And Washington — he had wooden teeth for cryin’ out loud.

Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama.    Hmmmm.


Why Renewable Fuel Only Works on “Dallas”

The reincarnation of the prime-time soap “Dallas” is back on the air. This time, it pits cousins John Ross and Christopher against each other in a battle between oil and renewable fuels. John has struck oil, while Christopher has a dream about frozen methane.

Only on TV will you find anyone willing to walk away from a bona fide gusher in order to lick a frozen fuel slurpee.

Out here in the real world, the renewable fuel business is a mess. Billions spent, years wasted, and the Navy is still paying $64 a gallon for its Green Fleet “drop-in”, low-carbon fuel — and it still mixes the high-priced stuff with petroleum!

In the meantime, entrepreneurs who can make plain ol’ biodiesel that’s cost-competitive with the petro version, can’t find investors or get a loan. Why? Because everyone is still lined up at the Federal trough of “free” grant money — and until that trough is emptied, the private market can’t — and won’t — compete.


A Balanced Budget Amendment That Works

The US national debt is nearly $16 trillion (as of this writing). It is increasing every day by almost $4 billion — billion!

Critics of a balanced budget amendment argue that, in times of national emergency or war, Congress needs the authority to spend more than it brings in.

Whether you believe that or not, it’s sadly clear that neither Congress nor the President take ownership of the debt. They create it, but are not responsible for it.

What can we do? Here’s an alternative to a balanced budget amendment:

Per capita, each person in America “owns” $50,000 in Federal debt.

Congress and the President should deduct from their salaries their share of the debt, every year. This could be done legislatively, or as an amendment.

Every candidate should be asked: if you believe in what you are proposing to spend, will you shoulder your personal burden of that expense you are creating by deducting that amount from your salary and returning it to the Treasury?

And while you’re at it, what about your family’s share?