7.22.2004 | Smart Energy Policy... from Business?

Normally, you'd expect environmental reforms to come from laws. The Clean Air and Clean Water acts of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s especially come to mind. But what about when business finds a way to serve the environment because it actually coincides with their need to make a profit? One such example is the Greenville, S.C. BMW plant, which has become a plant in more ways than one. Not only does it make cars, but it also powers its own electricity using escaping Methane gas from a nearby landfill.

It may not sound environmentally friendly because of the source of the fuel, but in fact using Methane gas to generate electricity helps the environment by reducing emissions of a potent greenhouse gas. Escaping gas that comes from the decomposing trash in landfills usually ends up in the atmosphere, where it can be as much as 23 times more effective than the well-known greenhouse gas carbon dioxide at trapping heat from the sun's rays, accelerating global climate change. Burning the Methane, on the other hand, produces minimal carbon dioxide emissions, creating a net positive effect for the environment.

My question is: if this method of producing electricity is good enough for businesses, why isn't it good enough for our government? The last president to make a commitment to renewable energy was Jimmy Carter, and that was because we found ourselves in the middle of an energy crisis. Today we're dealing with record gas prices, and the only renewable energy proposal on the table -- which may not be as renewable as it sounds -- is hydrogen-powered cars. The rest of the current administration's energy policy focuses on creating more production of current energy sources.

We never got anywhere by sticking to the status quo. Government can be a positive force in society to achieve great things, not the least of which was our journey to the moon and the vast progress we've made in space exploration since then. As long as we're sending satellites to kingdom come, why can't we create more innovative energy sources like these here at home? Let's just hope this example out of South Carolina will be followed, and that it will encourage the government -- local, state, and federal -- to take a look at how it can promote more common-sense solutions like these.

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7.21.2004 | Credit Where Credit is Due

What's in your wallet? Traveling the Capital Beltway one day I saw a large alumnium-colored building rising from the ground in Tysons Corner, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., with a sign out front that read "Future Home of Capital One National Headquarters." The headquarters, it turned out, were previously located in Richmond, Virginia, 100 miles further away from the most influential city in the world. Less than a year later I learned in Mother Jones magazine that Capital One in recent election cycles was second only to MBNA in ratio of political contributions given to the GOP over Democrats (MBNA's 350% to Capital One's 267).

It turns out most major credit card companies, with the exception of Providian, give at least marginally more to the GOP because Republicans tend to favor tougher legislation making it harder for people to declare bankruptcy and rid themselves of their credit card debt. This makes sense for Capital One, who in the past has been accused of giving out credit cards too easily to people without sufficient credit history, a practice I consider akin to predatory lending. These uncreditworthy people abuse these cards and then they're trapped with debt that, thanks to the credit card companies' lobbying efforts, they can't easily escape. We might as well go back to the days when people were jailed for not paying their debts.

Adding final insult to injury, I read in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch that Capital One is firing 30% of its U.S. call center workforce, at a time when it is reaping record profits. Another reason Capital One might support Republicans more is because they favor these kind of job-cutting measures to increase corporate profits -- "global competitiveness" they call it. The Times article states that the jobs will be contracted to "U.S.-based companies," but as any recent call to Capital One customer service can tell you, these same companies will probably sub-contract out those jobs to India, so they will make a profit off both cheap labor, while Capital One's savings are only limited because they are paying a contractor to do what they could do themselves.

This is a prime example of what's wrong with America today, where corporations are totally shirking their social responsibility to their home team for minimal gains in profits. A Capital One spokesman cited the "competitiveness" of the credit card industry, but will they lose customers for keeping jobs in the United States? No. They want to be just that much more profitable than the next company, even if America suffers for it in terms of lost jobs. This is the kind of corporate "Benedict Arnolds" John Kerry was talking about when he was on the campaign trail in the primaries, and it's the kind of corporate behavior I'd like to see any party, Republican or Democrat, fix when they take over control of the government after the November elections.

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