It is again time for a Public Works Administration

By Sarason D. Liebler | May 03, 2012

In the Great Depression of the 1930's, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried a number of programs, using federal money, to get the nation back to work. By and large they failed to accomplish that task and the nation's industry only started to hum as it prepared itself for World War II. However, what it did accomplish was to build much of the infrastructure that led to the enormous expansion of our country's manufacturing and economic base, while also allowing for the improvement of living conditions for all Americans and, after the war, the revival of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan.


The Public Works Administration (PWA) focused on big, even massive efforts, huge dams, bridges and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electric power to the rural south. Projects of that kind today would generate vast opposition from the folks who fight every form of business or infrastructure revival from Maine to California and most places in between. In Maine this would include port facilities as proposed for Searsport; wind power farms on any mountain and hill top; gas pipelines, even on existing right of ways; hydro power development and, of course, nuclear power plants, no matter that the safety of the new designs is apparent to the experts.


This fierce opposition comes from the same crowd that is now focused on stopping Genetically Modified Organisms, proclaimed the end of the world with Y2K in the 1990s, and now lends credence to the Mayan calendar predicting the “real” end of the world this coming on December 21.


Their concerns, however, conflict. They successfully, if perhaps temporarily, fought the proposed Keystone Pipeline extension in the Midwest to bring Canadian tar sands crude oil to our refineries on the Gulf Coast. All the while bemoaning that we must become independent of oil from the Middle East.


Meanwhile something else is going on, something staggeringly good. In a March, 12 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ed Morse, a knowledgeable commodities market analyst, wrote a column titled Move Over, OPEC Here We Come. Pointing out that we have recently become a net exporter of hydrocarbon fuel, he outlines how our increasing hydrocarbon availability will give a major boost to our struggling Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the best way to measure a societies real economic growth.


And there is more, much more.


With new drilling and recovery techniques our natural gas reserves and production has leaped forward compared to just a few years ago. Massive amounts of gas are now available. Reserves of over 100 years of cheap, clean energy have been identified. Not long ago one thousand cubic feet of gas was priced at over $15; it recently fell to below $2.


One big problem has hit quickly. With the bountiful gas now being harvested we are all ready running out of places to store it, much less being able to deliver it to all the locations that can use it.


This is why we need something like the PWA of the 1930's. The PWA, though paid for by the taxpayer, contracted with private enterprise to build the projects. Though there were project delays somewhat different from what we would face today, they can be overcome, as they were back then. Natural gas would free us from OPEC. Pipe lines from north to south and east to west from urban to suburban and even rural locales is a key to future solid prosperity. Using this abundant, clean fuel, would also leave some money in our wallets as natural gas sells for less than half the cost of the equivalent amount of heating oil. It would also greatly boost our industry as the low energy costs would cause companies to hesitate in moving production overseas. It would be especially important in revitalizing the northeast which now depends on oil.


Is it as simple as I make it sound, not at all. Politicians will fight, environmentalists will scream, wail and march, anarchists will violently protest and the 99 percent folks will claim it is all a plot to enrich the 1 percent. They would all then sit down and celebrate their new cause over a cold, vegan, organic, uncooked, unappetizing and indigestible pot luck supper.


But, the gas will flow and the government should be encouraged to make it so quickly.


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