The New American Streetcar Energy Scandal {Reader Post}

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Following up on my article and call-to-action to help revive the extremely successful clean energy and energy efficiency program PACE, here’s an excellent post by an anonymous CleanTechnica reader.

great american streetcar scandal

Although not about streetcars as the title suggests and not working directly from the private sector possibly a new front has been set up to fight against the successes of the alternative energy movement. Instead of re-writing the story of The Great American Streetcar Scandal for historical comparison, here it is as written by John Robbins:

Public transit in the United States has not always been so neglected. In the 1920s and 1930s, almost every town in the country had a light- rail system trolley service. Mass transit was convenient, cheap, and plentiful. But in the years between 1936 and 1950, there took place one of the sorriest events in our nation’s history–what has become known as the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.” A number of large corporations, including General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum, operating secretly through front organizations, conspired to purchase streetcar systems in forty- five major U.S. cities, including Detroit, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. The consortium then proceeded to completely dismantle the trolley systems, ripping up their tracks and tearing down their overhead wires. For this, General Motors and its corporate allies were indicted in 1947 on federal antitrust charges. For two years, the workings of the conspiracy and its underlying intentions were exposed in federal court. Eventually, despite being represented by the best attorneys money could buy, the defendants were found guilty by the federal jury.

Today there is the possibility of something that might add up to a modern Great American Streetcar Energy Scandal. Obama is known to support alternative energy but at least four of his government agencies are opposing alternative energy in unprecedented ways.

Wind power installations are being opposed supposedly due to their impact on radar and government home loan guarantors have written a letter that has put a road block in the way of one of the most successful ways to finance alternative energy. More on the wind-power/radar story from the NYTimes:

In 2009, about 9,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects were abandoned or delayed because of radar concerns raised by the military and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a member survey by the American Wind Energy Association. That is nearly as much as the amount of wind capacity that was actually built in the same year, the trade group says.

The Defence Department could upgrade computers at the radar stations that often have less computing power than you or I have at home. These upgrades could better take in to account proposed wind energy installations. But instead of modernizing the radar facilities the government chooses to stop a major percentage of wind energy.

On the second front government is opposing the fast growing and innovative PACE programs which have recently helped many people install solar on their homes to generate their own electricity. All PACE programs have recently been ground to a stop due to a single letter written by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. More on that from Grist:

Until late spring, PACE was spreading at a steady clip: Twenty-two states had endorsed the model and encouraged municipalities to set up programs. San Francisco had just launched a program and Los Angeles was preparing for one later in the year. The Obama administration backed the model with $150 million in stimulus-act funding and an endorsement from the vice president’s Middle Class Task Force. Then Fannie and Freddie threw the nation’s first programs into confusion in May by warning lenders to stay away from properties with PACE assessments. The mortgage-finance corporations object to the liens that PACE puts on properties, which get paid off ahead of mortgages if a borrower defaults. That adds a theoretical risk into an already jittery credit market.

Does this amount to THE NEW GREAT AMERICAN STREETCAR ENERGY SCANDAL? Maybe there is no premeditated sabotage behind this,.. or perhaps some heavy-duty media resources could show there actually is more to these blockades, which are being put up just as alternative energy is making real headway? Perhaps there really is a concerted effort to slow a clean energy revolution and this is part of it.

One interesting place of research might be the fact that the head of Fannie and Freddie’s government regulator just prior to issuing the PACE letter, James B. Lockhart III, had ties to the streetcar scandal. He was, in the 1970s, the Assistant Treasurer of Gulf Oil (previously Standard Oil Company) in Europe and the U.S, the company convicted of the great American streetcar scandal. He has yet to be added to this government-industry revolving door list, though he seems to be a good candidate. Could he have seeded the FHA letter that took PACE out? Could he have copied tactics used to kill American streetcars to try to kill clean American energy?

One might not see big wind energy generation as a real threat to big energy companies but it’s not a stretch to see why it could be. If many people had home generation of energy, as PACE was helping to get started, then one can see why friends of oil might try to use government influence to stop PACE from growing. In the case of big wind turbines, they don’t normally help out the little guy — on the other hand, they can act as a powerful statement…. Energy is widely available all around us.

PACE is organizing right now to get its self back on track. I don’t yet know of a movement to oppose the actions that go against wind power, though. Please comment if you know of such an organized group.

Historical connection: Standard Oil of California Co. was renamed Chevron when it acquired Gulf Oil Corp., in 1984.

More PACE Stories on CleanTechnica:

  1. PACE — You Can Help Revive It! (& Why You Should)
  2. Fannie and Freddie Inadvertently Shut Down PACE Solar Funding (and How to Make Them Stakeholders; to End this Impasse)
  3. Solar Industry in 2009: 17,000 More Jobs, 37% Increase in Capacity, Major Drop in Costs
  4. Top 10 “Clean Energy” Topics to Keep an Eye On
  5. Rooftop Solar = 4% of Sonoma County’s Power!

Image via GeorgeLouis

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