Transcript: Terry Tamminen, "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction", Nov 14 2006
Terry is the special advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, former head of the California EPA and the author of a new book, "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction".
Thom Hartmann interview with Terry Tamminen 14 November 2006 on KPOJ
[Thom Hartmann] Terry Tamminen, Terry is the special advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, former head of the California EPA and the author of a new book, "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction". He's going to be speaking tonight at Powell's at Burnside at 7:30, certainly worth checking out. Terry Tamminen, welcome to AM620 KPOJ.
[Terry Tamminen] Thanks for inviting me.
[Thom Hartmann] In your book you trap literally a drop of oil or a gallon of oil or a barrel of oil as the case may be from well head or even pre well head at a certain level to it coming out of the tail pipe of my car as carbon dioxide and a whole bunch of other weird hydrocarbons. Give us a sense of that path.
[Terry Tamminen] Well it does indeed start in the ground as will come to no surprise to most people, or under the ocean floor, but from the moment it's brought to the surface it is causing pollution. In fact, even before then if you think about all the dry holes and all the exploration for oil that never actually goes anywhere. It's causing pollution and therefore harm to us. It then moves through pipes and ships of course to refineries, and particularly here on the West Coast to our refineries it goes through a lot of pipe lines in order to get there. A lot of it gets spilled along the way, an astonishing amount. We think about the Exxon Valdez when we think about spills but millions and millions of gallons are spilled every year from lots of other smaller…
[Thom Hartmann] Is there a statement as a percentage? I mean, is it like with electricity, for example, I think the statistic I saw was that between 12 and 17% of all electricity generated in the United States was lost in long distance transmission lines. Is there a similar statistic in oil?
[Terry Tamminen] Well, put it this way, as I describe in the book, in the last decade a billion gallons of oil have been spilled world wide in small spills that don't think get the big headlines, and probably a similar amount in the big spills that do. Not to mention the spills that come out of the well heads themselves, out of pipes from refineries and even tanker trucks getting the refined product to your gas station near you.
[Thom Hartmann] Right. We had a guest on this program a while back who was talking about biofuels and he made the point that an awful lot of what's in gasoline is actually basically just waste material; it's toxic waste material; that the essential hydrocarbons, the relatively simple hydrocarbons necessary for combustion represent, you know, a good chunk of what's in gasoline but there's a whole lot of stuff that really shouldn't be in there and it ends up in our air and we end up breathing it simply because it's in gasoline. How do we deal with this issue of oil being on the one hand what has become essential to our society and our culture as an energy source, and on the other hand, as being a really potent toxin?
[Terry Tamminen] Well, it's a potent toxin when it's burned. What comes out of your tail pipe is chemically very, very similar to tobacco smoke, second hand tobacco smoke as I describe in the book, and I make other comparisons to the oil and auto industry and the tobacco industry. But you're right, there's a lot of things in gasoline which are added. We added for many, many years MTBE as an oxygenate; in other words in theory to make the gasoline burn cleaner. In fact it was a waste product that the oil companies were looking to get rid of and so when they were forced to oxygenate fuels, instead of using ethanol or cleaner organic substitutes, they used this very toxic chemical which we now know is in our ground water and causes toxins when it's burned and combusted into the air. So you're right. There's a lot of stuff in there that we don't need and we also make gasoline with a lot of things that we could use better. For example, this country produces about three trillion cubic feet of hydrogen every single year and the vast majority of that is used to strip sulfur from petroleum to make gasoline instead of simply putting the hydrogen in our vehicles which, again, is something I talk about in the book.
[Thom Hartmann] Holy cow! That's, three trillion cubic feet of anything is a lot.
[Terry Tamminen] Right.
[Thom Hartmann] How do we make all that hydrogen?
[Terry Tamminen] Well, a lot of it is made from natural gas, so it's made from another fossil fuel, although you can make from, natural gas can come from capturing methane at landfills and from agricultural waste, so there's better ways to do it.
[Thom Hartmann] And I don't think there's that much hydrolysis going on.
[Terry Tamminen] Well, there's not a lot, but a growing amount, especially in California where we launched our hydrogen highway program and we want to make sure that we not just deliver another dependence on fossil fuels, albeit in the form of hydrogen. We want to deliver clean hydrogen made from electrolysis with solar and wind and other renewables to make it.
[Thom Hartmann] We're talking with Terry Tamminen. He's the author of "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction". Tonight he'll be at Powell's at Burnside at 7:30pm. He's the former head of the Californian Environmental Protection Agency, currently special advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. To what extent, Terry Tamminen, is this becoming a supra- or trans- or beyond political issue, the whole issue of oil as a fossil, as the old way of generating energy?
[Terry Tamminen] It really is. In fact, the working title of my book was "the last tyrannosaur" because I really thing this is the last tyrannosaur. Ironically, of course, some petroleum deposits come from the dinosaurs literally laying down their bodies eons ago. But it is something that helped for many years. There is no question that oil was an invaluable driver of our economy. But we've learned enough now first of all to know that it's harming us in so many ways: politically, socially, health-wise and in terms of our economy. And we've also learned that there are healthier, safer alternatives and that oil companies could be delivering those and car companies could be delivering vehicles that use them. So, it's one of those things where we really have grown beyond it and evolved beyond it and it's time we get those companies to civilize and come with us.
[Thom Hartmann] The argument that I hear from folks like Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute who comes on our program from time to time to put forward the oil industries point of view is that these alternate energies, this is very nice and, you know, let's pat these hippies with their Birkenstocks on the head and say, "Yeah, you go and have some solar panels, but it's really not ready for prime time".
[Terry Tamminen] Well, that's totally untrue. There's more than enough sunlight, for example, that falls on the Earth every hour to power all of human needs for energy for a year and we know that now with modern solar technology you can make the entire sides of buildings, glass buildings can become solar collectors; it's not just the heavy old style panels that would go on your roof. There's also wind power, there's tidal power, there's an enormous amount of energy in the waste material that we throw away. In fact, we spend a lot of energy every day to chop up our urban green waste and our agricultural waste and throw it away in stead of turning that into energy supplies. And the other thing is when you really factor in the cost of our oil addiction, we're paying about $10.00 a gallon for gasoline right now if you factor in all the health care costs, the defense of oil around the globe, that's something that people like Mr. Ebell never point out when they make that sort of a equation.
[Thom Hartmann] Well, the oil industry's very good at internalizing profits and externalizing costs. We're all paying that additional $7.00 and change per gallon through our taxes and with our lives.
[Terry Tamminen] Exactly, and in fact, let me give you and Heidi a little gift, and your listeners can't see this, but I'm handing you a mask that says "Lives Per Gallon" on it and it's one similar to what you would find in a dentist's office and I urge you and your listeners to get one of these little masks. You can buy them in the grocery store and so on. Put it in your car and every time you fuel up, wear it, because the fumes that are coming at you from just the simple act of pumping gasoline into your car are very, very toxic. And if you do that once a week or a couple of times a month, you're exposing yourself to life time cancer risks and these mask aren't perfect but they'll at least reduce a certain amount of fumes from getting into your body.
[Thom Hartmann] As a teenager I worked in a gas station. I used to pump gas. Here in Oregon…
[Heidi Tauber] Yeah, does it matter that we don't pump our own gas?
[Thom Hartmann] But what that does, what that means is that the guy who works at the gas station, he's pumping gas 50, 60, 70, 80 times; a whole huge dose of that.
[Terry Tamminen] Exactly, and you are too. Even, as my book points out, even with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on, you're still getting a lot of the toxins coming out of that tailpipe. School buses that our children go to school in, the air quality inside those school buses is very often worse than it is outside because of bio-magnification of these toxins inside the bus. SO there's lots of reasons to protect yourself.
[Thom Hartmann] One of our listeners has a question for you. We're talking with Terry Tamminen. He's the author of a new book "Lives Per Gallon". He'll be at Powell's tonight at Burnside at 7:30. Tim in Portland, you're live with Terry Tamminen.
[Tim in Portland] Yeah. Good morning, guys. The Bush administration's move to close all the EPA libraries; how, were you employed at the time when that came down and how do you feel about that?
[Terry Tamminen] Well, Tim, I was working for the California Environmental Protection Agency under Governor Schwarzenegger and so had nothing to do with that and I think, you know, really we've seen the Bush administration do everything they can to stifle science and knowledge and try to do things based on other kinds of policies or motivations. So that's just another example.
[Thom Hartmann] Thank you, Tim, for that call. Terry, to what extent is Governor Schwarzenegger's green stance genuine and to what extent is the political? And for that matter, if it is just political, isn't that really what elected official are supposed to do, anyway? They're supposed to do what the people want.
[Terry Tamminen] Well, look, let's be honest, it's a little of both, but he came to this as a citizen three years ago who had never been in politics, and we got together about two days after he announced that he wanted to be governor and we spent days working on his environmental action plan, very detailed. We've accomplished a lot of it and it comes from a very sincere place. When he worked with kids in his after school athletics programs he said to me, 'You know, Terry, I see these kids coming off of the soccer fields, especially in the inner cities where pollution is worst just wheezing'. He said, 'This is the richest country in the world - what's the matter us? We've got to stop that'. So it comes from a very deep place. He's got four kids of his own and he's very sincere about it.
[Heidi Tauber] I remember when he was on the presidential athletic advisory, you now, when you got the little seal, when you're in junior high, usually, I remember thinking I was so proud. I was so proud just to get that.
[Thom Hartmann] You won one?
[Heidi Tauber] Well, you had to meet certain requirements.
[Thom Hartmann] I'm impressed.
[Heidi Tauber] Well, you know, they should set the bar a little higher.
[Thom Hartmann] Heidi's blushing.
[Heidi Tauber] I am.
[Heidi Tauber] They should set the bar a little higher, but at the time, I bet that it would be very difficult for a lot of kids to meet those requirements now.
[Terry Tamminen] Well, and especially with air pollution. We know that kids who live within a mile of a freeway lose 1% of their lung function every year. It's pretty hard to compete on the playing field when that's happening.
[Thom Hartmann] Within a mile of a freeway.
[Terry Tamminen] Yes.
[Thom Hartmann] There's not a lot of people who don't live within a mile of a freeway in any kind of an urban area.
[Terry Tamminen] Yeah, it's true.
[Heidi Tauber] Especially in California.
[Terry Tamminen] We now know that the higher incidence of cancer; lung cancer and other cancers, is great 30 miles downwind of a refinery. At one point we thought it was within 2 or 3 miles. We now know that it's within 30 miles downwind of a refinery.
[Thom Hartmann] So, just to wrap this up. You made the statement that there is plenty of energy out there. I said, what about alternatives. You said that there is plenty of energy out there an pointed out, one hour of sunlight could power all human needs for a year. Is the technology not just extant, but readily available? I mean, is it possible that right now a community like Portland, for example, could say, 'OK, we're going to start a program to encourage people to replace their roofs with solar collectors or, you know, or fill in the blank. I mean, you tell me what the blank is. Is that technology economically viable as well as technologically viable?
[Terry Tamminen] It is totally technologically viable and even in a place like the pacific North West that doesn't get a lot of unlight, you can still capture a lot of those photons and you have tidal energy and river energy and wind and biomass and so forth. And when you talk about the economics people say to me that some of these things are not economical. Well, that's true if gasoline is 2 or 3 dollars a gallon. But if you factor in all the externalities, and as my book describes, it's closer to ten dollars a gallon and probably even more if you look at lost productivity and the value of a life lost early and things like that. If you factor that in, suddenly those alternatives are cheap.
[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. Well, makes a lot of sense. Thank you for being with us. Terry Tamminen. "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction" is his book. He'll be tonight at Powell's on Burnside at 7:30pm. His web site's livespergallon.org and terrytamminen.com. Terry, thanks for being with us today.
[Terry Tamminen] My pleasure.
[Thom Hartmann] Great having you here.