My Viewpoint

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina: evidence for ethanol

I guess you have to be somewhat older (like I am) to remember the last time gas prices soared to unbelievable highs. It was 1973 when the last real oil crisis occurred. That was when the mandatory 55 speed limit went into effect of course, something the Iowa Legislature finally adjusted this year just as fuel prices started to climb again.

Now, we're hit with a double whammy.

Just as gas prices topped $3 a gallon or better throughout most of the nation, Hurricane Katrina hit. Granted, prices have backed off a bit, but that's only because President Bush opened up the nation's strategic fuel reserves, as did other nations, to keep gas from getting totally out of sight. Even OPEC has been concerned enough to meet to discuss what it can do about oil and gas prices.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina will definitely affect everyone in America. If the total number of people still unaccounted for totals 10,000, as many fear, it is certain that every person in the United States will know someone, or know someone who knows someone, that was a victim. Just triple the number of deaths in the World Trade Center disaster and you get some idea of the human suffering.

And yet it's far worse than that. The World Trade Center disaster occupied a few square blocks. Hurricane Katrina affected the entire Deep South, the heart of Dixie.

In New Orleans, of course, it was the aftermath of flooding and not Katrina that caused the greatest number of deaths. And we cannot begin to imagine the tremendous collateral damage that Katrina has caused and continues to cause as the victims struggle to their feet.

New Orleans is probably the most culturally diverse and unique city in America. The city is older than the United States and its Cajun and Creole influences include such a variety of people that most people who first visit the Big Easy find it a strange culture. You're just as likely to find a voodoo or folk healer hanging out a shingle as you are to see a doctor or lawyer's office. Folks there hang on to their traditions with a white-knuckled grip. Louisiana still practices the Napoleonic Code, laws in place since before Napoleon signed over the Louisiana Territory to the United States. Now, the people of this unique culture have been become Katrina's diaspora.

With the country's largest port destroyed, it is going to cost more to ship items in or out of the United States. Everything made from petroleum will cost more, of course, as will anything shipped by truck or rail, which is actually everything. It will take decades for the results of Katrina to subside.

As a result, we're simply going to have to be more self-sufficient. At a recent economic development conference in Cherokee, Congressman Steve King seemed amazed that the Iowa Legislature has not yet passed an ethanol mandate that would serve as an example for other states to follow.

Congressman King is absolutely right. Iowa has a moral responsibility to boost ethanol production to the highest possible levels to help America. Are there any Iowa legislators listening out there?

* Mike Tidemann is assistant editor of the Pilot-Tribune, Reach him at mtidemann@stormlakepilot-tribune.com