Nick Rosen | |
Barak Obama
Here comes the see-thru society

I know, I know – you cannot believe a word politicians say, especially when it comes to the environment, but what else do we have to go on except their promises?

Off-Grid supports Barak Obama in the primaries because he has offered the best eco policies:
Obama has promised to implement a market-based carbon trading system to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050; invest $150 billion in biofuels and fuel infrastructure; accelerate commercialization of plug-in hybrids; invest in low-emissions coal plants; move toward a digital electricity grid. His advisors include former FCC chairmen Bill Kennard and Reed Hundt; Larry Lessig, Stanford Law; Netscape founder Marc Andreessen; Rob Glaser, RealNetworks, among others.

The Democrat from Illinois sees energy has one of ther three most important issues — together with health and welfare, and he has introduced or cosponsored nearly 100 eco-related bills on issues ranging from lead poisoning and mercury emissions to auto fuel economy and biofuels promotion. Along the way, he’s racked up a notable 96 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

People in Southwestern New Hampshire clearly believed him judging by the vote. They treasure the rugged surroundings and relative isolation. They consider their distance from urban sprawl a clear advantage, reports the New York Times.

But for many, the benefits of living in rural New Hampshire have also become burdens. Gasoline and home heating oil are no longer comfortably affordable, especially for the roughly 60 percent of residents who commute more than 25 miles to work. Of about two dozen people interviewed in recent weeks, nearly all said energy policy was a top concern as they looked to today’s presidential primary. Some said they had bought wood-pellet stoves to supplement oil heat; others said they had looked into installing solar panels or even living off the grid, with no reliance on public utilities.

”Oil affects everything,” said Paris Wells, who owns the Central Square Ice Cream Shoppe on Main Street. ”We need someone in office who’s going to look seriously at alternative power of some form.”

Wells said he was spending more than $1,000 a month on heating oil in winter, which, judging from the estimates others gave, is within the norm. New Hampshire is more dependent on oil heat than any state except Maine and Vermont, according to the Energy Information Administration, with 58 percent of homes using it. The average cost of home heating oil in the United States was $3.34 a gallon last month, up from $2.44 a year earlier.

But despite what many here consider a rising crisis regarding dependence on foreign oil, most said the presidential candidates had disappointingly vague approaches to energy policy or, worse, little interest in the subject. They said polarizing subjects like the war in Iraq and illegal immigration were eclipsing the kitchen-table economic issues that affected daily living here.

”I remember when the center of a presidential campaign was a promise to take care of people in our country,” said Norma Hubbard, who runs the local food pantry and feeds about 100 families a week. ”That is not there for most of the candidates now.”

Many here, including Wells, spoke admiringly of Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat and former energy secretary, who they said seemed more passionate than most candidates about reducing oil prices and consumption. But they said they were unlikely to vote for Richardson, who won only 2 percent of the vote in Iowa’s caucuses on Thursday, because he was a long shot.

Christopher Duncklee, a longtime resident who raises sheep and grows vegetables on a small farm, said he liked Richardson for his energy proposals but could not support him after his poor showing in Iowa. Duncklee normally votes Republican, he said, but is considering both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democrat, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican.

Duncklee predicted that the Iowa results – especially the victory of former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a favorite of evangelical Christians, on the Republican side – would not sway many New Hampshire voters.

”People here do not think religion belongs in politics,” he said.

Almost everyone interviewed said they were not only undecided as the primary drew near, but also considering candidates from both parties. Surprisingly few said they liked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who were long perceived as front-runners in their respective parties here but who may face steeper challenges after losing in Iowa. Forty-two percent of the state’s registered voters are independents, and they are famous for waiting until the last minute to choose a candidate.

Like other small New Hampshire towns once dominated by families who had lived there for generations, Hillsborough, with about 5,700 residents, has seen an influx of people from Massachusetts and other points south. Drawn by lower taxes and housing costs, they came willing to commute to cities with plentiful jobs. But high gasoline prices are making the tradeoff less worthwhile.

”People buy houses out here and commute a long way,” said Carl Goodman, who owns a small electrical contracting company in Hillsborough, ”but then they find the cost of the commute and everything else is too much.”

Goodman, an independent, said he would vote for former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a Democrat who placed second in Iowa, after Obama.

”I just think Obama is a little wet behind the ears in the political system,” he said, ”and Hillary has as many enemies as supporters. I think Edwards is the most electable nationwide.”

Among cities and towns with more than 5,000 people, Hillsborough had New Hampshire’s highest per-capita rate of foreclosure auction notices this year, according to the Warren Group, a real estate research company in Boston. While the state’s overall foreclosure rate trailed the national rate in recent years, it rose sharply in 2007, almost catching up. In November, the number of foreclosures statewide was up 68 percent from a year earlier.

Sara Randall, a bartender at Tooky Mills Pub, said pocketbook issues loomed largest for her, especially the cost of health care. A diabetic who spends about $400 a month on health insurance, she is torn between Clinton and Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a libertarian-leaning Republican.

”They both have a lot to say about health care,” Randall said, ”so they are who I’m focusing on.”

Glenn Mathison, an apprentice electrician who said he had been out of work for two years, said that he liked McCain’s position on the Iraq war but that no candidate stood out in terms of improving the economy.

For people like Mathison who want to work in Hillsborough and the immediate surroundings, options are few. A century ago, Contoocook Mills, which made hosiery, provided steady work. Now the biggest employer is Osram Sylvania, a lighting manufacturer that employs about 700.

Some residents, like Pete Colbath, drift from job to job. He worked in a real estate office, a video store and a fireworks store before opening a drive-through coffee shop last year.

”Business is not growing fast,” said Colbath, who added that he would probably support Huckabee in the primary. ”The price of fuel and heating oil, that’s making decisions for a lot of people.”

With unleaded gasoline averaging $3.05 a gallon in New Hampshire – 2 cents lower than the national average but up from $2.41 a year ago – several people said bringing more shops and other businesses to town was crucial. A Wal-Mart Supercenter was to open in Hillsborough, but the company changed its mind in the autumn.

”The people who have to drive to Concord or Keene to buy shoes for their kids are really disappointed,” said Kim Wells, the mother of the ice cream shop owner, who owns a gift shop.

Her son praised McCain for realizing ”we need to do something” to curb oil consumption, but he said he was not counting on the next president to make radical changes in energy policy.

Instead, Wells said, he intends to cut his own energy costs. ”It’s going to get tougher and tougher,” he said.

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