Nick Smith is busily running around at the moment picking winners and giving them millions of dollars in taxpayer money to start business ventures. Crushing mussle shells, and recycling glass and antifreeze and other “green” initiatives that Nick is sure are going to be money spinners as well as provide benefits to our environment. Well, we already know that the job growth projections for these projects are usually wildly inaccurate and other surveys have shown that most such voodoo environmental projects usually cost real jobs elsewhere. We also know that they have a high failure rate. Whereas I absolutely detest the idea of Nick Smith picking winners and doling out taxpayer money, let’s hope that something good can come of these ventures on this occasion.
So who is monitoring Nick’s giveaways of taxpayer money and who is reporting on progress and success? It would be good, seeing as we provided the money, to have some public accountability. Some success milestones, some key performance indicators for the subject companies, a schedule and a budget should be made available to the public, who should then be kept up to date say every six months on just how well the companies are proceeding, and whether progress is inline with expectations. If it turns out they’re not the winners Nick Smith decided they were, then best we know at an early stage and then perhaps some of the taxpayer money Nick gave them can be refunded or saved from going down the sink hole of some wild scheme that was never going to work.
I say this because I’ve read many a story of these green business schemes collapsing in a financial morass, and one in particular yesterday that should be a scary warning for anyone going down the road of currently fashionable (at least by politicians happy to use other people’s money) environmental investment.
To turn wood chips into ethanol fuel, George W. Bush’s Department of Energy in February 2007 announced a $76 million grant to Range Fuels for a cutting-edge refinery. A few months later, the refinery opened in the pine forests of Treutlen County, Georgia as the taxpayers there piled on another $6 million. In 2008, the ethanol plant was the first beneficiary of the Biorefinery Assistance Program, pocketing a loan for $80 million again guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayers.
Last month, the refinery layed off all its workers and closed down, having failed to squeeze even a drop of ethanol out of its pine chips.
Well, too bad for the American taxpayers that George Bush and his boys couldn’t pick a winner right. After all, whats $162 million between friends? Of course we all know how smart Nick Smith is. No way any of his projects could go the way of Range Fuels right? Course not, but let’s keep an eye on them just in case. Of course the projections will be kept far away from public view, but we should at least expect some progress reports. I’ll be looking out for them Nick and John and Bill. Remember- its my money you went out on this limb with. If this doesn’t fly, maybe next time Nick has an idea we can all instead go to the greyhound track one night and bet a few million dollars of your damn money.