The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Brian Gongol

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Much of Iowa used to be heavily wooded before anyone settled here. That makes it kind of funny that you now see more trees in the urban areas of the state than in most of the rural areas.

There's been a lot of talk about how we've gone a very long time without any new oil refineries being built in the United States. But if you think that the record profits being taken home by the oil companies these days will be plowed into the construction of new refineries, you might think again: An energy-research firm says that the cost of refinery construction has risen by about 66% in just five years. That kind of a price hike could easily be enough to encourage them to find other things to invest in.

Of course, we can't forget that here in Iowa, all of our new ethanol and biodiesel plants are effectively like oil refineries -- they just don't use oil. And it should also be noted that even though new refineries haven't been built, existing refineries have been expanded. Regardless, gas prices are still going up, and that's going to continue to change people's behavior -- and we're going to pay for it in ways we might not think about, since fuel costs influence everything from the cost of fertilizer to the cost of getting virtually every good into the local store.

You're probably not going to see hybrid-fuel Hummers anytime soon, but hybrid vehicles may not be the answer to real energy savings. Honda offers an online savings calculator that, of course, compares whatever you're driving to a hybrid Civic, but the real challenge awaits in learning to make regular vehicles more efficient. Volvo has already done that with a diesel-fueled sedan that gets 52 mpg.

I'm not a fan of "American Idol," but would someone please tell Jason Castro that dreadlocks are against the law? If they aren't, couldn't we please pass a law to make it so?

Since at least half of us heat our homes with natural gas, the news that Russia may be trying to corner the market on natural gas is a little spooky. If you're trying to think of something useful to do with the coming "economic stimulus" checks, perhaps you could put it into something that would help save energy, like insulation or storm windows. On a related note, the relationship between food and energy has never been more apparent than it is today.

China is putting America's consumer dollars to work by building an underground naval base near the southern tip of its territory.

A (relatively) low-cost genome-sequencing machine could be putting us very close to the era of personalized medicine. That could be great news, especially if it lets us take preventative measures that will keep us healthy, even if Nature's trying to kill us.

I use the phrase "tax competition" as a sort of catch-all for the ways in which governments of all sorts compete with one another (say, between cities or states) to provide a better mix of services to people at the lowest possible rate of taxation. The story that an English village is holding an unofficial vote on secession is just evidence that tax competition is real. And that's a good thing for taxpayers.

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