Thorniest, Knottiest (Editorial)

Last Tuesday was an educational one here at Arkansas Business. In separate settings, your faithful scribes were reminded just how complex our world is.

In a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service, Claiborne Deming - former CEO of Murphy Oil Corp. and current chairman of the National Petroleum Council - called the question of climate change "one of the thorniest and knottiest problems I've encountered in my career."

He didn't reverse his previously announced opposition to cap-and-trade legislation, but his emphasis on the importance of energy conservation surprised environmentalists.

On the same day that Deming was talking about that knotty, thorny issue, Entergy Arkansas executives were describing in private the myriad moving parts to be considered when the systemwide agreement that has required Arkansas to subsidize more expensive power generating plants in Louisiana ends in 2013.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission is trying to make sure Entergy Arkansas doesn't jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, but Entergy officials say they simply won't have enough information until after the PSC's Dec. 31 deadline.

Meanwhile, Entergy is going to try, again, to get an increase in the base rate it charges customers. Is that good or bad? Low electric rates always sound good, but Entergy will argue that continuing to limit its allowable return on investment to the lowest level is discouraging investment in Arkansas. Knots and thorns there, too.

And in yet another conversation that day, Dr. Daniel Rahn, the new chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, tried to tear apart the three distinctly different issues - health, health care and health insurance - that have been knotted up together in the fruitless debate over reform legislation. Health is one thing, care for those who don't have it is another, and then there is the problem of creating affordable insurance to pay for increasingly costly health care.

And we thought Dr. Rahn had enough to think about with the University Hospital losing more than $1 million in January - the best month in a while. But, of course, the hospital's fortunes are also tangled up in health, health care and health insurance.

By the end of the day, there was only one thing of which we were certain: Anyone who offers simple, one-size-fits-all solutions on climate change, energy policy or health care doesn't understand the problems.  The need for serious-minded problem-solvers has never been greater.