Give Me Land, Lots of Land

Bruce Babbitt says President Obama is not a good enough environmentalist. Last week the former Interior Secretary and one-time presidential candidate made a remarkable speech, in which he accused the Obama Administration of failing to maintain a balance between energy development and conservation. He claimed that the Administration has allowed 6 million acres of land to be leased for energy development, while permanently protecting only 2.6 million acres. His solution is to recommend a new policy that every acre leased for energy development ought to be accompanied by an acre permanently “set aside for conservation.”

Like we must be punished for our reliance on energy – an eye for an eye, an acre for an acre.

Babbitt is a grand master of spin, but this one strains credulity even for the Bruce Babbittmost gullible. He made it sound as if we are in a race to drill and destroy vast tracts of public lands for corporate profits, while we ignore the dire need to protect the last great places from….. well I guess he didn’t say what these places need protected from. He trashed House Republicans who he says are “more interested in throwing themselves off metaphorical cliffs than protecting any real ones.”

I know, right?

Has someone been drilling oil wells on the side of cliffs without our notice? Are cliffs across America falling down absent special wilderness protection? These rotten Republicans, he said, “will take up Big Oil’s cause and again call for a fire sale of public lands for corporate use.” Temper, temper.  Fairly dishonest vitriol from someone who should understand that there is no sale of public lands – even if leased for oil and gas development, the land remains public forever and is restored at the end of the process.

What is missing from Babbitt’s diatribe is context, as usual with such proposals. If he really wants an acre-for-acre balance between land set aside for permanent protection and land permitted for energy production, then we have a lot of drilling to do!

Consider the raw numbers. The government owns almost a third of the United States, nearly 650 million acres of land, a large percentage of it underlain with oil, gas, coal, and other vital resources. The government’s primary oil and gas leasing agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), leases just under 38 million acres for oil and gas production – that’s about 5.6% of the government’s land. There are oil and gas leases also on some Forest Service lands and some wildlife refuges, but most leasing is on BLM land. And that number has been shrinking for years, not growing.

In 1990 the BLM leased 63.7 million acres for oil and gas. By 1993 (when Babbitt became Interior Secretary) that number had fallen to 41.8 million acres. By the time he left office in 2001 he had reduced the number to 37.9 million acres. It was increased slightly during the Bush Administration, but has declined steadily under Obama, back to the Babbitt level.

Babbitt was in charge, so he should know the number has declined. But of course, his point isn’t just about putting a stop to oil and gas development, though that is a favorite goal. He and his allies want continued designation of wilderness – areas where virtually nothing is allowed except walking quietly. That’s why Babbitt calls for lands to be “set aside” that have already been “set aside.” There are already 250 million acres of BLM lands, 193 million acres of national forests, 84 million acres of national park lands, and 150 million acres of national wildlife refuges. Those are already “set aside” from ever being sold.

To be sure, some of those lands might be available for oil and gas leasing, so Babbitt wants wilderness designations to prevent that. And wilderness advocates are clearly winning that battle. We have “set aside for conservation” not the 2.6 million acres he cited in the speech, but over 110 million acres officially designated as wilderness, never to be touched for energy or any other use again. That’s more than triple the amount of land where energy production is allowed. And it only scratches the surface, because that only includes land Congress has specifically declared wilderness. It does not include millions of acres “managed” as wilderness without congressional designation.

For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages some 540 wildlife refuges, but also 38 wetland management districts and 36,000 fee and easement “waterfowl production areas.” A wide variety of special land designations have also been used (some pioneered by Babbitt) to prevent energy development, including Research Natural Areas, Cultural Resource Sites, Historic Sites, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Natural Landmarks, National Trails, National Marine Sanctuaries, Estuarine Sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves, and parts of international networks like Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserves and Wetlands of International Importance. BLM and the Forest Service also use similar designations to add additional layers of “protection” beyond what Congress specifically authorized.

You can guess how much oil and gas drilling will be permitted in those areas. Similarly, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed designating another 11 million BLM acres as “wildlands” and ordering wilderness management, without any congressional action. The proposal was so unpopular he had to withdraw it a year later because most Americans understand the dilemma of a nation that depends on foreign oil while locking up its own.

You have to admit that Bruce Babbitt has always been consistent in his advocacy against public uses of public lands. But the idea that we should continue to wall off American resources badly needed in a stagnant economy is just consistently wrong.

Wind Power for Us – Bill to Our Grandchildren

When Congress passed its bill to temporarily avert the fiscal cliff, the legislation contained several unrelated measures that only congressmen could love.

Only in Washington are such crises seen as opportunities to spread gifts among friends. One example was an extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit, a subsidy that helps a handful of businesses at the expense of our grandchildren.

“Although this deal is not perfect,” said Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, “I am glad my colleagues have acknowledged what I have spoken about regularly on the Senate floor: Wind energy creates jobs and benefits every American.”

Light bulb moneyWell, not exactly every American. In truth, wind power requires massive subsidies and cannot survive in a competitive economy without them.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, this one-year extension of the PTC for wind power will cost $12.1 billion in taxpayers’ money. One can understand the importance to Udall – about 5,000 Coloradans work in the wind energy business. But one has to wonder why all the other Coloradans should pay higher utility bills, and why their grandchildren should be saddled with unconscionable national debt in order to subsidize this one industry.

Absent these subsidies – which many experts have asked Congress to eliminate – Colorado’s energy would be supplied by businesses that compete in the marketplace, have long-term viability and do not require such tax credits to produce energy.

Oil and natural gas continue to be the most flexible, transportable, and affordable fuels in the marketplace today. Those who work in the exploration and production side of the oil and gas business are paid twice the average U.S. wage and don’t have to worry from year-to-year whether Congress will fund their jobs.

Today the U.S. oil and natural gas industry suports 9.2 million American workers. It also is responsible for 7.7 percent of the U.S. economy and sends an estimated $86 million every day to the U.S. Treasury in taxes, royalties, bonus bids, and other payments. Oil and natural gas companies receive the same tax incentives as others in the manufacturing sector, but their products’ value far outweighs those incentives, many of which are designed to help mom-and-pop energy companies defray the high costs of drilling wells.

Oil and natural gas products fuel more than 95 percent of U.S. transportation; provide chemicals for myriad consumer items from medicines to running shoes; power manufacturing plants, homes and business; and are a necessary component even of wind turbines, solar panels, and other energy sources.

Oil, natural gas, coal and other fossil fuels cannot be replaced simply by the wishful thinking of politicians, nor by taxpayer-funded freebies handed out to a few friendly companies. No other energy source offers the same advantages and can be produced in large enough quantities to supplant oil and natural gas, especially with dramatic increases in American production.

And that fact worries oil and gas critics. So they pressure Congress and the White House to fund pie-in-the-sky ideas.

In the past four years, the government has spent over $90 billion on Solyndra-like projects under the guise of reducing foreign oil dependency, and justifying it with scare tactics about peak oil or modern technologies such as hydraulic fracturing.

Yet despite the weak economy, the constant barrage of criticism and the regulatory tirade of the EPA, the American oil and natural gas industry has quietly stepped up U.S. production, leading the International Energy Agency (IEA) to predict that the United States soon will become the world’s top oil producer by overtaking Saudi Arabia by 2020. Energy analysts say U.S. oil dependency could become a thing of the past.

The United States has an abundance of oil and natural gas. If our nation adopted pro-development policies, 1.4 million jobs could be created by 2030, according to a Wood Mackenzie economic analysis. It’s estimated that 85,000 new jobs could be created in Colorado alone.

But Coloradans will not fully experience the benefits of increasing oil and gas production unless elected officials get serious about energy production – especially since the federal government owns most of the state’s energy-producing land.

For 20 years, wind energy has been heavily subsidized. As 47 House members recently wrote in a letter to Speaker John Boehner, “[It] is time for the federal government to stop picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace.”

While mandating that Americans pay more in taxes this year, it made no sense for Congress to extend the costly wind PTC. We have better and more reliable energy resources right under our feet.

For the Environment, or For Money?

Leaders trying desperately to restore healthy forests and rebuild the forestry economy need all the help they can get, but they may be facing another major setback instead. Part of the restoration effort requires developing new products and new markets for the millions of tons of material that must be removed from our national forests, but any cutting of any tree of any kind in any place faces stiff opposition from environmental organizations, and that impasse has cost tens of thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in litigation, and several thousand homes lost to catastrophic wildfires that have destroyed over 68 million acres of forests in the last 10 years. It is a dire situation that must be addressed with utmost urgency.

One tool for reducing the political difficulty forestry faces is a growing use of the term “certified,” which simply gives consumers a way to know that forest products they use were produced in a sustainable way, using standards designed to restore forests, not destroy them. There are “certified” building materials available in many markets, and there are a growing number of “certified forests” from which such products are taken. It is a very appealing strategy, and could be used even more extensively, as a way to re-assure the public of a pro-active agenda based on healthy forests. If most of our national forests were certified in that manner, the volume could be turned way down on some of the most contentious forestry decisions, and this would provide the public with a way to support healthy forests directly with their consumer dollars, rather than giving to environmental groups whose agendas are less transparent.

The tool has become so effective that there is now a raging controversy about who gets to decide what forests, companies, and products can be certified. A number of groups combine conservationists, industry representatives, and governments to create consensus standards and certify forests and practices as sustainable. Participation is voluntary, but the market for certified products creates strong incentives for better forest management. Today, forty percent of the world’s certified forests are in North America and the number is growing. But one heavy-handed organization called the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC, based in Germany) is trying to become the only recognized standard in the U.S. – even resorting to threats of boycotts and regulatory mandates to ensure that it gets all the money and power associated with being the keeper of the worldwide standard.

The American Consumer Institute’s Center for Citizen Research has just published a study on the “Monopolization of Forest Certification,” with powerful facts illustrating how such a monopoly would not only increase consumer costs, but actually undermine sustainability. See the full study here:

The problem is that there is no common standard for determining what is sustainable and healthy in different climates or different forest types. A blatant attempt to establish a monopoly on certification, and to substitute mandates for voluntary compliance and consumer choice, illustrates perfectly how the environmental movement has so lost its way that is frequently hurting the environment. Certification requires payment of fees, and monopoly always leads to higher fees. Such money and power would be a boon to the FSC, but a significant disincentive to forestry companies already teetering on the edge of economic viability.

It gets worse for American forests. The FSC has negotiated and compromised at the local level in ways that create significantly easier standards in many countries than in the U.S. For example, the size of clearcuts allowed in many U.S. and Canadian forests is smaller than that allowed in many countries, and some (Russia, Brazil, New Zealand) have no limits at all. So as the study points out, “by compromising from country to country, different standards are developed for the same certification process. As a result, differences in FSC standards affect the cost of timber and ultimately consumer prices.”

In the end, it is the environment that will suffer most if we fail to provide the strongest possible market incentives for restoring healthy forests. Should forest “sustainability” standards be set by communities of diverse experts working together to improve the forest, or sold to anyone willing to pay the fees and submit to the authority of these would-be forest police?


Climate Science and Political Science

A few days ago I attended a briefing by Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist whose 1988 congressional testimony touched off a generation of debate over man-made global warming. He is making the news again, touting a recent guest editorial in the Washington Post and lecturing on the think-tank circuit, generally well-received as the godfather of the scientists and activists who have sounded the warning of our impending doom.

This most recent briefing began with Dr. Hansen’s usual recital of data, though quite different from what he predicted in the early stages of alarmism. You may remember that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, projected what it called “dramatic” changes in both temperature and sea levels as a result of man-made greenhouse gases, relying in large part on the work of Dr. Hansen and other academics. An early IPCC report predicted a world-average temperature increase of up to 5 degrees, which could cause rises in sea levels of 3-5 feet (IPCC later reduced that original estimate to about 18 inches, and now to about 6 inches). Today Dr. Hansen is saying the rate of sea level rise has declined in recent years. He now says the sea levels are rising at the rate of 1.8 millimeters a year, which he says could be as much as a foot over the next 100 years.

Initially, we were advised by some extremists (including the World Wildlife Fund) that the world would have to colonize other planets by 2050, as the Earth’s capacity to support life was exhausted. A highly-publicized 2008 report from the United Nations University predicted that destruction of the environment and desertification would turn 50 million people into “environmental refugees” by 2010, which we already know did not occur. On the surface of it, the idea is patently absurd. Of course substantial melting of the polar icecaps would dramatically alter life in the arctic regions, and of course a significant rise in sea level would change the environment of cities near the coasts. But to assert that a continent like North America could not sustain life in the face of an average 5-degree temperature increase or a 1-foot rise in sea level over a century strains credulity even for the most gullible among us. After all, we have built huge cities where once there was water. We know how to drain wetlands, build levees, divert waterways, and otherwise ensure that water does not inundate valuable land. Our landscape might change, but it would not disappear.

The truth is that scientists advocating the theory of catastrophic manmade global warming have no idea what the weather will be like next year. Neither does anyone else. They hand out lots of charts, but none of them are based on anything but educated projections and computer models, which have already proven to be wrong in predictions they made a few years ago. So you might think a world-famous expert would be cautiously telling us to be careful about such assumptions. You would be wrong.

Dr. Hansen’s recent editorial in the Washington Post was entitled “Climate Change is Here – and Worse Than We Thought.” Reminding us of his dire 1988 warning of “steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels,” he now says, “I was too optimistic.” He blames every weather phenomenon of recent years on global warming, based lagrely on his now-famous concept of “climate dice.”

I don’t blame academics and scientists for wanting to better understand the weather, and to continue studying and publishing, even lecturing, briefing, and writing books. But scientific study does not come close to the agenda Dr. Hansen and other activists are now pushing.

Dr. Hansen now proposes a massive new tax on all the people who produce oil, gas and coal. He denies it is a tax, preferring to call it a fee, because the money would not stay in Washington but be “rebated” directly to every man, woman and child in America. Instead of using his brain power to help find a way to make alternative energy sources cheaper, he simply proposes making fossil fuels prohibitive – and asserts that this would create a “robust clean energy economy with millions of new jobs.” That is an assertion backed by nothing in the real world, and contradicted by years of contrary experience.

Even though Dr. Hansen and many of his allies are highly educated scientists, and they are entitled to their opinions – on science or even on politics – just remember, the fact that someone is a scientist does not make his opinion science. In this case, the briefing I heard was not climate science, but political science.

The Canary is Still Singing

The United States is about to become the first country in history to adopt policies to ensure its own decline.  Melodramatic?  Consider that the U.S. is steadily adopting an environmental agenda promoting a lower standard of living for future generations – literally, pushing Americans to travel less, live in smaller and less comfortable homes, give up their cars and eliminate many modern conveniences.  No nation has ever even considered such a future, much less made it official policy, yet that is precisely what America is now doing – at unconscionable expense.  We are pursuing an official course of action based on the view that free enterprise is selfish, and that our people must stop much of their production, manufacturing, and especially consumption.  We are headed in this bizarre direction because of the dubious theory that our pursuit of the good life is destroying our environment.

Today’s environmental lobby has created a powerful misconception that we are “subsidizing” fossil fuels to the tune of billions, while failing to invest in renewable energy.  The idea that tax credits are “subsidies” is highly debatable, of course, since they merely let people keep more of the money they earned.  But aside from that academic debate about tax policy, we “spend” exponentially more not only in tax credits, but in direct financial subsidies for renewables, especially compared to the miniscule amount of energy produced.  The DOE reports that gas-fired power generation receives 64 cents per megawatt-hour in subsidies, and coal receives 64 cents.  By contrast, wind turbines get over $56 and photovoltaic solar systems over $775.  And in direct government outlays, it is estimated that by the summer of 2011 this Administration had spent over $60 Billion in the renewable energy sector.

Has it paid off?  Only about 6 percent of the energy in America is produced from all “renewables” combined.  That number has been growing slowly for several years because of the rising price of oil, increases in federally-funded research, and continued growth of government mandates.  The Administration’s stated goal is to double America’s “renewable energy” supply.  Even if that is successful, we will still get 88 percent of all energy from fossil fuels, and nearly 45 percent of our electricity from coal.  And the nation’s demand for energy continues to grow, not shrink.

The Minerals Information Institute says every American born today will require 587,000 pounds of coal, 5.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 82,000 gallons of oil to live the same lifestyle we now live.  To meet future demand over the next generation with our current mix of energy sources, the country would need to build 747 new coal and gas power plants, 52 new nuclear plants and 1,000 new hydro-electric dams.  I do not know a single leader in either party who believes Americans are prepared to do that.

The coal industry in particular is facing opposition like nothing ever seen before.  The environmental movement has grown into a gigantic worldwide industry, much of it laser-focused on a battle to end the use of coal.

An analysis by the Sacramento Bee found that by the year 2000, American foundations and corporations were donating to environmental organizations at the rate of $9 million a day.  A decade later, these groups are bigger than ever, filing an average of 3 environmental lawsuits every day.

According to 2010 annual reports, the Nature Conservancy has assets of $5.65 billion and annual revenues of over $210 million (no coal mine makes that kind of money).  The Sierra Club has annual revenues of over $87 million, over 500 paid staff, and a $100 million foundation.  The Environmental Defense Fund has assets of $140 million and annual revenue of $101 million.  The Wilderness Society has over $53 million in assets and $23 million in revenue.  Trout Unlimited showed $20.4 million in revenue, and the Natural Resources Defense Council took in another $114 million.  Annual revenue of the National Wildlife Federation is $100 million; Earth Justice, $34 million; Defenders of Wildlife, another $34 million.  There are thousands of environmental organizations – more than 250 involved in mining and climate issues – spending billions in what has become a battle for the hearts and souls of American voters.

The size and success of these organizations, however, does not necessarily mean they represent majority opinion.  Indeed, much of their funding comes from a very small elite clique of foundations and wealthy individuals.  More than a third of EDF’s 2010 revenue, for instance, came from a single donor.  And consider that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s donation of $50 million largely finances the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign.

You would think with such resources aligned against the use of America’s abundant coal resources, the environmental industry would be champing at the bit for construction of solar, wind, and biomass plants.  You would be wrong.  In fact, the agenda of many of the world’s top environmental lobbyists has little to do with the environment; it’s more about money and power.

Every place where wind farms or solar plants are planned, there is opposition from these same groups.  The use of biomass (which could also help solve a desperate need to thin overgrown and dying national forests) has been all but prohibited on public lands in the West.  And the rapid improvement in clean technology for burning coal without polluting the air has been completely ignored by these groups. They could spend huge resources on requirements for cleaner coal technology, but that would actually hinder their overall effort to ban coal.

Taking back the high ground in today’s energy debate requires one very simple strategy – talking about the environment.  If the agenda is genuine, reasonable people can find common ground.  The conversation should focus on how to supply the energy America needs for a prosperous economy – in a clean, responsible, and sustainable manner – not how to simply stop our use of energy.  That might sound good to some people, but in the real world, it would leave the public freezing in the dark.

(This article was published in American Coal magazine, 2012, Vol. 1)

Energy Production = Jobs

The U.S. economic recovery from the Great Recession is tepid at best. The nation’s economic growth for the first quarter was a paltry 2.2 percent, well below expectations. Foreclosures and the inability to get financing are dampening hopes for new housing starts. Gasoline prices are pinching family budgets. This month’s unemployment figures released yesterday, show virtually no change.

With more than 20 million Americans either seeking work, under-employed, or giving up entirely on finding a job, one would think that aiding the economy and putting workers back on a payroll would be Washington’s primary focus. Although the oil and natural gas industry holds great promise for creating well-paying jobs, the federal government seems intent upon preventing its growth and success.

The United States has huge deposits of oil and natural gas to be developed. A study by the analytical firm Wood MacKenzie calculates that just increasing access to currently underdeveloped regions could result in nearly 700,000 new jobs in the United States by 2030. Moreover, data show that the oil and gas industry provides some of the best-paying jobs in the country.

In his State of the Union speech in January, President Obama spoke of the need to increase domestic energy production, specifically mentioning increasing oil and natural gas production.  With a growing population that will need more energy, the oil and gas sector can be an engine of job creation that can help pull the economy out of the doldrums – as the President said.

Consider the scale of the oil and gas industry’s contribution to the national economy.  Just in 2010 the industry invested $266 billion in new projects and enhancements to refineries and other facilities.  It paid out $176 billion to 2.1 million U.S. employees and oil and gas leaseholders. Another $35 billion was returned as dividends to investors, which include many of the nation’s pension and retirement funds, and $31 billion was paid in government taxes, royalties and fees.  In total, that is equal to more than half of the Obama “stimulus” plan spending.

But it appears the Administration’s actions will not match its rhetoric. Despite the President’s call for an “all of the above” energy strategy, ten separate federal departments and agencies are considering regulations on hydraulic fracturing, the technology without which the sharp increases in domestic oil and natural production would not be possible. It is, in truth, more of a “none of the above” strategy.

Although the President recently signed an executive order creating a task force to coordinate these regulatory actions, the drive for more regulations seems unstoppable.  The American Petroleum Institute says that “adding potentially redundant federal regulation could stifle the kind of investment that has led to lower energy prices for consumers, more American jobs, and increased energy security.”

In my home state of Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has prompted criticism over its proposal to scale back the amount of acreage available for oil shale and tar sands development. The boards of three counties have passed resolutions against the BLM’s plan, demanding more public input.  The Mesa County statement claims BLM has been hijacked “by a host of anti-oil shale pro-wilderness groups steering BLM’s every move.” Sound melodramatic?

Consider that the estimated 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in the Piceance Basin shale formation exceeds all of the known oil reserves of the entire world – yet is still largely off limits under current federal policy.

Even without it, Colorado’s promising Niobrara shale formation and other energy activity is helping to fill America’s energy needs and creating jobs. It’s estimated that the oil and gas industry already employs 50,000 Coloradans directly, and indirectly supports 190,000 more jobs. But the state’s energy potential could be cut short by piling on additional federal regulations, while walling off some of our most energy-rich lands.

If we really want to create jobs, shouldn’t we ramp up domestic energy production, rather than slow it down?

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Energy Independence

An ancient writer once said “where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.” That could well be said of the current hysteria about hydraulic fracturing, a proven technology to produce clean-burning natural gas and oil.

Simply explained, a mix of water (99.5%), sand, and chemicals is pumped under high pressure to create minute cracks in rock formations thousands of feet below the surface so oil and gas can be extracted – energy that cannot be obtained without this technology.

Wherever there are vast new oil and gas resources, there are concerted efforts—largely by outside groups—to frighten local communities against the technology.

The “fracking” debate ought to be about our energy future. U.S. shale gas resources are the second largest in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The U.S. has over 100 years’ supply of natural gas at today’s consumption rate, and we have seen a significant increase in America’s recoverable oil reserves, largely as a result of fracking, without which much of our own energy simply cannot be produced.

Fracking has been used since the 1940s. Recent technical advances, along with the discovery of large deposits of natural gas and oil, like the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachians and the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, have made fracking more common. And that makes it the target of another negative campaign by alarmists who oppose all uses of energy.

Now a cadre of “environmental protection” organizations has been created for the purpose of turning public opinion against providers that use fracking to access previously unreachable oil and gas. As a result, there are new national debates about the practice, and the threat of EPA regulation.

Such drilling practices have always been regulated at the State level, so this would represent a major new expansion of federal power, part of the regulatory tirade of the current EPA leadership. Predictably, that possibility has led to angry congressional hearings, potential legislation, public hearings, and a rash of speeches and letters – mostly generated by these same environmental organizations.

These groups and their heavily-funded PR campaigns are creating fear in the minds of residents.  Gin up enough fear among local residents and, the crusaders hope, politicians will respond by blocking or limiting energy development. The result could be a morass of burdensome regulations that are not justified by reasonable concerns.

Exaggerated claims about fracking focus on the chemicals, and are sometimes outright falsehoods and distortions. For example, residents are told that fracking will cause the contamination of groundwater and poison drinking water. But even the EPA and the Groundwater Protection Council (composed of state regulators) have issued reports admitting that there is not a single documented example of groundwater contamination caused by fracking.

Where contamination of drinking water has been found, the source was not fracking, but corrosion of well pipes. Ironically, preventing such corrosion is the very purpose of the trace chemicals added to the water and sand – the chemicals opponents use to stir up public fear.

In the U.S., more than a million gas and oil wells have used the technique without negative impacts, and we all benefit from the energy they produce.  Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is proposing requirements on drilling operations in the name of transparency, has said that “hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to groundwater, [and] it’s almost inconceivable that groundwater will be contaminated.” Senator Mark Udall agrees that done properly, fracking poses no threat.

It is virtually impossible to eliminate all risk from all human activities, and there are risks involved in energy production, too. That’s why there are industry standards and reasonable governmental regulations on such activities.

The promise of energy self-sufficiency and reasonable energy prices can be delivered if the U.S. can produce more of its own resources. And the development of America’s oil and gas means more high-paying American jobs, more income to citizens who lease land for energy production, and more revenue to local and state governments.

Fear can sometimes be useful if it’s based on facts. But when it is driven by false agendas, as in this case, it can blind our vision on important issues like energy independence. In that case, it has no useful place in the debate.

Sacrificing For My Country

Most Americans are willing to sacrifice more than you might guess to help our country through this budget and debt crisis and to protect their grandchildren’s future.  Here are a few government “services” I am willing to give up for my country: 

  • I would be willing to forgo the millions of dollars’ worth of nutrition programs the USDA provides so that public schools can offer a better selection of broccoli to my children.  It would be difficult for me, as a parent, to have to give some thought to what meals my children eat and whether they are becoming obese from too many soft drinks, but for the good of the nation, I’d be willing to parent my own children – at least until we get out of this economic mess.  
  • I could learn to live without the EPA studies of the climate dangers caused by cow flatulence and maybe even that agency’s regulation of my own breathing.  Realizing that my breath and my love of beef may lead to yet another half-inch rise in the sea level over the next century, perhaps we could worry about this in another decade or two when the economic outlook is rosier.  
  • If absolutely necessary, I could manage without the Department of Education funding thousands of school district administrators across the nation.  I know the importance of every district having coordinators for special education, autism, behavioral problems, social engineering, political correctness, and curriculum “updating,” but because of the temporary economic downturn, I would be willing to let teachers and parents decide on their own how to run schools and implement important social objectives for now. 
  • I could try to go on without the Department of Energy giving massive grants to universities in every region to write research reports on the benefits of alternative energy and the dangers of fossil fuels.  Because there is no one left who does not already understand the evil of our modern consumptive life, maybe we could get by with our own efforts to modernize our lives, based on what is available, affordable, and desirable to us.  Perhaps we could rely, for now, on companies that provide energy, rather than bureaucrats and professors who study it.  
  • I could run my farm, if necessary, without the Labor Department dictating details of the relationship between me and my workers.  Because the workers all know where there are better jobs that pay more, they are pretty good at negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions with me.  If I don’t pay enough, they tend to go away, even without the Labor Department telling me exactly what that wage level is.  Therefore, this is a “service” I could sacrifice for the good of my country.  
  • I would be willing to give up the Interior Department’s work in managing endangered species for a while.  Because the department’s most routine activity in this regard is adding new species to the endangered list and then issuing “opinions” that warn people against activity in the regions where the species live, there is little activity that actually results in recovery of anything endangered.  Wildlife seems entirely unaware of all this activity, anyway; therefore, maybe we could all just stop killing endangered species for now and try to make such judgment calls without the aid of the Interior Department’s regulatory structure.  
  • Finally, I could – if pushed – figure out how to pay for the things I buy without the benefit of the pennies and dollar bills that government continues to mint and print by the billions each year.  Recognizing that pennies cost more than 1.5 cents to produce and that dollar bills last a few months while dollar coins last for years, I know these are “services” that cost millions each year unnecessarily.  I guess I could take time to look at my change long enough to distinguish between a dollar and a quarter, if it would help the country out of this mess. 

I know there are many more examples, and I speak for millions of my countrymen in offering to live with less of such services.  After all, we Americans are public spirited, not selfish.

I Want You – To Do My Job!

Friday’s Denver post featured an AP story about the catastrophic Arizona wildfires, mentioning the usually-taboo topic of the destruction of endangered species and their habitat. A good friend sent an email pointing out that “It’s ironic that litigation over Mexican spotted owls was the primary reason that forest management was shut down in Arizona,” while the Post article says, “now crown fires in overgrown forests have become the greatest cause of unusual losses for the birds.”

Ironic, you say? Ironic?!

One of the oddities in Endangered Species Act enforcement is the unequal treatment of public and private landowners. Government official are fond of pointing out that the vast majority of habitat for most endangered species is on private land. That’s because they want to force private owners to manage private lands for the benefit of the species, while officials smugly ignore the government’s own role in the loss of vital habitat.

The Mexican spotted owl is the latest poster child, of many.  As the AP article pointed out, 73 nest areas were destroyed by the latest fire – that is more than half of all the known nesting areas in that entire national forest. This is not an isolated or coincidental occurrence, either. In Colorado, the 1996 Buffalo Creek fire and the 2002 Hayman fire destroyed more than half the known Mexican spotted owl habitat in that State. The same fate befell the unfortunate California spotted owl over the past few years – fifteen identified owl sites incinerated in two 2005 fires on the Eldorado National Forest, and twenty more in that State’s 2007 Moonlight Fire.

What is truly fascinating is the government’s continued use of the spotted owl as a favorite tool, not for recovery of the owls, but for stopping human activity – even activity that would improve the habitat!

When the Fish and Wildlife Service designated the official “critical habitat” for the Mexican spotted owl in 2004, it said “Forests used for roosting and nesting often contain mature or old-growth stands with complex structure. These forests are typically uneven-aged, multistoried, and have high canopy closure.” In other words, they need healthy forests with trees of varying ages, not single-age stands, and certainly not dead forests. The agency said the two primary threats to the continued existence of the species were “even-aged timber management,” and catastrophic wildfires. The Forest Service has done nothing about either problem since that document was written, so the problem is worse than ever.

The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the deaths of vast tracts of forest, caused by bark beetles, are at least partly responsible for the “alteration of habitat.” And the recovery plan called for action to head off that growing disaster: “Clearly, forest management that decreases forest density, primarily by thinning from below, will help to control populations of some of these organisms.”

So given these fairly obvious circumstances, what has the government done to thin the forests and restore healthy stands of multi-aged trees? Nothing. Instead, managers have steadily eroded the Forest Service’s budget for any and all timber activities, and spent billions on other “missions,” such as trails, campgrounds, research, studies, green job creation, climate change, and grant programs.

It is unclear how many spotted owls may actually have been killed by these giant wildfires – in fact the government has no idea how many there are, how many there ever were, or whether their population is increasing or decreasing. Nor is there any definition of what population would constitute recovery of this threatened species.

What is very clear is that the owls will continue to be used as an excuse to regulate and limit forest thinning, recreation, oil and gas exploration, and grazing. It is equally clear that any private landowner who purposely took action – or refused action – that resulted in the death and destruction of hundreds of spotted owls would be in deep trouble.

When I headed the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, I once thought the State should simply sue the federal government for failing to manage forests in a manner that would protect the habitat of the spotted owl (and numerous other endangered species). Such a lawsuit would certainly draw attention to the government’s own culpability in the species’ decline, and perhaps begin to apply the same standard to public land managers as to private.

Then-Attorney General Ken Salazar was reluctant to file that suit at the time, pointing out the difficulty in holding a government agency accountable for not taking some action. Maybe he was right. I am not a lawyer, but if you ask me – and any number of owls – lack of action is action.

Maybe Uncle Sam should point that finger at himself once in a while.

Change the Words, Not Your Mind

Government no longer “spends your money.”  It “invests in your future.” 

 If, despite that clear distinction, you still don’t feel good about multi-trillion-dollar deficits, it’s because you must understand one of the most important techniques in the art of debate – when you’re losing, change the terms.  Successful politicians must master that art if they want to push unpopular policies.  If “illegal alien” sounds bad, change the words to “undocumented workers.”  If “estate tax” sounds OK to people who have no “estate,” call it the “death tax” and it affects everyone who might eventually die.  A simple change in terms often changes the outcome of debates, legislative votes, and even elections.

Changing the words is a long and proud tradition in the world of conservation, too.  That’s how national forest timber management became “below-cost timber sales” and “logging old growth,” the result of which was an almost complete end to active forest management (and today’s dead and dying forests).  That’s also how vast tracts of public lands became “the last great places,” which must be protected from public use.  It is a technique both sides practice regularly, but that doesn’t make it any more honest or less cynical.

One of the great examples is being played out in today’s debate over global warming.  As average global temperatures leveled off in the past decade, “global warming” became “climate change,” since that includes both warming AND cooling.  As more recent scientific research makes the causes of climate changes less certain, an increasingly skeptical public has begun to shy away from “solutions” that seem harsh, expensive, or difficult.  Thus, Congress could not muster enough votes to pass the proposed cap-and-trade bill several years in a row, and the effort now appears dead.

Not to be deterred, however, advocates have resorted once again to the tried-and-true technique of changing the terms.  It has become unpopular in a time of spiking gas prices to propose the ban on drilling for oil and gas that many environmental activists actually want.  They recognize that an end to the use of fossil fuels to power our economy is simply not achievable in the foreseeable future.  That’s why they have tried for several years to convince the public that our use of natural resources to create prosperity is evil, and that our pursuit of the good life is destroying the planet.  But we all learned about carbon dioxide in school science classes, and we certainly do not intend to stop exhaling.  That is why it is now known as a “greenhouse gas” – because “emitting” any “gas” sounds like something we should stop doing.   It is a debate such advocates are losing in the court of public opinion, for several reasons:

  •  There is a limit to how much Americans can pay for gas, heat, and electricity;
  • Many people are no longer convinced of a direct link between their use of energy and any catastrophic change in the Earth’s climate;
  • Revelations about fraudulent manipulation of scientific data has damaged the credibility of man-made global warming alarmists;
  • The economic recession has “cooled” Americans’ willingness to raise taxes, hinder businesses, and slow job creation – for any reason.

Does this mean advocates of a cap-and-trade policy will give up the effort?  Of course not.  It means they will change the terms, and that effort is well underway now.  Witness the new desire on the part of state and federal administrations across the country to adopt policies that promote “clean energy.”  What exactly is “clean energy?”  At the risk of stating the obvious, it means energy that comes from sources other than oil, gas, coal, methane, biomass, biofuels, nuclear, shale, tar sands, hydropower, or any source that requires pipelines, power lines, or other infrastructure (can we use wind and solar power without power lines?).  In a nutshell, it means we should stop using so much energy.  It means the same thing all the previous debates meant, just with different words.

Expect to hear the term “clean energy” repeated across the political landscape non-stop for the next several years.  Experts know that repetition is the key to successfully changing the terms of a debate.  As Berkeley Professor George Lakoff advises liberals, “Repetition of such articulations is the key to redefining these words…” 

The Republican “Word Doctor” Frank Luntz explains the importance of repetition: “There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.”

That is why the debate of the next few years will be about “clean energy.”  It is a legitimate debate, so long as everyone knows exactly what it is really about.  Just remember, the story you are about to see is true; only the names have been changed to protect the political agenda.