Category Archives: Clean Air

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.

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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)

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.

The Clothes Have No Emperor

The Deepwater Horizon accident and the resulting oil leak is a tragedy on many levels, costing the lives of 11 workers, displacing hundreds of others, costing an entire region jobs and tax revenue, and beginning an environmental catastrophe that will take years to heal.  Watching the reaction of politicians, business leaders and the media has made the whole spectacle worse, if that’s possible, and prompting many to wonder, “Who is in charge?”

  • Is it Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who inelegantly announced that with his boot on the neck of BP, if they couldn’t stop the leak soon he would push them aside and do so himself (but after 2 months has still not done so)?
  • Is it White House Environment Czar Carol Browner, who told a press conference that while BP was doing the actual work, “we are in charge” (but who cannot make a decision between contradictory environmental laws)?
  • Is it the President, who criticized Salazar for using harsh words, and then said he was meeting with experts to find out “whose ass to kick” (but who thus far has been content with reorganizing a minor agency, changing its name from MMS to BOE)?
  • Is it the congressional committee members who spent an entire day yelling at BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, while continuing to ban drilling at easier locations throughout the United States?
  • Is it the news media, where in-depth investigative reporting has focused mainly on oily pelicans, the President playing golf, and the BP chief executive watching yacht races?
  • Is it BP, whose experts after 2 months cannot find a way to stop the leak, but refuse outside assistance (even from noted Hollywood oil spill experts like James Cameron and Kevin Costner)?

 Sadly, the honest answer is: no one is in charge.  Lots of politicians are wearing the clothes of power, but where is the emperor?  Who is making decisions on what technology to try next, whose expertise to ask for, or how to streamline the bureaucracy and get decisions made?  Alas, no one.

Consider that environmental laws have stopped the use of chemicals that disperse the oil slick because such “dispersants” are harmful in other ways.  At the same time, burning the oil while it’s still floating at sea has been used only very sparingly because of the impact on air quality standards.  Similarly, the sand berms that might stop the oil from reaching wetlands and beaches (requested by state governors) were stopped for weeks because that requires an extended permitting process.  Morning news shows have featured dozens of products (from specialized foam to sawdust) touted for their ability to soak up oil, all of which have been referred to a BP committee that has received over 65,000 suggestions, but apparently can’t decide whether to use any of them.

Here is the problem: spilling oil is illegal; allowing oil to wash up on shores is illegal; burning oil at sea is illegal; dumping sawdust or foam into the ocean is illegal; dumping piles of sand into the ocean without permits is illegal; and the use of large quantities of chemical dispersants is illegal.  Believe it or not, this is a common problem with our nation’s environmental laws.  You can’t have a pile of old tires or batteries on your property – and you are not allowed to dispose of them.  This contradictory mess of well-meaning regulations results in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t quandary.  In many instances it actually hurts the environment.  But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, it is inexcusable.

Someone, somewhere, needs to take charge and make it clear that the nation will do whatever it takes to stop this leak, stop the oil from reaching the shore, and clean up the mess that’s already out there.  Someone needs to make a clear decision on how and where America will get the energy upon which its economy absolutely depends.  Someone needs to decide to allow drilling where it is easier, cheaper, and fixable when something goes wrong.

We hear strong words about this every day.  But instead of making such vitally important decisions and taking whatever heat comes with it, our political leaders are rearranging the desks of minor bureaucrats and posturing to see who can appear toughest on TV.  The “never waste a crisis” mentality has provided the impetus to stop all drilling (as if that is any answer), perhaps hoping Americans will stop driving cars if the price of gasoline goes high enough.

Just to make sure that happens, Congressional leaders have slipped a massive oil tax increase into the current tax “extenders bill.”  Hidden on page 138, the proposed language would raise taxes on oil from 8 cents a barrel to 49 – an increase of 612 percent!  If nobody notices the tax increase, Americans will simply blame BP when the price of gas at the pump goes up.  And that is politics, not leadership.

Plenty of people in politics wear the clothes of power and surround themselves with the trappings of government authority.  Is there an emperor in there somewhere?  A good friend once compared Washington, D.C. to a log floating down the river with a thousand tiny ants – every one of whom thinks he’s steering.  Who really is?