J.C. Moore Online
Current events from a science perspective.

Bits and Pieces: Blogging Tips from an Amateur

     Posted on Wed ,25/06/2014 by admin

I sometimes get requests about website design, platforms, and for tips about blogging. I put my replies together in a short article in hopes it will help others get started.

Before getting started, you must choose a web host, which charges a small fee to host your blog. There are a number of platforms you can choose, but Free WordPress is a good platform, and it is a great way to get started. The paid upgrades aren’t that expensive and have more features. It is important to have an uncluttered website which goes along with the theme of your posts. I think it is a good idea to choose a theme and stick with it so that people who visit your site will recognize it immediately and be able to navigate it easily.

 Here is some advice I gave a friend of mine:

> Have a son who designs web sites. :>) He solves most of my problems.

> Have patience. If you have a quality site with good information, your readership will grow and people will return.

> Do not allow trolls to post comments on your site. Delete personal attacks and obviously false assertions.

> Use all of WordPresses’ Spam Filters. At first I was delighted to get comments, even with a web address attached. I edited each. Then I started getting dozens a day and was overwhelmed so I installed Askimet, Bad behavior, and Captcha – they are available as free Plugins. Send a little payment to the plugin sites you use. They deserve it and make your site much better.

>Be sure to use strong passwords and get a security program for your site – I use Better WP security. Install it before you post much. It once locked me out of my site and I would have lost all my work had my son not saved me.

> Think about posting a few articles on Ezinearticles.com. They give you some exposure and let you link to your own site.

> Put a copyright notice on your articles. That keeps others from legally copying your articles and using them without your permission. (C) 2014 Your Name – is adequate.

> Check into a translator such as at the top of my site. There is a Plugin that does it. I get many more hits from other countries now – but I cringe a bit at the idea of how things may be translated. Machines are not as good as people at translating but the main ideas get through.

>As to ideas, I usually read something that sparks my interest and I write a title and a few short paragraphs to start. My articles are usually based on research so I then begin collecting articles and references on the topic and write short descriptions of them. When I get enough information to be clear on the topic, it is just a matter of arranging the data and adding the background and a narrative to keep the reader interested.

> Write, write, write – but be sure to pay attention to your family. My wife does a lot of art on her computer, so she is understanding – yet sometimes she claims my computer has stolen me away, and refers to it as “that redhead”.

Best wishes and good luck.
J.C.

Oklahoma SB 1456: It’s Not Really a Sun Tax

     Posted on Sun ,15/06/2014 by admin

asolar Oklahoma just passed and signed into law SB 1456, meant to allow power companies to assess an extra fee on customers who install renewable energy and hook to the power grid for backup. It is not really a tax as the extra fee will go to the power company instead of the state. The law was designed to discourage the investment in renewable energy by private individuals, but it may have unintended consequences for the power companies pushing the law.

Fairness: SB 1456 allows the addition of an infrastructure fee on those who install solar panels and use the grid for backup. The main rationales for the bill were to make it fair to customers who pay for the infrastructure, and to protect our power grid. Some research (see below) indicates that distributive energy generation may require fewer upgrades to the power grid, benefiting all customers. And, what is fair depends greatly upon one’s point of view. Customers who use the grid for backup are required to have a net energy metering (NEM) contract with the power company. Under those agreements, they still pay a customer fee, which defrays the cost of infrastructure, and they are usually not reimbursed for any extra power they produce, essentially providing free energy for the other customers. The power companies agree that we should encourage people to use less energy as AEP/PSO’s states its mission is to “help customers use less energy and spend less for it”. Is it fair then that customers who cut their energy use in half by installing extra insulation are appreciated while those who cut their energy use in half by installing solar energy are charged an infrastructure fee?  

ALEC: Since the author the law is AJ Griffin, my State Senator, I contacted her about the rationale for the law. She provided me with a document called Facts and Fiction, which was very similar to the rationale developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to discourage the development of renewable energy. At their Chicago meeting last year, ALEC adopted discouraging the spread of renewable energy as one of its goals. Their plan to do this was by weakening renewable portfolio standards (RPS), by claiming that it would make electric rates go up, and by promoting the idea that those who install their own solar panels were “free riders” who did not pay their fair share of infrastructure costs.

When I asked Senator Griffin if she was a member of ALEC, she said that it she had attended one of their events, which turned out to be a trip to Alberta, but she did not know if she was a member or not. ALEC is apparently a very secretive organization. She denied that ALEC had anything to do with the bill, and I believe her, as she is apparently unaware of the connection.  Sen. Griffin told me the Facts and Fiction rationale, which was distributed to the legislators in support of the bill, was prepared by a group of people who represent the electric cooperative and the investor owned power companies. It is no wonder that it was very biased toward the position of the power companies.

Senator Griffin told me she had help writing SB 1456 from Kenny Sparks at the Oklahoma Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. When I contacted him, he told me that the idea of the bill had grown out of discussions with a consortium of power producers in Oklahoma which included representatives from investor owned companies. He said electric companies were worried that distributive generation might eventually increase their costs. One of the investor owned companies was AEP/ PSO, which is a member of ALEC, and the impetus and the rationale for SB 1456 likely came from them. Mr. Sparks told me that neither the consortium, nor the group which developed the Fact and Fiction rationale for SB1456, had a representative from any renewable energy group, nor did it  consider the research which shows that private investors in renewable energy provide a net benefit to the other customers.

Research: There has been credible research which establishes that there is a net benefit to all electric customers in states where net energy metering has been encouraged. A study by Crossborder Energy in 2014 found NEM allows utilities to avoid costs of generation and fuel, maintenance and upgrade of transmission and distribution infrastructure, transmission losses (which account to 7% of losses), capacity purchases, and compliance with renewable energy standards. The study concluded,” The cost which utilities avoid when they accept NEM power exported to their grid shows that NEM does not produce a cost to nonparticipating ratepayers; instead it creates a small net benefit on average across the residential markets.” While it does cause power companies to have to adjust their loads accordingly, NEM reduces peak loads, transmission losses, and the need for new power plants.  In California, the study found NEM “delivers more than $92 million in annual benefits to non-solar customers”.

Another important study, which no one can accuse of bias, was performed at the request of the Vermont legislature and carried out by the Vermont Department of Public Service. They were charged with determining if there is a cross-subsidization with net metering and other retail customers and to examine any benefits or cost of net metering systems to the distribution and transmission system.  The report addressed the specific ratepayer benefit as well as the statewide, societal benefit of solar net as: “Avoided energy costs, including costs of line loses, capacity costs, and avoided internalized greenhouse gas emission costs.; Avoided regional transmission costs.; Avoided in-state transmission and distribution costs.; Solar coincided with times of peak demand and market price suppression.; And an additional benefit explicitly not covered in the study is the economic multiplier associated with the local investment and job creation created from the local manufacturing and installation of net metering systems. “ Even considering subsidies, the report found that solar net metering was a net-positive for the state of Vermont.

It appears from these studies that net energy metering provides a benefit to the states which encourage the installation of solar and wind generation by private individuals. That benefit even extends to other customers.

Unintended Consequences: Though SB 1456 was an anticompetitive bill designed to discourage private investment in renewable energy, it may not turn out that way. Upon signing the bill Gov. Fallin attached a letter requiring “the Corporation commission to conduct a transparent evaluation of distributed generation consistent with the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. It also said, ” This evaluation mandates inclusion of all stakeholders including representatives of the solar distributed wind energy industries and utilities.” and “A proper and required examination of these other rate reforms will ensure an appropriate implementation of the Oklahoma first energy plan while protecting future distributed generation customers.”

The Oklahoma First Energy Policy encourages development of wind and solar energy, but it relies heavily on the increasing development of our natural gas resources. However, fracking and the associated disposal wells may be related to the increased incidences of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is now in the process of replacing some of its coal-fired power plants with natural gas plants. It would be prudent to encourage a greater development of renewable resources in case a definite link was established between fracking activities and earthquakes, which might greatly curtail Oklahoma’s production of natural gas.

Some electric co-ops , such as Oklahoma’s Indian Electric Cooperative, apparently recognize the value of net energy metering. The company allows net metering customers to accumulate credit for excess power and pays them at the end of the year for any excess credit at the wholesale rate, essentially treating them as any other power provider. If the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would adopt a similar model and require that NEM customers be compensated for the excess power they produce, it would greatly encourage private investments in renewable energy installation. It seems it would be in Oklahoma’s best long-term interest to encourage private investment in renewable energy, and SB 1456 may be the vehicle for that to happen.

(C) 2014 J.C. Moore

Bits and Pieces: ALEC at Work in the Oklahoma Legislature

     Posted on Mon ,02/06/2014 by admin

In a Readers Forum article in the Tulsa World, “Responsible, conservative reforms working”, Brian Bingman, president pro tem of the Oklahoma Senate, states how proud he is of what the legislature has been able to accomplish. Mr. Bingman is rather quick to pat himself and the legislature on the back, as the reforms he cites were more to the benefit of corporations than of the average citizen. The tax reform and tax cut leaves the state badly underfunded. The balanced budget, achieved by cutting needed services, does not meet the needs of the state. The Capitol building repair was funded by bonds, rather than taxes, which has further indebted the state in the future. The education system is badly underfunded and the tax cuts have only made the situation worse in the future.

The workers compensation reform limits an injured workers right to full compensation for his injuries. Tort reform makes it harder for the average citizen to seek redress in court and limits the liability of corporations. The reform to the state’s public employee pension system, by privatizing the future pension system, destabilizes the existing program, and is a boon to private fund managers. The failure to expand Medicaid will cost the state billions of dollars in Federal funds, that we pay as taxes, and has left 144,000 Oklahomans without adequate healthcare. The hastily passed changes and extensions to corporate oil and gas subsidies, demanded by Oklahoma’s three largest oil and gas companies,  were unnecessary and will make the state’s budget problems worse in future  - and were likely unconstitutional.

Next to the Governor, Mr. Bingman is the highest ranking member of ALEC in our state and his achievements are  high on the list of ALEC’s model legislation. Many of those “accomplishments” benefit  ALEC’s corporate members, but in the end they will hurt Oklahoma and its citizens.  The Governor and 70 of our 149 legislators are members of ALEC, so what chance does an average citizen have?

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If you would like to end the influence of ALEC on politics in Oklahoma, please go to http://okcitizensfirst.org/2014/04/24/alec/ and ask your candidates for office to pledge that they will put the needs of Oklahoma citizens first. Let’s vote out anyone who won’t.

Note: The related Credo Petition to Governor Fallin about Medicaid expansion is at:  https://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/governor-fallin-release-the-31-e-mails-about-medicaid-expansion

Bits and Pieces: Oklahoma Must Increase the State Renewable Energy Standards

     Posted on Sun ,01/06/2014 by admin

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as windmill4quickly as possible. Investing in clean energy helps fight climate change, reduces death and disease from air pollution and creates good, local jobs. Most states have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires that a certain percentage of the electricity generated in the state be from renewable resources.

Across the country, 30 states and the District of Columbia have renewable electricity standards in place that require a certain percentage, some as high as 33%, of all electricity to be generated from clean and renewable sources of energy. Oklahoma requires only 15% . It is 11.25% in actuality, because the legislature allows the utilities to meet a quarter of the renewable requirement by conservation. Oklahoma has the potential to be a leader in renewable energy but it is falling behind because the state is not being proactive in encouraging investment in renewable energy.

It is time for that to change. With the increased phase out of coal fired plants and the uncertainty in natural gas prices and supplies, Oklahoma must act to insure a supply of electricity for the future. We have a good supply of natural gas, but that could change if fracking and disposal wells are linked to water pollution and earthquakes.

Every state should adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard, and states which already have them should increase the percentage of electricity produced by renewables. It’s time for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to invest more in clean sources of energy. Click here and sign a Credo petition to the Oklahoma Legislature if you agree. You do not need to be a citizen of Oklahoma, as air pollution affects us all.

 

Bits and Pieces: Two Misguided Attacks on Wind Turbines and Electric Cars

     Posted on Sun ,25/05/2014 by admin

There were two op-ed pieces in the May 25, 2014 Tulsa World which were misguided attacks on renewable energy and electric cars.

The first was titled “The Killing Fields”, with the subheading “Perverse federal energy incentive is a threat to birds, bats.” The article was written by Dr. George Fenwick who is the president of the American Bird Conservancy. The article was illustrated by an Associated Press photo which shows cattle standing in front of a windfarm in a drought prone area of Texas. It well illustrated flaws in Dr. Fenwick’s reasoning, he is more concerned about the wind turbines than about a much greater threat to bird populations.

While Dr. Fenwick had some good points in the article about the value of birds and our need to conserve them, the sensationalized article missed the greatest threat to birds. He complained about the federal production tax credit which encourages the development of wind energy, about allowing exception to the Endangered Species Act, and about siting of wind farms in sensitive areas. Wind developers are already avoiding sensitive areas and they have changed the design of wind turbines so they would be less of a threat to birds. He should have been more concerned about the bigger threats to bird populations, which are severe weather and the destruction of habitat, both made worse by global warming. Delaying the construction of wind turbines will certainly lead to more carbon emissions, making global warming more of a problem

Research shows that wind turbines are not among the top 10 human causes of bird mortality – and windfarms are likely saving HPIM2053amany more birds than they are killing. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality found that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. If Dr. Fenwick’s sensationalized articles about “The Killing Fields” keeps us from developing renewable energy as quickly as possible, then he is working against the birds, and his own, best interest.

The second article, “Driving greener cars won’t save the Earth” by Megan McArdle essentially says efforts are futile to reduce our carbon emissions. She belittles her friend for buying an electric car and goes on that Americans are likely to do nothing significant to reduce our carbon emissions. She well documents all the ways that we waste energy and claims we are unlikely to change. She also points out that getting other countries, particularly China, to to reduce their carbon emissions is also futile. She concluded that if we want to get serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we need to find cheap renewable resources to replace our energy needs, to find a way to take greenhouse gases out of the air, or to keep the planet from warming because of those gasses that we have already put their .

Her last two suggestions show she does not have a good grasp of the scientific issues, but she is certainly right that we need cheap renewable resources. We have already found those in wind and solar, but they are not yet cheaper than fossil fuels because fossil fuels do not pay their external costs. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal –  if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include those  costs, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage. If we wish to be serious, then we need to remove subsidies to fossil fuels, require fossil fuels to pay their external costs, and to  subsidize renewable energy sources at the same level for several decades.

This falls into a long list of defeatist articles, such as that by Robert Bryce, which says that we are not going to be able to do anything about global warming, so why try. Yes, driving greener cars alone won’t save the Earth, but conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources, changing the energy sources we subsidize, and having fossil fuels pay their external costs, will certainly help more than writing articles discouraging us from trying.

  (c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Evidence Linking Global Warming and Extreme Weather

     Posted on Thu ,08/05/2014 by admin

 ”All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….  ”  - Trenberth

 

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that asking for proof that global warming causes severe weather, is asking the wrong question. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. The main way climate change is perceived is through changes in extremes because those are outside the bounds of previous weather. The average anthropogenic climate change effect is not negligible, but nor is it large, although a small shift in the mean can lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. Anthropogenic global warming inherently has decadal time scales and can be readily masked by natural variability on short time scales.”

Scientists  have been very cautious about linking severe weather events to global warming, but the link is getting stronger each year. The Earth has warmed an average of 0.82 over the last century, which doesn’t sound like much, but it means that some places have warmed much more than in the past. Since the amount of moisture the air can hold depends on the temperature, the air can now hold about 6% more moisture. Before 2010, scientists would cautiously point out that higher temperatures lead to the likelihood of drought, and that more energy and moisture in the atmosphere was a recipe for severe weather. But how is it possible to establish that weather events were becoming more extreme?

There are many reports like the interim report by the Climate Council in Australia which found that, in the period between 1971 and 2008,  heatwaves in Australia were becoming more frequent, increasing in intensity and are lasting longer. The report said climate change was  having a key influence on a trend that has seen the number of hot days in Australia double and the duration and frequency of heatwaves increase. Reports like that were not good enough for the skeptics. By 2011 a good case was established that global warming was causing heat waves and droughts in the U.S., but the case was not strong enough to overcome the Skeptics objection, even when in 2012, a definite probability link  was established for  extreme temperatures and droughts. 

To understand whether a weather event is extreme, it must be compared to the norm. This can most easily be done for temperatures, as we have over a century of temperature records from almost all parts of the world.

Example of a Normal Distribution

Example of a Normal Distribution – Click to Enlarge

There is enough temperature data that normal distributions can be graphed, which allows us to quantify  the probability of a temperature event. In the example at the right, the maximum in the curve is the mean of the data. The probability of the occurrence of an event can be measured by the number of standard deviations, sigma(σ), a particular value is from the mean. The values within 2σ of the mean, blue, are considered to be in a mostly normal range. Those from 2 to 3σ, yellow, are considered to be exceptional events, and those beyond 3σ, red, are considered to be extreme. Those yearly events that fall in the yellow range are considered to be 100 year events while those that fall in the red are 1000 year event.

As an example, the normal distribution graph to the right is for the temperatures in Moscow since 1950.  The maximum in the curve is the average temperature, which is set to zero, and the temperature for other other year is described as a temperature anomaly, i.e., how far it is above or below the average value.Moscowjulytempanomaly2010 The curve approximates a normal distribution so the standard deviation of the temperature anomalies can be used to decide whether an event is extreme. The temperatures for 1972  and 2001 fall in the hundred year event range, while  that for 2010 would only be likely to occur only once in every hundred thousand years, unlikely, but still possible.

The Skeptics would still not be convinced, claiming that the link to global warming climate change causes severe weather was not proven, but proof is not necessary when probabilities for a large number of events are involved. For instance, you have only a 50% chance of calling a coin toss correctly, but you can likely guess the number of heads on 1000 flips with less than 1% error. Small differences in probabilities lead to big outcomes. The rules of blackjack give the house a 50.5% to 49.5% advantage, and though some players may win thousands on a lucky streak, considering all the bets placed, the house will make millions from that small difference in probability. And, probabilities are useful for predictions. A 0.270 hitter may get the game winning hit at his next bat while a 0.300 pinch hitter may strike out, but with the game on the line, the coach will likely pinch hit. If trying to predict the future, it is better to go with the probabilities. Though  it is not possible to prove that any one weather event is caused by global warming , scientists have observed a change in probabilities of severe weather events over long periods of time. With the thousands of weather events that occur on the Earth each year,  a small change in probability can cause an definite change in the number of severe weather events.  

SummerDist

An even more convincing argument can be made that global warming causes severe temperatures if the normal distribution is examined as a function of time. Research by James Hansen has established the link by showing that the normal distribution has changed since 1951. The curves show that beginning in about 1970, the mean begins to move to the right and the the curves flatten, showing that the probability of extreme temperatures increase greatly from 1950 to 2011.  His work shows that the probability of extreme temperatures is 10 times as great as for the 198o to 2010 years.

It should also be noted that the left side of the graph flattens, but that the probability of extremely cold temperatures is not zero. There is still a significant likelihood of cold temperatures -and a cold winter now and then does not disprove global warming.

The Skeptics are still claiming that is not proof enough, and that the data says nothing about droughts and wildfires.  There are still some Skeptics who argue that this does not mean  heat waves necessarily related to droughts or that the droughts are causing the increase in wildfires we have experienced, but their arguments seem to be improbable. It should be clear by now that no amount of evidence will convince Skeptics who wish to ignore probabilities.

(C) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

 

The 2013 Environmental Hall of Fame/Shame Winners

     Posted on Thu ,08/05/2014 by admin
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The 2013 Environmental Hall of Fame/Shame contest was carried out on three websites and the votes were combined to determine those who have most affected the environment through word or action.

The 2013 Environmental Hall of Fame Winners:

Bill McKibben (44%): He is the founder of 350.org , an international grassroots organization whose goal is to cut CO2 levels to 350 ppm in order to minimize the damage from global warming. His weekly newsletter keeps followers updated on the latest research and issues in climate science. Award:  many new members, so please check out his newsletter.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Tie, 25%): He a strong advocate in the Senate for legislation to reduce our carbon emissions, often countering Senator Inhofe’s anti climate rhetoric.  Award:  more support from fellow Senators for action on climate change, so please vote for  those who will help him.

The Candu Engineers (Tie, 25%): They designed the Candu nuclear reactor to run on thorium. The reactors are very fuel efficient and have been adapted to use thorium in existing reactors that already have regulatory approval. http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2…  Award:  regulatory approval of new designs for thorium reactors.

Kevin Cowtan and Robert G. Way (7%): They found  the ‘missing heat’ in the climate system.  Their research published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society shows that the Arctic is warming at about eight times the pace of the rest of the planet. Award:  the acclaim of having a link to their paper attached to every article which says: “Global warming has stopped”.

 

The Hall of Shame Selection:

The Koch Bothers (67%): They are pushing Keystone XL pipeline as they own almost 2 million acres of Alberta tar sands land.  The Kochs,  one of the largest funders of AGW denier groups, have been using their extensive wealth to lobby politicians to let the KXL pipeline go through. Award: A boycott of their products: less money, less lobbying.

The Executive Producers and Hosts of the five Sunday Morning talk shows (16%): They have done a terrible job of covering climate change. Their coverage of the topic dropped from an inadequate 61 minutes in 2009 to a four-year low of 8 minutes in 2012. They are:

  • NBC – Meet The Press – Rob Yarin, Executive Producer, David Gregory, Host
  • CBS – Face The Nation – Mary Hager, Executive Producer, Bob Schieffer, Host
  • ABC – This Week- Jonathon Greenberger, Producer, George Stephanopolus, Host
  • FOX – News Sunday – Jay Wallace, Executive Producer, Chris Wallace, Host
  • CNN – State of the Union – Rick DiBella, Producer, Candy Crowley, Host

        Award for each : a copy of the booklet recently published jointly by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British    Royal Society “Climate Change – Evidence and Causes.”

 James Delingpole (8%): He is not a scientist, yet he wrote columns for the Telegraph denying climate change and personally attacking climate scientists, comparing them to Nuremberg criminals and suggesting they be tortured.  Award: A job on Fox news.

The George C. Marshall Institute(8%):  They espouse “Science for a Better Public Policy” but they specialize in churning out misinformation about Climate Change. They developed the strategy of “Doubt Is Our Product”, i.e. creating doubt about the scientific evidence and the scientific consensus to keep effective action from being taken.  Award: required reading of Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes, who exposed their strategy.

It is important that we keep in mind those who are heroes and villains to the environment. I wish to thank those who provided the nominations, the prize suggestions, the insightful and often humorous comments, and the votes to determine the winners. As this year goes by, please take note of those you wish to nominate for the 2014 awards.

(C) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

Oklahoma: Where We Subsidize Air Pollution and Earthquakes

     Posted on Thu ,17/04/2014 by admin

Oklahoma is now coming in near last in most measures of civilized society, yet it is still cutting taxes – even as the Capitol Building is falling down. Generous in their hearts, the state Legislature has dug deep into the states resources to find a few hundred  million to continue its subsidies for state businesses.

One little-known act of generosity is the subsidies to the state coal mining industry. They’ve had a tough time of it, as Oklahoma’s coal is high in sulfur and is not worth much on the fuel market. Over the years the subsidy has been increased from $1 per ton to $5 or $10, no one is quite sure. Estimates are that the subsidies are costing the state about $16 million per year. That is not much when you consider what Oklahomans get for it, richer insurance companies and air pollution.

The subsidy is paid as a tax credit, but the coal mines are mostly unprofitable and pay very little in taxes. The laws were a little vague about what to do with the leftover credits, so the coal companies were  selling them to insurance companies at a discount, providing cash for the coal companies and a few million dollars per year for our struggling insurance companies. That cushy deal was cut out of couple of years ago, and the coal mines are now required to return the credits to the state for $0.85 on the dollar.

Since nobody really wants to buy Oklahoma’s coal, the Legislature required that Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants buy and use 10% of it to generate power. Since many of the power plants do not have adequate pollution control and scrubbers, the high sulfur coal produces more particulates and aerosols, which are considered air pollution by that interfering old EPA.

The state Legislature is now working on a bill which will put a three-year moratorium on building new wind farms in the Eastern Oklahoma while they study the problem. There are 27 windfarms in Western Oklahoma and a number of reports about their success, but apparently it will take the legislature three years to get around to looking at them. I brought that up as the Legislature seems much less curious about the relationship between fracking and earthquakes.

A bill to put a three-year moratorium on fracking while the problem is studied – would likely get little support in the state Legislature. Besides, that would leave a lot of money in the Legislature’s pocket with no place to spend it. While digging around for money to support the coal industry, the Legislature turned up an extra $200 million or so, which they are now using to subsidize fracking in Oklahoma. The legislature thinks the subsidy is important as it keeps our frackers from moving out of state, though some tightwad skeptics have pointed out that the frackers are probably here because that’s where the natural gas is.

Earthquakes

Click to enlarge.

It seems that there’s been a small increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma since fracking started, as shown in the graph. However our state Legislators are not big on graphical data, as it might involve statistics and is most likely based on models or something like that that you can’t trust. And they are not much for research either, as it appears that the federal government has known for decades about the link between injection wells and earthquakes.

A number of our citizens, particularly those whose walls and foundations are developing cracks, or those whose chimneys and other stonework are falling down, are beginning to wonder. Getting back to that crumbling infrastructure, there’s been a lot of unusual damage lately to roads and bridges in areas prone to earthquakes. And then there is the problem with the crumbling Capitol Building. Unfortunately, we will never know the cause as the Legislature just doesn’t have the time or money to study the problem.

(C) 2014 J.C. Moore

OK SB 1440, Blowing Away Wind Development in Eastern Oklahoma

     Posted on Sat ,12/04/2014 by admin

Wind is in good supply in Oklahoma, leading to a “wind boom”  in Western Oklahoma. Congressman Frank Lucas supports what he calls the  “all of the above” policy on energy sources, and recognizes and supports the importance

of wind energy development in the third Congressional District, which covers the northwestern two thirds of Oklahoma.  The wind industry has taken off in Oklahoma because the state has enacted policies, such as a five-year property tax exemption and a production tax credit, that are more conducive and supportive of the wind industry than neighboring states. Until now.

Though there is plenty of wind in Eastern Oklahoma, the political climate is not good for wind development there. Senate Bill 1440, by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman , passed last week by a vote of 32-8 and is headed to the House for consideration. The bill puts a three-year moratorium on development of wind energy East of Interstate 35, which essentially prohibits any further wind development in the eastern half of the state for three years. The rationale was that the issue “needed more study”.  But, for three years?

It should take about 30 minutes to discover the advantages of developing wind energy in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has spent more than a decade developing wind energy and there are now 27 windfarms in Oklahoma. Mr. Bingham and his supporters should be well aware of them, or they could just study the report compiled by independent consulting firm Economic Impact Group. The report shows that wind industry construction and operating activities from 2003 to 2012 in Oklahoma have created:

  • More than $1 billion in Oklahoma production of goods and services
  • More than $340 million in labor income
  • More than 1,600 direct full-time jobs
  • More than 4,000 total jobs including manufacturing and support industries
  • More than $1.8 billion of economic activity during the first 20 year contracts
  • More than $43 billion in property taxes annually after the tax abatement.
  • More than $22 million annually to landowners and $15 million in wages to local workers

 

Other than ignoring the contribution of wind energy to economic development in Oklahoma, there are a number of other things wrong with SB 1440. It infringes on property rights as it tells landowners how they cannot use their  land, if they live on the wrong side of I-35. It is probably unconstitutional, as there is really no rationale for such an arbitrary division of who can and cannot develop wind energy. It singles out and treats wind energy differently from other energy industries. That was pointed out by Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, who voted against the bill, “We have been writing oil and gas legislation and regulations for over 100 years and continue to do so,” he said, “I don’t anticipate anything different in the wind industry.”

The United States has the goals of achieving energy independence, reducing carbon emissions,  and and cutting air pollution. However, a number of politicians have been working against those goals by trying to hinder the development of alternate energy sources. There is nothing that hinders investments more than uncertainties in the investment climate. At one time, Tulsa was the home of DMI industries, a wind turbine tower manufacturer employing 167 people. The plant was closed in 2012 because of changes in the subsidy program that created uncertainty in the funding for the business. Even if SB1440 doesn’t pass, it will have a chilling effect on investments, as even the possibility of a ban creates uncertainties that discourage investors. SB1440 was designed to slow the development of wind energy in Oklahoma. Mr. Brian Bingman and his supporters are clearly not acting in Oklahoma’s best interest.

Note added on 07/10/2014: SB 1440 fail to pass this past legislative session, so Mr. Bingman has now requested that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission begin a study of wind farms, hoping the Corporation Commission will recommend legislation to limit the development of wind farms. Mr. Bingman, who has been exposed as a member of ALEC,  is following the goals of ALEC, one of  which is to stop the development of renewable energy sources.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

 

 

 

McCutcheon vs FEC: Destroying Democracy $1 Million at a Time

     Posted on Wed ,09/04/2014 by admin

“Americans need to take responsibility for government” - Steve Fair

Steve Fair’s article  in the Tulsa World, by that title,  was meant to describe how we should  address the McCutcheon versus FEC Supreme Court ruling. However, it turned out to be a rationale for putting more money into politics and blaming the citizens for allowing it. The ruling  furthered the damage done by Citizens United, which essentially ruled money was the same as speech, corporations were entitled to free speech, and corporations could express their political opinion by donating money. McCutcheon versus FEC essentially removed the restrictions on how much could be donated.

McCutcheon vs. FEC  was supported by the Republican National Committee and applauded by Chairman Reince Priebus: “Today’s court decision is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse.” However, when someone speaks, we know who is speaking, while much of the money in politics is funneled through 501C(3) foundations and other tax-exempt organizations, which hides the identity of those giving the moneyand the amount given.  So much for transparency.

Mr. Fair had three points to his article:

First, the Supreme Court got it right. The First Amendment trumps federal campaign laws. Americans have a constitutional right to participate in the political process at whatever level they want, whether it be volunteering for a candidate or contributing money to their campaign.

Second, it is indisputable that money rules in the political process. Candidates at all levels now must raise large sums of money to “get their message” to voters. State legislative and county candidates must solicit donors for money in order to be competitive in the political arena.

Third, big donors and political consultants are not to blame for money in politics. A common misconception is if big donors and political operatives were taken out of the process, big money in politics would dry up. That is simply not true. The reason we have so much money in politics is because we have an unengaged and ignorant electorate.

Equating money with speech means that those who donate large sums money have a much louder voice than the ordinary citizen. Money did have a role in the political process before, but it was limited so that an average citizen could at least make a reasonable donation. This ruling, and Citizens United , means that money will have even a larger role. Republican presidential candidates are already trekking to Las Vegas to be anointed by Sheldon Adelson. The third point  blames an “unengaged and ignorant electorate” which seems to echo our Republican leader’s perception of American voters. Does it mean you’re “unengaged” if you can’t donate millions and that you are “ ignorant” if you can’t sort through all the propaganda, misinformation, and lies created by those with money.

Quid pro quo corruption:  Chief Justice John Roberts tried to justify the decision when he wrote in the majority opinion. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

By requiring proof of quid pro quo corruption,i.e. outright bribery, the decision fails to address the problem of indirect bribery. An example of that is the effect of ALEC in Oklahoma politics. ALEC is composed of about 300 corporations and special interest groups who supposedly help our legislators write model laws. Those laws, of course reflect the interests of the corporations and the special interest groups, often over those of the citizens. The legislators who are members and support ALEC’s goals are guaranteed the support of the special interests and their money in the next election. Not only does ALEC provide money, but it also provides propaganda support such as letters to the editor of newspapers and op-ed pieces that favor the special interest’s viewpoint - and praise the politicians who support them.  And, ALEC does not thrive on openness as it keeps its agendas, meetings, members, and proposed legislation secret.

Mr. Fair finished by emphasizing again that the voters are at fault,  “ Ignorant voters believe candidate propaganda, and whichever candidate in a race that is the most effective at ‘marketing their message’ wins.  America is a country founded on the principle of self-governance. If we have poor government, it’s our fault. If we have too much money in politics, it’s our fault. It’s time Americans took responsibility for the mess we call our government and quit blaming the system. ” He says,  “ First, don’t just swallow a candidate’s  propaganda without researching the facts. Stay engaged in your government at all levels 24/7/365. Second, hold elected officials and our government accountable. Trust, but verify. Once elected, watch what they do and not what they say.’’

Mr. Fair is right that much of the influence of money in politics could be overcome if voters were more informed, but they can’t research everything they read in the paper or hear on television. It is unrealistic to ask, as he does, that citizens spend 24/7/365 working to ensure that what they read is true. Only politicians and pundits have that kind of time to spend on politics.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, said the decision “understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. Today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.” It is too bad that some Republicans see money as a way to gain power and the spoils of power, rather than seeing it as an impediment to democracy, which it is.

Frank Kennedy, in a post in the Tulsa World summed it up quite nicely,” Freedom of speech, guaranteed in the First Amendment, is not unqualified: one cannot falsely yell fire in a crowded theater. Nor should corporations and billionaires, under the guise of free speech, be able to nullify the concept of one man, one vote with mountains of cash to politicians. It is the job of the Supreme Court to decide among contending rights which have priority. This time the Roberts court got it wrong.” Again.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore