J.C. Moore Online
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Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Legislating Away Climate Change

Mon ,17/03/2014

 

 ”Any time a law discourages science, you can be sure  there is a special interest behind it.”

 The 113th United States Congress has been busy making sure that money is not spent on climate research and that the research is not used to make rational decisions. Here is a sampling of some of the recent bills.

 Flood Insurance Rates: The House passed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HR 3370) sponsored by Michael Grimm (R-NY) which would bar FEMA from increasing flood insurance premiums to reflect updated flood risk in certain areas or reducing subsidies for property that was insured.

You might wonder why Congress would wish to bar FEMA from doing its job. This is similar to a North Carolina law (HB 819) which imposed a four-year moratorium on any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for regulations while the issue is studied. “North   Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions,” Governor Bev Perdue said. And then she ignored science by refusing to veto HB 819. Research on rising sea levels would predict that more of the North Carolina coastal region would be in a floodplain. It’s a sweet deal, the North Carolina developers and builders profit by building homes in the floodplain, and the federal government picks up the tab when the homes flood. Apparently the legislature is not going to let a little science interfere with that sweet deal.

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The House passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (HR 3826), sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), which restricts the ability of the EPA to issue a rule under the clean air act to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel fired power plants.

Fossil fuel companies now get a competitive edge on sustainable energy sources, as they do not have to pay for the true cost of 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. This law makes sure that the competitive edge for fossil fuels remains intact.

Social Cost of Carbon Emissions: This amendment to HR 2641, sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV), would bar regulatory agencies from using the social cost of carbon emissions as a factor when conducting environmental reviews of proposed construction projects. West Virginia produces a large amount of coal.

This law is designed to head off  a new report on the social cost of carbon from being used in rulemaking. A special panel of scientists has just issued  a 1,146-page draft report that details  the social costs of carbon. The report describes how climate change is already disrupting the health, homes and other facets of daily American life. It warns that those disruptions will increase in the future and the social costs will grow unless we reduce our carbon emissions.

Defunding climate research: The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (HR 2413), sponsored by Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), is designed to shift much of the funding of climate change research to weather radar research.  Mr. Bridenstine apparently does not know or care that this would defund much of the climate and weather research  vital to our national interest. The reason for this bill is clear, what you don’t know can’t be used as a basis for regulation of CO2 emissions.

Many more laws like these are coming down the pipeline. Any time a law discourages the use of scientific research, you can be sure there is a special interest group behind it.

(c) 2014  J.C.Moore

Gaming the Peer Review System, Part III: A Hostile Takeover

Mon ,26/03/2012

A group of Skeptics once managed to take over an editorship at a peer-reviewed journal  and publish articles hostile to mainstream climate science. With the help of politicians and large funding sources, the hostilities have continued to this day.

Skeptics: Science values its skeptics as they make science strong and they sometimes make valuable contributions by opening new fields for investigation. True skeptics follow the methodologies and the ethics of science, which requires they subject their work to review by their peers and divulge conflicts of interest. There are some skeptics, particularly in the areas of climate science, who violate the ethical principles of science for money and power. To separate those from true skeptics, they will be designated here as “Skeptics”. They are usually just ignored by scientists, but there are problems when a Skeptic becomes a journal editor. 

Journal editors are almost completely responsible for seeing that articles are properly reviewed and scientifically sound before they are published. Some journals, such as  Energy and Environment, cater to Skeptics such as Sallie Baliunas, Patrick Michaels, Ross McKitrick, Stephen McIntyre, Roger Pielke Jr., Willie Soon, and Steve McIntyre; who publish articles there that would not be accepted by legitimate journals. The editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, once said “the journal I edit has tried to keep this debate [climate scepticism] alive”.  Articles published in Energy and Environment are not taken seriously, but Skeptics hostile to climate science once managed a takeover of a reputable journal. An analysis by John Mashey showed the Skeptics managed to publish fourteen articles in Climate Research before they were caught gaming the peer review system.

Takeover: The takeover began in 1997, when Chris de Freitas became an editor at the reputable journal, Climate Research. There were 10 editors for the Journal and each worked independently, so it was possible for one editor to shepherd papers through the peer review process and see that they were published. The first paper  from a Skeptic, edited by de Freitas was by Patrick Michaels. The paper seemed to agree with the scientific findings of the IPCC reports, but it cast doubt at the end by concluding “this finding, instead adds further support to the emerging hypothesis that the Earth’s climate is not necessarily changing in a deleterious fashion”. Over the next six years, Chris de Freitas edited and published a series of fourteen papers by Skeptics who were interested in developing Dr. Michael’s “emerging hypothesis”. The articles caused so many complaints from scientists that some of the other editors questioned Dr. de Freitas about the quality of the papers he edited. He replied that they were on a “witch hunt”.

Restoring Order: The hostile takeover was uncovered after the fallout over a paper written by Sally Baliunas and Willie Soon. The paper reviewed the literature on the climate science of the last 1000 years, and concluded that the global warming in the 20th century was not unusual and that natural forces, rather than man’s activities were the cause. An important piece of their evidence was the Medieval Warm Period, which they claimed was warmer worldwide than the latter 20th century. But there was obviously something wrong with the paper. There were no accurate temperature records in Medieval Times, the Americas had not yet been discovered, and much of the Southern hemisphere was unknown. Proxy records from multiple sources show that the Medieval Warm Period amounted to only a small hump in the Earth’s temperature record. Shortly after its publication, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release from thirteen of the scientists whose work was used in Baliunas and Soon’s paper, saying Soon and Baliunas seriously misinterpreted their research. The thirteen scientists then coauthored a paper explaining exactly why the Baliunas and Soon paper was in error.

 All this caused quite a furor at Climate Research. Five members the editorial board eventually resigned in protest and the newly hired chief editor, Hans von Storch stated the paper had serious errors and should never have been published. Tom Wigley, who often reviewed papers for Climate Research, wrote, “I have had papers that I refereed (and soundly rejected), under De Freitas’s editorship, appear later in the journal—without me seeing any response from the authors.” All this was followed by an unusual public statement from the publisher, acknowledging flaws in the journal’s editorial process. Under pressure, Chris de Freitas resigned shortly thereafter, and papers from the Skeptics stopped appearing in Climate Research.

Extended Hostilities: That should have ended the matter, except that some politicians found the conclusions of Baliunas and Soon’s paper to be advantageous to the fossil fuel industry to whom they owed allegiance. Political pressure was put on regulatory agencies to accept the results of the paper, in spite of its obvious flaws and distortions. The EPA was unwilling to include the paper in its assessment of climate science, so Sen. James Inhofe (R – OK) scheduled a meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee to examine the paper.

At the EPW hearing, Michael Mann represented the scientific viewpoint, presenting evidence from multiple sources showing that the Medieval Warm period was not uniformly worldwide and resulted only in a small hump in the Earth’s temperature record. Dr. Soon stood behind his work and, in response to a direct question about his funding sources, testified that he had not received any funds that might have biased his objectivity. However, the paper lists the American Petroleum Institute as a major source of funding. Documents received later from the Smithsonian Institution in response to FOIA requests, revealed that since 2001  Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in funding from oil and coal interests.

Sen. Inhofe was upset by the turn of events and tried to get him fired – Michael Mann that is. At Sen. Inhofe’s insistence, the University of Pennsylvania, a Quaker University, conducted two investigations into Dr. Mann’s research and found no misconduct. A 2010 Science article reviewed the investigations, declaring “Michael Mann is cleared, again. “ Dissatisfied with the ruling, Sen. Inhofe has tried to get the attorney general to charge Michael Mann with fraud. It doesn’t get much more hostile than that. Sadly, for the first time in history, scientists are collecting a legal defense fund to defend scientists against political attacks. And even worse, the scientific opinion of the senior member of our Environmental and Public Works Committee is based on a paper that would not have passed freshman English.

 (c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Book Review: The Greatest Hoax by Sen. James Inhofe

Tue ,20/03/2012
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s long promised book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future is finally finished. It was published by WND Books, which has published other grand conspiracy books such as The Late Great USA: The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada . The book will certainly be a hit with some lobbyists, politicians and corporate leaders. It may also be popular among scientists as it reveals some interesting things about Sen. Inhofe and gives scientists an opportunity to examine his ideas and arguments.

 Sen. Inhofe has served as the mayor of Tulsa and is the senior Senator from Oklahoma. He has been a strong advocate for many of his constituents and he has been a strong critic of the lack of openness of some congressional procedures. He was instrumental in getting federal Superfund money to clean up the Pitcher lead mines in northeastern Oklahoma. A large area of northeastern Oklahoma was affected and millions of dollars have been spent to try to mitigate the environmental damage. No one knew at the time that lead was toxic, and Pitcher is a perfect example of how what you don’t know can hurt you and be costly.

Sen. Inhofe has often stated “Global warming is a hoax” but proving that may be difficult. Every major scientific organizations in the world has adopted a statement similar to that of the American Chemical Society: ”Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles. There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.” A 2010 Stanford University poll of 1,372 climate scientists found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in climate science agree that global warming is occurring and man activities are the main factor. The Greatest Hoax tries convincing us otherwise by quoting media sources, politicians, lobbyist, and the 2-3% of the scientists who claim to be skeptics, though some receive substantial rewards for being skeptical.  Legitimate science is based upon evidence and reason, but many of the ideas put forward in this book are not.

Politics:  Sen. Inhofe says: “I am not a scientist. I do understand politics. “He says he went into politics because a Tulsa city engineer would not approve his request to move a fire escape on his building. Mr. Inhofe told him that he was going to run for mayor and fire him when he won. And he did. It is possible that the engineer was following the building code adopted by the city’s elected officials, and that there may have been a good reason to leave the fire escape where it was, such as it being easily assessable in case of a fire. That incident, however, explains Senator Inhofe’s attitudes toward regulations, regulators, and scientists whose research show the need for regulations. It also explains the Senators approach to regulations. He sees them as an impediment to business but he does not see that most regulations are developed to protect the public. One of his favorite targets is the EPA, which was created by Pres. Nixon to protect the environment. Sen. Inhofe chose to work on the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works (EPW) committee so he could protect businesses from what he considers needless environmental regulations.

The Hoax: Sen. Inhofe was apparently convinced “global warming is a hoax” by one of the worse hoaxes in recent Congressional history. It started when Dr. Willie Soon managed to get a paper through the peer review process at Climate Reviews with the help of an editor sympathetic to his views. The paper reviewed the literature on climate science, and concluded that the global warming in the 20th century was not unusual and that natural forces, rather than man’s activities was the cause. An important piece of his evidence was the Medieval Warm Period, which he claimed was warmer than the latter 20th century. But there was something wrong with the paper. There were no accurate temperature records in Medieval Times, the Americas had not yet been discovered, and much of the Southern hemisphere was unknown. Dr. Soon’s paper contradicted the evidence from hundreds of other peer-reviewed papers. It caused quite a furor at Climate Reviews which ended with 3 members the editorial board resigning in protest and the newly hired chief editor stating the paper had serious errors and should never have been published. The EPA was unwilling to include the paper in its assessment of climate science, so Sen. Inhofe scheduled a meeting of the EPW committee to examine the paper.

Shortly before the meeting, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release from 13 of the scientists whose work was used in Dr. Soon’s paper, saying the paper distorted their research. At the hearing, Michael Mann represented the scientific viewpoint, presenting evidence from multiple sources showing that the Medieval Warm period was not worldwide and resulted only in a small hump in the temperature record. Soon stood behind his work and testified that he had not received any funds that might have biased his objectivity. However, the paper lists the American Petroleum Institute as a major source of funding and documents received since from the Smithsonian Institution in response to FOIA requests, revealed that since 2001  Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in funding from oil and coal interests. Sen. Inhofe was upset by the turn of events and tried to get him fired – Michael Mann that is. At Sen. Inhofe’s insistence, the University of Pennsylvania, a Quaker University, has conducted 2 investigations into Dr. Mann’s research and found no misconduct. A 2010 Science article reviewed the investigations, declaring “Michael Mann is cleared, again. “ Dissatisfied with the ruling, Sen. Inhofe has tried to get the attorney general to charge Michael Mann with fraud. Sadly, for the first time in history, scientists are collecting a legal defense fund to defend scientists against political attacks. And even worse, the scientific opinion of the senior member of our Environmental and Public Works committee is apparently based on a paper that would not pass freshman English.

Endorsement: The Greatest Hoax was endorsed by Dr. R.M. Carter, a paleontologist from Australia, who was the star witness at Sen. Inhofe’s 2006 Senate hearing on Climate Change and the Media. No credible members of the media testified, and one might wonder why Sen. Inhofe would be interested in the media bias in Australia. Dr. Carter was likely there because he could be counted on to testify that historically the rise in global temperatures had always preceded rising carbon dioxide concentration; thus some natural cause must be releasing the carbon dioxide that is causing the temperature to rise. He was right about the role of carbon dioxide in increasing the Earth’s temperature, but he rather ignored the possibility that the CO2 concentration was rising because the burning of fossil fuels was releasing 30 billion tons of CO2 annually.

After the hearing, Dr. Carter was challenged by climatologists to produce research showing the natural variability he claimed, but the paper he belatedly produced was soon refuted when significant errors were found in his reasoning. Though two of the four scientists who testified at the hearing were skeptics, all four agreed that the Earth had warmed about 1°C in the last century. Sen. Inhofe’s own hearing had clearly refuted his claim: “Global warming is a hoax.” That was of little concern to Sen. Inhofe, as the main purpose of the hearing was to intimidate members of the press – as if that were needed.

Science: There is little science in the book, though much of the book is dedicated to discrediting science and scientists by quoting friends of his from the Heartland Institute, media personalities, and other politicians. He even sets up Al Gore as a strawman for scientists. In the book’s introduction, he displays a rather tasteless picture of Al Gore naked, and considerable space is devoted to vilifying him. That is a shame as Al Gore has served as a respected Senator, Vice President, and as a Presidential candidate came within a few hundred votes of being elected. Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work and his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar. The movie also had its day in court and won. Interestingly, the same Dr. Carter, who endorsed the book, was the star witness for the plaintiff in Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education, a suit which sought to prevent the educational use of An Inconvenient Truth in England. The court apparently did not agree with Dr. Carter and ruled that, though the film had some errors, it was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could be shown. Sen. Inhofe claims to be a free market capitalist, but he seems to take great umbrage that Al Gore has profited from his investments in green energy, apparently without realizing that most of those profits have been dedicated to promoting conservative causes, such as protecting the Earth.

Though he may be a skilled politician, in the partisan sense, Sen. Inhofe is correct when he says “I am not a scientist.” He does not understand how scientific knowledge from many fields fits together to form a consistent view of nature. For instance, the book tells that after a large snowfall in Washington D.C., his grandchildren built an igloo and put up a sign: “Al Gore’s New Home”. Sen. Inhofe used the picture to denounce global warming alarmism, though he should know that a single weather event proves nothing. And, if he were a scientist, he might understand how the warming oceans increase the probability of a record snowfall in Washington D.C. , making the igloo possible – and how carbon dioxide has made more probable the record heat waves in Texas and Oklahoma, making droughts and wildfires possible.

Sen. Inhofe shows he does not understand how science works when he brings up the “Coming Ice Age” story to discredit the scientific evidence.  The argument goes, “How can you trust science, when in the 1970s the scientists were predicting the coming of a new Ice Age, but now scientists claim that the Earth is warming?” In the 70’s, scientists found that increased industrialization was causing not only an increase in particulates, which would cause global cooling, but also an increase in CO2, which would increase global warming. There was no consensus among scientists about which effect would predominate.  A count of scientific papers in that decade showed that only 7 journal articles predicted that the global average temperature would continue to cool, while 44 papers indicated that the average temperature would rise. The research on global cooling was valuable as it showed a nuclear war was unwinnable as particulates from a nuclear exchange might create a nuclear winter, ending life on Earth as we know it.

Scientific controversies are usually settled by the evidence, but this one was settled by the intervention of man. Particulates are visible and have serious health consequences. By 1980, regulations were in place to limit particulate emissions and, as that happened, the temperature of the Earth began increasing again. The fossil fuel companies became alarmed, as it was becoming apparent that we should also limit carbon emissions to keep the Earth’s temperature at equilibrium, so they began a propaganda campaign to convince us that carbon dioxide was harmless. If you believe that, remember the lesson of Pitcher, Oklahoma. What you don’t know can hurt you and be very costly.

Cap and Trade: Sen. Inhofe claims that cap and trade is the “crown jewel” of a global conspiracy of scientists, Hollywood stars, and media personalities who want to take away your freedom and create a world government. However, cap and trade was devised by free-market conservatives for President Reagan, who used it successfully to stop the acid rain drifting into Canada from our Northeastern power plants. It was part the Clean Air Act signed into law by President Bush I and many prominent Republicans, including John McCain, have supported it. Cap and trade is considered to be the market solution to reducing carbon emissions. It is described by the EPA as “an environmental policy tool that delivers results with a mandatory cap on emissions while providing sources flexibility in how they comply. Successful cap and trade programs reward innovation, efficiency, and early action and provide strict environmental accountability without inhibiting economic growth.” Does that sound like it “Threatens Your Future” , as the subtitle of the book claims? And, it  cannot be making Al Gore rich – or be the cause of rising energy prices – as it has not yet been enacted for carbon emissions.

Costs: Sen. Inhofe main objection to environmental regulations is their tremendous cost; but an accurate analysis of costs and benefits are not in the book. He just claims that it would cost each U.S. household $3,100 a year, a cost that has great sticker shock, but is totally inaccurate. Dr. John Reilly, the MIT economist whose work was used to arrive at that number, has publicly criticized a Republican lobbyist for distorting his work to arrive at that inflated value. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the cap-and-trade program by 2020 would average about $175 annually per household, and that associated savings would reduce the federal deficit by about $19 billion over the next decade. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences details other high economic costs of inadequate environmental legislation, such as reduced streamflow, rainfall, and crop yields. Yet Congress has refused to act on the matter.

Also, Sen. Inhofe seems to have left some important items out of his balance sheet, such as the true cost of using fossil fuels. The true cost of a resource should include repairing damage caused by its use and disposing of the waste. We are in effect subsidizing the fossil fuel industry by allowing them to freely discharge their wastes into the environment. Some of the “true costs” of fossil fuel use, such as health and environmental costs can be estimated. Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank and one of the world’s top economists, has used the results from formal economic models to examine the potential cost of failure to limit our carbon emissions. He estimates that the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the cost of mitigation and damages could rise to 20% of GDP or more in the future – and we would run the additional risk of an environmental catastrophe.

Taking 5% of the US GDP for 2010, would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. As to health costs, the American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school. They estimate the economic benefits of reduced exposure to particulates alone could reach as much as $281 billion annually. Those two add up to about $1.08 trillion. The calculations do not include all the environmental and health costs, but they do show about how much we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industries by ignoring the damage to people’s health and the environment.

Sen. Inhofe, in his Rachel Maddow interview, stated that the cost of cap and trade would be $30-$40 billion annually. That is about 1/30 of what the environmental and health costs might eventually be. Then, it is rather hard to put a value on those premature deaths or the added risk of environmental catastrophes. The number of billion-dollar weather disasters has increased fivefold over the last 30 years, and insurance giants such as Suisse Re now consider man-made global warming real, and a risk factor in setting insurance rates. Increased insurance rates will be an additional out of pocket cost, which could easily offset the $175 the CBO estimated that cap and trade would cost.

Scientists: To get around the strong consensus of scientists, the book claims there is a global conspiracy of liberal scientists bent on creating a world government, that climate science is a religion, that climate scientists are in it for the money, and that Climategate proves climate scientists are dishonest. None of those claims are supported by verifiable evidence. Most scientists are good citizens, conservative in their statements and actions. Most are religious, with stewardship and concern for their fellow man being part of their religion. The Presbyterian church, where Senator Inhofe claims membership, stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.”

 The book calls climate scientists “alarmists” in a derogatory sense, but many are becoming alarmed. Research shows that the Earth’s climate is changing because of our emissions of CO2, yet Congress has not acted to solve the problem. Scientists were criticized for considering the problem catastrophic, but they realize our carbon emissions will have an affect for 100 years or more into the future and inaction will threaten our food and water supply,increase the risk of severe weather events, and a possibly lead to an environmental catastrophe. Remember what happened at Pitcher, Oklahoma because lead mining was considered harmless.

Sen. Inhofe often calls those who disagree with him “liberals”, but the meaning of liberal and conservative seem to be flexible. During the American Revolution, it was the liberals who wanted to create a democracy and conservatives who thought that King George had a divine right to rule. Sen. Inhofe uses “liberals” to describe environmentalists and others who want to preserve the earth – and uses “conservatives” for those who want to conserve power and profits.

He describes Rachel Maddow as one of his favorite liberals, but that may change. In his book he said “Rachel’s segment was one of the last major efforts to go after me just days before I landed in Copenhagen and declared vindication.” However in his recent interview on Rachel’s show, she showed the clip. Nowhere in the clip does it mention Copenhagen or climate change. Rather than apologize, he said he couldn’t remember everything he said in the 350 pages of fine print in the book, raising questions about how much of the book he actually wrote. Apparently liberal can also mean “pesky”.

Big Oil: Sen. Inhofe tells some good stories of the old days in the Oklahoma oilfields, but back then Tulsa was the Oil Capital of the World and our domestic oil producers were a different breed from today’s multinational oil companies. They have little loyalty to the United States and little concern for our citizens or the environment. They have created some of the greatest man-made environmental disasters and resisted compensating their victims fairly. After the furor over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP’s CEO commented “I want my life back”, but he could not give back the 11 lives lost because of his decisions. Although he promised to compensate Americans damaged by the oil spill, BP appointed a lawyer to disperse the funds, who made many of the victims “take it or leave it” offers. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Mobil went all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid paying the $5 billion in damages owed the native Alaskans. Koch oil was charged in Oklahoma of cheating Native Americans and the government out $5 billion in oil royalties. They settled the case out of court for a 10th of the $5 billion, with no admission of wrongdoing. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Last year, the world’s 5 largest oil companies received $4 billion in tax break subsidies. Yet, they reported $171 billion in profits, while most US businesses and citizens struggled with financial losses, in part caused by the steep rise in fuel prices. Sen. Inhofe says his goal is “energy self-sufficiency” for the United States, yet last year the leading US export was fuels, so Big Oil companies are selling American oil abroad, creating a shortage in the United States that is driving up prices. Increasing their profits is their main goal, even though carbon emissions may cause a man-made environmental disaster much greater than oil spills. To defend their profits, these companies are now the major contributors to the science denial machine that Sen. Inhofe defends in his book.

Heartland Foundation: Sen. Inhofe was able to poke fun at himself when he said” Nature strikes back”, referring to a serious illness he contacted while swimming in a lake contaminated with toxic blue-green algae, whose growth was fueled by water pollution and the heat wave and Oklahoma. The illness caused him to miss the meeting of the Heartland Institute where he was to be a keynote speaker. His relation to the Heartland Institute is troubling. The Heartland Institute, once a major source of propaganda designed to prove there was no link between smoking, cancer, and lung disease, has now turned its considerable experience and resources into producing propaganda disputing the link between carbon emissions and global warming. Big Oil provides much of the funding for the Heartland Institute, and other similar “conservative” think tanks, who channel millions of dollars into the denial of science. The Heartland Institute is a gathering place for Big Oil’s lobbyists, loyal politicians, and paid skeptics. Many of those are the sources of information for Sen. Inhofe’s book. How accurate is that information likely to be?

Skeptics:  Science values its skeptics as they make science strong by pointing out areas that need more investigation, and they sometimes making valuable contributions to science. When Richard Muller questioned NASA’s temperature records, he evaluated all 6 billion pieces of weather station data, and came to the conclusion that the temperature record was accurate. When O’Donnell doubted Steig’s work showing Antarctica was warming, he re-analyzed the data and found that indeed Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, was getting warmer.

Skeptics are expected to follow the methodologies and the ethics of science, to subject their work to review by their peers, and to divulge conflicts of interest. Many of those Sen. Inhofe praises as “climate skeptics” do not meet those criteria. They profit from being skeptical and, when research shows them wrong, they continue to repeat their skeptical arguments anyway. An example is Anthony Watts, who started the Surface Station Project to examine the data from weather stations, which he claimed had errors. The AGU took his skepticism seriously and did a thorough study on the weather stations, finding the data was reliable. They had offered Watts a chance to participate in the research, but he missed his chance to be a scientist when he refused. And though the question has been answered, Mr. Watts is still repeating the same criticisms – and collecting substantial donations to continue his Surface Station Project. There are many skeptics like Mr. Watts, who receives generous grants from think tanks, not for fundamental research, but to come up with ideas to cast doubt on the IPCC, climate research, and the work of legitimate scientists. Many of the paid skeptics appear in Sen. Inhofe’s book as his sources for information, quotes, and references.

Vindication: In this chapter of the book, Sen. Inhofe claims vindication, but it is hard to imagine sufficient vindication for displaying a picture of Al Gore naked. Sen. Inhofe does claim he is vindicated by the Climategate e-mails. Hackers broke into the computers of England’s Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and stole 10 years of e-mails exchanged between the scientists. Quotes from the stolen e-mails were taken out of context, distorted, and released to media sources with claims the CRU scientists engaged in illegal and unethical acts. As of today, eight independent formal investigations have been completed and none have found any scientific misconduct by the scientists involved. The incident was dubbed “Climategate” , but it was in no way like Watergate. In Wategate, the thieves were caught and punished and those who masterminded the plot were publicly disgraced. In Climategate, the thieves have been hailed by some skeptics as heroes – and the victims of the theft have been vilified.  It seems strange that Scotland Yard is searching for the hackers, while Sen. Inhofe is gleefully helping spread the misinformation. So, rather than being like Watergate, the e-mail scandal was actually more like Stargate, fictional fantasy. The accusations of wrongdoing by some of the skeptical scientists, made before the matter could be investigated, were particularly egregious as scientist’s ethical codes say that:” Public comments on scientific matters should be made with care and precision, without unsubstantiated, exaggerated, or premature statements.”

Winning: Sen. Inhofe claims he is winning, but he can’t be talking about the scientific debate. All the world’s major scientific organizations think he is losing, as do 97 – 98% of the climate scientists, and 83% of American voters.  A 2011 Stanford poll found that 83% of Americans say that global warming is happening with 88% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans saying it is the result of human action. Attacking scientists may prove to be contrary to the Republican party’s best interest. While polls find scientist’s trustworthiness is  highly rated , with 84% having a favorable view of scientists, Congress’ approval has now dropped to around 9%. This may be indicative of the public’s dissatisfaction with the partisanship and gridlock in Congress, occurring for reasons well on display in this book.

Although some members of Congress and some of the public may listen to Sen. Inhofe, nature doesn’t. No matter how much he claims “hoax”, research shows the climate is changing in response to man’s activities. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, the temperature of the Earth is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, the probability of severe weather events is increasing, and weather-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more costly. It’s time we examine more closely who is actually winning by ignoring science.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

The 2011 Environmental Hall of Fame/Shame Winners

Thu ,01/03/2012
This year the contest was carried out on three websites and the votes were combined to determine those who have most affected the environment through word or deed.

The 2011 Environmental Hall of Fame Winners:

The winner is James Hansen, with 51% of the votes. His efforts opposing the XL pipeline played a pivotal role in delaying a decision and hopefully preventing the construction of the pipeline . Award: A massive presence at the 2012 Citizen’s Climate Lobby International Conference, July 22 – 24, in Washington D.C. . Make your travel plans now.

Runner-up was the EPA  (31%)  for standing firm in its efforts to protect the environment in spite of the political pressure it has received. Award: A duplicate of Captain America’s Shield. Though Captain America’s Shield was fictional, the EPA’s need for a shield is not. Please write your representatives about the need to protect the EPA from political attacks.

The Tulsa World (14%) was 3rd for showing great courage in defending  climate science and refuting Sen. Jim Inhofe’s claim of ”victory in his efforts to debunk man-made global warming as a hoax.” Their editorial stated:” While there are scientists and politicians on both sides of the issue, those who see climate change as a genuine threat are mostly scientists and most of those who deny it are politicians.” Award: I’m renewing my subscription and I hope that if you live in the Tulsa area you will also.

Joe Romm (3%), Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he writes and maintains Climate Progress , an outstanding source of accurate climate science information. Award: Apparently, not many who took the poll read Joe Romm’s columns. As an award we should correct that, so please click the link above and read some of his well-written articles.

The 2011 Hall of Shame Selections:

First place goes to Halliburton (Cheney), with 57% of the votes - for the Halliburton clause in the Clean Water Act. This clause provided a loophole that allows the composition of fracking chemicals to remain secret, thanks to Cheney. Apparently, voters were dismayed that Congress could be manipulated to provide an exception to the law for a special interest at the expense of protecting the public. Prize: A big glass of water from a well next to a hydrofracking operation.

Runner up was Congressman Joe Barton of Texas,( 17%) for his apology to BP about how they were treated after the Gulf Oil spill and for trying to ban energy-efficient light bulbs because they contain mercury, even though he had fought efforts to stop mercury pollution by industries. Prize: A copy of his failing grades on the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard and, hopefully, a decline in the number of votes he receives in the next Congressional election.

There was a tie for 3rd and 4th place between Dr. Jane Lubchenco,(13%) for using bad data to set fishing catch limits and for not adequately policing BPs drilling plans or their cleanup operations in the Gulf. Prize: A corexit oil shake. If you live on or near the gulf, please shake up a sample of the gulf water and mail it to her. It won’t hurt if she gets several. 

                                                                                    and

Forbes Magazine (James Taylor)(13%) for a ridiculously misleading article, New NASA data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism, that described climate scientists as “alarmist” 15 times. Award: A copy of the book Ethics And Journalism and a complete ban on ever using the words ‘alarmist’ again. I will see that they get a copy of the book and I hope you will write Forbes (readers@forbes.com) about the ban and express your opinion of the article.

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 2012 awards.

Congressman John Sullivan’s Town Hall Meeting II

Tue ,07/02/2012

 

Congressman John Sullivan (R-OK) held a town hall meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he discussed the budget, Social Security,  energy issues, EPA regulations, jobs, and the XL pipeline. The article gives Congressman Sullivan’s positions, comments and questions asked by the audience, and compares the authors views to Congressman Sullivan’s.

Congressman John Sullivan conducted two town hall meetings in Tulsa on January 26, 2012. The first was held at Tulsa Community College’s Metro Campus where a number of his constituents challenged Sullivan’s views. That meeting was reported  by the Tulsa World’s Randy Krehbeil in, “Sullivan town hall-goers applaud Obama speech”.  The afternoon meeting, which was held at the Hardesty Library in South Tulsa, had a much more partisan crowd. Congressman Sullivan’s opening remarks were much like those at his Sand Springs meeting last November. At the Hardesty meeting, he did not give people the opportunity to applaud Obama’s speech, he just criticized it. When people tried to point out the errors in his criticisms, they were interrupted by people shouting,” Ask a question”. Sullivan was there to hear what his constituents thought, but apparently his supporters did not want to hear anything good about the President.

 Gridlock: Congressman Sullivan likened Obama to a football coach who gives a great locker room talk but doesn’t win. It was a bad analogy as the coach cannot win without cooperation from the players, and many players in Congress seem more interested in beating the coach than winning for the country. Every winning team needs a reasonable budget, but many Congressmen have insisted on cutting taxes and 206 legislators, Sullivan included, have signed Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes. He blamed the President and the Democrats in the Senate for the gridlock, saying that the house had sent the Senate 26 bills that were not enacted. However, most of those bills contained a “poison pill”. For instance, H.R. 3630, the badly needed Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2011, also had a provision to delay implementation of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, to hinder the EPA, and to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. It is hardly fair to blame the Senate when they are not sent clean bills.

 Energy : Congressman Sullivan said that we needed the XL pipeline to create jobs and claimed that it would create hundreds of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly – and that the only problem was just a few miles through Nebraska wetlands. The problems are actually much greater.  They involve destruction of the boreal forests in Canada, pollution of Canadian rivers, acquiring the water and energy needed to process tar sands, and the carbon emissions the project would cause. Then, it is still not clear how many jobs it will actually create, who will profit from the project, and whether much of the oil will be shipped to foreign countries, possibly without being taxed as some of the refineries are in a tax-free zone.

 The Congressman said he has introduced legislation encouraging the development of natural gas as a fuel. He pointed out that natural gas provides about three times as much energy and costs much less than gasoline. Natural gas is plentiful in Oklahoma and developing the infrastructure to use it as a fuel would help Oklahoma’s economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. That is about the only positive contribution that Congressman Sullivan has made on environmental issues. Using natural gas would also significantly decrease our carbon emissions – but the Congressman did not mention that as he does not accept the scientific research on climate change. His supporters claim to be conservatives, but it is hard to imagine how they could support someone who is not also a conservationist. Congressman Sullivan scored a 9% on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard (page 52).

Audience Questions: The wife of a veteran told of the problems her husband had getting help from the Veterans Administration and asked if Sullivan could help. Congressman Sullivan said he would see what he could do. I hope he can help that veteran, but it is not likely that all the veterans needing help will get it if we cut the budget as Congressman Sullivan wanted. The veteran was certainly a good man, and when pressed to speak, he said that it would really help if people would recycle more. He pointed out that we throw away a lot of things that are still useful and that by recycling them we could create a lot of jobs and save our resources.

 Another woman complained that the EPA’s rules about Freon were making it difficult to get the refrigerant needed for their air-conditioning business. Congressman Sullivan took it as an opportunity to criticize the EPA and the Obama administration, apparently unaware that those rules had been signed into law by President Reagan.

A CPA in the audience brought it to the Congressman’s attention that the low interest rates were hurting people who had their nest egg in savings accounts and CDs. He also pointed out that the mandatory IRA withdrawals required at age 70 1/2 are making people withdraw the money that they may need to save for later in life. The Congressman agreed that some changes need to be made there.

 When the Congressman was asked about who he would like to see as the Republican presidential candidate, he said he would support whoever could beat President Obama. A member of the audience tried to point out that there were other things more important than beating Obama, and that the President and his wife were good role models and examples of family values. She was almost drowned out by disagreements from the audience.

 Entitlements: There was a time when Republicans were fiscal and environmental conservatives. Congressman Sullivan said he wanted to cut what he calls “entitlement programs”, but one of his own supporters set him straight by pointing out that those were “earned benefits”, not entitlements. I want my children and grandchildren have the same benefits I did, and I want them to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and a beautiful Earth to enjoy. They are entitled to that.

Research Credit: Barbara Moore

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Poll: Help Pick the 2011 Hall of Fame/Shame Awards

Tue ,07/02/2012
 

Thank you for your nominations for the awards. The four top nominees for each award have been selected from those nominated by readers. Please help select the winner by voting  for the nominee who you think has most affected the environment through word or deed. If you wish, please post a reason for your vote and a suggestion for other suitable gifts for your favorite candidate. Some great gifts have already been proposed. The author will buy the gifts from his copious blogging earnings, so please don’t worry about the expense.   Click here for poll.

Hall of Shame Nominees:

Ø     Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Head of NOAA – For using bad data to set fishing catch limits and for not adequately policing BP’s drilling plans or their cleanup operations in the Gulf. Prize: A corexit oil shake.

Ø     Halliburton (Cheney), for the Halliburton clause in the Clean Water Act. It is a loophole in the Clean Water Act that allows the fracking chemicals to remain secret, thanks to Cheney. Prize: A big glass of water from a well next to a hydrofracking operation.

Ø     Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, for his apology to BP about how they were treated after the Gulf Oil spill and for trying to ban energy-efficient light bulbs because they contain mercury, even though he had fought efforts to reduce industrial mercury pollution. Prize: A copy of his failing grades on the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard .

Ø     Forbes Magazine (James Taylor) for a ridiculously misleading article, New NASA data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism, that described climate scientists as “alarmist” 15 times. At was classified as news, though it was clearly an opinion article. Award: A copy of the book Ethics And Journalism and a complete ban on ever using the words ‘alarmist’ again.

Hall of Fame Nominees:

Ø     James Hansen, whose efforts opposing the XL played a pivotal role in delaying a decision and hopefully preventing the construction of the pipeline (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). Award: A massive presence at the 2012 Citizen’s Climate Lobby International Conference, July 22 – 24, in Washington D.C.

Ø     The Tulsa World, for showing great courage in defending  climate science and refuting Sen. Jim Inhofe’s claim of ”victory in his efforts to debunk man-made global warming as a hoax.” Their editorial board’s statement is classic:” While there are scientists and politicians on both sides of the issue, those who see climate change as a genuine threat are mostly scientists and most of those who deny it are politicians.” Award: (Suggestion?)

Ø     The EPA, for standing firm in its efforts to protect the environment in spite of the political pressure it has received. Award: A duplicate of Captain America’s Shield.

Ø     Joe Romm, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he writes and maintains Climate Progress , an outstanding source of accurate climate science information. Award: (Suggestion?)

Nominations were taken from three sites, and the poll was set up below.

Click here for poll.

The poll will close on February 28th.

Who Wants to Kill the Electric Car?*

Fri ,13/01/2012

 Who wants to kill the electric car? Apparently, a lot of people do. During the 1920’s, the Milburn electric cars were popular, particularly with the ladies who didn’t like cranking gasoline engines to start them.  In 1928, General Motors bought the Milburn out and it disappeared. In 1996, the EV1 electric cars appeared on roads in California. They were quiet and fast and produced no exhaust fumes. They were manufactured by GM under a mandate to reduce vehicle emissions. Ten years later, these futuristic cars were almost completely gone. A documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car , determined that the batteries were not the problem but that the culprits were mainly oil companies who stood to lose enormous profits if EV sales took off and GM, who didn’t think they would make enough profit from the car. If GM had developed and improved the EV1, they might not have gone bankrupt.

House Of Cards: Much of the damage to the EV1 was done by misinformation directed at politicians, regulatory agencies, and the consumer. The same campaign is being used against the new crop of electric cars. In a Seeking Alpha article, Why The Electric Vehicle House Of Cards Must Fall, John Petersen continues the tactic. First, Mr. Petersen determines the value of an electric car by using an “analysis that starts with a $19,000 gasoline powered vehicle, deducts the costs of unnecessary internal combustion drivetrain components and then adds the incremental costs of necessary electric drivetrain components.” This analysis found a $38,800 cost for an electric vehicle. That cost is not unreasonable but the analysis is something like taking a conventional oven, stripping it, and adding parts to convert it to a microwave. There are many hybrids and electric cars on the market that have an MSRP much less than $38,800, such as the 4 passenger Mitsubishi MiEV which is rated at 112 MPGe and listed at $21,625. The price of the vehicles will certainly come down, as Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at the Detroit Auto Show he expects the cost for electric car batteries to drop from a whopping $12,000 in 2008, to $3500 by 2015 and $1500 by 2020. Currently there are waiting lists to purchase many electric cars and hybrids because of high demand, so there is little chance for price negotiations.

The article goes on, “Electric drive proponents are selling a house of cards based on fundamentally flawed assumptions and glittering generalities that have nothing to do with real world economics. Their elegant theories and justifications cannot withstand paper, pencil and a four function calculator.” However, Mr. Petersen bases his economic analysis on his $38,800 cost and a list of subsidies from what he calls an “extraordinary article”, The Real Costs of Alternative Energy by Alex Planes . Fortunately for the future of electric cars, Mr. Planes’ real costs are extraordinarily misleading.

Subsidies: Mr. Planes says, “a clear-headed look at the true costs of energy is something many — including our political leaders — sorely need.” He goes on,“Subsidies are just one of the costs of supporting alternative energy, but are they worth it?” Using U.S. Energy Information Administration data, Mr. Planes calculates the subsidies to energy sources in terms of the dollars per barrel of oil equivalencies. The subsidies he comes up with are coal: $0.39, oil and gas: $0.28, solar: $63, and wind $32.59. Based on his values, he says renewable energy’s costs to the government are “in some cases so high, and the actual energy returns so low, that it hardly seems worth the investment. Solar’s pitiful slice of American power use — less than a single day’s worth of oil consumption — is underwritten by enough taxpayer money to simply buy most of the power outright and provide it to taxpayers for free.” Subsidies are a poor way to estimate “true costs” as they are more indicative of the perceived future value of the resource to society.

True Cost? The reason Mr. Planes article is extraordinarily wrong is that he does not really give you the “true cost” of the use of fossil fuels. The true cost  of a resource includes not only the price but also the cost of cleaning up the environment and disposing of the waste. Fossil fuels dispose of their waste by releasing it into the air which causes damage to the environment and health problems for many Americans. We are in effect subsidizing the fossil fuel industry by the cost of allowing them to freely discharge their wastes into the environment. Any effort to determine the “real cost” of subsidies should include health and environmental costs. Mr. Planes says in the comments section of his article that he perhaps should rewrite his article to include what he calls the external costs. In the meantime, many people are using his incomplete analysis to disparage sustainable energy sources.

A Truer Cost: It is difficult to come up with an exact value for the “real subsidies” to the fossil fuel industry, but it is possible to estimate their magnitude. Top economists such as Britain’s Nicholas Stern, using the results from formal economic models, estimates that if we don’t limit our carbon emissions, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more in the future, and we would run the additional risk of an environmental catastrophe.

Using 5% of the US GDP for 2010 would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. The American Lung Association estimates that the EPA’s proposed guidelines for particulates could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school. They estimate the economic benefits associated with reduced exposure to soot to reach as much as $281 billion annually. Those two add up to about $1.01 trillion, and when divided by the 13541 million barrels of oil equivalent given in Mr. Planes article for coal, gas and oil together amounts to an additional subsidy of $73.9 per barrel of oil equivalent. The subsidies to wind and solar electric energy do not look so bad if you actually use fossil fuels: $74, solar: $63, and wind: $32.59. The calculations do not include all the environmental and health costs, but they do give an idea of how much we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industries by ignoring the damage to people’s health and the environment. Then there is the added risk of an environmental catastrophe.

 Disclosures: In an apparent effort to be evenhanded, as required by Motley Fool, Mr. Planes then concludes, “Wind and solar power have their drawbacks, but continue to make notable improvements year after year. However, neither option can yet provide the clean, constant, and convenient power the world demands. Natural gas offers the best opportunity for the near term. It’s plentiful, well-developed, and efficient, and will take on greater importance as dirtier hydrocarbons lose market share. ” Mr. Planes then offers you a free analysis of an “exciting opportunity to play the natural gas boom, by investing in a small company turning our oil-guzzling vehicle fleet into clean-burning natural gas machines.” He disclosed that he holds no stock in natural gas vehicles, but he may not be disclosing a bias against renewable energy. He refers to one of Robert Bryce’s books in his paper and his analysis sounds much like those in Mr. Bryce’s “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green Energy’ and the Real Fuels of the Future”. In Mr. Bryce’s  5 Myths about Green Energy, he attacks green energy using false comparisons, misquotes, scientific inaccuracies, and the omission of pertinent facts. It is not surprising that  Mr. Bryce is not a fan of green energy as he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which receives large donations from the Koch Foundation and Exxon/Mobile.

 Mr. Petersen, using Mr. Plane’s analysis, finds, “The law of economic gravity cannot be ignored and will not be mocked. Shiny new electric vehicles from General Motors, Ford Nissan, Toyota, Tesla Motors and a host of privately held wannabe’s like Fisker Motors and Koda are doomed to catastrophic failure. Their component suppliers will fare no better. There is no amount of political or wishful thinking that can change the inevitable outcome.” When Mr. Petersen was asked about the omission of health and environmental costs in a comment on his article, he replied he was only interested in “hard authoritative numbers.”

 Obscenity? Mr. Petersen goes on, “The ultimate obscenity is that a conversion from gasoline drive to electric drive will not reduce the total amount of energy used in transportation. It merely shifts the energy burden from lightly subsidized oil and gas to more heavily subsidized energy from coal, nuclear and renewables.”  Not really. The amount of energy used would be reduced even if using electricity from traditional coal fired power plants to charge the electric vehicle. Coal-fired power plants have a thermodynamic efficiency of about 30%. Electric motors are now about 90% efficient in converting electric energy to work and when considering friction, power line transmission losses, energy lost when the batteries are charged, and the energy gained by regenerative braking, the overall efficiency of using coal to run electric cars comes out around 20%. Internal combustion engines have a thermodynamic efficiency of about 15% but drive train losses reduce that to an overall efficiency around 10%. These efficiencies are reasonable as a  paper by Stanford University  comparing “source to wheel efficiencies” rated the electric Tesla at 1.145 km/MJ of and the gasoline powered Honda Civic at 0.515 km/MJ. At current prices, that figures out to about 5 cents/mile for the Tesla and about 12 cents/mile for the Honda.

  Using sustainable energy sources to charge the batteries would be the ideal case as the “energy source to wheel” efficiency would be 60 to 80% and the carbon emissions would be greatly reduced.  There would be a substantial savings in energy and carbon emissions even if using electric cars charged using coal-fired power plants. Electric vehicles have the added advantage that the infrastructure to charge the batteries is already in place. The electric car does not seem to be built on such a house of cards as Mr. Petersen’s article suggests.

An article titled Investors See Climate Opportunity to Make Money, Create Jobs, reports 450 large institutional investors who control more than $20 trillion worldwide, agree “climate change is a risk to avoid and also an opportunity to make a good return on investments.” It reports “Global clean-energy investments reached $260 billion in 2011, some five times more than the $50 billion in 2005.” Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources and we should not let pessimistic analyses keep us from investing in and developing the alternate sources.

* Revised to include a more recent Stern Report on 01/22/2012.

 (c) 2012 J.C. Moore

 

Congressman John Sullivan’s Town Hall Meeting

Sat ,31/12/2011

Election season is coming up, and many of our representatives are, or will be, holding town hall meetings. Congressman John Sullivan (R-OK) held  one of his town hall meetings in Sand Springs on November 7, 2011. He told us that things have been crazy lately in Washington, and he illustrated that by talking about the budget.

 Budget: A Supercommittee has been formed with the goal of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Congressman Sullivan said he did not think that was enough and he supports a balanced budget amendment, with the goal of cutting $4 trillion from the budget. He said that we would have to cut entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a list of other programs that mostly help the poor and the middle class.  He said he supports raising the age or cutting the benefits for Social Security, but that those over 55 should not worry, as the proposed changes would only affect those younger than 55.

 A member of the audience commented that he did not think that was fair, as he was just under 55. When the Congressman was asked if he would consider raising revenue rather than making such deep cuts in spending, he said he could not support raising taxes. That is not surprising as he and 276 Legislators have signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, making it almost impossible for Congress to raise taxes. Any reasonable effort to balance the budget will require tax increases as well as spending cuts. Congress is trying to fight the budget battle with one hand tied behind its back.

 Congressman Sullivan also criticized the budget submitted by the President, saying that no one would vote for it and even Harry Reid voted against it. A member of the audience pointed out that Harry Reid changed his vote for procedural reasons and asked what the Senate’s vote was. The congressman replied he did not know. The records show that the President’s budget passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 47, but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Harry Reid changed his vote as a procedural move so that it might be brought up again later.

 Banking reform: Congressman Sullivan said he could not support unneeded regulations and that the Dodd Frank law should be repealed because “it hurts small banks”. That is surprising, as the Dodd Frank bill was applauded by the Independent Community Bankers of America who said it would “level the regulatory and competitive playing field for community banks.”

Energy: The Congressman said he has introduced legislation encouraging the development of natural gas as a fuel. He pointed out that natural gas provides about three times as much energy and costs much less than gasoline. Natural gas is plentiful in Oklahoma and developing the infrastructure to use it as a fuel would help Oklahoma’s economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Using natural gas would also significantly decrease our carbon emissions – but the Congressman did not mention that as he does not accept the scientific research on climate change.

 EPA: Congressman Sullivan was quite critical of the EPA and stated he has introduced legislation that would require the EPA to do a cost-benefit analysis for every rule it makes. His legislation would create a huge amount of paperwork for the EPA and would make its job impossible to do, which seems to be his goal. Perhaps Congressman Sullivan could help by including a value for human life in his bill, as the EPA says slashing toxic emissions would prevent many premature deaths. The American Lung Association  estimates that the EPA’s proposed  guidelines could prevent 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths, 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school. The public agrees that the EPA should be setting standards to protect our health, not Congress. A recent poll found that more than two-thirds of registered voters supported EPA setting strong air pollution standards.

 Jobs: The Congressman spent considerable time criticizing the job creation efforts and the economic policies of the President, particularly the stimulus program. When he declared that the government could not create jobs, someone the audience asked him about the CCC and the WPA, which created jobs during the Great Depression and provided improvements in the infrastructure, such as creating the REA. The Congressman answered with a long criticism of the stimulus package, which he finished by claiming that the stimulus package had not created one job.

 A school administrator in the audience said that there were a number of jobs saved in education by the stimulus money and that the cuts to the school budget would’ve been much worse without it. Interestingly, the records show that District 1 in Oklahoma, Congressman Sullivan’s district, received $463 million in stimulus money which directly created 280 jobs. That did not include jobs indirectly created or jobs that were saved, such as the teaching jobs.

 Services: When asked about cuts to mental health services, the Congressman rather surprised us all by saying that one fourth of all Oklahomans have some form of mental illness. The Congressman said he supports mental health programs, efforts to help soldiers with PTSD, and programs that help those with substance abuse. However, it is rather difficult to see where money would come from to support those programs if the budget were cut by $4 trillion.

 2012: The 1st District covers the population centers in the northeast part of Oklahoma, mostly Tulsa and north to Bartlesville. We certainly appreciate Congressman Sullivan taking time to share his comments with us and answer our questions. Some of the things the Congressman said were of concern to the author, as you can discern from his comments. As the 2012 elections near, Oklahoma voters need to weigh carefully what Congressman Sullivan says and how he votes in order to decide if we should return him to Washington.

Co-authorship credit: Barbara Moore

(c) 2011 J.C. Moore

The EPA vs. Oklahoma Power Companies

Sat ,21/05/2011

The EPA has been charged with reducing the pollutants released into the environment, but they are meeting opposition from power companies, politicians, and people who want cheap energy, though other people’s health and the environment may suffer the consequences . The EPA is accepting comments on the issue through May 23, 2011.  (1)

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a 95 percent reduction in emissions at three of Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants owned by OG&E and AEP. (2) This has brought howls from the utility companies and from Oklahoma’s politicians. Utility companies claim that installing scrubbers or converting to natural gas will cost them billions of dollars and drive the rates for electricity up by 10 to 12%. The utility companies have defined the costs for the plant conversions or upgrades in the worst possible terms, without considering the long-term savings of conversion to natural gas or the impact on people’s health.

EPA.  Stopping the EPA has been put forth as a Conservative and a Republican cause, but it really is neither. President Richard Nixon created the EPA to protect the environment as the United States developed industrially. The Clean Air Act was passed not only to reduce smog in our cities, but to ensure that the air was kept pure and clean in our national parks and wilderness areas. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to limit sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, organic compounds, and particulates to ensure the quality of the air in our region. Limiting regional haze would have the added benefit of improving the health of people, wildlife, and plants in the region. Sulfur and nitrogen oxides are known to damage plants and those, along with small particulates, cause respiratory problems in people. Also, the particulates emitted contain mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, dioxins, and radioactive isotopes, which are all health hazards.

Regional problem. The emissions from Oklahoma plants do not remain in Oklahoma, and some of the haze in Oklahoma likely comes from surrounding states, particularly Texas, which has a large number of unregulated power plants. Emissions from a source may remain in the air for many weeks and travel for hundreds of miles. Although each state in the region might wish to address its own air pollution problems, it is a regional problem and must be addressed as such. Some of the states in the region are regulatory averse, and may lack the political will to act in the matter. For instance, a fly ash disposal plant at Bokoshe Oklahoma was allowed to operate for seven years while it violated Oklahoma statutes and apparently caused health problems and possibly deaths among Bokoshe residents.

Cost. The main objection to limiting emissions at the power plants is the cost. However, the power plants have operated for years without paying the true cost of energy production, which should include the cost of limiting their air pollution. It also appears that the companies have overstated the costs by as much as two or three times over the EPA estimates.  AEP reported $1.2 billion in profit last year and OG&E $292 million, so they can apparently afford to address the problem without passing all the costs to  customers.

Timetable. Three years would be a reasonable time for the power plants to come into compliance. It has been known for several decades that the emissions are damaging to the environment and health, yet the companies did not act. Also, the EPA had previously informed the companies that they were out of compliance, yet they have failed to come up with a satisfactory plan. They should have made a move toward compliance long ago, and further stalling should not be allowed.

Alternate plan. The alternate plan of converting the power plants to natural gas is certainly an acceptable plan. Methane produces about 2 1/2 times as much energy per unit of carbon dioxide as coal. And, switching to methane would also alleviate the problem of properly disposing of fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge. Those, and carbon emissions will necessarily be regulated in the future. Addressing the haze, the solid and liquid waste, and the carbon emissions piecemeal will certainly be less effective and more costly in the long run. If the companies should choose to convert the plants to methane, the added benefits would justify an increase in the timetable of up to five years.

(1) Comments may be submitted to r6air_okhaze@epa.gov or at http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/oklahoma_coal_pollution/?r=7901&id=21282-3213732-Kunk_Zx

(2) http://jcmooreonline.com/2011/03/17/the-problem-with-coal-and-politicians/

(c) 2011 J.C. Moore

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The Problem with Coal and Politicians

Thu ,17/03/2011

The EPA has been charged with reducing the pollutants released into the environment, but they are meeting opposition from power companies, politicians, and people who want cheap energy, though other people  and the environment may suffer the consequences.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a 95 percent reduction in emissions at three of Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants. This has brought howls from the utility companies and from Oklahoma’s politicians. Utility companies claim that installing scrubbers or converting to natural gas will cost them billions of dollars and drive the rates for electricity up by 10 to 12%. The utility companies have defined the costs for the plant conversions or upgrades in the worst possible terms, without considering the long-term savings.  Conversion to natural gas would eliminate the problem of  coal combustion products such as acidic gases, mercury vapor, fly ash, and bottom ash. Although coal is cheaper than other fuels, it delivers less energy per unit of CO2 produced. Coal  produces 314 kJ/mole while natural gas produces 890 kJ/mole, almost 3 times that of coal. Considering Oklahoma’s abundant supplies of natural gas, it would make sense for Oklahoma to begin switching power plants to natural gas.

The power companies and the politicians have tried to define the problem as the cost of the  “elimination of haze”, as if there were no other environmental damage done by burning coal. That is because the elimination of haze under the Clean Air Act is all the EPA is presently empowered to do. Coal is 65 to 95 % carbon. What about the rest? Coal contains small amounts of mercury, chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur, particulates, and radioactive isotopes. Man burns 6 billion tons of coal each year, releasing millions of tons of pollutants into the air and leaving several hundred million tons behind in the coal ash. Some pollutants eventually find their way into the water, the food chain, and into us. Oklahoma has adopted limits on fish consumption because of high levels of mercury. For comparison, mercury is 100 times as toxic as cyanide, arsenic is 20 times as toxic, and chromium(VI) is 4 times as toxic. These three are also are carcinogenic and accumulate in tissue. Even exposure below the allowed levels increases the chance of cancer over time. The small town of Bokoshe, Oklahoma is located near an unregulated fly ash disposal site. The incidence of cancer among the residents of the town is extraordinarily high, though the power company claims there is no link between that and their fly ash.

The sulfur and nitrogen oxides released by coal combustion harm plants and produce acid rain. A recent article headlined “Pecan growers say coal-fired plant killing trees” described the plight of orchards downwind from a power plant with inadequate pollution controls. One farmer said his pecan crop dropped over the years from 200,000 to 8,000 pounds. The combustion of coal  also releases 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Because  CO2 in 3water is an acidic, the oceans have become over 20% more acidic in the last century. That has led to the destruction of coral reefs and endangered crustaceans and the phytoplankton that convert CO2 to oxygen. Without phytoplankton, life in the oceans would be impossible. The concentration of CO2 in the air has increased 38% as well.  As a potent greenhouse gas, it is causing the Earth to warm, glaciers and polar ice to melt, and the climate to change in ways we will not always like. The Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the EPA to make a determination as to whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. The EPA has found, based on the best scientific evidence, that CO2 is an endangerment to public health and has moved forward to regulate it.

Oklahoma’s politicians, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe and  Congressman Dan Boren, are working on a solution- for the power companies benefit. They want to strip the  EPA of  its power to regulate pollution.  They also claim it is a states rights issue, and that the EPA has no business regulating Oklahoma industries. However, the pollution generated by Oklahoma’s power plants does not stay within its borders, nor is all the pollution in Oklahoma from Oklahoma sources. Much of it blows up from Texas, the state with the highest number of power plants out of compliance. Acidic gases released by coal combustion, and even mercury vapor, can travel for thousands of miles before being brought to Earth by precipitation, and much of the CO2 will stay in the air for centuries. Regulation of carbon emissions needs to be done on a national and even international level. It is a bad idea to focus on short term economic costs while ignoring the environmental costs, such as polluting the Earth and letting rural Oklahoma become a dumping ground for the power companies’ waste.

(C) 2011 J.C. Moore

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