Friday, December 23, 2011
December 19, 2011- Mark Modica, an Associate Fellow of the National Legal and Policy Center, discusses GM's apparent goosing of Chevy Volt sales figures. Mark is interviewed by Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel.
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Over his long career as a public planner, Lewis L. Lawrence grew accustomed to the bland formalities of planning commission meetings in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, where forgetting to cover one’s mouth while yawning through a lecture was about as rude as people got.
But lately, the meetings have gotten far more exciting — in a bad way, said Lawrence, acting executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission. A well-organized and vocal group of residents has taken a keen interest in municipal preparations for sea-level rise caused by climate change, often shouting their opposition, sometimes while planners and politicians are talking.
The residents’ opposition has focused on a central point: They don’t think climate change is accelerated by human activity, as most climate scientists conclude. When planners proposed to rezone land for use as a dike against rising water, these residents, or “new activists,” as Lawrence calls them, saw a trick to take their property.
“Environmentalists have always had an agenda to put nature above man,” said Donna Holt, leader of the Virginia Campaign for Liberty, a tea party affiliate with 7,000 members. “If they can find an end to their means, they don’t care how it happens. If they can do it under the guise of global warming and climate change, they will do it.”
Outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the biggest risk from sea-level rise of any area its size in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The water has risen so much that Naval Station Norfolk is replacing 14 piers at $60 million each to keep ship-repair facilities high and dry.
The area has historic geological issues. A meteor landed nearby 35 million years ago, creating the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater. And a downward-pressing glacial formation was created during the Ice Age. These ancient events are causing the land to sink, accounting for about one-third of the sea-level change, scientists say.
This geology is lost in local meetings, where distrust of the local and federal governments is at center stage.
When planners redesignated property as a future flood zone, activists said officials were acting on a hoax. They argued in meetings and on Web sites that local planners are unwitting agents of Agenda 21, a United Nations environmental action plan adopted in 1992 that the activists see as a shadowy global conspiracy to grab land and redistribute wealth in the United States.
“My professional credentials have been challenged,” said Lawrence, who holds degrees in municipal planning and provides professional and technical planning advice to municipalities throughout the peninsula. He said he has heard whispers behind his back after meetings: “I’ve been brainwashed. I’ve been called a dupe for the U.N.”
The uprising began at a February meeting about starting a business park for farming oysters in Mathews County, Lawrence and other planners recalled. The program to help restore the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was slated for land owned by the county, but it was shouted down as a useless federal program that would expand the national debt. The proposal was tabled.
As the opposition grew over the summer, confrontations became so heated that some planners posted uniformed police officers at meetings and others hired consultants to help calm audiences and manage the indoor environment, several planners said.
In James City County, speakers were shouted away from a podium. In Page County, angry farmers forced commissioners to stop a meeting. In Gloucester County, planners sat stone-faced as activists took turns reading portions of the 500-page Agenda 21 text, delaying a meeting for more than an hour.
Agenda 21 is an agenda in name only, environmentalists say. The document encourages world governments to consider environmental impacts before developing land or slashing rain forests for resources, said Patty Glick, senior climate-change specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.
“Agenda 21 is the least thing they should be worried about,” said Glick, who like other environmentalists contacted by The Washington Post was surprised at the attention being given the document. “It has no legal or policy implication for local governments in the United States.”
Holt, who began scrutinizing public planning when her interior design business failed after the housing bubble popped, begs to differ. She sees the document as evidence of a global agenda that threatens property rights.
Her suspicions echo those of Tom DeWeese, president of the conservative American Policy Center, who wrote an essay opposing “smart growth” titled “Fight Agenda 21 or Lose Your Freedom.” The ultra-conservative John Birch Society cautions adherents through its Web site that the “Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community, through your home town or city’s membership in . . . Local Governments for Sustainability.”
“I don’t try to shove this down anybody’s throat. I’ve been able to connect the dots,” said Holt, who added that she has spoken against sustainability plans at meetings but doesn’t condone shouting and interrupting speakers. “They’re just doing their jobs.”
Lawrence and other planners have asked counselors for advice on how to control testy audiences. They were told to better explain their plans and recognize people who speak up but also to get rid of standing microphones where angry speakers line up.
“Let them talk, and let them vent,” planner Bruce Peshoff advised. “Sometimes planners . . . are their own worst enemy. They think they have to adhere to a schedule. That just lends to the feeling of oppression.”
In Carroll County planning commission meetings, Agenda 21 kept coming up, said Peshoff, a Kansas planner who was called on to help the county manage its meetings because his firm, Planning Works, emphasizes consensus-building. If the talk took a few extra minutes, “we would go with the flow,” he said. “That way, we didn’t monopolize a meeting.”
In time, a plan that preserved farms by prohibiting economic development that could have enriched some farmers passed, Peshoff said. At the same time, an interstate corridor was designated as an economic generator.
Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner in James City County, worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth “is ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory,” she said.
But it’s effective. Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.
Lawrence, a native of Gloucester County, bristled at being accused of undermining the constitutional rights of Virginians.
“It’s driving public policy sideways,” Lawrence said. “It’s not advancing it. It’s not going backward. The voice of a minority is trying to assert itself as the voice of the majority.”
Nonetheless, he said he has to give a little to get a little. “I welcome them every time,” Lawrence said.
With its 7 billionth person stunt, the U.N. boosts the overpopulation hysteria.
Last week the United Nations Population Fund released a report heralding the birth of the world’s 7 billionth person. The milestone is important, the United Nations explains, because their calculations now project that global population is likely to hit 9.3 billion by 2050 and could go as high as 15.8 billion by the end of the century. As you might imagine, these dire warnings were greeted with eager and solicitous concern by the alarmist media.
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Monday, December 19, 2011
Breaking down the facts in that Wyoming drinking water study.
The shale gas boom has been a rare bright spot in the U.S. economy, so much of the country let out a shudder two weeks ago when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a "draft" report that the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing may have contaminated ground water in Pavillion, Wyoming. The good news is that the study is neither definitive nor applicable to the rest of the country.
"When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracking," said the EPA report, referring to the drilling process that blasts water and chemicals into shale rock to release oil and natural gas. The news caused elation among environmentalists and many in the media who want to shut down fracking.
More than one-third of all natural gas drilling now uses fracking, and that percentage is rising. If the EPA Wyoming study holds up under scrutiny, an industry that employs tens of thousands could be in peril.
But does it stand up? This is the first major study to have detected linkage between fracking and ground-water pollution, and the EPA draft hasn't been peer reviewed by independent scientific analysts. Critics are already picking apart the study, which Wyoming Governor Matt Mead called "scientifically questionable."
The EPA says it launched the study in response to complaints "regarding objectionable taste and odor problems in well water." What it doesn't say is that the U.S. Geological Survey has detected organic chemicals in the well water in Pavillion (population 175) for at least 50 years—long before fracking was employed. There are other problems with the study that either the EPA failed to disclose or the press has given little attention to:
• The EPA study concedes that "detections in drinking water wells are generally below [i.e., in compliance with] established health and safety standards." The dangerous compound EPA says it found in the drinking wells was 2-butoxyethyl phosphate. The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says that 2-BE isn't an oil and gas chemical but is a common fire retardant used in association with plastics and plastic components used in drinking wells.
• The pollution detected by the EPA and alleged to be linked to fracking was found in deep-water "monitoring wells"—not the shallower drinking wells. It's far from certain that pollution in these deeper wells caused the pollution in drinking wells. The deep-water wells that EPA drilled are located near a natural gas reservoir. Encana Corp., which owns more than 100 wells around Pavillion, says it didn't "put the natural gas at the bottom of the EPA's deep monitoring wells. Nature did."
• To the extent that drilling chemicals have been detected in monitoring wells, the EPA admits this may result from "legacy pits," which are old wells that were drilled many years before fracking was employed. The EPA also concedes that the inferior design of Pavillion's old wells allows seepage into the water supply. Safer well construction of the kind normally practiced today might have prevented any contaminants from leaking into the water supply.
• The fracking in Pavillion takes place in unusually shallow wells of fewer than 1,000 to 1,500 feet deep. Most fracking today occurs 10,000 feet deep or more, far below drinking water wells, which are normally less than 500 feet. Even the EPA report acknowledges that Pavillion's drilling conditions are far different from other areas of the country, such as the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. This calls into question the relevance of the Wyoming finding to newer and more sophisticated fracking operations in more than 20 states.
The safety of America's drinking water needs to be protected, as the fracking industry itself well knows. Nothing would shut down drilling faster, and destroy billions of dollars of investment, than media interviews with mothers afraid to let their kids brush their teeth with polluted water. So the EPA study needs to be carefully reviewed.
But the EPA's credibility is also open to review. The agency is dominated by anticarbon true believers, and the Obama Administration has waged a campaign to raise the price and limit the production of fossil fuels.
Natural gas carries a smaller carbon footprint than coal or oil, and greens once endorsed it as an alternative to coal and nuclear power. But as the shale gas revolution has advanced, greens are worried that plentiful natural gas will price wind and solar even further out of the market. This could mean many more of the White House's subsidized investments will go belly up like Solyndra.
The other big issue is regulatory control. Hydraulic fracturing isn't regulated by the EPA, and in 2005 Congress reaffirmed that it did not want the EPA to do so under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The states regulate gas drilling, and by and large they have done the job well. Texas and Florida adopted rules last week that followed other states in requiring companies to disclose their fracking chemicals.
But the EPA wants to muscle in, and its Wyoming study will help in that campaign. The agency is already preparing to promulgate new rules regulating fracking next year. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple says that new EPA rules restricting fracking "would have a huge economic impact on our state's energy development. We believe strongly this should be regulated by the states." Some 3,000 wells in the vast Bakken shale in North Dakota use fracking.
By all means take threats to drinking water seriously. But we also need to be sure that regulators aren't spreading needless fears so they can enhance their own power while pursuing an ideological agenda.
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Billions needed for runoff and septic controls around the state
Maryland's counties and cities say they will need to spend billions of dollars to take the extra steps needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health by 2020, the deadline the state gave them for action.
In cash-strapped Baltimore, for example, officials estimate added cleanup measures will cost more than $250 million over the next six years. They say they'll seek City Council approval next month to levy a fee on all property owners to help pay for controlling polluted runoff from streets, alleys and parking lots.
Baltimore County officials project needing up to $200 million for similar projects, while Anne Arundel County foresees needing more than $1.6 billion to upgrade septic systems and to curb storm-water runoff.
Other counties, meanwhile, failed to deliver draft cleanup plans to the state by the November deadline, and still others questioned the state's targets and data.
Faced with such price tags and the need to significantly increase their pollution-control efforts, local officials have joined farm groups in appealing to the state to give them more time, relaxing the cleanup timetable to match that being used by all other bay states.
In response, Maryland Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers said in an interview that top O'Malley administration officials have agreed to stretch the state's bay cleanup action deadline by five more years, from 2020 to 2025.
Gov. Martin O'Malley had pledged that Maryland would show its leadership in the regional restoration effort by completing its plan five years earlier than other states. Under a "pollution diet" adopted last year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all six bay states must act by 2025 to achieve a 15 percent to 25 percent reduction in the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment fouling the bay's waters.
Summers said O'Malley's "Bay Cabinet" of agency heads recently decided to back off the early deadline the state had set, though he insisted it's no relaxation of the overall cleanup effort.
"We're just recognizing the reality that this is a huge hill we're climbing here," he said. "And looking at the plans and the types of funding and so forth, it just seems clear it's just physically going to take that time frame to complete."
Summers said counties and municipalities were asked to outline what they plan to do at least over the next two years to help reduce bay pollution. Maryland is using the local plans to prepare its own bay cleanup road map for the EPA, which is due Thursday.
Calvert, Talbot and Worcester counties did not submit plans by the deadline. Talbot Planning Officer Sandy Coyman emailed that the county's strategy had to be redone because the state changed the county's pollution targets less than three weeks before the due date. The County Council approved the plan last week, he said.
Calvert's commissioners are scheduled to review their plan Tuesday, according to a county planner. And Worcester's commissioners, after expressing some discomfort with getting too specific in their plan, ordered changes to it and informed the state they'd submit it after their next meeting Dec. 20.
Carroll County submitted a report to the state of the steps it was already taking to help restore the bay but didn't propose any additional measures because of doubts about the state's pollution targets for the county. Brenda J.M. Dinne, special projects planner with the county, said officials believed the state's figures were "wildly off base" and so were wary of proposing anything based on them.
Summers said state officials would fill in the blanks for the counties that didn't propose any new cleanup efforts or didn't submit a plan at all. But the cleanup plan won't be final until July, the MDE secretary noted, so there's still time for local officials to join in and "help control their own destiny."
"The numbers are evolving," Summers said of the pollution reductions assigned to each locality. Adjustments have been and will be made as better information comes in, he said.
But the ambiguity shouldn't be an excuse for inaction, he said. "There's no danger that anybody is going to overshoot their targets using this model."
The size of the pollution reductions required to meet the EPA's baywide "pollution diet" is requiring states — and localities — to vastly increase the scope and pace of cleanup efforts.
Jenn Aiosa, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that some local officials seem reluctant to commit to anything because of the cost estimates and questions about the computer model the state was using to assign cleanup targets. She predicted that costs would abate as experts figure out more efficient ways to reduce pollution.
"We know that especially in some counties it is going to expensive," she said. "But I think that is indicative of how much damage we have done to our watersheds over the last several decades."
According to Baltimore's draft plan, a public works staff that has managed up to six stream restoration and storm-drain retrofit projects a year would have to handle 40 projects annually, with costs topping $250 million over the next six years.
Under the city's plan, a bill would be introduced in January asking the City Council to set a storm-water fee. Officials would not say how large a fee they would propose but said it would be based on the amount of pavement and buildings a property owner has, and that credits would be given for steps taken by owners to reduce runoff from their land.
Kimberly L. Burgess, chief of surface water management in the Public Works Department, said officials are mindful of the burden additional fees place on residents and businesses, but without more funds the city cannot make the mandated pollution reductions.
In Baltimore County, officials have yet to mull storm-water fees, focusing for now on whittling down what's required of them by questioning some of the state's data and seeking credits for pollution controls already installed. But even if those appeals are granted, county officials project needing $140 million, according to Vincent Gardina, director of the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.
"Eventually, unless something changes, it's going to have to come from somewhere," Gardina said of the money. The county would need essentially to double the pace of its current spending on stream restoration and other environmental projects, based on the data he provided.
Anne Arundel's public works director, Ronald E. Bowen, said officials have not figured out how they'll come up with the funds needed, including $760 million for upgrading septic systems or hooking them up to sewer, and $867 million for retrofitting storm drains. The County Council is weighing a storm-water fee, but County Executive John Leopold opposes it.
A state task force has recommended tripling the statewide "flush fee" levied on all property owners to pay for upgrading sewage plants and helping localities pay for the costly storm-water projects. The increase would require legislative action, and O'Malley has not said yet if he'll push for it.
Jeff Corbin, senior adviser to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, said the steep cleanup cost estimates coming from local governments aren't surprising.
"I know some of these costs are going to appear alarming to some of those governments, but it is what Phase 2 [of the bay pollution diet planning] is about," Corbin said. "We've never gotten down to that level before."
Corbin said he suspected that at least some cost estimates are high, and that federal, state and local officials still have time to figure out how to reduce them and spread them over the 14 years remaining for the cleanup deadline.
Restoring the bay remains a priority of the Obama administration, Corbin said, though he acknowledged it's unclear if Congress is on board. The president asked for $67 million toward the cleanup this year, up from $54 million last year, and House and Senate leaders are split over whether to cut or increase last year's bay funding.
"We encourage the states and local governments to look for different ways to do this over time," Corbin said, adding: "This is not a bean-counting exercise. This is about making sure we get the pollution out."
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For a while, Maryland appeared aggressive in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The state set a 2020 deadline - five years ahead of the federal deadline - for getting required pollution-busting projects in place.But the O'Malley administration is backing off from its 2020 promises after pressure from local governments and farmers who find the process challenging and expensive. "This is a very aggressive strategy that we have, and it's going to require full speed ahead to get there by 2025," said Robert Summers, state secretary of the environment. The decision to bump back the deadline was made by Gov. Martin O'Malley's "bay cabinet" of secretaries of the environment, natural resources, planning and agriculture and other officials.The pressure to move the deadline has been building for months, as it became clear how much work has to be done to meet the federal "pollution diet" for the Chesapeake. This time last year, the state submitted a broad plan for how to make the needed pollution cuts.Since then, county governments have been working on more detailed plans. They've figured out how much work they have to do in the form of sewage plant modernizations, septic system upgrades, stormwater control improvements and changes to farming practices. In Anne Arundel County, as The Capital reported last month, the Department of Public Works drew up a plan that relies heavily on scores of stormwater pollution retrofits and hooking up to the public sewer system thousands of homes that now have septic systems. The costs could top $1 billion. Ron Bowen, the county's public works director, has said that it would be difficult to get all the work done on time, even if cost were no object. But there's not enough money in the pipeline for all the projects.That scenario is playing out across the state. "Looking at the plans that are coming in … the reality is, it's going to take that kind of time frame to get that all done," Summers said. Officials at the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation - the largest bay advocacy group - were not surprised by the decision to move the deadline. Jenn Aiosa, a senior scientist at the bay foundation, said she hopes the new deadline doesn't give anyone an excuse to slow down their bay-saving efforts. "We want to make sure that the movement of the time line doesn't allow folks to think, 'Whew, we have another couple years before we have to get serious,' " Aiosa said. Delays have plagued the decades-long effort to clean up the bay and get it off of the list of the nation's "dirty waters."Too much nutrient and sediment pollution fouls the bay and chokes oxygen from the water. Top government officials have signed voluntary agreements over the years, pledging to cut pollution. But the agreements had deadlines that were far in the future, when the signatories were no longer in office. Summers said he doesn't expect a repeat of those past failed promises."This is pedal to the metal," he said. "We're full speed ahead."
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Canada made good Monday on speculation that surfaced two weeks ago regarding the country's intentions to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Canada's minister for the environment, Peter Kent, said the decision would save the nation some $14 billion in penalties that would accrue for failure to meet emissions targets agreed to by a previous government in the 1997 pact -- the first international accord aimed at reducing global emissions of planet-warming gases.
"As we have said, Kyoto -- for Canada -- is in the past," Kent said, according to a wire transcript forwarded by the environment ministry. Kent had just returned from global climate talks in Durban, South Africa. "As such," he continued, "we are invoking our legal right to formally withdraw from Kyoto."
Canada's conservative government under Stephen Harper, who assumed the title of prime minister in 2006, has long been hostile to the Kyoto agreement, which was ratified by Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 2002.
The Harper government has charged its predecessors with never making any real attempts to comply with Kyoto's emissions limits. It has also issued concerns, shared by the U.S. and other developed countries, that Kyoto's emissions rules apply only to rich nations, leaving up-and-coming polluters like India and China off the hook.
"While our government has taken action since 2006 to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, under Kyoto Canada is facing radical and irresponsible choices if we are to avoid punishing multi-billion dollar payments," Kent said. Meeting its commitments under Kyoto, he said, would require the equivalent of "removing every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads."
But the move to quit the Kyoto Protocol, while not unexpected, was met with jeers from environmental groups, who say that Canada has abandoned a long-standing reputation for environmental stewardship in favor of industry and, among other things, development of a controversial and emissions-intensive oil patch in Alberta known as the tar sands.
"It's a very odd feeling to look north and see a country even more irresponsible about climate change than the U.S.," said the author and climate activist Bill McKibben, who has spearheaded protests against the development of the Alberta oil resource. "For a long time, Canada has been seen as one of those countries that solved more problems than they created. But this makes it official: the lure of wealth in the tar sands has really corrupted the government."
Megan Leslie, a member of Canada's parliament and a Halifax-based member of the New Democratic Party, told The Huffington Post in an email that Kent and the conservative government of Stephen Harper were exaggerating the impacts of Canada's participation in Kyoto -- and the penalties associated with failing to meet targets. "He's essentially created a Kyoto bogeyman who will come after your cars and bank accounts," Leslie said. "His spin was reprehensible."
"By withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is hiding from having to report our failures to our international partners," she added. "It's a shame that the broken promises and decades of inaction by successive Liberal and Conservative governments have led us to this point."
The Kyoto agreement grew out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, 14 years ago. It bound more than three dozen industrialized countries to reduce emissions of certain greenhouse gases by an average of slightly more than 5 percent over 1990 levels. The protocol was to take effect only after at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions, had ratified the document. Those conditions were fully met in 2004, and the treaty was entered into force in early 2005.
Europe has made up the bulk of the emissions reductions, and collectively, industrialized countries are on track to achieve the Kyoto goal of reducing their emissions by at least 5.2 percent over 1990 levels. But much of the decrease in emissions is attributed to the collapse of East European and Russian economies in the post-Soviet era, as well as to the current global recession, which has helped to reduce industrial output and overall energy use in many countries.
Canada's most recent inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, submitted to the United Nations earlier this year, showed that while the country had been making year-over-year reductions since 2008, its emissions are still nearly 20 percent higher than they were in 1990.
The country only accounts, however, for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, accounting for roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and by far the largest per capita emitter among industrialized nations, refused to participate in the Kyoto Protocol. China recently overtook the U.S. as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, now accounting for about a quarter of the global total.
As part of a last-minute deal in Durban, nations agreed to briefly extend the Kyoto Protocol, which was set to expire next year, until a new and broader pact that would eventually bring all nations under emissions restrictions is developed by 2015.
"We are committed to working together to address climate change in a way that is, for countries big and small, rich or poor, fair, effective and comprehensive and allows us to continue to create jobs and growth in Canada," Kent said at Monday's press conference. "Canada went to Durban in a spirit of good will. We went committed to being constructive. We went looking to reach an international climate change agreement that covers all major emitters. As we said from the outset, the Kyoto Protocol did not represent the path forward for Canada."
But Matt Horne, the director of climate change activities with the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank, said the decision to withdraw from Kyoto was at odds with the country's long-term interests. "While there may not be formal penalties for withdrawal, there will be economic consequences," he said. "If Canada is unwilling to do its fair share by implementing made-in-Canada solutions to climate change, we are inviting made-for-Canada solutions to be imposed on us."
NRG Energy has announced plans to terminate its Bluewater Wind power-purchase contract with Delmarva Power at the end of this year.
Bluewater President Peter Mandelstam said on Monday he holds out hope that a buyer for the offshore wind division would step forward before Dec. 23, the date by which NRG must inform Delmarva if it wishes to end the contract.
The contract is widely seen as Bluewater's most valuable asset, and observers said it would be difficult to build the project without one.
NRG has struggled to secure financing for the massive project and failed to secure federal loan guarantees.
The Bluewater project captured the public's imagination five years ago as a utility-scale, carbon-free source of energy, 13 miles off the Delaware coast. The turbines have been expected to provide 200 megawatts, or enough to power about 54,000 homes.
Bluewater's contract with Delmarva, reached in 2008 and revised in September, calls for Bluewater to forfeit a $4 million security deposit on Dec. 31, or walk away.
In a release Monday, NRG reported it would not seek another extension. The release contained nothing about attempts to sell the contract or the company.
"Our people have worked hard and we've made a considerable financial investment in the wind park, but that effort cannot overcome the difficult and unfortunate realities of the current market," said David Crane, NRG president and CEO.
The long-term forecast for federal price supports for the wind industry remain uncertain. This has been important to offshore wind developers, given the long time frame for permitting and building an offshore wind farm.
NRG still expects to receive federal approval for a lease to build offshore wind turbines off the Delaware coast, said David Gaier, NRG spokesman. The company would hold onto this lease as an asset, unless NRG finds a buyer for Bluewater, he said.
Even absent the contract, NRG could re-enter the offshore wind business in the future if market conditions are good enough, Gaier said. Or it could sell Bluewater at a later date, he said.
The Durban pit-stop in the endless array of climate summits has just ended, and predictably it reaffirmed the United Nations' strong belief that the most important response to global warming is to secure a strong deal to cut carbon emissions.
What is almost universally ignored, however, is that if we want to help real people overcome real problems we need to focus first on adaptation.
The Durban agreement is being hailed as a diplomatic victory. Yet it essentially concedes defeat, leaving any hard decisions to the far end of the decade when other politicians will have to deal with it. For nearly 20 years, the international community has tried to negotiate commitments to carbon cuts, with almost nothing to show for it.
Even most rich countries don't want to cut fossil fuels, because the alternatives are considerably more expensive. China, India and other emerging economies certainly do not want to, because putting the brakes on growth means consigning millions to poverty.
But even if such intractable issues could be magically resolved, any deal would have a negligible impact on climate. Even if we were to cut emissions by 50% below 1990-levels by 2050—an extremely unrealistic scenario—the difference in temperature would be less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit in 2050.
This goes against everything that carbon campaigners tell us. When Hurricane Katrina or other weather disasters devastate communities, we're told by advocates such as Al Gore that the effects of climate change are already being felt and it's time to commit to drastic carbon cuts.
It is worth noting that often these arguments are exaggerated for effect. Since Hurricane Katrina, the global accumulated cyclone energy index has declined to almost the lowest level since we started measuring such phenomena in the early 1970s. Global warming will probably make hurricanes slightly stronger but slightly less frequent, leaving the overall impact murky.
What we can say clearly is that if we want to help New Orleans or other at-risk areas, cutting emissions will have virtually no impact for many decades. Bolstering hurricane defenses through improved levees and wetlands could, however, make a world of difference.
This is even more true for hurricane impacts in Third World countries. When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, it cost 10% of the state's GDP and killed 41 people. But when the similar-sized Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, it cost the country two-thirds of its GDP and killed more than 10,000. Tackling hurricane impacts in developing countries is not about cutting carbon but about adaptation and economic growth to improve resilience.
This is true whether we look at hurricanes or at other problems exacerbated by global warming. It is often—correctly—pointed out that global warming will hit developing countries hardest. Malaria cases, for instance, will increase along with mosquito populations, while food production in many developing countries will decrease.
But getting an emissions deal in any of the future Durban meetings will do nothing to help either of these problems. Even if we halted global warming by the end of the century, we could expect to avoid only about 3% of world-wide malaria cases by 2100. What the billions afflicted by malaria in the world today need is access to treatment and better prevention through bed-nets and indoor spraying. This is adaptation.
When it comes to access to food, global warming is expected to be responsible for a 7% yield decrease in the developing world and a 3% yield increase in the developed world over this century. Yet this needs to be seen in the context of total developing world food production rising by about 270% over the same period.
Do we better help the developing world by making drastic carbon cuts today that might—in an ideal world—avoid a 7% yield drop, or by making higher-yielding varieties of crops available that could potentially generate drastic yield increases? These are questions we have to answer if we are to adapt to the reality of global warming in this century.
The first step in focusing on adaptation is measuring it. The Global Adaptation Institute, led by former World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub, publishes the Global Adaptation Index, which shows how vulnerable countries are to global warming and how prepared they are to tackle it. The challenge lies not merely in reducing vulnerability but also in getting the structures in place so governments and investors can tackle adaptation in the most effective manner possible. The good news is we can improve lives today while building the crucial infrastructure needed for tomorrow.
The climate will continue changing throughout this century. And we do need to fix carbon emissions smartly through technological innovation. But if our concern is with saving lives and helping the planet's most vulnerable populations, then we need to focus first on how we can build more resilient, adaptable communities.
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Thanks to new technology, the U.S. has become less dependent on petroleum imports from unstable countries.
Every president since Richard Nixon has called for energy independence. Nevertheless, U.S. reliance on imported oil long seemed to be headed in only one direction—up—and that pointed to inevitably increasing dependence on the huge resources of the Middle East.
No longer. U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak—60%—of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%.
What's happening? Part of the answer is demand. U.S. oil consumption reached what might be called "peak demand" in 2005 and has since declined. The country has become more efficient in its use of petroleum, and that will continue as vehicle fuel economy goes up. The economic slump has also muffled demand.
But developments on the supply side are particularly striking. U.S. crude oil output has risen by 18% since 2008. Some of that has come from an increase in deep-water output, although after last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill the pace of future growth is more uncertain. The big surprise is onshore, where the United States is experiencing an oil boom.
The reason is the sudden appearance of a new source, "tight oil," which is extracted from dense rocks. For years, tight oil has been a very marginal business. In 2000, it was only about 200,000 barrels per day, 3% of total output. Today it is about a million barrels per day. By the end of the decade, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates' estimate, it could reach three million barrels per day, over half of current domestic crude oil production.
The dramatic increase in tight oil has been made possible by the same technology combo, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, that created the "shale gale"—the explosive growth in natural gas production from shale rock.
The spread of fracking has generated debate about potential environmental impact, underscoring the need that these resources continue to be developed in a safe and transparent manner. It's vital that we do so, because shale gas now accounts for 34% of total U.S. natural gas output. Just a few years ago the expectation was that the U.S. would be importing large volumes of natural gas and becoming heavily dependent on world markets—and spending upward of $100 billion a year for those imports. Now people, including President Obama, talk about a hundred-year supply of domestic natural gas. Shale gas has also proved to be a job creator—over 600,000 jobs, according to the IHS Global Insight study released last week.
Oil extracted from shale also means lower imports, a lower bill for these imports, and substantial job creation. Thanks to tight oil, North Dakota is now America's fourth largest oil-producing state after Texas, Alaska and California. It may well move up to third or even second place.
North Dakota also has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.5%. The shale oil boom generates jobs in the oil fields, but it also has a long supply chain, fostering manufacturing jobs in states like Ohio and information technology jobs in California.
There are other changes in the world oil supply that can work in our favor. Many Americans have the impression that most U.S. oil imports come from the Persian Gulf region, or from hostile states. And it is true enough that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, for instance, hardly hides his deep-seated enmity toward the U.S.
But the Persian Gulf represents 16% of our imports, and Venezuela 9%. By far the largest, and growing, source of imports is Canada, which supplies about 25%; Mexico is second, at 11%.
The main reason for Canada's large role is the expansion of output from its oil sands. Canada's oil sands now yield more output than Libya's total exports prior to its civil war. Current plans could double production to three million barrels per day by the beginning of the next decade. That would mean a higher share of our imports coming from our friendly neighbor and largest trading partner.
But how much more oil the U.S. imports from Canada will depend upon whether sufficient transportation exists. And in response to the State Department's postponement of the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline last month, the Canadian government has indicated that it cannot be wholly dependent on the vagaries of U.S. politics. The pipeline delay, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, underscores "the necessity of making sure that we're able to access Asian markets for our energy products."
What he means is shipping some of the growing oil sands output west to the Pacific and on to Asia and particularly to China. Chinese companies, seeking to diversify their sources of supply, have already invested over $10 billion in Canada's oil sands.
It is true that the U.S. is still importing a larger share of its oil than it was in 1973, at the time of the first oil crisis. Even with increased domestic production and higher imports from Canada, it will still be part of the global oil market and vulnerable to disruptions and price spikes. Thus the U.S. needs to collaborate with other consuming and producing countries on energy security.
But the shift in oil sources means the global supply system will become more resilient, our energy supplies will become more secure, and the nation will have more flexibility in dealing with crises. It would also mean that economic benefits—in terms of jobs, manufacturing and services—would register on the ground in North America.
The most recent United Nations report on Iran's nuclear program, along with the call by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for an embargo on oil imports from Iran and possible sanctions on Iran's central bank, have raised the stakes. The Iranians have responded by again brandishing the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, and by ransacking the British Embassy in Tehran.
Thus, over the next few years, new supply in North America becomes all the more important as a potential offset to rising tensions with Iran in the global oil balance. This gives new urgency to assuring that North America's oil resources are developed to what is now their much-greater potential.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011
A stormwater utility fee contemplated by the County Council would pour much-needed money into the county's ailing waterways while hurting residents already strapped for cash. That was the testimony at a Monday hearing on the legislation, which would add new fees to homeowners' annual property tax bills. Councilmen Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, and Dick Ladd, R-Severna Park, are sponsoring the bill. The annual fees of $35 on single-family residential properties and $25 on townhouses and condominiums would be used to reduce stormwater pollution. Trumbauer acknowledged that the timing could be better. Fees for commercial properties would be based on the amount of paved service each building covers.The councilmen estimate that the fees would raise up to $15 million annually, money that would go into a fund dedicated to cleanup projects. To Annapolis resident Julie Winters, one of the three dozen people who testified, this would be money well spent."My message to you is very simple. I want clean water," said Winters, telling councilmen her dogs have contracted bacterial infections from swimming in polluted waters. But others questioned the wisdom of levying new fees during tough economic times."Timing is everything, and in county government, the timing could not be worse," said Erik Robey, chief of staff for County Executive John R. Leopold. "We have record high unemployment. There are foreclosure signs everywhere." On top of that, the state may double or triple the $30 "flush fee" that goes to the Bay."The best thing would have been to do this four years ago," he said. In 2007, the council rejected similar legislation that would have charged each single-family home $30 a year and each business a fee based on impervious surface. At that time, Leopold introduced competing legislation that would have levied fees on new development only. Neither proposal passed. Since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled its bay pollution diet, which requires reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.Ron Bowen, the county's director of Public Works, said the county faces a nearly $1 billion backlog of water restoration projects. Several of the county's riverkeepers and environmental activists voiced their support for the bill, along with residents who said they remembered when area waters were clean. It's time to make them healthy again, they said."We want to avoid an environmental debt our children will have to pay off in the future," said Eric Smith, a Tracys Landing resident. Jeff Tosi, director of government relations for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, and Evan Gilligan, a spokesman for Mandrin Homes in Pasadena, also spoke in favor of the legislation. It would distribute the burden evenly, both said. Bob Burdon, CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, supported the bill when Trumbauer and Ladd first introduced it.But last night, he said the possible flush fee hikes from the state have caused him to reconsider. "There's a whole lot of uncertainty that's been created," Burdon said yesterday. "We could create an untenable situation here."He said he's not against the bill, but thinks it would be better to pull it and see what the General Assembly does. Councilman John Grasso said that although he thought a $35 fee was "a great deal," he thought, like Burdon, that it might make more sense to wait."My fear is that our dear old governor will come up with something to nail the taxpayers hard," the Glen Burnie Republican said. The council could vote on the bill at its next meeting, on Dec. 19.
Supreme Court has a chance to stop judicial folly
If the Supreme Court declines to review it, a recent ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will put federal courts into the business of managing every acre of privately owned timberland in America. Farmers beware. You could be next. In May, the 9th Circuit determined that rainwater draining from forest roads into local streams, rivers and lakes is "point source pollution." As such, it must be regulated in the same way effluent from sewage-treatment plants is regulated. To make a long story short, rainwater that accumulates alongside logging roads has become a new target of environmental litigators. Several lawsuits were filed within days of the 9th Circuit's decision.
The court made this determination despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has insisted for 35 years that requiring "point-source" permits is unnecessary to protect the environment and is even harmful. In deciding as they did, the judges overturned a long-standing rule that, within reason, the federal judiciary must defer to federal agencies in interpreting laws they enforce.
The main culprits here are the lowly drainage ditch and the only slightly more fashionable culvert, a steel cylinder buried beneath the road surface that directs rainwater away from the road, reducing the threat of flood-caused soil erosion. It is this rainwater that the three-judge panel thinks the federal government must regulate.
Many Americans don't know that drainage ditches and culverts don't pollute water. I know that because I grew up in northern Idaho's great woods and have been fly-fishing in the West for more than 50 years. God only knows how many times I've stuck my thirsty mug in a river or stream on a hot summer afternoon, but I can tell you thatgin-clear water passed through countless culverts, under dozens of bridges and alongside miles of forest roads before it reached my parched lips.
By instructing the EPA to oversee every ditch and culvert that runs alongside a forest road, the 9th Circuit is subjecting public and private timber landowners to an unnecessary and costly regulatory labyrinth that won't make water any more suitable for fish and wildlife than it is now. Worse, every project, no matter its insignificance or urgency, will be appealed and litigated by environmental groups that oppose economically productive use of the nation's forests.
The economic impact of this case is so significant that the attorneys general in 26 states have filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to review the decision, as have the Pacific Legal Foundation, famous for its private property rights advocacy, and several forest industry groups that represent forest landowners large and small. Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, also has weighed in, declaring that letting the court's decision stand "would shut down forestry on private, state and tribal lands" wherever it is applied.
For 3 1/2 decades, the responsibility for protecting water quality in forests has fallen to the states. They have regulated forestry's many activities - including road, culvert and bridge construction, repair and operation - under the watchful eyes of EPA enforcers, who relied on science-based "best management practices." All this comes after the EPA's 1976 decision that forestry yields non-point-sourcepollutionthat is more effectively managed by drainage ditches, culverts and vegetation than by rules that defy the laws of gravity. No matter - the judges seem to think that even rainstorms need to be regulated by the EPA.
The new administrative burdens the 9th Circuit decision puts on landowners and federal and state government is staggering. The U.S. Forest Service reports there are about 378,000 road miles in our national forests and that it will need about 400,000 permits. By the most conservative estimate, adding in state and private forests nearly doubles that number. Other estimates place the total well into the millions. Simply obtaining the Forest Service's permits will take 10 years.
Word is that the Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether it will hear this case. Here's hoping it does. The court might take the occasion to ask why the Court of Appeals found it necessary to overturn 35 years of regulatory precedent. Plaintiff lawyers might also be asked to explain the environmental impacts of not installing roadside drainage ditches or repairing bridges, culverts or roads damaged by flooding. Taxpayers also need an estimate of the economic harm private landowners and their employees will suffer if roads that cannot legally be repaired prevent them from reaching their harvestable timber. Throughout the United States, about 3 million family-forest landowners are engaged in harvesting.
Americans who love to hike will find it hard to believe that when they are out walking amid the splendor of their favorite forest they are, in fact, strolling through toxic industrial sites. In effect, that is what the 9th Circuit has said, and that is why the nation's forest landowners are hoping the Supreme Court will rescue them from this new and astonishing display of legal revisionism and regulatory zeal.
The Obama administration has poured roughly $5 billion in taxpayer funds into the electric-car industry, offering incentives to manufacturers, their suppliers and even car buyers who might want to go green.
But analysts say the risk is rising that taxpayers in many cases will not see a return on their money soon, if ever. Instead, they warn that some federally subsidized companies could be forced to shut down in coming months.
For President Obama, who has made clean-technology investment a hallmark of his job creation efforts, troubles in the electric-car sector pose a potential new political problem after the collapse of solar-panel maker Solyndra, which recently defaulted on a half-billion-dollar federal loan after filing for bankruptcy. The administration has channeled an estimated $80 billion of the stimulus recovery effort into grants and loans to clean energy and energy efficiency programs, companies and research.
Obama predicted in 2008 that green cars would create thousands of new U.S. jobs as demand soared. But in recent months, production lines and sales expectations have been dramatically scaled back.
A123 Systems, a battery maker that received $380 million in government support, announced recently that declining orders had forced layoffs. Instead of up to 3,000 new Michigan jobs as Obama and the company had predicted, it now has 690 employees.
Battery maker EnerDel, recipient of a a $118 million federal grant, took a hit when its key customer, electric-car maker Think, declared bankruptcy this year. Johnson Controls, which received a $299 million stimulus grant, opted to build one factory instead of two because of lower-than-projected demand, a company official said, and that one is now operating at half capacity.
California electric-car maker Aptera announced it was shutting its doors because of problems raising capital. And General Motors — whose moderately priced Volt was supposed to drive Obama’s push for 1 million alternative vehicles by 2015 — revealed last week that it would fall roughly 38 percent shy of its goal of selling 10,000 Volts this year.
“Many in this industry have jumped the gun on how aggressive the growth of electric vehicles will be,” said Kevin C. See, an analyst at Lux Research.
Supporters of Obama’s green-car initiatives say that there are still industry bright spots and that this start-up sector will simply take longer to deliver results.
“Certainly, with electric-vehicle sales, we’re not on track to meet the president’s goal,” said Brendan Bell, clean-vehicle expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But . . . these investments are good ones toward that goal.”
Alex Molinaroli, a Johnson Controls vice president, said the funds give U.S. factories the capacity to deliver when demand arrives and position them as industry players.
“Is it worth the premium?” Molinaroli said. “We’ll have to wait a long time to see if this was a good investment or not.”
Obama’s green-car goal
Obama started his alternative-vehicle push in the 2008 campaign, and his administration soon after put money behind the plan. Like Solyndra, several of the firms receiving support had investors who were also important Obama campaign donors.
Nissan, Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive received $2.4 billion in loans to support building U.S. manufacturing plants for electric vehicles through an Energy Department program. In a stimulus push in August 2009, Obama announced $2.4 billion in more than 40 grants to car industry firms, much of it to advanced-battery manufacturers.
The president said the strategy would revive the country’s manufacturing base while nurturing a domestic green-car industry.
“If we want to reduce our dependence on oil, put Americans back to work and reassert our manufacturing sector as one of the greatest in the world, we must produce the advanced, efficient vehicles of the future,” Obama said.
At the time, many auto analysts questioned whether federal subsidies would create a glut of electric batteries and cars.
Obama reasserted his goal in his January State of the Union address, and the Energy Department made hopeful projections. In February, an agency report said U.S. car production “should be sufficient to achieve the goal of one million EVs by 2015,” with enough capacity to produce 44,000 of the top seven electric vehicles in 2011.
Actual sales of those models this year stand at 16,800 — roughly two-tenths of 1 percent of 2011 domestic auto sales. The vast majority were Chevrolet Volts or Nissan Leafs, which were in development long before Obama took office.
Some experts said the administration’s political goal — quickly announcing job creation in a recession — conflicted with the practical realities of expanding a complicated auto industry and wooing consumers.
“This is an investment that could have been planned better,” said Menahem Anderman, a leading auto battery expert and founder of Total Battery Consulting. “This has created a lot of publicity, but people have not bought many more cars as a result.”
White House officials say the electric-car emphasis has had a positive impact by accelerating the shift from foreign oil dependence.
“That effort continues to be successful as sales of advancedtechnology vehicles keep increasing and these technologies continue to support growth of American auto companies, reduce oil dependence and create jobs,” said White House spokesman Clark Stevens.
Problems in one part of the electric-car sector tend to have ripple effects. A123, for example, is hampered by production delays at a primary customer — Fisker Automotive, which was two years behind on delivering its first model, the luxury sports car Karma.
A123 chief executive David Vieau said in an interview that his company will rebound from these temporary troubles and rehire workers next year to deliver on contracts with other companies, including BMW.
“We’re humbled but not beaten,” Vieau said. “It’s not surprising you’ve seen some bumps and challenges. These are things to be expected in a brand-new space.”
A123 received a $249 million Energy Department grant to build its battery plant in Livonia, Mich., plus $125 million in state incentives. Like Solyndra, the company won presidential praise for its business model. It was cited by Obama in a 2010 Rose Garden news conference and in a Michigan news conference. Obama used an audio conference to congratulate the company on its factory opening.
Some watchdog groups question the value taxpayers are getting for their clean-car investments. The administration devoted $257 million to helping spur Volt battery production, through a $106 million battery assembly grant to GM and another $151 million to its battery provider, LG Chem.
A key industry problem is that electric cars are generally far more expensive than gas guzzlers. That’s true even with up to $7,500 in stimulus tax credits offered for each vehicle.
Obama announced the $2.4 billion in advanced-battery grants at a recreational-vehicle assembly plant in Wakarusa, Ind., where Navistar said it planned to build the eStar, an electric truck for fleets.
“Just a few months ago, folks thought these factories might be closed for good, but now they’re coming back to life,” Obama said that day.
But a large Maryland truck dealership tried for a year to sell an eStar, then sold it back to Navistar. Sam Eitel, marketing manager for Beltway Cos., said customers liked the truck’s sleek looks but were stopped cold by its $150,000-plus list price.
“People are scratching their heads saying, ‘How will we pay this?’ ” Eitel said.
A Navistar spokeswoman said 100 have been sold so far.
Anderman, who advocates reducing U.S. fossil fuel consumption, said he warned early on that economics did not support the administration’s push. Now he fears failures may undermine industry support.
“Politicians with an ax to grind will say, ‘Here it is — we spent $10 billion, we had companies collapse,’ ” Anderman said. “ ‘Here. We tried it. It didn’t work.’ ”