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Energy at ALEC: Response to Media Matters

I expected the worst when I saw that Media Matters, the communications watchdog for the Democratic Left,  had profiled my recent energy speech given to 1,000-strong at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting. Still, I think it useful to rebut Media Matters’s Alexander Zaitchik whose report is reproduced with my parsed comments in blue.

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MM: The agenda in Salt Lake City was heavy on energy themes. Keynoting one of the luncheons was Robert Bradley, CEO of the free-market and pro-climate change Institute for Energy Research.

Comment:   “Free market” is an apt term–thank you, Sir. But “pro-climate change? I have never heard that. That tricky to equate climate change with the human influence on climate, as if natural forces were not also at work.

In rebuttal, I’ll just quote James Hansen on climate change:

“Climate is always changing. Climate would fluctuate without any change of climate forcings. The chaotic aspect of climate is an innate characteristic of the coupled fundamental equations describing climate system dynamics.” [1]

And with that I will just say that IER is just a free-market, dynamic, in-the-flow change-agent!

MM: Bradley informed the legislators packed into the Grand Ballroom that “the human impact on the climate is a probably a net positive,” and boasted of America’s growing production of oil, coal and gas.

Comment: Consider Chip Knappenberger’s 55 Positive Externalities: Hail to Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment, or the fact that carbon-based energy is a wealth creator, and wealth is health.

And here is some support from chair professors at major universities: A Positive Human Influence on Global Climate? Robert Mendelsohn, Meet Gerald North! With Texas A&M climatologist North’s moderate estimate of anthropogenic warming, which is in the upper end of the luke-warming range, Yale University’s Mendelsohn sees a bit more positives and negatives in the overall global economy, and definite net positives for the U.S. economy. 

This is good news indeed for those that might sincerely believe anthropogenic warming is a bad thing to come.

MM: His chirpy manner darkened only when he noted China’s growing lead in the production and use of coal. “China beats us on coal,” lamented Bradley. “If not for China, we’d be number one.”

Comment: “Chirpy”? That is another first for me …. More seriously, I do not remember saddening on China’s being the world’s leading energy producer because of the huge coal requirements for their domestic electricity production.

Really, I am not that much of a ‘homer’ either with geography or with a fuel (coal). I like the energies that consumers like; I do not like what government forces consumers to use.

MM: His PowerPoint presentation listed ALEC’s core energy principles, such as: “oil, gas, and coal are cleaner than renewable,” and “environmental regulation only benefits environmental elites.”

Comment:  The ecological problems of dilute, land-intensive renewables versus dense energy (see below) make a very interesting case of the environmental superiority of carbon-based energies.

“Environmental elitism” gets to Point #3 of my “Energy Fundamentals” slide in my presentation, which stated:

Free-market energy redounds for the general good; political energy is for elites”

MM: He praised a “powerful” new Shell ad campaign promoting offshore drilling ….

Comment: Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil have had good advertisements that emphasize the theme that energy is the master resource, and consumer-chosen (rather than government-mandated) energies must lead the way.

My point? Major energy companies trying to appease the energy/environmental Left is not productive given the need for ever-increasing quantities of oil, gas, and coal.

 MM: …  and spoke of his fear that massacres would soon begin taking place in doctors’ offices as a result of The Affordable Care Act, which ALEC has attacked repeatedly.

Comment: This point requires some of the context that the audience received. During the 1970s when a shortage of oil products resulted from price and allocation controls, we had fuel riots and actual shootings. There was death. I profiled this most uncivil period is in Energy Price-Control Lessons for ObamaCare (remembering a classic WSJ editorial from 1979).

When price and allocation controls cause medical shortages, with in-pain, even dying, patients and their loved ones reaching the end of their patience, expect a lot of waiting-room conflict and even violence.

MM: In conclusion, Bradley assured his audience, “You have the environmental high ground in supporting dense energy [oil and coal] over [renewable] sources that require so much surface space, is unsightly, is noisy, and all the rest of it.”

Comment: Thank you for the quotation! I sound pretty good now that I hear that.

Yes, carbon-based energy has clean, green characteristics that renewable energies do not. And remember: it was the Sierra Club that coined the term “Cuisinarts of the Air” to describe the carnage of industrial wind turbines.

Regarding oil, gas, and coal being ‘cleaner’ than renewables, consider this wisdom from Peter Huber in Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists (Basic Books, 1999, pp. 105, 108), that was part of my talk:

“The greenest fuels are the ones that contain the most energy per pound of material that must be mined, trucked, pumped, piped, and burnt . . . . Extracting comparable amounts of energy from the surface would entail truly monstrous environmental disruption . . . .

Soft energy sources [in comparison] are horribly land intensive. The greenest possible strategy is to mine and to bury, to fly and to tunnel, to search high and low, where the life mostly isn’t, and to leave the edge, the space in the middle, living and green.”

MM: Like all ALEC speakers, Bradley spiced his lecture with odes to the free-market and the graceful movement of Invisible Energy Hands. But a central aspect of the classical free-market argument is the free exchange of information, and ALEC’s model bills concerning energy and the environment make enemies of transparency. ALEC has passed bills opposing the mandatory disclosure of energy sources on utility bills and the chemicals used in fracking.

Comment:  I’ll defer on this one, except to ask Mr. Zaitchik a transparency question. Were you at the conference (nobody knows who you are)? And if not, who was the ‘spy’? Was a tape recorder used?

MM: Then there is ALEC’s support for the nuclear power industry, which is heavily dependent on state subsidy for everything from construction to waste disposal.

Comment: Nuclear power was not part of my talk because it is not in the competitive mix for new power generation–and will not be outside of rate-base treatment under public utility regulation. But yes, technology can change.

By the way, Media Matters, since you brought up nuclear (I did not). What is your supply-side strategy to carbon-based energy, besides wimpy wind and solar?

If it is not nuclear, should we call your bluff on climate alarmism and policy activism? Just asking if case you want to bring it up in the staff meeting….

The Rest of the Story

One slide I wish that Alexander Zaitchik had noted. It was a reproduction of the post, “Dear Wind Industry: We Need Your Workers and Materials (and taxpayers need your cessation):”

 

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That post said in part:

“Judging from the ‘help wanted’ signs, the oil and gas industry stands ready to absorb the precious resources that have gone into the ‘Enron’ of energy sources. Some workers will need to be retrained, while others will find a closer integration of skills.

Perhaps even the employees of AWEA can become true environmentalists or libertarians to argue against ethanol and on-grid solar and light bulb mandates to close deficits and increase personal liberty. The pro-consumer, pro-taxpayer movement can always use a few more good women and men!”

Conclusion

I am very grateful to ALEC’s Task Force on Energy, the Environment, and Agriculture, whose dues-paying members (including the American Wind Energy Association!), which made my talk possible. It was a prime-time energy education and energy freedom-in-the-making. And thank you Media Matters for sharing the free-market message with an incremental audience.

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[1] James Hansen et al., “How Sensitive Is the World’s Climate?,” National Geographic Research & Exploration, 9(2): 1993, p. 143.

4 comments

1 Todd Wynn { 08.13.12 at 9:08 am }

I am the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Director with ALEC and I can fill you in a little bit on the Media Matters claim that says ALEC is anti-transparency on energy issues.

I do not know of any ALEC model bill that opposes disclosure of energy sources on utility bills. The article that was hyperlinked in the Media Matters article didn’t mention anything like that either (unless I missed it).

ALEC does have a hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure bill. What is interesting is that there has been bipartisan support for hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure all across the country. Even President Obama supports it as he stated in his State of the Union address. Just now, it seems the environmental movement has shifted and now wants access to protected trade secrets. They are crying foul that somehow these fluid disclosure bills specifically exclude information. However, there are stipulations that provide exceptions to the rule. Here are the provisions within the bill to allow access to trade secrets:

(a) the landowner on whose property the relevant well is located;
(b) a landowner who owns property adjacent to property described by Paragraph (a); or
(c) a department or agency of this state with jurisdiction over a matter to which the claimed trade secret is relevant

More about it can be read here: http://www.americanlegislator.org/2012/03/alec-encourages-responsible-resource-production/

Lastly, you did a great job Rob. It was an excellent message and I appreciate your efforts to educate state legislators on free markets and the energy industry!

2 Andrew { 08.13.12 at 10:35 am }

“a central aspect of the classical free-market argument is the free exchange of information”

This is a rather common mistake, but not, in fact, correct. Consumers do not have to know all relevant information for the market to work. There is this nice thing called the price system, which signals people to act as they would if they did have an awful lot of information that they don’t and probably cannot know.

3 Jon Boone { 08.13.12 at 3:25 pm }

And then there’s human nature itself as a circumscriber of choice, a factor increasingly better known and manipulated by market producers. For a bit about this, see James Surowiecki’s New Yorker post from last week: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2012/08/13/120813ta_talk_surowiecki

4 Ray { 08.13.12 at 4:03 pm }

The phrase “pro-climate change” is just another fictional bogey man used to frighten people.

Saying somebody is pro climate change makes as much sense as saying somebody is pro weather change. It’s like” trickle down economics”, a meaningless nonsense term used to frighten the ignorant.

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