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Posts from — January 2013

Superstorm Sandy (Part I: Spinning Climate, Weather for Political Points)

In the wake of “Superstorm” Sandy, the political spin and distractions reached hurricane proportions. “It’s global warming, stupid,” declared Bloomberg BusinessWeek after monster winds and waves pounded New York and New Jersey. This storm should “compel all elected leaders to take immediate action” on climate change, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo added:

Anyone who says there’s no change in weather patterns is denying reality. The storms we’ve experienced in the last year or so are much more severe than before.

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman echoed:

We’ve had two 100-year storms in 14 months in this state, with a couple of nor’easters thrown in between for good measure. The climate is changing, whether people want to talk about it or not.”

And just when you think politicians could not get any worse, there is Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In 2006, he complained:

Allstate is the poster child for terrible corporate citizenship. They won’t write new policies for fear of hurricanes, when the odds of a severe hurricane hitting New York City is one in every 500 years.”

As Sandy wreaked its havoc, Schumer went into spin mode. “We want NOAA to keep it classified as a tropical storm, to save homeowners in New York and Long Island thousands of dollars,” he said, given that “Hurricane” Sandy would trigger higher deductibles. [Read more →]

January 31, 2013   13 Comments

Entertainment Meets Energy: Yoko’s Magical Mystery Frac Tour

“[Sean] Lennon fancifully likened drilling and gas production to awakening a sleeping dragon. His mother said later of the comparison, ‘That’s beautiful,’ but, thinking on it some more, suggested ‘it’s a sign of a devil, actually. In my mind it’s more like a snake. A dragon is too big; you’re giving too much respect for this thing.’”

- Eric Roston, “On New York Shale Gas, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon Say Let It Be,” Bloomberg.com (January 23, 2013).

That’s Sean Lennon and his famous mother, Yoko Ono, speaking to reporters taking a tour of Susquehanna County, Pa., in an effort to highlight the supposed dangers of natural gas development. They were accompanied by Susan Sarandon, Josh Fox (producer of Gasland) and Ghandi’s grandson, not to mention a bevy of local anti-development celebrities.

But the real story was the long list of folks not invited on the tour, which was billed as an “informational” affair but, as you could expect, was anything but.

The luxurious Mercedes bus wasn’t hard to find in the Montrose Price-Chopper parking lot, so a few colleagues and I tagged along behind, watching as entertainment intersected with energy policy. (I’m the “white haired” guy with the nice jacket in the Bloomberg story, and I was accompanied by Rachael Colley, our Field Director, who captured some great video to memorialize the tour and wrote about it.)

A Day to Remember–or Forget

It was an utterly bizarre day, as might be expected when the star of the event is the woman who made “bed-ins” famous, supposedly broke up the Beatles, and has launched a crazy clothing line conceivable only by someone with $500 million of inherited wealth to throw around. [Read more →]

January 30, 2013   2 Comments

Why Every American Needs to Watch FrackNation

The main thing you need to know about FrackNation is that you should watch it. More importantly, given that this blog’s audience is unusually educated about hydraulic fracturing–frac’ing–you should encourage friends and family to watch it.

The use of hydraulic fracturing and (less-publicized) horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from shale rock is, to the best of my knowledge, the most important technological revolution of the last decade. The existence of enormous deposits of shale has long been known–some of the earliest experiments with kerosene involved shale–but the ability to affordably get oil and gas from these deposits has been elusive for over a century. In Ayn Rand’s 1957 Atlas Shrugged, one of the heroes manages to solve the problem, and it is rightly regarded as an epic achievement.

But, to read today’s media coverage of frac’ing, you would have no idea that it is a heroic, life-giving development. You would regard it as a health menace that must be banned from every town, city, and state.

Until you watched FrackNation. For an entertaining documentary, FrackNation does a remarkably thorough job of giving the truth about frac’ing, including: [Read more →]

January 29, 2013   4 Comments

Gas Furnace Rule: Beware of “Scorched Gas” Policy

“Hurrah” to the American Public Gas Association (APGA), a small trade group that was willing to step-up to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other special-interest organizations that want energy efficiency at any cost to the American consumer. The APGA/DOE Furnace Rule Settlement prevented the unintended consequences of regulatory overreach by allowing consumers choices between regulated and unregulated (and less regulated) products.

This post, following APGA’s piece at MasterResource last week, provides historical background on the subject of energy efficiency regulations in order to better understand the significance of this settlement.

From EPCA (1975) to EISA (2007)

In 1975, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) was enacted largely as a Federal response to the Arab oil embargoes. EPCA was amended by the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 and the Energy Policy Act of 1992 etc., etc.

The 1975 EPCA establishes nationwide energy efficiency minimum standards for certain consumer and commercial products including heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment; appliances such as washers and dryers, ranges, and refrigerators; and plumbing fixtures such as faucets and showerheads. Ever since, such minimum standards have been based upon metered energy (e.g., 3,412 Btu/kWh); a factor that gives a major head start for electric appliances.

With every revision, more and more appliances were added to the list and more and more authority was given to the Department of Energy (DOE) for carrying out its ever expanding mission. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) was especially expansive of such authority. [Read more →]

January 28, 2013   6 Comments

Nature, Not Only Mankind, Saved by Fossil Fuels

“[F]ossil-fuel-dependent technologies that stretched living nature’s natural productivity and dis­placed some of its products not only per­mitted humanity to escape the Malthusian vise, but saved nature itself from being over­whelmed by humanity’s demands.”

The collective demand for land to meet humanity’s demands for food, fuel, and oth­er products of living nature is—and always has been—the single most important threat to ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet fossil-fuel-dependent technologies have kept that de­mand for land in check.

This positive aspect of the impact of fossil fuels on the environ­ment has been ignored in most popular narratives, which instead emphasize fossil fuels’ potential detrimental effects, including air, water, and solid-waste pollution, as well as any climate change associated with the use and production of these fuels. Because of this oversight, and thus lacking balance, these studies generally conclude that fossil fuels have been an environmental disaster.

Agricultural Advances: Less Land, More Habitat

To obtain a notion of the magnitude of the environmental benefits of fossil fuels, consider just the effect of fertilizers and pes­ticides on the amount of habitat saved from conversion to cropland because fossil fuels were used to meet current food demands. The Haber-Bosch process, by itself, is re­sponsible for feeding 48 percent of global population and pesticides have reduced losses from pests for a range of food-relat­ed crops by 26–40 percent.

Together, these two sets of technologies might therefore be responsible for feeding approximately 60 percent of the world’s population, assuming that pesticides that are not manufactured with significant fossil fuel inputs would be half as effective as those that require fossil fuels. Therefore, had fossil fuels not been used, the world would have needed to in­crease the global amount of cropland by an additional 150 percent. [Read more →]

January 25, 2013   9 Comments

Fossil Fuels: Humanity’s Liberator (escaping the Malthusian curse via coal, oil, and gas)

[Ed. note: Part II tomorrow by Dr. Goklany will examine how fossil fuels saved nature, not only mankind, given population growth and the increasing demand for energy.]

What was instrumental in powering the grand transformation that began with Industrial Revolution? The answer is fossil fuels that upended a world that was dependent on living nature for virtually its entire well-being–and thus nature’s Malthusian vise.”

For most of history, outside of conflict, human existence was defined by climate, weather, disease, and other natural factors. Virtually everything that humanity depended upon was the recent product of living nature.

What economic historian Edward Wrigley calls “the organic economy” supplied humanity with all its food, fuel, clothing, and skins, and much of its medicine and material products. Living nature also supplied the sustenance for the animals—oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, even elephants—that humans drafted as beasts of burden to transport themselves and their goods, till the soil, and provide mechanical power.

Organic Fuel, Poverty Energy

Food for human beings and feed for animals were then, as now, the direct or indirect product of recent plant photosynthesis. Virtually all fuel was obtained via woody products. Houses were built from logs and other vegetation supplemented by clay, earth, and stones. The few worldly goods humans possessed were also mostly from recent photosynthetic products (e.g., wood, natural fiber, skin, or bone), barring the occasional trinket or luxury good made of some exotic metal or stone.

No wonder that the gods who controlled the weather and rain— Zeus, Jupiter, Indra, Thor—were the mightiest in the pantheons of ancient civilizations. [Read more →]

January 24, 2013   18 Comments

The DOE/APGA Furnace Rule Settlement: Avoiding Unintended Consequences

“In theory, higher furnace efficiency standards sound like a good thing …. However, the impact … would lead many consumers to switch from natural gas furnaces to heating alternatives that are less expensive on a first-cost basis, but are ultimately less energy efficient and result in higher consumer costs in the long term.”

Earlier this month, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) reached a mediated settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy on APGA’s petition challenging regional furnace standards adopted by DOE in 2011 via a direct final rule (DFR). While some have called the settlement a “setback” and “cave-in,” the revised increased efficiency standard promises to avoid the unintended consequences that otherwise would dilute or even reverse the efficiency program’s goals.

Background

The new standards mandate an increase in the minimum annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) from 78% to 90% for natural gas furnaces installed in 30 northern states, and from 78% to 80% in the southern states (the “Furnace Rule”). As part of the settlement, DOE agreed to withdraw the gas furnace portion of the Furnace Rule and initiate a traditional notice and comment rulemaking for new gas furnace efficiency standards.

This settlement advances the shared goals of improved energy efficiency, decreased emissions, and reduced energy costs for consumers. What motivated our petition, and was set forth clearly in our briefs to the court, was a belief that this was a poorly crafted rule, enacted in a hasty manner, and without adequate public comment.

Our members, community-owned (i.e., consumer/customer-owned) not-for-profit gas utilities, readily recognized that for many American consumers the Furnace Rule, although intended to improve energy efficiency, would ultimately undermine energy efficiency, increase emissions, and increase the costs to heat their home.

Authentic Energy Efficiency Needed

While APGA supports authentic energy efficiency efforts, we will not support efficiency rules and rulemakings in name only. And, the Furnace Rule was just that— an efficiency rule in name only. [Read more →]

January 23, 2013   8 Comments

PURPA: Another Subsidy for Intermittent Energies

“PURPA has been the most effective single measure in promoting renewable energy.”

-Union of Concerned Scientists

What if Congress passed a law that forced you to buy intermittent energy for the same price as reliable energy? What if, in an attempt to promote “alternative” energy sources such as wind power, Congress passed a law that enabled wind to crowd out reliable resources? Congress actually passed that law in 1978, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). Its role has changed and its scope has narrowed, but “PURPA is still alive and kicking.

Background

President Jimmy Carter, working from the viewpoint that the federal government had to intervene in markets to reduce demand and increase supply, formulated PURPA as part of a five-part National Energy Plan.

Oil and gas were seen as wasting resources relative to plentiful coal, so public policy needed to transfer demand from the former to the latter. (This was before the global warming issue took hold.) Advised by peak-oil (and peak-gas) proponent  James Schlesinger, the first secretary of the Department of Energy, Carter introduced a new energy plan for America. In a cozy fireside chat on national TV, Carter emphasized sacrifice, energy efficiency, and 55-degree thermostats as demand-side strategies to construct a new energy balance.

Other parts of the National Energy Plan included the Energy Tax Act (which introduced the gas-guzzler levy for vehicles), the National Energy Conservation Policy Act, the Power Plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (repealed in 1987), and the Natural Gas Policy Act. These laws were aimed at reducing consumption of both natural gas and Arab oil.

The repealed Fuel Use Act essentially mandated that coal plants be built in place of natural gas-fired power plants (for nine years it was against the law to build a natural gas-fired power plant, although exemptions were granted). Given the recent surge in production of natural gas from shale formations in the U.S. and elsewhere, the idea of conserving natural gas seems absurd. It also runs contrary to PURPA’s secondary goal to promote fuel diversity.

PURPA can be seen as yet another element of conservation by decree, or conservationism, based on the view that resources are fixed in both the physical sense and the economic sense.  It was an integral part of Carter’s and Congress’ technocratic solution to the “fixity” problem as they saw it. [Read more →]

January 22, 2013   5 Comments

Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions: Newsletter Update

[Ed. note: This is the second in a continuing series at MasterResource, the first of which was published November 21st.]

The Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED) is an informal coalition of individuals and organizations who are interested in improving national, state, and local energy & environmental policies. Our basic position is that energy and environmental issues are technical matters that should be addressed by genuine science.

Instead of a science-based approach, our energy and environmental policies have become a playground, even a cookie jar, for those who stand to economically or politically profit from them. As a result, anything genuinely science-based in these policies is usually inadvertent and accidental.

A key element of AWED’s efforts is public education. Towards that end, we send out a newsletter every 2-3 weeks in the interest of balancing what the mainstream media too often conveys about energy and environmental matters. The (free) subscription newsletter readership is now about 10,000.

Some Recent Energy & Environmental News – 1/21/13

As we start a new year, and face new challenges, one of our most pressing issues is to do a better job with Public Relations. Although we have the facts on our side, wining public policy battles requires more than being right.

We need a few good people who have PR experience, and are willing to commit some time to helping us formulate and implement a better PR plan. If you are interested (or know someone else who would be), please email me.

I’ve just put together a new page about fixing the RPS situation that exists in several states. We will be working with citizens where the political atmosphere is receptive to correcting some of these charades. If you have solid evidence that your state is such a case, please email me, ASAP. [Read more →]

January 21, 2013   No Comments

4Q-2012: Continued Progress at MasterResource

MasterResource, which turned four last month, recorded its best quarter in history with 116,877 views, a 20 percent increase from 4Q-2011. We reached as high as #7 of 9,984 “green blogs” tracked by Technorati in the quarter and currently stand at #40.

With one in-depth post per workday, with occasional weekend fare, MasterResource is the leading voice for free-market, science-of-liberty thought in energy and related environmental issues.

MasterResource features many different writers, some academics, some think-tank analysts, and others citizen-activists.  Some areas of emphasis and impact may be mentioned.

Inconvenient Truths of Industrial Wind

Literally dozens of our writers have made MasterResource a leader of the windpower educational movement.  Turning wind into electricity is wholly government-enabled; even NIMBYSM that might be criticized in other contexts is justified given that government mandates and special, outsized subsidies enables the rural invasion of wind machinery.

Some familiar names at MasterResource on windpower issues include Mary Kay Barton, David Dismukes, John Droz Jr, Kent HawkinsSherri Lange, Lisa Linowes, Kevon Martis, Josiah Neeley, Nick Stanger, Tom Tanton, and Todd Wynn.

The Sierra Club’s Clean Energy Under Seize took aim at MasterResource’s wind (as well as solar) posts: [Read more →]

January 18, 2013   No Comments