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Category — Houston Chronicle

Loren Steffy (Houston Chronicle) to Pew Environmental Group: "So What?" About China’s Renewable Energy Policy

“Instead of the fear-baiting warnings that the U.S. is being outspent on renewables [by China], a better question might be: what are we getting for our money?”

- Loren Steffy, “Scrubbing the Data on Clean Energy Investment,” Houston Chronicle, March 27, 2010.

Loren Steffy is the most read and respected voice at the Houston Chronicle on business and related policy issues, the paper’s editorial board notwithstanding. And on energy, he smells a rat with the ‘clean energy’ mantra that comes on high.

Steffy has documented the role of Enron in the government-created Texas wind power boom. He deconstructed the all pain-no gain nature of the House-passed Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill before the rest of the country caught on. And most recently, he has called out the non sequitur of a new study, “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race,” recently released by the Pew Charitable Trusts via the Pew Environmental Group.

The Pew study tries to shame the U.S. (us) into throwing good money after bad by further subsidizing uneconomic, unreliable wind and solar–the very energies that the marketplace cannot support without the heavy hand of government. The exception is off-grid solar, indicating that renewables are more of a bridge fuel to nonrenewables than the other way around.

Some Hard Questions

The Pew Environmental Group is dedicated to one-sided climate alarmism. It is thus part of a one-two punch with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which has been of long interest here at MasterResource.

The Pew Center has admitted that “settled science” is a misnomer in the physical-science climate debate. But they have never commissioned a study critical of climate alarmism despite momentum toward the “skeptics” side in recent years.  Eileen Claussen, the head of the Pew Center, has recognized that binding targets are a nonstarter in the developing world. (Adaptation, anyone?)

But with the bits of good here and there come something much different–such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. Here are some questions I have to add’s to those of Loren Steffy (reprinted below). [Read more →]

April 1, 2010   10 Comments

Houston’s Climate Debate (Hundreds respond to Neil Frank’s Op-Ed, ‘Climategate: You Should Be Steamed’)

My recent post at MasterResource, Climategate: Here Comes Courage!, has been picked up in the blogosphere (such as at WattsUpWithThat) and has received several thousand views at MasterResource.

In my post, I profiled three individuals in the Houston area who in the post-Climategate environment have spoken up more forcefully against climate alarmism:

  1. Dr. Neil Frank (a former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami and a weather forecaster at KHOU-Channel 11 in Houston);
  2. Michelle Michot Foss, an internationally respected energy economist with the University of Texas at Austin and the past president of both the U.S. Association for Energy Economics (2001) and the International Association for Energy Economics (2003); and
  3. Peter Hartley, the George and Cynthia Mitchell Chair in Sustainable Development and Environmental Economics, and Professor of Economics, at Rice University.

Neil Frank’s op-ed generated hundreds of online comments, and hundreds more views, with support being overwhelmingly positive (see for yourself). A number of comments are very appreciative of the Houston Chronicle for having published Frank’s piece given the editorial position at the paper as New-York-Times alarmist. (A number of readers also take the opportunity to fuss that their hometown paper is so one-sided.) And I must add my frustration: the editorial board’s jump from ‘market failure’ to government activism (support of cap-and-trade, etc.) as if there were not ‘government failure’ in the ‘correction.’ Political economy, anyone? [Read more →]

January 10, 2010   4 Comments

Facts vs. Climate Alarmism

Editor’s note: Bradley’s op-ed appeared in the December 8th Washington Times under the title “Alarmists Cold-Shoulder Facts”)

Facts are awfully stubborn things. And global-warming alarmists—who generally don’t let facts get in the way of a good, agenda-driven argument—recently lost a key ally in the run-up to the U.N. global-warming pep rally opening today in Copenhagen. They lost actual data supporting their claims.

In defiant acts of desperation, many out-of-the-mainstream environmental alarmists quickly moved to plan B. Some cite the current El Niño—a natural climate variation—warning of “record” high temperatures just on the horizon.

Others continue to trumpet “studies” that paint terrifying environmental fairy tales if world governments do not immediately criminalize carbon, ban fossil fuels, and ration energy.

But these tactics are not new. Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” of the 1960s predicted food riots in the United States and around the world. Today, obesity is a bigger problem.

Remember the Club of Rome’s 1972 prediction of resource exhaustion? Fifty-seven predictions were made regarding 19 minerals, and all either have been proved false or will be.

Perhaps most hypocritical is the global-cooling scare promoted by, among others, Mr. Obama’s science czar, John Holdren. Today, Mr. Holdren says a billion people may perish from global warming by 2020.

It’s understandable why public opinion continues to squarely reject the apocalyptic vision of climate change. In Washington, pragmatic politicians of both parties balk at even watered-down proposals to cap greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that will bring higher energy costs and more government control.

There simply is not an appetite for this social-engineering project. And despite the dire warnings of an intellectual cadre, the public is getting it right. The Earth’s average temperature is virtually unchanged from a dozen years ago—a result not predicted by climate modelers or activists.

The rate of sea-level rise has slowed to a crawl, throwing cold water on ice-melting scares. Global hurricane activity is near a 30-year low. Fatalities from tornadoes across the United States this year are on course to be the lowest in more than a decade. (Yes, some scientists link global warming to tornadoes.) In 2009, much of the Midwest and Northeast shivered through the coldest summer in recent memory. [Read more →]

December 14, 2009   1 Comment

Houston Chronicle: Former Environmental Writer Documents Origins of Left/Alarmist Bias at the Paper

“The [Houston Chronicle's] editorial positions have moved in a decidedly liberal and environmentalist direction since its parent, the Hearst Corporation, installed new management in 2002.”

- Bill Dawson, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, December 3, 2007.

“One factor [in the industry retrenchment] could be the fate of climate change legislation in Congress, which could add costs to oil and gas producers, refiners, chemical makers and other parts of the energy sector, forcing them to cut jobs. Susan Combs, Texas comptroller of public accounts said: “I think there’s a big bull’s-eye painted on Houston.”

- Brett Clanton, “Big Oil’s Lean Look Fuels Area Jobs Fear,” Houston Chronicle, November 8, 2009.

Cap-and-trade, even in a watered down beginning, isn’t good for Houston. But the Houston Chronicle has been at the forefront of advocating for such open-ended regulation–even rejecting a sober cost-benefit analysis of the issue. And even not having second thoughts about alarmist science that its own science writer Eric Berger (see below) has grown to have.

Why such a crusade at the nation’s 7th leading paper?

Looking for an answer, I stumbled upon a piece on the web by former Houston Chronicle environmental writer Bill Dawson.  Dawson now teaches at Rice University on media issues and the environment.

His post fills in some gaps about why Houston’s paper (the Houston Post folded and merged into the Chronicle in 1995) became such an organ for climate alarmism–even tramping to the Left of the New York Times at times. It also explains the large circulation declines, given that the Houston audience is more free market, conservative, libertarian, and non-alarmist than the Chronicle’s editorial writers and reporters. And the Houston energy industry, as Brett Clanton reported in a front page article in Sunday’s Chronicle, will be a big loser under cap-and-trade. 

The latest circulation news for the Houston Chronicle is rather grim–a year-to-year decline of 13%. One comment on the circulation report said much about the alienated audience:

If you would give any indication you were fair, we would start buying your paper again. I know this isn’t going to happen but I wish it would because I truly believe you folks in the media are the common man’s eye’s and ears, our checks and balances.

As of late, your profession has failed terribly.

Bill Dawson Documents the Bias

Mr. Dawson’s blog brings some very interesting things to light. [Read more →]

November 12, 2009   3 Comments

Is Texas Governor Perry Off Climate Base? (Groupthink vs. Science Revisited)

On October 16, 2009, the Houston Chronicle ran an Outlook piece by Dr. Ronald Sass– a fellow in global climate change at the Baker Institute and Professor of Natural Sciences emeritus at Rice University–complaining that Texas governor Rick Perry was getting his ideas about climate change from unreliable sources. Apparently, that Governor Perry is not hopping on the climate alarmism/policy activism bandwagon has Dr. Sass a bit concerned. Make no mistake about a political agenda of the giver of this advice that goes far beyond natural science issues.

Dr. Sass argues that the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be the end all and be all of the physical science debate. But he is behind the times. The IPCC report is several years old, and the latest theory and empirical data is pointing in more benign directions than at the height of the climate alarm in the late 1990s. Perhaps the governor’s stance isn’t as off-base as Sass would like his Chronicle’s readers to believe.

Some Good Points

Dr. Sass does make some good points about the science, but he attributes too much import to the implications of setting the Governor straight on them.

For instance, Dr. Sass, points out, and rightly so, that human activities—primarily the burning of fossil fuels for energy—have contributed to the build-up of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and an enhancement of the earth’s natural greenhouse effect. If Governor Perry is being advised otherwise, he is getting bad advice. 

And Dr. Sass is correct that an enhanced greenhouse effect will lead, in general, to a modified, and warmer, climate. Again, if the governor is getting advised differently,  he is being misinformed.

The Rest of the Story

However, from here Sass goes astray. 

It is not true that just because humans are modifying the climate that this will lead to a bad outcome and thus we should undertake immediate efforts to stop this (which is what Sass would like the Governor to do). [Read more →]

October 28, 2009   5 Comments

Climate Alarmism on the Hot Seat: Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle Science Writer, Wants to Know What's Up

“For a long time now, science reporters have been confidently told the science is settled…. But I am confused [by recent developments]. Four years ago this all seemed like a fait accompli. Humans were unquestionably warming the climate and changing the planet forever through their emissions of carbon dioxide.”

- Eric Berger, Science Writer, Houston Chronicle, September 6, 2009 [SciGuy Blog]

In his post at MasterResource last week, Ken Green spoke of a potential “death spiral” for climate alarmism, in that the failure of the political process would make it less politically incorrect to challenge climate alarmism. “As hopes for a Gore-style ‘wrenching transformation’ fade,” wrote Green, “more mainstream scientists and opinion-makers will become more ‘practical’ toward the issue, meaning that alarmism may give way to sensible assessments of mitigation, adaptation, and geo-engineering.”

But the other problem for climate alarmism is nonalarmist data, as well as new studies by top climatologists questioning the guts of high-sensitivity climate models. Chip Knappenberger summarized a new study by Richard Lindzen that concluded that the “best guess” warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was radically overstated. Marlo Lewis’s summary, Is the Climate Science Debate Over? No, It’s Just Getting Very, Very Interesting (with welcome news for mankind), also lays out the latest from the quite unsettled–and nonalarmist–science. Are the Malthusians wrong again?

Enter Eric Berger, the open-minded, fair-minded science writer for the Houston Chronicle. With just a little courage, and no doubt a good deal of perplexity, he is asking the question that some have been asking for a long, long time: what is really going on here. And no doubt he will take some heat from his post, and no doubt he is going to get to the bottom of what is going on.

Jerry North (Texas A&M) Hints at the Problem

Eleven years ago, when I was director of public policy at Enron, I entered into a consulting agreement with Gerald North, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Oceanography at Texas A&M’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, to tell me what was going on. North was as close as I could find to a ‘middle of the roader’ between climate alarmism and (ultra) skepticism. He is also highly decorated. [Read more →]

September 7, 2009   12 Comments

Houston Chronicle Endorses U.S. Offshore Drilling West, East, and Between (BP is 'back to petroleum,' not 'beyond petroleum')

The success of exploration and drilling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico convincingly makes the case for opening up the nation’s other offshore areas for drilling. Yes, that should mean offshore California and the East Coast.

There are no perfect choices in energy, but offshore drilling has proved friendlier to the environment than the alternative of bringing in foreign crude supplies via tanker.

- “Gulf Giant: BP’s Find in the Gulf of Mexico Reminds Us of the Need for Oil Bridge to Greener Future,” Houston Chronicle, September 4, 2009.

Kudos to the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle for stating the obvious: that neighborhood oil which provides government revenue instead of requiring government subsidy is better than importing oil; that expanded domestic offshore drilling is part of the solution, not the problem.

The environmental advantage of domestic offshore drilling was also noted in the editorial:

Spills of crude from the growing traffic of tankers transiting the globe pose a larger risk to the environment than do offshore rigs and the pipelines connecting them to onshore refining facilities. And much of the oil imported by this country comes from nations such as Nigeria that have a dubious track record in protecting the environment.

Other Reasons to Support Offshore Drilling

The Chronicle does temper its enthusiasm for the offshore solution to oil abundance: [Read more →]

September 6, 2009   No Comments

Houston's Energy Citizens Rally (and why silence from Chronicle editorial board?)

I have lamented how the editorial board of my hometown Houston Chronicle long ago took a hard left position on the “problem” and “solution” of anthropogenic global climate change. Not even the U.S. House of Representatives’s Waxman-Markey climate bill–labeled a “monstrosity” and “less than worthless” by NASA scientist and Al Gore mentor James Hansen, and “out of control” by UN Foundation head Tim Wirth–has loosened the grip of climate alarmism and policy activism at the Chronicle despite an opposite view by the paper’s popular business editorialist Loren Steffy.

Last week, an estimated 3,500 Houstonians, the large majority working for oil and gas companies, gathered at the Verizon Theater downtown to protest Waxman-Markey’s carbon-dioxide cap (cap-and-trade, correctly identified by Tim Wirth as a carbon tax). The protest was covered nationally by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and reported as a news item in the business section by the Houston Chronicle. Such was expected, as was the Left’s characterization of the event as industry sponsored and largely industry attended. Fair enough.

But why didn’t the editorial board of the Chronicle weigh in on this major event in some way. [Read more →]

August 29, 2009   2 Comments

Houston Chronicle's Loren Steffy on Waxman-Markey (can this straight shooter be added to the newspaper's editorial board?)

The Houston Chronicle editorials have long been a bastion of climate alarmism and policy activism (see here and here), positions that must be so dear to the paper’s senior management (and owners?) that they have created badwill in the Houston community and no doubt a loss of readership.

One could call this courageous and a good thing if this position was well vetted and intellectually sound. A good paper should lead, not only follow, its audience.

But sadly, this is not the case. The case for regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) is quite questionable on purely physical scientific grounds (examine the empirical data; understand the debate over feedback effects regarding climate models). The balance of evidence is certainly not toward the high end of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) temperature range, and it is, in fact, trending at the low end of this range with a decade of temperature quiet. The low end is where the problem not only fades but where little temperature reversal can occur no matter how capped global emissions are.

Given, the scientific debate is complicated, and recent data has been trending away from long-held views of alarmism. But on economic cost/benefit grounds, the case for policy activism falls apart, for leading economists have been unable to justify pricing CO2 via government mandates without assuming perfect knowledge (William Nordhaus’s “environmental pope“) where we have:

  • Infallible knowledge about the problem (the “market failure”);
  • Infallible knowledge about the solution (what to do policy-wise); and
  • Perfect implementation of the solution (no political imperfections, or what is called “government failure”).

And then there comes the political animal called Waxman-Markey, a bill that was called a “monstrosity” by James Hansen at 648 pages–and is now more than double that in size.

So the debate is not only about market failure from unregulated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as the Chronicle editorial board sees it. It is about analytic failure and government failure.

A second look at the paper’s editorial support of Waxman-Markey is called for. This is a bill that hardly resembles what economists and political scientists would call focused, rational public policy, even from a climate activism viewpoint. And a good place to start such a rethinking is with the piece published yesterday by the Chronicle’s ace business columnist/editorialist Loren Steffy. Steffy’s position on energy has clashed with the editorial slant before, and he has once again added a needed perspective in the energy/climate debate for Houston’s newspaper of record.

Here is Steffy’s column of June 26, 2009: [Read more →]

June 27, 2009   6 Comments

Enron vs. Exxon Mobil: Polar Approaches to Energy and Public Policy

I have previously described Exxon Mobil as the anti-Enron. In an opinion-page editorial in yesterday’s Houston Chronicle, I contrasted the two companies in terms of both energy strategy and public policy.

More could be said than is in the editorial (reprinted below). Enron’s first fraud, engineered by Andrew Fastow, came with the purchase of Zond Corporation, which was renamed Enron Wind Corporation and is now part of GE Energy. (This complicated story about a “qualifying facility” under federal energy law is told in McLean and Elkind’s The Smartest Guys in the Room, pp. 166–67 and Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools, pp. 142–44.)

Enron Energy Services, the energy outsourcing division of Enron that so excited environmentalists (including Joe Romm, now blogging at Climate Progress), was one of the company’s biggest frauds.

So Enron’s “green” strategy was at the core of its business problems and legal problems, a theme that I will detail in a forthcoming book.

Also, some of the points made below have been the subject of MasterResource posts, such as: [Read more →]

June 15, 2009   5 Comments