It is probably a bad sign when your EPA administrator is better at hiding her email tracks than the CIA director.
Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category.
A number of times in the past I have pointed out that government bodies in the US tend to be among the worst polluters. While we sit around and argue about parts per billion of CO2 in the atmosphere, billions of gallons of raw sewage are being dumped into rivers. I remember when I lived in Boston, the city just piped sewage out into the harbor. When it got to disgusting and finally garnered a bit of negative media attention, they solved the untreated sewage problem by ... building a longer pipe and dumping it further out in the ocean. I worked at an Exxon refinery for a few years and it was always frustrating the regulatory attention we got on the smallest discharge (in general, the water we discharged had to be cleaner than the body of water we were discharging into) when local municipalities were dumping untreated sewage during storms into the same water, without consequence.
Anyway, here is a post from John Hanger via the Unbroken Window blog
A main goal of this blog is to help its readers prioritize the biggest threats to water quality and to understand that, though gas drilling impacts are real, they are well down the list of the most serious causes of pollution of Pennsylvania’s waters. A must read is yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette front page story about the massive amounts of sewer overflows that reach rivers in the Pittsburgh region multiple times each year.
http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/region/alcosan-sewer-project-gets-little-public-input-653713/.The annual volume of untreated sewage reaching rivers and streams is reported as 9 billion gallons per year and occurs in 30 to 70 storms annually, according to the Post Gazette. And the bill for stopping this pollution and cleaning up is a staggering $2.8 billion.To make matters worse, the same problem of untreated sewage flowing into rivers and streams that the Pittsburgh region is confronting is found in many communities across Pennsylvania as well as in New York and other states. While America’s sewage overflow problem dwarfs the impacts of gas drilling on water quality, it normally attracts little media attention or sustained public concern. There are no Hollywood stars campaigning to stop these huge amounts of sewage from going into rivers. There are no HBO movies on the problem.
Normally, this huge source of pollution that threatens public health and safety is ignored or draws a yawn.
Good risk prioritization is virtually impossible in the current state of the media and political dialog. Mike Rizzo, writing at the blog, makes a good point:
if you asked people if the government should allow an odorless, tasteless, highly explosive gas to be piped into your house, where a small leak in a pipe could cause the entire house to explode, they would surely say No Way! But then ask them if natural gas stoves should be permitted in their homes and to a man they’d all say, “Of Course.”
Every single time that wind power installations are evaluated based on their actual performance, they turn out to make no economic sense. Consumer Reports comes to the same conclusion for their wind power trial (and this does not even include the issues of standby power that make even small wind power savings irrelevant to CO2 production).
But if you're considering a wind turbine to supplement your home's power, consider our experience with one product, the Honeywell WT6500 Wind Turbine, a cautionary tale....
A tool on Windtronics' website had calculated we'd get 1,155 kWh per year at the 12-mph average it predicted for our area of Yonkers, New York. And the authorized installer, during his initial visit, didn't say the roof of our headquarters might generate any less, but that rating is at a height of 164 feet, not the 33 feet WindTronics requires for rooftop installations.
In the 15 months since the turbine was installed, though, it has delivered less than 4 kWh—enough only to power a 12,000 btu window air conditioner for one afternoon. A company representative in charge of installations worldwide recently visited our offices and confirmed that our test model was correctly installed. What's more, he told us that while the WT6500 should start generating power at about 3 mph, the initial juice goes just to power the system's inverter, which must be running before it supplies any AC power elsewhere. The true wind speed needed to start producing AC while the inverter is on is 6 mph, not far from the 7.5 mph needed by a traditional gearbox wind turbine....
At the rate the WT6500 is delivering power at our test site, it would take several millennia for the product to pay for itself in savings—not the 56 years it would take even with the 1,155 kWh quote we received.
The Environmental Protection Agency has slapped a $6.8 million penalty on oil refiners for not blending cellulosic ethanol into gasoline, jet fuel and other products. These dastardly petroleum mongers are being so intransigent because cellulosic ethanol does not exist. It remains a fantasy fuel. The EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire Leprechauns.
As a screen shot of EPA’s renewable fuels website confirms, so far this year - just as in 2011 - the supply of cellulosic biofuel in gallons totals zero.
“EPA’s decision is arbitrary and capricious. We fail to understand how EPA can maintain a requirement to purchase a type of fuel that simply doesn’t exist,” stated Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the Washington-based trade association that represents the oil refining and petrochemicals industries.
I will remind Republicans thought that ethanol is a bipartisan turd, this particular requirement having been signed into law by President Bush.
For years, one of the problems I have had with the way CO2 cap and trade systems were structured was a fear that these systems would devolve into cronyism, with the companies best able to lobby the government getting allocations while less connected companies had to pay. It seems this is already occuring in California:
The California Air Resources Board (ARB), the regulator of the forthcoming program, held a workshop in Sacramento on Monday where it discussed plans to give away more free permits to prevent leakage in “trade-exposed” industries like cement production, oil refining and food processing.
Over the first three allowance auctions, which begin in November, the state will sell 48.9 million allowances and give away 53.8 million allowances, according to ARB.
Any company deemed to have either a high, medium or low risk of leaving the state will receive all the allowances they need to comply with the program during the first two-year compliance period, from 2013-2014, rather than have to buy the permits at regular auctions.
But those in the low and medium risk groups are currently scheduled to see their allotment of free allowances start to decline in 2015 by as much as half.
ARB officials on Monday said they are conducting studies examining the leakage risk of companies based on their historical energy costs and trade flows.
Don't be fooled by the quasi-scientific-sounding language here about categories of "trade exposure." The reality will be that companies with political clout will get the permits, and companies without such clout will not. This is a system that will favor large manufacturers over smaller companies. It will also, oddly, apparently shift the burden of compliance from large manufacturers to service companies (since service companies are the least likely to be "trade exposed.") Of course, any manufacturer still operating plants in California is crazy anyway.
Recent study on spotted owls, the protection of which was the ostensible reason for shutting down the northwest timber industry:
Whatever short-term drawbacks there may be from logging, thinning, or other fuel reduction activities in areas with high fire risk would be more than offset by improved forest health and fire-resistance characteristics, the scientists said, which allow more spotted owl habitat to survive in later decades.
Decades of fire suppression and a "hands-off" approach to management on many public lands have created overcrowded forests that bear little resemblance to their historic condition – at the expense of some species such as the northern spotted owl, researchers said.
The findings were published in Forest Ecology and Management, a professional journal, by researchers from Oregon State University and Michigan State University.
"For many years now, for species protection as well as other reasons, we've avoided almost all management on many public forest lands," said John Bailey, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at Oregon State University.
"The problem is that fire doesn't respect the boundaries we create for wildlife protection," Bailey said. "Given the current condition of Pacific Northwest forests, the single biggest threat facing spotted owls and other species is probably stand-replacement wildfire."
Next, we will find out that spray cans are needed to save the ozone. hat tip
John Stossel has a great link-filled round up of failed and failing solar and green energy programs funded by the Obama Administration with our money. Check out the extensive list.
Here, for laughs, is Ray Lane of Kleiner Perkins rhapsodizing about Obama as the greatest government venture capitalist ever, and using for his prime example ... Solyndra!
I suppose at one point Kleiner Perkins used to take private risks with private money, but it seems to have found out it can make higher returns leveraging its investments with taxpayer money, and then using political influence to mandate business for the companies in which it invests. Thus the hiring of Al Gore, among other moves, to the KP board. Lane, by the way, is Chairman of serial government trough-feeder Fisker automotive, which make admittedly very cool-looking cars that require a lot of taxpayer subsidies.
Certainly Mr. Lane knows something about marketing, including that age-old tactic the "bait and switch." The taxpayer subsidies of Fisker were made on the theory that electric cars were somehow greener than gasoline cars because they use less energy. But looking at the fuel at the power plant it takes to make the electricity that goes into a Fisker Karma, the car gets worse gas mileage than an SUV (only an EPA equivalent MPG standard that breaks the second law of thermodynamics hides this fact). Congratulations Mr. Lane, green subsidies for sub-SUV gas mileage. All those checks KP partners wrote to Obama in the last election certainly got a good return.
Why should we worry about 5c or 10c on a gallon of fuel down the local gas station when the US Navy (in all her glory) is willing to pay a staggering $26-a-gallon for 'green' synthetic biofuel(made we assume from the very same unicorn tears and leprechaun nipples that funded the ESM). AsReuters reports, the 'Great Green Fleet' will be the first carrier strike group powered largely by alternative fuels; as the Pentagon hopes it can prove the Navy looks just as impressive burning fuel squeezed from seeds, algae, and chicken fat (we did not make this up). The story gets better as it appears back in 2009, the Navy paid Solazyme (whose strategic advisors included TJ Gaulthier who served on Obama's White House Transition team) $8.5mm for 20,055 gallons on algae-based biofuel - a snip at just $424-a-gallon.
In its defense, the Navy Secretary said, ""Of course it costs more. It's a new technology. If we didn't pay a little bit more for new technologies, we'd still be using typewriters instead of computers." Of course, the switch from typewriters to computers proceeded without government mandates (or taxes, as they are called now) and in fact was led by the private sector -- the government trailed in this transition. Further, people paid the extra money for a computer because they found real value in it (document storage, easy editing, font flexibility). What real value is the Navy getting for the extra $22 a gallon? How much better will this task force perform? The answer, of course, is zero.
Several years ago I wrote a post about how frequently steam plumes are used as illustrations to articles on pollution. In the US, if you see a cloud coming out of a smokestack, adds are about 100:1 its steam, not smoke. Look how many of the results today in Google images for "air pollution" are actually plumes of water vapor.
One trick environmental sites will play is to Photoshop the contrast and darkness of the steam plume to try to make it look smokier. Here is a good example
This photoshopping of steam plumes to make them look like smoke is prevalent enough that I have written about it a few times. That is why this image tickled me. I don't know the artist. He may be making the opposite plea (e.g. turning smoke to steam) but I'll interepret it the way I like:
Postscript: This is my all-time favorite image in this category:
This image was used by Battelle labs (update: still is) to illustrate their air pollution expertise. The sad-faced girl with the inhaler is classic, but what makes this my favorite is the water vapor plume from the nuclear plant (you can see the nuclear reactor dome). The water vapor from a nuclear plant cooling tower has only pure water -- it has no combustion products and no particulates that might give this poor girl asthma. It does not even have any CO2 in it, if that is your particular bogeyman.
Unfortunately, the combination of April being our busiest month every year (when all our seasonal operations start up), the addition of operations in two new states (which requires a myriad of registrations, permissions, licenses, etc), and several unusual very late bid packages for the operation of parks means that I am working on Sunday.
I spent my first hour of Earth Day, appropriately enough, fiddling with my building's computer HVAC system, trying to get the air conditioning (normally off on a Sunday) turned on. I was finally successful, so I can now enjoy a comfortable Earth Day even in nearly 100 degree Phoenix weather, thanks to modern technology and a generous helping of fossil fuel combustion.
I know this is one reason ExxonMobil is hated by many, but you gotta love a CEO who is actually willing to speak his mind rather than spew the reconstituted generic platitudes that you get from most companies. From CEO Rex Tillerson:
"If you want to live by the precautionary principle, then crawl up in a ball and live in a cave."
I have written a number of times on the silliness of food miles and the locavore movement (here and here and here). For some reason the energy and resource intensity of foods is being judged merely on one component - transportation of the end product - which actually is only a tiny competent of food costs (and thus their resource use). Is it really more environmentally sensitive for us Phoenicians to grow our corn in the Arizona desert, where soils are unproductive and water must be imported from hundreds of miles away, rather than have it grown in the fertile soils of Iowa and trucked in?
TWO brands of olive oil, one from Australia, the other shipped 16,000 kilometres from Italy, sit on a supermarket shelf.
Most eco-friendly shoppers would reach for the Australian oil. But despite burning less fossil fuel to get here, it may not be better for the planet.
Contrary to popular belief, ''food miles'', or the distance food has travelled before we buy it, is a poor indicator of our food's total greenhouse gas emissions, or ''carbon footprint''.
More important is the way our food is farmed and produced, and how far we drive to buy it....
It turns out that stuff like economies of scale really matter
''Local food can often have a higher carbon footprint than food from afar,'' says principal researcher Brad Ridoutt.
He says even home-grown vegetables, with ''zero food miles'', do not necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint than those bought in the supermarket.
''With my veggies, I drive to Bunnings to buy fertiliser, and I go away for the weekend and forget to water them, and in the end I only harvest a few things that I can actually eat.
''By contrast, big producers, who can invest in the latest energy-efficient, water-efficient technology, and make use of all the parts of food, can be much more efficient,'' he says.
Of course, transporting food from producer to retailer still burns fossil fuels that release greenhouse gas emissions, in turn accelerating global warming. But freight emissions are only a fraction of those released during production, meaning even imported food, sustainably produced, can have a smaller carbon footprint than local alternatives.
Even the most rudimentary reading of economics should have given greenies a clue. In commodity products like most foods, prices tend to be driven down to a point that they reflect resources (and their relative scarcity) that went into the product. The cheapest foods tend to be those that use the least, and least scarce, resources in production. So buying locally grown food, which often tends to carry a price premium, should have been a flashing red light that maybe this was not the least-resource-intensive choice.
I have written several articles (here and here) outlining why the EPA's method of giving electric cars an equivalent or eMPG is outright fraudulent. I calculated for the average driver, for example, that the Nissan Leaf's 99 eMPG was actually closer to 36. Why? Well, in the EPA's methodology, the science-based Obama administration pretends the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not exist. Specifically, they assume perfect conversion of the chemical potential energy in fossil fuels to electricity. They also assume zero transmission losses. To rework the calculation, I actually used a Clinton-era Department of Energy methodology called well to wheels.
So here is something I thought I would never write: It turns out the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with me. Apparently they have used a similar methodology to rework electric vehicle MPGs based on the fuel mix of the power in different cities, rather than an average national fuel mix as I did it. I am not sure how they did the analysis - did they use average fuel mix or the marginal fuel, and if the marginal fuel did they assume the marginal fuel at night or during the day? For example, certain California cities look good with solar use but that does not do anything for typical night time car charging.
Anyway, the problem is hard and I could quibble with how they did it. But the results are telling - everywhere they looked, even in the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest, the eMPG they got was lower than that of the EPA's. And in many cases much lower.
If corporations were using the EPA's eMPG methodology, they would be busted by the FTC for false advertising. It's time to fix this calculation so Fisker Karma drivers can't continue to fool themselves into thinking they are doing something positive for the environment.
Professor Rizzo was keen that I check out the $12,000 solar picnic table at University of Rochester
Most kids use this to hook up their laptops. Here are a few assumptions
- 3 hours of use per day (heroic, I am pretty sure it is less than this)
- 65 watt draw from one laptop
- 160 days with sun (Rochester is apparently in the top 10 US cities for number of heavy cloud days)
- 10 cents per kw-hour
This means the table would produce 31,200 W-hr per year or 31.2 KW-hr per year. This yields an annual electricity savings of $3.12, giving the table a payback time on its investment of 3,846 years. If one assumes a cost of capital anywhere north of 0.026% per year, then the sun will go dark before this table pays itself off.
Lots more updates but I have to get home from Buffalo first. Here is a funny quote
When the Earth Hour ambassadors include a child, a magician, a couple of actors, a singer, a model, a chef, a radio presenter, a celebrity gardener, a priest, a hotelier, a former rock star, a green politician, an SBS landscape architect and not a single economist or scientist, I think we’ve long stopped listening to “the science” and are checking out the designer label.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that opposition to the Keystone was never about the Ogallala Aquifer. Polluting the water was a simply a convenient talking point that might play better with the American public than the true goal, which is to shut down the development of new sources of North American oil. I got a lot of comments and email that I was making this up, but in fact its pretty clear that opposition to the pipeline pre-dated knowledge even of its route. Here is a environmental group's presentation from 2008 which advocates opposition to all pipelines (without any reference to their routes) out of the Canadian tar sands as a strategy to halt their development.
Postscript: I really have little use for discussions about funding amounts and sources of various causes. I find it largely irrelevent. So I post this only because this week we are talking about the Heartland Institute's funding of climate skeptics as revealed by hero (if you are an environmentalist blog) or thief Peter Gleick. Heartland sends a portion of its $6 million budget to support various climate skeptics, and somehow this "revelation" has environmentalists running in circles screaming rape. But Heartland's pitiful few millions seem a joke in comparison to the environmental funding torrent. Take this example from the Canadian tar sands issue, just a single one of a myriad of climate-related issues getting millions, even billions of dollars of funding.
Northrop’s presentation promised funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation in the amount of $7 million per year. Named in the presentation were 12 participating environmental pressure groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.
According to Canadian writer and researcher Vivian Krause, U.S. foundations have poured more than $300 million into Canadian environmental groups since 2000. One foundation, endowed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, has been single-handedly responsible for $92 million of that total, Krause wrote Jan. 17 in Canada’s Financial Post. Foundations flush with the wealth of computer pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard, she added, sent another $90 million to wage green-politics wars in the Great White North....
Tax records from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund indicate that it sent $1.25 million to Michael Marx’s organization, Corporate Ethics International, between December 2007 and November 2010. The money was earmarked “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands derived fuels in the United States.” The Fund has not yet filed its tax return for 2011.
Among other initiatives, Corporate Ethics International launched a campaign in July 2010 to persuade American and British travelers to avoid visiting Alberta while tar sands exploration was underway. Tourism brings $5 billion to Alberta, making it one of the Canadian province’s biggest industries.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the second philanthropy Northrop mentioned in 2008 as a partner in the concerted effort to stop tar sands oil development, contributed far more.
Its tax returns indicate expenditures of more than $17.5 million targeted at tar sands oil development, including more than $15.4 million to the left-wing Tides Foundation and the affiliated Tides Canada Foundation. At the time, Tides was led by progressive millionaire Drummond Pike, and by ACORN co-founder and AFL-CIO organizer Wade Rathke.
A newer philanthropy, the Sea Change Foundation, also sent Tides $2 million in 2009, all of it to “promote awareness of an opposition to tar sands.” Another $3.75 million to Tides followed in 2010.
Funded by Renaissance Technologies hedge fund founder James Simons and his son, Nathaniel, Sea Change gave away $120 million between 2008 and 2010 in connection with energy-related issue activism. More than $18 million more of the Simons’ philanthropic funding in 2009 and 2010 went to organizations named in Northrop’s 2008 presentations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, Inc., although Sea Change did not disclose the specific purpose of those grants.
Smaller tar sands-related contributions to Tides came from the Oak Foundation, endowed by Duty Free Shoppers tycoon Alan Parker; the New York Community Trust; and the Schmidt Family Foundation, whose millions come from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy.
Tides, in turn, made at least $8.6 million in grants to 44 different organizations, each time specifically mentioning its “tar sands campaign.” Funds went to Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Forest Ethics, the Rainforest Action Network and dozens of others. Fully $2.2 million of that total went to Michael Marx’s Corporate Ethics International.
I have no problem with private people spending money however they want, but after throwing around sums of this magnitude, it seems amazing they feel the need to stop Heartland from spending a couple of million dollars in opposition. It's like a rich guy telling you that your Chevy Nova is in the way of his Ferrari and could you please get it off the road.
This country has made great progress in cleaning up its waterways over the last four decades. Conservatives like to pretend it's not true, but there is absolutely nothing wrong from a strong property rights perspective in stopping both public and private actors from dumping their waste in waterways that don't belong to them.
The problem today with the EPA is not the fact that they protect the quality of the commons (e.g. air and water) but that
- New detection technologies at the parts per billion resolution have allowed them to identify and obsess over threats that are essentially non-existent
- Goals have changed such that many folks use air and water protection as a cover or excuse for their real goal, which is halting development and sabotaging capitalism and property rights
What might surprise Brougham and many other New Yorkers who were appalled by last summer’s sewage discharge is that there’s nothing particularly unusual about it. Almost every big rainstorm causes raw sewage to flow into the city’s rivers. New York is one in a handful of older American cities — Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are others — that suffer from poor sewer infrastructure leading to Combined Sewer Overflows, or CSOs. New York City has spent $1.6 billion over the last decade trying to curb CSOs, but the problem is so pervasive in the city that no one is sure whether these efforts will make much of a difference.
CSOs occur because the structure of New York City’s sewage system often can’t cope with the volume of sewage flowing through it. Under the city’s streets, thousands of drains, manholes and plumbing systems converge into a few sewage mains. These pipes can handle the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that the five boroughs produce on a typical day — about as much water as would be generated by a 350-year-long shower. But whenever the pipes gather more water than usual — such as during a rain- or snowstorm — the pumps at the city’s 14 wastewater treatment plants can’t keep up with the flow. Rather than backing up into streets and homes, untreated sewage systematically bypasses the plants and heads straight into the waterways.*
In this way, 27 to 30 billion gallons of untreated sewage enter New York City waterways each year via hundreds of CSO outfalls, says Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper, a New York clean water advocacy group. Musegaas says he finds it especially upsetting that city officials don’t effectively warn the thousands of people like Brougham who use the waterways and could encounter harmful bacteria during overflow events.
I thought this correction was funny:
This story originally read that New York City’s sewage system could “barely” handle the city’s wastewater, an untrue statement. As long as there’s little surplus stormwater entering the system, it’s adequate to handle the flow.
Oh, so everything is OK, as long as it does not rain. Which it does 96 days a year. I am just sure this reporter would say that BP's offshore safety systems were "adequate" if it only spilled oil 96 days of the year.
This is one of the most incredible things I have seen in a while. I will describe the video, but it is only a bit over a minute long and you should definitely watch it.
The clip below is an outtake from the environmentalist movie "Crude", which purported to document the environmentalist's case against Chevron in Ecuador. Apparently, between takes of earnest and un-selfinterested environmentalists saving the world from greedy corporations, these self-same environmentalists discussed lying about the science and duping the courts in order to score a big payday for themselves.
The video is doubly interesting because, as Anthony Watts explains, the woman in the video taking money to make up untrue findings was recently confirmed to the NAS, where there is a good bet that we will see her as the source for "evidence" that fracking is contaminating groundwater. These three folks are all the subject of a civil suit from Chevron but all three should be subject to criminal charges for fraud and conspiracy.
We lost track of a caribou herd, so since we can't find it, we will just tell the press it was destroyed by climate change. (Happily the herd has been found, right where it always was, so we won't have to see caribou heads on our diet coke bottles).
I joke about this but it is really a serious statement about the quality of science and science journalism that there was really a big climate-related panic over the disappearing caribou a couple of years ago. This is climate science in a nutshell - make a measurement error, assume the faulty data is real, and then without evidence blame the changing data on climate change.
(Update: Yes, I actually spelled caribou herd "heard" in the original. I am a big believer there is no such thing as a single metric for intelligence, but that there are multiple intelligences of various sorts. We can argue about the other kinds, but I clearly did not get much of the spelling and proof-reading sort.
I had some fun yesterday, dashing off a quick note about the Fisker Karma electric car and just how bad the electric mileage is if you use the DOE methodology rather than the flawed EPA methodology to calculate an mpg-equivalent.
It was the quickest and shortest column I have ever written on Forbes, so of course it has turned out to be the most read. It has been sitting on top of the Forbes popularity list since about an hour after I wrote it, and currently has 82,000 reads (I am not a Twitter guy but 26,000 tweets seems good).
I wanted to add this clarification to the article:
Most other publications have focused on the 20 mpg the EPA gives the Karma on its backup gasoline engine (example), but my focus is on just how bad the car is even in all electric mode. The calculation in the above article only applies to the car running on electric, and the reduction in MPGe I discuss is from applying the more comprehensive DOE methodology for getting an MPG equivilent, not from some sort of averaging with gasoline mode. Again, see this article if you don’t understand the issue with the EPA methodology.
Press responses from Fisker Automotive highlight the problem here: electric vehicle makers want to pretend that the electricity to charge the car comes from magic sparkle ponies sprinkling pixie dust rather than burning fossil fuels. Take this quote, for example:
a Karma driver with a 40-mile commute who starts each day with a full battery charge will only need to visit the gas station about every 1,000 miles and would use just 9 gallons of gasoline per month.
This is true as far as it goes, but glosses over the fact that someone is still pouring fossil fuels into a tank somewhere to make that electricity. This seems more a car to hide the fact that fossil fuels are being burned than one designed to actually reduce fossil fuel use. Given the marketing pitch here that relies on the unseen vs. the seen, maybe we should rename it the Fisker Bastiat.
I am willing to believe that the initial push into alternative energy subsidies was undertaken with good, honest (though misguided) intentions to change the US energy mix. But once such a program is begun, it inevitably gets turned into cronyism.
The best example is probably corn ethanol. A combination of subsidies and mandates have pushed an enormous proportion of our food supply into gas tanks, for little or even negative environmental effect. Environmentalists and the Left turned against it, but for a few large corporations like ADM, the subsidies have become life and death, and they do anything they have to to get Congress to maintain them.
The best evidence that corn ethanol shifted from a green program to pure cronyism was the imposition of large import tariffs. The only possible purpose of these tariffs was to enrich farmers and a few manufacturers. After all, if one really cared any more about getting more ethanol in the fuel supply, one would welcome low cost imports.
Well, the Solyndra debacle has started to make clear that cronyism has taken over solar subsidies as well. Every day we find yet another high-ranking Obama supporter with his thumb on the scales tilting the DOE funding decision toward Solyndra.
A group of U.S. solar-panel makers Wednesday called on the federal government to punish Chinese rivals with extra duties for allegedly dumping their products on the U.S. market…
The U.S. makers are asking the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission to impose a duty on panels imported from China, a market that totaled $1.6 billion in the first eight months of 2011. SolarWorld accused Chinese manufacturers of selling solar panels at less than half of what the production costs would be in a comparable free-market economy, and is asking for tariffs to make up the difference.
One could argue that this is in direct response to the Solyndra failure. Solyndra's failure has been blamed on low cost panel manufacturing in China. Again, if we care just about energy, we should be thrilled about low-cost Chinese solar panels. If the Chinese government wants to somehow subsidize our consumption of solar panels, great!
Watch this proposal. Any politician that jumps on this solar tariff bandwagon will be saying "My statements about wanting to see more solar usage is just a bluff, I only really care about subsidizing a few selected businesses."
In these grim economic times, one U.S. industry has defied gravity. Not only is it growing, it's thefastest growing industry in the country. It now employs 100,000 Americans at 5,000 mostly small businesses spread across all 50 states. Unlike in so many others, in this industry the U.S. has a positive trade balance with China; it is a net exporter of high-tech manufactured products....
The startling counter-cyclical growth of this industry had been unleashed by a modest bit of economic stimulus: a cash grant program that helps project developers compensate for the crippling credit crunch. In contrast to the familiar tax credits -- which tend to go to large, mature companies that have enough profit to benefit from them -- cash grants help small, innovative, growing businesses that are plowing revenue into growth. In fact, a recent study found that they work twice as well as tax credits. In 2009, this cash grant program pulled in $4.50 of private capital for every public dollar it invested.
The cash grant program expires at the end of the year. Extending it for a single year could support 37,000 additional jobs over and above the industry's baseline. And here's the capper: Since the cash grant program is simply repurposing money that's already devoted to a tax credit program, it requires no new federal revenue.
So you'd think this would be a home run, right? At a time when jobs are at the top of every politician's mind, surely a bit of low-cost economic stimulus that doesn't increase the deficit and leverages tons of private capital and creates tens of thousands of jobs can serve as the rare locus of bipartisan cooperation. Right?
Except the industry in question is the solar industry. And because this industry involves clean energy rather than, I dunno, tractor parts, it has been sucked into conservatives' endless culture war. Rather than lining up to support the recession's rare economic success story, Republicans are trying to use the failure of a single company -- Solyndra -- as a wedge to crush support for the whole industry. Odds are they're going to succeed and the cash grant program (Sec. 1603) won't be renewed next year.
Do you see the basic assumption -- if we don't take money from taxpayers and give it to businesses in a certain industry, that means we don't like that business. Really? That means that there is not a single industry in this country that I like, since I don't support subsidies for any of them. Unless you believe the state is mother and father to us all, the fact that I don't support state subsidies does not mean that I don't like the industry somehow. Kevin Drum even goes so far as to say that opposition to solar power subsidies is an aspect of the culture wars. Huh? Oh and by the way, the politicization of this loan process is just amazing to me. More and more people at Solyndra seem to be fund raisers for Obama, and here is a story of how a cleaning products company turned donations to Democratic candidates into taxpayers subsidies for themselves.
It is interesting that he would mention tractor parts. Guess what, folks who don't like the solar subsidies probably don't support subsidies for tractor parts either. I was going to say something like, "guess what, we don't subsidize tractor parts" but in our screwed up corporate state, we probably do at some level, like with some special export program snagged by a John Deere lobbyist. But I can pretty much guarantee that we don't subsidize anywhere near the total value of the tractor parts industry like we do the solar industry.
In one silly passage, he says
"In addition to being successful, this industry is wildly popular with the American public, across regions, demographics, and political parties. It has been embraced by mainstream institutions from Walmart to the U.S. military"
I could say the same thing for iPods too, but no one is rushing to provide grant programs for their manufacture. If it is so wildly popular, why does its use require so many government incentives and subsidies. Because the author pulls the trick of looking at one narrow solar program, and attributing the entire solar industry growth to that one program. And then he says, see, look how much benefit we get from this tiny sensible expenditure.
But solar's growth (I don't have the data, but I am willing to be real money that his "fastest growing industry" claim is BS) is due not to just this tiny programs but to a plethora of federal, state, and local subsidies and mandates. The government gives money to capitalize companies, and then then provides tax credits for up to 30-50% of their customer's purchase, and then through public utility commissions enforce above-market feed-in tariff rates for solar power. One reason we export so much (the export market for US solar is nearly entirely to Europe) is that European governments have feed-in tariffs for solar power more than 5 times higher than the market rate for electricity. They are paying something like 70 cents a kilowatt for solar electricity.
So of course solar is growing. If the government were to buy small cars for $150,000 each, there would be big growth in car manufacturing. This does not mean the product makes sense -- in fact, the necessity for so many government supports at every step of the process means almost by definition that it does not make sense economically. Look at corn ethanol. Corn ethanol is the stupidest product ever, but it has grown like crazy due to the same combination of government subsidies, price floors, and mandates.
By the way, I am a huge fan of solar, in theory. I honestly think that solar will some day be the power system of choice in this country, as companies figure out how to roll solar sheets out of the factory as cheaply and quickly as carpet comes out of Dalton, Georgia. We are not there yet, and I am not at all convinced that the current approaches are anything but dead end technologies. Beyond wasting a lot of money, there is a real risk the government actually slow ultimate implementation of sensible and economic solar, just as I would argue they did by forcing manned space flight and the transcontinental railroad ahead of their time.
“[Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’”
The irony is that if you grade the equivalent mpg of electric cars by the methodology outlined by Chu's own energy department, the number would be about a third of that. Only by the EPA's flawed methodology do we get equivalent MPG's for electric cars anywhere near 130.
I was going to leave this topic behind, but I just couldn't resist after Krugman's bit of snark on the topic. Please see my new Forbes column here. One bit, actually off topic from the rest of the article, that I added as a postscript:
Perhaps the worst Administration decision of the entire Solyndra affair has yet to receive adequate scrutiny. Just 6 months before Solyndra failed, the Administration allowed Argonaut, the largest shareholder, to grab the senior debtor position from the US taxpayer in exchange for $75 million in new financing. The Administration’s argument was the loan was needed to buy time, but buy time for what? Solyndra’s relative cost position was getting worse, and it was experiencing a huge loss on every unit sold. No one involved has been able to say what the company was counting on to save it in the 6 months this loan bought it, except perhaps the opportunity to cajole another half billion out of the US taxpayer.
But the loan did accomplish two things. First, it gave Solyndra time to sell every liquid asset it owned that might have been of value to…. Argonaut. And once this bit of self-dealing was complete and the company was cleaned out, the bankruptcy process could be entirely controlled by Argonaut such that it will likely end up with all the assets, most important of which seems to be a $500 million dollar tax loss carryforward. If Argonaut can take advantage of these tax shelters, it will end up costing the US taxpayer an additional $150 million or so.
In short, the taxpayer got rolled. Again.
Update: Marc Morano:
'When we had (Gulf) oil spill, we immediately had moratorium on off shore drilling. The oil industry was demonized & literally shut down'
'But after the green energy debacle, they are being feted and rewarded -- $9 billion more is being sent out to 14 more companies...Solar power is less than 1% of our electricity, yet this is being feted'