Posts tagged ‘New Yorkers’

State Science Institute Issues Report on Rearden Metal, err, Fracking

The similarity between the the text of the recent NY report on fracking and the fictional state attack on Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged is just amazing.

Here is the cowardly State Science Institute report on Rearden Metal from Atlas Shrugged, where a state agency attempts to use vague concerns of unproven potential issues to ban the product for what are essentially political reasons (well-connected incumbents in the industry don't want this sort of competition).  From page 173 of the Kindle version:

[Eddie] pointed to the newspaper he had left on her desk. “They [the State Science Institute, in their report on Rearden Metal] haven’t said that Rearden Metal is bad. They haven’t said that it’s unsafe. What they’ve done is . . .” His hands spread and dropped in a gesture of futility. [Dagny] saw at a glance what they had done.

She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear, though the length of this period cannot be predicted. . . . The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted. . . . Although the tensile strength of the metal is obviously demonstrable, certain questions in regard to its behavior under unusual stress are not to be ruled out. . . . Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”

“We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying slowly. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward.

From the recent study used by the State of New York to ban fracking (a process that has been used in the oil field for 60 years or so)

Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation....

...the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State....

The actual degree and extent of these environmental impacts, as well as the extent to which they might contribute to adverse public health impacts are largely unknown. Nevertheless, the existing studies raise substantial questions about whether the public health risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed.

Why is it the Left readily applies the (silly) precautionary principle to every new beneficial technology or business model but never applies it to sweeping authoritarian legislation (e.g. Obamacare)?

A Great Day in Manhattan for $20

I had a great day on Friday in Manhattan for the price of a $20 subway pass.  I did a lot of wandering around and people-watching, but here are three great free activities:

1.  Central Park.  Probably the greatest urban park in the world.  It is gorgeous, and everyone overlooks it.  If you have never strolled the Ramble, you will not believe you are in the middle of Manhattan.

2.  Walk the high-line park.  Another fabulous piece of landscape architecture, an old elevated rail line running north from about 14th street (just a bit south of the Chelsea Market) along the West Side that has been turned into a park and an amazing escape.  You can stroll the waterfront and urban New York without encountering a single car.  It is also incredibly quiet.  And train-lovers will appreciate that the architects kept a lot of the complex track-work as part of the landscape, almost like industrial art.

3.  Walk the Brooklyn Bridge.   I don't know that there is any similar experience anywhere else.  Something New Yorkers and tourists have enjoyed for over a hundred years.

I couldn't stay until magic hour but the view was still tremendous.

In the evening, I did whip out the wallet again and took my daughter to Ellen's Stardust Diner, near 51st and Broadway.  Total tourist trap.  Terrible food.  But an absolute blast every time.  All the waiters are out-of-work Broadway singers and they take turns singing show tunes for the restaurant as they serve.  We have walked out smiling and feeling good every time we have gone.

 

The Worst Polluter

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

  1. New detection technologies at the parts per billion resolution have allowed them to identify and obsess over threats that are essentially non-existent
  2. 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
But there is one actor that is still allowed to pollute at unarguably harmful levels.  You guess it, the government.

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.

Update on My Light Rail Bet: The Energy Issue

I generally have a bet I make for new light (and heavy) commuter rail systems.  I bet that for the amount the system cost to build, every single daily rider could have instead been given a Prius to drive for the same money; and, with the operating losses and/or subsidy the system requires each year, every one of those Prius drivers could be given enough gas to make their daily commute.  And still have money left over.  I have tested this bet for the systems in Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Well, it turns out I left something out.  Many people are interested in commuter rail because it is perceived to be greener, which nowadays generally means narrowly that it uses less energy and thus produces less CO2.  But in fact, it may not.  Blogger John Moore sent me a link to this article by Brad Templeton analyzing energy usage in various transportation modes.  While a full train can be fairly efficient (just as a full SUV could be if 7 passengers were in it), cars and trains and busses are seldom full.  When you look at their average load factors, trains are seldom better than cars:
Transenergy

In fact, a car at its average load factor (1.57 pax) has about the same energy use as busses or light rail per passenger mile.  The analysis is difficult to do well, but even with errors, its clear that rail projects do not dominate over car travel in terms of energy use  (One must be careful to differentiate rail project construction decisions from individual choice of mode decisions -- an individual at the margin shifting from car to train saves a lot of energy;  a city choosing to invest in a large new rail system to entice drivers off the road does not).

In fact, relevent to my bet, Mr. Templeton says this:

My first conclusion is that we would get more efficient by pushing
small, fuel efficient vehicles instead of pushing transit, and at
a lower cost.

He explains his results, which are counter-intuitive to many

A full bus or trainload of people is more efficient than private cars,
sometimes quite a bit more so.   But transit systems never consist
of nothing but full vehicles.   They run most of their day with light
loads.  The above calculations came from figures citing the
average city bus holding 9 passengers, and the average train (light
or heavy) holds 22.   If that seems low, remember that every packed
train at rush hour tends to mean a near empty train returning down
the track.

Transit vehicles also tend to stop and start a lot, which eats
a lot of energy, even with regenerative braking.   And most
transit vehicles are just plain heavy, and not very aerodynamic.
Indeed, you'll see tables in the DoE reports that show that over the past 30 years,
private cars have gotten 30% more efficient, while buses have
gotten 60% less efficient and trains about 25% worse.   The
market and government regulations have driven efforts to make cars
more efficient, while transit vehicles have actually worsened.

In order to get people to ride transit, you must offer frequent
service, all day long.  They want to know they have the freedom to leave at
different times.  But that means emptier vehicles outside of
rush hour.   You've all seen those huge empty vehicles go by, you just
haven't thought of how anti-green they were.    It would be better
if off-hours transit was done by much smaller vehicles, but that
implies too much capital cost -- no transit agency will buy enough
equipment for peak times and then buy a second set of equipment for
light demand periods.

A lot of his data can be checked at the US Department of Energy data book here.  In particular, you can see the key numbers in table 2.12.  After perusing this data for a bit, I had a few other reactions:

  • Commercial air travel gets a bad rap.  On a passenger mile basis, it is really not worse than driving and only about 20% worse than Amtrack  (and probably the same as Amtrak or better if you leave out the Northeast Corridor). (table 2.14)
  • Busses have really gotten way more inefficient over the years, at the same time cars have become substantially more efficient.  While the government criticizes its citizens for not practicing enough energy conservation, in fact its citizens have been buying more and more fuel efficient vehicles while the government has been buying less efficient vehicles.  (table 2.13)
  • While passenger cars have increased substantially in efficiency, over the road trucks have seen no progress, and have actually gotten less efficient over the last 10 years (table 2-18)

Make sure to read the whole article.  I think the author is pretty fair at achnowleging where the uncertainties are in the analysis.  He also has comparisons of mass transit energy numbers between cities.  A few individual cities seem to beat even the most efficient cars -- most, including places like New York, do not.

Postscript:  I don't think numbers for New York include taxis.  If they did, New York would likely look terrible.  From an energy standpoint, taxis are a horrible transportation option, perhaps the worst possible.  It would be interesting to know how many New Yorkers who look down on SUV's routinely get around town using taxis.

The Patented NY Times Sneer

Yesterday, I talked about my fondness for private conservation projects.  Today, the NY Times makes it clear that they are not so fond of private conservation.  In an article about environmentalist-triggered death of logging in the west, the Times observes that many rich folks are taking up the opportunity to buy large tracts of western forests for second homes and ranches.

William P. Foley II pointed to the mountain. Owns it, mostly. A timber
company began logging in view of his front yard a few years back. He
thought they were cutting too much, so he bought the land.

Mr. Foley belongs to a new wave of investors and landowners across the
West who are snapping up open spaces as private playgrounds on the
borders of national parks and national forests.

Cool, a win-win -- conservation without use of tax funds or government coersion.  But instead of being thrilled, the Times adopts their patented sneering tone they use with anything having to do with wealth.

The rise of a new landed gentry in the West is partly another
expression of gilded age economics in America; the super-wealthy elite
wades ashore where it will.

Hmm, I would have thought it an example of how increases in wealth in the US has always driven higher environmental standards and more conservation.  The NY Times tries to portray this as something like turning national parks into sprawling suburbs, lamenting the "increase in density," but this is just a joke and a product of a bunch of New Yorkers who have never really spent time in Montana.  There is zero danger of any kind of urbanization here, and their very story belies this fact when it talks about 640 acre lot sizes. 

The real problem for them seems to be one of access, and they lament that these new owners tend to put up no trespassing signs rather than allowing public access as private loggers used to.  But in so arguing, the Times is trying to have it both ways.  Eliminating recreation access from western lands is a HUGE priority for environmentalists.  In fact, though many in America don't know it, within a few decades it may be impossible to drive into national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.  I know and work with the management of the National Parks, and many of their leaders do not consider their job finished until they get all the visitors out of the parks.  So throwing up no trespassing signs to recreators is exactly what environmentalists want on these lands.  What they don't like, because many are openly socialist, is private ownership of these lands.  They know that increasingly, because they have gotten so good at filing lawsuits and forcing public lands officials to do their bidding, that public ownership means, effectively, ownership by the environmental groups. 

What Else is Next?

Steven Milloy, author of the indispensable Junkscience.com, points out that Harvard's Ascherio and WIllet, authors of the study on which NYC's transfat ban was based, have also identified dangers of a similar magnitude and with similar statistical significance (the latter admittedly low, but it was low for their transfat conclusions as well) of:

  • Sunflower oil
  • Red meat
  • Dairy products
  • Soft drinks

If NYC is consistent in its logic, then it must ban these other substances.  These substances showed the same level (or greater) of health risks at the same level of scientific proof by the same study authors. 

Now that the Board has deemed their dubious trans fats research
suitable for dictating public policy, New Yorkers ought to hope that
Ascherio and Willett don't press the Board to implement some of their
other published research that is similar in "quality" to their trans
fats work.

 

New Yorkers could, for example, see restaurants
banned from serving potatoes, peas, peanuts, beans, lentils, orange
juice and grapefruit juice. Ascherio-Willett reported an increase in
the risk of heart disease among consumers of these foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine
(June 2001). Although none of those slight correlations were
statistically meaningful -- and, in all probability, were simply
meaningless chance occurrences -- a similar shortcoming didn't seem to
matter to the Board when it came to their trans fats research.

Save the Coyotes, the Steelers Fans, and the Bagel Eaters

Once and a while, I like to put in a plug for Overlawyered.com, which is a great place to keep up with the wacky and increasingly scary world of jackpot litigation and over-regulation. Just keep scrolling.

Catching my eye is this piece from Canada
, concerning my "extended family":

"A Vancouver woman is suing the city and the B.C. government for
allegedly failing to keep the streets safe after her pet cat was killed
by two coyotes....In a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court,
[Judith] Webster says she's suffered and continues to suffer from
post-traumatic stress and/or adjustment disorder, loss of enjoyment of
life, and loss of past and future earnings."

Arizona has gotten a lot of press for its shoot to kill order on wild animals in inhabited areas, engendered by a similar suit against the state.  Environmentalists have made common cause successfully for years with the tort bar, but one wonders if these kinds of suits may drive a wedge between them.

By the way, did anyone see that guy in Pittsburg who had a heart attack in a bar when Jerome Bettis fumbled the ball late in the 4th quarter against Indy?  I wonder if he will be suing the Steelers for "post-traumatic stress and/or adjustment disorder, loss of enjoyment of
life, and loss of past and future earnings"?

The other piece that caught my attention was this, from New York:

"Last summer, [New
York City's] health department launched a campaign against trans-fats.
Often used by restaurants and in packaged foods, trans-fats are thought
to cause cholesterol problems and increase the risk of heart disease.
After restaurant inspectors found that 30 percent of the city's 30,000
eateries were using oils that contain trans-fats, the department began
urging a citywide ''oil change.'' Officials sent letters to food
service operators and started teaching workers about trans-fats along
with their required food safety training. The city plans another survey
this spring to measure the results of the project. Officials next want
to tackle portion sizes. Towering pastrami sandwiches, bagels with
gooey schmears of cream cheese and pizza slices that spill over paper
plates may be the city's culinary landmarks, but the health department
says the Big Apple is out of control."

Which makes the NYC health department officials the only New Yorkers I have ever heard complain about getting too much for their money.