Category Archives: Energy

Bobby Jindal and the two-faces of the modern Republican Party

Today on NPR I was listening to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal talking about how the Federal Government hadn’t done enough to protect Louisiana’s coastline.  Since this seems to be a continuing trend of Republicans and conservatives, I thought I would do my homework about what Bobby Jindal’s stance was about drilling, oil, energy, and the Feds.

To make sure that I heard things correctly, I pulled up several other sources to verify that I heard this staunch anti-big-government Republican say that the Feds had not responded quickly or adequately enough.  From Reuters: “The U.S. Coast Guard and BP failed to take decisions quickly enough and delayed supplying necessary clean-up equipment even as oil washes onto the state’s fragile marshland, said Governor Bobby Jindal.”

In his 2009 GOP response to Obama’s speech: “… we need urgent action to keep energy prices down” including “increase[d] drilling for oil and gas here at home.”  He also believes that “Democratic leaders in Washington – they place their hope in federal government.  We [the Republicans] place our hope in you, the American people. …. We oppose the National Democratic view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government.”

Digging even a little bit farther back, shows that he was a sponsor of the “Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act (HR 4761)” which was a bill to eliminate the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling.  That’s correct, Governor  (then-Representative) Jindal supported offshore drilling.  The same type of offshore drilling that is now polluting Louisiana coastlines.

Now he is crying out for the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a series of sand berms across the coastline to protect it from oil and hurricanes.  Note: That is the US Army, not the Louisiana National Guard.  (Yes, that is a cheap shot, because the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction, not the Louisiana National Guard… but it helps prove the point.)

Other prominent Louisiana politicians also have their hands in dirty oil money, primarily Republicans, with one Democratic standout: Representative Charlie Melancon.

For once I wish that the same people who beg for federal assistance would put their money where their mouth is: If you don’t want government assistance, then stop asking for it when things go wrong.  Research done by the Tax Foundation also supports this.  For every $1.00 of tax money sent to the feds, Louisiana received $1.45 back.  

So, I would like to put out a proposal to the Republican party: Why don’t you make full disclosure over just how much federal money you have turned down, how many ear-marked bills you culled for your own district, and put the money where your mouth is.  You ask for offshore drilling and little regulation, and you’ve gotten it.  I just wonder how many people affected by the spill were there chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill” during the last presidential election…

South Dakota supports Astrology

A rather interesting excerpt from proposed legislation in South Dakota (emphasis added).  I’ll just let this one stand on its own….

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty fifth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature urges that instruction in the public schools relating to global warming 14 include the following:

(1) That global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact;

(2) That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena and 18 that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative; and

(3) That the debate on global warming has subsumed political and philosophical 20 viewpoints which have complicated and prejudiced the scientific investigation of 21 global warming phenomena; and …

Nuclear revival in the US?

Yesterday, the NY Times had an article about US funding for 2 new nuclear plants in Georgia (the state, not the country).  I am cautiously optimistic about this project, while at the same time dreading it.  I have long been a supporter of nuclear energy, since the science behind radiation is much more well understood than the interactions related to climate change.  However, I believe that supporters need to be clear in what nuclear energy is, and is not.

In so much as it is used to replace or prevent construction of coal burning (or probably natural gas as well) power plants, this is a good idea.  However, nuclear energy is not emissions free.  Concrete is associated with large quantities of CO2 emissions, and uranium mining has its own environmental drawbacks based on how it is performed.  More importantly, there is no federal repository for nuclear waste.  Instead it is collecting at the individual nuclear power plant sites across the US.

Regarding overall CO2 emissions, I am a fan of nuclear because it can provide low emissions baseload power.  That is, they can run essentially 24/7.  They are highly reliable as well, and are not intermittent (nor do they have the associated problems with intermittent).  Perhaps one day, in a few decades, other alternatives might be cost effective and reliable, such as storage, but until then, we need something that can reduce baseload emissions in a (fairly) clean manner.  And, I believe, that nuclear power is the best way forward…. for now.

Bin Laden, Climate Change, and Extremism

A new Bin Laden tape strikes out against the US… on its environmental platform?

He comes out against industrialized countries for not halting climate change, and then goes into the usual blame game.  This time however, his intent was “to inflict harm on the US economy” by encouraging nations to switch away from the greenback to other currencies.

While undoubtedly true, it is also hard to deny that those “other currencies” also come from the largest polluter (China), and one of the top exporters of GHG emitting fuels in the world (Russia), so it’s not really an accurate portrayal of the world.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of Bin Laden (with the size of the Bin Laden family construction business) coming out against climate change, when I am fairly certain most of the ardent followers of Bin Laden probably don’t believe in climate change (not that I know this for certain, religious-types tend towards lack of trust in science).

However, the more important part of the announcement is the shift towards environmental topics.  I believe it indicates that Bin Laden’s core ideology is losing strength, support, and relevance due to his isolation in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  This is an attempt to expand his reach and scope, despite the fact that a great deal of existing environmental damage is due to overpopulation and poor management of existing resources.

It is interesting to see Al Qaeda/Bin Laden adopt an environmental plank to their platform, however, ultimately the logic fails.  Shifting from the greenback to another currency will do little to nothing to affect or impact climate change.  Instead it merely promotes the misunderstanding and self-gratification, based on a slender kernel of truth, that extremists so largely operate under.

North Dakota, Minnesota, and carbon taxes

North Dakota has announced its intention to sue Minnesota over a proposed electrical generation carbon tax.

This should prove an interesting case for the courts.

Now, why would North Dakota be angry about Minnesota introducing an electrical generation carbon tax?  Because it exports electricity to Minnesota, which is its only sizable neighbor.  It also uses coal almost exclusively for its power generation.  Cheap, dirty coal.  Now, for those who are proponents of coal, as a nationally produced resource, I agree that it contributes to energy security from that angle.  However, the environmental costs of coal mining and coal-burning are well-known and documented.  In the US, a recent example in 2008 was the sludge that broke free of a dam in Tennessee.  The costs so far are approaching $1,000 million.

In some research I did a number of years back, preliminary carbon cost adder estimates to impact a state using primarily coal-fired power were in the $250+ per ton of emissions.  That is around 20 times what carbon is trading for in European markets, and about 2.5 times greater than most estimates I’ve even heard bandied about for a “high” carbon tax.  Needless to say, I do not think North Dakota faces a serious threat.  Now, Americans for Prosperity claims that it is “a significant carbon dioxide tax” while the reported amount from Scientific American is $3 – $34, hardly a “significant” level.  (In California, which pays MUCH higher rates for electricity, $50 per ton is about what it takes to shift the market away from fossil-fired power plants).  Additionally, retail sales have grown in Minnesota year over year (data reported as recent as 2007 – excel file), which would place an increase in demand, somewhat, if not entirely counteracting the effects of a carbon tax.

What strikes me as truly funny about the entire situation, is that North Dakota is considered “the Saudi Arabia of wind.” California has been discussing building the transmission necessary to get wind from Wyoming to California, yet North Dakota can’t get their energy across a single state line?  That thought aside, there is already transmission running from North Dakota to Minnesota… you’d just need to tie in the wind generation and ramp down the coal-fired plants a bit.

In all, I find North Dakota’s reluctance odd.  They have a neighbor willing to buy energy, have bountiful wind resources, yet they do not want to sell clean energy (apparently since they are against the tax that would also disadvantage generators of fossil-fuels regardless of location) to a state that wants to purchase it.  If that is not a perfect case of starting to internalize an externality (Wikipedia definition) and then letting the free-market resolve the situation, I don’t know what is.

Copenhagen: trials and delays

The climate talks in Copenhagen have ground to a halt, for the usual litany of reasons that have derailed any real action since the Rio Conference (Earth Summit) in 1992. 

  • It’s too expensive.
  • It’s not our fault – it’s yours.
  • We don’t want to delay economic development.
  • It’s not really happening / God makes it happen / Denial

Those are four of what I consider to be the top reasons that states choose not to act in the face of overwhelming evidence for climate change.  As I have said before, I do not care the causes for climate change.  They are real and they are happening.  At the best case, the chemicals societies spew into the air, water, and land are causing health impacts.  At the worst, they are causing climate change that will devastate millions, if not billions of people. 

However, the skeptics in the US are joining skeptics across the globe in an interesting Christian-Muslim alliance (sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that out there) — Senator Inhofe (whose Senate homepage, as of 12/15 had a nice pictorial icon for a link to a Senate Minority report) and Mohammad Al-Sabban (Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator) are on the same page.  Now, what has inspired this close alliance between these two parties?  A love of black gold – OIL.  Saudi Arabia, as many of you know, is the top exporter of oil.  According to Senator Inhofe received a meager $662,506 from oil companies between 2000 – 2008.  Or, to put it in perspective, Senator Inhofe receives nearly twice as much per year on average from oil companies than the per capita GDP of the US (The CIA’s World Factbook puts US GDP/capita at $46,000).

Does the US, Europe, and other advanced economies bear the lion’s share for polluting the air with greenhouse gasses?  Yes.  Do we have a collective responsibility to help others deal with the impacts / help reduce the impacts of climate change? Yes.  Does the developing world need to sit by and do nothing? No.

Developing countries need to do as much to reduce their contributions of greenhouse gasses as possible.  This does include the need for clean technologies such as solar PV, and small wind and hydro to create clean electricity.  But the developing countries need to realize that a political solution will never be possible unless they too are willing to abide by some metric for containing their emissions and environmental damage.

To think that others will do what you will not is the height of folly.  It is why I believe the GOP arguments about climate change policy in the US being against national security is the height of stupidity.  Most measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US revolve around moving away from fossil fuels and on to renewables.  A situation which will only reduce dependence on foreign oil, not increase it.  Additionally, it is possible to imagine a situation where the US would become a net exporter of renewable energy sources — making foreign countries dependent on us, not the other way around.  Why?  Because last time I checked, the Arabian Peninsula was a pretty sunny place.

US leadership and Copenhagen

According to an article on the BBC, the US will announce an emissions reduction goal before the Copenhagen conference next month.

While the expected numbers are nothing too drastic, for once in the last decade, it shows the US taking leadership on environmental responsibility and action.  Hopefully, with the announcement of the US at long last setting reductions goals, China, India, and other countries will finally feel an obligation to begin reducing their emissions.  Yes, the US is responsible for the bulk of global emissions.  However, other countries are rapidly beginning to achieve US levels of consumption, and the corresponding emissions.  Most of China does not have the mechanization or commercial items that the US does, but their emissions on a per-year basis now exceed the US.  India is closing the gap.  And this gap will only become more pronounced as these two, very large, educated, and increasingly wealthy countries begin to increase the number and wealth of people in the middle class.

However, US action might help forestall this.  There are two key elements I see going into the Copenhagen conference: binding US emissions goals, and assistance to developing countries.  The first will be harder to push through Congress.  Too many Senators and Representatives are willing to turn their backs on revolutionizing the American economy and on science in the face of listening to the masses.  Or Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, two well-known and respected scientists…

The other point, developing countries, require a revolution in how foreign assistance is handed out.  Rather than food aid, improved methods of growing crops, technological assistance, and other forms of long-term solutions should be used.  Additionally, clean distributed technologies should be emphasized in place of central station power plants.  This will help reduce government control over areas (potentially aiding democracy), reduce environmental impacts from running transmission, and in the long-term has little cost outside of panel / turbine installation (PV in particular, since wind turbines have moving parts, there are more O&M costs).  This has the added benefit of reducing emissions (in the case where renewable energy can replace burning wood or other resources for cooking and lighting), and helping provide the benefits of electrification.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of both the US, and Copenhagen, but I don’t have my hopes up in either case.  But maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.