November 28, 2022

Note to Legislature: First Do No Harm

The price of home heating oil has almost doubled since you passed the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Just before we knew Covid was hitting us in February of 2020, the Vermont House overwhelmingly passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in order to reduce greenhouse gas emission. The average price for home heating oil in the US that February was $2.89/gallon. Advocates of the bill felt that this price was too low to give Vermonters an economic incentive to switch off fossil fuel; but a legislature which faces reelection every two years doesn’t dare just openly add a huge tax to raise the price of home heating. Instead the legislature set up an unelected council to come up with schemes to force a switch from fossil fuels.

In 2021, when the price of home heating oil was still under $3.00/gallon, the council duly proposed the Clean Heat Standard, a scheme to force natural gas, propane and heating oil dealers to either switch their customers to “renewable” heating sources or purchase clean energy credits. Either way, users of fossil fuel would end up subsidizing those who switched to renewables. The cost of fossil fuel would go up; the price of renewables would be lowered by yet more subsidies. The price difference would incent the fuel switching the legislature wanted without the necessity of any legislator voting directly on a price increase for home heating.

Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill and fortunately that veto was upheld (by just one vote). However, thanks to President Biden’s fossil-fuel-hostile policy with an assist from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fans of higher fuel prices have gotten more than they dared hope for. The average price of home heating oil in the US was $5.43 in the week ending November 21, 2022 – almost twice the price when the Vermont House first passed GWSA! There’s a good chance that price will go even higher this winter.

If you believed that higher prices were needed to save the planet, you’ve got them. Vermonters are currently worried about heating their homes. They would gladly adopt alternatives which are cheaper than oil or propane. No need to raise the price of oil further, is there? Of course not.

So what should this legislative session do to reduce Vermont’s net emissions?

At first glance the voters seem to have sent a mixed message. They gave Democrats and Progressives, many of whom emphasized environmental action, an even greater super majority with which they might override vetoes. On the other hand, these same voters also reelected Republican Phil Scott, who vetoed the Clean Heat Standard, with a margin greater than that any Republican Governor has had since Democrats reemerged in the State half a century ago.

A reasonable interpretation of the apparently mixed message is that we voters would like to see climate action which does not push soaring energy prices even higher. Fortunately we have such an alternative.

Trees remove atmospheric CO2 by using sunlight to break it down and then storing much of the resulting carbon in the tree and in the ground, a process called sequestration. Removing a pound of CO2 from the atmosphere has the same effect on climate as avoiding a pound of emissions. CO2 sequestration by trees is fast emerging as a practical way to reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and net emissions. The 2018 UN IPCC Report lists reforestation as the cheapest alternative per pound of CO2 removed from the atmosphere compared both to other ways of removing CO2 and to strategies for reducing emissions. Plans from the recent COP 27 climate summit rely heavily on forest preservation and restoration.

Vermont is over 75% forested. In 2018 (the last year we have information for), Vermont forests REMOVED 5.2 MMT CO2-e (metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere. (I and others have argued that this number should be much higher this number is estimated according to standards and methodologies which are generally accepted nationally and blessed by the UN so let’s go with it). Forest management with an emphasis on carbon sequestration (which does NOT preclude logging) could easily increase this number by 20% over the next decade. Huge progress towards the goals in the GWSA.

“There are up to 536,000 acres of opportunity in Vermont to restore forest cover for climate mitigation. Reforesting these areas with approximately 291 million trees could capture 1.65 million tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to removing 355,000 cars from the road.” [sic. The funny spelling means that these are metric tons – 1000Kg each]. This quote is from Reforestation Hub, a website run by the Nature Conservancy. Much of this land is in already abandoned or failing dairy farms. Farmers would gain by having a new market for the land.

At most we must reduce 1.28 million tons to meet the 2025 goal in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).  We can get there easily.

The feds are making billions of (our) money available for forest management and reforestation under both the recently passed Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act (sic). This year the legislature and the governor can and should concentrate on using those funds effectively towards climate goals by establishing forest management and reforestation programs. That’s the kind of cooperation and climate action we voters would like to see.

See also:

Draft Report Says We’re Well Along the Way to Our 2050 Net Zero Goal

Trees Are the Right End of the Stick for CO2 Reduction in Vermont

Governor Phil Scott(R) Wins Huge Victory in Dark Blue Vermont

November 22, 2022

Trump Was the Middle Finger of the Proletariat

Trumpenfinger
Trumpenfinger by Jack Morris


The Trumpenfinger to the elite wasn’t meant to be pretty.

I’m being optimistic in using the past tense about the former president. I do hope he’s fading from the political scene. However, there are important reasons why almost half the voters supported him in 2016 and 2020 and why so many remain loyal to him today. We ignore those reasons and those votes democratically cast at our own peril and, yes, at the peril of democracy.

Start with the Trump policies which have carried on into the Biden administration.

Trump said immigration was out of control; I thought that was xenophobia. Didn’t think we needed a wall. But immigration is out of control. Border towns have been given the impossible burden of millions of people pouring in. Liberal “sanctuary cities” whine when a few busloads are sent their way. Biden triedT to continue Trump’s COVID-prevention excuse to turn migrants away at the border; but a federal judge has just ruled that out. Hispanic voters increasingly support Republican efforts to stop illegal immigration.  Yes, there should be a better path to citizenship. Yes, we need workers. But part of the signal sent with the Trumpenfinger was that elites were, perhaps deliberately, ignoring the problem of a broken border and the effect on real people.

Trump said the US had struck bad trade deals in the interest of globalization. He pointed to China as an example of a country taking advantage of our liberal trade rules. Again he was accused of xenophobia and racism. Biden has doubled down on a hostile China policy. Apparently the people pointing the Trumpenfinger were right.

This is not just a left-right thing at all. Corruption in the “bipartisan” middle is what enraged both the left-wing Occupy Wall Street and the right-wing Tea Party movements when not only banks but also bank investors and over-compensated bank officers were bailed out during the great recession. Lately the only bipartisan bill which passed was the Chips Act, a subsidy for some of the most successful corporations in the world which make computer chips – and whose executives and investors can be counted on to remember their friends with campaign contributions. Neither Republicans nor Democrats, who each had a turn at controlling the presidency and both houses of congress, have managed to repeal the outrageous carried-interest tax loophole for venture capitalists. Trumpenfinger! But Trump didn’t get rid of it either. Lately President Biden decided that the Americans most in need of relief are those who attended over-priced colleges on credit

Hilary Clinton called the people who didn’t agree with her “deplorables”. Understandably, they gave her the Trumpenfinger. “Liberals” say that those who don’t agree with them on abortion are in favor of enslaving women; those who don’t agree that the US is and always has been a fundamentally racist society are extreme racists; those who don’t want sexuality discussed in school until at least fourth grade are irremediably homophobic; those who are openly patriotic are fascists; police should be abolished in the interest of reducing crime (this from people living in buildings with doormen and enclaves with private security). The Trumpenfinger is an understandable response.

January 6th was inexcusable. Trump egging on people and then claiming the secret service wouldn’t “let” him join them is deplorable – and cowardly. Trump, the messenger, decided that he was the indispensable messiah. That doesn’t work either.

Trump should, and hopefully will, fade away. He is no longer a useful vehicle for other politican’s ambition. Some of the message he was elected to bring has been absorbed. We endanger democracy, however, if we ignore the rest of the message or denigrate our fellow citizens who delivered the Trumpenfinger to shatter our complacency.

November 14, 2022

Governor Phil Scott(R) Wins Huge Victory in Dark Blue Vermont

But has an even huger job ahead of him.

Ron DeSantis won newly red Florida by 19 points. Republican Governor Phil Scott won reelection here in Vermont with an historic 47-point margin over his Democrat opponent! This was apparently the highest margin for any Republican governor in the country and a modern-day record for a Republican in Vermont. In 2020 Vermont was the first state to be called for Joe Biden and gave him a larger percentage of its vote, 66%, than any other state. The first senate race called in the country last Tuesday was the election of Peter Welch(D) as Vermont senator. The Green Mountain State, home to Bernie Sanders, elected all Democrats to other statewide offices. Abortion rights were on the ballot here and won overwhelmingly. But none of this stopped Republican Scott from being reelected with an even greater margin than he had two years ago after leading the state calmly and excellently through the pandemic and being one of the first governors to terminate his own emergency powers.

Scott is scarcely a Trump Republican. As early as 2016 he made clear that he would not vote for the Donald even though he was his party’s nominee.  He spoke in favor of the abortion rights amendment to the Vermont constitution. He has signed some tighter gun control legislation as well as opposing some. He worked hard to prevent masking and school closures from becoming divisive social issues.

Scott is quoted in VTDigger: “Vermonters spoke loudly, and clearly. They want their leaders to focus on the economy, affordability and protecting the vulnerable. They want centrists, moderation and balance. They want us to be able to debate the issues with civility, seek consensus where possible, compromise when necessary, and agree to disagree when no compromise can be found.”

Vermonters apparently also want some balance. Scott cast a record number of vetoes as governor. Amazingly some were upheld even though Democrats and Progressives together had a “veto-proof” majority in both the house and the Senate. At the same time that Vermonters gave Scott his huge victory, they also increased the Democratic and Progressive majority in the House of Representatives and maintained an overwhelming left-leaning Senate majority.

These majorities are why it will be very hard for Scott over the next two years. The Democrats and allies are already discussing, of course, the legislation they plan to pass without having to worry about a veto. This legislation includes potentially huge unfunded mandates, “environmental” legislation which will both drive up energy costs significantly and, IMO, be bad for the environment, and housing schemes which will result in higher housing costs and less availability of housing.

In the past there was some negotiation between the Governor’s office and legislative leaders over potential legislation since there was always a chance that a Scott veto would be upheld – as some were. With an even larger majority, there will be less inducement to compromise; and legislation will be more partisan and ideologically driven. Initiatives from the Governor are not likely to receive much attention but are needed to provide positive solutions to very real environmental, workforce, and housing problems.

We Vermonters must let our legislators know that they do want thoughtful rather than ideological legislating. Hopefully we’ll get the “moderation and balance” that Scott talked about. And hopefully the rest of the country will as well.

See also:

Leadership in Extreme Disruption

November 03, 2022

Most of Us Will Be Somewhat Disappointed by Election Results

Will we accept them?

The only certainty about Tuesday’s election is that almost half of us are certain to be disappointed by the results. If Rs win the House and Ds keep the Senate, more than half of us will be disappointed. Local results have the potential to add each of us to the disappointed ranks.

So are we going to act like Donald Trump and Stacey Abrams and refuse to recognize defeat? Are we going to question the legitimacy of those we didn’t vote for? Are we going to blame fraud, lies, media bias, advertising, the Russians, or someone else? Are we going to help assure that elected leaders fail or will we hope they succeed for the good of the country even if we’d like to replace them in the next election?

There have been and will be fraud, lies, media bias, advertising and the Russians at least exist. There should be recounts in close elections. There should be swift and thorough investigations of fraud and suppression allegations with prosecutions of any guilty parties resulting. Faith in elections must be constantly validated.

Media bias and lying politicians of all stripes have been with us since the birth of the republic – and in its predecessors. They don’t invalidate elections. We’re the jury and we must decide whom to believe about what. That’s the way democracy (and advertising) works.

In these very polarized times (but not most polarized times – we did have a civil war), it’s easy for people on either side to be incredulous that the other side really won. “Everybody I know voted for HRC. Trump could have only won because the Russians got to the deplorables.” Or “Everybody I know voted for Trump. Biden could only have won because of boatloads of fake ballots and rigged voting machines.”  

Back when I was a kid in Brooklyn, we knew the Dodger’s woulda won if we wuzn’t robbed by duh tree blind mice (umpires). We didn’t take ourselves too seriously, though, and learned to wait ‘til next year.

Voting is the best defense of democracy; neither side has a monopoly on either democratic virtue or totalitarian vice. Policing elections against both rigging and intimidation is essential and is nothing new. Accepting the fact that your fellow citizens decided to vote differently than you and everybody you know wants them to act is what ultimately makes this country work. Then you wait for next year and work like hell to vote the bastards out – assuming you haven’t changed your mind.

Good luck to the USA Tuesday. May the best people (or the lesser of evils) win every race.

See also:

Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

Are You Ready to Accept Defeat at the Polls?

October 24, 2022

Oil Companies Profit Because We Shut Off Russian Competition

They can’t be allowed to sit on their assets.

The Wall Street Journal has a story about President Biden’s feeble attempt to increase US oil production by promising to refill the strategic reserve at a low price. Up until now he has discouraged drilling and promised to end the use of fossil fuels. He’s complained about oil company profits; but what’s he’s actually done is made it easier for them to profit greatly by restricting new supply in the absence of Russian competition. According to the WSJ:

“Energy executives and analysts expressed doubts the plan would spur a large increase in production in the short term…. They hope to capture high oil prices while they are in place. Rising drilling costs and pressure from investors to limit production and return excess cash to shareholders are also dimming the outlook for production growth…”

Time for the oil companies and the President to get off the dime. More US oil needs to flow immediately - both to keep driving, trucking, and heating costs down domestically and to preserve Europe’s ability and will to forgo Russian oil. This is cold war 2.0 (let’s hope it stays cold for us) and profiteering is not acceptable, especially from companies which are being protected from competition. Three steps’ll do it:

  1. An immediate huge sale of oil and gas leases on federal land but only to those who will both drill immediately on the new leaseholds and increase production from their current holdings. This is an offer that the oil company investors won’t be able to say no to because they run the risk that their competitors will get the leases.
  2. Expedited permitting – really expedited – but, again, only for those who will increase production now on existing and newly permitted locations. If some permitting is being expedited, some will get delayed. Those who don’t want to increase production can wait.
  3. A windfall profits tax. I’m a free-market fiscal conservative. However, since we’re protecting these companies from Russian, Iranian, and Venezuelan competition, they are not operating in a free market. They are benefitting from the embargos. Because our goal is increased production, companies should be able to escape the excess profits tax by plowing those profits back into immediately increased drilling.

The first two steps can and should be taken by executive order. The President, who has been very strong in his support of Ukraine, needs to defy the extreme left of his party and get the oil flowing that’ll let us and our allies deny Putin his energy weapon. The third step takes Congressional action which should happen in the lame duck session after the election. Some on the right will object to the windfall profits tax. Some in the middle will try to protect the oil companies. The left won’t want an exception for more drilling. Nevertheless, when Americans get their oil bills this winter, there’ll be plenty of public support for making sure oil companies don’t get to profiteer during a war by sitting on their assets.

See also:

OPEC Plus Wants $100/Barrel (So Does Big Oil)

The Dynamo of Democracy

October 20, 2022

Amazon Algorithm Confirms My Bias

Monday I blogged the good news that the latest UN study projects world population topping out late in this century and then declining. I opined that this is yet one more good reason to avoid climate panic and act rationally  and effectively.

Tuesday Amazon sent me an email with the suggestions below:

Amazon

The projected population decline, although not the UN report which is very recent, Is one of the highlights of Ten Global Trends. The need to avoid climate panic is the thesis of False Alarm.

“Hmm,” I thought, “Amazon is reading my blog and basing suggestions on it.” Turns out not to be true and I don’t read my posts to Alexa either.

“Everybody now thinks (and writes) what I think,” I thought next. Wrong again.

The explanation is very simple: I ordered Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet from Amazon last week. Jeff Bezos thought I’d like to read more of the same.

Can’t blame Amazon for selling me more like what I already read. What would be really useful for society, although not for selling books, would be to suggest books on the same subject but with a different point of view rather than reinforcing the biases I already have. Not sure I’d buy them, though.

See also: Malthus Was Very Wrong

October 17, 2022

Malthus Was Very Wrong

Time to rethink almost everything.

In 2019 the UN Population Report predicted that the world population would reach 10.9 billion people by 2100 and still be growing. In the 2022 version of that report, the population is expected to peak at 10.4 billion people during the 2080s. “Today,” according to the UN, “two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run for a population with low mortality.”

1-Total population

Much of the population increase in the short term comes from an increase in life expectancy. We geezers don’t contribute new fertile members of society. By 2100, the UN predicts the fertility rate worldwide will be well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (see graph below). If so, world population will be declining.

6-Total fertility

Predictions, can, of course, be wrong and, as we see, are subject to revision. Experience is leading to successively lower population estimates. The trend towards lower fertility with greater affluence is the exact opposite of Malthus’ assertion that population will grow as resources grow and always outstrip resources. Hard for him to imagine either effective birth control or women being in control of reproduction. Lower and lower population growth is already baked in for the next few decades because there are simply fewer women of child-bearing age and below than there were (the number of men is largely irrelevant).

China is a prime example. Its population has already peaked and is poised for precipitous decline. The one-child policy and the preference of parents for a male child doomed it to shrinking population for at least the rest of the century.

China

So what’s this all mean?

There is some significant bad news. As the populations age rapidly, there are less and less working people to support each of us retired geezers. Social security trust funds are in danger. Even if we saved enough for retirement, who is going to grow the food and make the goods we still consume? Who’s going to fix stuff that breaks? Less workers and more consumers means… inflation.

But there is more good news. Eventually declining populations need less food and goods. For a while total demand will increase as populations come out of poverty; but, as populations eventually decline, demand stabilizes and then decreases.

We won’t have as many workers but those we do have will be more productive because of technological progress in energy, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, communication, and logistics. After a painful transition, we can have a world of abundance. Abundance means… deflation. Sure, as goods get cheaper there will be some increase in demand, but it’ll be easily satisfied.

The future will be very different and can be much better!

One example: Today we have a critical shortage of lithium to make batteries; that’s a real problem because we need so many new batteries. But fast-forward twenty years to when all cars are electric and the car population is shrinking rather than growing along with the human population. Lithium is close to 100% recyclable so lithium from retiring batteries is sufficient for new batteries. Almost no mining required. Yes, we have to get through the next couple of decades; but then the problems really do shrink and disappear.

Another example: as food poverty (which is largely a problem of war, corruption, and logistics now) is solved and population declines, less acres need to be in agriculture. More acres can be reforested. Net greenhouse gas emissions go down. Less yield is needed per acre so less pressure to use fertilizer and pesticides. Spot delivery of nutrition and protection by GPS-guided farm tools also reduce the impact of agriculture. Nirvana so long as we can get there

And energy: demand will shrink both with population and continuing technical progress. My 100-watt incandescent bulbs are replaced with 6 watt (or less) LEDs. The fuel efficiency of gasoline cars has greatly increased; electric cars need even less energy. Direct drive motors are more efficient than their predecessors. Heat pumps, in appropriate climates, use much less energy than radiant heat per BTU generated. Natural gas is cheaper and less polluting than coal. Batteries will get better.

We have a transition problem, not an existential emergency.

We don’t have to do dumb things like turning one-third of our corn into motor fuel, blocking pipelines from where energy is found to where it’s needed, or slow-rolling drilling permits. We have time to build new, smaller nukes. We can and should continue to deploy wind and solar so long as we make sure there is a grid capable of sharing the load and sufficient backup whether that is battery, natural gas peakers, hydro, or something else.

It's now obvious that Europe shouldn’t have out-sourced fossil fuel extraction to Russia. Knowing that population trends are already in favor of energy reduction, Europe should whole-heartedly (safely, of course) resume drilling and get fracking. More natural gas allows for more renewables.

Once we are free from panic induced by latter-day Malthusian prophets of doom (who are ignoring “the science”), we can deal with the immediate threat, Putin and his energy weapon, and the intermediate threat, too many geezers and too few workers, and plan our way to a future of abundance.

See also:

World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights

World Population Prospects 2022: Summary of Results

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

October 11, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels – Continued

Hybrid generation is the best way to environmental goals.

Emmissions

In 2008 fracking came into widespread use in US gas fields.  Between 2008 and 2020 we reduced our CO2 emissions by 25%. This reduction was largely a result of substituting low-cost low-carbon natural gas for dirty coal in electrical generation. In 2008 49% of our electricity was generated from coal and 22% from natural gas. By 2020 only 19% of our electricity was generated from coal and the natural gas share increased to 41%. During the same period inflation adjusted-electricity prices actually declined because, thanks to fracking, natural gas was now cheaper than coal per kilowatt of electricity generated.

Renewables also substituted for coal. From 2008 to 2020 the percentage of electricity generated from solar and wind went from 1% to 10%. This increase is significant; however, it wouldn’t have happened if natural gas weren’t available when the sun didn’t shine and the wind didn’t blow. Because natural gas generators can spool up and down quickly, they are an enabling companion for sun and wind. Cheap natural gas also sheltered ratepayers from the above-market rates paid to renewable generators; but the total cost of wind and solar have come down quickly; so further deployment of renewables makes sense – as long as we have natural gas to back it up.

What happened in 2021?

If you look carefully at the graph above, you’ll see that energy related CO2 emissions spiked back up in 2021. So did electricity prices. Why? Because we shot ourselves in the foot! US natural gas supply decreased substantially almost entirely because of government hostility to drilling and pipeline building after the 2020 election. If you don’t continuously drill new wells, supply decreases as old wells go dry. We didn’t notice at first because the pandemic cut demand. Once the economy emerged from shutdown, we didn’t have enough natural gas. Coal for electrical generation usage went up from 19% to 22% as natural gas prices shot up and regional shortage developed. Natural gas usage went down from 41% to 38%. Electricity prices went up for the first time in more than a decade. Wind and solar did increase their share but not enough to offset increased CO2 from more coal burning. Several regions came perilously close to grid shutdowns because there wasn’t enough natural gas to back up the increased wind and solar.

And now there’s a war

Europe is learning its lesson thanks to a powerful slap from Putin. What’s happening there is a terrible object lesson in the harm that’s done to people, the economy, and the environment from an attempt to ban all fossil fuels indiscriminately and before substitutes are available. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel, anti-fracking advocates were able to dissuade European nations from developing new supply or even maintaining the flow from existing fields (which always requires new drilling). The result: Europe is burning much more coal than it has for years just to keep the lights on. The skies of Europe may be literally black with coal smoke if there’s a cold winter.

Europe is pledged to add carbon-free electricity sources to their grid. However, they can’t add more wind and solar without a supply of natural gas to provide backup any more than we can here. Battery technology and capability is not nearly at the point where excess solar and wind can be stored for future use in any meaningful quantities. Brussels has now recognized natural gas as a green “transition” fuel and investments in natural gas infrastructure are allowed again. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has announced an end to that country’s ban on fracking and her intention to grant a 100 new oil and gas leases.

We and our European friends can and must build electrical grids where natural gas backup power as well as nuclear are integrated with a renewable buildout.

But what about the environment?

Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. The implications are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

Even if natural gas remains part of the generation mix forever and is not replaced by hydrogen or batteries or nuclear fusion, we can achieve the 2/3 reduction in emissions necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2. We can relatively cheaply eliminate coal (twice the CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour generated as natural gas). We can build new nukes and deploy more renewables. We can electrify further with a clean enough electricity supply. But, at least for now, we must allow ourselves to use natural gas to balance the renewables and replace the coal.

Insisting that “all” fossil fuel use be eliminated has resulted in more coal being burned and a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel. A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

See also:

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The Dynamo of Democracy

October 05, 2022

OPEC Plus Wants $100/Barrel (So Does Big Oil)

Let’s push prices down to $40. We can do that.

OPEC Plus, the extended oil cartel co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Russia, is planning to announce a substantial cut in production when it meets today (Oct. 5), according to a story in The New York Times. Oil prices have fallen to approximately $85/barrel, about 25% lower than the peak they reached just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and close to where they were when the invasion happened. The decline is partially a result of a worsening outlook for the world’s economy as well as the release of a substantial part of the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which has helped keep prices down at the pump in the runup to the 2022 US elections).

Even $85 barrel is a substantial increase from the $38/barrel price in November 2020 when Joe Biden beat Donald Trump. Almost all the rise in oil prices is because of a post-pandemic increase in demand and a decrease in supply. US oil production was 12,289,000 barrels/day in pre-pandemic year 2019. In 2021 our production was down to 11,188,000 barrels/day. It is no secret that Biden’s policy has been to discourage US production. That policy worked, in part because the major oil companies are happy to play green and keep their oil in the ground (worked great for them) while the wildcatters who typically drill fast and force prices down have been stymied by pressure against investment in fossil fuels and a hostile regulatory environment.

Europe also declined to drill and instead pretended to be green by increasingly outsourcing energy supply to Russia. Russia might not have dared to invade Ukraine if world oil were still selling at $38 because Russia’s price of production, factoring in corruption, is probably close to $40. Once world prices more than doubled to $89 just before the invasion, Russian profit went from close to nothing per barrel to $49. That why the ruble rose instead of falling in response to western sanctions and that extra revenue has so far financed Russia’s invasion (as well as emboldening Iran).

US oil production is now slowly increasing but still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels. Why should oil companies invest in increased production when the administration is both protecting them from competition and slow rolling both leasing and permitting? Biden went begging to Saudi Arabia for more production. Before the invasion, he even asked Russia to produce more. Now the strategic reserve is at record low levels; even Manchin’s mild permitting reforms have been sunk by politics; and OPEC Pus has given Biden a middle-finger answer: “We’re going to cut production further to drive prices higher!” Higher prices will give them more net profit even though the volume of sales will be down.

Let’s push prices down to $40. Here are the short term actions to take:

  1. Accelerate leasing on public lands but only to those who promise to drill immediately on new and old leaseholds, otherwise majors will just add to their reserves in the ground.
  2. Expedite electric grid, renewable, pipeline and drilling permitting by agencies and set a time limit on legal appeals against granted permits without lowering environmental standards (essentially what Manchin proposed). To the extent that renewables can substitute for fossil fuels, the price of fossil fuels goes down. Expedited permitting should favor those who will build immediately.
  3. Institute a windfall profits tax on oil and natural gas which can be avoided by putting “excess” profits into immediate new production or by lowering prices. We are protecting the major oil from Russian competition with sanctions; and so a windfall profits tax is not only appropriate but necessary.
  4. Stop discouraging lending to wildcatter who historically drill fast and drive prices down but are always short of capital.
  5. Don’t close any nuclear plant which can safely continue running. The only short-term replacement for nuclear power is burning more fossil fuel which keeps both emissions and energy prices up.
  6. Stop pretending that it is good environmental policy to move drilling to Russia where environmental standards are notoriously weak rather than have it happen here where we can regulate it.

Europe is belatedly reversing its ill-advised outsourcing to Russia and increasing its own oil and natural gas production as well as building more renewable capacity.

Renewables (and nuclear) must go further to compete with $40 oil and reasonably priced natural gas; so providers of these alternatives also prefer higher oil prices and claim oil prices are an environmental necessity.  However the environmental cost of high oil and natural gas prices is more burning of dirty coal (see Germany and even the US)as well as the terrible pollution of war.

With oil at $40, the Russian genie goes back in the lamp. Iran must avoid expensive foreign ventures and has less ability to bribe its populace to do the bidding of the mullahs. China does not get an advantage by buying Russian oil at a discount. Dirty Russian production of new oil – as well as other environmentally expensive extraction schemes - are too expensive to be profitable. The world cannot afford and doesn’t have to accept the consequences of $100 oil.

See also:

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

September 26, 2022

Cold War 2.0, the Environment, and the Economy Require Passing Manchin’s Permitting Reform

Republicans must save it from Progressives even if Democrats get the credit.

Senator Joe Manchin’s own explanation of the reform and the urgent reasons for it are in op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. The journal article is behind a pay wall but the content is the statement of a public official so I’m posting it here to make sure you can see it.

Both Parties Should Support My Permitting-Reform Bill

It will help secure our energy future by slashing the time it takes to build critical infrastructure.

Congress votes this week on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. It’s a defining moment. Will we promote energy security and independence, or will we allow extreme ideologies and politics to embolden our nation’s enemies? Will we allow toxic tribal politics and the Vladimir Putins of the world to dictate our future, or will we protect our nation’s energy security?

We are in the midst of a global energy war, and the American people—Republican, Democrat and independent—are paying the price. Contrary to the radical agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his allies, who seem oblivious to the reality of the global and domestic energy challenges we face, the common-sense permitting reforms contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 will help cut costs and accelerate the building of the critical energy infrastructure we need. Some have said the legislation was crafted without Republican input or that it would make it harder for fossil fuels to be permitted. They are simply wrong. They aren’t being honest about what’s in the bill and how it came to be.

Democrats and Republicans, along with leaders in the energy industry and stakeholders of all stripes, were instrumental in the substance of this balanced legislation. These essential reforms have been advocated by developers of all types of American energy—oil and gas, electric transmission, mining, solar and wind, and more. In fact, it is the kind of balanced and all-of-the-above energy approach America needs if we are to defend this nation’s energy security from those who seem hell-bent on weakening it.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, and the permitting reform it lays out, will help secure America’s energy future more quickly by setting deadlines and requiring simultaneous agency reviews, something we did for public-works projects in the bipartisan infrastructure law. This reform will reduce timelines for building critical infrastructure down to three years or less from the current five to 10 years (or more). This will bring the U.S. more in line with our allies in Canada and Australia.

Speeding up the permitting process is an idea that countless Democrats support when it comes to clean energy. Many of my Republican colleagues signed up for it earlier this month as cosponsors of the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency Act. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 also shortens unnecessary litigation delays by capping how long plaintiffs have to bring lawsuits and requiring agencies to act within six months on permits that have been sent back by a court.

Permitting reform has long been a priority for advocacy groups representing a diverse mix of energy companies and stakeholders across the political spectrum. During my 12 years in the Senate, trade groups have urged Republicans and Democrats to join forces and speed up the permitting process in a responsible manner to ensure America’s energy independence and security. Now’s our chance. Whether you support more clean energy, more fossil fuels, or a balanced approach as I do, this reform will help the U.S. achieve it. It’s time to bring forward smart bipartisan ideas to produce the energy we need to continue to be the superpower of the world.

Even during this historic moment, some say it isn’t enough. They stand in the way of major progress on realistic reforms. Instead they offer a wish list with no chance of passing an evenly divided Senate. We’ve seen this story before, and inaction is no longer an option, for the energy crisis will only get worse the longer we wait. If we’re truly interested in addressing the energy challenges facing our country, then it’s time to live in the realm of the possible instead of continuing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When looked at objectively, this legislation and the underlying reforms should be a unifying moment for both parties. Instead, extreme politics are blinding some to the realities of what we must do to keep our energy future secure for generations to come. What else could possibly explain why any Republican would even consider supporting the same position as Sen. Sanders when it comes to energy?

At such a consequential moment in our nation’s history, now is the time for those fortunate enough to be elected leaders to push away the noise of partisan politics that is drowning out common sense. We must ignore the toxic “all or nothing” legislative approach that has made it hard to discern what is truly essential for our nation. Passing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 is essential, and not only because it includes smart ideas and proposals that both my Republican and Democratic colleagues have championed for years, but also because it will send a message to the world that the U.S. won’t let anyone threaten or undermine its energy security.

****************************end of Manchin text*******************************

See also:

If Sanders and Warren Think Climate Change Is an Emergency, Why Are They Against These Green Energy Reforms? (from Reason)

Joe Manchin’s Red Tape Reform Could Supercharge Renewable Energy in the U.S. (from Time)

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

September 20, 2022

US National Climate Advisor Misses the Cost of Climate Hysteria

No job losses, she claims, ignoring the news from Europe.

Two headlines

Both headlines above are from the front page of Monday's digital NY Times.

Gina McCarthy is a former EPA Administrator and the outgoing US National Climate Advisor. Her article lauds projected increases in electric vehicle sales and wind power in the United States and the subsidies the Biden administration has gotten through Congress towards those goals. She ignores, of course, rising energy costs caused by the Biden Administration war on drilling and pipelines. In a narrow sense, she is right that the US economy is still doing very well.

But then there are our friends in Europe. See the headline above on the right and the associated story. Many factories there cannot afford to operate given their current energy costs. Production is shifting from Europe, often to the US; but beggaring our allies is not a good strategy for world peace, the world economy, or the environment. World prices for oil are lower than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine but much higher than they were when Biden took office. Those prices went up and stayed up because the US is producing less oil than it did previously and than it could be producing now. You can thank Gina McCarthy and her boss for that shortfall.

Putin didn’t as much cause high energy prices as take advantage of them both to finance his Ukrainian mis-adventure and to attempt to coerce his European customers into acquiescence. Russia’s refusal to send gas to Europe has further increased the cost of that commodity as well as electricity which is mostly generated from natural gas despite the European rush to renewables.  There simply would not be enough gas to keep Europeans warm and run their factories this winter if the US were not shipping huge supplies there. Good thing for everybody that we didn’t ban fracking the way that most of Europe did – and the way the Biden administration would still like to do here.

Europe’s vulnerability stems from climate hysteria. There’s nothing wrong (except maybe the cost) with deploying wind and solar as Europe had done. There’s everything wrong with banning fracking and refusing new leases for oil and gas before a green alternative is in place. Europeans told themselves they were being green when they outsourced their growing need for natural gas and oil to Russia. Germans felt particularly environmental when they decided to shut down their nukes in an over-reaction to Fukushima. Now they’re trying to keep the last few nukes running and burning massive amounts of coal. Still they can’t keep the factories running.

In the short term, Americans are gaining jobs as European production shuts down and/or can’t compete. For our own  future, we must look at what’s happening to Europe now as an object lesson in what happens if you shut down traditional energy sources before you actually have a domestic replacement.

Postscript

Someone beside me may have noticed that irony of the juxtaposition of these stories on the digital front page of the NYT. The headline in Gina McCarthy’s story by Monday afternoon was:

McCarthy

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

September 19, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The distinction is essential to an achievable climate strategy.

In the introduction to its May 2022 special issue SAVING FORESTS, National Geographic says “Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels.” The implications of that statement are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

The SAVING FORESTS issue gives many examples of using trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester carbon in the ground including better management of existing forests, reforesting abandoned farmland, controlled burns, and replanting burned areas with a mix of species less likely to fuel infernos. All these cost money; the logical question to ask, project by project, is “does this project remove more CO2 from the atmosphere per dollar spent than, for example, subsidizing electric cars?” But the question is never asked. Any money allocated to planting more trees must, apparently, be in addition to the nearly limitless cost of eliminating all fossil fuels.

On page 73 of SAVING FORESTS, in an otherwise excellent article on threats to trees, author Craig Welch contradicts the introduction and writes “The planet won’t stop warming until we completely [emphasis mine] halt fossil fuel emissions.” This is nonsense, of course, because it’s only net emissions which count. Earth isn’t punishing us for the hubris of burning fossil fuels.; but authors like Welch typically include a ritualistic condemnation of all fossil fuels in their articles to protect themselves from the suspicion that they are proposing carbon reduction methods which might compete with eliminating fossil fuels. They are intimidated by the green industrial complex which brooks no challenge to any of its schemes to replace fossil fuels no mater how impractical, slow, or expensive. That means that tree-plantings aren’t allowed to compete for climate mitigation dollars with schemes like subsidies for electric cars or reliance on battery technologies which don’t exist yet.

Equating the end of all fossil fuel use with the net zero goal means that we don’t prioritize our reductions because “all” fossil fuels are bad. If we confuse the goal of zero net emissions with a needless jihad to replace all fossil fuels, we squander wealth, deny people a way out of poverty, and quickly forfeit support for the programs necessary to reduce emissions.

A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

The National Geographic issue on trees is full of good strategies for maintaining and even increasing plant-based reductions in net emissions. But fear of offending the all-fossil-fuels-must-go crowd prevents the magazine from following its own facts to reasonable conclusions and policy recommendations.

See also:

Trees v. Solar Panels

Vermont Can Exceed 2025 Carbon Reduction Goal Just by Planting Trees

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels – Continued (Hybrid generation is the best way to environmental goals)

 

September 13, 2022

Liz Truss Off to a Great Start

Tackles both short- and long-term energy problems.

In the brief time after Liz Truss took office as UK Prime Minister and before the death of Queen Elizabeth, Truss made her inaugural speech. Despite her conservative reluctance to interfere in markets, she said that her government will cap domestic energy prices for up to two years. That move is necessary to get Brits past the worst immediate effects of Russia’s attack on the Ukraine and to keep the British public firmly supportive of Ukraine.

Much more important for the long term, Truss announced that she will issue more than 100 new licenses for oil drilling in the North Sea and lift a ban on fracking for gas and oil put in place in 2019. She also announced an energy supply task force to negotiate long-term energy supply contracts. The contracts will not only give the UK assurance of future energy supply at known prices but also be convertible into capital for more production around the world including the US. She’s quoted by AP saying “we are supporting this country through this winter and next and tackling the root causes of high prices so we are never in the same position again.”

The price guarantee means that the government will have to borrow to subsidize oil and gas which suppliers will be selling below cost. Costs for British consumers and businesses will still be much higher than they were last year, so the subsidies don’t eliminate the incentive to reduce usage. But subsides aren’t a sustainable strategy; that’s why she limited the subsidies to two years and accompanied them by her plan to reduce prices through increased supply. She’s gambling, wisely IMO, that better long-term energy supply will have enough economic benefit to pay back what the government must borrow for the subsides in the short term. By moving quickly on supply, the UK will get an advantage over parts of Europe which have not yet come to terms with the need to end dependence on Russia for energy.

Not everyone loves Truss’ plan to increase fossil fuel supplies. According to The Guardian, “Climate justice activists, poverty campaigners and trade unionists have vowed to take to the streets and occupy key sites next month to oppose the UK government’s energy and cost of living plans… while direct action groups including Just Stop Oil saying they will ‘occupy Westminster’, with supporters prepared to risk arrest to block roads with ‘a wave of action including strikes and occupations’ throughout the month.” Not explained in The Guardian article is why anti-poverty advocates or trade unionists, whose jobs depend on factories being able to afford energy, think that lower energy prices are a bad idea.

The Guardian article does say “Experts say this [Truss’ plan for more supply] would have minimal impact on the cost of living crisis…”. However, the article doesn’t name any such experts or explain why they think lower energy prices won’t reduce the cost of living.

One of the first tests for Truss as Prime Minister is whether she can control illegal protests against increased fuel production. If she does, and if the UK actually manages to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel, she’ll be setting a good example not only for the rest of Europe but also for us here in the US. Although our need is not as urgent as the UK, both our green and traditional energy projects are ensnared in red tape, litigation, and vandalism disguised as protest.

See also:

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

The Dynamo of Democracy

September 06, 2022

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

Huge opportunity for bipartisan environmental, energy, and economic progress.

Senator Joe Manchin agreed to support the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on condition of a promise from President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi “to pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation before the end of this fiscal year [September 30]”. These permitting reforms, if they become law, will do more for the environment than all the subsidies in the IRA. If the reforms don’t pass, the subsidies like those for electric vehicles will accomplish almost nothing since it will take more than 20 years to rebuild the electric grid and add energy sources sufficient to charge significantly more EVs.

The plan agreed on by Schumer is to make these reforms part of a “must pass” bill. The most likely candidate is the continuing resolution needed in September to keep the government funded through the upcoming election. We’re going to hear a lot about these reforms this month.

Regulatory reform is needed as much for a transition to carbon-free energy sources as to keep the lights on during the transition. Not reforming US permitting means leaving Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran supplying critical energy to Europe and exacting an increasing political as well as economic price.

Manchin’s reforms (see here for a draft outline) don’t weaken environmental requirements; but they set time limits on the process for granting (or denying) permits and, most important, on the time during which permits can be appealed.

Federal agencies will have one or two years, depending on the complexity of the project, to rule; and a lead agency must take responsibility to avoid consecutive trips through many agencies. States and tribes, which have authority over water-quality permits, must act expeditiously according to clear rules and base their decisions solely on the projects’ effects on water quality. NY State under Cuomo infamously used spurious denial of water quality permits to halt two federally approved pipeline projects which should be bringing Marcellus gas to New England by now. New England may very well pay a very high price this winter both for electricity generated from natural gas and for gas used in heating. New England greenhouse gas emissions will include the very high emissions from coal which will be burned instead of the missing gas.

Critically important, the reforms call for a statute of limitations on court challenges to approved projects. Although permitting itself can now take five years or more, major projects are often delayed an additional fifteen or twenty years by after-the-permit court challenges. America has literally tied itself in knots. We cannot build anything significant within the time frame that planning can reasonably foresee. Projects which do get done are always obsolete (as well as way over budget) when they are completed.

The Manchin reforms are intentionally an “all-of-the-above” approach. The President is directed to designate and update a list of 25 high-priority energy projects and expedite their permitting. In the language of the draft released by Manchin’s office this must be “a balanced list of project types, including: critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, fossil fuels, electric transmission, renewables, and carbon capture, sequestration, storage, and removal. Criteria for selecting designated projects includes: reducing consumer energy costs, improving energy reliability, decarbonization potential, and promoting energy trade with our allies.”

So who could be against these common sense reforms?

  1. Progressives who call themselves environmentalists who’d rather see renewable projects and the rebuild of the electric grid delayed indefinitely than allow even well designed nuclear and natural gas projects to go ahead.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is circulating a letter asking leadership to separate the Manchin deal out from a continuing resolution that would temporarily avert a government shutdown. 

“’Don’t attach it to a budget, to a CR, must-pass legislation and therefore take this essential Republican agenda and have Democrats pass it,’ he told The Hill earlier this month."

Senator Bernie Sanders confirmed he would vote for a government shutdown rather than have permitting reform pass. “Yes. You’re talking about the future for the planet,” he said.

 

  1. Partisan Republicans who don’t think the permitting reform goes far enough and, like the Progressives, would rather have nothing than give an inch or allow the Biden administration to get any credit. Again, according to The Hill:

“Republican Conference Chairman and top GOP senator on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee John Barrasso (Wyo.) signaled that there could be another barrier to Manchin’s deal: The permitting language, which may not be strong enough to win GOP support. 

“’This narrow proposal does not go nearly far enough. It will not prevent the Biden administration from continuing its war on American energy,’ he said.”

Passing the Permitting Reforms is a huge bipartisan opportunity

It will not get 100% of Democratic votes so it can’t be forced through the legislature. Realistically, for partisan reasons, it won’t get a majority of Republican votes. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for reasonable Republicans in both the House and the Senate to create a coalition around these reforms with reasonable Democrats and pass this must-pass legislation without either the votes of Progressives or the most partisan Republicans.

Permitting reform is not nearly as polarizing as the issues around abortion. On the other hand, it doesn’t show up on the list of things that are on the top of voters’ minds. It is the job of media (which it may well not do) to explain that permitting reform means clean and affordable energy and saving Europe from Russian energy blackmail.

We the people have a lot at stake.

See also:

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

The Dynamo of Democracy

September 05, 2022

Kyiv Independent Reports on Starlink in Ukraine

August 31, 2022

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

Offshore wind is an example of money allocated and progress blocked.

Pres. Biden set a goal of 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generating capacity for the US by 2030. A medium sized nuclear power plant has a capacity of about one GW. 30 GW can power a lot of electric cars not to mention run factories, keep the lights on, and displace dirty coal. According to an article in Reason: “Last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) made $3 billion available to upgrade ports so the equipment needed to install offshore wind turbines could be shipped out to sea, and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included measures providing tax credits of up to 30 percent for offshore wind projects that are started before 2026.” Given the tax credits, there’s plenty of private money to finance the actual projects.

Unless there’s regulatory reform, almost no offshore wind is going to get built anytime in the near future!

After decades of effort America currently has only 42 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity with another 932 MW under construction. Altogether, this is less than the output from an average-sized nuclear power plant. 18 GW are in permitting, none of them anywhere near the end of the process. Even when permits are granted, projects are typically delayed decades by after-the -permit appeals and lawsuits. According to Reason: “In July, for example, the DOE's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management canceled two potential wind energy developments off the coast of Long Island due to concerns that included ‘visibility from nearby beaches.’”

Environmental impact statements take on the average 4.5 years. The tax credits in the IRA for offshore wind are only for projects which begin construction before 2026. Ain’t gonna happen without permitting reform!

Offshore wind is just an example of infrastructure we can’t build even when the money is there. We are not going to achieve any of our infrastructure goals if we let “visible from the beach” or any number of other local impacts block projects. Here in Vermont people want cell towers but they don’t want to see them; unfortunately they don’t work when they’re hidden in the trees. Infrastructure has an impact. That impact must be balanced against the cost of not having the infrastructure. Once the balance has been determined – with local input, local interests or competing technologies must not be able to block or substantially delay projects as they can today.

A suggested three-step fix

  1. All federal permits must be issued or denied within 18 months of application. The requirements must be rigid but predictable.
  2. We must restate and reassert federal primacy in all interstate projects. This used to be the rule and it is what the Constitution provides for. Politics eroded this so, for example, NY State was allowed to block federally approved pipeline projects to bring much-needed Marcellus gas to New England because that’s what Cuomo wanted.
  3. No injunctions or restraining orders can be issued for permitted projects unless the opponents post a bond equal to the likely public and private cost of delay. If the appeal succeeds, the project stops (or is changed) and the bond is returned with interest. If the appeal fails, the bond reimburses the cost of delay

Regulatory reform is a huge opportunity for a bipartisan win for America. The administration must push it. Progressive Democrats won’t support any meaningful deregulation; Republicans should vote to make regulatory reform happen.

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Confessions of a Stimulator

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

August 28, 2022

The Dumbest Headline I Ever Read in The New York Times

“Maternal Instinct Is a Myth that Men Created”

You can read the column by Chelsea Conaboy here. Meanwhile I have a thought experiment to suggest to Ms. Conaboy: think about standing between a mama bear and her cubs. While you are thinking about yourself in this situation, imagine asking Ms. Bear what male talked her into being so over-protective.

July 27, 2022

Congressional Assailant Released by NY State but Detained by Feds

If he had tried to stab an ordinary citizen, he’d still be free under NY law!

On July 21 in front of many onlookers David Jakubonis tried to stab NY congressman and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin (R). Jakubonis was subdued and arrested, but a town judge released him without bail and on his own recognizance. This was not a case of a rogue judge or a reluctant prosecutor. According to the NY Times “Since 2020, under New York law, judges have been barred from setting bail on the charge of attempted assault, a nonviolent felony; previously, prosecutors would have had the option to request that Mr. Jakubonis be held on bail.”

He was later arrested by the feds on charges of “assaulting a member of congress using a dangerous weapon.” They are holding on to him.

Presumably if Jakubonis tried (but failed) to stab anyone who is not a member of congress in NY State, he’d still be on the loose. This NY law is idiotic. It’s been denounced by NYC Mayor Eric Adams who wants judges to be able to take “dangerousness” into account. NY Governor Kathy Hochul, whom Zeldin is running against, had a chance to include fixes to bail law in the budget negotiations in March but settled for tweaks to the law instead. She says that the bail “reforms” are not responsible for rising crime. After Zeldin was stabbed, she tweeted:

“My team has informed me about the incident at Lee Zeldin's campaign event tonight. Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.”

As relieved as she was to hear that the suspect was in custody, she didn’t tweet anything when he was released from custody a few hours later under her state’s bail law.

Some have said that, given that a congressperson was the target, the NY prosecutor (who is connected, bizarrely, to Zeldin’s campaign) could have filed a more serious charge so that requiring bail would have been permissible. Others say that the alleged perpetrator was drunk and depressed so that it was not his fault and that it was not a political attack. Even others say no harm no foul since the feds have locked him up or that the weapon wasn’t very fearsome. All of that is irrelevant. The point is that if Jakubonis had tried to stab an ordinary citizen, he’d still be free under NY law!

The police have not only been defunded; they’ve been disarmed. They can’t do their job of keeping us safe if people they arrest for attempted violent crimes are not held pending trial, even when those crimes indubitably happened. The police won’t even be told about much crime if they are not able to protect victims and witnesses. How would you feel about telling the police about someone who tried to assault you if that person was surely going to be out on the street within a few hours with an opportunity to finish the job?

The NY law needs to change so that not just congresspeople are protected. The communities with the most crime will benefit the most when the police can protect them effectively.

July 14, 2022

The Dynamo of Democracy

Time to get out of our own way.

We can have it all. We can bankrupt Putin. We can have affordable energy for our citizens and the Europeans who will otherwise surrender to energy blackmail. We can even reach zero net emissions in a reasonable amount of time. We can be not only the arsenal but the dynamo of democracy.

We’re not on track to do any of these good things. We’re standing squarely in our own way.

Our problem is an inability to build anything significant in real time. It takes decades to build a highway or new train track. Pipelines don’t get built at all in the US anymore. The 100-year-old electrical grid is sparking wildfires and isn’t in the right places to let us use renewable energy effectively. We need nuclear power as a clean source of electricity if we want to electrify most things, but “it’ll take forever to build new nuclear plants.” Offshore oil and gas wells and wind turbines make sense. Good luck in getting them built. During the great recession of 2008, we allocated almost a trillion dollars for recovery and found that nothing in America is shovel ready. No significant new infrastructure got built.

Construction isn’t the problem. Most things only take a year or two to design and two years to build. Bridges that fall are replaced within two years. Vermont replaced its roads wiped out by Tropical Storm Irene in less than a year. Ukraine replaces bombed rail lines almost overnight. China started building the fast train between Beijing and Shanghai as a public work to counter worldwide recession in 2008. I rode that train in 2011.

Even permitting is only part of the problem. Initial hearings often take up two years. That could be cut to one but permitting isn’t the cause of most of the delay.

Post-permit delays have crippled the ability of our country to build. Once a permit has been issued, the appeals begin. The appellants ask for and obtain restraining orders to stop construction. At almost no cost to themselves, anyone can impose the enormous cost of infrastructure delay on the builders and on the country which must do without the needed infrastructure. After the first decade of delays, the opponents start to claim – correctly – that the design is out of date. The builders either stick with the outmoded design or risk resetting the clock by redesigning and reentering the permit process.

Once the legal appeals have been exhausted, the illegal protests start. If it’s a big enough project, you can count on some Hollywood celebrities showing up in front of the cameras with locals who are affected by the project and politicians calling for further study. A new administration can score political points by reversing permits given by its predecessor (see the Keystone Pipeline). BTW, the real opponents of a project – the ones who put up money to stop it – are often commercial competitors; they try to stay away from the cameras. Fossil fuel companies and solar promoters don’t like wind turbines; green entrepreneurs don’t like gas pipelines. None of them like nuclear.

Here’s a pathetic example of tolerating intolerable delay. The US Forest Service uses controlled burns to prevent massive wildfires. These controlled burns require permits. The Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center published a report.

“Once the Forest Service initiates the environmental review process, it takes ​​an average of 3.6 years to begin a mechanical treatment and 4.7 years to begin a prescribed burn.

“For projects that require environmental impact statements—the most rigorous form of review—the time from initiation to implementation averages 5.3 years for mechanical treatments and 7.2 years for prescribed burns.”

If a project is appealed, the average time goes up to 9.4 years! Of course what really happens is the forests which needed the treatment often go up in smoke in the meantime.

The three-step fix

  1. All federal permits must be issued or denied within 18 months of application. The requirements must be rigid but predictable.
  2. We must restate and reassert federal primacy in all interstate projects. This used to be the rule and it is what Constitution provides for. Politics eroded this so, for example, NY State was allowed to block federally approved pipeline projects to bring much-needed Marcellus gas to New England because that’s what Cuomo wanted.
  3. No injunctions or restraining orders can be issued for permitted projects unless the opponents post a bond equal to the likely public and private cost of delay. If the appeal succeeds, the project stops (or is changed) and the bond is returned with interest. If the appeal fails, the bond reimburses the cost of delay.

No project will be perfect. Some will be seriously flawed. The cost of the flaws will be far, far less than the cost of delay.

Only Congress can pass these reforms. They are not partisan issues any more than forest fires are. These delays affect our ability to generate and use carbon-free energy as much or more than our ability to use clean natural gas and keep home heating and travel affordable. We can’t build back better if we can’t build at all. It would be great if Congress would start to act now. Given the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v EPA, congresspeople can no longer hope that nameless bureaucrats will take on policy issues that are politically risky to address. These elected congresspeople must make tough decisions themselves. That is what we pay them to do.

We run a good chance of both great economic hardship and western democracies succumbing to energy blackmail if we don’t immediately get our act together.

If we do pass reforms which let us build again, we won’t need federal funds for most infrastructure projects. Private money will rush in to fund good projects once the threat of unpredictable delay is gone. We will build back much, much better. We will have affordable energy, good roads, new railroads, and pipelines, and the electric grid we need as well as less catastrophic forest fires and a cleaner environment. We will be the dynamo democracy needs.

See also:

Keeping Our Republic

Confessions of a Stimulator

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

Everything is Shovel-Ready in China

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

July 11, 2022

What Did the Wisconsin Supreme Court Do?

You be the judge.

Wisconsin Statute. § 6.87(4)(b)1: “The envelope shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots.” Also in the law is a provision for voting in a registered nursing home; special officials may be sent.

Do you read that sentence as authorizing unattended drop boxes into which ballots may be deposited? Neither did the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Just to close a loophole, the statutes do talk about alternative polling places (Wis. Stat. § 6.85) but make clear that these must be attended and are used instead of rather than in addition to the municipal clerk’s office.

Therefore, the court said, voting via the use of unattended drop boxes is not legal under Wisconsin law. The court did NOT say that drop boxes were a violation of either the US or Wisconsin constitution. The court did not say that properly authorized drop boxes were either a bad or good idea. It’s not up to the court to say what’s a good or bad idea. The court simply said that elections must be conducted according to the law as passed by the legislature. It did say that elections not conducted according to law lose legitimacy and erode respect for the democratic process.

Nevertheless, the ruling has been taken as a blow against open and fair elections.  The New York Times says “The court adopted a literal interpretation of state law” but considers this a move to restrict voting access in urban areas. Not sure what sort of interpretation of state law the NYT would like the court to make if not a literal one; perhaps one which assures outcomes desired by the NYT? The normally more conservative Wall Street Journal also treats this as a political decision without mentioning the plain language of the law.

It might be a good idea if reporters retook that part of civics 101 which says that the courts are supposed to interpret law, not make it.

There is a reason why this decision has raised so much angst. The case came about because there were more than 500 such unattended drop boxes in use in Wisconsin during the 2020 election which Trump lost to Biden in that state. Trump’s allies claimed that these drop boxes facilitated fraud which cost him election. There is no evidence that this happened. The court did NOT rule that the 2020 election was invalid because the drop boxes were used. It said they should not be used again unless authorized by the Wisconsin legislature, which is currently unlikely. The decision does affect future elections but not those in the past.

The court is not supposed to make public policy so their job in this case is done, whether such drop boxes are desirable or not.

There is still a public policy question which needs to be decided by action or inaction of the Wisconsin legislature and the legislatures of other states. Should unattended drop boxes be allowed to make it as easy as possible to cast ballots?

I say No! Emergency measures made sense when the pandemic hit suddenly. It’s good that ballots cast in drop boxes were not thrown out in 2020. But the emergency is over. With hindsight or foresight, I can’t see why using a mailbox rather than a drop box causes a hardship to any would-be voter, especially in urban areas. I can easily see how, with two years to plan, bad actors on either side or even from abroad can think of ways to tamper with ballots in the drop boxes either to change an election result or to discredit the election itself. It’s a time of great mistrust. We cannot afford a discredited election. Mailin ballots make it possible for more eligible people to vote; that’s good. It must also be demonstrably true beyond reasonable doubt that only legitimate ballots are counted.

Mail-in ballots should go in the US mail (postage paid, of course).

See also:

Keeping Our Republic

Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 01/2005