August 2003

Blackouts Mean Uncertainty for Energy Bill

The massive power outage that affected much of the northeastern United States and Canada on August 14 and 15 has created significant uncertainty over the prospects for the Energy Bill scheduled to be discussed in conference when Congress resumes sitting.

According to CNBC (Aug. 19), “Congressional leaders say the final version will have three elements aimed at preventing future blackouts: Mandatory reliability standards, investment incentives and reform of transmission siting rules.” President Bush has been quoted as saying, “One thing is for certain – they will have mandatory reliability standards in the energy bill. What that means is that the companies will have to have strong reliability measures in place. Otherwise, there will be consequences for them.”

With the President lobbying strongly for reliability mandates and a bill to sign as soon as possible, congressional leaders have targeted a vote by the end of September. It remains to be seen how far defenders of provisions on such matters as fuel efficiency standards and global warming will be prepared to engage in brinkmanship in order to push their demands.

Canada Launches Kyoto Plan

On August 12, the Canadian government announced a program totaling one billion Canadian dollars aimed at securing Canadian compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. The package includes: $100 million to expand Canada’s ethanol production (roughly double what had been expected), a $45 million public awareness program, and $131.4 million to encourage consumers to choose more energy-efficient vehicles and appliances, and to adopt other energy-saving practices in their daily lives. $302.9 million will be used to help business and industry cut emissions with existing technology and $250 million to help them develop new technology, while $320.7 million will go to partnerships with provinces, territories and aboriginal communities, which will be asked to propose emissions-cutting ideas that fit their priorities.

Consumers will be eligible to apply for rebates to improve home energy efficiency. The average rebate is expected to total around $1,000.

The package is expected to reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 20,000 tons. Under the Kyoto terms, Canada’s target is a reduction of 240,000 tons by 2010. (CTV, Aug. 18)

A review at of the latest paper by Michael Mann reconstructing historic temperatures (Geophysical Research Letters 30) casts doubt on his continued assertion that the data prove that the warmth in recent decades is unprecedented.

A graph available on the web site ( reconstructed from Mann’s data shows that, “The end point of their reconstructed global mean temperature history is not the warmest period of the prior 1800 years. In fact, their treatment of the data depicts three earlier warmer periods: one just prior to AD 700, one just after AD 700 and one just prior to AD 1000.”

The review goes on, “The globe only becomes warmer in the 20th century when its measured temperatures are substituted for its reconstructed temperatures. This approach is clearly unacceptable; it is like comparing apples and oranges. If one has only reconstructed temperatures from the distant past, one can only validly compare them with reconstructed temperatures from the recent past.”

Auto Makers Drop California Suit

DaimlerChrysler and General Motors have dropped their lawsuits against the state of California over a 1990 law mandating the sale of low-emissions vehicles.

Following the end of the legal challenge, every major automaker will now have to start selling a range of vehicles with low levels of emissions of smog-forming pollutants, such as gasoline-electric hybrids and specially-modified gas cars. The California plan will phase in such vehicles between 2005 and 2020.

Under the plan, automakers will also have to sell tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles, either battery-powered cars or vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The New York Times reports (Aug. 12) that GM withdrew from the battle partly to enhance its environmental image, but also because it has been reassured by recent steps taken by California regulators that make it less onerous to comply with the mandate.

Energy Taxes Blamed for French Heat Wave Deaths

In an opinion piece for the Boston Herald (Aug. 17), University of Virginia Professor Patrick Michaels dismissed French claims that global warming is responsible for the 5,000 or more excess deaths suffered in France during the current heat wave there.

Referring to research by UVA Professor Bob Davis (see last issue) that shows that heat-related deaths in the USA have declined over time as a result of the growth of air conditioning, Michaels suggests that France dissuaded such life-saving measures by its imposition of large energy taxes.

He said, “European cities are virtually devoid of air conditioning in large part because the energy to run them is so expensive. And why is that? Pressured by vocal environmentalists, European governments have levied energy tax after energy tax, with the latest excuse being global warming.

“The mathematics of this problem are terribly transparent. In order to meet their self-imposed targets from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, European nations already have taxed energy, but they have not done enough. Consequently, even more restrictions are being proposed, especially by the German government. Unaffordable air conditioning will become even more expensive, killing more and more Europeans the next time the temperature reaches what passes for a few degrees above what is normal in Dallas.

“Europe has effectively imposed a continuous blackout on air conditioning, and now it is paying the price.”