August 2008

Paul Chesser, Climate Strategies Watch

Raleigh's News & Observer remembers back to last year when North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller (D-13th) tangled with the State of Alaska over the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species:

Some Democrats in Congress might not know of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but Rep. Brad Miller of Raleigh does.

Miller last year accused the state of Alaska of using an opinion essay written in part by known "climate-doubt" scientists to back its opposition to listing the polar bear as a threatened species.

I wrote about the conflict in greater detail last year when I was with the John Locke Foundation:

Miller, chairman of the House subcommittee on investigations and oversight, under the Science and Technology Committee, challenged efforts by ExxonMobil to fund research on how global warming affects the habitat of polar bears.

In a letter (.pdf) dated Oct. 17 to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Miller criticized the company’s sponsorship of an article penned by seven scientists for the journal Ecological Complexity. The scientists concluded in their article that no evidence exists that the diminishment of polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay area is caused by global warming.

Here's what Palin had to say about the matter:

“If the government is going to discredit all such scientists’ research, as Miller does, needed research will not be done,” Palin said. “Competent scientists will no longer be willing to undertake required studies or accept industry grants to conduct vital research.”

Palin’s office noted that many government agencies require oil companies to conduct environmental research and that if the bear study should be questioned because of funding from petroleum companies, then all research they do for the government should be doubted.

“The United States is a world leader in science because it encourages academic debate among scientists,” Palin said. “We stand by our use of the study and by our commitment to free and open scientific debate.”

Sounds promising, doesn't it? On the other hand, the governor is among the many of her executive colleagues across the nation who created a state commission to study climate change. Worse, her Department of Environment (despite forewarnings) hired the Center for Climate Strategies (whose practice is to stifle the debate that Palin says she supports) to manage the program. More on this in coming days, which will include documents I have obtained from the state of Alaska.

Dems Pitch Green Jobs

by William Yeatman on August 27, 2008

As our thoroughly unscientific poll indicated, worries about the economy seem trump big policy choices like climate change or health care. That’s in line with recent national polls, as well. And that concern about the economy and jobs shows up clearly in Democratic talk about clean energy in Denver.

Global warming alarmists claim that their primary concern is the well-being of future generations. If that’s really the case, they should take up Klaus’s challenge, and embrace – not stifle – prosperity.

A new U.N. report urges countries to phase out energy subsidies, saying they often waste money, do not always help the poor and are bad for the environment.

Incisive article in the Wall Street Journal today on how Russia is using energy supply as part of its strategic renaissance. An excerpt:


“Despite Russia’s repeated use of energy as a political weapon in Eastern Europe, Western Europeans keep repeating the mantra that Russia has been a reliable supplier to “Europe.” They also choose to ignore that natural-gas giant Gazprom serves as the Kremlin’s leading foreign-policy arm. The company is primarily state-owned, and many members of Gazprom’s leadership are current or former government officials. The Kremlin’s present occupant, Dmitry Medvedev, until recently was the chairman of Gazprom. His replacement there is former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.


The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals. Maintaining a monopoly over the transport of Caspian gas to Europe is essential for Moscow to ensure that all those countries that have submitted to a Russian “partnership” will acquiesce to the return of the former Soviet space to the Kremlin’s control.”


It is vital to understand that Russia has designs on Eastern Europe and is using its energy supply to buy off Western Europe. The future looks bad if this is the case.


Yet there is a question here that needs answering first. Natural gas, while cheap to burn and an efficient form of energy, is not the only source of electricity Western Europe has. Germany and Britain both possess abundant coal. France has based its energy profile on nuclear. Both could provide Russia-free energy across Western Europe, yet both are reviled by environmentalists. Wind power and renewables, beloved by environmentalists, are simply not up to the job.


It therefore seems that when faced with a choice between empowering Russia and annoying environmentalists, Western Europeans are less afraid of the former.


Let’s also remember that the Kyoto Protocol is designed to see large amounts of Western European money transferred to Russia as European nations purchase credits for emissions reductions banked by Russia following the collapse of communism. European nations can’t reduce emissions on their own, for the aforementioned reasons, so they need to buy credit from elsewhere. This was the central reason behind Russia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. To put it bluntly, the Kyoto Protocol is subsidizing Putin’s military retrenchment. If supposed oil wealth funding madrassas is a problem, then this certainly is as well.


This is, needless to say, a terrible situation to be in. When environmentalism gets its way, Putin gets his. If Putin’s energy weapon is to be neutralized, Western European governments need to face down the environmental lobbies in their countries, and allow digging for coal and new nuclear build. Political calculus, however, suggests otherwise. And Putin knows this.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is arguably the most powerful woman in America. But if she wants to see her real power, she should bring the drilling issue to a vote. Only a Fed chairman could have so much impact on market prices.

New Hampshire is among a dozen states, New York City and the District of Columbia that are suing the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the Bush administration has failed to rein in emissions from oil refineries.

In California…

by William Yeatman on August 26, 2008

According to the Los Angeles Times, California’s Legislature is on the verge of adopting SB 375, the nation's first law to control planet-warming gases by curbing sprawl. The legislation would offer incentives to steer public funds away from sprawled development. The state spends about $20 billion a year on transportation, and under the new law, projects that meet climate goals would get priority. The bill is expected to pass the Assembly today and the Senate on Friday.

Will gas prices keep dropping?


A recent drive I took ended with a very strange coincidence.  If I were superstitious, I’d regard it as a sign that we’re in for cheaper gas. 


Two weekends ago we drove our daughter to college in central Virginia.  As we started heading out, I noticed that regular at the neighborhood gas station had dropped to $3.65.  That was nice, since the price had been above $3.80 only days before. 


We got off I-66 at Gainesville, which two years ago had been the scene of a locally famous price war that for a while led to gas below $2.00!.  Filling up at that price back then had been a memorable event for me, since gas had nearly hit $3 only months before. 


Further down the road we found prices below $3.50.  We filled up—not quite as good a feeling as $1.98, but not bad.  And then, at the very end of our trip, one station was selling regular at $3.39.  I liked this trend. 


Of course, the trend didn’t continue on the way back—duh.  But then something strange happened.  We pulled into a Gainesville station just before the last stretch home on I-66, and lo and behold—there was a van parked right in front of us with this message stenciled on its rear windshield: 




Googling this phrase turns up nothing, so it’s not like this is a ready-made window stencil purchased by scores of people.  The van we saw may well be the only one in the country carrying this message, and we just happened to pull up behind it after driving all day idly noting gas prices. 


I’m a fan of cheap gas.  It’s good for my wallet, and it’s good for people universally.  If this was an omen of lower prices to come, it was a good omen.


Related links: 

Why fans of cheap gas are more honest than warriors against “oil addiction”

Stop kvetching about Exxon (1-minute video)


Visiting New Mexico this week, I haven't found much interest in the global warming debate, but it is having an impact on local issues. The Navajo Nation has finally gained permitting approval for a huge new coal-fired power plant. The plant would be sited next to a coal mine on the Navajo Reservation in northwest New Mexico . (By the way, New Mexico has a lot of coal reserves in the northwest corner, much of it under Navajo land. Coal provides the State with most of its electricity.) The electricty produced would be exported over the grid to population centers in the Southwest.
Naturally, environmental pressure groups have not given up. They are challenging the regulatory approval in court. One of the grounds is that the regulators did not take into account the carbon dioxide emissions that the plant would produce and its contribution to global warming. I don't think they can win in federal court under current laws, but they must hope that if they can delay the project a couple of years, then Congress might pass cap-and-trade legislation that would make coal plants uneconomic.
I don't know whether any utility companies have expressed interest in buying electricity from the Navajos' new plant, but it seems likely that indirectly the plant will help California reach its emissions reduction targets. California imports more and more of its electricity from nearby States, but its new global warming law prohibits importing electricity produced by burning coal. This new plant would allow utilities in Arizona or Nevada to sell their low-emissions electricity to California and then replace it with cheaper coal power from the Navajo plant. Sounds like a win-win to me.