Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar. By Christopher T. M Clack, Staffan A. Qvist, Jay Apt,, Morgan Bazilian, Adam R. Brandt, Ken Caldeira, Steven J. Davis, Victor Diakov, Mark A. Handschy, Paul D. H. Hines, Paulina Jaramillo, Daniel M. Kammen, Jane C. S. Long, M. Granger Morgan, Adam Reed, Varun Sivaram, James Sweeney, George R. Tynan, David G. Victor, John P. Weyant, and Jay F. Whitacre. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Significance: Previous analyses have found that the most feasible route to a low-carbon energy future is one that adopts a diverse portfolio of technologies. In contrast, Jacobson et al. (2015) consider whether the future primary energy sources for the United States could be narrowed to almost exclusively wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and suggest that this can be done at “low-cost” in a way that supplies all power with a probability of loss of load “that exceeds electric-utility-industry standards for reliability”. We find that their analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.

Abstract: A number of analyses, meta-analyses, and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the International Energy Agency, have concluded that deployment of a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies makes a transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system both more feasible and less costly than other pathways. In contrast, Jacobson et al. [Jacobson MZ, Delucchi MA, Cameron MA, Frew BA (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112(49):15060–15065] argue that it is feasible to provide “low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS [wind, water and solar power] across all energy sectors in the continental United States between 2050 and 2055”, with only electricity and hydrogen as energy carriers. In this paper, we evaluate that study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, we point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

Friday, September 30, 2011

EPA Inspector General Statement on Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Report - Data Quality Processes

EPA Inspector General Statement on Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Report - Data Quality Processes

Press Statement - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
For Immediate Release
Office of Inspector General
Washington, D.C., September 28, 2011Contact: John Manibusan. Phone: (202) 566-2391

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Statement of Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report Procedural Review of EPA’s Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Data Quality Processes:
“The OIG evaluated EPA’s compliance with established policy and procedures in the development of the endangerment finding, including processes for ensuring information quality. We concluded that the technical support document that accompanied EPA’s endangerment finding is a highly influential scientific assessment and thus required a more rigorous EPA peer review than occurred. EPA did not certify whether it complied with OMB’s or its own peer review policies in either the proposed or final endangerment findings as required. While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA’s finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all required steps for a highly influential scientific assessment. We also noted that documentation of events and analyses could be improved.

We made no determination regarding the impact that EPA’s information quality control systems may have had on the scientific information used to support the finding. We did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used to support the endangerment finding, nor did we evaluate the merit of EPA’s conclusions or analyses.

We make recommendations that we think will strengthen EPA’s control over data quality processes. EPA disagreed with our conclusions and did not agree to take any corrective actions in response to this report. All the report’s recommendations are unresolved.”


Friday, October 22, 2010

High costs of making batteries stall affordability of electric cars

High costs of making batteries stall affordability of electric cars. By Mike Ramsey
The Wall Street Journal Europe, page 22, Oct 19, 2010

The push to get electric cars on the road is backed by governments and auto makers around the world, but they face a hurdle that may be tough to overcome: the stubbornly high cost of the giant battery packs that power the vehicles.

Both the industry and government are betting that a quick takeoff in electric-car sales will drive down the price of the battery packs, which can account for more than half the cost of an electric vehicle.

But a number of scientists and automotive engineers believe cost reductions will be hard to come by. Unlike with tires or toasters, battery packs aren't likely to enjoy traditional economies of scale as their makers ramp up production.

Some experts say that increased production of batteries means the price of the key metals used in their manufacture will remain steady—or maybe even rise—at least in the short term.

These experts also say the price of the electronic parts used in battery packs as well as the enclosures that house the batteries aren't likely to decline appreciably.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of bringing down car-battery costs by 70% from last year's price, which it estimated at $1,000 per kilowatt hour of battery capacity, by 2014.

Jay Whitacre, a battery researcher and technology policy analyst at Carnegie Mellon University, is skeptical. The government's goals "are aggressive and worth striving for, but they are not attainable in the next three to five years," he said in an interview. "It will be a decade at least" before that price reduction is reached.

The high cost of batteries is evident in the prices set for early electric cars. Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf, due in the U.S. in December, is priced at $33,000. Current industry estimates say its battery pack alone costs Nissan about $15,600.

That cost will make it difficult for the Leaf to turn a profit. And it also may make the Leaf a tough sell, since even with government tax breaks the car will cost more than twice the $13,520 starting price of the similar-size Nissan Versa hatchback.

Nissan won't comment on the price of the battery packs, other than to say that the first versions of the Leaf won't make money. Only later, when the company begins mass-producing the battery units in 2013, will the car be profitable, according to Nissan.

The Japanese company believes it can cut battery costs through manufacturing scale. It is building a plant in Smyrna, Tenn., that will have the capacity to assemble up to 200,000 packs a year.

Other proponents of electric vehicles agree that battery costs will fall as production ramps up. "They will come down by a factor of two, if not more, in the next five years," said David Vieau, chief executive officer of A123 Systems, a start-up that recently opened a battery plant in Plymouth, Mich.

Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s battery division, is confident it can reduce the cost of making batteries by 50% in the next five years, though the company won't say what today's cost is. The cost reduction by one of the world's biggest car-battery makers will mostly come from efficient factory management, cutting waste and other management-related costs, not from fundamental improvement of battery technology, he said.

But researchers such as Mr. Whitacre, the National Academies of Science and even some car makers aren't convinced, mainly because more than 30% of the cost of the batteries comes from metals such as nickel, manganese and cobalt. (Lithium makes up only a small portion of the metals in the batteries.)

Prices for these metals, which are set on commodities markets, aren't expected to fall with increasing battery production—and may even rise as demand grows, according to a study by the Academies of Science released earlier this year and engineers familiar with battery production.

Lithium-ion battery cells already are mass produced for computers and cellphones and the costs of the batteries fell 35% from 2000 through 2008—but they haven't gone down much more in recent years, according to the Academies of Science study.

The Academies and Toyota Motor Corp. have publicly said they don't think the Department of Energy goals are achievable and that cost reductions are likely to be far lower. It likely will be 20 years before costs fall by 50%—not the three or so years the DOE projects—according to an Academy council studying battery costs. The council was made up of nearly a dozen researchers in the battery field.

"Economies of scale are often cited as a factor that can drive down costs, but hundreds of millions to billions of ... [battery] cells already are being produced in optimized factories. Building more factories is unlikely to have a great impact on costs," the Academies report said.

The report added that the cost of the battery-pack enclosure that holds the cells is a major portion of the total battery-pack cost, and isn't likely to come down much. In addition, battery packs include electronic sensors and controls that regulate the voltage moving through and the heat being generated by the cells. Since those electronics already are mass-produced commodities, their prices may not fall much with higher production, the study said.

Lastly, the labor involved in assembling battery packs is expensive because employees need to be more highly trained than traditional factory staff because they work in a high-voltage environment. That means labor costs are unlikely to drop, said a senior executive at one battery manufacturer.

When car makers began using nickel-metal hydride batteries, an older technology, in their early hybrid vehicles, the cost of the packs fell only 11% from 2000 to 2006 and has seen little change since, according to the Academies study.

Toyota executives, including Takeshi Uchiyamada, global chief of engineering, say their experience with nickel-metal hydride batteries makes them skeptical that the prices of lithium ion battery pack prices will fall substantially.

"The cost reductions aren't attainable even in the next 10 years," said Menahem Anderman, principal of Total Battery Consulting Inc., a California-based battery research firm. "We still don't know how much it will cost to make sure the batteries meet reliability, safety and durability standards. And now we are trying to reduce costs, which automatically affect those first three things."

Friday, April 23, 2010

China and the US, Two Energy Giants: A Contrast In Approach

Two Energy Giants: A contrast in approach
IER, Apr 22, 2010

China’s economy is growing with dizzying speed, and the government is fueling the growth with plentiful energy. In fact, China’s electrification program and its ability to secure future oil supplies are second to none. By contrast, the U.S. economy is growing more slowly and its energy strategy is limiting that growth. The United States has slowed its electrification, adding only select forms of generating capacity, and has taken steps to reduce its flexibility in securing safe oil supplies.

China Setting Records: China Oil Demand, Coal Production and Vehicle Sales Up in 2010

During January, February, and March of this year, China was again setting records with huge year-over-year increases in oil demand.  In February, China’s oil demand rose 19.4 percent over a year earlier, the second fastest rise on record. According to Reuters, China is the world’s second largest oil user (second to the United States) and consumed 8.65 million barrels of oil per day in February, an increase of 9.4 percent or 604,000 barrels per day over January’s consumption.[i] Oil imports were up 13.8 percent in March over February, reaching 4.95 million barrels per day, according to preliminary data from China’s General Administration of Customs.[ii] In part, these large oil increases are fueling China’s passenger car fleet. New passenger car sales rose 55 percent in February from a year earlier, following a 116 percent increase in January, most likely aided by the extension of government incentives to boost purchases of smaller vehicles and spur rural demand for cars.  [iii]

China has spent nearly $200 billion on oil deals during the past few years, joining with more than 19 countries —including Russia, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya, Angola, Venezuela and Brazil— and paying for exploration, production, infrastructure construction, as well as “loans for energy” deals.[iv] Recently, China’s Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration and Production Company agreed to buy, for $4.65 billion, the 9 percent interest that ConocoPhillips holds in Syncrude,[v] a Canadian business involved in the production of oil sands (an asphalt-like heavy oil).[vi] Approval from the Canadian and Chinese governments is expected in the third quarter of this year.

Along with China’s Canadian oil pursuits, long thought to be a safe and secure supply for U.S. oil demand, the state-owned China Development Bank has promised to lend $20 billion to Venezuela to build new power plants, highways, and other projects, which will be repaid with Venezuelan crude oil. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has long complained about the United States’ standing as the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, and so he is more than pleased to offer his country’s oil to China instead.[vii] Both the Canadian crude and the Venezuelan crude are heavy oils, and the United States owns most of the refineries that can process heavy crude oils. So, to prepare itself for future heavy oil supplies, China has approved plans for construction of such a refinery. As the United States loses neighboring oil supplies to China, one wonders how the U.S. will meet future oil demand, especially as the Obama Administration has been slow to open new offshore areas to oil development (claiming further study is needed) but speedy at advocating climate legislation and a low-carbon fuel standard, both policies aimed at reducing the demand for fossil fuels without providing comparable energy substitutes.

china oil demand

Oil resources are not the only target on China’s energy wish-list. It also plans to increase its consumption of natural gas; last year, its liquefied natural gas imports rose by two-thirds, to 5.53 million tons or 7.7 billion cubic meters.[viii] China also continues to consume large quantities of its primary fuel, coal, in its industrial and electric generation sectors. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s coal output grew more than 28 percent, to well over 751 million tons in the first quarter of 2010. A report by China’s National Coal Association estimates China’s total coal production capacity exceeds 3.6 billion tons.[ix] This is in sharp contrast to coal mining in the United States, where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a new policy aimed at curbing mountain top removal mining[x] and is scrutinizing surface coal mine permits.  EPA is revoking or blocking Clean Water Act permits for mountain top mining citing irreversible damage to the environment. Some of the permits were awarded years ago.[xi]

Seventy percent of China’s energy comes from coal,[xii] the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. China already consumes more than twice the coal as  the United States, and by 2030, China is expected to consume 3.7 times as much coal.[xiii] As a result, China emits more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world including the United States, and by 2030, it is expected to release 82 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than the United States.[xiv]

china co2 emissions

China’s Race to Electrification; U.S. Stagnation

Between 2004 and 2008, China added 346 gigawatts of generating capacity, of which 272 gigawatts were conventional thermal power (mostly coal) and 66 gigawatts were hydroelectric power. This compares to a total installed US hydroelectric capacity of 77 gigawatts.  China is estimated to have added an additional 85 gigawatts in 2009, reaching a total of 874 gigawatts,[xv] about 15 percent less than the total capacity in the United States. Of the 85 gigawatts added in 2009, 51 gigawatts were conventional thermal, again mostly coal, 25 gigawatts were hydroelectric, and 9 gigawatts were wind power.[xvi] Many of China’s wind turbines were funded by the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism,   under which wealthy countries fund projects in developing countries and receive carbon credits so long as those projects would not have been accomplished otherwise.[xvii]

In contrast, the United States added only 47 gigawatts of generating capacity from 2004 to 2008 (14 percent of the capacity China added), of which 26 gigawatts were natural gas-fired units and 18 gigawatts were wind turbines. New coal-fired capacity additions are practically non-existent in the United States primarily owing to objections regarding emissions of carbon dioxide. Coal-fired projects in the United States have either been cancelled or delayed because of permitting problems, reviews and re-reviews by EPA and resulting financing problems. While the United States has more coal than any other country in the world, with over 200 years of reserves at current usage rates, coal’s share of new U.S. generating markets has been replaced by natural gas and renewable units that are  more politically in vogue.

china electricity generating capacity
us electricity generating capacity

China’s Economic Growth and Export Market

China’s economy, the second-largest in the world in terms of purchasing power, is currently about half the size of the U.S. gross domestic product. According to China’s central bank, the country’s economy grew at an annual rate of 10.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009,[xviii] a rate almost twice the U.S. rate of 5.6 percent for the same time period.[xix] And in the first quarter of 2010, China’s economy grew by 11.9 percent. Forecasters predict that China’s economy will exceed that of the United States in 10 to 15 years.[xx]

China became the world’s largest exporter last year, edging out Germany and the United States. Despite a decline in total world trade, China’s exports fell less than those of other big powers. A report by the World Trade Organization calculates that the total value of merchandise exports fell by 23 percent in 2009. Among the top ten exporters, Japan’s shipments were the worst affected, falling by 26 percent. Because China’s exports fell by only 16 percent, it is now the single largest exporter. The World Trade Organization expects trade to rebound by nearly 10 percent this year.[xxi]

leading exporters world

Lessons to Be Learned

Many environmentalists and politicians seem to believe that China is winning the green energy race, but nothing could be further from reality.[xxii] China is in a race for energy—all forms of energy—to fuel its growing economy. The size and scope of its investments in conventional forms of energy dwarf their commitment to “green energy.” It is providing loans around the world to invest in future oil projects, and it cares not that the oil is less than the lightest and sweetest. Canadian oil sands and Venezuelan heavy crude are perfectly fine. China is building a coal-fired generating plant each and every week on average, and increasing its coal mining capacity to fuel them. This belies any stated concerns about increasing their carbon dioxide emissions, already the highest of any country in the world. China is building wind turbines too, but if wealthy countries are willing to pay—why not? It matters not at all that the transmission capacity is not yet there to operate almost a third of these wind turbines. And China’s large-scale hydroelectric projects are engineering feats par excellence, built regardless of environmental concerns.
China is ensuring energy supplies will be available to fuel its growing economy. The United States should take note.

[i] Reuters, China oil demand rise second fastest, inventories drag, March 22, 2010, [ii] Reuters, Oil falls as demand, inventories weigh, April 12, 2010,
[iii] Reuters, China oil demand rise second fastest, inventories drag, March 22, 2010,
[iv] Politico, To compete with China, U.S. must tap natural gas, April 13, 2010,
[v] Reuters, China bags oil sands stake, not finished yet, April 13, 2010, and
[vi] Syncrude,
[vii] The Wall Street Journal, China’s $20 Billion Bolsters Chavez, April 18, 2010,
[viii] Reuters, China bags oil sands stake, not finished yet, April 13, 2010,
[ix] China Daily, China’s coal output up 28.1% in Q1, April 15, 2010,
[x] Environmental protection Agency, New Releases, EPA issues comprehensive guidance to protect Appalachian communities from harmful environmental impacts of mountaintop mining, April 1, 2010,!OpenDocument
[xi] Associated Press, Arch Coal sues EPA over veto of W.Va. mine permit, April 2, 2010,
[xii] Energy Information Administration, China,
[xiii] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2009,
[xiv] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2009,
[xvi] China’s power generation goes greener with total capacity up 10%, January 7, 2010,
[xviii] Politico, To compete with China, U.S. must tap natural gas, April 13, 2010,
[xx] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2009,
[xxi] China overtakes Germany to become the biggest exporter of all, March 31, 2010,

Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

Farmers Can Feed the World - Better seeds and fertilizers, not romantic myths, will let them do it

Farmers Can Feed the World. By NORMAN E. BORLAUG
Better seeds and fertilizers, not romantic myths, will let them do it.
WSJ, Jul 31, 2009

Earlier this month in L’Aquila, Italy, a small town recently devastated by an earthquake, leaders of the G-8 countries pledged $20 billion over three years for farm-investment aid that will help resource-poor farmers get access to tools like better seed and fertilizer and help poor nations feed themselves.For those of us who have spent our lives working in agriculture, focusing on growing food versus giving it away is a giant step forward.

Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and others, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty. And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well.

But just as the ground shifted beneath the Italian community of L’Aquila, so too has the political landscape heaved in other parts of the world, casting unfounded doubts on agricultural tools for farmers made through modern science, such as biotech corn in parts of Europe. Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the world’s hungry—25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.

Unfortunately, these distractions keep us from the main goal. Consider that current agricultural productivity took 10,000 years to attain the production of roughly six billion gross tons of food per year. Today, nearly seven billion people consume that stockpile almost in its entirety every year. Factor in growing prosperity and nearly three billion new mouths by 2050, and you quickly see how the crudest calculations suggest that within the next four decades the world’s farmers will have to double production.

They most likely will need to accomplish this feat on a shrinking land base and in the face of environmental demands caused by climate change. Indeed, this month Oxfam released a study concluding that the multiple effects of climate change might “reverse 50 years of work to end poverty” resulting in “the defining human tragedy of this century.”

At this time of critical need, the epicenter of our collective work should focus on driving continued investments from both the public and private sectors in efficient agriculture production technologies. Investments like those announced by the G-8 leaders will most likely help to place current tools—like fertilizer and hybrid seeds that have been used for decades in the developed world—into the hands of small-holder farmers in remote places like Africa with the potential for noted and measured impact.

That investment will not continue to motivate new and novel discoveries, like drought-tolerant, insect-resistant or higher-yielding seed varieties that advance even faster. To accomplish this, governments must make their decisions about access to new technologies, such as the development of genetically modified organisms—on the basis of science, and not to further political agendas. Open markets will stimulate continued investment, innovation and new developments from public research institutions, private companies and novel public/private partnerships.

We already can see the ongoing value of these investments simply by acknowledging the double-digit productivity gains made in corn and soybeans in much of the developed world. In the U.S., corn productivity has grown more than 40% and soybeans by nearly 30% from 1987 to 2007, while wheat has lagged behind, increasing by only 19% during the same period. Lack of significant investment in rice and wheat, two of the most important staple crops needed to feed our growing world, is unfortunate and short-sighted. It has kept productivity in these two staple crops at relatively the same levels seen at the end of the 1960s and the close of the Green Revolution, which helped turn Mexico and India from starving net grain importers to exporters.

Here, too, the ground seems to be slowly shifting in the right direction, as recent private investments in wheat and public/private partnerships in maize for Africa re-enter the marketplace. These investments and collaborations are critical in our quest to realize much needed productivity gains in rice and wheat to benefit farmers around the world—and, ultimately, those of us who rely on them to produce our daily food.

Of history, one thing is certain: Civilization as we know it could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Likewise, the civilization that our children, grandchildren and future generations come to know will not evolve without accelerating the pace of investment and innovation in agriculture production.

Mr. Borlaug, a professor at Texas A&M University, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the world food supply.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

EPA's IRIS program (Integrated Risk Information System)

Stifling Innovation. By Dr. Gilbert Ross M.D.TCS Daily, Jun 04, 2009

Despite the plethora of bad economic news this year, good news abounds for pro-regulatory, litigation-happy "consumer activists" on the left -- and their attorney camp-followers.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson recently announced her plan to subject chemicals in our environment to even more stringent risk assessments, chasing minuscule risks to human health for no real purpose. Her plan involves the IRIS program -- Integrated Risk Information System -- which will now be used to characterize health risks of chemicals, however tiny the exposure. The chemophobes running the EPA are once more taking the lead in promulgating junk science, likely in an effort to justify their request for a budget increase of 37%, amounting to over $10 billion.

It appears Jackson's unstated goal is to import here, by stealth, the European system, which employs the Precautionary Principle. This dogma asserts that substances in our environment are hazardous until proven otherwise, necessitating bans and product withdrawals until long-term studies prove them safe. This "better safe than sorry" tenet would lead to stagnation of new product development. What company with any sense would invest millions of dollars in formulating any truly new product, knowing that litigation and regulation will force them to delay marketing until some far-off approval from the EPA? Worse still, the "toxicity" of synthetic chemicals is inferred from high-dose rodent tests, bearing little or no relevance to human health.

While Jackson states that this overhaul is needed to improve "transparency" of risk assessment for public health entities, the real beneficiaries will be plaintiffs' attorneys, who will use these "risks" as a basis of litigation, alleging various adverse health effects. Even the threat of such lawsuits will likely cause many companies to cave in to activists' demands for product withdrawals or scary labeling -- with big settlements as part of the deal. None of this has anything to do with enhancing human health.

The new administration is pushing an anti-business agenda, cutting through resistance from industry and true consumer advocates. Recently, President Obama ruled that federal agencies must review regulations dating back to the Clinton years to eliminate some that relied on federal preemption (that is, even products deemed safe at the federal level will now be more easily subject to state-by-state lawsuits). With uniform federal-level regulations comes a stable business climate for development of innovative new products. Conversely, the imminent loss of such stability -- as federal dominance yields to a patchwork of unwieldy local laws -- will lead to risk-aversion and stagnation. Unmoored local standards will ultimately be deformed by persuasive trial lawyers and lay juries.

New product development will slow to a trickle -- consumer choice on a range of products will become the victim of stultifying intimidation from "consumer activists" and their coterie of lawyers, as has already been demonstrated in the area of innovative pharmaceuticals.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America has lately refashioned itself as the "American Association for Justice," and its membership would have you believe they are now merely simple seekers of Truth and Justice -- but this tiger has not changed its stripes. The trial lawyers' concern with "the rule of law," which they claim motivates their new campaign against preemption, goes exactly as far as strategically necessary to produce big damage awards or settlements -- wrung from jury-fearing, meek corporate bottom-liners.

Add to this that Justice Souter, a relative moderate on many regulatory issues, will soon be replaced by the more "empathic" and lawsuit friendly Sonia Sotomayor, and we have a formula for even more trouble ahead.

In this climate, every time EPA -- with its new, stricter, more precautionary approach -- hints even in a non-committal fashion at the possible "toxicity" of some chemical or product, it will be inviting a wave of state-by-state lawsuits, with the plaintiffs stifling industry and likely getting a sympathetic hearing from the High Court at the end of the day. Let us hope Congress and the public are very cautious about embracing EPA's precautionary new mission.

Gilbert Ross, M.D., is Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health (

The EPA’s risk-assessment practices are harming public health and the economy

The EPA’s Protection Racket. By Jeff Stier, Esq., Angela Logomasini
Its risk-assessment practices are harming public health and the economy
ACSH, Tuesday, June 9, 2009 ARTICLES Publication Date: June 9, 2009

This piece first appeared on on June 9, 2009:

The Environmental Protection Agency is making “significant strides” on issues such as “protecting children’s health” and “confronting climate change,” says a memo from EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Not surprisingly, the agency has requested a 37 percent budget increase for fiscal year 2010.

Politically speaking, the new Obama EPA may indeed be making some strides. But what concrete public-health benefits can Jackson — or any EPA administrator — realistically claim to have achieved?

The EPA’s public-health mission is misleading, because it is charged with addressing risks that are too small to measure or be regulated away. The agency’s current risk-assessment practices compound the problem, harming both public health and our economic well-being. The agency issues extremely high benefit estimates for its regulations. But these estimates are out of touch with reality.

For example, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reported in 2004 that over a ten-year period, most of the benefits from significant federal regulations resulted from just four EPA Clean Air Act rules. The OIRA noted that the uncertainty related to EPA estimates was “large.” A better description would be to say that the estimates are “highly implausible.”

Retired scientist Michael Gough, formerly with the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, has demonstrated that the total number of cancers that the EPA could feasibly regulate away is small. Gough came to this result by analyzing the data found in Sir Richard Doll and Richard Peto’s landmark 1981 study on the causes of cancer, along with risks estimates in the 1989 EPA study Reducing Risk.

Reducing Risk was an internal EPA research project designed to assess whether the agency was on the right track. It determined that the EPA had set the wrong priorities, devoting substantial resources to low-tier risks. This report remains relevant today, as do Gough’s findings.
Using data from Reducing Risk and the Doll-Peto study, Gough found that no more than 3 percent of all cancers can be associated with environmental pollution. “If the EPA risk assessment techniques are accurate,” he wrote, “and all identified carcinogens amenable to EPA regulations were completely controlled,” which is impossible, “about 6,400 cancer deaths annually (about 1.3% of the current annual total of 435,000 cancer deaths) would be prevented. When cancer risks are estimated using a method like that employed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the number of regulatable cancers is smaller, about 1,400 (about 0.25%).”

It is worth emphasizing that the widely accepted Doll-Peto study shows that the overwhelming majority of cancers result from sources outside EPA control. That is why the World Health Organization has suggested in its World Cancer Report (2003) that cancer-prevention efforts should focus on three factors: tobacco use, diet, and infections — which together, the WHO notes, account for 75 percent of all cancer cases worldwide.

The EPA’s mission involves spending considerable amounts of tax dollars to regulate risks that are in most cases too insignificant to be scientifically demonstrated. The agency has compounded this problem by employing highly questionable scientific assumptions when assessing risks — such as emphasizing high-dose rodent studies.

The environmentalists like animal tests and the uncertainty of their results. These studies give the EPA an excuse to rely on the precautionary principle — the notion that, without full knowledge of the risks, it is “better to be safe than sorry,” and thus better to regulate even more tightly.

Reliance on animal studies also allows regulators to choose from a wide range of animals when extrapolating to humans. A certain chemical doesn’t cause cancer in rats? Try it on mice. Or monkeys. Then say that humans are just like whichever animal eventually got cancer after being given a very high dose — and add that humans (particularly children) may be even more sensitive. Regulations end up having layer after layer of extra precaution.

No wonder activists feigned outrage when the EPA considered a study to assess the effects of common household chemicals and pesticides on toddlers. The study wouldn’t have exposed kids to additional chemicals — only observed kids whose families already used existing, EPA-approved products sold on the market. The National Academy of Sciences approved the ethics of such an approach, but activists quashed it — knowing that the EPA would be left relying on vaguer animal studies when crafting regulations.

Further faulty studies and misguided regulations do more than hinder the economy. They also lead to bans on valuable products that otherwise could be saving lives, such as chemicals that fight disease-carrying insects, retard the spread of fires, and help grow healthy fruits and vegetables (one of the few dietary factors shown to combat cancer).

Ironically, contracting the EPA’s budget would do more for public health than increasing it. Congress should keep this in mind. Until the EPA refocuses its scientific assumptions to target genuine risk, lawmakers should not boost its funding.

Angela Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mother Nature, Serial Polluter

Re: Mother Nature, Serial Polluter. By Drew Thornley
Planet Gore/NRO, Jun 09, 2009

Oil rigs and tankers are always to blame, when it comes to oil polluting our oceans. But, as I highlighted in my recent Energy Myths report for the Manhattan Institute, more oil enters our nation's ocean waters from natural ocean-floor seepage than from human activities:

For example, ocean floors naturally seep more oil into the ocean than do oil-drilling accidents and oil-tanker spills combined. (However, such seepage generally does not rise to the surface or reach the coastlines and, thus, is not as apparent as oil-drilling spills.) According to the National Academies’ National Research Council, natural processes are responsible for over 60 percent of the petroleum that enters North American ocean waters and over 45 percent of the petroleum that enters ocean waters worldwide. Thus, in percentage terms, North America’s oil-drilling activities spill less oil into the ocean than the global average, suggesting that our drilling is comparatively safe for the environment.

Ironically, research shows that drilling can actually reduce natural seepage, as it relieves the pressure that drives oil and gas up from ocean floors and into ocean waters. In 1999, two peer-reviewed studies found that natural seepage in the northern Santa Barbara Channel was significantly reduced by oil production. The researchers documented that natural seepage declined 50 percent around Platform Holly over a twenty-two-year period, concluding that, as oil was pumped from the reservoir, the pressure that drives natural seepage dropped.

If you're interested in learning more, Stop Oil Seeps California is taking a little field trip this Saturday, June 13. From their e-mail:

We invite you to get a first hand look at the natural gas and oil seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel. At 25 knots, the Condor Express will calmly whisk you up the coastline to Coal Oil Point, the site of Santa Barbara County's prolific natural offshore seeps — the largest in the western hemisphere! Next you will motor over to Platform Holly for an up-close view of a working oil platform. The size of this facility is astounding and the marine life it supports is unique and fun to watch. The 25 minute ride back to the beautiful Santa Barbara Harbor should be relaxing and quite possibly filled with more marine surprises.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Study: Declining Great Lakes Levels Entirely Natural

Study: Declining Great Lakes Levels Entirely Natural. By Henry Payne

Detroit, Mich. — Like polar bears, hurricanes, and arctic ice caps, recent drops in Great Lake water levels have been a poster child for green activists’ claims that the global warming crisis is upon us. A sampling:

April, 2003, Detroit News: “A group of scientists predicted that global warming will wreak havoc on the Great Lakes region . . . the largest single concentration of fresh water in the world.”
October, 2003, Detroit Free Press: “The idea that warming has benefits may be a particularly tough sell to Michiganders already disturbed by what happens when the Great Lakes drop near historic lows.”

April, 2007, Detroit News: “Data from a new United Nations report on climate change . . . strengthens scientific opinion that Michigan will see other dramatic effects in the coming decades: lower Great Lakes water levels, a dramatically receding Lake St. Clair. . . . ”

May, 2008, Detroit News: “A report released by an environmental group warns that unless Congress acts to curb global warming, Great Lakes water levels will drop up to 3 feet; beaches will close more often, and fish and animal populations will decline.”

Never mind.

In a comprehensive, two-year study of Great Lakes water levels, Canadian and American researchers working for the International Joint Commission this week found Mother Nature was to blame. “It’s not ongoing. It has definitely stabilized,” said Ted Yuzyk, the Canadian co-chair of the study, who added the changes have reversed in the last two years anyway. “And it’s not human driven. This is more natural.”

“Record high levels were seen in the early 1950s, in 1973, and again in 1985-1986,” reads The International Upper Great Lakes Study. “In the late 1990s, a nearly 30-year period of above-average water level conditions in the upper Great Lakes ended. Since then, Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake Superior have experienced lower than average lake level conditions.”

Among the natural factors that explain the lakes cyclical rise and fall, reported the Detroit News, “were changing climate patterns, including greater rain and snow” and “shifts in the ’s crust, called glacial isostatic adjustment, that are the result of the planet's rebound from the melting of glaciers 10,000 years ago.”

Green groups were not amused. Facts are such inconvenient things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The war on mining: Fighting back

The war on mining: Fighting back. By Silvia Santacruz
The Financial Post, April 22, 2009

Gold has become a safe haven as jittery investors move away from weakened stock markets, and currencies are threatened by inflation. But the allure of gold goes well beyond its future value or price per ounce.

The demand for the precious metal has propelled economic growth in the developing world as investment in exploration has led to significant job creation and improvements in health. Despite this, the industry is under attack by environmental NGOs, which accuse it of bringing poverty and pollution to the regions.

The war on mining is global. In 2007, Newmont CEO Richard Ness was cleared in a 21-month Indonesian criminal trial for the firm’s alleged pollution of Buyat Bay. National Geographic criticized the same operation on the grounds that mine’s benefits—$391-million in local royalties and taxes, 8,000 jobs and $3-million in welfare projects—accrue to only five of the nearest communities.

In Ecuador, NGOs sow alarm among poor communities with claims that if large-scale mining were to start near them, their rivers would be contaminated, their animals and crops would die and their children would fall ill. To prove their point, environmentalists play videos of the damage that mercury, cyanide and arsenic can cause, blithely ignoring the fact that new techniques no longer use those chemicals and cause little environmental impact.

Poverty, not the natural resources industry, is the biggest enemy of people. So what would the anti-mining activists’ success mean for the communities where they are concentrating their efforts?

In Africa and Indonesia, the world’s four largest gold producers—Barrick, Gold Fields, Newmont and Anglo-Gold Ashanti—are engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which kill thousands in the developing world every year. The industry works in partnership with nonprofits like International SOS, IFC Against AIDS, African Medical Research (AMREF) and Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, among others.

“Gold mining companies are particularly affected by the triple disease threat of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,” explains Maureen Upton, a World Gold Council official, in a 2008 study. “It is difficult to think of what other industry faces a situation where in certain locations 30% of its employees are infected with a fatal disease such as HIV, or where a similar percentage is likely to be infected with malaria.”

In Ghana, AngloGold Ashanti hired a worldwide authority on insecticide resistance, Professor Richard Hunt, who found that the dominant mosquito species were completely or partially resistant to three standard insecticides but susceptible to another one not being provided by the World Health Organization. The company responded by initiating a program that reduced malaria infections by 73% in scarcely two years.

Also in Ghana, Gold Fields launched the Bowoho Ban (“Protect Yourself “) weekly radio program to educate people about HIV/AIDS. In South Africa, where AngloGold Ashanti’s workforce has an HIVinfection rate of 30%—which, while high, is still lower than South Africa’s national average of 44%—the firm hired AIDS Peer Educators who persuade mine workers and community members to undergo HIV testing and counselling. The response among mine workers during 2007-2008 was 100%, up from 40% during 2006-2007.

Newmont is fighting malaria in Indonesia by distributing bed nets, clearing larvae and talking to residents about malaria prevention. The incidence of malaria among children in the area of Newmont’s project declined from 47% in 1999 to 13% in 2000 (the project’s first year) to 1.5% in 2007.

If mining companies were to pull out in the wake of government or activist pressure, many poor rural communities in developing countries would be left with no job opportunities, hope for development or health programs. Mining companies invest in these programs to keep a healthy and productive workforce, which, in turn, benefits underdeveloped towns.

To take that away would be a crime.

Silvia Santacruz is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writer-editor at Ecuador Mining News and a contributor to

Saturday, April 25, 2009

World Malaria Day -- We Need DDT-Day

Tomorrow Is World Malaria Day -- We Need DDT-Day. By Todd Seavey
ACSH, April 24, 2009

In 2000, African leaders vowed to reduce malaria deaths by 50% in ten years. Tomorrow marks the ninth anniversary of the vow, and though it hasn't been fulfilled, we are drawing very close to another marker of malaria's toll: 100 million dead from malaria since the Environmental Protection Agency's 1972 ban on DDT, the insecticide best suited to combat malarial mosquitoes.

For comparison, the total number of people killed by cigarette smoking in the twentieth century is thought to be about 60 million, total casualties from World War II perhaps as high as 70 million, and the total killed by Communist regimes about 100 million. Thus, anti-chemical greens (inspired by Rachel Carson's fear-mongering book Silent Spring) may already be humanity's most prolific killers -- and surely the most widely praised.

Africa Malaria Day was declared on April 25, 2000. President Bush noted Malaria Awareness Day on April 25, 2006. The World Health Organization decided in 2007 to begin marking World Malaria Day, with 2008 officially being the first and tomorrow the second -- with just one year to go before the original ten-year deadline is reached.

To make real progress in time for World Malaria Day 2010, instead of gauging progress by government spending or how many times Jimmy Carter praises bed nets, how about simply getting government out of the way and letting DDT (which, at worst, has been accused, likely incorrectly, of thinning some bird eggshells) do its lifesaving work around the world, as it did in once-malarial Europe and America for three decades before the ban? (I made this point back in 2002, in an ACSH piece cited this year in the New York Times bestseller Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin.)

By means such as bed nets and an impending malaria vaccine, we are making commendable strides in fighting malaria, but this is not a fight we should be waging with the most effective weapon needlessly kept beyond our reach. End the ban. Save millions of lives. Not a hard choice.

Todd Seavey is Director of Publications at the American Council on Science and Health (, and will host a Debate at Lolita Bar at 8pm on Wednesday, May 6, on the question "Should Humans Radically Decrease Their Exploitation of Animals?"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reckless 'Endangerment' - The Obama EPA plays 'Dirty Harry' on cap and trade

Reckless 'Endangerment'. WSJ Editorial
The Obama EPA plays 'Dirty Harry' on cap and trade.
WSJ, Apr 24, 2009

President Obama's global warming agenda has been losing support in Congress, but why let an irritant like democratic consent interfere with saving the world? So last Friday the Environmental Protection Agency decided to put a gun to the head of Congress and play cap-and-trade roulette with the U.S. economy.

The pistol comes in the form of a ruling that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant that threatens the public and therefore must be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act. This so-called "endangerment finding" sets the clock ticking on a vast array of taxes and regulation that EPA will have the power to impose across the economy, and all with little or no political debate.
This is a momentous decision that has the potential to affect the daily life of every American, yet most of the media barely noticed, and those that did largely applauded. When America's Founders revolted against "taxation without representation," this is precisely the kind of kingly diktat they had in mind.

Michigan Democrat John Dingell helped to write the Clean Air Act, as well as its 1990 revision, and he says neither was meant to apply to carbon. But in 2007 five members of the Supreme Court followed the environmental polls and ordered the EPA to determine if CO2 qualified as a "pollutant." The Bush Administration prudently slow-walked the decision. As Peter Glaser, an environmental lawyer at Troutman Sanders, told Congress in 2008, "The country will experience years, if not decades, of regulatory agony, as EPA will be required to undertake numerous, controversial, time-consuming, expensive and difficult regulatory proceedings, all of which ultimately will be litigated."

The Obama EPA has now opened this Pandora's box. The centerpiece of the Clean Air Act is something called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, under which the EPA decides the appropriate atmospheric concentration of a given air pollutant. Under this law the states must adopt measures to meet a NAAQS goal, and the costs cannot be considered. For global warming, this is going to be a hugely expensive futility parade.

Greenhouse gases mix in the atmosphere, and it doesn't matter where they come from. A ton of emissions from Ohio has the same effect on global CO2 as a ton emitted in China; and even if Ohio figured out a way to reduce its emissions to zero, it would still have no control over the carbon content in its ambient air. But under the law, EPA would be required to severely punish Ohio -- and every state -- for not complying with NAAQS.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA also must regulate all "major" sources of emissions that emit more than 250 tons of an air pollutant in a year. That includes "any building, structure, facility or installation." This might be a reasonable threshold for conventional pollutants such as SOX or NOX, but it's extremely low for carbon. Hundreds of thousands of currently unregulated sources will suddenly be subject to the EPA's preconstruction permitting and review, including schools, hospitals, malls, restaurants, farms and colleges. According to EPA, the average permit today takes 866 hours for a source to prepare, and 301 hours for EPA to process. So this regulatory burden will increase by several orders of magnitude.

The EPA took the highly unusual step of not accompanying its endangerment finding with actual proposed regulations. For now, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims her agency will only target cars and trucks. That is bad enough. It probably means, for example, that California's mileage fleet burdens will seep out to every other state. So even as taxpayers are now paying tens of billions of dollars to prop up GM and Chrysler, Ms. Jackson will be able to tell the entire auto industry it must make even more small cars that consumers don't want to buy.

Still, why confine the rule only to cars and trucks? By the EPA's own logic, it shouldn't matter where carbon emissions come from. Carbon from a car's tailpipe is the same as carbon from a coal-fired power plant. And transportation is responsible for only 28% of U.S. emissions, versus 34% for electricity generation. Ms. Jackson is clearly trying to limit the immediate economic impact of her ruling, so as not to ignite too great a business or consumer backlash.

But her half-measure is also too clever by half. By finding carbon a public danger, she is inviting lawsuits from environmental lobbies demanding that EPA regulate all carbon sources. Massachusetts and two other states have already sued in federal court to force the EPA to create a NAAQS for CO2.
Which brings us back to the Obama Administration's political roulette. Democrats know that their cap-and-tax agenda is losing ground, notably among Midwestern Senators. The EPA "endangerment" is intended to threaten businesses and state and local governments until they surrender and support the Obama agenda. The car industry is merely the first target, meant to be the object lesson.

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey put it this way at MIT recently: "Do you want the EPA to make the decision or would you like your Congressman or Senator to be in the room and drafting legislation? . . . Industries across the country will just have to gauge for themselves how lucky they feel if they kill legislation in terms of how the EPA process will include them."

This "Dirty Harry" theory of governance -- Do you feel lucky? -- is as cynical as it is destructive. And contra Mr. Markey, if cap and tax is killed this year, it will be done in by Democrats, many of whom are starting to realize the economic harm it would inflict. In March, the Senate voted 89 to 8 on a resolution vowing to pass a climate bill only if "such legislation does not increase electricity or gasoline prices."

That's called democracy, but for the Obama Administration such debate is an inconvenient truth. If they can't get Congress to pass their agenda, they'll use EPA and the courts to impose it. How lucky do you feel?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Op-Ed by Energy Sec Chu and Labor Sec Solis: Building the American Clean Energy Economy

Op-Ed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis: Building the American Clean Energy Economy

To commemorate Earth Day, the op-ed below on green jobs and energy independence by Secretaries Steven Chu and Hilda Solis ran in the following papers yesterday and today:

Austin American-Statesman
Buffalo News
Denver Post
Montgomery Advertiser
Omaha World Herald
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Building the American Clean Energy Economy
By Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis

On April 22nd, people across the country and around the world will celebrate Earth Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of our natural resources and taking real action to make a difference. For decades, while Americans in towns and cities across the country have worked to make a difference in their communities, politicians in both parties in Washington have ignored the energy crisis, imperiling our economy, our security and our planet. Now, we have a unique and critical opportunity to attack the energy crisis head on and create a comprehensive energy policy that will bolster our economy, end our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the threat of deadly pollution that is devastating our planet.

During his first months in office, President Obama has already taken some important first strides toward those goals as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Recovery Act included billions of dollars to be invested in cities and states across the country to strengthen our clean energy industry and help restore America's place at the forefront of the 21st century global economy.

Recently, we visited the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania where workers at the facility are being trained for the types of green jobs those Recovery Act dollars are funding. At the community college, these jobs range from the construction and facility upgrades of green buildings to the installation of energy-efficient street lights to conducting energy audits. In a booming clean energy sector, those jobs will range from research and development to skilled labor jobs like weatherizing to floor shifts at wind and solar facilities. And these are jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

This focus on jump-starting the creation of an American clean energy sector will be the foundation of the president's energy policy. With the depletion of the world's oil reserves and the growing disruption of our climate, the development of clean, renewable sources of energy is the growth industry of the 21st century. Rather than sending billions overseas to pay for these new and developing energy technologies, President Obama believes we should invest those dollars here in American jobs and innovation. By developing a clean energy economy here at home, we will end our dependence on foreign oil and begin to make America truly energy independent. That's not just an economic and environmental imperative, it's also a national security imperative.

As part of this comprehensive policy, we must crack down on the corporations that pollute the water we drink and the air we breathe. Cracking down on these polluters in a real way will mean that we can finally tackle global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects - because ultimately, our approach to energy policy and combating the effects of global warming are two sides of the same coin.

We have an enormous, urgent environmental and economic task ahead of us, and it is one that we have ignored for far too long. If we are going to create clean energy industry jobs in this country, break the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our economy and punish the polluters who are devastating our natural resources, then we've got to be honest about the difficult tasks and tough choices ahead. It's going to mean telling the special interests that their days of dictating energy policy in this country are over. It's going to mean refusing to settle for the status quo and the same ineffective policies that have held us back for over 30 years, created price shocks and fostered energy dependence. This president is committed to tackling these challenges head on to create a clean energy policy that works for all Americans, so that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren not just a stronger economy, but a cleaner planet.

Why don't environmentalists celebrate modern farming on Earth Day?

Yielding to Ideology Over Science. By Ronald Bailey
Why don't environmentalists celebrate modern farming on Earth Day?
Reason, April 21, 2009

One might think that environmentalists would celebrate the accomplishments of modern farming on Earth Day. After all, the biggest way humanity disturbs the natural world is in how we produce food. Agriculture uses up more land and water than any other human activity. To the extent that we want to preserve biodiversity and protect natural areas, boosting agricultural productivity is the most vital thing that we can do.

Since 1960 global crop yields have more than doubled, with the benefit that the area of land devoted to producing food has not increased very much. If farmers were still producing food at 1960 levels of productivity, agriculture would have had to expand from 38 percent of the earth's land to 82 percent to feed the world's current population. This enormous increase in yields is the result of applying more artificial fertilizers, breeding higher yielding crops, a wider use of pesticides and herbicides, and expanding irrigation. More recently, advances in modern biotechnology have also contributed to boosting yields. However, last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new report, Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, by its senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman that tries to make the case that modern crop biotechnology should be largely abandoned because it has failed to increase agricultural yields.

Failure to Yield begins by noting that, in the United States, 90 percent of soybeans and 63 percent of the corn crop are biotech varieties. Genes have been inserted in these varieties (called transgenic or genetically engineered by the report) to confer pest and herbicide resistance on the crops. The UCS study distinguishes between intrinsic yield, the highest yield possible under ideal conditions, and operational yield, the yield obtainable in the field taking into account factors like pests and environmental stresses. The study then asserts, "No currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops."

In addition, Gurian-Sherman claims that biotech crops have only marginally increased operational yields for corn (largely through insect resistance traits) and not at all for soybeans in the United States.

First, keep in mind that farmers are not stupid, and especially not poor farmers in developing countries. The UCS report acknowledges that American farmers have widely adopted biotech crops in the past 13 years. Why? "The fact that the herbicide-tolerant soybeans have been so widely adopted suggests that factors such as lower energy costs and convenience of GE soybeans also influence farmer choices." Indeed. Surely saving fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases should be viewed by a UCS advocacy scientist as an environmental good. And what does Gurian-Sherman mean by "convenience"? Later, he admits that biotech herbicide resistant crops save costs and time for farmers. Herbicide resistance is also a key technology for expanding soil-saving no-till agriculture which, according to a report in 2003, saved 1 billion tons of topsoil from eroding annually. In addition, no-till farming significantly reduces the run-off of fertilizers into streams and rivers.

The UCS report correctly observes, "It is also important to keep in mind where increased food production is most needed—in developing countries, especially in Africa, rather than in the developed world." Which is exactly what is happening with biotech crops in poor countries. Currently, 13.3 million farmers around the world are planting biotech crops. Notably, 90 percent of the world's biotech farmers, that is, 12.3 million, are small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries like China, India, and South Africa. Gurian-Sherman is right that biotech contributions to yields in developed countries are relatively modest. Farmers here already have access and can afford modern agricultural technologies so improvements are going to be at the margins. Nevertheless, it is instructive to compare the rate of increase in corn yields between the biotech-friendly U.S. and biotech-hostile France and Italy over the past ten years. University of Georgia crop scientist Wayne Parrott notes, "In marked contrast to yield increases in the U.S., yields in France and Italy have leveled off."

The yield story is very different in poor countries. For example, a 2006 study found that biotech insect resistant cotton varieties boosted the yields for India's cotton farmers by 45 to 63 percent. Amusingly, some anti-biotech activists counter that these are not really yield increases, merely the prevention of crop losses. Of course, another way to look at it is that these are increases in operational yields. Whether due to yield increase or crop loss prevention, in 2008 this success led to nearly 70 percent of India's cotton fields being planted with biotech varieties. Similarly, biotech insect resistant corn varieties increased yields (or prevented losses) by 24 percent in the Philippines.

The UCS report also declares, "We must not simply produce more food at the expense of clean air, water, soil, and a stable climate, which future generations will also require." Biotech varieties are already helping farmers to achieve those environmental benefits.

Gurian-Sherman notes that crops typically use only 30 to 50 percent of nitrogen fertilizers they receive. Nitrogen fertilizer contributes to water pollution and is the primary source of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Agriculture contributes up to 12 percent of man-made global warming emissions. So one would think that a new biotech variety of rice created by Arcadia Biosciences, which needs 50 to 60 percent less nitrogen fertilizer than conventional varieties, would be welcomed by the UCS. But it isn't. The really good news is that research into transferring this same set of fertilizer-thrifty genes into other crops is moving rapidly forward.

Another promising area of research involves using genetic engineering to transfer the C4 photosynthetic pathway into rice, which currently uses the less efficient C3 pathway. This could boost rice yields tremendously, perhaps as much 50 percent, while reducing water use. In addition, researchers are pursuing all manner of other ways to boost crop production including salt, heat, and drought tolerance, along with viral, fungal, and bacterial disease resistance. All of these biotech techniques could improve crop productivity and thus reduce agriculture's toll on land, water, and air resources.

"To the extent to which groups like UCS have advocated prohibitive and disproportional regulations, they are responsible for the lack of even greater achievements in operational yield and perhaps even in intrinsic yield," notes Parrott. "In fact UCS is on the record as opposing engineered stress tolerance in crops. Such a stance by UCS is untenable and contradictory—yield losses caused by adverse growing conditions defeats the purpose of having a higher intrinsic yield—that is why it is so important to increase operational yield, and increasing operational yield is done with resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses—i.e., adverse growing conditions."
Increasing crop yields to meet humanity's growing demand for healthful food while protecting the natural world will require deploying the full scientific armamentarium. This includes advances in crop breeding, improvements in cultivation practices, the safer deployment of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides—and, yes, genetic engineering. It is odd that while the UCS accepts the scientific consensus on man-made global warming, it refuses to accept the scientific consensus on the safety, usefulness, and environmental benefits of biotech crops.

"In the end, after helping prevent scientific advances with genetically modified crops," notes Parrott, "the UCS is not in a good position to be calling genetically modified crops a failure because their scientific advances have not been greater."

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Earth Day, environmentalists must not link arms with anti-immigrant forces

On Earth Day, environmentalists must not link arms with anti-immigrant forces. By Eric K. Ward
The Progressive, April 21, 2009

On Earth Day, the environmental movement in the United States must reject bigotry. It should not join hands with anti-immigrant groups.

These groups are trying to infiltrate the environmental movement and coopt its message.

Under innocuous sounding names such as the America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning, anti-immigrant organizations, many with ties to political extremists, are running full-page ads in progressive magazines such as The Nation, Mother Jones and Harper’s and in newspapers such as the New York Times.

The goal of these anti-immigrant groups is to lure the environmental community into an America First-style immigration policy.

That won’t solve anything, and it denies the increasing economic and environmental interconnectivity of the planet.

Many recent immigrants have come to the United States because the free-market policies that Washington forced on Latin America have backfired. Subsistence farmers couldn’t compete against U.S. agribusiness, and millions had to abandon the countryside. U.S. manufacturers opened up shop and then just as quickly closed up shop, leaving millions more without jobs.

It’s unfair to blame immigrants who came to the United States because they couldn’t eke out a living at home due to Washington’s policies.

What’s more, climate change is going to cause more people to emigrate from southern countries and from low-lying coastal areas, which will become all but uninhabitable.

These immigrants aren’t the cause of the environmental crisis. They are merely an effect of it, and they should not be blamed.

On Earth Day of all days, the environmental movement can’t let anti-immigrant groups divert us into a narrow ideological cause that reflects neither realism nor inclusiveness.

And environmental organizations cannot afford to remain silent in the face of a few anti-immigrant leaders who attempt to speak on their behalf.

Instead, as environmentalists, on Earth Day and every day, we should uphold a vision of sustainability characterized by cooperation, opportunity and equity.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beware green jobs, the new sub-prime

Beware green jobs, the new sub-prime. By Dominic Lawson
Sunday Times, April 19, 2009

When everybody seems to have the same big idea, you just know it can only mean trouble. Remember sub-prime mort-gages? Now universally excoriated as the spawn of the devil, the proximate cause of the credit crunch and all that followed, a few years back “sub-prime” was everyone’s darling. Financiers loved it because it generated sumptuously high-yielding debt instruments; governments, because it promised to make even the poor into proud property owners.

Now business lobbyists and governments on both sides of the Atlantic have got a new big idea. They call it “green jobs”. Leading the pack is, as you might expect, Barack Obama. The president recently defended a vast package of subsidies for renewable energy on the grounds that it would “create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries”.

In Britain, the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, promises billions in state aid for the same purpose. To add verisimilitude, last week he gave a royal wave from the inside of a prototype electric Mini. Mandelson’s chauffeur was a representative of the lower house: the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon.

The occasion for this photo opportunity was the government’s proposal to offer a £5,000 subsidy to anyone buying an electric car of a type not yet available: exact details to be given in Alistair Darling’s forthcoming budget. The idea is to create a “world-beating” British-based electric-car-manufacturing industry, while also attempting to meet Gordon Brown’s promise to have the nation converted to electric or hybrid cars by 2020.

That remarkable prime ministerial pledge predated the recession; its motive was to demonstrate that Britain was “leading the world in the battle against climate change”. We aren’t, as a matter of fact; but under new Labour we have certainly led the world at claiming to do so. Mandelson expressed this almost satirically last week when he declared that “Britain has taken a world lead in setting ambitious targets for carbon reduction”.

As ever, new Labour confuses announcements and newspaper headlines with real action. Whenever it becomes obvious even to ministers that Britain will not meet its current carbon reduction target, they replace it with a yet tougher target, only with an extended deadline.

It does not yet seem to have occurred to new Labour that this is making it look ridiculous, especially to the environmentalists whose support it is presumably trying to solicit. Or perhaps it has, but it would rather that than lose our “world leadership” in target-setting.

There is something almost comical in the government’s belief that the electric car, dependent as it is on the national grid, is a sort of magic recipe for reducing carbon emissions. Some months ago President Sarkozy of France had an identical idea and commissioned a report on the prospects for turning Renault and Citro├źn into producers of mass-market electric vehicles. The report concluded that “the traditional combustion engine still offers the most realistic prospect of developing cleaner vehicles simply by improving the performance and efficiency of traditional engines and limiting the top speed to 105mph. The overall cost of an electric car remains unfeasible at about double that of a conventional vehicle. Battery technology is still unsatisfactory, severely limiting performance”.

Note that this crushing verdict came in a country where electricity is for the most part generated by nuclear power, which produces . In this country, more than three-quarters of the grid’s power comes from theno CO2 fossil fuels of gas and coal.

Presumably it is the latter that accounts for the fact that when the London borough of Camden commissioned a study to see whether it should introduce electric vehicles for some of its services, it found that “EVs relying on the average UK mix of energy to charge them were responsible for significantly more particles of soot that lodge deeply in the lungs . . . than the average petrol-powered car”.

If all our electricity were to be generated by wind power, without any fossil-fuel back-up, this criticism would not apply. Then the cars could take days, rather than hours, to recharge (depending on the weather) and would be so expensive to run that driving would become the exclusive preserve of the rich.

A further absurdity is that electric cars are suitable only for short rides within urban areas – precisely where we are being encouraged to abandon cars and use public transport. Ken Livingstone exempted electric cars from his congestion charge as if, in addition to their suppositious environmental benefits, they also had the magical property of being incapable of contributing to congestion. As the Ecologist magazine has reported: “The focus on electric vehicles and the political love they get is totally misguided . . . to have that as the spearhead of government transport carbon-reduction policy is insane.”

The magazine is controlled by Zac Goldsmith, the prospective Conservative candidate for Richmond Park and team Cameron’s environmental guru. Last week his colleague George Osborne took a different tack, observing that the absence of plans for a national network of charging points meant that “the Labour plan is like giving people a grant to buy an internal combustion engine, without bothering to set up any petrol stations”. Osborne had his own suggested grant to create “green jobs”: “We will give every household a new entitlement to £6,500 of energy-saving technologies.”

I’m not sure how the Tories came up with the figure of £6,500. It is pointedly bigger than Labour’s proposed £5,000 electric car subsidy; but all these figures are preposterous. If you multiply £6,500 by the number of households in the land, you get to £160 billion, bigger on its own than the national debt that Osborne has repeatedly told us is unaffordable.

Electoral bribes apart, there is a more serious misconception behind the idea that ploughing subsidies into the “green economy” is a sure-fire way of boosting domestic employment. At best it will move people from one economic activity to another. Labour’s plans would subsidise car production workers to move from making conventional models to electric vehicles, which hardly anyone wants to buy. Osborne’s proposals would subsidise the double-glazing and home insulation industry and suck in many workers gainfully employed (without subsidy) elsewhere.

The key to a successful, wealth-generating economy is productivity. Saving energy is what businesses have done already, because it lowers their production costs. The problem with any form of subsidy is that it makes the consumer (through hidden taxes) pay to keep inherently uneconomic businesses “profitable”. Meanwhile, diversified energy companies such as Shell, with plenty of speculatively acquired wind-farm acreage, are salivating at the plans by Obama to introduce cap-and-trade carbon emissions targets for American industry.

Obama’s energy secretary, Steven Chu, had some soothing words for US manufacturing companies that complained that the new policy will make them even less competitive with Chinese exporters, since the people’s republic has indicated that it has no intention of inflicting a similar increase in energy costs on its own producers. He suggested that America might have to introduce some sort of “car-bon-intensive” tariff on Chinese goods. One of China’s envoys, Li Gao, immediately retorted that such a carbon tariff would be a “disaster”, since it could lead to global trade war.

Actually, Mr Li is right: and this is how an achingly fashionable and well-intentioned plan to create “millions of new green jobs” could instead end up making the global economy even sicker than it is already.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Ethanol Bubble Pops in Iowa - More evidence the fuel makes little economic sense

The Ethanol Bubble Pops in Iowa, by Max Schulz
More evidence the fuel makes little economic sense.
Manhattan Institute, Apr 18,. 2009

Dyersville, Iowa

In September, ethanol giant VeraSun Energy opened a refinery on the outskirts of this eastern Iowa community. Among the largest biofuels facilities in the country, the Dyersville plant could process 39 million bushels of corn and produce 110 million gallons of ethanol annually. VeraSun boasted the plant could run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the demand for home-grown energy.

But the only thing happening 24-7 at the Dyersville plant these days is nothing at all. Its doors are shut and corn deliveries are turned away. Touring the facility recently, I saw dozens of rail cars sitting idle. They've been there through the long, bleak winter. Two months after Dyersville opened, VeraSun filed for bankruptcy, closing many of its 14 plants and laying off hundreds of employees. VeraSun lost $476 million in the third quarter last year.

A town of 4,000, Dyersville is best known as the location of the 1989 film "Field of Dreams." In the film, a voice urges Kevin Costner to create a baseball diamond in a cornfield and the ghosts of baseball past emerge from the ether to play ball. Audiences suspended disbelief as they were charmed by a story that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality.

That's pretty much the story of ethanol. Consumers were asked to suspend disbelief as policy makers blurred the lines between economic reality and a business model built on fantasies of a better environment and energy independence through ethanol. Notwithstanding federal subsidies and mandates that force-feed the biofuel to the driving public, ethanol is proving to be a bust.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Aventine Renewable Energy, a large ethanol producer, lost $37 million despite selling a company record 278 million gallons of the biofuel. Last week it filed for bankruptcy. California's Pacific Ethanol lost $146 million last year and has defaulted on $250 million in loans. It recently told regulators that it will likely run out of cash by April 30.
How could this be? The federal government gives ethanol producers a generous 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit and mandates that a massive amount of their fuel be blended into the nation's gasoline supplies. And those mandates increase every year. This year the mandate is 11 billion gallons and is on its way to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

To meet this political demand, VeraSun, Pacific Ethanol, Aventine Renewable Energy and others rushed to build ethanol mills. The industry produced just four billion gallons of ethanol in 2005, so it had to add a lot of capacity in a short period of time.

Three years ago, ethanol producers made $2.30 per gallon. But with the global economic slowdown, along with a glut of ethanol on the market, by the end of 2008 ethanol producers were making a mere 25 cents per gallon. That drop forced Dyersville and other facilities to be shuttered. The industry cut more than 20% of its capacity in a few months last year.
What's more, as ethanol producers sucked in a vast amount of corn, prices of milk, eggs and other foods soared. The price of corn shot up, as did the price of products from animals -- chickens and cows -- that eat feed corn.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry reacted by standing with the cattlemen in his state to ask the Environmental Protection Agency last year to suspend part of the ethanol mandates (which it has the power to do under the 2007 energy bill). The EPA turned him down flat. The Consumer Price Index later revealed that retail food prices in 2008 were up 10% over 2006. In Mexico, rising prices led to riots over the cost of tortillas in 2007. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and other international organizations issued reports last year criticizing biofuels for a spike in food prices.

Ethanol is also bad for the environment. Science magazine published an article last year by Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University, among others, that concluded that biofuels cause deforestation, which speeds climate change. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration noted in July 2007 that the ethanol boom rapidly increased the amount of fertilizer polluting the Mississippi River. And this week, University of Minnesota researchers Yi-Wen Chiu, Sangwon Suh and Brian Walseth released a study showing that in California -- a state with a water shortage -- it can take more than 1,000 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol. They warned that "energy security is being secured at the expense of water security."

For all the pain ethanol has caused, it displaced a mere 3% of our oil usage last year. Even if we plowed under all other crops and dedicated the country's 300 million acres of cropland to ethanol, James Jordan and James Powell of the Polytechnic University of New York estimate we would displace just 15% of our oil demand with biofuels.

But President Barack Obama, an ethanol fan, is leaving current policy in place and has set $6 billion aside in his stimulus package for federal loan guarantees for companies developing innovative energy technologies, including biofuels. It's part of his push to create "green jobs." Archer Daniels Midland and oil refiner Valero are already scavenging the husks of shuttered ethanol plants, looking for facilities on the cheap. One such facility may be the plant in Dyersville, which is for sale. Before we're through, we'll likely see another ethanol bubble.

Mr. Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.