Multiple attacks on use of fossil fuels
05/13/19 Filed in: Energy
Update and reader feedback at end
Why does SAFE keep railing about proposals to phase out fossil fuels in the name of combatting global warming? Easy, the anti-carbon advocates keep coming up with new attacks to which our side needs to respond.
We recently commented on the Green New Deal – a radical restructuring of the energy infrastructure (and a long list of other actions, many of which have no logical connection to global climate), that supposedly must be accomplished within 12 years to avert catastrophic consequences. Partisan gridlock reigns in DC, Section B (Loony legislation), 3/11/19.
Given the dubious evidence of imminent climate catastrophe, we don’t see the need for proposing alternative (and expensive) solutions for what appears to be a non-problem. Remember that previous deadlines have passed without catastrophe, as for example a 6/29/89 AP dispatch quoting a senior UN environmental official to the effect that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.”
The Green New Deal will be a talking point for Democratic candidates in the 2020 elections, nothing more. Democrats voted “present” when Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote on their resolution in March, and House Democrats will probably follow suit if the GOP is able to force a floor vote in that chamber. House Republican moves to force vote on Green New Deal, thehill.com, 5/1/19.
More reactions to the purported global warming threat keep surfacing, however, at all government levels. Here’s a rundown on some recent developments, which, if nothing else, demonstrate the tenacity of the global warming alarmists.
A. International – Another doomsday study was officially published by the United Nations last week, this one predicting that a combination of factors (generally associated with human activity) will lead to the extinction of up to one million animal and plant species (out of an estimated total of some eight million species, including 5.5 million insect species) within decades. Say goodbye to biodiversity!
Here are the factors cited: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms (overfishing, poaching, etc.); (3) climate change (or global warming); (4) pollution; and (5) invasive alien species. Nature’s dangerous decline “unprecedented;” Species extinction, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, un.org, 5/6/19.
The summary of the UN report (we didn’t search out the rest, and doubt that many others did either) is loaded with lofty rhetoric, which boils down to characterizing current trends as unsustainable and calling for transformative changes that might well create a bigger role for the staff of UN agencies. For example:
Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.
The impact of global warming was projected based on a range of assumptions about the amount of temperature increase from preindustrial levels (circa 1800), as follows:
•5%: estimated fraction of species at risk of extinction from 2°C warming alone, rising to 16% at 4.3°C warming;
•Even for global warming of 1.5 to 2 degrees, the majority of terrestrial species ranges are projected to shrink profoundly.
B. Federal – Whether environmentalists read the UN report on species extinction or not, they wasted no time in citing it as one more sign that the government must act to prevent human beings from destroying the planet. That’s fine when it comes to overfishing, excessive hunting, irresponsible forest management policies, etc., but it doesn’t justify banning responsible development of natural resources, expansion of farming areas to feed a growing population, etc.
Here’s an example of attempted misuse of the UN report that occurred almost immediately. The recently confirmed Interior secretary rebuffed the demands made in this case, but the issue involved will no doubt keep coming up. Interior’s [David] Bernhardt rejects Democratic demands to stop drilling because of climate change and species extinction, Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 5/7/19.
•Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who chaired an Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing on Interior’s fiscal 2020 budget request, challenged Bernhardt to stop oil and gas drilling on federal lands because of a report by the United Nations released Monday finding that human activities are having an “unprecedented” damaging effect on global biodiversity. *** “The nation is counting on you. Yes, that does mean factoring in climate change into [land] management decisions.”
•Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist, said the Interior Department would not stop oil and gas leasing on federal lands on the grounds that Congress has not passed a law explicitly ordering his agency to address climate change.
The UN report was also cited in a Delaware legislative hearing conducted on May 10, see Section D, infra.
C. Delaware: Bloom Energy saga - On 1/10/19, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) conducted a public hearing re a proposal to reconstruct the fuel cell power generation facilities that were constructed pursuant to a Bloom Energy/ Delmarva Power contract. Bloom Energy proposes to replace fuel cells at QFCP power facilities, 1/21/19.
On 4/22/19, DNREC approved a construction permit for the project. In so doing, the agency seemingly ignored the most telling objections to the project:
•As the proposed reconstruction of the Red Lion and Brookside fuel cell facilities constituted a de facto amendment of the existing business arrangement between Bloom Energy and Delmarva Power, DNREC erred by not inviting the Public Service Commission to reopen the QFCP tariff and seek adjustments for the benefit of Delmarva Power ratepayers;
•DNREC failed to review disposal plans for the old fuel cells, potentially representing some 6 million pounds of electronic waste;
•DNREC failed to review disposal procedures for toxic sulfur canisters, the majority of which are created in the Coastal Zone at the Red Lion facility and disposed of in a manner that was not disclosed in the original Coastal Zone application;
•DNREC failed to evaluate air quality issues associated with decoking of the Bloom fuel cells.
Based on the foregoing points, civic activist (and SAFE director) John Nichols has appealed the DNREC order to the Environmental Appeals Board (which is part of the DNREC organization). Appeal of DNREC’s approval of Bloom Energy construction permit, 5/6/19.
Time will tell whether this effort bears any fruit, but previous legal efforts to challenge the costly Bloom Energy venture or aspects thereof have typically been dismissed without serious consideration. See, e.g., Regulators reject request to review Bloom Energy tariff, 10/11/18.
D. Delaware: Renewable portfolio standard – SAFE has long questioned the purported benefits of switching to “renewable energy” sources, primarily wind and solar power, on grounds that fossil fuel and/or nuclear energy make more sense. We see nothing wrong with experimenting with renewable energy, but believe that the choice of energy sources should be left to the free market rather than being determined by government policies. Reliable vs. intermittent energy sources, 11/6/17.
In practice, our recommendation against government mandates and subsidies to promote energy conservation or a shift to alternative energy sources has been widely ignored – and signs are accumulating that this may result in harmful consequences, e.g., the premature retirement of nuclear power facilities may impair reliability of the electric grid. Ibid.
•Congress has enacted and continued to extend an array of federal tax credits for wind, solar and fuel cell energy. These tax preferences are cherished by the special interests concerned, and we see no signs at present that lawmakers on either side of the aisle will be disposed to abolish them despite the contribution to deficit reduction that could be realized. Over 100 House Democrats demand extending billions worth of green energy subsidies, Michael Bastasch, dailysignal.com, 4/5/19.
•During the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency et al. were very active in issuing regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for motor vehicles, which were designed to promote reduced usage of fossil fuels. Some of these regulations are under review and may be rolled back, but the administrative review process takes time and the effort might be abandoned if the Democrats win back the White House next year.
•Many states have adopted policies to promote increased use of renewable energy. Thus, for example, Delaware joined a regional cap and trade compact in 2005 and has since enacted legislation to establish and phase in a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Under current law, the renewable energy target will max out at 25% in 2025. For a recap of the history and applicable law, see State regulations cause problems too, Section A (Deregulation, well not exactly), 6/27/16.
Delaware residents and businesses served by Delmarva Power are paying a “renewable compliance charge” that covers the QFCP tariff re the Bloom Energy fuel cell subsidy (Section C, supra) and wind/solar power. For the average ratepayer, the QFCP tariff is running $4-5 per month with a roughly equal amount for wind and solar power.
A move is now afoot in the General Assembly to raise the RPS target after 2025. Senate Concurrent Resolution 10, passed by the House and Senate on 1/24/19.
Synopsis: This concurrent resolution applauds the success of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Act, recognizes the prospect that the standards might be raised to maintain currency in the today's energy climate, and authorizes the establishment of a working group of stakeholders to provide input into the process.
A hearing on this subject took place in the House Committee room of Legislative Hall on May 10, with the general objective of soliciting stakeholder input. Several SAFE directors (John Nichols, John Greer & Bill Whipple) attended, along with perhaps 40-50 other people with an interest in the matter.
Sen. Harris McDowell (D, District 1) presided over the meeting, which was run informally. Everyone present was invited to introduce themselves. The 1-2 minute limit on comments was not strictly enforced, and comments from both sides were permitted without attempting to stifle anyone’s perspective.
Sen. McDowell made clear, however, that the goal was to raise the RPS target – the only questions being over what period and how high? For those who considered that action on the matter before 2025 would be premature, he said it would be irresponsible to wait and that any action taken could be revised in the light of changing circumstances.
For anyone who might not happen to believe in the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT), the RPS would prove to be a good deal based on the green jobs that it could create in Delaware. And efforts should be made to locate as much of the renewable energy production as possible in Delaware versus allowing other states to reap the benefit of payments for imported electric power.
Most of the speakers seemed to be concerned about details of the RPS legislation that they wanted to influence in one way or another. Net metering – the RPS cost cap (which is being litigated between two government agencies, DNREC and the Public Service Commission) – relative shares of wind and solar – power peak shifting - jockeying for position in future proceedings of the working group.
There were several comments to the effect that the cost of wind and solar power is being driven down by improving technology, for which reason the cost of operating with a higher RPS standard should be moderate for electric power consumers. It was acknowledged, however, that (1) the electric grid can’t run reliably on wind and solar power due to intermittency of these energy sources, and (2) currently available storage technology is quite expensive.
Environmentalists were present from the Sierra Club and other groups. They stressed the urgency of fighting global warming, and were in favor of raising the RPS target to 100% as soon as possible to show that Delaware was doing its share to combat this threat. Also mentioned was the new UN study re the potential extinction of 1 million species.
The environmentalists attacked arguments against subsidizing renewable energy on grounds that the use of fossil fuels is heavily subsidized by not requiring energy companies to cover huge healthcare costs caused by the resulting pollution. (Really? Air quality has been steadily improving in recent years with improving pollution abatement and declining use of coal power.)
SAFE (Nichols and Greer) argued that Delaware’s policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels have little if any effect on global temperatures. True, carbon emissions have been reduced in recent years, but this was mainly due to switching from coal to natural gas (the fracking boom has lowered gas prices) for electric power generation. And the creation of “green” jobs has been more than offset by a loss of conventional jobs due to higher than necessary electric power costs in Delaware. Instead of raising the RPS target, therefore, the RPS should be abandoned.
As for the argument that the RPS is a good idea regardless of one’s views about the MMGWT, we would respectfully disagree. The “green” job creation rationale is economically invalid, so if the MMGWT were discredited than nothing would be left to justify government intervention in the energy markets except gratification of “rent seekers.” That’s hardly a burden that electric power consumers should be asked to bear.
Unless the proposed subsidies for renewable energy are simply based on political considerations, one might think the General Assembly would want the benefit of the best information that is currently available. For this purpose, why not consult with experts on both sides of the scientific debate?
A recent effort to organize such a hearing in Pennsylvania yielded interesting results.
E. Due diligence – Republican senators in the PA legislature invited a panel of scientific experts to testify concerning the MMGWT. Three scientists who are skeptical of the theory accepted the invitation and appeared to testify, but efforts to line up scientists who support the theory were unsuccessful and Democratic senators boycotted the session. The hearing wound up being one-sided, therefore, but was nevertheless informative. PA Legislature, Senate Majority Policy Committee, video (80 minutes), 5/1/19.
The three scientist who testified were a geologist (Gregory Whitestone), a weather forecaster (Joseph Bastardi), and a climatologist (David Legates of UD). They spoke for about five minutes apiece, and then engaged in an extended conversation with the legislators who were present. Collectively, they provided an excellent summary of reasons for being skeptical about the MMGWT.
Some key points: Climate is changing, no doubt, but the results over the past century or so are hardly indicative of what will happen longer term – the primary greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is not carbon dioxide, it is water vapor – CO2 in the atmosphere has a warming effect, but the climate system is very complex and there are offsets that buffer the heat trapping effect – climate models capture only a few elements of the climate system, and predictions of global warming have been consistently overstated – CO2 levels have been far higher in the past than they are currently, including times when global temperatures were far lower – there have been periods in which rising temperatures were correlated with rising CO2 levels, probably because warming oceans released dissolved CO2, but the CO2 increases lagged temperature increases (an effect) vs. leading them (a cause) – the alleged harm caused by global warming is only part of the story, as there are also positive effects – more people die from cold weather than hot weather – wind storms, etc. have not been becoming more common or extreme - CO2 levels contribute to the flourishing vegetation, abundant food, etc.
Why do people continue to believe in the MMGWT? Mr. Bastardi’s theory was that they can’t admit they are wrong.
This is not the first time, by the way, that global warming proponents have been reluctant to testify before an audience where they weren’t clearly in control of the situation. We previously reported on a MMGWT hearing that took place in the US Senate, at which the global warming advocate (Dr. Michael Mann of Penn State) was outnumbered 3-1. The March for Science, Section B (A contentious hearing), 4/17/17.
For all the squabbling, the hearing provided an interesting exchange of views on an important topic – but it didn’t appear to change any minds.
Skeptics (predominantly Republicans) remain convinced that the environmental bloc is trying to bulldoze them, fie on liberals who will seize any excuse to grow the government and don’t care a fig about the evidence for or against the MMGWT.
Alarmists (predominantly Democrats) perceive that scientific gadflies, supported by fossil fuel interests, are holding up the actions that must and inevitably will be taken. They insist that their views are based on science and/or real world evidence while the views of the other side are merely ideological.
**********UPDATE & FEEDBACK**********
#Following the posting of this entry, SAFE sent comments to Sen. McDowell and the two other Delaware legislators who attended the May 10 hearing.
#I grew up in Cuba, and have had first-hand experience with how communists think and operate. One of the strategies is to keep repeating a lie until enough people accept it. The manmade global warming theory represents a “new religion,” which appeals to the intelligentsia, makes do-gooders (aka “useful idiots”) feel good, and demonizes capitalism. Keep up the good work! – SAFE member (DE)
#Please send that letter to the governor too. – SAFE director