Energy

In their latest report on climate change, officials at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) once again fail to address important developments in climate science that conflict with their narrative of fear. (See: Threat from global warming heightened in latest U.N. report)

Specifically, the IPCC press release ignores: (1) the growing divergence between observed global temperatures and the computer model projections on which scary climate impact assessments depend, (2) 20 recent studies indicating that climate sensitivity (an estimate of how much warming results from a given increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations) is about 40 percent less than the mean estimate of IPCC models, and (3) studies indicating that the three main climate doomsday scenarios — ocean circulation shutdown, rapid ice sheet disintegration, runaway warming from melting frozen methane deposits — are scientifically implausible (for references, see pp. 23-26 of CEI’s comment letter on the social cost of carbon).

Worse, as usual, IPCC officials say nary a word about risks of carbon mitigation policies. Those include:

  • The public health and welfare risks of carbon rationing schemes or taxes that raise business and energy costs.
  • The economic, fiscal, and energy security risks of anti-fracking climate policies that endanger the shale revolution.
  • The economic development risks of coal power plant bans and other policies that limit poor countries’ access to affordable energy.
  • The risks to international peace and stability of impeding developing country economic growth through carbon caps or taxes and carbon-tariff protectionism.
  • The risks to scientific integrity when government is both chief funder of climate research and chief beneficiary of a “consensus” supporting more regulation and higher taxes.
  • The risk to the democratic process when governments promote “consensus” climatology to justify bypassing legislatures and marginalizing opponents as “anti-science.”

zhangEarly in the week I wrote about a major breakthrough toward the peaceful use of nuclear fusion. While that type of energy could drastically change human life on earth by providing bountiful clean and safe energy, it is, unfortunately, likely decades away from being commercially viable. Fear not because there are armies of researchers working around the world to find other affordable alternatives to fossil fuels that will help humanity cruise into the future. In this past year, one group of scientists have discovered a way to extract large amounts of hydrogen from plants—a process that would provide plentiful, cheap, and “green” energy, that could hit the market as a way to power vehicles in as little as three years.

For seven years a team of researchers at Virginia Tech have been searching for a non-traditional way to produce large amounts of hydrogen at low cost. They believe they have found that solution by using xylose, a simple sugar first discovered in wood, but found in most edible plants, including bamboo (a popular plastic alternative on the eco-friendly home goods market). The scientists created a custom “enzyme cocktail,” and by mixing it with the xylose and polyphosphate they can produce about three times as much hydrogen than other methods have been able to achieve. Y.H. Percival Zhang, one of the researchers on the project believes that hydrogen power can replace less sustainable modes of energy production and that his technology will have an impact on energy markets in the very near future.

“The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future,” Zhang said. “Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone.”

The real breakthrough in Zhang’s research is that he has found a way to create large quantities of hydrogen by using a renewable and abundant resource.

Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen… This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass.

Dr. Zhang is also the man behind a few other, related human achievements this past year including creating a sugar-powered battery that could power modern gadgets and a process that creates massive amounts of starch from wood, which could reduce food insecurity around the world, saving millions of lives. His work exemplifies one of the main messages of Human Achievement Hour: global challenges will not be solved through conservation or sitting in the dark, but rather through technology advancement, which the efforts of the environmentalist movement are slowing down.

About Human Achievement Hour (HAH): Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that allow people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. Human Achievement Hour is the counter argument to Earth Hour, and promotes looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems instead of reverting to the “dark ages,” by symbolically refusing to use electricity for an hour.

Have a listen here.

Marlo Lewis examines a State Department report finding that Keystone serves the national interest and finds opposing arguments wanting.

Yes, the recent ruling in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency (D.D.C. No. 12-1617) is good news for the EPA, but the lawsuit still produced some pretty valuable results for both CEI and the public at large.

This case involved then-Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of her “Richard Windsor” email alias. As the court noted, the fact that administrator Jackson and other EPA officials used alternative email addresses “raised questions about the agency’s compliance with federal record-keeping laws as well as the completeness of its responses to certain FOIA requests.” In the court’s words, this was a matter of “appropriate… concern,” and not just for us.

The court ruling has some entertaining references to CEI’s so-called “conspiracy theory.” We didn’t use that phrase in our pleadings, but we did argue that EPA’s filings and declarations shouldn’t get the usually automatic presumption of good faith. After all, as recently as last August, another court found the agency had handled a Landmark Legal Foundation FOIA request in “bad faith,” and six months before that, EPA’s Region 8 Administrator resigned after having apparently misrepresented his use of a private email account for official business. In short, we believe the court erred in how it applied the good faith presumption, because we weren’t exactly suing Snow White here.

Our FOIA request to EPA on this issue produced more than 10,000 records in response, all of which were given to CEI after the lawsuit was filed. The judge also ruled that EPA must disclose the White House email address used by top advisor Carol Browner to communicate with EPA. (Ms. Browner, according to The New York Times, was a key partner in the “we put nothing in writing, ever” strategy used by top White House and California environmental officials several years ago. Not that we’re calling it a conspiracy, mind you.)

Ms. Browner’s White House email account is probably inactive now, so we’ll have to find another way to send her our best wishes.

We had zero documents before filing this case. We now have more than 10,000, and of those, more than 5,000 were produced in full. We also know quite a bit more about the continued use of personal email accounts by agency officials than we did before.

The ruling on the partial and full withholdings wasn’t all that kind to us, but we’ll survive. And, thankfully, so will the documents we received.

Post image for Reining in the Executive Branch Bureaucracy, Part 2: Regulatory Benefits? Maybe Not

Since the Federalist Papers, America has debated “Energy in the Executive.” But President Obama’s 2014 agenda framed by his State of the Union address heralds a class warfare agenda, one fusing an “income inequality” theme with federal industrial policy.

When I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so,” Obama promises. This spend-and-transfer fixation makes Americans poorer and dependent except for the lucky few running things.

Others have argued for federal budget rationality as essential to a true anti-poverty agenda. This series proposes a greater prosperity enhancing opportunity, streamlining the nearly $2 trillion hyper-regulatory state and ending the uncertainty, wealth destruction and job loss it creates.

The basis of regulation is the belief, in my view discredited, that government actors are non-self-interested and that political markets are fairer than private markets. Regulations, as currently construed, often don’t work. One instance is expressed by John Tamny in Forbes:

The banking crackup from 2008 is the latest evidence that regulations are much more than worthless. We implicitly ask the charitably average people who migrate toward regulatory jobs to see the future, but if they could, they wouldn’t be regulators. Regulations on their very best day severely distract the productive while inhibiting the profit motive, and then on their worst they lead to tragedies of the Bernie Madoff variety for creating a false impression that qualified people are minding the store.

[click to continue…]

Have a listen here.

Like anything else, carbon emissions have both costs and benefits. Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow in CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, discusses a new study that finds the carbon debate has some nuance to it, after all.

Have a listen here.

General Counsel Sam Kazman explains why, in his view, the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions. CEI is a co-petitioner in a lawsuit over those regulations that the Supreme Court has announced it will review during its current term.

Post image for “Ingratitude” at Tesla Motors?

Mother Jones’ profile of Elon Musk and Tesla Motors trots out a familiar story about industrial policy’s role in the success of infant industries. It also blasts Musk’s Silicon Valley cohorts for their ingratitude in the face of government assistance. But when we look a little more closely, the Mother Jones narrative about Musk’s success breaks down.

The relevant program in Tesla Motors’ case is the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program, a $25 billion fund established by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The ATVM putatively offers loans to automotive companies to help them meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goal of 35 mpg by 2020. Boosters tout the ATVM as a program to help companies through the so-called startup “Valley of Death” during which companies transition from product release to full-scale production, a period so-named because companies are particularly vulnerable.

A closer look at the ATVM shows that we should in fact be grateful if the program disappeared altogether. Tesla has been the ATVM’s most public success after  re-paying its $465 million loan nine years early. But Tesla likely succeeded not so much because of its ATVM loan, but because it has a fundamentally sound business strategy and a product capturing the imagination of consumers. While buyers of Tesla’s Model S benefit from a $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in electric vehicles, in addition to benefits like access to HOV lanes and free charging infrastructure, these subsidies benefit the EV industry as a whole and cannot explain Tesla’s success relative to its peers.

And according to the DOE’s own data, 81 percent of the $8.4 billion spent so far by the ATVM program went to Ford and Nissan Motors—neither of which is a start-up navigating the Valley of Death. These firms could almost certainly purchase loans on the private market—are they really the vulnerable companies that defenders of the ATVM want to benefit?

This is not the ATVM’s only shortcoming. A February 2011 GAO report concluded that the ATVM lacked the expertise to properly monitor loan recipients, and lacked the crucial ability to measure how much the loans contribute to successfully meeting the stricter 2020 CAFE standards. Supporting a program whose success we can’t measure is unwise at best and defending corporate welfare at worst. The ATVM has had some very measurable failures, most notably its $500 million bet on Fisker Automotive that turned south. Despite having received nearly $200 million in taxpayer dollars, Fisker nonetheless announced this May it preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing. Public embarrassment from Fisker’s failure put the ATVM on hold, despite having loaned out barely a third of its allocated funds.

The ATVM has since re-opened and is now accepting applications for loans, but the question remains whether we will see more successes like Tesla or blunders like Fisker. The incentives and track record of subsidized loan programs suggest that it would be wise for the ATVM to quit while it’s ahead.

Post image for Environmental Regulations Threaten Refining Sector Jobs

I had the privilege of meeting with Charlie Drevna, President of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers this week. He had some extremely interesting things to say about the way mounting environmental regulations are threatening jobs in the refining sector that he represents.

A particularly compelling insight he provided was that many of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations actually contradict each other. For instance, CAFE regulations require higher fuel efficiency from automobiles. Yet the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the use of less efficient ethanol, reduces fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, the Tier III rules from EPA contradict the rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions: refineries need to do more processing to reduce sulfur in gasoline, which increases emissions at a refinery by up to 2.3 percent, while at the same time they are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Two more examples: to reduce ozone in the atmosphere under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) requires more energy. More energy requires more greenhouse gas emissions, so there is another clear contradiction. Finally, state sulfur regulations contradict federal greenhouse gas regulations — if you use energy to reduce the sulfur in heating oil, you will increase your greenhouse gas emissions.

[click to continue…]

Have a listen here.

A proposed rule issued today by the EPA would effectively ban new coal-fired power plants from being built. According to William Yeatman, Assistant Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, the consequences would be disastrous.