Juliana v. United States — the Court speaks, reveals it’s part chicken

Photo of 21 young people suing the U.S. government — Juliana v. U.S. climate case. Image: Our Children’s Trust
The 21 young people suing the U.S. government in Juliana v. U.S. climate case.

Juliana v. Unites States, the climate case launched in 2015 by 21 young people ranging in age from 8 to 19 at the time, was dismissed by a federal appeals court last month. Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit organization backing the lawsuit, plans to appeal the ruling.

The young people claim that the federal government has violated their constitutional rights, including a right under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” (The Due Process Clause bars the federal government from depriving a person of “life, liberty, or property” without “due process of law.”). The youths want the court to order the government to develop a plan to “phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2.”

The latest episode in this legal saga began on Sep. 20, 2018 when the federal district court in Oregon issued an order for the case to go to trial. On Dec. 26, 2018 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the federal government’s petition (its fifth since the suit was first filed in 2015) to appeal the case on the grounds that the youths lack standing. On Jan. 17, 2020, a panel of three judges ruled two-to-one in agreement with the government, and sent the case back to the district court with orders to dismiss.

The appeals court’s majority opinion says: “the record leaves little basis for denying that climate change is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace”; that the rise in atmospheric CO2 “stems from fossil fuel combustion and will wreak havoc on the Earth’s climate if unchecked”; that “Absent some action, the destabilizing climate will bury cities, spawn life-threatening natural disasters, and jeopardize critical food and water supplies.”

Yet, despite agreeing with the young people about the pressing need for government action, and despite Judge Josephine Staton’s vigorous dissent, Judges Andrew Hurwitz and Mary Murguia opted to toss the case. How to explain? A careful reading of the majority opinion (Judge Hurwitz writing) may enlighten:

To have standing in a federal district court, a claimant must have “(1) a concrete and particularized injury that (2) is caused by the challenged conduct and (3) is likely redressable by a favorable judicial decision.” All three judges on the panel agree that the young people (1) have been injured and that (2) the challenged conduct of the government caused the injuries. The panel, however, split on (3) the redressable question, with Hurwitz and Murguia arguing that the young people’s injuries are not redressable by a federal district court.

To establish redressability “the plaintiffs must show that the relief they seek is both (1) substantially likely to redress their injuries; and (2) within the district court’s power to award.” Regarding (1), Hurwitz expresses scepticism but does not deny that phasing out fossil fuels would likely provide the plaintiffs with a measure of relief. Regarding (2), Hurwitz states bluntly that “it is beyond the power of a [federal district] court to order, design, supervise, or implement the plaintiffs’ requested remedial plan.

Hold on! Something is wrong here. The plaintiffs do not ask the court to design, supervise, or implement a plan, they ask only that the court order the government to develop a plan. To conform with that fact, Hurwitz’s blunt statement could be rephrased as follows: ‘iis beyond the power of a federal district court to order the plaintiffs’ requested remedial plan.’ But is it? Is it beyond the power of a federal district court to order the federal government to develop a plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions? Of course not. Such an order might not be politic. It might step on toes. But it sure as hell is not beyond a district court’s power to so order.

Photo of judges hammer and ‘court order’ sign
Image credit: San Diego Co. Bar Assoc.

Hurwitz does not dwell on the question of a district court’s power to order the government to develop a plan. Instead he reaches for reasons to explain why the court should not issue such an order. He tries—we’re entering brain cramp territory here— to convince the reader that if a district court ordered the government to develop a plan, the court would also have to design, supervise, and implement it. Here are some of his statements:

♦ “any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.”
♦  any remedial plan “would subsequently require the judiciary to pass judgment on the sufficiency of the government’s response to the order, which necessarily would entail a broad range of policy making.” (my underline. More about that below)
♦ “we cannot substitute our own assessment for the Executive’s [or Legislature’s] predictive judgments on such matters, all of which ‘are delicate, complex, and involve large elements of prophecy.’”
♦ “given the complexity and long-lasting nature of global climate change, the court would be required To supervise the government’s compliance with any suggested plan for many decades.”
♦  “Injunctive relief could involve extraordinary supervision by this court. . . . [which] may be inappropriate where it requires constant supervision.”
♦ “Absent [long term] court intervention, the political branches might conclude . . . that economic or defense considerations called for continuation of the very programs challenged in this suit,”
♦ “Not every problem posing a threat—even a clear and present danger—to the America Experiment can be solved by federal judges.”
♦ 
“That the other branches may have abdicated their responsibility to remediate the problem does not confer on [federal] courts . . . the ability to step into their shoes.”

To repeat: The young people seek only that the court order the government to develop a plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions. Such an order would not, as Hurwitz suggests, require the judiciary to also design, supervise, or implement the plan, activities that properly belong to the political branches.

Hurwitz expresses concern about the “host of complex policy decisions” that go into making a plan. Such policy decisions would, he suggests,  ‘range broadly’, be “long lasting”, and require “extraordinary  supervision.” They would also be “delicate, complex, and involve large elements of prophecy.” Surely he jests. Here’s how a government actually directs its policy issues: It sets a course according to the ideological preferences of the people running it. The ship of state than plows ahead until (a) it runs aground, forcing a change of course, or (b) it hits a rock and sinks, forcing a change of government.

What would an uncomplicated plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions look like? Assuming a government run by rational actors, it would look like this: The President and his Treasury Department have the authority, without  congressional action or approval, to impose taxes in order to further the administration’s agenda. On receiving an order from the court to develop a plan, the President would impose a tax (based on CO2 content) on fossil fuels at the well head or mine, and at ports of entry. He/she would set the tax level high enough for market forces to begin eating away at fossil fuel use in favour of renewables. Thereafter, the administration would increase the tax level incrementally to achieve a certain reduction in CO2 emissions (say 60%) by a certain date (say 2040).

How difficult would it be for “the judiciary to pass judgement on the sufficiency of the government’s response to the order.” Not difficult at all. The government’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) collects energy statistics and publishes the information regularly. The judiciary would see for itself the amounts of fossil fuel consumed, and therefore the amount of CO2 emitted. That metric alone would enable the judiciary to judge, mathematically, the effectiveness of the government plan.

The appeal court’s majority opinion amounts to an elaborate excuse for doing nothing. The judges, after showing, step by step, that the plaintiffs have standing, fudge the final ‘redressability’ question. Then, rather than admit that the district court has the power to order the government to make a plan, the judges go in search for reasons why such a court order should not be issued in the first place. They point to imagined complexities, the striking breadth of the young people’s claims, the separation of powers, and so on. Hurwitz quotes Judge Cardozo as follows: judicial commissions are bound “to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system.” Not good. Discretion will not help fend off global warming. What the young people and the country need from the judiciary is  spunk, even if that means busting tradition.

Granted the relief the young people seek is formidable. It would require the government to abandon its present fossil energy policies, and instead, learn to love and promote renewables. It would generate apoplectic opposition from the oil & gas industry and its supporters in the political branches. On top of all that, there’s an ogre in the White House who keeps an Attorney General for a pet. The potential for stonewalling, sabotage, or outright interference is great. The question is, is the judiciary co-equal with the other two branches of government or has it become a de facto branch of the other two? Now is the time for judges to prove the former.

Photo of solar array with coal-fired power plantin background
Energy transition in progress. Solar array; Soon to close Comanche coal-fired generating station in background. Location: Pueblo, Colorado. Image credit: Rick Wilking/Reuters

Why Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ policy is ‘hugely’ bad for the country

Photo of Vladimir Putin and Fiona Hill, Moscow, November 2011
Vladimir Putin and Fiona Hill at 8th annual meeting of Valdai Discussion Club, Moscow, November 2011. Image: Brookings Inst.

Dr. Fiona Hill, former official at the U.S. National Security Council, specializing in Russian and European affairs, appeared as a witness in the November 2019 U.S. House hearings on the impeachment of President Donald Trump. During questioning from House members, the following exchange took place on the subject of hydraulic fracking:

Mike Conaway (R-TX): “Just that the fracking is a controversial issue within our nation. If we did away with fracking, the United States would not be in a position today to dominate the oil production within the world and would play into strengthening Putin’s hands with respect to the oil—”

Fiona Hill: That’s correct. And actually I’d like to point out that in November 2011, I actually sat next to Vladimir Putin at a conference in which he made precisely that point. It was the first time that he had actually done so to a group of American journalists and experts who were brought to something called the Valdai Discussion Club. So he started in 2011 making it very clear that he saw American fracking as a great threat to Russian interests. We were all struck by how much he stressed this issue and it’s since 2011, and since that particular juncture, that Putin has made a big deal of this.

Putin’s concern about hydraulic fracking was justified. By 2011 the U.S. had surpassed Russia to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. By 2014 it had equaled and by 2017 surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest producer of petroleum (See following charts).

Charts showing U.S. and Russian oil and gas production
Image credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Aug 20, 2019.

Donald Trump became U.S. President in January 2017. Speaking at a Dept. of Energy event (Unleashing American Energy) June 29, 2017, he told the crowd that “my administration will seek not only American energy independence that we’ve been looking for so long, but American energy dominance. . . . We will be dominant. We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.” (Whitehouse transcript).

To be clear, in Trump world, energy dominance means producing more oil and gas than any other country. It has absolutely nothing to do with renewable energy or the transition to it. Mr Trump’s speech was a message to the fossil fuel industry that Big Oil’s domestic and foreign concerns would be addressed. Here’s a partial list of what the administration is doing or trying to do to fulfill that promise:

♦ Eliminate regulations limiting pollution caused by extracting and burning fossil fuels. ♦ Open public lands to fossil fuel exploitation. ♦ Approve all oil and gas pipelines and criminalize opposition to them. ♦ Create new offshore oil leasing programs. ♦ Kill federal initiatives that promote energy efficiency. ♦ Use the power of federal departments and agencies to block or hinder the country’s transition to renewable energy. ♦ Use whatever means necessary to secure export markets for surplus natural gas and block foreign competitors accessing those markets.

Domestically, President Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ policy is a disaster in progress. The oil and gas industry’s mad scramble to ramp up production beyond market saturation (in defiance of environmental concerns) has nothing to do with sound business practices. Rather, it has everything to do with the industry’s fear of global warming — a problem of its own making — and the growing demands for limits on fossil fuel production. It follows that the industry’s real objective is to build into the economy as much infrastructure as possible (pipelines, gas-fired power plants, export terminals, etc.) in as short a time as possible, thereby delaying for as long as possible the inevitable transition to renewable energy.

As recently as 2016, official U.S. foreign policy was “to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community”. Today, according to the Dept. of State, America’s foreign policy is “to advance the interests and security of the American people”. This diminished vision of America’s role in the world brings it into line with President Trump’s indifference to foreign negotiations more complex than your basic quid pro quo. His gullibility on the international stage has led to a series of incredibly incompetent foreign policy initiatives. It also accounts for his apparent belief that ‘Energy Dominance’ gives America exceptional leverage in its international energy dealings. As U.S. attempts to hobble Russia’s natural gas exports to Europe have shown, it doesn’t.

According to a U.S. government white paper titled ‘Russian Strategic Intentions’ (approved for release May 2019 by the Dept of Defense), President Putin is “adhering to a global grand strategy” which aims to: “Reclaim Russia’s influence over former Soviet nations; Regain recognition as a ‘great power’; Portray itself as a reliable actor . . . in order to gain economic, military, and political influence over nations worldwide . . .Key to Russia’s ‘grand strategy’ is the exploitation of the country’s vast natural gas reserves. Proceeds from gas sales to Europe and elsewhere provide the Kremlin with the funds it needs to continue pursuing its foreign policy objectives.

For Russia, competition from the gusher of American fracked gas, and U.S. efforts to export the surplus to Europe, translates into lost sales, depressed prices, and the need to extract and sell even more gas so as to stay ahead. Russia’s Nord Stream 2, a second 1,200 km pipeline linking Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, is intended to help the country do just that. The project is a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom and several European energy companies. Allegedly concerned about Russian influence over Europe, the Trump administration has been trying to convince the European Union to pull out of the deal. For example, Bloomberg Dec. 17, 2019, reported that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, during a visit to Poland earlier that year, said that Nord Stream 2 “funnels money to Russians in ways that undermine European national Security.” More to the point, Trump sees the pipeline as an obstacle to his dream of massive liquid natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe, never mind European security.

Map showing route of Nord Stream 2 pipeline joining Russia to Germany via Baltic Sea
Route of Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany. Source: Gazprom

Unimpressed by Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ policy, the Europeans have stuck with the Russian project (on the basis of price and convenience). Trump, in a fit of pique, imposed sanctions 21 Dec. on companies involved in laying the pipeline. But since the project is about 90% complete, sanctions will only delay the project, not stop it. Russia plans to finish the job with its own pipe laying ships.

Photo of Pioneering Spirit, Swiss Co. pipelaying vessel
Allseas (Swiss Co) pipe laying vessel ‘Pioneering Spirit’. The ship quit work on Nord Stream 2 following imposition of U.S. sanctions Dec. 2019. Image credit: Allseas

When the pipeline is finally completed, Putin will likely consider it a win. He’ll be wrong. Here’s the thing about dealing in fossil energy: while producers and users are dependent on each other, producers are more dependent on users than visa versa. Producers do all the heavy work. Users have options. They can stop using one fuel in favour of another on the basis of cost, or efficiency, or politics. Or they can switch from fossil energy to renewable energy whenever it becomes available. Producers on the other hand are stuck with what they can pull from the ground. More importantly, they must now contend with a fast approaching and overwhelming horror, the thing oil companies executives hate to talk about in public — global warming.

Atmospheric CO2 continues to rise unabated (see NOAA graph below). It reached a spring peak last year of 414.7 ppm, a record. The highest level reached during 800,000 years preceding the industrial revolution was 300 ppm. Any country that ties its future to the fossil energy business is making a big mistake. The U.S. and Russia are like two kids on a beach, each claiming to have built the biggest sandcastle, each trying to smash the other’s construction, both oblivious to the incoming tide.

Trump’s ‘Energy Dominance’ policy has done nothing to advance “the interests and security of the American people.” Rather, it has exacerbated global warming — an existential threat to all Americans — and turned the country into a fossil fuel pusher, one of many, all privately worried that renewables are going to put them out of business. Of course, as the old adage puts it, ‘it’s an ill wind that blows no good’ — Oil Company executives are laughing all the way to the bank.

Image from Keystone Cops film
Incoming Tweet. President Trump’s foreign policy team. Image credit: Keystone Cops

Storm-Proofing Manhattan — Heaps of Dirt vs. Engineering Know-How.

FDR Drive at East 53rd St. Manhattan, flooded during Hurricane Sandy
FDR Drive at East 53rd St. Manhattan (looking south), flooded during Hurricane Sandy, October 29, 2012. Image: from YouTube by PaulY.

When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City on October 29, 2012, the accompanying 3 meter (10 ft) storm surge flooded about 51 square miles — 17% of the city’s land mass — and caused an estimated $19 billion in physical and economic damage across its five boroughs. Lower Manhattan, with its concentration of high value real estate and underground infrastructure, was particularly hard hit financially. The following map shows the extent of flooding along Lower Manhattan’s shore line.

Map of Lower Manhattan showing areas flooded during Oct 12, 2012 during hurricane Sandy
Areas of Lower Manhattan flooded by hurricane Sandy’s 3 meter storm surge. Image credit: ArcGIS

Despite the multitude of meetings held and reports written on ways to defend Lower Manhattan against future storm surges, nothing has yet been done. A plan, nicknamed ‘The BIG U’, developed by the Bjarke Ingels Group and others, formed the basis for much of the discussions. The plan concerns the low lying areas along Manhattan’s shoreline from West 57th St. down to The Battery, and up to East 42nd St. Discussions focused mainly on where best to build land-based berms and sea walls while, at the same time, preserving shoreline parks and recreational amenities. But earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan that departs radically from the BIG U concept. The following excerpt is from a piece by Mayor de Blasio in New York Magazine of March 19 titled My New Plan to Climate-Proof Manhattan:

“South Street Seaport and the Financial District, along the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, sit so close to sea level — just eight feet above the waterline — and are so crowded with utilities, sewers, and subway lines that we can’t build flood protection on the land. So we’ll have to build more land itself. Over the coming years, we will push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet, or up to two city blocks, into the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms and the higher tides that will threaten its survival in the decades to come.”

The following map of Manhattan’s southern tip illustrates the Mayor’s plan, which he says could cost $10 billion. The red line shows the extension of land by 500 ft. from the existing coast.

Map of Lower Manhattan
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $10 billion plan to extend the Financial District into the East River by up to 500 ft (red line). Red arrow indicates where FDR Dr. becomes an elevated highway heading south. Image: Google Maps

Here’s the mystery:

Why, after five years of discussions about implementing the BIG U, has the Mayor suddenly decided that the only way to save the Financial District is to spend billions dumping dirt offshore? His justification — that the district’s edge is “so crowded with utilities, sewers, and subway lines that we can’t build flood protection on the land” — invites disagreement. First, the city’s tangle of underground infrastructure makes new construction expensive, not impossible. Second, the FDR Drive provides a ready made flood protection line of defense for much of Manhattan’s east side; it’s available to be built on (or under) today — no new land required.

Map of Manhattan - FDR Drive highlighted

The 0.56 mile section of FDR Drive from Old Slip St. in the Financial District  north to the Brooklyn Bridge, and a further 0.7 miles to Mongomery St. in the Lower East Side, consists of elevated roadway that is built above what is now the shore line. North of Mongomery St. the FDR Dr. runs at grade for about 7 miles to East 120th Street. South of Old Slip St. the FDR Dr. becomes the 0.7 mile Battery Park Underpass, which emerges to connect with the south end of West St.

South St. and elevated section of FDR Dr. NYC Financial District.
South St (at Wall St) showing elevated section of FDR Drive in the Financial District (looking North). Parts of East River and Brooklyn Bridge visible at far right. Image: Google

The mayor’s $10 billion land creation scheme would likely take at least 5 years to complete, assuming funds can be raised. The obvious alternative is to fortify the space under the FDR Dr (from Old Slip St. to the Brooklyn Bridge) with a concrete and steel surge barrier (+18 ft high if the vertical space is used to its maximum). Not pretty, but effective. As for Battery Park, there is no technical reason why a berm or sea wall cannot be built on that space from Old Slip St. to the Hudson River side of Manhattan. The cost to protect the Financial District using the combination of land based barriers described above: about $1 billion is my guess. That’s a tenth the cost of the Mayor’s plan. What’s more, the job could be done in a year, if placed on a war footing.

Another departure from the BIG U concept is the city’s new plan for East River Park, the 57 acre, 1.2 mile long strip of land between FDR Dr. and the East River. The original $770 million plan, developed in collaboration with community residents, called for flood walls and berms built alongside the FDR Dr. It was understood that the park itself could flood during a hurricane. The new $1.45 billion plan calls for raising the level of the entire park by 10 feet (requiring about 900,000 cu. yds of fill). The existing park amenities will of course be obliterated in the process. Lorraine Grillo, the city’s Commissioner of Design and Construction, is quoted in the press as saying that the new plan will avoid interfering with traffic on the FDR Drive. Apart from that comment, which puts the interests of motorists ahead of the interests of local residents, there is no apparent justification for the new approach.

Aerial photo of East River Park and Lower Manhattan
Aerial view of East River Park, FDR Driveway, and Lower Manhattan, looking SW. Image: U.S. Gov (FEMA)

A previously considered idea was to cover the FDR Drive by enclosing it in a tunnel (much in the manner used by subterranean termites to protect their above-ground roadways). This would reduce noise and pollution from car traffic, and provide additional green space on the tunnel’s flat roof. The tunnel, fortified on its east side, would act as the surge barrier. It’s time for the city to reconsider the idea before it squanders money on unnecessarily destroying the existing East River Park.

It isn’t easy to plan for potential storm surges. Considering the lack of international action against global warming, the prudent course is to assume that storms will become stronger and that the rate of sea level will continue to speed up. Another superstorm, one even more destructive than Hurricane Sandy, could strike next year. The threat is existential. Therefore, the city’s available flood protection funds should be spent first on structures of concrete and steel such as walls, barriers, bulkheads, that can be built and installed quickly in tight places, and that provide immediate and positive flood protection. In these climate fraught times, the survival of dense maritime cities will depend increasingly on engineering innovation and the technologies involved in building and living on soggy ground, not on piling up ever higher heaps of dirt.

Photo of termite tunnel
Termite tunnel. Image credit: Orkin Co.

The disruptive entities blocking the new Hudson River rail tunnel

Aerial photo of trail leaving west portal of Amtrak’s Hudson River ail Tunnel at North Bergen, NJ
Amtrak’s Hudson River rail tunnel, west portal, North Bergen, NJ. Image: Bloomberg

The Hudson River tunnel project (map below) is part of the Gateway Program, the planned expansion and renovation of the Northeast Corridor rail line between Newark, NJ and New York City. The existing twin-tube tunnel was flooded with salt water during hurricane Sandy in 2012 and is in desperate need of repair (see post of Oct. 23, 2018, ‘Help! The Hudson River Rail Tunnel is Falling to bits’). The tubes need to be gutted so that they can be relined and refitted with hardware, including: tracks, bench walls, conduits, utilities, ventilation, signals, and the catenary systems to feed electricity to the locomotives. But because the tunnel is being used to capacity — up to 450 trains every week day — the needed repairs can’t be done until a new tunnel is built and ready to take over the traffic.

Map of proposed alignment of new Hudson River Rail Tunnel
Proposed alignment for new Hudson River Rail Tunnel. Image from draft environmental impact statement, June 30, 2017, Federal Railroad Administration ( FRA) and NJ Transit

The Hudson rail yards (image below) on Manhattan’s west side, a 28 acre area bounded by 10th and 12th Avenues and 30th and 33rd Streets, is the site of a $25 billion real estate development. The area is also where Amtrak’s existing Hudson River rail tunnel as well as the proposed second tunnel are anchored at their east ends. When construction for the Hudson Yards project began in 2013, the question was how to preserve the new tunnel’s right-of-way. The answer: build an underground concrete casing large enough and long enough to accommodate about 1200 feet of double track rail tunnel.

Aerial view of Hudson Rail Yards, NYC c2010
Hudson Rail Yards (looking east) before redevelopment began in 2013. Approximate location of underground right-of-way for new tunnel indicated in yellow. Penn Station can be seen at upper right (blue). Portion of Hudson River at bottom left. Image from AP photo.

According to Amtrak, construction of the first 900 feet of tunnel casing from 10th Ave. to beyond 11th Ave. was  completed in 2016. The next step will, in coordination with the westward development of Hudson Yards, extend the casing to 30th Street near 12th Avenue. The completed tunnel casing will be sealed at both ends and remain hidden and empty until a new Hudson River tunnel can make use of it.

Photo of right-of-way tunnel casing under Hudson Yards
Part of right-of-way tunnel casing under Hudson Yards. Image: John Cichowski/NorthJersey.com

The need to build an additional rail tunnel has been known since the 1990’s. In 2012 the need became urgent. Yet the project continues to  languish for lack of funds. Why? The latest projected cost for a new tunnel plus repair of the existing tunnel is 11.3 billion (Gateway Program, Aug. 23, 2019). That’s half the cost of the Hudson Yards real estate project. Yet, while the privately funded Hudson Yards development is proceeding at full speed (image below), the publicly funded tunnel project is barely alive.

Aerial photo of Hudson Yards real estate development, phase one, opened March 2019
Hudson Yards real estate development, phase one, opened March 15, 2019. Image: Related Companies

So who or what is to blame for the delay in funding and building the new Hudson River Rail Tunnel? Here are some clues:

November 2015 the Obama administration agreed to a Gateway project funding arrangement whereby the feds would cover 50% of the costs while New York and New Jersey would share the cost of the remaining 50%. The agreement was worked out with Dept. of Transport (DOT) officials in conjunction with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Amtrak. But on Dec. 28, 2017, the Trump administration denied the existence of the 50-50 funding deal. The letter from the Dept. Of Transport (responding to a letter from NY State) contains the following passage:

“Your letter also references a nonexistent ’50-50′ agreement between USDOT, New York and New Jersey. There is no such agreement. We consider it unhelpful to reference a nonexistent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where nine out of 10 passengers are local transit riders”

June 30, 2017 – On the same day The Federal Railroad Administration and NJ Transit released a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Hudson River tunnel, DOT sent a letter to the Gateway Development Corporation permanently withdrawing DOT Secretary Elaine Chao from its board of trustees. 
Sept. 7, 2017, 
after a bipartisan meeting in the White House to discuss infrastructure, President Trump (according to Politico) offered Sen. Schumer a deal: Schumer could have his Gateway tunnel if Trump got his border wall with Mexico. Schumer said he couldn’t make that trade. 
March 6, 2018, d
uring a hearing in the House on transportation, Transport Secretary Chao was asked if President Trump was pressuring the House Speaker to kill the Gateway project. She said,“Yes. The President is concerned about the viability of the project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game. They need to step up and pay their fair share. They are two of the richest states in the country.” 
March 8, 2018, 
President Trump threatened to veto legislation funding the government through September if any money for the Gateway tunnel was included in the $1.3 trillion spending bill.

Clearly, President Donald Trump and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao are to blame for blocking the Hudson River tunnel project. But these two individuals do not function in a vacuum, they are members of the Republican Party and, as such, reflect the attitudes of that group. The Republican Party apposes federal funding for public transit of all kinds including passenger rail. Here are some excerpts from the 2016 Republican Platform (gopconvention2016.com Committee website):

Website cover

♦ “We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government. More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose [highways]. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities.” 
♦ “We propose to phase out the federal transit program and reform provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act which can delay and drive up costs for [highway] transportation projects.” 

♦ “Amtrak is an extremely expensive railroad for the American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor.”

♦ Democrats want to “coerce people out of their cars.” 

The Republican Party’s far-right wing has been particularly hostile to public transit. Here’s a 2008 quote from Michele Bachmann, former Minnesota Rep. and Tea Party darling: “They [Democrats] want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, take light rail to their government jobs. That’s their vision for America.”

Plainly, the Republican Party, the Republican administration, and Republicans in Congress are all to blame for blocking the Hudson River tunnel project. Even if President Trump and Secretary Chao were removed from office today, funding for the tunnel project would continue to be apposed  by Republicans in office.

However, Republican office holders reflect the interests of the industries that finance their election campaigns, that tell them how to think and vote once they are in office, and that provide them with lucrative positions once they leave office. By far the most powerful of these industries is the Oil & Gas Industry. The Oil & Gas Industry is hostile to any initiative, large or small, public or private, that promises to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. A new or improved public transit system is just one such initiative.

The Oil & Gas Industry has spent billions over the past several decades promoting the benefits of fossil fuels (despite knowing about the dire effects of burning the stuff) and its lobbying efforts, focused almost exclusively on Republican politicians, has been intense. So here’s the thing: even if Republicans were swept from office today, lobbying pressure from the Oil & Gas Industry will not disappear; it will simply be refocused on the new office holders until such time as ‘right thinking’ Republicans are re-elected.

So, while the President and his Transport Secretary are immediately to blame for blocking the construction of a new Hudson River tunnel, and whereas Republicans collectively are actually to blame, it’s the Oil & Gas Industry that is ultimately to blame. Smashing the power of that industry will not be easy, but, for the good of the country and its politics, it must be done.

From ‘The [Oil] Cycle Interrupted’. Image: Warhammer Games

Corruption is also a product of the Oil & Gas Industry

Cartoon about manipulation of science by special interests
Image from UCS Blog – Union of Concerned Scientists

“[T]he norms and expectations that once ensured that our government was guided primarily by the public interest rather than by individual or partisan interest have significantly weakened. There are now far fewer constraints to deter abuse by executive branch actors.”

The above understatements of the year are from a report released October 3, 2019 by The National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy, a group formed under the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law to figure out how to restore trust in government. The report focuses on the politicization of government science and research. It lists over a hundred specific occurrences of political manipulation of scientific findings. Examples from the list follow (numbers refer to the report’s itemization system):

#453 – The Dept of the Interior’s top climate change scientist was reassigned to an accounting role, despite no training in accounting, after he highlighted the dangers climate change poses for Alaska’s Native communities. Washington Post July 19, 2017

#448 – After Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers produced a study showing economic benefits to protecting wetlands from pollution, aides to the agency’s administrator told them to produce a new study showing no such benefits. NYTimes August 11, 2017

#482 – Chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) questioned studies that connect serious human health problems to air pollution and accepted research funding from the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry lobbying group that reviewed his findings before publication. ScienceMag (American Association for the Advancement of Science) December 10, 2018

#493 – The news that the EPA stoped updating its climate change websites in April 2017 is confirmed. The agency removed its climate change subdomains from public access, and removed links to its searchable web archive for any past information on the subject. Newsweek November 2, 2018

#485 – Chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) wrote a letter to the EPA administrator criticizing the agency’s use of science to set air pollution standards and questioned the long-established scientific view that fine particulate airborne matter is linked to early deaths. Scientific American March 29, 2019. 

#502 – The Dept. of Agriculture withheld a news release and sought to prevent dissemination of the findings by the department’s research partners concerning a groundbreaking discovery that rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment — a potentially serious health concern for the 600 million people worldwide whose diet consists mostly of rice. Politico June 23, 2019

#441 – High-level Department of the Interior officials altered an environmental assessment for seismic surveying prepared by career scientists in order to underplay the potential impact of oil and gas development on Alaska’s coastal plain. Politico July 26/19

The ill effects of a corrupt executive branch go much deeper than the subversion of scientific findings. President Trump has packed his administration with fossil-fuel friendly officials willing to put Big Oil interests ahead of the public interest. The decisions made by these unelected officials, anxious to do the bidding of their bosses in and out of government, are helping to destroy the environment and cripple the country’s economic prospects. For example, here’s how this top-down rot is working to hobble the country’s nascent offshore wind energy industry:

Vineyard Wind, a $2.8 billion, 800-Megawatt offshore wind power project planned for waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, has been put on hold by the Trump administration. Vineyard had submitted its Construction and Operations Plan (COP) to the Department of the Interior (DOI) in December 2017 and had expected to receive the go-ahead last month. The map below shows the proposed wind turbine layout submitted to DOI by the company.

Map to show location of Vineyard Wind offshore project

So what is the government’s  excuse for delaying the project? In an August news release, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) — the agency under DOI responsible for managing development of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf — provides two excuses:

(1) “Comments received from stakeholders and cooperating agencies [have] requested a more robust cumulative analysis.” 
(2) “Because . . . 
a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is more reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement], BOEM has decided to supplement the Draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis.”

Excuse (1) is the Trump administration’s way of saying that the delay is open ended and that it doesn’t have defensible reasons to justify it.

Excuse (2) refers to the fact that the wind energy industry has shown great interest in building wind farms off the East Coast (an estimated $70-billion in wind industry investments over the next decade). The claim that that interest was not “reasonably foreseeable” by DOI, is nonsense. The following is from TheHill June 4, 2013:

“Interior announced on [June 3, 2013]  that it would hold an auction on July 31, 2013 for 164,750 acres off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which has the potential to generate 3,400 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1 million homes. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the pending lease sale — which has drawn interest from nine firms — “history in the making.” 

If former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was able to foresee, in 2013, the potential for “a greater build out of offshore wind capacity”, then you can bet current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was able to foresee it too. It’s just that Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil industry, doesn’t like the view. David Halperin, writing in Desmogblog March 26, 2019, says: “Bernhardt is . . . more skilled [than his predecessor Ryan Zinke] in the ways of law and government. But in terms of the ways that money corrupts politics and policy, his record is even more concerning. David Bernhardt is the ultimate swamp creature.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) is quoted by WBUR Boston, Aug 9, 2019: “When it comes to the nation’s first major offshore wind project — which has gone through years of extensive study, public comment and mitigation plans for impacted communities — they are trying to delay it to death. . . . Worse still, they are threatening the future of large-scale renewable energy development at a moment when the price of our oil and gas dependency becomes more obvious — and more terrifying — by the day.”

Six hundred thousand (600,000) U.S. wind energy jobs by 2050: that was the prediction made in a March 2015 report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. According to the Environment & Energy Study Institute, the wind industry now (July 2019) supports 111,000 direct jobs. To Oil & Gas Industry executives, those figures are the stuff of nightmares. The shift to renewable energy is an existential threat to their industry. They need people like David Bernhardt to help slow it down.

Aerial photo of Wind Farm, North Sea UK
Offshore wind farm, North Sea UK

 

U.S. Senate Committee pushes oil industry’s antisocial LNG scheme.

Oil & Gas field, Midland, Texas. Photo credit: EcoFlight

How long can the fracking spending spree last?
— Houston Chronicle
headlineSept 14, 2018.

The answer to the Chronicle’s question is: for as long as investors have money to burn. Justin Mikulka, writing Dec 18, 2018, for Desmogblog, puts it this way: “Fracking in 2018 was another year pretending to make money. . . . Whether fracking companies are profitable or not doesn’t really matter to Wall Street executives who are getting rich making the loans that the fracking industry struggles to repay.”

Yet the industry is currently pumping more fracked gas than ever before. The market is swamped and prices are at or below break even (see “Natural Gas Prices Fall Below Zero In Texas” – Oilprice.com, Nov 28, 2018). And now there’s a push to liquify as much of the stuff as possible for shipment overseas to anyone who’ll buy it.

Speaking at a July 11, 2019 hearing of the U.S.  Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on “The Important Role of LNG in Evolving Global Markets”, Nikos Tsafos, Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said:

There is an oversupply of LNG on the market, leading to historically low prices in Europe and Asia . . .  Despite [these] historically low prices today, companies are betting billions to enable the next wave of LNG supply—and this wave will be far bigger, more diverse, and perhaps more politically complicated than earlier waves. . . . [There are an] unprecedented number of proposed LNG supply projects that might reasonably start construction over the next two year.

Since the U.S. Senate is controlled by Republicans, only people supportive of the oil and gas industry and its LNG subset were invited to give evidence at the Senate Energy Committee hearing. The talk was all about how best to promote the industry and take advantage of an imagined “window of opportunity” to strengthen its global competitiveness. There was no mention of global warming or the need to restrain the production of fossil fuels. This is how Steven E. Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy U.S. Department of Energy, summarized his testimony:

“Natural Gas has transformed our Nation and the world for the better. The increased use and production of natural gas has grown our economy, created countless American jobs, and made our air cleaner. Further, increasing exports of domestically produced natural gas to 36 countries around the world has given our allies a stable, reliable and secure source of clean energy.”

Here’s what’s wrong with that picture: Hydraulic fracking is a filthy business, it poisons the water table, adds greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, and far from making the world better, it makes it bad (see below for specifics on just how bad); The people employed in the industry would be far more constructively employed in building the nation’s renewable energy economy; Natural Gas is not a stable, reliable, or secure source of energy, let alone a clean one — gas deposits are bound to become stranded due to the superior economics of renewables. And considering the political and social pressures surrounding climate change, “our allies” would be well advised not to get hooked on it.

Renewables are displacing fossil fuels. During this transition, the U.S. has more than enough natural gas to satisfy its current domestic needs. That’s what energy security means. The push to export LNG is not about energy security, or even about making money, it’s about building expensive infrastructure (pipelines, liquefaction plants, terminal facilities, etc) to keep the Oil & Gas Industry in business. Pitching the benefits of investing in this LNG boondoggle is Charlie Riedl, Executive Director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas. Here’s part of his testimony before the above mentioned Senate hearing on LNG markets.

“The U.S. is now home to four LNG export terminals in operation, six projects under construction, and seven projects that are permitted and awaiting Final Investment Decisions. There are another fourteen projects in the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] FERC queue. Each of these projects individually represents billions of dollars of investment in America’s energy future. . . . Technological breakthroughs in the oil and natural gas industry have unleashed an energy renaissance, establishing the United States as the world’s largest natural gas producer – and domestic production continues to grow. We have enough natural gas to supply affordable energy domestically for at least 100 years with current technology, as well as to significantly increase U.S. participation in the global market for LNG.” (my underlines)

Mr. Riedl paints a picture of a world living indefinitely on fossil fuels, a world much to the liking of the Oil & Gas Industry. He does not mention the impact of global warming or the Paris Climate Accord which calls for a sharp reduction in the total use of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency’s ‘Sustainable Development’ estimate of World Energy Demand to 2040, shows no increase in natural gas consumption beyond 2020 (see post of July 6, 2019, titled Oil & Gas Industry aims to make global warming even warmer).

Witnesses to the Senate hearing, including Mr. Riedl, refer to natural gas as a clean fuel. It isn’t. Here’s how it compares to other fuels in terms of CO2 emissions:

Lbs of CO2 emitted per million BTU of energy: 
Coal (anthracite) – 229 Lbs
Gasoline – 157 Lbs
Natural Gas – 117 Lbs
Solar (wind or PV’s) – zero emissions

During its production cycle, natural gas also releases methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times as potent as CO2. Last month, the Trump Administration announced plans to weaken existing rules designed to curb the release of methane. That’s not all. Natural gas is routinely flared (burned off) or vented when emitted from wells drilled primarily for oil. The following table from Bloomberg News June 12, 2019, shows the amount of gas flared by certain companies operating in the Permian Basin oil field of Texas:

Table showing gas flared (as a percentage of gas produced) by oil companies operating in Texas
Gas flared (as a percentage of gas produced) by oil companies operating in the Permian Basin of Texas. Original source: Rystad Energy

An article in Bloomberg Businessweek Sept. 10, 2019, by Ryan Collins and Rachel Adams-Heard, contains the following passage: “Gas flaring globally emits more than 350 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in a year, according to the World Bank. . . . In the U.S., flaring accounts for an estimated 9% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the oil and gas industry. In addition, the practice spews particulate matter, soot and toxins into the air that have been shown to be hazardous to humans.”

Fracking natural gas is bad for the climate, bad for the country, bad for the world. The current scramble to increase — at any cost — LNG production and shipping, is nothing more than a hostile and antisocial scheme by the Oil & Gas Industry to prolong its own life by delaying an orderly transition to renewable energy. It’s an industry scheme that’s being eagerly supported by the Oil & Gas-dependent Republicans in Congress and their like-minded buddies in the Trump Administration.

Gas flaring. Image: Dallas Morning News

Pollution from aircraft – another reason to tax fossil fuels at their source

Photo of jet aircraft contrails
Jet aircraft contrails. Image: Wikipedia

The global civil aviation industry is on a roll. Last year the world’s airlines profited from carrying 4.38 billion passengers and 63.3 million tones of freight. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) the number of passengers carried per year could reach 8.2 billion by 2037, a forecast based on 3.5% compound annual growth rate. A rosy outlook indeed — for the industry. Can the good times last — for the industry?

The industry’s current prosperity is based on cheap fossil fuel and on the fact that the industry is allowed to dump its emissions into the global atmosphere at no cost to itself. According to IATA data, in 2018 a total of 38.1 million flights consumed 95 billion gallons of fuel and released 905 million tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, about 2% of global CO2 emissions. But that’s not all. Emissions from aircraft jet engines contain other pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen, unburned fuel, soot, and water vapour. Soot, for example, provides condensation sites for water vapour and the consequent formation of contrails at high altitudes (17,000 to 45,000 feet). When contrails linger or spread out thinly like natural cirrus clouds, they trap heat radiating from the earth’s surface and so add to atmospheric warming. The combined contribution to global warming made by these non-CO2 emissions, equals or exceeds that made by the aircraft’s CO2 emissions.

The industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. According to IATA ‘fact sheets’, this is what the industry plans to do: First it plans to cap its net CO2 emissions at 2019 levels. From then on, or so the industry claims, its growth will be carbon-neutral. It plans to accomplish this carbon-neutral growth by “pursuing a 4-pillar strategy” as follows:

(1) Improved aircraft technology, including the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels. (2) More efficient aircraft operations. (3) Better ground-based infrastructure (4) Offsetting the remaining emissions gap.

Here are some of the reasons why the industry’s plan is bound to fall short:

Engineers have made great progress in designing jet engines that are more fuel efficient and produce less CO2. And that work continues. However, a recent paper by Lisa Bock and Ulrike Burkhardt of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, shows that more fuel efficient jet engines produce more, and longer lasting contrails. The atmospheric heating caused by such contrails cancels out the benefit from more efficient jet engines.

The industry is counting on the development of biofuels to begin replacing fossil fuels. A biofuel is any fuel that is derived from biomass, such as plant or algae material or animal waste. The International Energy Agency (IEA) anticipates biofuels reaching around 10% of aviation fuel demand by 2030, and close to 20% by 2040. In the context of what the industry says it wants to achieve, this is way too slow. Currently biofuels are much more expensive than fossil-based jet fuel, a cost premium that prevents their wider use. The bar chart below shows that for biofuels to compete with fossil jet fuel, the cost of fossil fuels must rise. A sizeable tax on the CO2 content of fossil fuels at well-head or port of entry would do the trick, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Bar chart showing aviation fuel cost comparison
Biofuels vs. jet fuel cost comparison. Image from IEA News, March 18, 2019

According to IEA News, March 18, 2019, “Ongoing research and development is needed to support the commercialisation of novel advanced aviation biofuels which can unlock the potential to use agricultural residues and municipal solid wastes.” In other words, serious work on unlocking that potential on behalf of the aviation industry, hasn’t even started.

 The forth pillar of the IATA’s 4-pillar strategy is where the industry admits that its other pillars will not do enough to mitigate all of its emissions. To mitigate the remaining emissions, the industry intends to rely on an approach developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), called Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The scheme was agreed to by ICAO’s 193 member states. This is what IATA’s ‘Fact sheet on CORSIA and carbon pricing’ says about offsetting:

Offsetting is an action by a company or individual to compensate for their emissions by financing a reduction in emissions elsewhere. Offsetting and carbon markets are a fundamental component of global, regional and national emissions reduction policies. They have operated for decades for compliance purposes and voluntary emissions reductions and continue to be an effective mechanism to underpin action against climate change.

Offsetting is more effective than a tax, as a carbon tax merely requires companies to pay for their emissions, without any guarantees that the payment will lead to any emissions reductions.

Poppycock! Carbon offsetting, like taxing carbon emissions, is a form of greenwashing — a way for industries to appear responsible while behaving irresponsibly. To argue that “offsetting is more effective” than taxing carbon emissions, is to say nothing. Neither approach works. The bottom line is this: while “offsetting and carbon pricing . . . have operated for decades” the temperature of the world’s atmosphere continues to rise.

♦ According to a paper published Aug. 14, 2019 by the Center for Climate and Security, titled ‘Climate Change Implications for U.S. Military Aircraft’, new research shows that as the environment grows hotter and more humid, the performance of military aircraft is being adversely affected. Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret.), is quoted as follows:

“To better visualize how military operations are being impacted by increasing heat and humidity, one can look at the impacts that changing climate conditions have had on commercial airlines. Commercial airlines are fighting a losing battle with climate change. Increasing heat and humidity is driving flight cancellations and threatening the viability of various airports and flight routes. . . . We are not used to having commercial airlines disrupted because of hot weather. This is a harbinger of things to come.”

As temperature increases, air expands and becomes less dense. As humidity increases, nitrogen and oxygen molecules are displaced by lighter water molecules causing the air to become less dense. As air density decreases, aircraft performance decreases and costs increase .

“These aircraft performance impacts,” Titley says, “can be mitigated by expanding aircraft power and efficiency through wing modification, more aerodynamic design, and more powerful engines. Other mitigation strategies involve lengthening runways and decreasing payloads.”

More powerful engines, if they are fossil-fuel powered, means more emissions to mitigate.

♦ To summarize, if the aviation industry is to achieve its objective of carbon-neutral growth, it will have to cut its use of fossil fuel now, not in decades. Relying on offsetting to fudge a cap on CO2 emissions, will not do.

As the bar chart above shows, the cost of fossil jet fuel must rise by about 100 USD/bbl for alternative fuels to begin competing seriously. Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Chief, has been lobbying against a ‘Green Tax’ on aviation. He should instead lobby globally for a carbon tax on fossil fuels at the mine, well-head, or port of entry. A heavy enough tax would remove the cost premium that’s delaying the use of alternative fuels, force the fossil fuel industry to pay some of the conversion costs, and place all airlines on a level environmental playing field.

Carbon Capture — Big Oil’s bogus response to global warming

Carbon Capture cartoon
Carbon Capture. Image credit: Pilita Clark, Financial Times, Sept. 9, 2015

The Oil & Gas Industry wants us to keep on burning fossil fuels, come hell or high sea level. To divert attention from that sorry objective, the industry is promoting a techno-fix that policymakers and investors can get behind — it’s called Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS  for short. It’s a ruse, a scam. CCS won’t change industry’s behaviour, won’t cause emissions to drop.

Last April, a group of U.S. Senators — 8 Democrats, 4 Republicans — sent a letter to the Senate appropriations committee requesting “robust funding” to develop carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies “that will address COemissions from coal, natural gas, and industrial facilities.” The letter contains a mixture of false statements, dubious claims, and baloney. Examples follow:

▲ The Senators claim that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified CCUS as “a critical component of the portfolio of energy technologies needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.” The claim is false. Here are the facts:

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed Dec. 2015 by 95 countries, set a goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Global average temperature has already exceeded 1.0°C. Last year, the IPCC prepared a special report on the impacts of global warming to 1.5°C and on the CO2 emissions pathways that could limit warming to that temperature. Here’s what the report’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’ says  in its single statement (item C.2.2) about the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS):

In 1.5°C pathways with no or limited overshoot, renewables are projected to supply 70–85% of electricity in 2050. . . . [T]he use of CCS would allow the electricity generation share [from] gas to be approximately 8% (3–11%) of global electricity in 2050, while the use of coal . . . would be reduced to close to 0%.

In other words, the IPCC views the use of CCS, not as a critical component of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, but as a bit player, and not even an essential bit player. What the IPCC does predict is that ‘natural’ carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques, such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration, will play the major roles.

The Senators state that “Like the wind and solar industries, a combination of federal incentives such as tax credits and federal funding for research, development, and demonstration, will be needed to improve [carbon capture] technology so that it can be cost-competitive with other forms of low COemitting technologies.”

Here the Senators make the absurd implication that energy from fossil fuels  can be made cost-competitive with energy from renewables (solar, wind) by throwing money into carbon capture research. The fact is, energy from fossil fuels cannot compete with energy from renewable today; adding carbon capture technology — no matter how well researched — to fossil fuel exhaust systems, will result in energy that is even less competitive tomorrow. No amount of funding will change that certainty.

▲ The Senators state that “Innovators across the United States are already developing a wide range of CCUS technologies that can improve the efficiency of electricity generation and utilize carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and other sources for more efficient resource development and valuable products, such as algae-derived chemicals, plastics, and fuels.”

Here the Senators are trying, but failing, to show that CCS can pay for itself. The reference to “more efficient resource development” points to ‘enhanced oil recovery’, a process in which captured CO2 is injected into existing wells to force more oil out of the ground. When the recovered oil is burned, it releases as much or more CO2 into the atmosphere as was captured in the first place. The process has nothing to do with true carbon storage, nor with serious efforts to reduce global warming CO2 emissions.

As for the reference to “valuable products”, the world is awash in chemicals, plastics, and fuels, all derived from fossil carbon feed stock (oil, gas, coal). When that fossil carbon feed stock is burned, its carbon is released into the air. The claim that that same carbon (captured from the emissions) can form the basis for new or different products, makes no sense.

▲ The Senators claim that “Investment in carbon utilization technologies will transform carbon dioxide into an economic resource, lower the cost of reducing emissions, create jobs, save consumers money, and safeguard our environment.”

At least the part about jobs is true. Scientists will work on anything, no matter how nutty the project, just so long as they get paid to do it.

Photo of U.S. Senate building
U.S. Senate. Image: Senate.gov

The Senators’ letter is dated April 4, 2019 and signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I- Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

If the Senators had actually read the IPCC’s 2018 special report’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’, they would have discovered that holding global average temperature to 1.5°C by 2050 requires action on restricting CO2 emissions NOW.  Pushing CCS technology on behalf of the fossil fuel industry will not do the trick. Here’s what the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ says on the matter:

Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) [e.g., reforestation] can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (item D.1).

The lower the emissions in 2030, the lower the challenge in limiting global warming to 1.5°C after 2030 with no or limited overshoot. The challenges from delayed actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include the risk of cost escalation, lock-in in carbon-emitting infrastructure, stranded assets, and reduced flexibility in future response options in the medium to long term (item D.3).

In other words: ignore the carbon capture ruse, focus instead on reducing fossil fuel production. That’s the real challenge for policymakers. Are they up to it?

How to sue Big Oil — Part 2

Image of painting by Rossetti of Pandora
Pandora holding the box. Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1871

This is a follow up to my last post. It’s an attempt to clarify the logic underlying it.

Global Warming has two separate and distinct parts. Part 1 is about controlling the production, distribution, and burning of fossil fuels. Part 2 is about the consequences of burning them.

Part 1 is under the control of humans as represented by legal units such as national, state, or municipal governments. These units make rules, regulations, and laws, and assign departments or agencies to administer them, all with the intention of regulating the production and use of fossil fuels.

Part 2 is totally different. As soon as fossil fuels are burned and carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are emitted into the atmosphere, human control of the situation ceases. Those CO2 molecules are incorporated into the atmosphere where they work to enable global warming and its damaging consequences. Once C02 molecules from fossil fuels are allowed to enter the atmosphere, they are beyond human control.

Part 1 lawsuits are about how perfectly or imperfectly fossil fuels are being regulated. The litigants have opposing views about how new regulations or changes to existing ones may affect future events. 

Examples:
— The Trump Administration opens public land to drilling. Citizens sue to stop that happening 

— The EPA moves to weaken the Clean Air Act. New York State sues to stop it doing that.

— The Federal Government fails to act against global warming. Kids sue to force action (Juliana v. United States).

Part 2 lawsuits are about the climate damage that has occurred and is occurring due to the release of fossil fuel CO2 into the atmosphere. The litigants have opposing views on who is at fault and who should pay the damage costs. Such lawsuits are tricky because they involve assigning blame and assessing compensation. But that is what judges are for.

Example:
— Cities sue big oil companies to recover climate damage costs.

Unlike Part 1 lawsuits, Part 2 lawsuits have absolutely nothing to do with the regulations designed to control fossil fuels, or with the government departments or agencies who apply them.

By the time a Part 2 lawsuit is launched, the damage costs to be litigated have already been paid. As noted in my previous post, the U.S. Government Accounting Office, in its report dated Oct. 24, 2017, determined that damage from Climate Change over the 10 year period ending 2o17, cost the government $350 billion in taxpayers money. The costs include funding for disaster recovery programs, flood insurance claims, repairs to defence bases, etc. The tax-hit on any city for that same 10-year period is the per capita cost multiplied by the city’s population.

What needs to be emphasized is that when cities sue Big Oil, they are doing so on behalf of their citizens. The citizens paid taxes to cover the costs of climate damage. The oil corporations paid nothing. What the lawsuits ask is that some of those costs be shifted onto the shoulders of the oil corporations. The idea that such claims are best handled by the executive and legislative branches of government, as some judges have suggested, makes no sense. The facts of such cases have nothing to do with the control and regulation of fossil fuels. What Big Oil did was lie to their clients about the dangers that flow from the use of their products. That can be proved. Climate damage became worse as a consequence of those lies and, as a result, taxpayers became poorer, oil companies became richer. The question to be settled is how much money should the oil companies pay the cities to correct that imbalance.

The image at the top of this post shows Rossetti’s interpretation of the Greek myth about Pandora. It shows Pandora’s right hand resting on the lid of the box. Has she just closed the lid? It appears so. Note the plume of smoke rising from the box. The industrial revolution was well underway when Rossetti composed the work in 1871. Was he influenced by the industrial revolution? Probably. In any case, the evils let loose from the box surely included CO2 from fossil fuels. Who should be held responsible? Pandora because she opened the box out of ignorance? Or the person who loaded the box with CO2 but failed to inform Pandora about the dangers?

How to sue Big Oil for money and win . . . maybe

Photo of judges hammer and money
Image: from NY Post

Last year (Jan 2018) New York City sued five major Oil & Gas companies — ExxonMobil, BP, SheIl, Chevron, and Conoco Phillips — for contributing to global warming and the resulting physical damage to city property. It asked the court to hold the oil companies liable for the damage they’ve caused, and award the city monitory compensation. But on July 20, 2018, the court dismissed the lawsuit in favour of the oil companies.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Keenan, ruled that the city’s claims come under federal law involving greenhouse gas emissions that cross state lines, thus putting them under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Problems associated with climate change, the judge said, should be tackled by Congress and the executive branch. In its brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals November 12, 2018, the city claims that Judge Keenan misunderstood the lawsuit. The appeal argues that the city did not ask the court to regulate emissions but, rather, to award the city damages on the basis of Public Nuisance, Private Nuisance, and Trespass, which, to a non lawyer, sounds pretty mild.

If Judge Keenan misunderstood the city’s lawsuit it’s because the city framed its 67 page brief around global warming as an international threat instead of what was intended, a limited and local demand for compensation. The titles of sections IV thru VIII in the brief give the flavour of the thing:

IV. Climate Change Impacts on New York City
V. Fossil Fuels Are the Primary Cause of Climate Change
VI. Defendants Have Produced Massive Quantities of Fossil Fuels—and Have Continued to Do So Even as Climate Change Has Become Gravely Dangerous
VII. Defendants Had Full Knowledge that Fossil Fuels Would Cause Catastrophic Harm
VIII. Despite Their Early Knowledge that Climate Change Posed Grave Threats, Defendants Promoted Fossil Fuels for Pervasive Use, While Denying or Downplaying These Threats

Within the brief, ‘greenhouse gas’ is mentioned 29 times, ‘emissions’ 46 times, ‘global warming’ 48 times, ‘climate change’ 100 times. On the other hand, the word ‘damages’ appears in the brief only 7 times. The impression given is that the city is afraid that the judge might not understand the situation unless provided with multiple reminders that global warming exists and that it’s a serious problem.

The fact is, the judge understands the issue very well. New York City framed its complaint in terms of global warming, an international problem that requires an international solution. The judge ruled accordingly. Fossil fuel companies are happy to defend themselves at the national or international level. They know how slow and ineffective national efforts to limit global warming are. They know how to influence those efforts so as to slow them down to a crawl. They even go so far as to promote placing taxes on CO2 emissions, knowing that that distances the production of fossil fuels from the possibility of direct control. It’s a tactic that also gets others to pay what  the oil companies should be paying.

If New York City’s lawsuit fails on appeal, it will show that the Nuisance and Trespass laws are not sufficient. What then? How can any city structure it’s climate lawsuits in such a way that the trans-boundary issue is sidelined?

Here’s my contribution to solving the puzzle:

1. The science linking fossil fuels to global warming , climate change, increasing damage from storms, drought, sea level rise, etc., is settled. Global Warming is happening now. The judges know it. The Oil & Gas companies do not deny it. They most certainly do not want to wind up in court fighting the science. They would lose. Instead, when sued for climate damages, oil companies fight back by attacking the lawsuit’s legal right to stand. There’s no need to stress the existence and effects of global warming when suing oil companies.

2. Even though oil companies have known for decades about the dangerous effects that result from the use of their products, they deliberately kept the knowledge to themselves.

3. New Yorkers generate pollution while engaged in manufacturing, transportation, electricity generation, day to day living, etc. The energy used in these activities includes fuels purchased from the oil companies. New York takes responsibility for the pollution it generates and is working to abate it.

4. As New Yorkers use fossil fuels purchased from the oil companies, carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are released into the atmosphere. All of those CO2 molecules released by New York to date, remain in the atmosphere and will remain there indefinitely, doing their part in causing the atmosphere to heat up. Once in the atmosphere, those molecules that originated in New York cannot be controlled or regulated by any agency. 

5. The CO2 molecules released by New York from the fossil fuels supplied by the oil companies, add to the burden of CO2 molecules that have built up in the atmosphere over time from other sources. It follows that the atmospheric heating and consequent damage has increased by some measure due to New York’s use of those fossil fuels. To put it another way, if New York had not used any of those fossil fuels, the amount of damage inflicted on New York would be less by some measure (see item 7).

6. The oil companies learned in the 1980’s or earlier about the dangers posed by their products.  Had they behaved honestly and, at that time, informed New Yorkers about the dangers, it’s reasonable to assume that the city would have acted earlier to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by at least 50% of what it is today. The oil companies should pay the costs flowing from that failure to tell the truth.

7. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (report dated Oct. 24, 2017), damage from Climate Change has cost U.S. taxpayers $350 billion over the past decade (2007 to 2017). When adjusted for population size, New Yorkers’ share of that cost was 2.6% or $9.1 billion. 

Considering all the above, how much money should the oil companies pay New York in damage compensation?

For the period 2007 to 2017 (see item 7), 50% of $9.1 billion = $4.55  billion in the form of a lump sum payment.

Since climate damage is ongoing, annual costs following 2017 will be one tenth of $9.1 billion = $0.91 billion per year (see item 7). Oil companies should therefor pay 50% of 0.91 = $0.455 billion per year starting in 2018. For how many years should the oil companies pay that annual amount. Idefinitely or until they go bust.

Photo of Verrazano bridge taken Oct 2012 during Hurricane Sandy
Verrazano bridge from Brooklyn waterfront, NYC, during Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29, 2012. Image credit: Carlos Ayala

Oil & Gas Industry aims to make global warming even warmer

Photo of oil well pumps
Oil well pumps. Image credit: CBC

There’s a growing mass mobilisation of world opinion against oil, which is “beginning to … dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry” Mohammed Barkindo, the secretary general of OPEC said. Climate activists are “perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward”, he also said.
— from The Guardian and other press reports, July 5, 2019.

Mr. Barkindo is like the arsonist who sets fires for money and then complains that fire engines are threatening his business. He should know that ‘climate activists’ are not the only people delivering unwanted messages to the Oil & Gas Industry about global warming. Similar (although milder) messages are originating from within the industry’s own ranks. The problem is that, as yet, most of the industry’s bosses refuse to listen.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an intergovernmental body established in 1974 following the 1973 oil crisis. The agency’s purpose at the time was to respond to disruption in the supply of oil. Its mandate has since expanded and the agency now acts to provide member states, as well as as Russia, China, and India, with information and policy advice on energy security, economic development, and Environmental Protection.

The following chart in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, shows the Agency’s estimate of total world energy demand to 2040 under what it calls its New Policies Scenario (NPS). The NPS, the report says, “Incorporates existing energy policies as well as an assessment of the results likely to stem from the implementation of announced policy intentions.” In other words, the chart represents the IEA’s business-as-usual prediction. The chart shows demand for fossil fuels (Natural Gas + Coal + Oil) steadily rising beyond 2020.

Estimated World energy demand by IEA
Estimated world energy demand to 2040 – business as usual. Image: International Energy Administration (IEA)

The next chart is from the same page of the same IEA report. It shows the Agency’s estimate of total world energy demand to 2040 under what it calls its Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). The SDS, the report says, represents “an integrated approach to achieving internationally agreed objectives on climate change, air quality and universal access to modern energy.” In other words, the chart shows what the IEA estimates will happen to world energy demand, should the signatories to the Paris Accord follow up on on their commitments. Result: fossil fuel production falls.

The IEA’s estimated world energy demand to 2040 - Sustainable Developmemt Scenario. Image: IEA
The IEA’s estimated world energy demand to 2040 – Sustainable Development Scenario. Image: IEA

In what way is the Oil & Gas Industry reacting to this obvious policy message from a respected industry policy advisor? (1) It tries to ignore it. (2) It works to undermine the message in any way It can. One way it works to undermine the message is to produce estimates of its own showing that the world needs more fossil fuels, not less.

The following bar chart from BP’s ‘2018 Energy Outlook’ shows estimates of GROWTH in total worldwide energy consumption to 2040 according to nine different fossil-fuel focused organizations. All of them predict growth in the consumption of fossil fuels ranging from 0.3% to 0.9% per year. Note that BP has included an IEA estimate (4th from left), but one that is based on the Agency’s business as usual scenario, not on its Sustainable Development Scenario.

Bar chart showing growth to 2040 in worldwide energy consumption according to various organizations
Estimates of GROWTH to 2040 in total worldwide energy consumption according to various fossil-fuel-focused organizations. Image: from BP 2018 Energy Outlook

BP =   BP plc (formally British Petroleum)
CNPC = China National Petroleum Corporation
EIA = U.S. Energy Information Administration
IEA = International Energy Agency (OECD)
IEEJ = Institute of Energy Economics (Japan)
IHS = IHS Inc (a London based ‘Information Handling Services’ Company)
OPEC = Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
Statoil = Statoil ASA (Norwegian state oil co. now called Equinor)
XOM = ExxonMobil Corporation

Here’s what  BP says about its prediction labeled ‘BP ET scenario’ (first bar in the chart): Our report’s “Evolving Transition scenario suggests that a continuation of the recent progress and momentum in policies and technologies is likely to cause the growth in carbon emissions to slow markedly relative to the past. But this slowing falls well short of the sharp drop in carbon emissions thought necessary to achieve the Paris climate goals. We need a far more decisive break from the past .” (my underlining)

In other words, BP’s prediction assumes ‘business as usual’ as do all the other predictions shown in the chart. BP tries to distance itself from the implications of its own report by stating that the scenarios in its report “are not predictions of what is likely to happen or what BP would like to happen.” Nevertheless, its business as usual ‘scenario’ is taken by other Oil & Gas Industry heavyweights as a valid prediction that supports the industry’s business as usual behaviour.

For example, while ExxonMobil’s report titled ‘2019 Energy and Carbon Summery’ is peppered with references to emissions reduction and the goals of the 2015 Paris Accord, the company’s true position is exposed by two statements on page 9: “Natural gas will expand its role, led by growth in electricity generation and industrial output” and  “Rising oil demand will be driven by commercial transportation and the chemical industry.” See last bar in the chart.

BP’s ‘2018 Energy Outlook’ contains a surprisingly frank statement (underlined above) concerning the Paris Accord and how to achieve its goals. “We need a far more decisive break from the past” the writer of the report states.  Very true. Thing is, the decisive break from the past is going to hit the industry whether it likes it or not. More storms, more droughts, more floods, and more climate activists will see to that.

In the mean time, there’s only one way to meet the Paris climate goals and that is to cut fossil fuel production. Taxing carbon emissions will not do the trick; that’s just a silly game and the fossil fuel pushers know it. Taxing fossil fuels at the well or mine head and/or at ports of entry will work. Better still, mandate the elimination of fossil fuels as some jurisdiction are already beginning to do. One thing for sure: don’t expect help from the fossil fuel crowd. They are not part of the solution, they are the problem.

Oil & Gas elephant spooked by EV mouse — for good reason

Photo of EV charging station
Electric Vehicle charging station. Image: City of Hoboken NJ

The oil and gas industry is losing market share to clean energy technologies such as wind and solar. But it’s the electric vehicle (EV) that poses the most pressing threat to the industry. Here’s why:

The car-owning public reacts negatively to high gas prices. Politicians of all strips are sensitive to that fact. Even politicians who recognize the environmental need to reduce fossil fuel production are reluctant to take actions that could drive up prices at the pump. Taxing the carbon in fossil fuel emissions rather than taxing the carbon content of fossil fuels as they are produced is an example of this reluctance — it distances the politician from the effect. And even that feeble political action is further weakened by the failure to set the carbon price high enough to cause meaningful reduction in fossil fuel use. A switch from gasoline to electric powered cars will remove the political fear of pump prices and leave the oil and gas industry vulnerable to direct carbon pricing.

Many of the country’s newer natural gas powered electricity generating plants might last for another thirty years or more. This means that the complete replacement of fossil fuel power with cheaper renewables could take decades. The situation with electric vehicles is different. The average life expectancy of a car is 10 years or less. As EV prices drop and public acceptance increases, a shift to EVs could result in a complete replacement of the existing fleet of vehicles within a period of 10 to 15 years. Motor gasoline accounts for about 24% of total fossil fuel energy currently used in the U.S., a big chunk of the fossil fuel industry’s market. The shift would, at the same time, create new opportunities for wind and solar powered electricity generation.

Oil and gas industry executives are well aware of the threat posed by EVs. It explains the industry’s hatred of the EV incentive program. The program, introduced in 2015 under the Obama administration, offers a tax credit of $2,500 to $7,500 per new EV purchased for use in the U.S. Initial funding for the program was capped at about $2-billion. The oil and gas industry, concerned that Congress may decide to extend funding for the program, has ramped up its propaganda machine to try and prevent that from happening. As usual, when it comes to spreading disinformation about climate science and clean technologies, the industry calls on its mercenary propaganda troops to do the lying for them (see Apr.21 post — How the Oil and Gas Industry gets others to fight for its life). The propaganda effort described below shows the lengths the industry will go to fight what is a relatively small program.

A coalition of 34 fossil-fuel-funded, free market advocacy groups (see image below) delivered a letter May 9 to Congress (addressed to Senators Grassley and Wyden, and Representative Brady and Neal) urging members to protect “all American families by opposing an expansion of the electric vehicle tax credit.” The coalition is led by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), a not-for-profit organization that, according to its website, “engages in grassroots public policy advocacy and debate concerning energy and environmental policies.” The AEA, according to Desmogblog, is run by a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. The letter claims that the EV subsidy is unpopular, overwhelmingly benefits the rich, and amounts to a wealth transfer to California at the expense of all other states. It also claims that electric cars are not cleaner than cars powered by internal combustion engines.

Image of 34 fossil fuel funded, free market advocacy groups logos
Coalition of fossil fuel funded, free market advocacy groups organized to oppose expansion of the federal EV subsidy program. Image: eenews

As mentioned above, the U.S. EV subsidy is relatively small. Since its start in 2015, the program has handed out a total of about $20-billion in the form of income tax credits. By comparison, the U.S. fossil fuel industry receives about $27-billion annually in direct federal subsidies. The industry letter to Congress says nothing about that. The following bar chart shows the amount of annual subsidies each of the G7 nations currently hand out to support their fossil fuel addictions. It’s time they sought treatment.

Bar chart showing how G7 countries subsidize fossil fuel industry
Image: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Note that the bar chart above shows only the direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. The industry also receives a massive indirect subsidy due to the fact that it does not pay the cost of damages — global warming, climate destabilization, etc. — caused by the burning of its products.

How to survive global warming — Nail the culprits before they nail us

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) continues its rapid rise. Last month (May 2019) CO2 in the atmosphere set a new record with the average peaking at 414.7 parts per million at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory (see graph below). 

NOAA graph showing atmospheric CO2 2014 to present
The red line represents the monthly mean values. The black line represents the same as a moving average of 7 adjacent seasonal cycles, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Image: NOAA

The highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere during the 800,000 years preceding the industrial revolution was 300 ppm. That occurred about 330,000 years ago, long before modern humans arrived on the scene (see graph at bottom of post).

What is being done about the present accumulation of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere? Here’s what the World Bank (April 2018) says: Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future.  Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the above graph shows, these carbon pricing efforts, while well meaning, have had no noticeable effect on the rise in atmospheric CO2. Is it possible that if the carbon pricing efforts become more widespread, their effect will become noticeable? That is unlikely. Why? Because the carbon pricing schemes currently in use target the emissions from fossil fuels rather than the fossil fuels themselves.

In a shooting war, the bullets are not the enemy, the people loading the guns and pulling the triggers are the enemy. To win the war, you duck the bullets and focus your attack on the gunmen. In our climate war, we need to look past the CO2 emissions and set our sights on the gunmen, the people who extract fossil fuels from the ground, the oil and gas industry. 

The best way to fight the industry is to replace fossil fuel based technologies with clean technologies. That’s already happening simply because the cost of clean technologies has dropped sharply. Clean technologies are now cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuel based technologies and they are starting to be used in large areas of the economy (see May 27 post — NY Governor Cuomo goes for clean power technology in a big way). The fossil fuel industry will eventually collapse because of its inferior economics. But not fast enough.

Applying a carbon tax is a way to speed things up. However, to be effective the tax must be targeted, not against the CO2 emission from fossil fuels, but against the carbon content of the fossil fuels before they are burned. The most effective time and place to apply the carbon tax is when and wherever the fuels are extracted from the ground or imported into the country. The correlation between the amount of tax charged and the resulting reduction in oil and gas produced will be close, unambiguous, and directly measurable; a huge advantage for the administrators.

Is it right to single out a particular industry and tax it so as to throttle its production? Of course it is. Our survival depends on it. Being fair to the enemy is not a winning strategy. In any case, fossil fuel companies do not deserve equitable treatment. They knew for years that the use of their products would cause global warming. Did they inform the public? No. They kept the knowledge to themselves, continued pumping fossil fuels, and lied about the dangers.

Keep this in mind:
The oil and gas industry is in favour of taxing CO2 emissions. Why? Because it provides a smoke screen in which to hide. When CO2 emissions are taxed, everyone pays. It allows the oil and gas industry to masquerade as just another industry paying its fair share. It is not just another industry, it is the culprit. As I write this post, the culprit is busy promoting a scheme to 
tax CO2 emissions, a scheme much to its advantage (see May 12 post — Oil Industry promoters want to pay Americans not to complain about global warming).

Subsidize clean technologies. Sue oil and gas  corporations in court. Ban fossil fuel industry tax breaks. Dump investments in oil and gas. Dump politicians who support the oil and gas industry. Those are all great ways to hit the fossil fuel industry and its promoters. Here’s some pertinent advice:

“hit them fast, hit them hard, hit them a lot” — Jack Reacher (Lee Childs’ fictional character)

Graph showing Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million (ppm) for the past 800,000 years, based on European Project for Ice Coring in the Antarctic (EPICA) data. Image: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million (ppm) for the past 800,000 years, based on European Project for Ice Coring in the Antarctic (EPICA) data. Image: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Mayor de Blasio resurrects project to bring hydro power from Quebec to NYC

Photo of Indian Pt. nuclear power plant as seen from west side of Hudson River
Indian Point nuclear power plant, Peekskill, NY, as seen from Hwy 202 on the west side of the Hudson River. Image: Google

The Indian Point nuclear power plant sits on the east bank of the Hudson River near Peekskill NY, 42 miles upstream from Lower Manhattan and the center of the NY Metropolitan Region. The plant’s proximity to the city has been viewed as a potential catastrophe and an ongoing health threat ever since it first started generating electricity in 1962. New Yorkers will breath easier when the plant shuts down for good in 2021. However, the shut down will leave a 2,000 MW hole in the state’s electricity supply which will have to be filled by a renewable source of energy. If NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, power from hydro-rich Quebec will help fill the gap.

Mayor de Blasio announced his ‘Green New Deal’ for New York City on April 22, three months after Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, announced his ‘Green New Deal’ for the state (see previous post). While de Blasio’s plan ‘commits’ the city to carbon neutrality + 100% clean electricity by 2050, Cuomo’s plan commits the state (including NYC) to 100% clean electricity by 2040. Two Green New Deals for New York? Well, two are better than none. The Mayor, a Democrat, has entered the race to become U.S. President and is showing his environmental credentials.

The Mayor can aspire to carbon neutrality for the city. He can work towards it. But he doesn’t have the authority to mandate it. That’s Cuomo’s job — a moot point since the Governor hasn’t promised carbon neutrality. In any case, neither Cuomo nor de Blasio have defined what carbon neutrality means. Mayor de Blasio’s justification for making the 100% clean energy commitment is a plan to bring electric power from Quebec directly to New York City. The rationale is that when the electricity is added to the state grid, it will be enough to power all city-owned buildings in NYC. The more obvious effect will be simply to offset half the power that will be lost when the Indian Point nuclear plant shuts down.

First proposed in 2008, the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) is a 369 mile high voltage, direct current (HVDC) buried transmission line designed to carry 1,000 megawatts of clean power from Quebec to New York City. The buried transmission line would originate at Hydro Quebec’s Hertel substation in La Prairie, south of Montreal. On the map below, the red dot just south of Montreal is the approximate location of Hydro Quebec’s Hertel substation. The red dot immediately north of New York City is the approximate location of the Indian Point nuclear power station.

Map of North-east USA and Canadian boarder region

The CHPE transmission line will cross the international boarder at Rouses Point NY, then head south by way of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley, terminating in the NYC borough of Queens. The line will follow existing rights of way as well as water ways. The promoter of the U.S. section of the project is Transmission Developers Inc of Albany NY. A 2014 news release by the company put the cost  of the “merchant transmission project” at US$2.2-billion. During his NYC Green New Deal announcement on April 22, the Mayor said he wanted to start talks with Quebec immediately on finalizing a deal to get the CHPE project moving.

The Mayor’s Green New Deal contains initiatives that he does have the authority to mandate. They include: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings; banning new inefficient glass-walled buildings; replacing the city’s fossil fuel powered fleet with electric vehicles; ending the purchase by the city of single use plastics; divesting investment of $5-billion in city pension funds from the fossil fuel industry — all good ideas that he could have promoted years ago.

Photo of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing his Green New Deal
NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announces Green New Deal April 22, 2019. Image: from NYGov video

NY Governor Cuomo goes for clean power technology in a big way

 

Aerial photo of Con Edison East River power plant
14th St. East River Con Edison power plant, Manhattan, NYC (looking NW), Midtown in background. Image: Wikipedia

About 57% of New York state’s electricity is generated by power stations that burn fossil fuels. Nineteen of them — ranging in capacity from 22 to 2336 MW — are located in New York City, four in Manhattan. Emissions include carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, plus a multitude of other hazardous pollutants that damage human health. Many New Yorkers live next door to these plants. For example, the photo above shows the proximity of Stuyvesant Town to Con Edison’s 736-MW East River power plant.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, spurred by the need to take action on the health and climate effects of burning fossil fuels, announced on January 20 his ‘Green New Deal’ for the state. The goal of the plan is 100% clean electric power by 2040, the commitment to become state law. The plan will focus on building more land-based wind and solar plants, and on targeting the states offshore wind potential.

The following bar chart shows NY State energy consumption for 2016 (latest available). Natural gas is the primary fossil fuel used to produce the state’s electricity.

Bar chart showing NY State energy consumption

To get an idea of the magnitude of the task set by Governor Cuomo, the table below shows the clean power capacity in megawatts needed to replace all the fossil fuel amounts shown in the bar chart (Btu to MWh to MW x 0.9%):

Natural Gas + Coal  . . . . . . . . . . . . 42,000 MW
Motor Gasoline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19,000 MW
All other fossil fuels . . . . . . . . . . . .18,000 MW

The 42,000 MW of electricity from natural gas is the focus of Cuomo’s green plan. In fossil fuel terms, to provide that much power from scratch would require building 50 to 60 power plants of the size shown in the photo above. Instead, the task will require building wind and solar farms. For example, if offshore wind was the only source of clean power, at least 3,500 wind turbines rated at 12 MW each would be needed to generate the 42,000 MW of electricity. By comparison, the capacity of European offshore wind farms (operational and under construction) now stands at about 21,000 MW, with another 20,000 MW on the drawing board. The map below shows where New York’s offshore wind farms will be sited. Statoil (now called Aquinor) is considering a 2,000 MW wind farm for its leased area, the grey-shaded part of Hudson North.

Map showing offshore wind lease areas off New York
New York Bight offshore wind lease areas. Image: BOEM

Governor Cuomo’s plan does not specifically mention motor gasoline. As the transition is made from gasoline to electric cars, at least 19,000 MW in additional clean electrical generation capacity will eventually be required. My guess is that a significant chunk of that capacity will be met by home or community based solar panels. The other fossil products such as distillates (e.g. diesel fuel) and jet fuel are not even mentioned in the plan.

It’s sometimes suggested that carbon neutrality can be achieved while continuing to burn fossil fuels. We (all animals) exhale CO2 with every breath. That CO2 is captured by growing plants during photosynthesis. To stay alive, we eat the plants (and the flesh of animals that also live on plants) and so regain the carbon lost to the atmosphere while breathing. That is our basic carbon-neutral economy. When we began to release CO2 by burning fossil fuels, that basic economy was thrown out of kilter. Result: the greenhouse effect and global warming. The only way to re-create a carbon neutral economy is to stop burning fossil fuels. Governor Cuomo is on the right track. He summarizes his plan in the following YouTube video (1 min 42 sec).

 

 

Offshore Wind — Why drilling for offshore oil is dumb

Photo of Block Island wind turbines in heavy seas
Block Island wind turbines in heavy seas. Image: Deepwater Wind

The amount of energy generated by America’s offshore winds last year, exceeded by more than four times the total amount of energy consumed by the nation’s people and industry in the same year.  Only a tiny fraction of that wind resource has been harnessed commercially so far. The following map shows average wind speeds off U.S. coasts at a height of 100 meters and extending to the country’s 200 nautical-mile EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). The richest wind areas (fastest wind speeds) are off the N. California and New England coasts.

Map showing U.S. offshore wind speeds
Offshore wind speeds. Image from 2016 NREL study of U.S. offshore wind energy resources

The country’s first offshore wind farm became fully operational December 2016. It lies 3 miles SE of Block Island RI. The electricity it generates is delivered by sub-sea cable, first to a substation on Block Island, then on to the Rhode Island mainland where it connects to the state’s electrical grid. Operated by Deepwater Wind Co., the 30 Megawatt (MW) wind farm consists of 5 wind turbines, each rated at 6 MW. Together, they generate annually about 125 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of clean energy, enough to serve about 17,000 households. Ørsted, the Danish wind company, acquired Deepwater in 2018 for a reported $510 million.

Offshore wind farms are set to become common features along the NE coast in the coming decade. The Rhode Island wind farm is the pioneer. To see it, take a day trip to Block Island. If you’re driving between NYC and Boston, exit the I-95 at Hwy RI-138 (about 30 miles south of Providence); head east to Kingston. In Kingston turn right at Hwy RI-108 (traffic lights but no sign) and head south to Galilee and the Pt. Judith ferry terminal. Park your car at the ferry terminal (the ferry does carry vehicles). The Ferry departs for New Shoreham, Block Island, four times each day, year round. The trip, port to port, takes 55 minutes (scheduled). Rent a bike in New Shoreham, ride 15 minutes south (or walk the 1.8 miles) to Mohegan Bluffs. The wind farm’s five turbines are located about 3 miles to the SE, clearly visible from the island.

Map showing location of Deepwater Wind farm SE of Block Island RI
Deepwater Wind. Image: Landfall Navigation

Construction of the first large-scale offshore wind project, an 800 MW, 84 unit farm, will likely begin this year. The project is owned by New Bedford MA based Vineyard Wind Co., a 50-50 partnership Between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners  and Avangrid Renewables. The array of wind turbines will be located about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard MA (see map below). At that distance, the wind turbines will not be visible from land. The project will deliver electricity to Massachusetts for an initial price of 6.5 cents per KW hour, the price to rise by 2.5% year subsequently.

Map showing offshore Vineyard Wind lease area
Vineyard Wind lease area. Image credit: vineyard Wind website

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) 2016 study ‘Offshore Wind Energy Resource Assessment for the United States’, the Gross Resource Potential of the country’s offshore winds (excluding Alaska) is 10,800 GW. Of that amount, 2058 GW is listed as Technical Resource Potential, that is, the amount that could be harnessed today using currently available technology. Areas of the offshore wind zone that are not considered technically available at the present time include: areas where the depth is greater than  1,000 m (3281 ft); areas where the average wind speed is less than 7 m/second; shipping lanes; marine protected areas.

The existing electricity generating capacity of the U.S. is 1072 GW (2017). Of that, about 64% or 646 GW is generated by fossil fuel plants. The electricity from those polluting plants could be replaced three times over by clean electricity generated from Technical Resource offshore wind. The Trump administration is promoting offshore oil/gas exploration. What is the justification for spending billions hunting for fossil energy offshore while clean, cheaper, renewable energy blows past the rigs needed to do the drilling? There isn’t one. As electric cars displace fossil powered cars in the coming years, more clean electricity will be needed, not more petroleum.

Memo:
1 Kilowatt (KW) = 1,000 Watts
1 Megawatt (MW) = 1,000 KW = 1,000,000 Watts
1 Gigawatt (GW) = 1,000 MW = 1,000,000,000 Watts

Oil Industry promoters want to pay Americans not to complain about global warming

Photo of oil derricks, Long Beach CA in 1937
Oil derricks, Long Beach CA in 1937. Image: Lib. Of Congress

Every national government in the world knows that burning fossil fuels is a practice that’s killing us. All 197 UNFCCC member countries have either signed or acceded to the Paris Agreement dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the production of oil and gas continues unabated. The following table shows the production from the largest producers: the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. alone has increased its production by about 55% since 2008

U.S. EIA chart showing oil and gas production

Global warming is the disease. Stopping fossil fuel production is the cure. Reducing production might at least help the patient survive. So why haven’t the producers acted? Because no legislation exists anywhere to force them to act. Nor is such legislation likely to appear anytime soon; politicians the world over dance to the tune of the fossil fuel industry. In the few countries where setting a price on carbon emissions is being tried, the taxes are set too low for the effects to work back to the producers of the fuel.

The fossil fuel industry’s business model is similar to the one used by the drug trade: push the product; saturate the market; keep the users hooked. Direct or indirect political involvement is a given. The equivalent of the drug kingpins are the guys running or controlling the world’s Oil and Gas companies: Exxon, Gazprom, BP, Aramco, Shell, to name a few. The pushers are all the entities that stand to gain from the industry’s continued existence. They range from nation states and oil companies down to the industry’s bottom feeders: bought politicians; co-opted scientists; paid lobbyists; etc. A formidable array.

American Fossil fuel pushers are easy to spot because their statements are obviously pro industry. Sometimes their ideas sound reasonable at first reading. The Climate Leadership Council (CLC) is an example. Its proposal — called the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan (aka: the Climate Consensus Solution) — is presented as a sort of prospectus in its 6 page website. The plan is heavy on promotion, light on specifics. Change a few words in it and the thing could pass as a sales pitch, complete with big-name endorsements, for Florida investment property.

According to its website, the CLC is “an international policy institute founded . . . to promote a carbon dividends framework as the most cost-effective, equitable and politically-viable climate solution.” Its plan, the website says, is backed by “3500+ economists, 27 Nobel laureates, all 4 former Fed Chairs, and 15 former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers.” 3500+ economists? That’s what it says. The following image identifies the CLC’s founding members.

Photo list of Climate Leadership Council founding members
Climate Leadership Council founding members. Image from CLC website

The CLC plan proposes that polluting industries pay a carbon tax on CO2 emissions, the money to be collected and given back to the American people in the form of dividend cheques. In exchange, the American people would have to agree to: the elimination of certain EPA emissions regulations; repeal of the clean power rule; and the introduction of a new law that would prohibit lawsuits of the sort that are currently plaguing fossil fuel producers. In other words, while the emitters of CO2 (all industries that burn fossil fuel) would pay a carbon tax, the producers of oil and gas, who refine but don’t burn much of the stuff themselves, would not have to pay much of the carbon tax. Instead, they would get to stick around producing more fossil fuel without having to worry about being sued for causing global warming.

Here’s how the creators of this ‘believe it or not’ scheme sum it all up:

“A sensible carbon tax might begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time, sending a powerful signal to businesses and consumers, while generating revenue to reward Americans for decreasing their collective carbon footprint.”

Let’s see how that might work: (1) Industry pays carbon taxes. (2) The tax money is collected and distributed to all Americans as a reward (for agreeing not to sue Oil and Gas companies?) (3) Industry raises its prices to recover the tax cost. (4) Americans use their reward money to cover the extra cost of the stuff they buy from industry. At what point in that Mobius Loop does a reduction in fossil fuel use take place? It doesn’t. The thing is a fantasy. But wait. Isn’t it true that carbon taxes work over time to limit the use of fossil fuels? Yes, but not when the taxing system is designed by fossil fuel pushers as is the case with this CLC plan. This plan is about convincing Americans to shut up about global warming so that the oil and gas companies can get on with the business of making money while the planet burns.

Among the CLC founding members shown in the image above, the five oil and gas companies are doubtless fully supportive of the CLC plan. As for the rest, who knows. My guess is that most of them don’t know exactly what they’ve lent their names to. The CLC pitch is misleading. The website prospectus mentions ‘carbon dividends’ 11 times and ‘climate solution’ 8 times. A dividend-generating Climate Solution sounds good. On the other hand, the words, oil, gas, fossil, or fuel, appear only once or not at all in the prospectus. Those are words that remind people of what causes global warming in the first place.

The Climate Leadership Council is headquartered in Washington DC at 1250 Connecticut Ave. NW.

1250 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC
1250 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC

ExxonMobil: savvy company or a dinosaur with climate-killing instincts?

Photo of ExxonMobil sign

Interviewed on TV March 7, Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobiI, was asked how politics and the Green New Deal could affect his approach to running the company. His responses reveal plenty about the vulnerability of his company; more than speeches by industry executives typically deliver.

ExxonMobil is the largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world. Its operations generate correspondingly large volumes of carbon dioxide, the cause of our global warming crisis. The company’s operations affect every living thing on the planet. That’s why the people who direct those operations must be watched closely. To make Mr. Woods interview responses easier to follow, they’ve been transcribed from spoken to written form and presented within quote marks below. The underlining is mine. Mr. Woods first tackles the part of the interviewer’s question that he’s most comfortable with, the political part:

“Energy is such an important part of people’s daily lives and their standard of living that as you think about these big ideas and as you translate them down to the smaller practical steps you take, people become very cognizant of what the impacts are for individuals, and as that starts to happen, people’s views change as to how far they can go and how quickly they can go.”

See how easily Mr. Woods brushes aside “these big ideas” i.e. the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a political idea and Mr. Woods is no stranger to politics. However, the Green New Deal is based on the availability of actual machines that can be seen today producing electricity at lower cost than electricity from fossil fuels. That’s the crux of the matter. Unlike ideas, machines that people can see and touch are impossible to brush aside. Watch as Mr. Woods struggles with that reality in the following paragraph:

Our approach to that is to try to be part of the solution and engage with that. We have a long long history in this industry and a really good perspective on the global energy system, and we’re a company that’s grounded in science and technology, and if you look at the risk of climate change and what people and society are focused on in terms of lower emission energy systems, we’re going to need some technology breakthroughs. The conventional technology set doesn’t address the gaps that are out there today. We think we can play a role in that. In fact that’s where we’re investing some of our technology and our RD dollars to help fill some of those gaps.”

There you have it. As soon as Mr. Woods gets close to the crux of the matter, he backs away. Apparently unwilling to even mention the existence of green technologies, he implies that they don’t exist. Then he asks us to imagine gaps that need filling with “breakthrough technologies.” What Mr. Woods is saying is that the fossil fuel industry Is not equipped to deal with the climate problems it has created. Prompted by the interviewer, Mr. Woods now goes on to tell us how his company is working hard to invent the “lower emission energy systems” that the world needs.

Well, there are lots of different ideas out there. The way we look at it is that its got be be scaleable, it’s got to work at scale, and ultimately it’s got to be economic so that people can afford it, and it’s got to be reliableSo one of the things that we’ve been working on for many years is algae, biodiesel from algaeand the reason for that today is that we don’t have a good solution set for commercial transportation and emissions from commercial transportation, and algae and biodiesel could do that. Carbon capture and storage is another area that has potential but today the economics are very challenging, so finding more economical methods for capturing carbon is another exciting area. We’re looking at how you utilize the carbon you capture; what do you do with it? You can store it underground and you can also turn it into other products. So we’ve got a lot of research in terms of how you might use carbon and turn it into another product that society could use. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in this space and we’re participating pretty broadly in that technology space. We’ve got relationships with eighty universities around the world. We’re working with the National Lab. We’re working with  governments around the world. So we’re trying to stay plugged in to make sure that we’re contributing as we can.

That’s it. The world is threatened by climactic Armageddon and the best ExxonMobil can come with by way of potential fixes are biodiesel and carbon capture. Biodiesel is not a global warming fix; nor is carbon capture. Carbon capture is an economic loser. A fossil fueled machine that’s already economically challenged will become even more uneconomical after another machine is attached to its smokey ass. An eight year old could tell them as much. So what’s going on? Is the idea’s primary purpose to calm the nerves of skittish investors — a line of bull to make the company’s prospects look sound? I suspect it is. ExxonMobil is not a savvy company.

As Mr. Woods correctly points out, energy technologies must work economically and reliably when scaled up to commercial size. That’s exactly what green technologies — photovoltaics, wind turbines, battery storage systems — are doing right now. That’s why Mr. Woods doesn’t mention them; they are an existential threat to the fossil fuel industry and are taken seriously by that industry.

The Green New Deal, however, is not taken seriously by its detractors. Why? Because it’s not a real thing, it’s an abstraction. That’s what makes it difficult to promote successfully. Advice to the Democrats: promote the work the green technologies are doing right now; win the next election; then introduce the Green New Deal.

The following YouTube video shows Mr. Wood’s TV interview of March 7, 2019.  The first two and a half minutes is the part of the video discussed in this post.

 

How the Oil & Gas Industry gets others to fight for its life

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at a meeting of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association on March 8, 2019, delivered the following message to the members: “The oil and gas industry, I want to promise you,” he said, “has no greater friend than President Donald Trump. And as the President said, in his words, our administration will not only seek American energy independence but will seek American energy dominance.” (whitehouse.gov –  briefings)

Photo of VP Mike Pence speaking to Ohio Oil & Gas Assoc. March 8, 2019
VP Mike Pence speaks at a meeting of the Ohio Oil & Gas Assoc. March 8, 2019. Image credit: Brooke LaValley/Columbus Dispatch

The oil industry is on the defensive for causing global warming, sea level rise, mega storms, the end of life as we know it. People who want it stopped are protesting in the streets, launching lawsuits. Smart energy technologies such as photovoltaics are showing the industry up for what it is: smelly,  poisonous, obsolete. Is the industry buckling under the weight of these assaults? Not yet. Since science and the facts are on the side of their tormentors, oil industry executives are fighting back with a weapon that can defeat any amount of truth — money.

The industry is wielding its money weapon in three ways: 1. buying politicians; 2. swamping the market; 3. financing climate science deniers.

Politicians are first on the industry’s purchase list. The following chart from a report by OpenSecrets, shows the top Oil Industry contributors to the 2017-2018 election cycle. As the chart makes clear, oil industry contributions go to Republicans by an overwhelming margin. Oil industry executives know where to get the biggest bang for their bucks. They own the Republicans in Congress.

Chart of top Oil Industry contributors to election campaigns, 2017-2018
Top Oil Industry contributors to election campaigns, 2017-2018. Image credit: OpenSecrets.org

The chart shows only direct political donations— money that’s easy to track. The oil and gas industry spends millions more dollars on lobbying and Political Action Committees (PAC’s), money that’s difficult to track.

Do political contributions work? During his talk to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the Vice President made sure to tell his listeners how their contributions do indeed work: “We [the Trump administration] approved the Keystone and Dakota pipelines; withdrew the United States from the job-killing Paris Climate Accord; eliminated the hydraulic fracking rule; rolled back methane; we’re ending the Clean Power Plan; scrapped the Stream Protection Rule; and now, under President Donald Trump, the war on coal is over. American energy is booming.” (Applause)

There are two ways to swamp a market. One way is to increase production so as to undercut the competition (cleaner more efficient energy technologies). The second way is to invest heavily in down-stream facilities so as to embed the use of a product more firmly into the economy. The oil and gas industry is lavishing its investors money in both ways. A 2018 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute (API) titled ‘U.S. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Investment through 2035’, predicts that the industry will spend at least $1 trillion (a million million dollars – see pie charts below) on new facilities such as pipelines, storage tanks, refineries, export terminals. There’s nothing in the 154 page report about renewable energy technologies or anything related to global warming. For the API and its members, the goal is fossil fuel domination, the planet be damned.

Pie charts showing projected investment in oil and gas infrastructure
From a 2018 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Inst. Image credit: ICF Fairfax VA

Providing financial assistance to individuals and groups willing to spread disinformation about climate science is a big part of the industry’s survival strategy. There are dozens of groups that work to discredit climate science and the impacts of global warming. The Trump administration is packed with individuals drawn from oil companies or from the disinformation mills that live off them. Some of the better known groups include: the American Enterprise Institute; the Manhattan Institute; the Heritage Foundation; the Heartland Institute. Not wishing to become objects of mockery themselves, oil industry executives never publicly express agreement with the absurd views generated by such outfits. Instead they buy clowns and crazies to do it for them. It doesn’t matter how outlandish or mad the stories are. The important thing is that they reach the ears of the millions of people prone to believe them.

President Trump — a faithful servant of the oil and gas industry — is an exemplar of the ‘clowns and crazies’ crowd. He has a talent for delivering climate-science falsehoods to large appreciative audiences in the manner of a standup comic. Speaking at a National Republican Congressional Committee fund raising dinner, April 2, Trump said: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me (waves his arms while vocalizing sound of rotating windmill).” See 26 second video clip below.

Trump is simply a windbag who puffs out drivel in support of his masters, the oil industry bosses. Those are the guys the Democrats need to bring under control. Until that happens, advancing the objectives of the Paris Climate Accord will be difficult.

 

 

 

 

The Colorado River — not enough water; too many straws

The U.S. Reclamation Act of 1902 is a federal law that works to fund and manage water projects in the arid regions of the American west. Much of the work is focused on the Colorado River. By the end of the 20th century, the engineers of the Bureau of Reclamation had built the system of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts that control the river and distribute its waters to the surrounding seven states. About 4 million acres of agricultural land and 40 million people consume the river’s entire flow. By the time the river reaches its estuary at the north end of the Gulf of California in Mexico, its flow is reduced to a trickle. The following map shows the extent and main water features of the Colorado River Basin.

Map of the Colorado River Basin
The Colorado River Basin. Image: Bureau of Reclamation

Today, the viability of the Colorado River project is threatened by two powerful forces: drought and global warming. The regional drought, now in its nineteenth year, has reduced river flow volumes to the point where the basin states, for the first time ever, are talking about cuts to water consumption.

The Hoover Dam is located about 35 road miles SE of Las Vegas. The effect of drought plus global warming is measured by the level of water in Lake Mead, the reservoir for the Hoover Dam. When full, the elevation of the lake surface above sea level is 1,221 ft. — the  lip of the dam. The lowest possible elevation of the lake surface is 895 ft. — the bottom water outlet in the dam. The lake at its lowest water level is known as ‘dead pool’. That’s when the Colorado River downstream from the Hoover dam would run dry. Before that happens, a drop to 1,025 ft. will trigger an emergency and the Bureau of Reclamation will take control and enforce water consumption cuts on all the basin states.

The current water level in Lake Mead (April 8) is 1,090 ft., which is 131 ft below full pool. The level fluctuates by 10 to 12 ft every year due to the spring release of the annual allotment of water to farmers, mainly in California  (see chart below). Since 1983 — the last time the lake was full — the water level has dropped around 4 feet per year on average. If the drought continues unabated and no drastic cuts are made to water consumption, a rough calculation suggests that panic time will arrive in about 12 years.

Chart showing water level in Lake Mead, AZ
Water level in Lake Mead during 2017, 2018, & 2019 (to 8 April). Image from LakeLevels.info

The Parker Dam is located 160 miles downstream from the Hoover Dam. The water backed up by the Parker Dam Is called Havasu Lake. The lake stores water for pumping into two aqueducts, namely the Colorado River Aqueduct that feeds water to Southern California, and the Central Arizona Project (CAP) that delivers water to Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona (see map above). While the Hoover Dam is the Bureau of Reclamation’s greatest engineering achievement, the CAP project may prove to be the Bureau’s last major construction job — and the Colorado River’s last straw.

To reach the Parker Dam after visiting the Hoover Dam, take US-93 to Kingman, then west on I-40, then south on AZ-95 to the dam, a total of 160 miles of desert driving. The source of the CAP aqueduct, and the pumping station that draws its water from Lake Havasu, is located to the left of the highway a few miles short of the dam. The only way to see it is to park by the side of the highway (there are wide gravel verges) and walk to the bridge overlooking the station.

Photo of CAP pumping station on Lake Havasu
CAP pumping station on Lake Havasu

The water for the aqueduct is pumped at the rate of 3,000 cubic feet per second through a 7 mile long tunnel driven upward through the mountain behind the pumping station. The discharge end of the tunnel is 824 ft higher in elevation than its intake end. The aqueduct itself is basically a concrete-lined canal, open to the elements. The aqueduct snakes across the desert to Phoenix and Tucson for a total length of 336 miles. Over its length, there are 12 tunnels and 4 pumping stations. The total rise in elevation from Lave Havasu to Phoenix is 1,247 ft.

Aerial photo of CAP aqueduct
Central Arizona Project (CAP) aqueduct. Image: USBR.gov

To reach Phoenix from the Parker Dam, drive south on AZ-95, then east on Interstate-10. It requires another 170+ miles of desert driving. The CAP aqueduct took 20 years to construct. Completed in 1993, it cost about $3.5 billion to bring water from the Colorado River to the desert city of Phoenix. Will the CAP aqueduct contain water 20 years from today? My guess is, no, not a drop.

Photo of CAP aqueduct, Phoenix AZ
CAP aqueduct looking west from Black Canyon Hwy., Phoenix

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, is fully aware of the water shortage problems threatening the south-west states. The Governor, however, does not like to talk about global warming or climate change. He prefers the phrase: “transitioning to a dryer future.” Accurate but not accurate enough. If the Governor wants us to face the future squarely, he needs to add the word ‘hotter’ to his phrase. The following graph shows average annual temperature for Phoenix since 1900. It shows that it is indeed getting hotter in that city.

Graph showing average annual temperature in Phoenix AZ since 1900
From U.S. National Weather Service