Can Natural Gas Lead to Energy Independence?

by Greg Pollowitz

Chris Faulkner, president and chief executive officer of Breitling Oil and Gas, says yes in Friday’s Houston Chronicle:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon emissions standards have caused an uproar in the coal industry.

These rules limit the amount of carbon new coal-fired power plants can produce.

Industry-friendly lawmakers have been quick to voice their outrage. Congressmen John Shimkus and Rodney Davis say they “will kill the future of coal.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called them a “war on coal.”

But the real threat to coal’s dominance isn’t excessive federal regulation. It’s natural gas. And Texas is playing a major role in the national gas renaissance.

With natural gas, the United States has found an expansive homegrown energy source that’s cleaner than coal and increasingly cost-effective.

The modern natural gas boom has given the United States a chance to achieve genuine energy independence and seriously cut down on carbon emissions.

Texas is the leading producer of natural gas in the United States, accounting for 28 percent of total national production.

And here in Houston, the growing supply of low-cost gas has fueled massive economic gains.

Dow Chemical just announced a billion-dollar expansion plan expected to create thousands of new positions. And the Port of Houston has benefited from $80 billion in new regional investments in the petrochemical industry.

Meanwhile, those looking to protect coal from new EPA regulations are defending an energy source that is already falling into disfavor in the United States and other developed nations.

The rest here.

POTUS Takes a Victory Lap to Celebrate Domestic Oil Production

by Greg Pollowitz

“Drill, baby, drill” can’t be far behind. Via the White House Twitter feed.


GE and CSX to Test Locomotives Powered with LNG

by Greg Pollowitz

Via the Florida Times-Union:

CSX Corp. and a division of General Electric announced Wednesday they will explore technology that would allow locomotives to run on liquefied natural gas, an agreement the companies say could revolutionize the railroad industry.

Jacksonville-based CSX says it will work with GE Transportation over the coming months on a test plan to outfit some diesel-powered locomotives with a kit that will give them the capability to also run on liquefied natural gas — an increasingly popular fuel because of its relatively low cost and lower emissions.

“LNG technology has the potential to offer one of the most significant developments in railroading since the transition from steam to diesel in the 1950s,” said Oscar Munoz, executive vice president and CEO of CSX, in a statement. “That change took many years to complete and began with a lot of unknowns, and this one is no different.”

Natural gas-powered trains can travel greater distances with fewer stops for refueling, the companies said, in addition to the economic and environmental benefits compared with traditional diesel.

Asked how many trains would be outfitted with GE’s natural gas kit, Carla Groleau, CSX’s communications director, said the company is in the “very early stages of evaluating LNG as a locomotive fuel.”

The companies are also exploring LNG technology for other classes of trains and working with government agencies “to ensure safety, realize environmental and other benefits and advance LNG deployment,” according to a joint release from CSX and GE.

The rest here.

Endorsing the ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Strategy

by Greg Pollowitz

Senators Ed Whitfield and Joe Manchin have an op-ed in The Hill today on their bipartisan energy plan:

The United States has a good story to tell. Over the last decade we have seen a boom in American energy production that has been a game-changer for the U.S. economy. Private sector innovation and advanced technologies have transformed our energy landscape, given birth to an American manufacturing renaissance, and spurred the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. But there is another news story about to catch fire that threatens to change the rules of the game in a different way—the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sweeping regulatory agenda, which stands to bring America’s energy revolution and economic recovery to a screeching halt.

EPA is moving forward with a stream of costly regulations that will significantly change the future of energy production and consumption in this country and put an end to the promise of a true “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. EPA has proposed standards for new power plants that are so extreme they would effectively eliminate coal as a source of future electricity generation in America. The rule requires the adoption of costly capture and storage (CCS) technologies that are not yet commercially viable, essentially setting a standard that is impossible to meet.  No other country in the world has adopted such an extreme position.  

All of America’s resources – coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables – play a critical role in keeping American electricity affordable and reliable, and a diverse energy portfolio is critical to maintaining America’s competitive advantage. But if EPA’s rule for new plants is allowed to move forward as written, American consumers and businesses will be denied the benefits afforded by coal, which provides nearly 40 percent of the nation with affordable and reliable electricity.

EPA’s proposed standard for new power plants is only the first of many greenhouse gas regulations to be proposed by the agency. Next in the queue, and perhaps the most impactful, are greenhouse gas rules for existing power plants. EPA is not stopping here.  EPA is also expected to expand its authority beyond just power plants to other stationary sources like refineries, industrial boilers, cement kilns, chemical plants, paper mills, and manufacturing facilities.

The rest here.

OPEC Is Yesterday’s News

by Robert Bryce

Forty years have passed since the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. In that time span, the United States has increased its population by about half, nearly tripled its economic output, and nearly doubled its per capita GDP. While doing so, the U.S. has increased its oil consumption by just 7 percent.

Despite those facts, fearmongering about OPEC and the possibility that it might use the “oil weapon” continues unabated. Alongside the never-ending denunciations of OPEC are, of course, calls for more “investment” (read subsidies) in alternatives to oil, such as electric vehicles and, of course, biofuels.

The latest edition of the bash-OPEC argument was published on November 4 in the Wall Street Journal. In their op-ed, former secretary of state George Shultz and FedEx CEO Fred Smith declared that the U.S. should seek to uncouple its economy from “high and volatile global oil prices” and “achieve true energy security.”

The two claim that by relying on the global oil market, the U.S. government is allowing “a tax on American consumers imposed by foreign powers.” They also trot out the familiar trope that OPEC’s total export revenue, which “exceeded $1 trillion in each of the last two years . . . ranks among the greatest wealth transfers in human history.”

Escaping OPEC’s evil clutches, Shultz and Smith claim, “will require a concerted national effort that prioritizes investment in the development of advanced energy technologies — such as low-cost advanced batteries for electric vehicles.” They also, rightly, discuss the advantages and rapid rise of natural-gas-fueled vehicles. (I’ll discuss these NGVs more in a moment.)

In their article, Shultz and Smith barely manage to avoid using the most hackneyed phrase in American politics — “energy independence” — but they do claim that “meaningfully reducing oil dependence” will allow the U.S. to worry less about global oil-supply interruptions, and that “such independence holds tremendous value as the country contends with a fragmenting Middle East.”

We’ve heard these very same claims from every U.S. president since Richard Nixon. They continue to be hyped by a ragtag coalition of defense hawks and corn-ethanol boosters. But these claims are no more valid today than they were during the Watergate era.

Thanks to markets — not subsidies for politically favored industries (and here I’m talking about the corn-ethanol scam) — the U.S. has dramatically reduced its reliance on oil over the past 40 years. And thanks to the shale gale, the U.S. is dramatically reducing its net oil imports as well. But that does not mean the U.S. will be “energy independent” — whatever that dubious phrase might mean.

Back in 1973, the U.S. was consuming about 17.3 million barrels of oil per day. At that time, nearly 17 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S. was generated with oil. Today, only about 1 percent of U.S. electricity is generated with oil. Why the reduction? Simple economics. As oil prices rose, electric utilities switched to other fuels.

The same fuel diversification has happened around the world. In 1973, oil provided a whopping 48 percent of all global energy use. Last year, oil was still dominant, but its share of the global market had declined to 33 percent.

Over the past 40 years, oil has lost ground to coal and natural gas. Over that span, oil use has jumped by 34 million barrels per day, an increase of 61 percent. That’s healthy growth, no doubt. But the biggest gainer in the global energy market since 1973 has been coal, the use of which has increased by nearly 44 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or 140 percent. Following on the heels of coal has been natural gas, the use of which has increased by about 39 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or 184 percent.

During that same period, nuclear energy saw huge growth, rising by 1,100 percent. In absolute terms, however, nuclear remains a small player, producing about 11 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, which is less than 5 percent of global energy demand.

This continuing diversification of the energy market, along with the stockpiling of strategic petroleum reserves, has made the global economy more resilient to sudden changes in oil prices.

While we continue to hear rhetoric about America’s lack of a comprehensive energy policy, the fact remains that other countries would love to be in America’s position. In 2012, the U.S. produced more natural gas — an average of nearly 66 billion cubic feet per day — than it has at any time in its history. The flood of natural gas now being produced from shale deposits has driven down prices (they’re now at about $3.60 per million BTU) and has given the U.S. a price advantage over nearly every other country on the planet, with the possible exception of Qatar. That cheap gas is fueling a resurgence in American manufacturing in everything from steel to fertilizer.

The surge in natural-gas production has occurred alongside huge increases in oil output. Last year, U.S. oil production rose by about 800,000 barrels per day, the biggest annual increase since 1859. And it is expected to rise by another 600,000 barrels per day this year. That increased oil production has led to a huge increase in U.S. oil exports. In July, the U.S. exported an average of nearly 3.9 million barrels of refined products per day. Back in 1973, those exports were a paltry 211,000 barrels per day.

Shultz and Smith want readers to believe that over the last four decades, OPEC members have been dining out on America’s credit card. Here’s the reality: Since 1973, the OPEC countries have largely stayed poor while we got richer. OPEC member countries have a combined population of some 429 million. Their combined GDP is some $3.3 trillion, or about a fourth that of the U.S. The per capita GDP for all the member countries is $7,800. That’s about 62 percent of the world-average per capita GDP and less than one-sixth of the per capita GDP in the U.S., which is nearly $50,000.

In short, there’s a near-total disconnect between the reality of today’s global energy market and the OPEC-centric worldview that’s being promoted by Shultz, Smith, and their alarmist allies. The depth of the disconnect can be seen in their promotion of electric cars. The two are advocating electric vehicles even though the history of the electric car is a century-plus of failure tailgating failure. How much more in the way of subsidies do Shultz and Smith want? The Obama administration has already provided about $6.5 billion in handouts for what is clearly a failed concept.

It’s worth mentioning that Smith, as the head of FedEx, has an economic interest in getting the government to support the development of alternative fuels because his company uses enormous quantities of petroleum in its airplanes and trucks. Last year, Smith predicted that biofuel produced from algae would become a big deal. My prediction: Don’t count on it.

If the U.S. wants to reduce the amount of oil it uses domestically (and thereby increase its exports), the best course is to simply let the free market work. Indeed, it’s already working. Proof of that can be seen by looking at the soaring popularity of NGVs. All over the world, consumers and fleet owners are using more natural gas to fuel their vehicles because the fuel reduces emissions and, in many cases, it’s cheaper than refined oil products.

In June, the International Energy Agency estimated that global demand for natural gas in the transportation sector will nearly double, to about 9.6 billion cubic feet per day, by 2018. The agency also revealed a remarkable fact: “The expansion of gas as a transport fuel has a bigger impact on reducing the medium-term growth of oil demand than both biofuels and electric cars combined.”

In July, Simmons & Co., a Houston-based investment-banking firm, projected that by 2020 the number of heavy trucks in the U.S. fueled by natural gas will increase sixfold to some 170,000 vehicles.

In October, UPS announced it would spend $50 million on new liquefied-natural-gas refueling stations that will be used to fuel 1,000 of the logistics company’s long-haul trucks. Doing so will save the company about 24 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. Depending on where you are in the U.S., a natural-gas gallon-of-diesel equivalent is $1.00 to $2.00 cheaper than diesel fuel. If we assume a $1.00 differential, UPS could recover its capital investment in about two years. And here’s the most important part: UPS is making the switch not because of government mandates or subsidies, but because doing so saves money.

The takeaways here are obvious: First, the world’s consumers are diversifying away from oil because they have an economic incentive to do so. Second, the energy superpower of today is the United States, not OPEC. Third, providing more subsidies and mandates for inefficient and uneconomic oil substitutes will only result in a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Forty years of hand-wringing about OPEC is quite enough. It’s time to ignore OPEC and let the energy market work.

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His most recent book is Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

U.S. Projected to Lead the World in Oil Production by 2015

by Greg Pollowitz


The U.S. will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer by 2015, and be close to energy self-sufficiency in the next two decades, amid booming output from shale formations, the IEA said.

Crude prices will advance to $128 a barrel by 2035 with a 16 percent increase in consumption supporting the development of so-called tight oil in the U.S. and a tripling in output from Brazil, the International Energy Agency said today in its annual World Energy Outlook. The role of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will recover in the middle of the next decade as other nations struggle to repeat North America’s success with exploiting shale deposits, the agency predicted.

“As production goes up and imports go down, it does have positive macroeconomic effects for the U.S.,” said Mike Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale SA in New York. “It’s good for the balance of payments, good for the dollar, good for jobs, for other heavy industries. But it doesn’t equate to being insulated from world oil markets.”

Soaring shale output in the U.S. is helping the world’s largest oil consumer achieve its highest level of energy independence in two decades, cushioning it against disruptions in Africa and the Middle East. The boom threatens revenues for OPEC’s 12 members, whose production is at its lowest in two years amid political unrest in Libya and theft in Nigeria.

U.S. oil production will rise to 11.6 million barrels a day in 2020, from 9.2 million in 2012, as it taps rock and shale layers inNorth Dakota and Texas with the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, according to the IEA, a Paris-based adviser to 28 energy-consuming nations. The report didn’t specify an output level for 2015.

Over the same time period, Saudi Arabian production will fall to 10.6 million from 11.7 million and Russia slips to 10.4 million from 10.7 million barrels. The figures include natural gas liquids, condensates and crude.

The rest here.

Demon Alcohol

by The Editors

Americans who don’t try competing for the votes of Iowans every four years have long known that federal support for making ethanol fuel from corn is a costly and inefficient way to help the environment. It may not even be a way to do so at all.

A new investigative report by the Associated Press reveals the extent to which government support for ethanol has driven American farmers to expand their corn production massively across the plains, with huge, unnecessary environmental costs. Ethanol burns slightly cleaner than normal gasoline, but experts have long questioned just how great its overall benefit is, because producing it has so many other environmental costs. Estimates of ethanol’s benefits have grown less and less generous over the years, and now the AP reveals that its costs in the form of pollution and unnecessary land use have been seriously underestimated.

Subsidies for ethanol have been a longstanding feature of U.S. environmental policy (which should tell you something about the quality of U.S. environmental policy). America has had a tariff on ethanol for decades, to prop up domestic production and protect the heartland from competing biofuels, mostly Brazilian. But the favoritism really ramped up in the 2000s: The Bush administration’s attempt at a green industrial policy, motivated by high gasoline prices, national-security concerns, and the demands of rural constituencies, led to a huge tax credit for companies that blend ethanol into transportation fuel. That credit expired in 2012, when conservatives and honest environmentalists pressured Congress to reduce direct support for the industry.

In 2006, a more tortuous and destructive subsidy was created: a mandate that a certain percentage of the transportation fuel produced in the U.S. had to contain ethanol. The Obama administration updated these standards in 2010, and the mandate now steeply increases each year. Just three years after writing the new regulations, the White House is being forced to consider whether to ease the mandate in 2014 because it may not be possible to produce enough ethanol to meet it.

This policy has two obvious effects: The price of ethanol’s key ingredient, corn, will explode, and the price of automotive fuel, which now must contain it, will rise. Forty percent of corn production in the United States now goes to ethanol, making food for people all over the world more expensive. The costs to American consumers alone have amounted to tens of billions of dollars per year.

But the secondary effects of these distortions have not been as obvious or well examined. The AP report explains that in writing the 2010 regulations, the EPA essentially pretended that corn prices would remain constant. The agency’s rules require that biofuels be 20 percent more efficient, measured by carbon emissions, than standard fuels in order to qualify for favorable regulatory treatment. To hit this metric, the Obama administration assumed that a straitjacket mandate would hardly affect corn prices, meaning little more land development. In reality, prices have almost doubled since the 2010 mandate was written.

And higher corn prices have meant much greater demand for farmland in the Midwest — including conservation land, which higher crop yields have allowed farmers to leave fallow, as well as virgin, undeveloped land. A 2008 study in Science concluded that no ethanol policy would reduce carbon emissions if it caused farmers to carve up such land. Since President Obama took office, more than 5 million acres of conservation land have been lost. Meanwhile, nitrogen-based fertilizers have flowed from the overworked Great Plains into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a “dead zone” the size of Connecticut on the sea floor.

Public policy inevitably will not be guided by science, but by political interests. That’s part of the reason those concerned with greenhouse gases and pollution ignore solutions less georgic than corn farming, such as nuclear power and fracking. Obama’s secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, more or less admitted that to the AP: “I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument. To me, it’s an opportunity argument.” There are better ways, we are sure, to provide opportunity to the inhabitants of the Great Plains than demanding that vast swathes of their land be devoted to producing an unnecessary fuel.

Some conservatives have spoken out against our decades-old, destructive ethanol policies. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has criticized the programs for years; Richard Mourdock, in his 2012 primary campaign against Indiana senator Dick Lugar, railed against the system and Lugar’s support for it.

With more exposure of the environmental effects of the program, perhaps politicians who claim to prize the environment will recognize that a lot of green — in more sense than one — is being wasted on ethanol.

‘Green Energy Is the Real Subsidy Hog’

by NRO Staff

In an op-ed over at the Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, debunks three myths about fossil-fuel subsidies. 


‘Diesel, Fuel Cells Get Spotlight as Plug-Ins Lose Favor’

by NRO Staff

In 2008, President Obama set the goal of putting 1 million “advanced technology vehicles” on the road by 2015. According to a piece on Bloomberg, electronic vehicles sales in the U.S. are on track to meet only half that amount by 2015, and Obama hasn’t publicly mentioned electric cars since July. Instead, attention is starting to shift toward fuel cells and diesel. 

‘Gambling with Civilization’

by NRO Staff

Paul Krugman has a review of William D. Nordhaus’s new book, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, in the New York Review of Books. In it, Krugman argues for banning coal. Robert Murphy of the Institute for Energy Research critiques Krugman here

The Audacity of Frack

by Michael Barone

Capitalism, said economist Joseph Schumpeter seven decades ago, is a process of creative destruction. New inventions, new processes, new methods of organization lead to the creation of new profitable and efficient businesses and to the destruction of old ones unable to compete.

There are few accounts of the creative side of Schumpeter’s phrase more vivid than The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, a new book by Wall Street Journal writer Gregory Zuckerman.

For years, politicians, policy experts, and corporate executives have tried to reshape American energy policy and development. They have operated on a series of assumptions seemingly based on experience and logic.

One is that oil and gas production in the United States is inevitably in decline. Another is that we can move toward energy independence by increasing use of renewables like wind and solar energy.

Those assumptions seem to have been refuted in the course of this young century by a group of audacious outsiders who have made great fortunes — and in some cases lost them.

The Frackers tells their story. It tells the story of George Mitchell, son of a Greek immigrant, who was convinced that hydraulic fracturing — fracking — could bring in vast amounts of natural gas from the Barnett Shale in north Texas.

It tells the story of Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward, whose Chesapeake firm bought mineral leases atop vast shale deposits, becoming America’s No. 2 gas producer, but overexpanding disastrously.

It tells the story of Harold Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who rose from picking cotton to having a $12 billion fortune by prying oil out of the Bakken shale of North Dakota.

And it tells the story of Charif Souki, Lebanese immigrant and proprietor of the Los Angeles restaurant where Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were served their last meals, who charmed some investors into financing a liquid-natural-gas-export terminal in Louisiana.

This is mostly a story of private enterprise in action. Government studies provided some early support for fracking, but government energy experts lagged far behind these wildcatters in appreciating the potential for extracting gas and oil from shale.

It’s also worth noting that these men were not motivated simply by greed. Mitchell had a vision that America could liberate itself from dependence on foreign energy, and had the satisfaction of seeing the nation on the road there when he died last summer at 94.

McClendon and Ward preached that shale gas could provide a clean alternative to coal and oil, an essential interim step to developing renewables that are competitive in price.

Both of these men could have paused at some point in their careers and retired with enough wealth to live in luxury, contribute generously to others, and leave large inheritances behind.

Instead, they surged ahead, taking enormous risks, borrowing enormous sums. I suspect that most readers will feel queasy, as I did, reading of the enormous debt they carried at times and the breathtaking chances they took.

Nor did everything work out well for them. In 2012, McClendon and Ward were both forced out of the firms they headed because of their insatiable desire to buy ever more mineral leases. Hamm faces the loss of half his net worth in divorce.

The fracking revolution has had the effect not only of swelling the domestic supply, but also of slashing the domestic price. Bad news for McClendon and Ward, but good news for Souki, who is retrofitting his terminal to export, rather than import, liquefied natural gas.

The Frackers reminds me of the enormous risks taken by John D. Rockefeller, whose kerosene replaced whale oil for lighting (and saved those wondrous mammals from slaughter), and those taken by the auto pioneers of Detroit.

It reminds me also that some — but not all — of them reaped great rewards. Henry Ford became a billionaire. W. C. Durant, founder of General Motors, died broke.

Public policymakers tend to assume a static economic world that responds incrementally to incentives, including changes in policy.

The Frackers shows an explosive and highly unpredictable world where imagination, perseverance, skill, and — a necessary ingredient — luck can transform a nation from whale oil to kerosene, horse and buggy to car, energy importer to energy exporter.

Creative destruction can render public policies irrelevant, as seems to be the case with several decades of conventional-wisdom energy policy. It reminds us that people with ingenuity and daring can reshape the world in ways few can imagine.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2013 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by

Hackin’ and frackin’, &c.

by Jay Nordlinger

Sometime last week, my friend Kevin Williamson and I were talking about oil — black gold, Texas tea. (You know that song, right?) There is a new book called The Frackers. And a phrase popped into my head: hackin’ and frackin’. What has given this nation its dynamism recently is hackin’ and frackin’, computer technology and oil (and natural gas). Do you realize that the United States has passed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the top producer of oil and natural gas in all the world? This is a greatly underreported fact. A hugely significant fact.

Let me quote a bit from my recent National Review piece on Harold Hamm, the No. 1 oilman in the country:

Oil is supposed to be old news, yesterday’s energy. But it’s the hot new thing, spurring job creation and economic growth (such as we have them). Consider North Dakota alone: It has the lowest unemployment rate in America, and the fastest rate of economic growth. There are people in North Dakota from all 50 states, and many of them hadn’t worked for years, before the oil-and-gas “renaissance” arrived.

And then I go on to make the point about our overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration and the Left at large have been hostile to all things oil. Imagine if they were not. Imagine if we had the benefit of the Keystone pipeline and so on.

What Hamm told me is that we can have energy independence by 2020 if regulations get no worse. They don’t have to get better — they can stay the same, frozen. But they can’t get any worse.

I hope it happens (our energy independence, that is).

Above, I spoke of “hackin’ and frackin’” — a snappier phrase than “hackin’ and horizontal drillin’.” This is another point that Hamm makes: People like to talk about fracking. But this is an old technology, in that the first frack jobs were performed in the 1940s. Horizontal drilling is something newer, and that is responsible for the renaissance going on today.

By the way, who performed the first frack jobs? Erle P. Halliburton — a man whose name the Left tried to make mud, during the George W. Bush years. Halliburton was from Duncan, Okla. — same as a phenomenal woman, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.

(Another Oklahoma foreign-policy thinker is Jim Woolsey — R. James Woolsey. He is from Tulsa. Oklahoma is almost as rich in foreign-policy expertise as it is in oil.)

The other day, I read an article — an Associated Press report — that began,

For nearly five years, Republicans have struggled to make a scandal stick to President Barack Obama’s White House. One by one, the controversies — with shorthand names such as Solyndra, Benghazi, and Fast and Furious — hit a fever pitch, then faded away.

A question: Do you think those scandals would have faded away if they related to a Republican administration, rather than a Democratic one? Do you think the mainstream media would have ridden them for all they were worth, and then some?

Perhaps it takes a right-wing paranoid to think that. Or perhaps it merely takes someone who has lived for a while — who is awake and smelling the coffee.

Here is an article about one of those left-wing Americans who hijacked planes to Cuba. This one is named William Potts. Now he wants to come home. The article is accompanied by a picture that shows him in Havana, holding a sign that says, “USA, My Racist Country.”

Call me hard-hearted, but I’m happy for him to stay in the Castros’ care. I’d rather have him there than here in racist, imperialist, ist ist ist Amerika. You know?

Last year, I wrote an article called “Aren’t They Cute? America and some special criminals.” Go here, if you like. The article relates to what we’re talking about.

Speaking of articles I’ve written (and forgive me for being on this jag): This dispatch from Bloomberg News reminded me of something I said in a report earlier this year. I wrote, “I think I have heard more about the KKK in two days at this conference than I have in many years.” Let me get back to that in a moment.

The dispatch I’ve linked to is about a new production of Aida, in Paris. The production has the tenor, Radamès, “tried by a kangaroo court of the Ku Klux Klan, complete with hoods and a burning cross.” I’ve discovered something in the last couple of decades: The Klan may be more famous abroad than it is here at home. The only time I hear about the Klan, really, is when I go abroad.

That report of mine — the one from which I’ve quoted — was from the Oslo Freedom Forum. It was called “Three Brave Lives,” and was published in the June 17 NR. The “brave lives” of the title are those of Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese legal activist (blind, by the way); Ali Ferzat, the Syrian cartoonist and dissident; and Berta Soler, the leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White.

Ferzat asked me, “How many members does the Ku Klux Klan have?” He then made a point about al-Qaeda in Syria. Berta Soler spoke of being beaten by Cuban state-security agents. They yell at her, “Nera!” (“Black woman!”) “Why are you protesting against us? You should be thankful to the revolution. If you went to America, you would be killed by the Ku Klux Klan.”

That’s what they tell ’em. That’s what they tell ’em. In reality, they’d probably see more of the Klan in French opera productions than in America.

A correspondent of mine from South Dakota wrote me about the recent blizzard there. His point (as I sum it up): “The rest of the country doesn’t know about this. It was terrible. The devastation to farms and ranches is horrific. Some attention should be paid, by our fellow Americans.”

Here is one article about this calamity in South Dakota.

Into my inbox came a little ad: “Every 60 Seconds a New Woman is Looking for a Discreet Affair Here.” (That “is” should be capitalized, by the way. No one does, for some reason. Take it from me, an editor of some years.) The ad exhorted, “Life is Short.” (There we go again, “is”-wise!) “Have an Affair.” You are urged to “Join the World’s Largest Dating Service with over 1 million women looking to have a Discreet Affair.”

Sweet culture we live in, huh? It is to be resisted with all the strength that can be summoned.

And by the way: Why should these affairs be “discreet”? It’s not like our culture especially frowns on them, is it?

Let’s have some language (or some more language, I should say). A reader writes,

I caught grief a couple of days ago from a client out here on the High Plains [Kansas] for saying that I “would just as lief” do something in particular. Growing up in Oklahoma, I heard both sides of my family use the phrase — both the Russian (Volgadeutsch) side and the Ozark hillbilly side. Do you come across this in any one particular part of the country?

I have never come across it, frankly. But I’ve done a little studying on it, and I like it a lot. “I’d just as lief go without dessert as have jello.”

I think that’s basically the usage.

A little music? For a review of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, with Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor, and Ian Bostridge, tenor, go here. (The program was Mendelssohn, Britten, and Shostakovich.)

I want to end by commenting on Tom Foley, who died in recent days. He was speaker of the House, you remember (Democrat). Late in his career, he lost a great deal of weight, which you may also remember. He was quite fat — and got trim.

Sitting next to him at dinner one night, I asked him to tell me about this. He was glad to. He went to a New York doctor, who said, “Oh, I can get you to lose the weight, all right. But you won’t keep it off. No one does.” Foley determined he would — and he did. He told me it was the thing in his life he was proudest of.

He also told some very good stories about politics, and told them really, really well. He did an excellent LBJ accent. Anyway, I’m glad I met him, and I’m glad you’ve joined me today, Impromptus-ites — see you later.

Liberal Denial on Climate Change and Energy

by Jeremy Carl

The late science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick once observed, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” It’s a statement that many liberals need to take to heart on energy and climate issues.

According to the Hoover Institution’s recently completed Golden State Poll, conducted in partnership with the nationally respected polling firm YouGov, many Democrats and liberals are in denial when it comes to reality on energy and climate policy, endorsing both science and political fiction.

This is, of course, the opposite of the narrative we hear in much of the media, with its constant paeans to “settled science” and its derision of anyone who opposes liberal climate-policy proposals as a “denier.” (This is certainly not true in the case of this author, who thinks that climate change is both real and worth addressing while strenuously opposing the scaremongering tactics that are unfortunately common among liberals.)

While politics affects both parties’ prescriptions for energy and the environment, a look at the data suggests that Democrats and liberals are far more likely to have their ideological blinders on. In our poll of 1,000 Californians, Democrats and liberals were more likely to give incorrect, highly unlikely, or intensely ideological responses to a set of basic questions about energy and environmental policy than were independents, conservatives, and Republicans.

Such a result should not be entirely surprising. The Democratic party’s electoral majority is currently sustained by low-information voters and people who are unlikely to be persuaded by data that contradicts their own political narrative. In the Golden State Poll, which had both internal and external question reviewers to minimize bias, several interesting results emerged that reinforced the idea of a liberal information gap.

Respondents were concerned about climate change — and that concern crossed party and ideological lines. But not a single liberal in our survey dismissed climate change as a “not at all serious” problem,” and a scant 4 percent were open to the idea that global climate change might be a “not very serious” problem.

When half of our sample was asked about climate change’s effects only in California, just 5 percent of liberals felt that it was not very serious and 3 percent felt it was not at all serious. Both are essentially zero within the poll’s margin of error. Given the enormous uncertainties that exist around both climate science and climate policy, this is more correctly characterized as a religious view of climate change than an empirical one.

Conservatives were far more open-minded about climate change, with 39 percent considering it a somewhat or very serious problem and only 31 percent saying it was not at all serious. This view was far closer to the view of political independents, who presumably have no partisan axe to grind in the climate wars. Fifty-one percent of them thought climate change was a very or somewhat serious problem, while 41 percent felt that it was not very or not at all serious. One can draw two plausible conclusions from this: Either liberals alone have the intellectual acuity to definitively determine the magnitude of the problem presented by climate change, or, alternatively, unlike conservatives and independents, liberals are engaged in climate groupthink from which no dissent is brooked.

Perhaps this apocalyptic tendency is a result of the liberal knowledge gap. This became apparent when we asked our respondents about hydraulic fracturing. A just-released Environmental Defense Fund study, led by researchers at the University of Texas, showed that leakage of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) is likely to be an even smaller problem than the EPA’s modest estimates. Dispatching the other most common liberal complaint on fracking, current energy secretary Ernie Moniz recently said he has still “not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater,” a finding supported by three separate EPA investigations.

Yet 53 percent of California Democrats surveyed wanted to ban fracking in the state, and just 5 percent “definitely” wanted to avoid such a ban. Support for a ban comes despite the existence of little if any credible scientific evidence of fracking’s feared harms and overwhelming scientific evidence of its environmental benefits, including substantial reductions in both local and global pollutants. Republicans and independents both supported fracking, Republicans by a three-to-one margin.

Even the Obama administration’s current and former climate hawks are at odds with their party members’ irrationality on hydraulic fracturing. Deriding a choice between fracking and climate protection as a “false choice,” former secretary of energy Steven Chu said in a September speech, “This is something you can do in a safe way.” Not to be outdone, Secretary Moniz has referred to fracking as “safe” and “a bridge to a low-carbon future.”

Taken as a whole, the Golden State poll suggests that many liberals have a deeply ideological view of energy and climate and policy, one in which certain “truths” must be accepted to show one’s moral virtue while genuinely inconvenient truths are ignored. Conservatives, always appropriately skeptical of liberal utopianism, have reacted against that by redoubling their skepticism. While the media and liberal politicians attack them, conservatives know that it is hard to have a rational argument with a fanatic about the subject of his fanaticism.

On energy and climate, the Democrats’ political and policy ignorance needs to be exposed for what it is: self-contradictory, incoherent, and yes, unscientific.

It is time to start calling them out on it.

— Jeremy Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy.

The EPA as Energy Master

by Kathleen Hartnett White

The imperial EPA has once again raised its scepter, this time proposing the first hard caps on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The proposed coal rule merits a deeper assessment than it has yet received. The impacts of this and other EPA rules targeting coal go far beyond the coal industry. The EPA is undermining the very foundations of economic productivity.

The EPA’s first group of greenhouse-gas rules, which were hastily promulgated in 2010, require only a relatively light increase in the burden placed on power plants for the purpose of increasing energy efficiency, for now. By contrast, the coal rules proposed on September 20 — called New Source Performance Standards — are the EPA’s first direct regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2). The rule’s numerical limits for emissions of CO2 from any new coal-fired power plants are commercially unachievable and lay the groundwork for the final blow to coal: the future demand for an impossible reduction of CO2 from existing power plants. In essence, the EPA is proposing the de facto elimination of the coal-fired plants that have provided 40 percent of America’s electricity over the last twelve months.

The EPA’s standards for coal plants are unachievable because use of the much-ballyhooed technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS) is infeasible on a large scale. The EPA’s own studies agree that CCS is not commercially viable. But never mind, says the EPA, CCS has been adequately demonstrated.

No one in the business of generating electricity believes CCS is anywhere near commercially demonstrated — no one, that is, who hasn’t just received a federal loan guarantee of half a billion dollars. Several heavily subsidized small pilot projects already have failed miserably, and the remaining projects, supported by more of those millions in loan guarantees and grants, are incomplete without evidence of viability. When a carbon-control technology must utilize 50 percent of the electricity generated by the plant, the enterprise simply is not viable.

The EPA is no longer acting within its authority to protect the environment and human health. Instead, it has arrogated to itself the right to dictate the nation’s energy infrastructure. Shirking the role prescribed by Congress when the agency was created in 1970, the EPA is taking on the more exhilarating role of central planner of the new clean-energy economy. The EPA concedes that the CO2 rule will not reduce CO2 emissions but claims that it is still justified because it reinforces the market’s trend toward investment in clean energy.

This trend, however, was created by government subsidies and EPA regulation, not by consumer demand. When pressed to justify the rule, Administrator Gina McCarthy said it will enhance the United States’ position in negotiations for a global treaty. So now federal agencies promulgate rules with no benefits in order to quash a major American industry because this will facilitate global governance of energy?

In his new book, Knowledge and Power, George Gilder coins the term “regnorance” (“regulatory ignorance”). The EPA’s CO2 regulation reflects the bureaucracy’s ignorance of the basic function of the energy economy. As Gilder distills it, regulation replaces the market’s knowledge with government power.

This kind of regulation is far more damaging to markets than any direct compliance costs for industry. The EPA’s new coal rule — which, according to the rule’s impact analysis, does not entail explicit compliance costs — turns the generation of electricity from an enterprise focused on productivity, efficiency, and innovation to an industry that must first and last serve the government’s purposes regardless of cost or productivity. And even if the regulatory dictates were pricey but achievable, the regulatory morass forces businesses to operate more like the bureaucracy that imposed the regulation than like competitive enterprises.

Production increasingly must defer to the tail-chasing administrative work of certifying records and then certifying the certifications for the federal masters. Title V of the Clean Air Act requires bizarrely detailed and repetitive records of compliance with “all applicable regulatory requirements,” which turn out to number in the thousands. A minor deviation in record-keeping can spur criminal penalties against a CEO for unintentional administrative omission. Entrepreneurial creativity and risk-taking have little room to maneuver in the straitjacket of centralized economic planning.

At least the Clean Air Act reflected an assumption of economic freedom in a capitalist democracy. The law, enacted more than 40 years ago, allows private actors — not the EPA — to choose energy source, product, and process. The EPA’s authority is limited to imposing the best pollution-control technology that is commercially achievable for the industrial process in question — not potential technology on the drawing board or heavily subsidized pilot projects in limbo.

Around 1800, as the Industrial Revolution got underway in England, global income per capita, population, life expectancy, and emissions of CO2 began a dramatic increase that continues to this day. In 1800, human life expectancy was 25 to 30 years, because 30 percent of children died before they were 15. Today, global life expectancy is 68 years and, in the most prosperous countries, 79 years. Global income per capita has increased at least elevenfold, and for the U.S. perhaps 18-fold.

It is impossible to explain these gains in income and human well-being without acknowledging the productivity unleashed by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have vastly improved the material conditions of human life. Before coal was harnessed in the European and American Industrial Revolution, mankind’s source of energy was severely limited to what living plants produced through photosynthesis  – and our quality of life was limited too. Energy-dense fossil fuels, derived from ancient plant and animal life compressed in the earth for millions of years, exploded the supply of energy available to man and remain essential to our prosperity.

Renewable energy accounts for a small sliver of global energy consumption, is dependent on fossil fuels as a backup because wind and solar power are inherently intermittent, and may generate more CO2 than what they replace as a result of the emissions in the course of manufacturing and transporting wind turbines and solar panels. Natural-gas or coal-fired generating units must idle so that they can ramp up if the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. The electric grid melts without steady-state generation of electricity. Where renewable energy has been imposed by government regulation, most aggressively in Europe, electricity prices have risen so sharply that, according to Der Spiegel, electricity is increasingly viewed as a luxury by middle- and low-income families.

Richard Stewart, a founding trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund, noted in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law in 1988 that the “EPA’s regulation has grown to the point where it amounts to nothing less than a massive effort at Soviet-style planning of the economy.” After 25 years of incrementally increasing its interference with the economy, the EPA is now imposing central planning by decree.

— Kathleen Hartnett White is distinguished senior fellow and director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Wonderfully Wasteful

by The Editors

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced decision to, in effect, ban the construction of traditional coal-fired power plants in the United States is a non-solution to a hypothetical problem, enacted upon a legal basis that is shaky and an economic basis that is nonexistent. The cost-benefit analysis is almost entirely one-sided: The costs will be very high, and the benefits the EPA hopes to secure will remain out of reach.

The EPA is demanding that new U.S. plants that will use coal to generate electricity must meet standards that today are met by no commercial coal-fired plant operating anywhere in the world. There are, however, two plants coming on line — one in Saskatchewan, one in Mississippi — that incorporate new technology designed to capture enough carbon dioxide to satisfy the EPA demands. Whether that new technology will be effective in practice remains to be seen; whether it will be both effective and cost-effective is a much more important and complex question, one that the EPA has no genuine interest in contemplating.

That is a problem, inasmuch as the Clean Air Act requires that the EPA perform a cost-benefit analysis of new rules. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy not only says that the agency has conducted such an analysis but goes on to characterize it as “wonderful,” and we are indeed filled with a sense of wonder at her proclamation, though perhaps not in the way she intended.

The costs remain a mystery. The industry expects them to be high, but how high is anybody’s guess: The CO2-capture technology that the EPA expects to become standard as a result of its new mandate is, as noted, not currently in commercial use. There is no demand in the market for it, and its costs can therefore be estimated on a wild-guess basis at best.

It is easier to estimate the benefits: They will be nonexistent. Even if we assume that the general thrust of the case for anthropogenic global warming is accurate (an assumption that requires setting aside the recent failure of climate-change models and the less confident scientific consensus as to the meaning of recent data), the fact remains that global warming is, if it is anything at all, global. Local controls on U.S. power plants, even if they are draconian, will have little impact on the overall atmospheric composition of the planet and its effect on global temperatures.

Carbon dioxide is only one greenhouse gas among many, and the United States is not the world’s largest producer of it. The United States, in fact, produces about 15 percent of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions, and U.S. power plants are responsible only for about 33 percent of that 15 percent. And the new rule applies only to newly constructed plants, though the EPA has signaled that it intends to demand the retrofitting of existing plants in the future.

What all this means is that even if the EPA were wildly successful in its implementation of the new standards, it still would not achieve any substantial reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions. It is equally likely, if not more, that it will achieve an increase instead: Being a fungible commodity, the coal not consumed by U.S. generators will find its way to China, India, and the rest of the developing world, where it will be consumed in high-pollution plants that make those in the United States look as pure as vestal virgins by comparison.

So: Costs unknown, benefits negligible. “Wonderful,” indeed.

No doubt surviving members of the 88th Congress, which passed the Clean Air Act, are filled with a similar sense of wonder that their law is being used to police carbon dioxide emissions, an outcome the legislators did not intend. The legal basis for declaring carbon dioxide a “pollutant” under the act is questionable at best, as is the EPA’s rationale for picking and choosing what sorts of emitters will be subject to its new rules. If you would like a preview of what medicine is going to look like under Obamacare, consider the high-handed, letter-of-the-law-be-damned approach of the EPA and the courts that have enabled it.

The new rule may prove wonderful for the manufacturers of the capture technology that will effectively be mandated. As with the case of Solyndra et al., this maneuver is not about producing environmental benefits but about creating markets for politically favored firms and industries. But even those cronies may fare less well than they expect to.

The Obama administration, despite its obvious desire, has not yet been successful in strangling the natural-gas renaissance that is changing the face of the American energy industry. Though coal remains the largest single source of electricity, it already has been falling out of favor with those building new generating capacity, because natural gas is cheaper and plentiful. It is also less damaging to the environment, contra the ill-informed hysteria about the gas-extraction technique known as fracking. But the United States has a complex economy, and there is no single “right” source for fuel. Left to its own devices, the industry probably will move toward natural gas and away from coal, but coal will remain an important part of the picture for the foreseeable future.

In 2012, Barack Obama became the first major-party presidential candidate since statehood to fail to win in a single county of West Virginia. He lost the statewide vote by a substantial margin, with two out of three against him. The people of West Virginia rightly appreciated that their best-known commodity is the target of a regulatory jihad by the White House that has no environmental or economic justification.

The real motive here is the administration’s messianic pretentions, its belief that its bureaucrats and managers are more humane and more intelligent than the producers and consumers over whom they reign, and that they have been chosen to lead the United States into a future that is relatively free of such relics of the Industrial Revolution as coal-fired power plants and petroleum products. Unhappily for them, there is a wide gulf between social engineering and real engineering, and the most impressive products the green-energy revolution has delivered so far are a couple of nifty electric motorcycles — which are recharged by a power grid that gets 40 percent of its juice from coal.

A functioning modern society requires reliable electricity. A modern industrial economy requires affordable electricity. To impose incalculable costs on electricity generation in exchange for ideological satisfaction with no real-world environmental benefit is the sign of an agency that has put its own political agenda ahead of the national interest, playing fast and loose with the law in the process. The EPA is a menace, and Congress should put it on a leash.

Fracking Fears Overblown

by Jillian Kay Melchior

It’s trendy on the left to decry big corporations, especially when they engage in political activity. That’s all well and good, but using the same principles, environmentalists should be getting reamed, too. They profiteer not only from their business operations but also, in fact mostly, from taxpayer largesse. Under the guise of do-goodery, they’re essentially a big industry group with brilliant P.R., advancing claims that often aren’t scientifically sound.

A new study yanks the scientific footing out from under one of the key criticisms that Big Green Business makes against fracking for natural gas. Conducted by the University of Texas at Austin and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, examining 190 fracking sites. It discovered that far less methane is emitted than the EPA and its cohorts in the environmental community have long claimed. The study was sponsored by several petroleum companies but also by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), further bolstering its credibility.

The study reports that the EPA has overstated the amount of natural-gas methane leaks by about 20 percent—and that’s even after the agency recently revised its estimate downwards. Furthermore, special “completion” equipment installed at many sites resulted in “99 percent of the potential emissions [being] captured or controlled,” the study noted. The amount of methane released into the atmosphere is very, very small — equivalent to less than half a percent of all natural-gas production.

As an energy source, natural gas is pretty clean, producing only half the carbon emission of coal. This makes natural gas a threat to other “clean energy” sources, and in response, the green lobby has alleged that methane leaks at fracking sites are contributing significantly to global warming.

The argument contains a grain of truth, because when methane escapes into the air, it’s an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. As the New York Times summarized this week, “Such potency means that even a small loss of methane to the air — just 3.4 percent, scientists say — can negate its climate-changing advantage over coal.”

That equation has resulted in some bold alarmism. For starters, there’s the sensational analysis of DeSmogBlog, which has been lauded by Time magazine and claims to be “clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science.” Its executive director and managing editor wrote in 2011 that natural gas “is not just a ‘bridge to nowhere,’ it turns out to be a highway to hell. . . . With total methane emissions factored in, shale gas turns out to have the greatest climate impact of all the fossil fuels. . . . Contrary to popular belief, gas is just as polluting as coal in the long term — and far worse in the near term due to the higher warming impact from methane when it is first released into the atmosphere during the controversial fracking stage.”

And earlier this year, a coalition of 67 environmental groups vented their indignation about the use of any natural gas whatsoever. “These are fossil fuels, and their extraction and consumption will inevitably degrade our environment and contribute to climate change,” the coalition wrote, over signatures from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as well as celebractivists Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger. They also asserted that fracking would “permanently remove huge quantities of water from the hydrological cycle, pollute the air, contaminate the drinking water, and release high levels of methane into the atmosphere.”

(The letter was an effort to censure the EDF for daring to partner with a nonprofit that supports best practices within the natural-gas industry. Imagine how outraged these groups are now that the EDF has also supported objective scientific inquiry into fracking and its effects.)

Real environmentalists would embrace natural gas as the best viable solution to America’s energy demand. It’s significantly cleaner than coal, not only when it comes to carbon dioxide but also for nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions. It’s already crowding out the dirtier energy sources; gas accounts for about one-fourth of all American energy usage, and ExxonMobil has estimated it will become the second-largest energy source on the planet by 2025, overtaking even coal. Anyone worried about clean air and greenhouse gases should applaud this trend.

But tucked into their screeds against natural gas, environmentalists reveal their actual motive. Joe Romm at Climate Progress came the closest to outright admitting it, writing in January 2012: “We don’t want new gas plants to displace new renewables, like solar and wind.” He adds, with unfounded optimism, that these “are going to be the [sic] some of the biggest, sustainable job creating industries of the century.”

Likewise, Anthony Ingraffea — who has become something of a spokesman for those who oppose natural gas because of purported methane emissions — wrote in the New York Times in July that “we have renewable wind, water, solar and energy-efficiency technology options now. We can scale these quickly and affordably, creating economic growth, jobs and a truly clean energy future to address climate change. Political will is the missing ingredient.”

What Ingraffea and others fail to note is that right now — despite strong political will to “invest” in renewables, usually at massive taxpayer expense — a measly 9 percent of American energy derives from hydropower, solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass combined.

The subsidies that prop up these renewables are lucrative for Big Green Industry. Last year the federal government gave renewable-energy companies more than $2.3 billion in corporate tax credits. The year before that, the federal government spent $16 billion in renewable-energy and energy-efficiency subsidies. The Department of Energy spent around $8.3 billion on its ill-fated clean-energy loans, many of which have gone to companies like Solyndra. State and local governments have their own subsidy offerings for renewable-energy companies; furthermore, at least 29 states and the District of Columbia have renewable-energy mandates, creating an artificial market for an expensive and inefficient product. That list isn’t comprehensive, but it begins to give a picture of how much money can be pocketed in pursuit of renewable energy. And a significant fraction of that money goes to finance green groups that will oppose the natural-gas threat to “clean energy” on ostensibly scientific grounds.

Once again, it looks like the environmental lobby’s objections to natural gas are motivated less by science and more by good, old-fashioned greed.

— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

The EPA’s Carbon-Capture Delusion

by Robert Bryce

On Friday, the EPA finally unveiled its long-awaited rules for new coal-fired power plants. The agency’s administrator, Gina McCarthy, has claimed that the new rules “will provide certainty for the future of new coal.”

That’s true. The rules mean that no new coal plants will be built in the U.S., because they won’t be able to meet the limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.

The EPA’s new rule relies on the agency’s misplaced belief in carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. McCarthy has claimed that “CCS technology is feasible.” Yes, it’s feasible. But that doesn’t mean the technology is economically viable or can scale to a level that makes it a reasonable alternative to traditional sources of electricity generation.

There are numerous problems with CCS. Among them: It’s extremely expensive; it dramatically reduces the output of power plants; no pipelines exist to transport the carbon dioxide to a location where it could be sequestered; the opposition to those pipelines and sequestration projects will be significant; and, finally, the need for CCS has been obviated by the fact that the U.S. is already leading the world in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.

The huge cost of CCS at coal-fired power plants can be seen by looking at Southern Co.’s project in Kemper County, Miss. The 582-megawatt project, which has been hampered by delays and cost overruns, is now expected to cost $4.7 billion. That works out to about $8 million per megawatt of capacity. In comparison, the nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle, in Georgia, will emit no carbon dioxide and will cost about $6.3 million per megawatt. Meanwhile, a natural-gas-fired generator without any CCS equipment costs in the neighborhood of $1 million per megawatt. 

In addition to the enormous capital cost of CCS equipment, the act of removing the carbon dioxide from the generator’s flue gas exacts what the industry calls a “parasitic load” of about 28 percent. So a 1,000-megawatt plant with CCS would have its effective output reduced to about 720 megawatts. That’s a costly reduction that will have to be made up by ratepayers.

Even if large amounts of carbon dioxide can be removed from the flues of coal-fired power plants, that gas still has to be transported. In 2009, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimated that up to 23,000 miles of new pipelines would be needed if the U.S. were to attempt to deploy CCS in coal plants. That doesn’t sound like much when you consider that America’s natural-gas-pipeline system covers some 2.3 million miles. But those gas pipelines transport a valuable, marketable commodity that can be used for a myriad of different purposes. Carbon dioxide is a waste product.

How much would 23,000 miles of new pipeline cost? The latest data from the Oil & Gas Journal show that an average pipeline project costs roughly $4 million per mile. At that rate, the CCS pipelines alone would cost about $92 billion — an amount that, once again, would have to be paid for by ratepayers. 

Few landowners are eager to have pipelines or high-voltage transmission lines built across their property. Imagine what landowners will say if the product to be carried isn’t crude oil, natural gas, or electrons. Instead, it’s carbon dioxide, an asphyxiant. Carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless, and heavier than air, which means that a major pipeline leak could be deadly, particularly in valleys or other low-lying areas. Opposition to proposed CCS projects in Germany and Denmark has stalled plans by two electric utilities to bury captured carbon dioxide in those countries.

Finally, we have the vexing problem of scale. Eliminating coal use in the U.S. might cheer the Sierra Club, but it won’t have a significant effect on global carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. leads the world in reducing its carbon dioxide output. Over the past decade, domestic carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by a whopping 8 percent and now stand at about 5.8 gigatons (5.8 billion tons).

That reduction is largely due to market forces, not EPA regulations. The surge in shale-gas production has encouraged electricity producers to shutter their old coal plants and replace them with newer, cheaper, cleaner natural-gas generators.

While the U.S. is cutting its emissions, global carbon dioxide emissions have soared, rising 32 percent since 2002. The EPA may be able to prevent domestic companies from burning coal, but it won’t prevent that fuel from being used in the developing world. Over the past decade, global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by about 8.4 gigatons. In Asia, emissions rose by 86 percent. In the Middle East, they are up by 61 percent, and in Africa they jumped by 35 percent.

And that brings us to an essential point to keep in mind as you hear coal’s many opponents gloat over the new EPA rule: Over the past decade, if U.S. carbon dioxide emissions had gone to zero, global emissions still would have increased. In fact, they would have increased by 10 percent, or about 2.6 gigatons, according to the BP Statistical Review 2013.

In its press release trumpeting the new rules on coal plants, the EPA claims that it is taking action to “combat climate change.” The hard reality is that these rules will do next to nothing with regard to global carbon dioxide emissions. And while doing next to nothing about those emissions, the rules will prevent the U.S. from using its abundant coal resources.

But the most disheartening part of the story is that the EPA has made this move by wagering on CCS, a technology that has never been widely deployed because it is too expensive and the scale problems are too daunting. Count it as yet another unfortunate example of the Obama administration’s ongoing desire to pick winners and losers in the energy sector.

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The Climate-Change Circus

by Rupert Darwall

For the first time, an assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be widely judged more for what it says about the IPCC than for what it says about the climate. Its 2007 predecessor bombed during the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference as a number of errors came to light. “The mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact,” Bob Watson, a former IPCC chairman, conceded. “That is worrying.”

The IPCC fifth assessment report is being published in the run-up to the Paris climate conference in 2015, when the governments of the world are meant to do what they signally failed to do at Copenhagen: agree. Advertised as summaries of scientific knowledge, IPCC reports — note that the “I” stands for “intergovernmental” — are subject to review by governments and by scientists, many of them employed by governments, making the reports politico-scientific documents.

Their function is to serve as canonical texts for global-warming orthodoxy, providing an updated climate-change catechism for its followers. Writing in the Times of London last week, the current chief scientific adviser to the British government and his three predecessors stated that the IPCC will present “even greater confidence” that the climate is warming as a result of human activities. Only, as the rest of the world knows, observed temperatures haven’t risen for at least a decade and a half.

Climate scientist Judith Curry of Georgia Tech has described the IPCC’s position as “incomprehensible.” The IPCC has increased its confidence in attributing the cause of global warming to greenhouse gases when there has been less warming and more greenhouse gases. Yet the IPCC is downgrading its confidence in some of the findings that purportedly support its overall judgment on the causes of climate change.

In a way similar to that in which medieval astronomers rationalized planets’ being in the “wrong” position as they orbited the Earth, it can be argued that global warming has continued but that its effect has been temporarily offset by natural variability. There might well be something to this. The problem for the IPCC in using this argument is that it has consistently downplayed the role of natural variability, as MIT’s Richard Lindzen has pointed out. Indeed, British climate scientist Hubert Lamb, writing in 1982 before climate science became deeply politicized, wrote that it is impossible to define a range of natural variation of climate, since study of the longer-term climate record showed that the range of variation is itself subject to variation.

Even Nature, which is strongly supportive of the IPCC consensus, in a September 18 editorial pronounced the fifth assessment report as, in effect, dead on arrival. Absent from the report, it noted, is recent research on what is — or is not — behind the plateau in average global temperatures during the past 15 years. It suggested that the fifth assessment report should be the IPCC’s last.

As if hedging its bets, the IPCC is expected to affirm a wider band of temperature rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide than was given in the fourth assessment report. According to Nature, the expected band of 1.5 to 4.5oC is exactly what it was in the IPCC’s first assessment report produced in 1990. If so, it is a telling illustration of the circular advance in climate science under the IPCC’s auspices over the past two decades.

Still more problematic for the IPCC is the growing divergence between computer-model forecasts of what temperatures would do and what has actually happened. Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, whose analysis helped dethrone the iconic “hockey stick” — the centerpiece of the 2001 third assessment report — has noted that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 12 percent since 1990. In response to this increase, the climate models predicted that temperatures should have risen by about 0.2 to 0.9oC compared with the 0.1oC that was actually measured.

The commonsense reaction to this should be that it is not the climate that needs fixing but the climate models. And some humility from climate scientists might not come amiss. The certainties in which they express themselves have instead been shown by the evidence of nature to be only expressions of how little they know. The prime purpose of the IPCC is not the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, however, but rather keeping the climate-change show on the road.

Whatever the IPCC says, it has become a sideshow. What happens at Paris in 2015 depends on politicians and governments. Given the diplomatic smarts shown by President Obama and other Western leaders over Syria, it is hard for even the most fervent believer in global warming to believe that the Paris climate summit will deliver a global agreement to cut emissions. When your best hopes rest in Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, you need to start believing in miracles.

— Rupert Darwall is author of The Age of Global Warming: A History.