The Week That Was
August 14, 1999


"Why so hot? Don't blame Man, blame the Sun." So says Dr. Sallie Baliunas, a researcher at the Harvard Astrophysical Observatory, in an article in the August 5 Wall Street Journal. Sweet vindication for Sallie and Dr. Robert Jastrow, who have championed the solar cause since 1990. Back then, climate modeler Jerry Mahlman labeled their research "noisy junk science."


Yes, we finally heard from Dr. Mahlman. He might be willing, he writes, to enter into a wager about future global warming, but won't give us the 10-to-one odds mentioned in Popular Science. We'll keep you informed of progress.


The Midwest has been experiencing record temperatures. However, before we blame global warming for the many heat deaths, let's look at their cause. In most cases, it was lack of electric power to run air conditioners, either because of power failure or because of no money. According to USA Today (July 30, 1999), most of the dead were poor, elderly or disabled, living alone. Many were overweight. Some were too scared about neighborhood crime to leave home or even open their windows. Some did not like air conditioning or couldn't afford it, or had it but didn't use it.

And from U.S. News and World Report (Aug. 9): "Those who deal with the global climate seem more certain that the summer heat and even the year's drought are not evidence of a profound change. 'The fact that it's hot for a week has nothing at all to do with global warming, which would be measured over decades, not days,' says National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Tinker." And regarding the drought: "The total U.S. land area currently under drought is not in itself unusual; every year, about 10 to 15 percent faces extremely dry conditions." However, this year's distribution is "weird."


One of the great joys of writing TWTW week after week comes from the comments we get. (Yes, they are complimentary and constructive; no nasty names yet.) If nothing else, it proves there are folks out there that read our material. From time to time, we print some particularly perceptive responses. Here are some on MTBE and on Oil Royalties (from Brian Mannix):

As for MTBE, we got into this mess because when we phased out lead in the early 80's, we didn't ask about the substitute--which was benzene, highly carcinogenic, highly reactive, and not totally friendly to catalysts. [Lead was eliminated as an anti-knock additive primarily because it poisons the catalyst, EPA's favored band-aid solution to reducing emissions.] But the 2% oxygen requirement, which gave us MTBE, was actually a Daschle floor amendment; it barely passed, thanks to Dole, the "Senator From ADM", who hoped ethanol would be the oxygenate of choice. Because ethanol increases volatility, MTBE, which does not, won out--except, of course, for the ground water problem. EPA tried to ignore it until the political heat became too great, in California and in New Jersey where the citizens' group Oxy-Busters beat up on EPA. If truth be known, EPA never much liked the program, because it made emission reductions too easy and cheap. EPA prefers the root-canal theory of regulation--a thousand painful extractions to justify a thousand new positions and a bigger budget.

Your blurb on the Oil Royalty flap: Since royalties are charged by private lessors, as well as by the federal government, there does appear to be some economic rationale for their existence. Producing oil on someone else's land (surface) inevitably involves conflicts over rights-of-way, housekeeping, noise, smells, etc. If the surface owner retains a continuing interest--a royalty--in the production from a well, it ensures that small inconveniences are tolerated and larger disputes are resolved, without disrupting the flow of oil. It is an interesting question whether this reasoning applies to leases on federal lands.

On the other hand: Suppose that when you bought a new car, the salesman insisted he could sell you only 88 percent, with the dealer keeping a 12 percent interest in perpetuity. To protect his interest, the dealer specifies the maintenance you have to perform -- oil changes, tune-ups, etc.-just as a lease contract would. He specifies where you can park, how your garage has to be built and locked, and what kind of an alarm system you must install. You have to pay 100 percent of the cost of this.

Every day, before you can drive the car, you have to haggle with a salesman to set a fair price for the 12 percent that you don't own. He argues about the miles you put on it, as well as the price, and sends out inspectors to check your odometer. You offer to buy out the dealer's interest, but he won't sell. He insists on a stream of payments, and he insists on haggling over them in perpetuity. Each day, it seems, he has new reasons for wanting to set a higher price. He employs an entire staff of sales people to haggle with you, and they need employment.

You point out that he loses money doing business this way. Few people want to put up with all the hassle and, in order to sell any cars at all, he has to offer huge initial discounts -- not just 12 percent, but 20 or 30 percent. There is no way he can make up this loss later. He would do better selling the whole car at once, rather than in dribs and drabs. He doesn't care.

Now suppose the dealer is a federal agency. On top of all the other headaches, he uses the government's authority to make your life miserable. He unilaterally revises the contract at any time. Balk at his terms, and he may throw you in jail. He accuses you of "fleecing the taxpayer" if you resist his price demands. To add insult to injury, the dealer refers to his daily take as a "royalty," a tribute to which he is entitled as a modern day successor to the monarchs of old.

This is how the federal government sells crude oil on public lands. It is the traditional way, but it is nonetheless cumbersome and wasteful. Once the government has decided to sell an oil lease, it owes it to the taxpayer to sell it to the highest bidder. There is no reason to hold back the "king's share" and no need to employ a huge bureaucracy of royalty collectors at the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service. All this does is drive down the initial bids and thereby reduce, as well as delay, the net proceeds of the sale. It's not the oil producers but the government that's fleecing the taxpayer.


A new report from the Natural Resources Council (NRDC), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund reveals that the world's major energy companies contribute more to global warming than many developing countries. "Kingpins of Carbon: How Fossil-Fuel Producers Contribute to Global Warming" is said to be the first-ever company-by-company tabulation of carbon pollution based on fuel production.

These three tax-exempt organizations, supported by well-meaning idiots, are telling us, in essence, that the world's major energy companies produce and sell most of the fuel used by consumers. What an exciting discovery! "There are no mandatory sentences for carbon pushers, but we can expose them in the court of public opinion." Yes, by all means, let's sue them for providing the fuels that consumers demand for growing food, for transportation, for keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Without fuels, these benighted zealots would freeze in the dark -- and maybe they should.


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