The Week That Was
August 21, 1999


Here it is, SEPP's famous booklet, THE SCIENTIFIC CASE AGAINST THE GLOBAL CLIMATE TREATY. Widely distributed before Kyoto, it is now on the Web, updated in July 1999. Ready to download and give to your youngster before he/she trundles off to school. It's been translated into Spanish and German. Chinese is next. Feel free to use and quote (with attribution) in the language of your choice.

POSTSCRIPT ON OIL ROYALTIES (from a faithful reader):

The Department of Interior's budget for its ineffective Minerals Management Agency is $34 million a year. Just think what you could do with this money.


Ominous rumblings from the natural gas folks: A meeting at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington DC, to: "coordinate the gas industry's position on climate change" and to "develop a common strategy…." (to get more business?). Not a word about challenging the science, however.

Galvanizing news from the electric utility front. Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are nearing commercialization. That's good news for decentralized power systems. (Advanced planar SOFCs, operating at high temperatures, have achieved power densities of over 2 watts per cm2 and conversion efficiencies for methane are in the range of 47 to 65%.) Together with a new generation of gas microturbines (in the range of 10 to 250 kW), distributed electricity generation is growing rapidly. According to the EPRI Journal (Summer 1999), at least 20 gigawatts of distributed capacity is forecast for installation in the United States during the coming decade alone. Since these systems also permit cogeneration and are reliable, operating 24 hours a day, they can easily outperform wind turbine power.

Larger gas turbines are going like gangbusters. According to Power Engineering (May 1999): During the past year, there were 200 announcements of new power plants, amounting to 60 gigawatts of installed capacity. In addition, work is proceeding on even more efficient advanced gas turbines, from 4.2 megawatts up to 480-megawatt, combined-cycle monsters for utility applications.

Phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs) are finding an application in electric power production using methane from anaerobic digesters at municipal waste-treatment plants. Tests reported in the EPRI journal give O&M costs of less than 2 cents per kWh, including cleanup of the feed gas to remove hydrogen sulfide.

And the latest from the science front: Scientists at Northwestern University have built a solid-oxide fuel cell, suitable for electric power plants, that uses methane directly rather than hydrogen (which would have to be generated from methane by reforming). The trick seems to be a special anode and lower operating temperatures (about 650 C).

[E.P. Murray et al., A direct-methane fuel cell with a ceria-based anode. Nature 400, 649-651, 1999]


Water shortages on the East coast would seem to support the imposed national standard regulating the maximum toilet flush at 1.6 gallon, which is less than half that of existing toilets. Of course, consumers complained that they actually required several flushes to do the job. Rep. Joe Knollenberg has introduced legislation to repeal the federal mandates and close down the potty police. He is up against an alliance of environmentalists and plumbing manufactures, however. There has been some grousing about Al Gore's boat ride in Connecticut, using excess water that could have flushed 2.5 billion toilets. However, the real problem is that water is not very costly so that a large amount of drinking-water quality is used to water lawns. If there were a real shortage of water, and an appropriate price, people would buy the toilets now in use in modern airplanes. They're noisy but use very little water. Necessity is the mother of invention. Woosh!


Sweden's Margot Wallstrom replaces Denmark's fierce ideologue Ritt Bjerregaard as EU commissioner for environment. Will it make a difference? Is Tweedle Dum different from Tweedle Dee? Now that Sweden is banning phthalate plasticizers from vinyl toys, but Italy is not, how will the EU come down on this split? Don't hold your breath

A black eye for Greenpeace, though. A Dutch court has ordered a freeze on the Greenpeace bank account there while British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. pursues a claim for compensation for shipping delays. Seems that Greenpeace had been blocking nuclear fuel shipments to Japan, causing delays and financial losses. The fuel being shipped by BNFL and the French COGEMA is MOX fuel, containing 10% plutonium. It seems like a great way to get rid of plutonium, by burning it up in reactors. Apparently, Greenpeace does not realize that the standard uranium fuel creates its own plutonium within the fuel element, which is then burned up along with the uranium-without creating any fuss.

According to an editorial article in the Wall Street Journal, European fringe political parties employ scare politics to capitalize on the public's displeasure with the performance of mainstream parties. One such example is the recent scare over the dioxin contamination of Belgian chicken feed, amplified by the European Commission. Given the absence of scientific evidence supporting alarms like the dioxin scare, "…there is little choice but to suspect that motives other than a loyalty to truth are driving the guilty bureaucrats in the EC or in national governments."

In Ottawa, though, Christine Stewart is out and David Anderson is in as Minister for the Environment. The National Post is cautiously optimistic that he will be able to distance Canada from the Kyoto Protocol while keeping the enviros at bay. Given his background, he is unlikely to be browbeaten by pressure groups, the NP predicts. He will be dealing with "the most important economic policy issue facing Canada today."

Meanwhile, the European Union is considering a draft law that would require auto makers to take back, after 2006, all scrapped (post-2001) cars without charge and then be forced to recycle or reuse at least 80% of them by weight. (Believe it or not, this bill has been watered down from an earlier, tougher version.) It must be approved by the European Parliament, against stiff opposition from Germany. However, within Germany, the social-democrat premier of Saarland has attacked chancellor Schroeder (of the same political party) for being too right-wing. We are waiting for the Greens to weigh into the debate against Schroeder. That'll be the end of the "Wirtschaftswunder."

But a backlash may be setting in. The Brits are exempting chlor-alkali producers (i.e., ICI) from the proposed energy tax. (The Ministry of Trade and Industry approves of special provisions for energy-intensive enterprises; so if you use a lot of energy you don't have to pay.) In Germany, the "Bundesminister for Wirtschaft" is encouraging its scientists in Hannover to demonstrate that climate has varied in the past, with lots of global warming and cooling. Stay tuned.


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