|The Week That Was
May 31-June 6, 1999
The Week That Was (May 31 to June 6) brought to you by SEPP
Hot news: President Clinton issued an Executive Order on June 3, requiring the Federal Government to reduce energy usage drastically. If enforced, it may even shut it down…something that activists have been trying to accomplish by less peaceful means. In the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol, each Executive agency must make its building 35% more energy-efficient by 2010, and will be required to use more solar and wind power. All this will save the government $750 million per year in "life-cycle" costs, the White House claims, without telling over how many years. The Executive Order instructs the agencies, however, on how they should go about increasing their budgets to meet the new requirements.
Our comments: What an imaginative way of reducing the size and impact of the federal government…even if it puts the agencies in the business of generating electricity by mounting solar panels and running wind turbines. It will transform the Washington landscape in more ways than one.
At the request of House Committee on Science, the Energy Information Administration has analyzed the potential impacts of the White House Climate Change Technology Initiative. CCTI is a $1.8-billion program that includes "tax incentives, research, development, deployment, and other spending…" The EIA report found that the tax credits for energy conservation would reduce primary energy consumption by only 0.03%. Tax credits for biomass and wind-powered generation would reduce consumption by only 0.06%. "We are not able to link R&D expenditures directly to program results," said the EIA. The total impact of all the tax benefits amount to a reduction of only 0.17 percent by 2010. At a five year cost of $3.6 billion, that works out to a rather pricey $1200 per metric ton of carbon. But according to the DOE, of which the EIA is a part, the report is, "of limited usefulness in any objective evaluation of the initiative." You can form your own judgment by looking at www.eia.doe.gov.
[Although investment tax credits reduce initial cost there is no guarantee that energy savings will result unless consumers learn to turn off lights and keep their refrigerators closed.]
In the meantime, Al Gore, who has been claiming that government programs to force efficiency standards and develop renewable energy would create jobs [see web], has been unable to persuade labor unions, who continue to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. They understand quite well that over-regulation destroys productive jobs by closing down factories and mines, replacing them with environmental record keepers and lawyers. We'll just have another government program to retrain these millions of workers, from coal miners into environmental publicists. Of course, if one simply wants to create jobs with no useful output, one can just have a gang of men digging holes and another gang filling them in again.
In Europe, however, the Trade Union Confederation is convinced that the Kyoto Protocol can fix long-standing high unemployment levels. They know this because of studies from governmental environmental agencies. One European country that succeeded in reducing CO2 emissions is Russia, but it has not created new opportunities for employment.
We recently had a chance to debate Sir David Jenkins, retired leading oil geologist for British Petroleum. He reputedly pushed BP into announcing its support of Kyoto, which made him and Sir John Browne, head of BP, heroic leaders to some. The Energy Daily, however, remarked: "All he [JB] has actually promised to do is to reduce BP's flared gas, pumping power, and refinery effluent. He didn't mention that all of these are losses from their production stream. The net increase in production efficiency should increase their profit margins. In addition, the marketing benefit of appearing as a 'green' should increase their sales. I didn't see any action that represents a real sacrifice."
More power to you, JB! We applaud BP's recognition that operating efficiency and loss reduction are good management. But what's with this cloak of sacrificial nobility and parading as a supporter of the global warming "threat." Or are we being too cynical?
From oil to water…. Hot news from the Dallas Morning News: Old-style, high flush-capacity toilets are being smuggled into the United States from Mexico and Canada. But in Texas it is illegal to sell any toilet that does not appear on the approved list of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the law, and penalties range from $25 to $500 per each illegal unit sold.
Manufactures have come out with high-tech, vacuum-assisted flush commodes to combat problems with the low-flow toilets. But high-end models sell for $250 to $400, and a Japanese firm has produced an electric toilet that retails for about $1000. H.R. 623, a bill to repeal the federal toilet mandate, has 30 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.
And now for some clean-water news: The EPA is still trying to use the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act to set a maximum level for radon in drinking water, which would cost water suppliers a "paltry" $270 million per year. Last fall, a panel of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences dutifully released a report on the risks of radon in drinking water. Their conclusion is that smoking amplifies any radon hazard. Like all such studies, it was based on a linear-no-threshold extrapolation of data from uranium miners. In any case, Robert Parks of the American Physical Society poo-poos the danger of radon escaping from water. He feels compelled, however, to warn his readers against smoking in the shower.
According to the American Society for Microbiology, microbes and viruses rather than chemical substances are the most dangerous to humans. More than 900,000 people get sick and 9000 die each year in the U.S. from microbial infections, mostly individuals with weakened immune systems. But the EPA is still pursuing chemicals single-mindedly, and even wants to put into effect a zero tolerance level for chloroform, which would make it impossible to chlorinate drinking water. This, after EPA proposed raising the chloroform level from zero to 300 parts per billion based on the recommendation of its own scientists. But that was before the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) got into the act and urged the EPA to reject the hypothesis that there is a threshold for carcinogenic effects of chlorine in drinking water. Apparently, the ideological position of denying the existence of thresholds is more important than saving lives.
Saving souls, a coalition of churches and synagogues has launched a 10-year, $16-million campaign to educate Americans about ecology. The meeting, addressed by Senator Joseph Lieberman, included leaders of business and labor and Dr. Sherwood Rowland, a Nobel laureate "who discovered the hole in the ozone layer," according to the religion editor of the Washington Times. Not quite true; the hole is mainly in Rowland's theory, which never predicted the existence of the Antarctic ozone thinning (popularly referred to as a "hole"). Of course, it's too early to tell where this campaign will lead to. The announced $16 million represents pledges by the four members of the partnership, but there is already an executive director and mention of the issue of climate change and of social justice. The funding will go towards pro-environmental worship materials, training for clergy, and scholarly conferences. We recall getting a fax alert last year from the American Policy Center, claiming that the NRPE is funded with "massive grants" from Pew Charitable Trusts, the Turner Foundation and W.Alton Jones Foundation. The fax described the NRPE in rather picturesque terms as "a UN front group of anti-Christian, earth-worshipping pagans operating out of the Gaia Institute and the Temple of Understanding, located in New York City." We are not sure about this pagan business, but would suggest that you keep an eye on this enterprise and discuss with your priest, minister, or rabbi how to opt out.
Peace unto you……