Thursday, February 13, 2014
Time to reform the Endangered Species Act
By Marita Noon
If you find oil or natural gas on your property, the value goes up. If you find an endangered species, your land becomes virtually worthless because the critter prevents productive use.
Most people would be excited to have a Jed-Clampet moment when, while hunting for dinner, the shot resulted in bubbling crude coming up from the ground. Like the Clampet family, your life would change dramatically. Your land would suddenly be worth more than you’d ever dreamed!
If, while hunting for dinner, you instead find an endangered species — the half-jest, half-serious advice would be “shoot, shovel and shut up.” Kent Holsinger, a Colorado attorney whose work centers around endangered species issues, told me that he has seen many landowners lose significant value due to a listed species being found on their property.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon to preserve, protect and recover key domestic species. Though well-intentioned at the start, the ESA has since been used as a tool to hinder or block economic activity from logging and farming to mining and oil-and-gas development — often to protect species that don’t truly need it.
In my book, Energy Freedom, I feature an entire chapter on the spotted owl because it gives us a beginning-to-end case history on the ESA. The spotted owl was listed as an endangered species on June 26, 1990, and has since shut down a substantial part of federal timber harvest and threatens logging on private lands.
I start the chapter with these words: “It is hard to imagine a bigger failure — or a greater success — depending upon which side of the issue you stand. If you strive for open and honest government policy that is straightforward about its goals, this twenty-year experiment has failed. If you believe the end justifies the means, regardless of the cost in life or livelihood, then the spotted owl represents a great success.”
I sum it up this way: “the spotted owl threatens private property rights, kills jobs, and puts the health of the forest in peril.” All that, and the owls have not “recovered.”
I’ve been very active in the fight to prevent the listing of the sand dune lizard in the oil patch of West Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin — which produces about 15 percent of U.S. oil. (Thanks to conservation agreements with private industry, the lizard was not listed.) I emceed the Roswell, New Mexico, rally to draw attention to the five-state lesser prairie chicken listing threat — which would, again, impact oil-and-gas development.
(The Western Governors Association has been working with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to develop a similar range-wide plan to protect the chicken while allowing for economic development. The listing decision is due by March 30, 2014.)
Coming up is the greater sage grouse — “a chicken-sized bird that has been in decline across large portions of its 11-state Western range. A final decision on whether to protect sage grouse is due next year and could result in wide-ranging restrictions on oil and gas development, agriculture and other economic activity,” reports the Associated Press (AP).
The delta smelt—that most of us first heard of in 2009 — is, once again, back in the news.
California is facing a severe drought that Governor Jerry Brown has called “an emergency.” A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article examines “How green politics has exacerbated the state’s growing shortages.” It lists water rationing, forbidden sprinkler use, and restaurants serving water by-request-only as some of the ramifications of California’s historic drought.
But, the WSJ states: “Suffering the most are farmers south of the delta whose water allocations have plunged over the last two decades due to endangered-species protections.” It continues: “California’s biggest water hog is the three-inch smelt, which can divert up to one million acre-feet in a wet year. In 2008, federal regulators at the prodding of green groups restricted water exports south to protect the smelt.”
The Bakersfield Californian cites Larry Starrah, a local farmer, whose family has been “forced to let 1,000 acres of productive almond trees die this year for lack of water.” The January 22 article faults the “delta smelt and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.”
(Note: if your property has lost value due to an endangered species finding or if the federal government suddenly decides it is a protected wetland in violation of the National Wetlands Act — which can happen even though it has never been wet — have the property reassessed. In such cases, others have successfully had their property taxes dramatically lowered due to the fact it can never developed and is therefore less valuable. Imagine how the attitude about ESA and restrictions on wetlands would change if county governments’ property tax collections and revenues plummeted due to such punitive designations.)
To help alleviate the California water crisis, House Speaker John Boehner was in Bakersfield, with lawmakers from California, to tout legislation that would, according to Reuters: “roll back environmental rules limiting how much water agencies can pump out of the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta in dry years.” At a press conference Boehner said: “It’s nonsense that a bureaucracy would favor fish over people.” But, that is what the ESA requires.
The WSJ reports: Senator Dianne Feinstein “and her fellow California Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno urged federal agencies to ‘exercise their discretion in regulatory decision-making within the confines of the law to deliver more water to those whose health and livelihoods depend on it’” — which indicates that even the most radical of liberal politicians realize the problems they have created.
No wonder, many people believe it is time for the ESA to be overhauled.
In a letter to the WSJ, Greg Schildwachter applauds environmentalist Timothy Male for acknowledging that the ESA has flaws, as he did in his January 16 op-ed: “A green olive branch on endangered species.”
Schildwachter sums up the problem: “The ESA leaves rights to property and species up to anyone’s guess and, therefore, to no one’s satisfaction.” He also offers a solution: “Before ESA, starting in the 1930s, wildlife conservation produced results. Sportsmen and sporting-equipment industries joined with government to restore deer, elk and other then-depleted wildlife.
This worked politically because it added — instead of taking — value. It worked in policy because money improved field work instead of sharpening legal briefs. Something like it can work today.” Within his letter, Schildwachter points out: “The Interior Department inspector general concluded that lawsuits ‘are driving nearly everything [FWS] does in the ESA arena.’”
In a second letter published in the January 31 WSJ, Kyle Donovan called the lawsuits brought by environmental groups: “nuisance litigation.” his op-ed, Male says: The “mixed record on wildlife restoration — and the real and perceived impact it has on business — has turned the ESA into a partisan playing field.”
The aforementioned AP piece states: “Throughout its history, the law has faced criticism from business interests, Republicans and others.” And continues: “Those complaints grew louder in recent months after federal wildlife officials agreed to consider protections for more than 250 additional species under settlement terms in lawsuits brought by environmental groups” — an arrangement frequently referred to as “sue and settle.” If federal officials can add hundreds more “endangered species” to their protected list, development can be easily halted almost everywhere in the country.
The ESA has few friends outside of environmental lobbyists and attorneys. It was last updated in 1988. Holsinger explained it to me this way: “When the ESA was last amended, the Soviet Union was a superpower and Def Leppard was on the pop charts. It is high time that Congress modernized and improved this law to reflect what we now know.”
As we’ve seen with the sand dune lizard—and hope to see with the lesser prairie chicken — there are ways to successfully assist species that are truly in danger without putting species in conflict with people.
This is the goal of a brand-new report released on February 4 by the ESA Congressional Working Group led by Representatives Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and eleven others. Formed on May 19, 2013, The Working Group, according to the mission and purpose statement, “sought to examine the ESA from a variety of viewpoints and angles; receive input on how the ESA was working and being implemented and how and whether it could be updated to be more effective for both people and species.”
The report reflects hundreds of comments from outside individuals and testimony from nearly 70 witnesses who appeared before a Working Group forum and House Natural Resources Committee hearings. It concludes: “After more than 40 years, sensible, targeted reforms would not only improve the eroding credibility of the Act, but would ensure it is implemented more effectively for species and people.”
Rep. Lummis points out the tremendous conservation advances that have been made since the ESA became law:
“The American people have grown by leaps and bounds in their understanding of conservation, their willingness to conserve species, and their ability to conserve species — the ESA needs to grow with them. The ESA is stuck in a litigation driven model. This outdated model hinders the boots on the ground conservation we should be harnessing to actually recover endangered species, not just spout flowery rhetoric about the law in courtrooms. Our report is an exciting opportunity to bring the ESA into the next millennia.”
The report recommends constructive changes to the ESA in the following four categories:
Ensuring greater transparency and prioritization of ESA with a focus on species recovery and delisting;
Reducing ESA litigation and encouraging settlement reform;
Empowering states, tribes, local governments and private landowners on ESA decisions affecting them and their property; and
Requiring more transparency and accountability of ESA data and science.
Regarding the proposed changes, the AP states: “experts say broad changes to one of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington, D.C.” And: “Given the current level of rancor between Democrats and Republicans, academics who track the law were skeptical that the latest calls for change would succeed.”
Such statements highlight the importance of supporting the representatives behind the new report, encouragement of all other representatives and senators to sign on to the proposed reforms—and the importance of the 2014 election. As the AP points out: the ESA “enjoys fervent support among many environmentalists, whose Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have thwarted past proposals for change.”
Instead of shoot, shovel and shut up, key domestic species that should be preserved, protected and recovered would be better served by targeted legislative changes that can truly benefit species and people.
Ice Expert Predicts Lake Superior Will Completely Freeze Over This Winter
Lake Superior hasn’t completely frozen over in two decades.
But an expert on Great Lakes ice says there’s a “very high likelihood” that the three-quadrillion-gallon lake will soon be totally covered with ice thanks to this winter’s record-breaking cold.
The ice cover on the largest freshwater lake in the world hit a 20-year record of 91 percent on Feb. 5, 1994.
Jay Austin, associate professor at the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth, Minn., told CNSNews.com that he expects that record will be broken this winter when the most northern of the Great Lakes becomes totally shrouded in ice.
The thickness of the ice on Lake Superior “varies tremendously,” from a very thin sheet in some areas near the coast to several feet thick in other spots, Austin says. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the mean thickness of the lake ice is 26 cm, or a little over 10 inches.
Lake Superior ice thickness
Austin attributes the large amount of ice on the lake to the “extraordinary cold winter we’ve had,” pointing out that Duluth recently experienced an all-time record of 23 straight days of below-zero temperatures.
The previous record of 22 days was set in 1936 and tied in 1963, according to the National Weather Service.
Austin, who studies the effect of lake ice, predicts that it will have a “very strong influence” on the regional climate this summer, with the “air conditioning [lake] effect” more pronounced than usual.
“Typically, the lake will start warming up in late June, but it will be August before we see that this year,” Austin told CNSNews.com.
As of February 10th, ice covered 80.4 percent of all the Great Lakes, compared to 38.4 percent last winter, according to NOAA. That’s considerably higher than the lake’s long-term average of 51.4 percent under ice.
The record for maximum ice coverage of 94.7 percent was set in 1979. The lowest ice accumulation occurred in 2002, when just 9.5 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes was frozen solid.
EPA's New Clean Coal Rule Would Increase Power Prices by 70 to 80 Percent
Well it appears the Department of Energy, which has long lobbied for more clean energy, is now finding that this clean energy is a lot more expensive than they thought it would be. The Obama administration’s plan to fight global warming was to limit carbon dioxide from new power plants. So in order for new coal plants to be built, they would need to spend a lot of money on carbon capture and storage technology.
I guess the EPA then forgot to think about the next logical step. If the power plants have to spend more money on this technology, they are going to have to pay for it somehow; hence the higher prices for consumers.
The deputy assistant secretary for clean coal at the Department of Energy told House lawmakers that this new technology will cause wholesale electricity prices to rise by 70 or 80 percent.
So what doesn’t seem to be clear is why this even becoming law. This is not helping the American people. Even though these are the estimates for the first generation of increases, the second generation is not much better and is still higher than what we currently pay.
I don’t know about you, but I thought the government was supposed to be helping me. Instead these new “clean coal” laws are hurting me. Energy is already so expensive, and without exploring more energy resources, we are not going to be able to afford this much longer.
Torch bearing radicals descend on pipeline executive’s home
It’s the kind of scene we’d like to think we’d put behind us. Yet here it is again. How would you like to look outside and see masked radicals with torches on your front lawn?
That’s what greeted Mark Maki and his family. Maki was targeted for this shameful act of intimidation because he is a member of the board of Enbridge Energy Management which works with oil pipelines.
The masked perpetrators refused to identify themselves, or their group, claiming only that they represent “the people.” Their banner includes the words “solidarity means attack!” The age of the eco-terrorist is upon us.
This comes at a time when both parties are coming around to the realization that pipelines are the safest, most economical and environmentally sound way to move petroleum, particularly after several bad train accidents.
The radicals are in danger of losing the pipeline issue and they know it. Their response is to act out and threaten sabotage.
Not too long ago Marc Morano, who edits CFACT’s award-winning Climate Depot Morano interviews pipeline protesternews and information service, asked an anti-pipeline protestor if they were ready to engage in “eco-terrorism.” The protestor replied that they would do “whatever it takes” to prevent the project. It appears now that such threats are more than mere hyperbole. Law enforcement needs to be on alert.
The most high profile pipeline project in the country right now is the Keystone XL. It has been the subject of years of wasteful and foolish obstruction. It is time for President Obama to end all delays, listen to his own State Department, pick up his vaunted pen, sign his name and authorize Keystone XL once and for all.
Paul Driessen has the facts on Keystone XL at CFACT.org. They are important.
Mister President, the time has come. Authorize Keystone XL today. Will you side with ignorance, radicalism and intimidation, or the economic, energy and environmental needs of the nation?
No American, no matter who they are or where they stand, should ever fear threats from masked radicals with torches outside their home again.
Such intimidation cannot be tolerated.
Europe’s New Climate Targets: Myth & Reality
On 22 January, the outgoing European Commission (EC) proposed new EU-wide CO2 emissions and renewables targets for 2030 which will be discussed by the European Council in the next 12 months.
This announcement was reported in the media as if the EU has already adopted these aggressive, new targets. However, this is not the case.
If agreed by the European Council, the CO2 emissions target would only be offered as a conditional pledge during the 2015 international negotiations on climate change in Paris.
In its press release, the Commission states: “The Commission invites the Council and the European Parliament to agree by the end of 2014 that the EU should pledge the 40% reduction in early 2015 as part of the international negotiations on a new global climate agreement due to be concluded in Paris at the end of 2015.”
In light of deep splits among EU member states, there are considerable uncertainties about what will happen to these proposals:
(i) There is no certainty that the proposed targets will remain as stringent as currently proposed.
(ii) There is no guarantee of a final EU agreement before the UN climate summit in Paris in 2015.
(iii) In the event that no global CO2 emissions treaty is agreed in 2015, the EU’s conditional pledge may not be enacted.
This uncertainty has significant implications for the UK’s climate policy, with a real prospect of UK emissions targets being scaled back significantly in line with EU targets.
Solar Thermal Technology Poses Challenges for Drought-Stricken California
Reducing water consumption at solar thermal plants raises costs and decreases power production
California’s ambitious goal of getting a third of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 is being tested by its driest year on record, part of a multiyear drought that’s seriously straining water supplies. The state plan relies heavily on solar thermal technology, but this type of solar power also typically consumes huge quantities of water.
The drought is already forcing solar thermal power plant developers to use alternative cooling approaches to reduce water consumption. This will both raise costs and decrease electricity production, especially in the summer months when demand for electricity is high. Several research groups across the country are developing ways to reduce those costs and avoid reductions in power output.
Solar thermal power plants use large fields of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat water, producing steam that spins power-plant turbines. Utilities like them because their power output is much less variable than power from banks of solar panels (see “BrightSource Pushes Ahead on Another Massive Solar Thermal Plant” and “Sharper Computer Models Clear the Way for More Wind Power”).
The drawbacks are that solar thermal plants generate large amounts of waste heat, and they consume a lot of water for cooling, which is usually done by evaporating water. Solar thermal plants can consume twice as much water as fossil fuel power plants, and one recently proposed solar thermal project would have consumed about 500 million gallons of water a year.
A technology called dry cooling, which has started appearing in power plants in the last 10 years or so, can cut that water consumption by 90 percent. Instead of evaporating water to cool the plant, the technology keeps the water contained in a closed system. As it cools the power plant, the water heats up and is then circulated through huge, eight-story cooling towers that work much like the radiator in a car.
Dry cooling technology costs from two and a half to five times more than conventional evaporative cooling systems. And it doesn’t work well on hot days, sometimes forcing power plant operators to cut back on power production. In the summer, this can decrease power production by 10 to 15 percent, says Jessica Shi, a technical program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute. On extremely hot days, power production might be reduced even more than that.
One approach to solving this problem is to oversize the cooling system so that it can deliver enough cooling even on hot days. That’s the approach taken by the developers of California’s new Ivanpah solar thermal plant, which is about to start production (see “World’s Largest Solar Thermal Power Plant Delivers Power for the First Time”). But it adds to the cost of an already expensive system.
More than a dozen research groups funded by the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Science Foundation are developing ways to avoid the current problems with dry cooling technology. One project uses a conventional evaporative cooling system but captures the water vapor to reuse it. Others are working to improve the efficiency of dry cooling towers so that they can be made smaller and cheaper. A third approach is to use nanoparticles in the cooling fluid to improve its ability to absorb heat. And new designs that improve air circulation could reduce the size and cost of cooling towers.
The drought and water shortage that California is undergoing will increase the costs associated with solar thermal power, but they aren’t likely to bring the spread of the technology screeching to a halt. While dry cooling costs far more than conventional water cooling, it accounts for a relatively small part of the total cost of a plant—about five percent of around $2 billion.
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Posted by JR at 6:42 PM