Thursday, December 08, 2016
'Remarkable year': What's behind the record low sea ice in Antarctica?
Above is the heading on an article by Peter Hannam appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov. 27. I dealt with it on Nov. 29th., using logic alone.
But Tony Heller has now attacked it using 20th century climate history, which is his specialty. He shows that the principal area of recent sea-ice loss is a polynya (big hole) in the ice of the Weddel sea. He then goes on to show that a very similar hole in the same place also occurred in 1976, when it was attributed to global cooling
So which is it? Does a polynya prove global warming or global cooling? Neither, of course. It is just one of the natural phenomena that we do not understand -- though a guess that it is due to an underwater volcano would probably not be far off. There is a lot of underwater vulcanism at both poles.
Tony also has fun with another claim in the Peter Hannam article that reported ice loss in the Northern hemisphere too. In commenting on that ice loss, Peter said: "With less ice to reflect the sun's radiation to space, more heat is absorbed by the oceans, added to the warming".
Tony's reply to that was crushing on two grounds: "If Peter actually knew anything about the earth, he would know that the sun doesn’t shine in the Arctic in November – and open water in the Arctic Ocean in November allows heat to escape to the much colder air."
Fracking-Contaminated Groundwater: The Myth that Failed
The myth that hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” of oil and natural gas is responsible for the widespread, systemic contamination of groundwater (the stuff you drink) is one that is proving tremendously hard to kill. Like a hoard of Birkenstock-and-white-sock-wearing terminators—and here I paraphrase the film—proponents of fracking bans can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, can’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until fracking is dead.
No matter how many blows they get dealt, they keep on coming. No matter what the scientific literature says, they will not stray from their mission.
When you recognize you are dealing with people who consider the piffle in an anti-fracking piece of Manichaean agitprop like the film Gasland to be holy writ, this isn’t very surprising. The problem, however, is not that the congregation believes these things (cultists gonna cult); the problem is your average layman, who does not follow this issue too closely, is also susceptible to believing these things.
Simply put, despite their hysterical claims and protestations to the contrary, the existing scientific evidence shows hydraulic fracturing processes do not pose a systemic impact on groundwater. The latest blow comes from Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which released a final report earlier this month on drilling activity near the town of Pavillion.
A December 2011 draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that hinted at a link between drilling and water contamination turned Pavillion into a locus of the hydraulic fracturing debate, despite then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stating after the report’s release, “… in no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” EPA officials also expressed concern internally over the “inflammatory and irresponsible” media coverage of the report.
After EPA’s handling of the testing was criticized by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others, EPA turned the investigation over to DEQ in 2013.
The DEQ report concluded drilling activity did not contaminate well water there and that any contaminants found in those wells were likely to be naturally occurring. Further, the monitoring wells EPA drilled were done incorrectly, and the agency itself accidentally introduced the very contaminants that it later detected and reported on.
“Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths utilized by water-supply wells,” states the report’s accompanying fact sheet. “Also, based on an evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history, and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells.”
The DEQ report is no lone wolf. Since 2010, there have been at least 15 of these peer-reviewed studies have been produced, including ones by the Bureau of Economic Geology at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas-Austin, the Department of Geology at the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati, the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources.
The most noteworthy of these is a multi-year study conducted by the EPA itself. Released in June 2015, the study is widely considered to be the most exhaustive research to date on the subject of hydraulic fracturing. The EPA researchers found fracking has not led to systemic impacts on drinking water, stating, “the number of cases where drinking water resources were impacted is small relative to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”
The fracking process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States over the past decade, and the rise of shale gas as a replacement for coal has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. The oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing has enabled us to exploit are cost-effective and abundant, and they can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century.
Federal, state, and local governments have tested thousands of sites for hydraulic fracturing pollution of groundwater and drinking water resources. Flatly, there is no scientific justification for banning hydraulic fracturing or over-regulating it out of existence over concern for groundwater contamination. Regulation should only be based on the best available scientific literature, not on wild, unfounded claims of based on misinformation, fear, and superstition.
EPA May Finally Have to Answer for the Animas River Spill
Remember when the Environmental Protection Agency caused a discharge of 3 million gallons of toxic water into the Animas River, and no one was held accountable? Now the Supreme Court is getting involved.
The toxic spill occurred in August 2015 when EPA workers accidentally caused a leak in an abandoned mine near Durango, Colorado.
Contaminants spread into vital water sources that serve Colorado, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation. The Animas River provides water for drinking, farming, ranching, and tourism in those places.
New Mexico and Colorado are both suing the EPA, and now the Supreme Court has asked the acting solicitor general of the United States, Ian H. Gershengorn, to weigh in on the pending litigation.
This request represents one more chance for the government, and possibly the Trump administration, to hold the EPA accountable for its fiasco.
Accidents by private parties that are remarkably similar to the Animas River spill have led to criminal prosecutions in the past. Consider an example from Alaska:
[One] back-hoe operator accidentally struck an oil pipeline in Alaska in 1994, and 1,000 to 5,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Skagway River. The Environmental Protection Agency had his supervisor—who was at home and off-duty at the time of the accident—criminally prosecuted for negligent discharge under the Clean Water Act.
A district court sentenced him to six months in prison, another six months in a halfway house, another six months on supervised release, and imposed a $5,000 fine.
The article goes on:
A second back-hoe operator accidentally struck open the flooded Gold King Mine of Colorado in August 2015, and 3,000,000 gallons of yellow water laced with mercury, lead, and other toxic heavy metals spilled into the Animas River—a regional source of water for drinking and irrigation. The EPA worked to contain the spill, but it held no one accountable.
The main difference, of course, is the second back-hoe operator happened to work for the EPA.
In October, the Office of the Inspector General, which investigates waste, fraud, and abuse within federal agencies, told congressional staff that “it had found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the EPA” in relation to the Animas River spill. That included “providing false statements in a criminal investigation and violation of the Clean Water Act.”
But the Department of Justice refused to do anything about it, despite the fact that it routinely goes after private parties for relatively trivial acts, such as the Skagway River spill mentioned above, and a separate incident involving the discharge of “1,000 gallons of sewage into a ditch connected to a local reservoir.”
Taking the EPA to Task
The New Mexico attorney general and the Navajo Nation did what the federal government refused to do: “hold [the agency] to the same standards that [it] would anyone that would have created this situation,” something that EPA Regional Director Shaun McGrath had promised the agency would do right after the spill occurred.
Both New Mexico and the Navajo Nation sued the EPA in federal court. Specifically, New Mexico filed suit against the EPA, Gina McCarthy in her official capacity as EPA administrator, the EPA’s excavation contractor, and several mining companies, requesting “full and just compensation” for the environmental and economic damage caused by the EPA’s spill.
The Navajo Nation’s complaint argued that “after one of the most significant environmental catastrophes in history, the Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected, or their way of life restored.”
New Mexico Sues Colorado
New Mexico also sued the state of Colorado in the Supreme Court, claiming that the EPA’s spill “was the coup de grâce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”
New Mexico argues that Colorado should be held responsible for lingering pollution at several mine sites, and for the “hazardous conditions” that led to the EPA turning the Animas River yellow.
As part of the long, complex history of regional mines, some Colorado government officials authorized a mining company to plug drainage tunnels below several mines, causing “the mine’s tunnels and workings [to] fill with potentially billions of gallons of water, essentially transforming the mine into an enormous wastewater storage facility.”
US Supreme Court: What Does the Executive Branch Think?
Now the Supreme Court has asked Gershengorn to file a brief in New Mexico v. Colorado expressing the Obama administration’s views on the matter. The solicitor general represents the executive branch in litigation before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s request is important because the EPA is ultimately responsible for the Animas River spill. This request provides a further opportunity to discover unpublished facts about the cause of the Animas River spill.
President Barack Obama’s Justice Department has refused to prosecute anyone at the EPA, which sends a clear signal as to what it thinks on the matter.
On Oct. 12, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Natural Resources sent a stinging letter to the Justice Department.
“By not taking up the case,” the congressmen wrote, Justice officials “give the appearance of hypocrisy, and seem to indicate that there is one set of rules for private citizens and another for the federal government. The EPA disaster deserves the same level of accountability to which private citizens are held.”
But on Friday, Jan. 20, there will be a new administration at the helm of the Justice Department. And this new administration might have a new perspective on the matter.
If Obama’s DOJ does not act before Jan. 20, a Trump DOJ could send the Supreme Court a brief with a very similar opinion to what Congress and the public have expressed. And the EPA might have to publicly defend its actions before Congress again.
That could become tougher for the agency, because its sole defense for the ongoing lack of accountability is invalid.
The EPA’s Special Pleading
At a June oversight hearing, members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works asked Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, why the agency had not taken action against any parties responsible for the spill.
Giles stated that “law and enforcement distinguishes between the company who makes and releases pollution and the entities that are trying to respond and clean up pollution that other people created.”
But the EPA is wrong. For proof, read the text of the Clean Water Act, the implementing regulations, and opinions by the Supreme Court and two federal circuits. They all make clear that the government is subject to the Clean Water Act in the same manner as private parties.
The only basis for the EPA’s position is a 2012 EPA memorandum co-authored by Giles herself. But the EPA cannot exempt itself from federal criminal law.
Perhaps the solicitor general will agree. According to their October letter, key members of Congress certainly do.
Thus, the Supreme Court’s request for the solicitor general to get involved provides more opportunity for the federal government to make a choice: Either stop criminally prosecuting private parties for mere accidents, or hold its own actors to the same standards and penalties.
California's New Cow Fart Regulations Totally Stink
New law aims to reduce bovine flatulance, but will the cows obey?
Livestock are responsible for roughly 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, but if you think getting people to stop driving their cars or using electricity is a difficult task, good luck preventing cows from farting.
California is going to try.
"This bill curbs these dangerous pollutants and thereby protects public health and slows climate change," said Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement when he signed the bill in September, against the wishes of the state's farmers.
The law won't stop cows from farting, of course, because cows are notoriously disrespectful of human-passed laws. Instead, it will make life more difficult for dairy farmers in California.
Dairy farms will be required to reduce methane emissions to 40 percent below their 2013 levels by 2030. The state will spend $50 million help offset the cost of so-called "dairy digesters," which are intended to capture methane spewed from cows and convert it into electricity. After that, the state's Air Resources Board will have the authority to set whatever regulations they deem necessary to reach the stated goal.
Cow farts—or "bovine entric fermentation" if you want to sound smart—pump a lot of methane into the environment. A single cow can produce up to 130 gallons of methane in a single day (even that's not as bad as what dinosaur farts could do), and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Even if California were to find a way to stop cows from farting—or, more likely, if it were to regulate all its dairy farms out of existence—there would be a miniscule impact on global methane levels. California isn't even the leading producer of agricultural methane in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
On a global scale, the tiny microbes that grow on the roots of rice plants produce 30 percent of all agricultural methane on Earth.
California's not the first to target cows in an effort to rein-in global warming. Some ethical vegetarian groups have allied with global warming activists to call for reducing the number of cows in Africa.
The attack on dairy cows is part of a broader effort to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Doing that means giving a lot more power ot the state's Air Resources Board, which now finds itself in the business of regulating what comes out of bovine buttocks. According to an Associated Press report this week, the board is hoping California's proposal will be a model for other states to follow.
Rolling back environmental progress?
Having achieved major goals, US should refocus EPA and other environmental agencies
Donald Trump plans to “roll back progress” on climate change, energy and the environment, activists, regulators and their media allies assert. The claim depends on one’s definition of “progress.”
These interest groups define “progress” as ever-expanding laws, regulations, bureaucracies and power, to bring air and water emissions of every description down to zero, to prevent diseases that they attribute to manmade pollutants and forestall “dangerous manmade climate change.” Achieving those goals requires controlling nearly every facet of our economy, industries, lives, livelihoods and living standards.
If we are talking about halting and reversing this unbridled federal control, President-Elect Trump has promised to roll “progress” back – and not a moment too soon, if we are to rejuvenate our economy.
Federal land, resource and environmental agencies have unleashed tsunamis of regulations in recent years, and President Obama is poised to issue many more before January 20. The total cost of complying with federal rules was about $1 trillion annually in 2006. It has since doubled, raising the federal reporting and compliance burden to $6,000 per person per year, through late-2016.
The Obama Administration has thus far imposed some $743 billion of those new costs, via 4,432 new rules requiring 754 million hours of paperwork, according to a new American Action Forum analysis. The $2 trillion cumulative annual tab is more than all federal individual and corporate taxes collected in 2015; includes 10 billion hours dealing with paperwork; and does not include state or local regulations. Land use and environmental compliance costs account for a sizable and growing portion of this total.
These costs hogtie innovation, job creation and economic growth. They make millions unemployed.
So let us examine “progress” against two other standards: (1) pollution reductions to date; and (2) the validity of claims used to justify ever more burdensome and expensive environmental regulations.
We can never have zero pollution. The laws of diminishing returns increasingly come into play: getting rid of the last 10% can cost as much as eliminating the initial 90% and is rarely needed. And we cannot control nature’s pollution: volcanoes, forest fires, poisonous algae blooms, deep ocean vents, erosion of rocks bearing mercury and other toxic substances, and other sources.
However, we can reach the point where remaining pollutants pose few or no health risks – and we have largely done so. Since 1970, America’s cars have eliminated nearly 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes, notes Air Quality in America co-author Joel Schwartz. Refiners have eliminated lead from gasoline and reduced its sulfur content by some 95% – while coal-fired power plants now remove 80-95% of the particulates, mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that they emitted in 1970.
Asthma may be rising, but it’s certainly not because of pollution rates that have fallen dramatically.
Water quality has also skyrocketed. Along the river where I grew up in Wisconsin, a dozen pairs of bald eagles now nest where there were none when I was a kid, when you couldn’t eat the fish or swim in the polluted water. The same thing happened across the USA. Other problems remain to be addressed.
As President-Elect Trump has quipped, “It used to be that cars were made in Flint, and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico. Now our cars are made in Mexico, and you can’t drink the water in Flint.”
That’s because local officials and the USEPA didn’t do their jobs – didn’t monitor or fix failing, corroded lead water pipes. Repairing Flint’s system, and addressing water and sewer problems in other cities, will cost billions of dollars. If we are forced to spend tens or hundreds of billions on exaggerated, fabricated or imaginary risks, there will be little left to resolve our remaining real health problems.
Let us celebrate our progress, and turn our attention to real problems that still must be corrected. Let us also examine claims used to justify regulations – and roll back rules that don’t pass scientific muster.
EPA insists that saving fuel and reducing pollution from now super-clean vehicles requires that cars and light trucks get 54.5 mpg by 2025. But achieving this will force people to drive smaller, lighter, more plasticized, less safe cars – and millions more will be maimed and killed. EPA doesn’t mention that, or acknowledge that fracking ensures another century of oil and gasoline: time to devise new energy sources.
Above all, though, the Environmental Protection Agency’s reason for being, for wanting to steadily expand its budget and personnel, for seeking to regulate our farms, factories, homes and energy supplies, for trying to drive entire industries into bankruptcy – is its assertion that humans are causing catastrophic climate change, thereby endangering human health and welfare. The claims do not withstand scrutiny.
Even as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise – spurring plant growth worldwide – except during the strong 2015-16 El Niño, average global temperatures have remained steady for 18 years. Polar and Greenland ice caps, sea levels, hurricanes, floods and droughts refuse to behave in accord with climate chaos claims, computer model predictions, or EPA and Obama White House assertions.
Meanwhile, as EPA moves to impose its “Clean Power Plan” and other draconian rules, developed and developing nations alike are building new coal-fired power plants every week, greatly expanding their oil and gas use, and reducing wind and solar subsidies. Even EPA analyses recognize that ending nearly all US fossil fuel use will prevent an undetectable global temperature rise of just 0.02 degrees by 2100.
So EPA has tried to justify its job and economy-killing climate change and coal eradication rules by claiming they will bring huge “ancillary” health benefits. Those claims too are pure hogwash.
US coal-fired power plants emit less than 0.5% of all the mercury that enters Earth’s atmosphere every year from Asian power plants, forest fires, volcanoes, subsea vents and geysers. EPA nonetheless claims its rules will magically bring benefits like an imperceptible 0.00209-point improvement in IQ scores!
The agency also says banning coal-fired power plants will reduce “carcinogenic” and “lethal” levels of microscopic particulate matter (soot) in America’s air. But EPA has no medical evidence that what is still in our air poses actual problems. In fact, EPA-funded researchers illegally subjected human test subjects – including elderly, asthmatic, diabetic and cardiac patients – to 8, 30 or even 60 times more soot per volume (for up to two hours) than what EPA claims is dangerous or lethal. And yet, no one got sick.
Obviously, EPA’s air quality standards and dire warnings about soot are totally out of whack with reality.
The federal government next concocted what it calls the “social cost of carbon” framework. It assigns a price to using carbon-based fuels and emitting carbon dioxide, by blaming US fossil fuels and CO2 for every imaginable and imaginary “harm” to wildlife, climate and humans worldwide. It completely ignores the enormous and undeniable benefits of using those fuels, the equally important benefits of plant-fertilizing CO2, and horrendous damage that would result from eliminating 81% of America’s energy.
Indeed, EPA and other regulators routinely ignore the impacts that their draconian regulations have on people’s jobs, living standards, health and welfare – including reduced or lost incomes, lower nutrition, welfare dependency, drug and alcohol abuse, and shorter life spans. They then present scientists, “health” and “environmental” organizations and advisory committees that approve and applaud the regulations anyway – often because the agencies pay them millions of dollars a year to do so.
That’s how bureaucrats remain powerful, unaccountable and immune from being fired or having to compensate victims for their incompetent or even deliberate falsifications and actions. We end up being protected from exaggerated and fabricated risks, years or decades from now – by having jobs, companies, industries, families, communities, and our overall health and welfare hammered by over-regulation today.
America’s voters rejected this agenda. Over 90% of the nation’s counties voted to Trump the bridge hand to tyranny. We do not want to roll back true environmental progress. But we do demand a return to sanity, science, and honest consideration of our overall health, welfare and “human environment” in approving regulations that govern our lives. Let’s insist that the new Congress and Administration do exactly that.
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Posted by JR at 1:32 AM