Friday, March 27, 2020

Virtue Signaling of Plastic Bag Ban Ends Quickly in a Pandemic

Mindless virtue signaling doesn’t fare well in a real crisis.

As the nation and the world confronts a deadly pandemic, and citizens, businesses, and governments do all they can to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus, some useless measures instituted in less turbulent times will go by the wayside.

One of these useless measures is plastic bag bans, which have been proliferating in recent years with the aid of environmentalist activists.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued an order Saturday telling all grocery and retail stores to move away from reusable bags and transition to disposable plastic and paper bags.

“Our grocery store workers are on the front lines of #COVID19, working around the clock to keep NH families fed,” Sununu, a Republican, said on Twitter. “With identified community transmission, it is important that shoppers keep their reusable bags at home given the potential risk to baggers, grocers, and customers.”

This comes just over two months after the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed legislation to ban plastic bags in the state. The legislation remains in committee in the state Senate.

New Hampshire is not alone.

New York state has put its recently passed ban on plastic bags on hold for now.

In fact, states and cities around the country have been suspending their plastic bag bans too. And there is a growing call for places that still have the bans in place to bring them to an end during the outbreak.

These actions reveal the fact that not only are the bans marginal or even detrimental in their environmental impact—more on that later—but they are also a public health hazard.

Reusable plastic tote bags are a good carrier for bacteria and viruses, the coronavirus included. As John Tierney wrote for City Journal, numerous studies have provided evidence that reusable bags are unsanitary.

In one study that Tierney highlighted, published in the Journal of Environmental Health in 2018, researchers planted a surrogate virus on the bags of three shoppers who went into grocery stores. After they bought their groceries and checked out, researchers found the virus “on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries.”

This is a scary prospect as countless Americans have their only contact with the general public when they go to grocery stores, making the efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 much more difficult.

Of course, some climate activists aren’t going to be dissuaded, even at this time.

Larissa Copello de Souza, a campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, said, according to The Wall Street Journal: “We cannot forget and disregard the other big current challenges we are also currently facing.”

By this she means climate change and plastic buildup.

“Promoting the use of reusables is certainly one of the greatest practices we can have to address those issues,” Souza said.

The problem with this mentality, beside perhaps misplaced priorities, is that the plastic bag bans are ineffectual even if the primary concern is the environment.

A study in Australia by University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor demonstrated that bans on plastic shopping bags do not significantly cut down on waste; more people buy thick garbage bags to line their trash cans after the bans are put in place.

The bottom line is, the current crisis has revealed the misguided nature of plastic bag bans, and now cities and states must move quickly to prevent these bans from exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic.

In the coming days, Americans will have to take many actions and adjust their lives to stop the spread of COVID-19. Serious times and serious matters will force us to abandon virtue signaling and restore common sense.

Suspending bans on plastic bags is a good sign that’s happening already.


Dead weight: The problem with plug-in hybrids

The batteries and electric motors in hybrids are HEAVY so damage fuel economy if little used

Plug-in hybrids took a blow recently when the government included their like, as well as conventional hybrids, in the 2035 ban of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. Is the inclusion fair?

In terms of what they actually emit in so-called ‘real-world conditions’, quite possibly, in spite of the technology. New research has suggested that PHEVs emit as much as three-times their homologated figures for CO2, and consume three-times as much fuel, in ‘real-world’ conditions.

When it comes to petrol and diesel vehicles, ‘real world’ emissions and efficiency figures can be compared with figures reported from lab tests that are used to homologate them. Typically, those real-world figures are a small degree worse than those obtained in testing, due to varying conditions, performance and driving habits. That degree is a curiosity, rather than a serious issue. Indeed, some drivers can achieve better figures through careful driving.

In the case of PHEVs, the difference between testing and real-world figures can be stark. New research by The Miles Consultancy (TMC) indicates that the most popular PHEVs can triple the severity of their stated emissions and fuel consumption figures. Likewise, testing by Emissions Analytics, found alarmingly high consumption and emissions figures from PHEVs whose batteries were not charged.

“On the evidence of our sample, one has to question whether some PHEVs ever see a charging cable,” Paul Hollock, TMC’s managing director commented. “In a lot of cases, we see PHEVs never being charged, doing longer drives and this is not a good fit for a lot of car users.”

Imagine a driver of a conventional car had the option of tripling its efficiency but didn’t, either through laziness or a lack of awareness. This is more or less what is happening with many PHEVS. Using the plug-in element of a PHEV, keeping the battery charged to get those superb efficiency and emissions figures, is optional. Not charging doesn’t mean you’ll be stranded, so people can neglect to do so.

The problem is with driving habits and not the technology. Plugging in is an option, and one that isn’t always taken. Worse still, when it isn’t taken, you end up with an internal combustion vehicle, with the same or a similar engine as non-hybridised variants, lugging the extra weight of a hybrid system not in use.

“This is all very confusing for motorists,” said Nick Molden, chief executive of Emissions Analytics. “The problem is the official figures are very sensitive to assumptions about how PHEVs are being charged and driven.”

Proprietors of popular plug-in hybrid models responded to scepticism around their vehicles. A spokesman from Mitsubishi UK cited a survey of Outlander owners that found 96 percent charged at least once a week, and 68 percent charged every day. Even so, Mitsubishi itself recently announced a scheme to incentivise owners to plug-in, offering 10,000 free electric miles’ worth of charging.

Kia, meanwhile, has emphasised that ultimately, ”responsibility lies with the owner, but used correctly, a PHEV will improve fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions”.

Ultimately, be it an issue of education or laziness, the fact that PHEVs give drivers the option of not running them at maximum efficiency compromises their effectiveness. Their potential to offer a great compromise is known. If you’re a PHEV owner and you’re hot on plugging it in, then you’re doing it right. Unfortunately, the unpredictable human element is where they fall short.

In 2020, as the offering of competent viable longer-range fully electric vehicles flourishes, the question of PHEV’s real-world relevance to the cause of emissions and consumption reduction burns ever-more.

“By the end of the year, most new models of fully-electric vehicle will be able to cover 150 miles on a single charge, and the need for plug-in hybrids will inevitably decline”, said Ewa Kmietowicz, transport team leader at the Committee on Climate Change.

Whether their inclusion in the ban is fair or not perhaps isn’t the question. For now, their effectiveness remains in doubt, given that the problem with plug-in hybrids is people.


Migratory Bird Treaty Act reform will clarify longstanding confusion

A century-old statute enacted to protect birds that cross international boundaries has become the object of conflicting legal interpretations, sowing confusion over what kinds of acts leading to the injury of death of a protected species can be punished by a fine or even a prison sentence.

Now, the Trump administration’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), a division of the Interior Department, is stepping in to define the scope of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to provide regulatory certainty to the public, industries, states, tribes, and other affected parties.

By proposing to codify FWS’s existing interpretation that the prohibitions of the MBTA only apply to actions “directed at” migratory birds, their nests, or their eggs, FWS is taking a significant step toward clarifying confusion that has resulted from no fewer than five recent conflicting circuit court of appeals decisions on the scope of the MBTA, as well as conflicting interpretations by the Obama administration and the Trump administration..

The muddled legal interpretation of what constitutes a “take” of a protected bird under the MBTA has opened the door to protracted litigation as the public has struggled to understand what the law actually says.

Obama vs. Trump Interpretations

On Jan. 10, 2017 – ten days before the Obama administration left office – the Solicitor General at the Obama Interior Department issued a legal opinion, according to which any act that takes or kills a migratory bird – regardless of the violator’s intention or state of mind – falls within the scope of the MBTA as long as it results in the death of a bird. But on Dec. 22, 2017, the Trump administration issued its own Solicitor’s Opinion concluding that an otherwise lawful activity that results in the incidental take of a protected bird does not violate the MBTA.

In its proposed rulemaking, FWS codifies the Trump Solicitor’s Opinion. As pointed out in CFACT’s public comments submitted to FWS on March 18:

The proposed codification differentiates between wanton acts of destruction and criminal negligence, on the one hand, and the accidental or incidental take of a protected bird, however regrettable, on the other. U.S. law has long differentiated between harm caused by intent and harm caused by accident. The proposed rulemaking extends that practice to the MBTA.

The rulemaking would also change how FWS administers the MBTA by determining that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the most efficient and comprehensive approach for considering the potential impacts of this action on the environment. Until recently, such a proposal would have been a fool’s errand because of the extraordinary delays long associated with the NEPA process. However, with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) having recently proposed a long-overdue streamlining of the NEPA process, CEQ’s rulemaking – assuming it survives legal challenges – compliments what the Service is proposing to do with regard to the MBTA.

Court Battles Loom

Both the Trump administration’s clarification of the MBTA and its reforms of the National Environmental Policy Act will be challenged in court by environmental groups. If they survive those challenges, at least some of the litigation and red tape that have surrounded environmental policy for decades will be trimmed back.


California Would Have Low-Cost Housing If Government Allowed It: The Mortenson Experiment

Predominantly environmental building codes prevent it

Chris Mortenson, a San Diego developer, hired an architect to find out what type of SRO (single-room-occupancy) building he could develop for very low-income people, many of them homeless, if unnecessary state and local regulations were ignored. SROs are basically apartment buildings that typically have rooms without kitchens and shared bathrooms at the end of hallways. SRO units are no-frills, but they are safer and cleaner than the streets.

Here’s what the architect came back with:

* A four-story building
* 10-by-12-foot units (about half the size required by the existing building code)
* Microwave in each unit
* Sink in each unit
* Toilet in each unit (partitioned, but not separated)
* Communal showers at the end of each hall

Remarkably, San Diego waived its building code, and the building was built for less than $15,000 per unit, allowing people to rent each room for $50 per week. The building was immediately filled with grateful occupants.

Mortenson conducted his experiment in the late-1980s. Today, the inflation-adjusted costs would be about $34,000 per unit to build and $110 per week to rent ($440 per month), still a bargain. The cost to build one apartment unit to code in San Diego County ranges from $192,000 to $375,000, according to an analysis by Xpera Group. The average monthly rent in San Diego for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,808, according to

Mortenson showed that it is possible to build affordable, yet profitable, SROs if the government gets out of the way. Government is the root cause of unaffordable housing in California (for more on this topic see How to Restore the California Dream: Removing Obstacles to Fast and Affordable Housing Development).

The San Diego experiment was discussed in the book The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America by Philip K. Howard, who wrote that building codes “dictate minimum room dimensions, require that bathrooms and kitchens be separate from rooms for every other use, and mandate hundreds of other details. Good ideas and technological advances fill every page of the code book. Who can object to any of this? No one, provided society can afford it.” Low-income people, however, cannot afford it, resulting in more homelessness as building codes make it impossible to build inexpensive housing in California.

Building codes have eradicated low-cost housing for decades. Sold by politicians as “getting rid of substandard housing” and “improving the lives of poor people,” William Tucker explains in Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis, “buildings are condemned as ‘firetraps,’ for not having adequate ventilation, not providing kitchen or bathroom facilities, and for not offering people ‘a decent place to live.’” Too often, the streets become the next home for people forced out of low-cost housing by burdensome, idealized codes.

Politicians and bureaucrats argue that “it’s in the best interests of poor people” to have their apartments “upgraded to code” lest they live in “crowded unsanitary substandard deathtraps.” The problem, of course, is that every so-called “improvement” will price many people out of a home, pushing some to the street. Howard notes that “the virtual extinction of single-room-occupancy buildings illustrates the side effects of this drive toward mandated perfection.”

In addition to building codes, some cities have eliminated SROs using density limits, occupancy restrictions, or “urban renewal” projects that raze entire neighborhoods, often targeting minority communities. (Walter Thompson wrote an excellent historical series on the disgraceful Fillmore project in San Francisco: “How Urban Renewal Destroyed the Fillmore in Order to Save It” and “How Urban Renewal Tried to Rebuild the Fillmore.”)

Philip K. Howard reminds us that,

Real people tend to have their own way of doing things—a little borrowed, a little invented, and so forth. Law, trying to make sure nothing ever goes wrong, doesn’t respect the idiosyncrasy of human accomplishment. It sets forth the approved methods, in black and white, and that’s that. When law notices people doing it differently, its giant heel reflexively comes down.

Inexpensive housing would be built in California if government allowed it. Instead, streets teem with 151,000 homeless people, a human and moral tragedy caused, in part, by government barriers to housing development in California.


Australia: Inland mineral bonanza on hold

MAJOR projects across out-back Queensland worth almost $3 billion — which could create jobs and change the fortunes of hard-hit country towns — are sitting on the drawing board, a major pipeline report has revealed. Outback Queensland covers two-thirds of the state but has just a few hundred million dollars of funded infrastructure projects, the annual report card by the Queensland Major Contractors Association and the Infrastructure Association of Queensland says.

But with the global heat on to move to renewables, outback Queensland and its 82,513 residents could be sitting on a new-age gold mine with "significant mineral resources and value-added processing which would support global efforts to move to a clean energy economy including bauxite/alumina/aluminium, nickel, copper, cobalt, silver, lead, zinc and rare earths metals, particularly in the North West Minerals Province centred around Mount Isa and Clon-curry", the report says.

It is also the site of some of the state's biggest planned renewable energy projects, including the Aldoga Solar Farm, worth $120 million. While the solar farm is funded, a long list of big projects are still on the drawing board, including the Kidston Solar Project Stage 2 ($140m), Kidston Transmission Project ($100m) and the Kidston Pumped Hydro Storage Project ($200m) along with the massive Copperstring Transmission Line worth $1.5 billion.

QMCA boss Jon Davies said a big impediment to developing the North West Minerals Province was the State Government-owned rail line which is susceptible to floods.

"There's big opportunities for developing the North West Minerals Province," he said. "There are plans to upgrade (the rail line). That is an area that the government could look at expediting."

Without government support, the huge swath of state remains captive to the mining and commodities market, with 94 per cent of projects unfunded. "In 2019-20 there is only $70m in funded activity, while $225m remains unfunded," the report says.

"Funded activity only peaks at $82m in 2022-23, supported by a section of the $238m Mount Isa to Rockhampton Corridor Upgrade and the $120m Aldoga Solar Farm,"

The report says the outback region has the lowest ratio of "funded to unfunded" major project work in Queensland. "Ninety-four per cent of activity in the pipeline is currently unfunded," it says. "The negative outlook ... is further highlighted by the proportion of unfunded project activity which is considered 'unlikely' — more than 50 per cent of the $3bn unfunded total."

From the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" of 22.3.20


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