Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Green-Energy Crime: Endangered Red Kite Blocking Wind Farm Found Shot Dead

Red kites and wind power just do go well together. These predatory birds can find good prey, especially where farmers mow meadows or plow fields.

Lethal are cases such as the one in Baden-W├╝rttemberg, where areas with green fodder have been planted in the immediate vicinity of a wind park.

When these fields are mowed, the red kites search for food within the hay. It is ideal for them, but also possibly deadly because they cast their view downward when hunting, and not forward.

The Hilpensberg wind farm was even approved in a red kite area. Now one of the beautiful animals has fallen victim again, as the Nature Conservation Initiative reports:

According to biologist Immo Vollmer, the conclusion can only be that we should not build any more wind turbines in areas where red kites nest or where buzzards often seek food.

Otherwise the red kite, which has its largest distribution center in the world in Germany, will have no future here, because the loss rate is already almost in the same order of magnitude as the rate of offspring.”

And another sad case has just been reported in North Rhine-Westphalia. A female, nesting red kite was shot dead near Paderborn.

In an earlier trial, a judge even gave the controversial wind project approval – precisely where the shot bird was found – under the condition that no protected species be proven to exist there.

Now that the animal has been executed, this condition has been met. Probably just a coincidence, or maybe suicide, to make the wind turbines possible and to get out of the way?


Trump dismantles environmental protections under cover of coronavirus

The Trump administration is diligently weakening US environment protections even amid a global pandemic, continuing its rollback as the November election approaches.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, US federal agencies have eased fuel-efficiency standards for new cars; frozen rules for soot air pollution; proposed to drop review requirements for liquefied natural gas terminals; continued to lease public property to oil and gas companies; sought to speed up permitting for offshore fish farms; and advanced a proposal on mercury pollution from power plants that could make it easier for the government to conclude regulations are too costly to justify their benefits.

The government has also relaxed reporting rules for polluters during the pandemic.

Trump’s ambitions reach even to the moon, which he has announced he wants the US to mine.

Gina McCarthy, formerly Barack Obama’s environment chief, now runs the Natural Resources Defense Council. She said the Trump administration was acting to cut public health protections while the American public is distracted by a public health crisis.

“People right now are hunkered down trying to put food on the table, take care of people who are sick, worry about educating their children at home,” McCarthy said. “How many people are going to really be able to sit down and scrutinize these things in any way?”

McCarthy said the government was “literally not interested in the law or science”, and that “is going to become strikingly clear as people look at how the administration is handling Covid-19”.

The Trump administration is playing both offense and defense, rescinding and rewriting some rules and crafting others that would be time-consuming for a Democratic president to reverse.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has written what critics say will be a weak proposal for climate pollution from airplanes, a placeholder that will hinder stricter regulation.

Trump officials have been attempting to create a coronavirus relief program for oil and gas corporations, a new move in his campaign to back the industry and stymie global climate action. The president has sown distrust of climate science and vowed to exit the Paris climate agreement, which the US can do after the election.

Historians say Trump’s presidency has forced a pendulum swing back from the environmental awakening of the 1960s and 70s, when there was bipartisan support for conservation. Protecting the environment – and particularly the climate – is an issue that has become embroiled in political ideology.

“What Trump’s done is create a blitzkrieg against the environment … trying to dismantle not just Obama’s environmental achievements but turn back the clock to a pre-Richard Nixon day,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University who is writing a book on the subject. “It’s just death by a thousand cuts. It’s not one issue, it’s just across the board.”

The administration is under a tight deadline to secure changes before the election. A US law, the Congressional Review Act, allows lawmakers to more easily rescind regulations or rollbacks issued later in an election year.

“They’re hitting a now or never timeline,” said Christine Tezak, the managing director at the analysis firm ClearView Energy Partners. “There’s a lot they want to get done before the election, just in case.”

Some trends are working against Trump – including states advancing environmental goals, and low-cost renewable power and natural gas helping reduce the climate footprint of the electricity sector. Even Houston, an energy hub, has issued a climate action plan. Yet such contributions are not expected to be enough to fulfill America’s role in stalling the global crisis.

Environmental advocates have challenged many of the Trump changes in court – and won. The Natural Resources Defense Council has sued 110 times and says it has prevailed in about 90% of lawsuits resolved.

Recently, judges tossed out a permit for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and decided the EPA cannot bar scientists who receive federal grants from serving as agency advisers.

Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell who represents regulated industries and was a deputy EPA administrator under George W Bush, argued that many of the changes characterized as “rollbacks” are actually “sensible, reasonable regulatory reforms” or fixes to problems.

“It’s impossible to understand the Trump administration’s EPA unless you go back and look at the Obama administration,” he said. “In many groups there was a sense that there really had been a great deal of regulatory overreach. And even if you disagree with that, the regulatory programs created problems that they didn’t come back and fix.”

Trump’s deregulatory agenda has addressed some issues industry would rather were left alone. The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls for power plants. Companies had already complied with the rule and most didn’t want it changed. But the revision is meant to set a precedent for the government to ignore some positive health outcomes of regulation.

Trump’s weakened standards often go against science too, critics say.

Last month, for example, the EPA decided not to tighten rules for soot pollution, refuting rebutting guidance from experts that more stringent standards would save lives. The EPA has also repopulated advisory boards with representatives from industry and conservative states and is trying to change what science it can consider when developing health protections.

If a Democrat takes the White House, it will take years to reverse some changes. Moving faster would require Democrats holding both chambers of Congress. Even then, industry would fight hard.

Christopher Cook, the environment chief for Boston, said Trump’s efforts had been “incongruous with all the actions that major cities are taking”.

“The thing I would ask most Americans to consider when they’re supporting stronger regulation is that this isn’t about what we’re protecting against, this is about who we’re protecting,” Cook said, noting that places with more pollution are faring worse under the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid has been a dry run for the climate crisis. We’ve seen the populations that Covid affects because it attacks the respiratory system. We can’t continue with bad air in America.”


Harvard Retreats On Air Pollution-Coronavirus Deaths Link

Harvard researchers publicly walked back Monday a key finding in a highly touted but hotly contested paper linking air pollution exposure to deaths from the novel coronavirus, slashing the estimated mortality rate in half.

The preliminary study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health made a splash when the results were announced April 7 in The New York Times, prompting alarm on the left as Democrats sought to connect COVID-19 deaths to the Trump administration’s regulatory pushback.

A few weeks later, however, its researchers quietly backtracked from their finding that people who live for decades in areas with slightly more particulate matter in the air are 15% more likely to die from the coronavirus, lowering the figure to 8%. The press release was revised Monday.

“This article was updated on May 4, 2020, based on an updated analysis from the researchers using data through April 22,” reads a footnote on the Harvard press release.

The revision came after weeks of criticism over the study’s modeling and analysis. Tony Cox, a University of Colorado Denver mathematics professor and chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said the model used to derive the 8% figure had “no basis in reality.”

“The model has not been validated and its assumptions are unrealistic,” said Mr. Cox, who heads the advanced analytics consulting firm Cox Associates. “In layman’s terms, it assumes an unrealistic effect of fine particulate matter on deaths, and then with that assumption built into the model, it uses data to estimate how big that unrealistic effect is. They’re making an assumption that has no basis in reality.”

JunkScience’s Steve Milloy said the Harvard paper is “not just junk science, it’s scientific fraud.”

“There is no biological data to support the notion that air quality in any way affects the outcome of coronavirus infection — and the researchers know it,” Mr. Milloy said.

The paper has been submitted for publication but has not yet been peer-reviewed, meaning its estimates could change again.

“I would expect that if they keep going and improve the analysis further, and start putting in some of the important confounders that they omitted, that their association will continue to get smaller,” Mr. Cox said.

Even so, the initial results have been trumpeted by Democrats as fresh evidence of the health risk posed by fossil fuels, given that the fine particulate air pollution, or PM2.5, examined in the study is generated “largely from fuel combustion from cars, refineries, and power plants,” according to the Harvard release.

Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator under then-President Barack Obama, and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cited the study in a Monday op-ed for his eponymous news outlet, “How Trump’s EPA is Making Covid-19 More Deadly.”

“A recent Harvard study shows that even a tiny increase in fine particulate matter air pollution — commonly known as ‘soot’ — increases death rates from Covid-19,” said the op-ed. “Hit the hardest are low-income communities and people of color, who are disproportionately exposed to pollution sources, such as highways and refineries.”

Despite that, they said, “the Trump administration has launched a series of attempts to make our air dirtier and harder to breathe.”

Eight Democratic senators fired off a letter to the EPA warning that its pushback on the Obama administration’s climate agenda could “potentially increase the COVID-19 death toll and hospitalizations,” while the Joseph R. Biden presidential campaign touted the study on a press call with The Washington Post.

House Democrats also have pointed to the paper’s findings, while a petition from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Colorado Latino Forum calling for a halt to a major Interstate 70 highway project referred to the COVID-19 risks outlined in the paper.

“In fact, one recently published study by Harvard University found that even a slight increase in exposure to air pollution ‘leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rate,’” said the petition to Gov. Jared Polis on ActionNetwork.

In a Friday letter, Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, asked the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services to “undertake an assessment of the recent claims” in the Harvard study on a “causal association between long-term exposure to fine-particulate matter and the likelihood of dying of COVID-19.”

“Clearly, the widespread political and media attention to the pre-publication findings has the potential to significantly influence public perception and policy outcomes associated with the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Harris said in the letter.

The paper was led by a Harvard doctoral candidate, Xiao Wu, and its co-authors include Harvard biostatistics professor Francesca Dominici, who said the 15% figure was lowered in response to

“more updated data plus a more comprehensive and rigorous adjustment for potential confounding factors.”

Ms. Dominici said the paper was upfront about the research’s limitations, pointing out that

“[h]igh quality nationwide individual-level COVID-19 outcome data are unavailable at this time and for the foreseeable future, thus necessitating the use of an ecologic study design for these analyses.”

“The study used standard statistical approaches and it is fully reproducible (data and code are publicly available) and accounts for over 20 confounding variables and we have conducted over 68 sensitivity analyses to check the sensitivity of the results to the specification of the statistical model,” Ms. Dominici said in an email.

Mr. Cox argued that the study failed to control adequately for confounders such as the differences in crowding between rural and urban communities.

“They really didn’t look at the rural urban continuum, and it’s puzzling to me that they didn’t do so, because it’s very easily available information,” he said. “They didn’t include it. And in my opinion, that would be a very important variable to include.”

The EPA has moved to address the impact of factors such air pollution on COVID-19, a “rapid review” from the Scientific Advisory Board on the health and environmental impacts of the contagious virus that has killed 248,000 worldwide since emerging in December in Wuhan, China.


Only reliable electricity can give Australia the economic jolt needed for recovery

These past few months have taught us many things, including the fact many state government ministers are none too bright.

Competition for the wooden spoon has been fierce, including Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who claimed the response of her department to the runaway COVID-19 outbreak at a Melbourne abattoir had been “perfect”. Mind you, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has been giving her a run for her money.

But the competition is not confined to health. The recent actions of South Australian Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan demonstrate a failure to appreciate the new economic challenges and his determination to hammer the last nail in the coffin of the worst-performing state economy.

Last week, this minister expressed his support for SA accelerating the date at which the state should reach 100 per cent renewable electricity generation. The current time frame is 2030.

I don’t know what he thought he was doing attending the launch of the newly constructed gas-fired electricity generation facility at Barker Inlet in Adelaide last November. The minister raved about the plant, built by AGL Energy, being “good news for affordability and reliability of electricity supplies in South Australia”. Are we to assume that the plant will be closed down by 2030 (or before) for the state to meet its renewable energy target?

And I wonder how he interprets the depressing results of SA becoming an electricity island earlier in the year? As a result of the need to repair the interconnector linking SA with Victoria, the Australian Energy Market Operator was forced to drastically curtail the amount of renewable energy generated in the state and instead rely on expensive gas generation to ensure the stability and reliability of the grid.

The cost of managing the power system was $310m in just the first quarter of this year, more than double the previous record set in 2008. It is estimated that managing the grid accounted for 8 per cent of all energy costs compared with the historical average of between 1 per cent and 2 per cent.

South Australian voters might have expected a change of direction when the longstanding Labor government was voted out. But the Liberal government headed by wet Premier Steven Marshall is every bit as beholden to the renewable energy players as the previous government.

The dream is that a new interconnector will be constructed between SA and NSW that will allow the excess renewable energy generated in SA to be exported to NSW — when the wind blows and the sun shines, that is.

And because the interconnector will be regulated, consumers will bear the cost. This will significantly inflate electricity prices.

According to the witless policy advice to the SA government, reliable electricity could be imported from NSW and Victoria to offset the inherent unreliability of renewable energy, even given the addition of short-living and expensive batteries. This way the illusion of SA being 100 per cent renewable can be maintained.

The economics of baseload or intermediate electricity generation in those other states is undermined by virtue of renewable energy being sent across the border. And let’s not forget that the NSW government has silly plans in relation to the promotion of renewable energy, too. The same goes for Victoria and Queensland.

At this rate, all the eastern states could become an electricity island, awash with unreliable energy and insufficient backup.

Into this policy quagmire comes the advice of the ideological Australian Energy Market Operator, telling us that it would be technically possible to have 75 per cent renewable energy electricity generation. That’s if we spent a lot of money — for example, on more expensive interconnectors, transmission and distribution — and changed the rules to favour renewable energy providers even more than they do now. This is poor advice.

The only sensible alternative in the post-COVID world is to junk the obsession with renewable energy (which is an inefficient way of reducing emissions, particularly when measured on a life-cycle basis), to kill the subsidies and to secure affordable, reliable electricity based, in all likelihood, on new gas plants.

When green rent-seekers start calling for a green new deal — more subsidies for renewable energy — the response should be that we have had a green new deal for more than a decade. And it has worked out badly for Australia’s industrial competitiveness. It’s time for a change.

And when the rent-seekers moan about fugitive emissions from gas, tell them these have already been taken into account when emissions are calculated by the federal government. Estimates, including by the CSIRO, put fugitive emissions at between 1 per cent and 1.4 per cent of total production.

With the lower price of gas this year and the possibility that new reserves will be developed in the Bowen and Beetaloo basins and possibly Gippsland, we are on the cusp of an exciting new phase for electricity generation and other heavy industry. With cheaper and reliable power, it’s easy to foresee substantial investments in the manufacture of explosives, paper, glass and bricks, and in food processing, among other possibilities. It simply won’t happen if we depend on renewable energy.

To be sure, we won’t need to junk the raft of renewable energy that already exists in the electricity grid, although some will begin to wear out in the not-too-distant future. (Several overseas renewable energy construction companies are already leaving the country.) But only firmed electricity — that is, 24/7 power with backup — should be accepted from these providers, a requirement that exists in most parts of the world.

We have paid a heavy penalty — some of the highest electricity prices in the world — for allowing renewable energy providers to offer electricity into the grid without bearing the costs of reliability and stability (frequency/inertia).

Unless the SA government takes a realistic stance in relation to energy and other matters, the place will be just a footnote in our economic history in 50 years.

And I haven’t even mentioned the urgent need for the federal government to cancel the expensive and unviable submarine project. That might be the last straw for the state’s economy — or a wake-up call for the South Australian government to get real rather than chase rainbows.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

"Gina McCarthy, formerly Barack Obama’s environment THIEF"