Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Environmental legal constraints are throttling America

The Holy Roman Empire was a pioneer in banking through the Fuggers, it had adequate constitutional protections for at least the middle classes, and it benefited from fabulous German engineering talent, so why didn’t it get the Industrial Revolution? Its main problem was internal tariffs; we are told that in the 18th Century there were 32 toll houses on the Rhine and 35 on the Elbe. The Empire’s failure to overcome that problem despite its enormous costs for its economy has lessons for us facing similar entrenched inefficiencies today, which are equally regarded by us as part of the natural order.

Today’s United States has a similar problem, and we should learn from the Holy Roman Empire’s failure what it may cost us. The combination of aggressive environmentalists and over-powerful lawyers is proving an increasing drag on the entire operations of the U.S. economy, and may indeed be responsible for much of the decline in productivity growth since the 1970s.

To give three recent examples: a recent Supreme Court decision allowed the Atlantic Coast pipeline to run under the Appalachian Trail, a lawsuit that had held up the pipeline for years. However, this decision was essentially nullified when Dominion Energy, one of two companies that had been developing the $8 billion project, gave up on the project and sold its remaining natural gas assets to Warren Buffett. Apparently, even with Supreme Court approval, the remaining environmental harassments and legal delays were sufficient to make the project uneconomic.

In a second case, the $4 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline, which has been opened with oil passing through it quietly for three years, was suddenly blocked by a Washington district court, and prevented from further operation, because of some alleged defect in the pipeline’s paperwork before it was opened. By this decision of a lower court 1,500 miles from the pipeline, the operation of a $4 billion asset will be prevented for an indefinite period, at least 13 months.

In the third case the Keystone XL pipeline, a major international project which was held up arbitrarily for the entire eight years of the Obama administration, and has slowly been working its way through the paperwork since 2017, was held up by the Supreme Court for yet another environmental review, thus dooming it if Joe Biden should win the November election.

This mindless harassment is not limited to pipelines. The projected tunnel under the Hudson between New York and New Jersey is now projected to cost $12.3 billion, compared with the $750 million equivalent of the $8 million cost of the Holland Tunnel, completed in 1927. All over the economy, not only are huge costs added by environmental/legal delays, but projects are completely unable to be completed in a timely fashion.

President Trump and the Democrats in Congress are agreed that a spending program on infrastructure would be desirable, but the reality is that around 90% of the money spent on such a program would be wasted, judging by the cost bloat in the NY-NJ tunnel project. What’s more, the nation would get very little infrastructure for a decade or more, as endless environmental studies and witless lawsuits would eat up time, even supposing some future set of politicians did not decide to cancel the projects, as they have California’s High Speed Train.

Environmental considerations deserve more consideration than they got in the 1950s; nobody wants to set the Cuyahoga River set on fire again. But the nexus of grotesquely complicated regulations and legal liabilities that were set up in the late 1960s and early 1970s is literally a menace to civilization. Just as the Holy Roman Empire was completely unable to have the Industrial Revolution for which it was otherwise well set up until the internal tariffs and feudal property ownership were dismantled, so the U.S. and indeed the world will miss out on huge future advances because of the delays and exorbitant costs imposed by the environmental/legal nexus.

Half a century of poverty may be an underestimate of the costs this will produce. China is already eating our lunch; it will be much more able to do so if we handicap ourselves by this means (China will of course sign all sorts of treaties promising to combat global warming, protect endangered species and clean the air; it just won’t abide by them, treating them as it does all its other obligations.) For geopolitical reasons as well as for our own living standards the environmental/legal nexus must go, or the loss of U.S. living standards and freedom may be permanent.


If 2020 Is the Warmest Year … So What?

While 2020 will be at or near record-warmth globally, this is not something we should be particularly alarmed about.

With COVID-19 and demonstrations taking center stage in news coverage, it is easy to forget that we are all dying from climate change, anyway … or so we have been told. The recent claim at that 2020 will likely be the warmest year on record (globally) leads one to ask: So what?

The “warmest year” is typically only hundredths of a degree warmer than the previous record-warm year. Global warming has proceeded at an average rate that is probably too small to be observable by humans in our lifetimes. This is because the seasonal (40, 60, 100 degrees and more) and day-to-day (20, 30, 50 degrees and more) changes in weather to which we are accustomed swamp the signal of long-term climate change. The signal is so small that questions continue to be raised regarding how well our global network of thermometers, designed to measure large weather changes, can reliably sense such small climate changes. It does not help that most thermometers are sited near spurious sources of heat that have gradually increased over time as population and infrastructure have also increased.

That is why extreme weather events have been re-branded as an indicator of climate change, and “global warming” as a term has fallen into disuse, despite the fact that there is little convincing evidence that extreme weather has worsened on a global basis. Instead, any number of regions can experience more severe weather, but they are offset by other regions with less severe weather. More severe weather makes the news. Less severe weather does not.

The recent claim of the first 100 deg. F temperature reading above the Arctic Circle in Siberia is incorrect; it was 100 deg. F in Ft. Yukon, Alaska way back in 1915. The town in Siberia measuring 100 deg. F (Verkhoyansk) is notable for its exceedingly cold winters and hot summers, holding the Guinness World Record for the largest observed seasonal temperature swing: an astonishing 189 deg. F.

Nevertheless, there still appears to have been 1 to 2 deg F average warming of the globe in the last 50-100 years. What is the cause? While increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning is a leading potential culprit, the possibility of a natural cause for some of the warming cannot be ruled out. In fact, the alarmist UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) implies as much when it claims only that more than half—not all—of the warming since the 1950s has been human-caused.

The fact is that science cannot say with any level of confidence just how much of the warming could be natural versus human-caused. It is scientifically inarguable that the warming of the deep oceans in recent decades equates to a global average energy imbalance of only 1 part in about 250 of the natural energy flows, and we do not know any of those natural energy flows in the climate system to that level of accuracy. That puts human-caused climate change more in the realm of faith than you have been led to believe. Climate modelers simply assume that the warming is human-caused, and so adjust their computer models accordingly.

I am not overly concerned about the fate of my grandchildren or their children even if the gradual warming trend continues. I am more worried about current ill-advised energy policy responses to the warming, which inevitably reduce global prosperity and increase poverty.


Lies, Tricks, and Politics: Big Wind’s assault on the truth

Correcting the lies, yes LIES, proffered by big wind has worn down a generation of people working to raise awareness about turbine impacts, but Americans are tough, principled, and above all, abhor deceitfulness in any form. An extensive, well-connected network of those fighting wind has grown exponentially in the last two decades as the public learned more. ...People oppose their communities becoming the dumping ground for wind projects made up of grotesque flashing, loud-whooshing, bird-bat busting icons revered by green new deal followers.

In 2004, the residents of Lyman, New Hampshire stood in near-unison against a wind developer’s[1] request to erect a 158-foot met tower atop the prominent Gardner Mountain Range. Lyman’s land use regulations prohibited structures taller than 35-feet with a few exceptions for agriculture uses (barns, silos, etc), so a variance was needed. The residents of the small farming community (pop. 500) quickly recognized the met tower for what it was – an invitation to flatten the peak and construct massive wind towers in a linear array along the ridgeline.

Every tactic attempted by the developer to win approval fell short.

First, they claimed wind energy was an agricultural use and, thus, allowed under the town’s exceptions clause. When that didn’t work, they insisted the use was temporary and not subject to the regulations, but the ordinance, as minimal as it was, included a legal definition of ‘temporary’ that didn’t apply. They forcefully argued that the tower carried no negative impacts but that failed after a trusted realtor explained how a single met tower could completely collapse Lyman’s real estate market. “Merely the possibility of an unknown [development on the mountain] would have buyers looking elsewhere,” he said.

Finally, they promised riches beyond what this small New England community could imagine – a panacea for Lyman’s cash burdens and limited tax base. But that too was rejected when residents offered to pay more than their share in property taxes. No legal, emotional or financial case could justify waiving the regulations, and the variance was rejected.

Similar debates have occurred in communities across the U.S. The specific arguments might change depending on the circumstances, but the sentiment is always the same. This should not surprise anyone, especially the wind industry.

Volumes of academic papers dating back to the 1980’s examine public opposition to wind turbines and the barrier it poses to widespread deployment. Samples include Thayer and Freeman (1987) in California, Walker (1995) in the US, D Bell (2005) in the UK, and A. Jobert (2007) in France and Germany.

Researchers have been baffled for decades over why general positive attitudes toward wind energy have not translated into community acceptance of projects. Yet, a review of existing research suggests less focus on understanding opposition and more on reinforcing wind industry narratives.

Authors characterize opponents as a minority of uninformed agitators ‘grounded in self-interest’ or jealous of their neighbors’ good fortune to have land for lease. They wonder how a select few could wield such influence over decision makers. Visual blight is cited as the primary complaint while noise, shadow flicker, safety risks, and harms to the natural environment are dismissed as non-issues. Pasqualetti (2001) points to California’s San Gorgonio Pass, one of the highest concentrations of wind turbines worldwide, and touts how “[o]nly 20 years into the modern development of wind power, many of the sources of worry and disapproval have already been addressed successfully.” He goes on to say that “the challenges of turbine size, color, finish, spacing, noise, efficiency, reliability, safety, and decommissioning all have been remedied or conceptually solved by developers, equipment manufacturers, and regulatory authorities.”

His blustering about wind power’s advances is just that, bluster. The impacts of wind power have not been resolved. On the contrary, they’ve expanded to a point where often the only safe option is to not build at all. Since 2001, U.S. wind energy has increased 25-fold to 107,319 MW and turbines have more than tripled in size reaching well over 600-feet in height. Distance is the only certain mitigation for protecting adjacent properties yet more people are living closer to turbines than ever before.

In January 2019, Liberty Utilities president David Swain personally signed agreements with Barton and Jasper county commissioners in Missouri to locate 604-foot tall turbines just five hundred feet from the nearest property lines of non-participating landowners and 1.1x total tip height (664-feet) from occupied residential homes. Liberty's setbacks are not even representative of what the wind industry considers ‘standard’ and Swain knows it. County residents raised safety concerns with the Missouri PSC, but by time Liberty revealed the project layout, the deal was done. (The agreements signed by Swain appear as attachments to the letter.)

Liberty Utilities preaches the “We Care” motto on its website and cites its mission “to become an outstanding member of the local community,” but Swain and the utility are uninterested in the health and safety complaints their turbines are certain to produce. Is this what caring and community cooperation looks like?

Wind developers have no interest in being good neighbors and will never concede the social and environmental harms caused by turbines.

Instead, biased experts using dubious methodologies rapidly produce studies that counter known impacts. To them, methods do not matter as long as the right conclusions supporting their bias are reported. These studies, in turn, form the foundation for multi-million dollar government and wind industry funded literature reviews that show turbines are safe, while legitimate reports quantifying real impacts on communities are often dismissed as outliers.

When big wind’s unrelenting campaign to conceal reality meets opposition, the industry exercises its political clout to shift the balance in its favor. There’s no clearer example of this than in New York where Governor Cuomo (King Cuomo to the locals) rammed through his Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act as part of the state’s 2020-21 budget. The new law removes any requirement for evidentiary proceedings which means no cross-examination of expert testimony and no opportunity for equal consideration for an impacted public.

Over the next year, the newly formed Office of Renewable Energy Siting will "establish a set of uniform standards and conditions for the siting, design, construction and operation" of major renewable energy facilities. Until that process is started, we cannot assess how effective the state will be in terms of protecting communities and wildlife, but we might guess from the legislative priority which is to expedite review, reduce burdensome conditions on developers, and meet Cuomo's carbon mandates. The importance of public involvement cannot be overstated. Under this new regime, Apex Clean Energy would have succeeded in its deceitful actions to hide eagle activity at NY’s Galloo Island wind site in 2018. It took an engaged public to reveal the truth. For New York, the public is now largely silenced.

Correcting the lies, yes LIES, proffered by big wind has worn down a generation of people working to raise awareness about turbine impacts, but Americans are tough, principled, and above all, abhor deceitfulness in any form. An extensive, well-connected network of those fighting wind has grown exponentially in the last two decades as the public learned more.

In 2004, Lyman residents understood intuitively what millions know today and what alludes researchers: People oppose their communities becoming the dumping ground for wind projects made up of grotesque flashing, loud-whooshing, bird-bat busting icons revered by green new deal followers.


Bill McKibben and His Enviro Campaign Against Humanity

Bill McKibben, a radical deep ecologist, has been normalized in today’s alarmist, TDS world. He has a regular column in The New Yorker, claiming that man-made climate change is “the most thorough and complete crisis our species and our civilizations have ever faced, one there is no guarantee that we will survive intact.”

I recently came across a book review of McKibben’s deep-ecology manifesto, The End of Nature (Random House: 1989), titled Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower.

Published in the Los Angeles Times in that year by David Graber (“a research biologist with the National Park Service”), the review was all-in with McKibben’s scary worldview.

Some quotations from Graber’s dark, anti-life review follow:

“Ecosystems do not care what happens to them, but some of us may perceive the changes as a tragic loss of biological richness.”

“We contaminated the planet with atmospheric hydrocarbons and metals beginning with the Industrial Revolution.”

“That makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, a human-managed planet, be it monstrous or–however unlikely–benign.”

“[McKibben and I] are not interested in the utility of a particular species, or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value–more value to me–than another human body, or a billion of them.”

“Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet.”

“Somewhere along the line–at about a million years ago, maybe half that–we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.”

“It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”


Such is the drivel of a mad-at-the-world fringe. Personal shortcomings are blamed on the system, not themselves. The dispossessed are at odds with, and angry about, self-interested fellow human advancing their lot in modern living. But their thinking must be exposed for its rot for a better future for everyone else.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


No comments: