Thursday, August 27, 2020

Doubts grow Alaska's Pebble Mine can satisfy new regulatory hurdles, shares tumble

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd shares fell more than 25% on Tuesday on rising doubts the company can clear regulatory hurdles for its Pebble Mine project in Alaska, and prominent politicians said it would harm the state's salmon fishing industry.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday gave Northern Dynasty 90 days to explain how it would offset "unavoidable adverse impacts" to more than 3,200 acres (1,295 hectares) of wetlands were the mine to be developed.

Late on Monday, Alaska's U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, came out against the mine, saying it could cause significant damage to the state's Bristol Bay region popular for fishing and hunting.

Murkowski is the powerful chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and her opposition is likely to carry weight across U.S. federal agencies.

Other prominent Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr., son of President Donald Trump and a keynote speaker on Monday at the Republican National Convention, have opposed the project, saying it would destroy areas where they enjoy fishing and hunting.

Northern Dynasty, in response to the Army Corps, said it plans to "preserve enough land so that multiples of the number of impacted wetland acres are preserved," but its shares still fell more than 40% on Monday.

The potential cost of such a mitigation plan is unknown and thus concerning, Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Mike Kozak said in research note. "It will be exceptionally challenging to reach a compensation plan ... that will satisfy all parties," he said.

Cantor Fitzgerald put its price target and stock rating for the company under review, effectively saying it is not immediately clear how much the company is worth.

The Army Corps deadline likely means any final permit decision would come after the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election. A victory by Democrat Joe Biden would likely to scuttle the entire project, TD Securities analyst Craig Hutchinson said.

Northern Dynasty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Doubts about the project have steadily risen in recent months. Morgan Stanley , once one of the largest Northern Dynasty shareholders, sold most of its holdings two months ago, according to regulatory disclosures.


Not All Environmental Activism Is the Same

The definition of environmentalism seems straightforward: encourage the long-term health and availability of our natural resources.

In America, the concept is more complex. Much like the word “science,” environmentalism links to politicized agendas that don’t necessarily seek the stated goal. Progressive Era environmentalism was partly inspired by eugenics and population control; today’s version has words like “green” and “sustainable” that could just as soon be code for modern left-wing economic and social agendas. 

This has weakened the movement, making it a point of suspicion for conservative America. But it should not weaken environmentalism as a concept. The key is to separate the good, bad, and ugly aspects of the movement, as I aim to below:

The Good

The best environmentalism is that which preserves natural ecosystems long-term. Otherwise these systems can be cannibalized, even by the people who benefit from them.

The Depression-era Dust Bowl, for example, was caused in part by the over-cultivation of land by inexperienced Great Plains farmers. When the region suffered drought, the winds kicked up dust, making the land uninhabitable for everyone.

Many extreme environmental problems have this “tragedy of the commons” quality. Millions of individuals acting in self-interest spoil a larger environmental commons. It is the defining factor behind air pollution, water contamination, overfishing, and much more.

Since the 1960s, the federal government has enforced powerful environmental laws—such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act—meant to stop private industry from externalizing its costs. There have been debates about how effective such legislation is. A movement around “free market environmentalism” argues that these laws produce unintended consequences, and that the environment is better preserved through economic concepts like pricing uses and externalities.

But whether enforcement is government- or market-driven, the point remains: some environmental problems are serious, and addressing them is needed for human flourishing.

The Bad

A less noble version takes this collectivist mindset to non-essential environmental issues. There’s a habit in the movement of chasing goals that sound nice in theory, but don’t pass the cost-benefit smell test.

The logging industry is an example. Activism against it often comes from people who want mature growth forests and uninhibited fauna. But the timber industry is important: it generates $144 billion in annual revenue, employs 433,000 people, and makes products we all use. To complain that it disrupts the natural state of America’s forest land is purist, and somewhat “cheap,” in that its demands would inflict costs on landowners and workers, but not on the people complaining.

Another example is the California water wars. For years, farmers have been denied adequate water to run their farms, because that would disrupt a small fish called the delta smelt that is nearing extinction. Saving the fish is a mild benefit compared to undermining a statewide industry that produces 13% of the nation’s agricultural value and on which millions depend for nourishment.

The answer to these issues may boil down to the free-market environmentalism cited above, specifically Coase Theorem. The theory calls for negotiations between two affected parties in a dispute, with side A paying for the damages it wishes to inflict on side B.

Regarding the California water wars, if activists had to pay farmers for the lost output caused by denying them water, it would give a better sense of how much they even care about saving the fish. The price mechanism would allow them to put their money where their mouths are, or decide that delta smelt restoration is not a prime environmental goal after all.

The Ugly

The worst environmentalism is that which has nothing to do with the environment. Instead it’s a “lifestyle environmentalism” that becomes a smokescreen for larger complaints against economic growth and capitalism.

One notable local-level example has been environmentalist groups that block development, such as the many California ones I profiled here, like San Francisco’s Sierra Club and Green Party. There’s nothing green about blocking dense infill development, since it means people must locate into environmentally-harmful sprawl. But you get the sense these are NIMBY front groups and don’t care about the environment anyway; they pepper their commentary with left-populist slogans like “luxury condos” and “wall of gold” development.

Perhaps the ultimate example is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. The measures don’t seem geared towards environmental outcomes—at least not in any practical, cost-effective way—and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, later admitted this.

“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, in a conversation recounted by the Washington Post, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all...we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

This “ugly” environmentalism—where the term gets politicized and distorted for ulterior goals—is bad for the movement. Sincere environmentalists should call it out. That way the movement will be taken seriously, and there will be broader support for measures that are actually needed.


It’s Time for the Wind Industry to Grow Up

There comes a point in every person’s life when they have to face the realities of the adult world. In 21st century America the age at which that point comes seems to be extending further past the age of legal adulthood each year, leaving a generation in a state of perpetual adolescence—with their parents footing the bill.

Something similar has taken place concurrently in American energy policy. Birthed in 1992, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind that was intended only to get a young industry up on its feet has now been extended a dozen times.

The production tax credit provides wind energy facilities with a tax break for the first 10 years of operation. In 2013, the production tax credit for wind generation was 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of production, with adjustments for inflation. Under the phase-out of the credit approved by Congress, the tax credit decreased by 20 percent per year from 2017 through 2019. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019 extended the production tax credit for facilities beginning construction during 2020 at a rate of 60 percent—higher than the 40 percent rate for 2019. Currently, wind energy facilities that begin construction after the end of 2020 cannot claim the credit, although they will still be required to be built by state mandates referred to as “renewable portfolio standards.”

No Expansion, No Extension

The U.S. Treasury estimates that the Production Tax Credit will cost taxpayers $40.12 billion from 2018 to 2027, making it the most expensive energy subsidy under current tax law.
The tax credit fundamentally distorts markets and strains the grid in ways that are economically unsustainable.
Backup costs (i.e., the costs of maintaining backup electricity 24/7 to compensate for wind’s intermittency) are not included in estimations of the cost of wind power, leading to gross underestimation of the costs of the energy wind produces.
Countries like Germany and Great Britain have bet big on wind power and have foisted higher residential electricity prices on their citizens as a result.

If wind power makes sense, the free market will support it without the need for subsidies like the PTC and state renewable energy mandates.

The Wind Industry Can No Longer Have It Both Ways

The PTC gives wind power producers a path to profitability, even when a fair market would not. It effectively pays wind power producers for energy regardless of that energy’s value to the grid and to energy users. Now nearly 30 years since it was introduced, the PTC continues to coddle an industry that has promised time and again that’s it’s almost ready to move out of the house. Much like America’s perpetual adolescents who pound their chests to assert manhood while awaiting mom-and-dad’s direct deposit, the wind industry assures us it is out-competing other forms of electricity while still lobbying for another round of handouts.

As described by Kenny Stein for the Institute for Energy Research:

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the economics of wind energy. In a recent earnings call, James Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, predicted that within a decade the cost of wind generation would be more competitive “without incentives” than conventional sources like coal and natural gas. NextEra is one of the largest generators of wind and solar electricity.

Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the $18 million lobbying arm of the wind industry, stated in 2016 that “wind is now the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity” in many parts of the United States. Kiernan is also fond of saying that the wind industry is getting out of the federal subsidy business altogether because of a provision in the PATH Act of 2015 that gradually phases down the industry’s main federal subsidy, known as the Production Tax Credit (PTC). In an interview defending the PTC from being modified in the recent tax reform law, Kiernan implied that the industry will no longer be receiving the federal subsidy because “we made a deal to drop our tax credit to zero over five years.” Tom is right, the subsidy phases down, but a closer look at the mechanics of the PTC shows that the wind industry will still be receiving billions in federal subsidies well beyond 2020.

It’s time to close the book on the PTC and nudge the wind industry out into the real world.


Coal-fired pollution killing 800 Australians a year  -- says Greenpeace

This study just took as proven the conclusions of several American studies of pollution effects. But I have repeatedly shown that the studies concerned were badly flawed -- either because of their failure to apply demograpic controls and/or   the minute effects found. So this study is a castle built on sand. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

They also rely on a recent MJA study of the Hazelwood fire but that study attempts to examine before-and-after effects without having any data on "before".  A good try but no cigar.

Air pollution from Australia’s ageing coal-fired power stations kills around 800 people each year and spreads hundreds of kilometres from regional plants into major cities, new research finds.

This national death toll is twice as high as the number of smoke inhalation deaths in the recent catastrophic bushfire season, and eight times greater than the average annual casualties from all natural disasters, according to a new report from Greenpeace Australia.

This is the first time the national health impacts of burning coal for electricity have been scientifically assessed, its authors say.

Air pollution from coal-burning power stations also causes an average of 850 babies each year to be born with low birth weight, which puts them at greater risk of serious health conditions as adults, like cardiovascular disease, it finds. This represents 450 babies each year for Sydney, and 260 for Melbourne.

"Australians all over the country are paying for electricity with their lives and health, even if they don’t use power from burning coal or live near a power station," said Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner, Jonathan Moylan.

There are 14,000 asthma attacks and symptoms among Australian children and young people aged between 5 and 19 that can be attributed to emissions from coal-burning power stations each year, the report finds.

Some of these symptoms come from cross-state pollution, with about 20 percent of cases occurring in states and territories that are not home to the power station that is the source of the emissions.

But a spokesperson for the Australian Energy Council, which represents major generators, rejected the report as "alarmist, misleading and lacking in rigour".

They pointed out it had not been peer-reviewed, saying it used outdated data from overseas and extrapolated it to Australia.

"This report appears to be part of a broader campaign that seeks to demonise fossil fuel plants regardless of their health, safety or environmental performance," they said. "All power plants have to meet health and environmental limits set and monitored by independent bodies."

The Greenpeace study modelled how much pollution from coal power stations could be expected in certain areas, based on observed meteorological conditions, reported pollutant emissions and electricity generation.

Existing health studies were then used to calculate how many additional deaths occur with this increased pollution. For mortality, this included deaths due to heart disease, cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory infections and stroke.

Report co-author Professor Hilary Bambrick, an environmental epidemiologist, said power plant air pollution had caused Australians to die and suffer from preventable diseases for decades: "Governments must come up with a plan to replace our ageing and unreliable coal burning power stations with clean energy solutions as quickly as possible."

New research recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia found unborn babies whose mothers were exposed to smoke from the Hazelwood coal mine fire are at greater risk of respiratory infections in early childhood, despite not directly inhaling the pollution.

Australia still operates 22 coal-burning power stations, some of which are among the oldest and most polluting in the world. Power stations in Australia are licensed to emit pollutant concentrations that dramatically exceed limits set by comparable countries, says Max Smith, a campaigner at Environmental Justice Australia.

He urged federal and state governments to address flaws in the regulatory system and fit Australia’s coal-fired power stations with basic pollution controls that could cut toxic pollutants by more than 85 percent.



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: