Friday, November 27, 2020

Joe Biden has said that he will use his first 100 days in the White House to roll back President Trump’s environmental orders and expand citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants

“I made a commitment,” Mr Biden told NBC News in his first interview as president-elect. “In the first 100 days I will send an immigration bill to the US Senate with a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.”

He noted, however, that the Senate was likely to be controlled by Republicans, unless Democrats can win the two Georgia seats up for grabs early next year. “Some of it is going to depend on the kind of co-operation I can or cannot get from the United States Congress,” he said.

Mr Biden will not need congressional approval for another cornerstone of his initial agenda – undoing “damaging executive orders” signed by Mr Trump on environmental and climate issues.

He said that the Environmental Protection Agency watchdog had been “eviscerated” over the past four years.

The Great American Outdoors Act

This crown jewel of the Trump Administration’s environmental record will bring many benefits

Duggan Flanakin

To the surprise of most Americans, and the consternation of many in the “mainstream” media, Vice President Mike Pence highlighted the Trump Administration’s environmental record during the recent VP debate. Citing the President’s signing of the historic bill, Mr. Pence lauded the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) as “the largest investment in our public lands and public parks in 100 years.”

The Associated Press said the GAOA is the “most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.” The National Parks Conservation Association called it “a conservationist’s dream.”

Harvard Business School professor Linda Bilmes agreed, calling the GAOA “the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation.” Bilmes, who served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration, marveled that the Trump Administration won broad bipartisan support in a polarized Congress, after the President reevaluated his own stance on this groundbreaking environmental and conservationist initiative.

Bilmes explained that the new law has two major effects. First, the new National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund will provide up to $9 billion over the next five years to address deferred maintenance issues in national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other federal areas, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 National Park units. Second, the GAOA guarantees the statutory maximum of $900 million per year in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Bilmes explained that Congress has been stingy with parks funding, despite a doubling of annual park visitors since 1980 (excluding the COVID-marred 2020 season). Thanks to the GAOA, the $12 billion backlog of maintenance to repair roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, fire safety, utilities and visitor center infrastructure will finally be addressed. Similarly, the LWCF, established in 1964 with an annual maximum authorization level of $900 million, has typically received less than half of that amount.

The flagship LWCF conservation program is paid for with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas production in federal waters. It helps fund the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management. It also provides grants to state and local governments to acquire land for recreation and conservation. Yet many self-described environmental advocates want to shut down offshore oil activities.

An early beneficiary of the GAOA is the state of California, which will benefit from GAOA funding that provides the 50% federal share of a new program aimed at reducing wildfire risks. Both California and the U.S. Forest Service will treat at least half a million acres of forest land per year under a 20-year plan for forest health and vegetation – by reducing the fuel buildups that lead to monstrous conflagrations.

The Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands, lauded by President Trump and California Governor Gavin Newsom, is a joint state-federal initiative to reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, and protect habitat and biological diversity. Sadly, Congressional bickering delayed its passage such that it came too late to help mitigate this summer’s wildfires, which caused major damage to endangered and threatened species and their habitat in California and other Western states.

The California-federal agreement requires prioritizing public safety, using real science to guide forest management, coordinating land management across jurisdictions, increasing the scale and pace of forest management projects, removing barriers that slow project approvals, and working closely with all stakeholders: local and tribal communities, environmental groups, academics, timber companies and others. Additional activities under the agreement include recycling forest byproducts to avoid burning slash piles, improving sustainable recreation opportunities, and stabilizing rural economies.

Bilmes credited the strong bipartisan support (3 to 1 margins in both houses of Congress) to the political and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that in normal years park visitor spending contributes about $40 billion to the U.S. economy and supports nearly 350,000 jobs. The GAOA will give a huge shot in the arm to communities struggling due to the loss of tourism-related jobs and income, by creating over 108,000 new jobs for repairing park infrastructure, including lodges, trails, access roads and bridges in the adjacent communities.

Bilmes estimates that the American people value national park land, waters and programs at $92 billion per year – at least 30 times the annual budget they receive from Congress. Yet, like many critics of other Trump land management decisions, she fails to appreciate that reopening small sections of public lands with lower aesthetic value to income producing activities will provide the revenue needed to pay for the increased budgets for these national treasures.

Similarly, cutbacks in offshore oil and gas activities would drastically shrink the very federal revenues needed to pay $900 million per year to the LWCF, to support federal land management programs.

Critics of Trump policies also ignore the fact that the United States is reducing carbon dioxide emissions at an annual rate of more than 2% and has lowered emissions of criteria pollutants by 7% since the beginning of 2017, primarily because fracking is producing low-cost natural gas to replace coal in generating electricity, Mr. Pence pointed out during his debate.

Reducing wildfire infernos is another excellent way to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as real pollution like smoke and fine particulates (soot). Emissions from these forest fires are astronomical and can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles from the fires.

Pence also cited a record number of completed Superfund cleanups during the four years he and President Trump have been in office, along with a record number of recovered endangered species.

Reflecting the President’s view that parks are for the people, the Vice President also lauded the Interior Department’s opening of over 4 million acres of Fish and Wildlife Service lands for hunting and fishing, and relocating the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, CO, much closer to the vast majority of the vast federal lands it administers, nearly all in the western states.

Lastly, Pence cited the Modern Fish Act, signed in January 2019, which for the first time in federal law recognizes the differences between recreational and commercial saltwater fishing. The act also adds more appropriate management tools for policymakers to use in managing diverse federal recreational fisheries.

The popular legislation “provides an opportunity for significant, positive change on behalf of millions of recreational anglers who enjoy fishing in federal waters,” noted Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation president Jeff Crane.

Despite the bipartisan nature of these major accomplishments, and their importance to America and its magnificent natural heritage, media coverage of the GAOA signing made it quite clear that mainstream reporters were loath to give any credit to President Trump. That’s sad but not unexpected.

Whether acquiring more and more federal land is a good thing, in view of the often less than stellar way existing landholdings have been managed in recent years, only time will tell. But these new laws and joint federal-state-local-tribal land management initiatives are a solid step in the right direction.

Via email

Boris’s green agenda is just plain wrong

Our fearless leader has descended from the mountain with a 10-commandment plan for a green industrial revolution. At a cost of £12 billion, he will have all Britons driving electric cars powered by North Sea wind turbines and giving up their gas boilers to heat their homes with ground-source heat pumps. He will invent zero-emission planes and ships. This vast enterprise will create 250,000 jobs. I am a loyal supporter of the prime minister, but this Ed Miliband policy makes no sense any way you look at it. Here are 10 reasons why.

First, if it’s jobs we are after then spending £48,000 per job is a lot. Cheaper, as Lord Lawson put it, to create the same employment erecting a statue of Boris in every town. Anyway, it’s backwards: it’s not jobs in the generating of energy that count but jobs that use it. Providing cheap, reliable energy enables the private sector to create jobs for free as far as the taxpayer is concerned.

Second, he misreads how innovation works, a topic on which I’ve just written a book. Innovation will create marvellous, unexpected things in the next 10 years. But if you could summon up innovations to order in any sector you want, such as electric planes and cheap ways of making hydrogen, just by spending money, then the promises of my childhood would have come true: routine space travel, personal jetpacks and flying cars. Instead, we flew in 747s for more than 50 years.

Third, he is hugely underestimating the cost. The wind industry claims that its cost is coming down. But the accounts of wind energy companies show that both capital and operating expenditures of offshore wind farms continue to rise, as Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University and John Aldersey-Williams of Aberdeen Busines School have found. Wind firms sign contracts to deliver cheap electricity, but the penalties for walking away from those contracts, demanding higher prices from a desperate grid in the future, are minimal and their investors know it. Britain already has among the highest electricity prices for business in Europe because of the £10 billion a year that electricity-bill payers spend on subsidising the rich capitalists who own wind farms; raising them further will kill a lot more than 250,000 jobs.

Fourth, these policies will not significantly reduce the nation’s emissions, let alone the world’s. It takes a lot more emissions to make an electric car than a petrol one because of the battery. This is usually made in China. If the battery lasts for 100,000 miles – which is optimistic – and the electricity with which it is recharged is made partly with gas, then there is only a small saving in emissions over the lifetime of the car, according to Gautam Kalghatgi of Oxford University.

Fifth, the plan will make the electricity supply less reliable. Already this autumn there have been power-cut near misses and there was a bad blackout in 2019. Costly diesel generators came to our rescue, but keeping the grid stable is getting harder, and in both Australia and California, blackouts have become more common because of reliance on renewables. Smart meters that drain your electric car’s battery to help keep other people’s lights on may help. But if you think that will be popular, Boris, good luck, and wait till the lights go out or the cost of heating your home goes through the roof.

Sixth, Mr Johnson is depending on impractical technologies. Ground-source heat pumps can work, though they deliver low-grade heat and can’t cope on a freezing night. Air source heat pumps have not proved so far to be nearly as efficient as promised. They need electricity, make a noise and take up outside space that is not there in a terrace of houses. Forcing us to use compact fluorescent light bulbs, when LEDs were coming, proved a costly mistake.

Seventh, hydrogen is not an energy source; it first has to be made, using energy, then stored and transported. Making it from natural gas is expensive and generates emissions, but making it with electricity is vastly more expensive. Its minuscule molecules can slip through almost any kind of hole, so the natural gas pipe network is not suitable. Leaks will happen at hydrogen fuelling stations, as one did in Norway in June last year, resulting in a massive explosion.

Eighth, this industrial revolution is anything but green. To generate all our electricity from wind in the North Sea, taking into account the increased demand for electricity for heat pumps, electric cars and hydrogen manufacture, would require a wall of turbines 20 miles wide stretching from Thanet to John O’Groats, says Andrew Montford of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The effect on migratory birds would be terrible.

Ninth, nobody is following Britain’s example. China has announced that its use of fossil fuels will not even peak till 2030. China has more coal-fired power now under development than the entire coal power capacity of the United States. It will use coal to make the turbines and cars and batteries we use, laughing all the way to the bank. The world still generates 93% of its energy from CO2-emitting combustion (coal, oil, gas and wood) and just 1.4% from wind and solar.

Tenth, while climate change is a real issue and must be tackled, Extinction Rebellion is simply wrong about the urgency. If it’s extinction they worry about, let’s tackle invasive alien species, responsible for most extinctions. By contrast, there is no confirmed extinction of a species due to climate change. Nor has global warming resulted in more or fiercer storms or droughts. The extremists’ claims otherwise simply ignore the scientific evidence. Emissions have so far increased crop yields and made all ecosystems greener.

Yes, we need to address the issue, but we would be better off funding research to bring down the cost of carbon capture, nuclear power and fusion. Nuclear is the one form of carbon-free energy that can generate reliable power from a tiny footprint of land. The reason nuclear electricity costs so much today is because we have made innovation in nuclear design all but impossible by devising a byzantine regulatory process of immense cost. Let’s reform that. Small, modular molten-salt reactors are an innovation within reach, unlike electric planes.

My fear is that we will carry out Boris’s promised 10-point plan, cripple our economy, ruin our seascapes and landscapes, and then half way through the 2030s along will come cheap, small, safe fusion reactors. The offshore wind industry, by then so stuffed with subsidies they can afford to lobby politicians and journalists even more than they do to today, will suck their teeth and say: “no, no, no – ignore the fusion crowd. We’re on the brink of solving the reliability issue, and don’t worry, the cost will come down eventually. Promise!”

Boris, this is not the way to the promised land, especially when the government is borrowing £300 billion because of covid. High-cost electricity will prevent the United Kingdom making a success of Brexit. It will bankrupt us in the short run, make us less competitive in the long run and not cut emissions much anyway.

Australia: Cheap, abundant gas cooks the green guilt industry

The conviction that global warming requires us to find new ways to burn other people’s money is hard-baked into the narrative of environmentalism.

Last week, the Grattan Institute took to cooktop shaming to make that case for switching to electricity. If you’re cooking with gas, we were told, you’re playing with fire.

Banning the installation of gas in new homes is “a prudent, no-regrets option” as a prelude to phasing out gas altogether.

“It may be painful for some in the short term,” Australia’s richest think-tank concedes, “but neither wishful thinking nor denial will serve us well.”

Installing electric cooking and water heating appliances adds $2500 to the price of a new house, and retro-fitting an existing house will cost $3800 more. What about the poor people? No problem. Electricity companies can pay for new electric appliances and recover the cost over time through additional electricity charges, says Grattan.

Electricity may one day be cleaner than gas, but to force a switch now would only increase emissions. Cooking with electricity is effectively cooking with coal for 60 per cent of the time and gas for another 20 per cent.

The incessant demand to commit to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, if not sooner, ignores the fact that we don’t yet have the technology to get there. Pragmatism is an inadequate response to the apocalypse they insist is heading our way. It is tempting for a Liberal government to avoid the argument by making the pledge anyway. After all, Scott Morrison’s government will be in its 12th term before it has to deliver.

Yet a commitment to net-zero emissions in 2050 demands that we accelerate emissions reductions now, leading to the dangerous, knee-jerk responses of the kind advocated by Grattan.

Gas is a fossil fuel, ipso facto, it must be purged from our energy supply, or so the thinking goes. Hence Grattan’s expectation that gas will inevitably play a declining role in our energy mix, and we must start turning down the flame right now, whatever the cost.

The path to net-zero emissions will be revealed in the fullness of time and may or may not mean turning off the gas. It is bound to include offsets, such as the sequestration of carbon dioxide into soil where it can be put into productive use, producing better food, more productive farms, greater drought resilience and biodiversity.

The notion that the energy sector alone can achieve net-zero emissions is an assumption it has become heresy to deny. For some, the cost of over-ambitious emissions reduction targets is proof of their virtue.

Economic pain and environmental gain have become inextricably linked in the climate change narrative. Last year the same think-tank warned: “Australia will need to make faster, more expensive changes to get back on track.”

Yet the assumption that efficient technology costs more than the technology it replaces runs counter to our experience. A Honda Civic today costs roughly the same as new model did in 1973 but delivers twice as much power and lower emissions, thanks to investments in research and development in a highly competitive market.

For the past 50 years, however, the environmental debate has become shrouded in apocalyptic thinking and overlaid by puritanical guilt, led by people who doubt the power of free-range human ingenuity to deliver a better future. In the dull, zero-sum world of sustainability, anything that adds to the joy of human existence imposes a cost on the rest of nature.

Rational thinkers on the centre-right have abandoned the space, leaving the ironically named progressives in charge. The oil crisis that gave birth to the hatchback reinforced the conviction that excessive consumption was draining the world of energy and that economic growth should be curtailed.

Innovation in both car manufacture and oil exploration has since allayed the fears that peak-oil was just around the corner, but the anxiety lingers.

Grattan’s speculative assessment that the price of gas will make it too expensive to bring down the price of electricity or the cost of industrial production underpins its claim that it is yesterday’s fuel.

Yet the spot price of gas has fallen considerably in the east coast market since its peak early last year. Lower-priced offers from gas-powered generators in turn helped bring down wholesale electricity prices, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The removal of moratoriums to unlock supply in NSW and Victoria, together with the expected arrival of re-gasification terminals in one or more east coast locations, will further bring down prices, together with government moves to introduce more market transparency and new investment in gas pipelines.

The prospect of cheap and abundant gas should calm the nerves of those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions. The renewable energy sources in which we have invested so heavily will at last be able to pull their weight supported by quick-fire gas, which Chief Scientist Alan Finkel describes as “the perfect complement to wind and solar”.

The impossible trifecta of energy that is cheaper, more reliable and greener at last seems possible, a win-win for people and the planet.

This what a rational environmental policy might look like if a rational approach was ever articulated. It is advancement through incremental improvement rather than by abolishing capitalism and starting again.

A Liberal approach to the environment sees no conflict between economic wellbeing and the environment. Indeed, it recognises that a strong economy is a precondition for environmental improvement and that attempting to reduce energy consumption by constraining supply is a race to the bottom.

Crucially, it avoids the conceit of perfect knowledge in a policy realm that is exceptionally complex. It does not attempt to pick winners or over-promise. It prefers, in the words of FA Hayek, “true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much undetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false”.




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