Thursday, August 26, 2021

E.P.A. to Block Pesticide Tied to Neurological Harm in Children

It is safe when used within its guidelines

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is banning a common pesticide, widely used since 1965 on fruits and vegetables, from use on food crops because it has been linked to neurological damage in children.

The Environmental Protection Agency said this week it would publish a regulation to block the use of chlorpyrifos on food. One of the most widely used pesticides, chlorpyrifos is commonly applied to corn, soybeans, apples, broccoli, asparagus and other produce.

The new rule, which will take effect in six months, follows an order in April by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that directed the E.P.A. to halt the agricultural use of the chemical unless it could demonstrate its safety.

Labor and environmental advocacy groups estimate that the decision will eliminate more than 90 percent of chlorpyrifos use in the country.

In an unusual move, the new chlorpyrifos policy will not be put in place via the standard regulatory process, under which the E.P.A. first publishes a draft rule, then takes public comment before publishing a final rule. Rather, in compliance with the court order, which noted that the science linking chlorpyrifos to brain damage is over a decade old, the rule will be published in final form, without a draft or public comment period.


Another dry, late summer in California, another year in which the state burns and towns get incinerated

Large, out-of-control fires have become a yearly occurrence in the Golden State. The fires may be so bad in 2021 that they run straight through the dry season and up until December, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

While the California fires get the most attention and have caused the most destruction, the giant forest fire problem has been hitting most of the Western states ferociously hard in recent years.

As usual with what should be an unexpected occurrence at this point, many are quick to pin this somewhat recent phenomenon on climate change. Certainly, a hotter environment creates more severe fire conditions. But the reason why large parts of the West have become so susceptible to huge blazes is the other crucial element in starting fires: fuel.

Pinning this on climate change may be politically convenient for many on the left, but it’s clear that it doesn’t fully explain the surge of Western fires.

It’s impossible to ignore the near half-century mismanagement of public land by the state and especially the federal government. In a misguided attempt to be more environmentally conscious, politicians and government agencies created a catastrophe.

When former President Donald Trump made this point, he was attacked and mocked. But Trump was right and his critics were wrong.

As I’ve written about in years past, the Forest Service made some dramatic changes in land management practices starting in the 1970s. While not all land management policies of the early 20th century were good or successful, there was at one time a greater emphasis placed on actively clearing forests of trees and clearing dead, dry material on public land.

Since that time there has been a steady uptick in the size of fires, culminating in the massive, apocalyptic ones we see today.

California’s Dixie Fire has so far destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, 500 homes, and has covered more than 2,000 square miles, according to The Associated Press. It’s the largest fire in California history.

And it’s just one part of the mosaic of fires hitting the state in 2021.

“Through Thursday, fires tracked by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service had burned 1,470,637 acres—far surpassing the 920,165 scorched through that date in 2020,” the New York Post reported.

And because more people are likely to live in areas susceptible to these fires today, in part because of the high cost of living in California’s urban center, this means there is a significant toll on property and life as a result.

Large parts of the West, especially California, have always been susceptible to drought and dry conditions. That’s not new. What has changed is the policies dealing with them.

“Once upon a time the U.S. Forest Service’s mission was to actively manage the federal government’s resources,” explained The Wall Street Journal in 2018. “Yet numerous laws over the last 50 years, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, have hampered tree-clearing, controlled burns, and timber sales on federal land.”

This was the wrong way to go, as it has become clear that active land management turns out to be better for people and the environment in general.

Perhaps ironically, the environmentalist move away from forest management has ended up not only doing severe damage to life and property, but has also hurt the environment. For those concerned about climate change, the towering infernos in the West cause far more carbon emissions than automobiles.

Even the left-leaning Los Angeles Times has acknowledged that there is a lot of evidence that clearing the forests is an important way to deal with the yearly fire crisis:

Forest management has long been touted as essential to fighting wildfires, with one new set of studies led by the University of Wisconsin and the U.S. Forest Service concluding that there is strong scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of thinning dense forests and reducing fuels through prescribed burns.

Certainly, there are positive examples of small-scale entities taking control of managing their local forests. Some Native American tribes have effectively managed their land by harvesting old growth and timber.

Some environmental policy experts have even advocated the creation of “charter forests” that would—much like charter schools—be publicly owned but privately run to do a better job of taking care of vast swaths of land currently lying fallow.

The advantage of having local entities take over forest management is that they can quickly respond to the unique needs of their forests. Large federal agencies like the Forest Service, on the other hand, often move at a glacial pace at best even when a change is desperately needed.

In 2019, even California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said he would begin to invest more in fire prevention in his state, and hashed out a deal with Trump to partner with the federal government to do so.

Unfortunately, a report by CapRadio accused Newsom of misleading the public and revealed that little has been done to fulfill the deal.

When the deal was made, Newsom said the state “fundamentally has to change” in how it approached the huge fires. It appears little if anything has changed.

The problem in California and throughout the West is enormous. A half-century of poor management will be difficult to undo. But failing now will leave future generations at the mercy of these fires and little to build on but soot and ashes.


Biden’s Two-Faced Energy Policies

Shortly after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest apocalyptic report, the Biden administration sent a formal request to OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, asking the cartel’s members to expand oil production to help control fuel prices.

The OPEC appeal makes it clear that President Biden wants to have it both ways. He wants to be seen as a card-carrying “green,” a champion of clean energy. But he also realizes that the green policies he’s pushing, given current technologies, will drive up the cost of energy and punish consumers, a political liability for the administration and his party. With the price of regular gasoline now averaging more than three dollars a gallon nationwide, the political danger is very real.

Crude oil prices (now hovering around $70 per barrel) have been pushing up prices at the pump since the post-Covid economic recovery began. The upward pricing pressure was reinforced by the administration’s early decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil from the Bakken Shale deposits in Canada and the Dakotas to Gulf Coast refineries. Ironically (or not), while canceling Keystone XL, the president gave a nod of approval to a similar pipeline, Nord Stream 2, to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany.

Canceling Keystone XL wasn’t the president’s only concession to the greens. The administration also canceled leases for oil production in Alaska, suspended oil leasing on federal lands (despite a federal court ruling that the moratorium is illegal), proposed higher fuel-economy standards for cars, and invoked the Endangered Species Act to limit or stop drilling on private land in the West.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. economist to predict that such actions will limit energy supplies and drive prices up. No one should excuse the results as “unintended.”

The administration and its congressional allies likewise want to pass a Clean Electricity Standard that would shift the country to 80 percent emissions-free power by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy for homes and offices by 2035. The likely consequences are also predictable because the proposed pivot to government-mandated renewable power is happening when the existing electric grid’s reliability is declining.

Blackouts already have become a persistent threat in California and Texas. The Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which oversees grid operations in the western half of the country, has warned that there may not be enough reserve power to keep lights and air conditioners on if a persistent heat wave stretches across multiple states and sends electricity demand soaring. In fact, rolling blackouts could be the only option for keeping the Western grid from collapsing.

Integrating renewable power into the electric grid is extremely challenging. California is a case in point. Abundant solar power during daytime hours is followed by declining power supplies as the sun sets, even as temperatures and electricity use remain high. Ensuring sufficient backup power to maintain reliability all day every day is proving to be a nail-biting experience for grid operators. As one California legislator remarked after rolling blackouts last summer, “Today we have a grid that is increasingly expensive, unreliable and unavailable when the people of California need it the most.” Texas last winter proved that grid reliability can be a problem during unusual cold snaps as well.

What is particularly troubling about the problems in California is that green advocates hold the Golden State up as a model for the entire country. California was supposed to be charting a path forward for the rest of us. If anything, it’s charting the course not to follow.

Increased generation of clean electricity makes sense when it can be done cost-effectively without government subsidies. But it shouldn’t be pushed without having a comprehensive energy policy in place to protect consumers against grid failures, blackouts, and wild price spikes.

The administration’s war on U.S. fossil fuel production and distribution, especially cheap, abundant, clean-burning natural gas, shows that no such policy exists. By encouraging OPEC and Russia to boost oil and gas production, the administration seems to acknowledge the continued importance of fossil fuels—but only, apparently, if we’re dependent on imports to meet our needs.

Until we have the technology to store massive amounts of renewable energy and to move massive amounts of excess power from one region of the country to another, the responsible approach to the energy transition is not to treat our existing resources as a problem, but as the foundation on which to build renewable power.


UK: The true cost of wind power is staggering – the cost of offshore wind power is astronomical: the latter is more than six times the cost of gas-fired power.

We present what may be the first estimate of the levelised cost of floating offshore wind.

Last year, I wrote a blog post setting out the financial situation of Hywind, the UK’s first commercial floating offshore windfarm, and indeed the first in the world. It was an ugly tale, with a hugely lossmaking operation kept in the black only by a vast transfer of subsidies. However, Hywind has recently published its second set of financial results since it became fully operational, and so we can now start to get a handle on its operational performance and underlying costs, and publish what I believe is the first estimate of the levelised cost of floating offshore wind.

Situated off Peterhead, in what appears to be something of a sweet spot for wind, it is unsurprising that Hywind’s performance is rather better than your typical offshore windfarm. Renewables advocates are keen to point out that its capacity factor (the electricity generated as a percentage of the theoretical maximum) has reached 57%. However, in 2020/2021, that fell back to just 51%, which is only a few points ahead of recent fixed offshore windfarms.

Meanwhile its costs are extraordinarily high. We already knew that its capital cost, at £8.9m/MW. was around three times that of fixed offshore wind. But its opex costs are also much higher than might be expected. As a rule of thumb, fixed offshore wind opex starts at around £100,000/MW per year, and then rises from there as the turbines age. However, Hywind seems to have started out from a much higher base – its opex costs have averaged over £200,000/MW per year since it became operational.

With only marginally better operational performance than fixed offshore, and costs that are several times higher, there is no hope that Hywind’s overall levelised cost will be anything other than disastrously expensive. I estimate the LCOE figure as £224/MWh, a value that is unchanged since last year, suggesting that the value is reasonably robust. This is approximately double that of fixed offshore wind, and perhaps five to six times what we would expect for electricity from gas turbines. (As always when comparing wind and gas, we should note that the comparison is misleading since wind should carry a considerable extra cost burden because of its intermittency, which is expensive to correct).

There can therefore be little doubt that Hywind is a failure. Kincardine, the UK’s second floating offshore windfarm, looks as though it will be more expensive still. It seems beyond doubt that floating offshore wind is a financial disaster.

Unsurprisingly, the government is ploughing ahead with it regardless.




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