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White House Rebuffs Congressmen on National Assessment
The stench of the National Assessment has reached Congress. Representatives James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the committee, and Ken Calvert, chairman of the subcommittee on energy and the environment, wrote to Presidential Assistant on Science and Technology Neal Lane on June 7 about the controversial report.
Dr. Lane’s failure to respond and the release of the draft report prompted a more explicit letter from the two, sent on June 28. This second letter asked that the National Science Foundation, “(1) promptly publish the corrected draft versions of the National Assessment Synthesis Report Overview and Foundation Report documents in the Federal Register; and (2) extend the public comment period to provide a minimum of 60 days thereafter.” The Foundation Report, 700 pages long, is the basis of the Synthesis Report Overview and is allegedly available, by appointment, at the NSF’s headquarters in Virginia.
The congressmen also criticized the NSF for not establishing a public docket and for not making available the “publications and analyses” used in the report. Because the report available (purportedly) in Virginia and on the web is incomplete, missing figures, tables, and other elements, the congressmen label it “deficient and incomplete” and not yet ready for final public comment and review.
Dr. Lane responded to the lawmakers on June 30th, addressing directly none of their concerns. He concluded simply: “I do not feel there is any need to alter the process that we devised…” Translated: Full steam ahead; let’s get this thing out the door in October and get our man into the White House.
DOE Responds to Coalition FOIAs
The Department of Energy on July 10 provided a “wealth of documents” in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Cooler Heads Coalition.
After a first glance, Christopher C. Horner, counsel to the coalition, said that the documents provide evidence that the department was under strong political pressure from the White House to hurry production of the National Assessment so that the final version would be ready for release before the election. Horner also said that reviewers’ comments of the draft National Assessment from scientists at two of DOE’s National Laboratories are “scathing.”
The Environmental Protection Agency continues to resist turning over relevant documents in response to the Coalition’s FOIA requests, despite being under a federal court order to do so. EPA’s attempts to obstruct and obfuscate have begun to resemble President Clinton’s celebrated statement that it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.
The Blame Game: Gas Prices
Finger-pointing continued in Washington over recent gasoline price spikes. While Vice President Gore shouts about collusion and price gouging by oil companies, a June 5 memo to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson identifies a number of more plausible reasons. Among them are regulatory actions undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency, which initially requested the Federal Trade Commission investigation of possible collusion.
The memo by Melanie Kenderdine, acting director of policy at DOE, points to high consumer demand and low inventories of petroleum nationwide. In addition, Milwaukee and other upper Midwest cities are faced with “an RFG [reformulated gasoline-required by EPA] formulation specific to the area that is more difficult to produce,” as well as specific refinery and pipeline problems. A June 16 report by the Congressional Research Service came to similar conclusions.
Kenderdine predicts that, “The first opportunity for any relief from this tight market situation will most likely be due to reduced seasonal demand this fall, when there will be a change back to less-stringent RFG performance specifications.”
In a June 9 letter to Secretary Richardson, Vice President Gore wrote that the memo “also implies the existence of an unexplained variation or price differential between RFG and conventional gas….In the light of these findings, it would appear appropriate that you forward your report, in full, to the Federal Trade Commission, for any action they deem appropriate.” The memo in no way implies what Gore asserted.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on July 10 that more and more Europeans are fed up with high gasoline prices, which are now at or above $4 a gallon in most EU countries. In Germany, motorists are joining a protest movement called Jetzt Reicht’s (translated as Enough is Enough!). In the United Kingdom, a Dump the Pump gas boycott is being organized for August 1. The Post mentions that the “real culprit” is gasoline taxes “that account for about 80% of the price at the pump” compared to 25% in the U. S. The German Green Party continues to advocate raising the price to approximately $10 a gallon.
Take That, Excess Profits!
Taking their cue from Vice President Gore’s attacks on oil companies for increasing their profits by 500% in the last year, Representatives David Bonior (D-MI) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) intend to introduce the Gas Price Spike Act of 2000. It would prevent oil companies from reaping “excess profits” if enacted.
Historical data would be used to set a “reasonable” level of profits for individual companies. Profits more than five percent above that level would be taxed at a 100 percent rate. Said Rep. Bonior, “The threat of heavy taxation will send a clear signal to the oil companies that price gouging will not pay.”
Natural Gas: Conflicting Policies
Natural gas industry leaders have called on the next administration to reverse Clinton-Gore policies that have closed huge areas to gas exploration and development. New sources of natural gas will be needed to supply much higher demand expected in the near future.
The call to open federal lands and Outer Continental Shelf tracts to gas production that have been put off-limits by the current administration was made during the Natural Gas Summit, held in Colorado Springs on July 10, according to the BNA Daily Environment Report (July 11, 2000).
Dick Sharples, chairman of the Natural Gas Council and president of Andarko Energy Services, said that natural gas consumption is projected to rise from 22 trillion cubic feet in 2000 to 29 trillion cubic feet in 2010.
Supporters of the Kyoto Protocol have promoted the substitution of natural gas for coal to produce electricity because gas produces much less carbon dioxide per BTU than coal. However, environmentalists have also opposed industry efforts to expand sources of supply. The Clinton-Gore Administration has closed tens of millions of acres of federal land to exploration and has extended exploration leasing moratoriums on the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf of Mexico OCS. These conflicting policies now appear to be approaching a collision.
EU: Enforce Kyoto, No Nukes
The European Union’s Council of Environment Ministers have made several key decisions about the European Union’s negotiating position at the upcoming sixth Conference of Parties (COP-6) to be held in the Hague, November 13-24.
According to BNA’s Daily Environment Report (July 3, 2000), the ministers decided that financial penalties should be imposed on countries that exceed their greenhouse gas emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol. Second, the Council agreed that definite limits should be put on the use of carbon sinks to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Third, the EU will oppose the inclusion of nuclear power in the Clean Development Mechanism. The communiqué instead called on COP-6 to “adopt a positive list of safe, environmentally sound eligible projects based on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency improvements and demand-side management in the fields of energy and transport.”
Kyoto Hurts Minorities
American blacks and Hispanics will suffer the most economically if the Kyoto Protocol is implemented, according to a report released on July 7 by several leading minority business associations.
The economic analysis produced by Management Information Services, Inc. predicts that under a Kyoto energy-suppression regime, 1.4 million blacks and Hispanics could lose their jobs. In addition, income for minority Americans with jobs could also decrease substantially.
Other adverse effects could include 10 to 20 percent increases in housing costs and the closure of 10,000 minority-owned businesses.
The study used economic modeling, an analysis of the economic effects of the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s, and Department of Energy studies to reach these conclusions. It notes that energy policies designed to reach the Kyoto targets will have a “disproportionately negative impact on those least likely to be able to afford to pay higher costs.”
The report concludes that, “The economic boom of the late 1990s allowed many in the minority community to begin to heal the economic wounds left over from the recession of the 1970s. Hispanic and African-American families, many of whom are just lifting themselves out of poverty, will unfairly suffer the harsh reality of seeing those gains disappear if the Kyoto Protocol is implemented.”
Refusing To Repeat Past Mistakes: How the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol Would Disproportionately Threaten the Economic Well-Being of Blacks and Hispanics in the United States was sponsored by the National Black Chamber of Commerce, U.S Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The National Institute for Latino Development, The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, The Latin Management Association, The Center for Energy and Economic Development, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. It may be found on the web at http://www.ceednet.org .
Industry Against EPA CO2 Regulation
Twenty-six industry associations have filed joint comments with the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The comments respond to an October 1999 petition by environmental groups urging regulation of CO2 emissions by new automobiles.
“We wanted to be very clear on where American business stands on the question of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses,” said Philip Cooney, climate team leader at the American Petroleum Institute (BNA, 7/10). The language of the comment could not be any more clear in that respect: “[T]he [Clean Air] Act does not authorize EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.”
According to the comment, no EPA administrator has even determined that CO2 meets the definition of an “air pollution agent” under the Act. The EPA’s former general counsel admitted as much in 1998. Additionally, Congress has not given the EPA explicit authority to regulate CO2, which it has done for hundreds of other pollutants.
Other groups that filed the joint comment include the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. The EPA has not yet announced a formal comment period.
Wind Turbines Kill Birds Dead
A new study conducted by BioResource Consultants for the National Energy Lab has found that certain types of wind turbines kill birds at a rate five times higher than previously estimated.
According to study author Carl Thelander, as many as 1150 birds are killed annually by the turbines at California’s Altamont Pass, including burrowing owls, raptors, and golden eagles, which are illegal to kill under the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Thelander warned the wind industry: “The electric industry has been prosecuted for killing less.”
At the heart of the bird-kill issue is a technological debate. The industry has claimed repeatedly that fewer lattice towers with horizontal bars and the elimination of high-rpm rotors reduce avian deaths dramatically. Said Thelander, “Our data shows these assumptions are not true.” In other words, no specific wind turbine technology exists that can reduce bird-kills. (Wind Power Monthly, July 2000)
Despite this alarming finding, Greenpeace and other green groups have not indicated any intent to protest or otherwise harass turbine operators and reports of the study have not been featured in the New York Times or Washington Post.
In “Breaking the Global-Warming Deadlock”, authors Daniel Sarewitz and Roger Pielke, Jr. advocate dropping pointless arguments over carbon dioxide emissions and temperature data in favor of addressing real environmental problems. Their article appears in the July issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
Although they knock global warming skeptics as well as true believers, their argument is similar to what leading skeptics have been saying for many years. The authors suggest that as population grows and development continues, severe weather events will do more and more damage. They thus suggest that we should turn our attention to adaptation and mitigation.
Two quotes: “As a basis for action, vulnerability to weather has everything that global warming lacks: a clear story rooted in concrete experience, observable in the present, definable in terms of widely shared values.” And: “The moral imperative should be not to prevent human disruption of the environment but to ameliorate the social and political conditions that lead people to behave in environmentally disruptive ways.”
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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