Topic: Energy and Environment

Lone Star Rail Insanity

Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin is congested, so obviously (to some people, at least) the solution is to run passenger trains between the two cities. Existing tracks are crowded with freight trains, so the Lone Star Rail District proposes to build a brand-new line for the freight trains and run passenger trains on the existing tracks. The total capital cost would be about $3 billion, up from just $0.6 billion in 2004 (which probably didn’t include the freight re-route).

Click image to download a PDF version of this map.

By coincidence, that was the projected capital cost for the proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando (cancelled by Florida Governor Rick Scott), which are about the same 80-miles apart as Austin and San Antonio. But, despite the cost, Lone Star wouldn’t be a high-speed rail line. According to a 2004 feasibility study, trains would take about 90 minutes between the two cities, with two stops in between. While express trains with no stops would be a bit faster, cars driving at Texas speeds could still be faster.

Lone Star is asking the San Antonio city council for $500,000 to help pay for an environmental impact statement and other studies. Austin has supposedly already agreed to fund its share, though it isn’t in the city’s budget.

Lone Star is promising 32 trains (16 each way) carrying 20,000 riders (10,000 round trips) per day at fares of up to $12. That’s more than 600 riders per train; though some may not go the entire distance, it still seems high. Megabus currently operates three buses a day that take 85 minutes between the two cities at fares of $1.50 to $7.50. It seems likely that if there were 20,000 people per day wanting to pay $12 to take the trip at the same speed, Megabus would find them.

If the goal is to relieve congestion on I-35, two new lanes would probably cost less than a billion dollars and would be capable of moving far more vehicles per day than Lone Star would take off the road. Of course, the highway is probably not congested over the entire route, so two new lanes for the full length probably aren’t necessary. Besides, self-driving cars will probably go on sale and eliminate any need for passenger trains before the first Lone Star train would turn a wheel.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who famously cancelled the city’s even more backwards streetcar project, says that Lone Star isn’t one of her priorities. “There will be benefits from this alternative transit option, but we have to be good fiscal stewards,” she added. Local taxpayers should hope that she and the San Antonio city council can resist the starry-eyed Lone Star plan.

You Ought to Have a Look: Clean Power Plan Comes Under Fire

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

We’ll start out with one of the best quotes we’ve come across in recent memory. It’s from the inimitable Matt Ridley in his piece, “The Green Scare Problem” from the Wall Street Journal last week:

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate.

Ridley goes on to describe a growingly familiar list of now-failed environmental apocalypses that had been, at one point in time, predicted to befall us—pesticides, ozone hole, acid rain, GMOs, etc. Climate change calamity, as is being pushed by President Obama and the EPA to justify their ever-expanding restrictions of our carbon dioxide emissions, is the latest addition to Ridley’s list. Ridley’s main point is that the “we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do” push “has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.” Ridley foresees more of the same from Obama’s Clean Power. We’re inclined to agree.

Be sure to check out Matt’s full column in which he backs up his opinions. It well worth the time spent reading.

When it comes to selling the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and his EPA go to such extreme lengths that they run up against (and often exceed) the bounds of sound science. We’ve addressed many of these transgressions. Climate impact of the Plan? Zilch. Health impacts from the Plan. Non-existent. Economic stimulus of the Plan? Negative. Validity of calling “carbon dioxide emissions” “carbon pollution”? None.

To expand a bit upon the latter, we tracked the historical usage of the phrases “carbon dioxide emissions” and “carbon pollution” in press releases issued by the EPA since 1994. “Carbon dioxide emissions” is the scientifically appropriate description of well, carbon dioxide emissions, while “carbon pollution” is grossly inaccurate and, well, deceptive. Our figure tracks how the EPA has moved away from science and towards propaganda in recent years, no doubt, in concert with the President and his push for limits to carbon dioxide emissions under his Climate Action Plan announced in 2013 (and telegraphed years earlier).

 

Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

When a straight up telling of the situation fails to impress, try dressing it up with something a bit scarier-sounding.

And finally, if the Obama Administration isn’t going to have its hands full dealing with challenges by states and industries who are opposed to the Clean Power Plan for myriad reasons, it’ll also have to defend itself against a lawsuit from a group of youths who think that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t go far enough:

They are asking for a court order to force Obama to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million – a level many scientists agree is the highest safe concentration permissible – by the end of this century. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already hit 400 parts per million.

“It’s really important that the court step in and do their jobs when there’s such intense violation of constitutional rights happening,” [Julia] Olson [lead council on the case] said.

Nothing like a lawsuit that is suing for the impossible!

Budgets on Fire

It’s fire season again, which means we are once again treated to stories about how the Forest Service is running out of money and about how it all must be due to climate change. Both of these claims overlook fundamental points about fire policy and firefighting.

As of August 16, the BLM had spent $2.2 million controlling the 88,000-acre Cornet Fire on the Vale District in Oregon. The Forest Service has spent two-and-one-half times that much on a fire that was just 515 acres in size. BLM photo.

The Forest Service frets that rapidly rising firefighting costs are hurting the budgets of other Forest Service programs. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Forest Service firefighting costs have risen rapidly mainly because they can: the agency has a virtual blank check to spend on fire. As a result, the agency spends far more fighting fires than Department of the Interior agencies, which have never had a blank check.

For example, as of yesterday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had spent $1.6 million controlling the 55,000-acre County Line 2 fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, while the Bureau of Land Management had spent $2.5 million controlling the 44,000-acre Bendire fire on its Vale District. Meanwhile, the Forest Service had spent $5.5 million on the 515-acre Baldy Fire on the Colville National Forest; $5.9 million on the 4,800-acre National Creek fire on the Rogue River National Forest; and $7.1 million on the 2,600-acre Phillips Creek fire on the Umatilla National Forest. These are selected examples, but on average, the Forest Service spends more than five times as much per acre than the Interior agencies.

CO2-induced Greening of the Earth: Benefiting the Biosphere While Lifting the Poor out of Poverty

In the “Agriculture” chapter of Cato’s 2012 Addendum to the federal government’s “Second National Assessment” of the effects of climate change on the United States, I wrote the following:

At a fundamental level, carbon dioxide is the basis of nearly all life on Earth, as it is the primary raw material or “food” that is utilized by plants to produce the organic matter out of which they construct their tissues…

Typically, a doubling of the air’s CO2 content above present-day concentrations raises the productivity of most herbaceous plants by about one-third; this positive response occurs in plants that utilize all three of the major biochemical pathways of photosynthesis.

There is no doubt elevated concentrations of atmospheric CO2 lead to enhanced plant photosynthesis and growth. This well-known fact has been confirmed over and over again in literally thousands of laboratory and field studies conducted by scientists over the past several decades. In recent years, however, the growth-enhancing benefits of atmospheric CO2 have been increasingly studied and observed in the real world of nature using Earth-orbiting satellites. Such instruments have the capability to remotely sense plant growth and vigor at altitudes miles above the Earth’s surface; and they have generated a spatial and temporal record of vegetative change that now spans more than three decades. And what has that record revealed?

Spin Cycle: Carbon Dioxide Is NOT “Carbon Pollution”

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

President Obama is keen on calling carbon dioxide emitted from our nation’s fossil fuel-powered energy production, “carbon pollution.” For example, last week, when introducing EPA’s Clean Power Plan—new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from the power plants that currently produce 67 percent of the country’s electricity—he used the term “carbon pollution” ten times. For example:

Right now, our power plants are the source of about a third of America’s carbon pollution. That’s more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined. That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water – and we’re better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air. [emphasis added]

Clearly, he is trying to paint a picture for the American public whereby carbon dioxide emissions are thought of as dirty, noxious substances that invade the air we breathe and make us sick. Who wouldn’t support regulation to try to limit such a menace?

But, this is scientifically inaccurate and, no doubt, intentionally misleading. It reflects poorly on the president and on his scientific advisors.

Too Hot in Washington: A Climate Mystery?

After the purportedly all-time record high May temperature was reported at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (the “official” Washington weather station), I noted something very funny with its temperatures. When 2015’s monthly temperatures are stated as departures from the 1981-2010 average, which is the standard reporting procedure, the departures from average at Reagan (DCA) were always warmer than those at Dulles Airport (IAD), about 25 miles to the northwest.

Note that the departures are from the average at each location. So when DCA reports a temperature of three degrees below average, that is three degrees below the average at Reagan. Similarly for the departure at Dulles. It’s compared to the average at Dulles.

So, we’re not talking about raw temperature here. Of course DCA is going to be intrinsically warmer than IAD. It’s several hundred feet lower in elevation and its being additionally heated by the bricks, buildings, and the pavement of urban Washington, as well as the waste heat from all your money changing hands. What is interesting is that the departures from normal, or “anomalies,” at DCA were all running hot compared to the departures from normal at IAD.   

For example, last month was 1.7°F above the average at DCA, while Dulles was 0.7°F below its average, for a difference of +2.4°, where the expected difference should be near zero. The record hot May departure from normal was 1.5° greater at Reagan than Dulles. Adjusting the Reagan temperature down to where it should be would take it out of the record books.

Spin Cycle: EPA’s Clean Power Plan

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

The first paragraph of EPA’s 1500+ page Clean Power Plan, released on August 3, says this:

These final emission guidelines…will lead to significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions from the utility power sector that will help protect human health and the environment from the impacts of climate change.

This isn’t simply an exaggeration, a misstatement or a sophomoric rhetorical flourish.  It is simply not true.

The operative claim is that EPA’s  plan “will help protect human health and the environment from the impacts of climate change.” 

It will do no such thing.  The EPA’s own policy analysis model, called MAGICC*, tells us how much global warming will be prevented by the new plan:  0.019°C by the year 2100 (based on procedures similar to those we detailed here).  That’s the amount of temperature change a person will experience in about every second of life. It is simply impossible to detect this change in any global temperature history.