Topic: Energy and Environment

Keystone XL Pipeline Given High Marks in State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement

Recall this passage from President Obama’s Georgetown speech last summer announcing his Climate Action Plan:

Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear:  Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

This basically should have green-lighted the pipeline, because, as I pointed out in congressional testimony last year, regardless of how you figure the carbon dioxide emissions from the pipeline’s oil, the resulting climate impact will be so small as to assuredly put the president’s mind at ease.

The just-released Final Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department concluded about the same thing as the Draft Environmental Impacts Statement from the State Department, which is in complete agreement with my findings regarding carbon dioxide emissions from the pipeline’s oil and climate change. The net global warming impact from the pipeline oil amounts to somewhat less than 1/100th of a degree Celsius over the next 100 years.

So if the president wants to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (clearly he does, because he has had ample opportunity to approve it), he’ll have to find a reason to do so other than a climate one. Unfortunately for him, trying to kill it for other reasons would be equally ill-founded.

Senate Prepares to Roll Back Flood Insurance Reforms

A funny thing happened in 2012, Congress actually passed a bill that intentionally cut subsidies.  In this case subsidies given to homeowners under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  The Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, if fully implemented, would eliminate almost half of the annual billion in estimated subsidies under the NFIP.  Now before your opinion of Congress suddenly improves, its important to remember that subsidies reductions were done only because the NFIP had expired and some responsible members objected to extending the program without reform.  Now that the program is up and running again, beach front homeowners and their friends in the real estate industry want their subsidies back.

The Senate is currently moving towards that goal.  Not even wanting to bother with the normal process of hearings and a Committee vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has brought S.1926 directly to the floor for a vote, likely to occur this week.  S.1926 would indefinitely delay the premium increases passed in Waters-Biggert, effectively hitting the taxpayer for $100s of millions annually.  But hey there’s a close Senate race going on it Louisiana, so regular order can wait.

Now I have every sympathy for households facing rate increases under NFIP.  They’ve been getting a subsidy for years and have grown used to it.  Given the sometimes high cost of NFIP, it might not even feel like a subsidy.  But then part of that is because almost a third of the premium income is pocketed by the insurance companies (at no risk to them I might add).  The solution is to let those households either get out of NFIP altogether or to purchase private insurance, that would likely be cheaper given the inefficiencies of the NFIP.  If one feels that maintaining flood coverage is vital for these households, yet they cannot bear the higher raters, another option would be a significantly higher deductible.  Rolling back the premium reforms in Biggert-Waters is simply short-sighted and irresponsible, but then that’s nothing new for Washington.

Free America’s Energy Future: Drop Washington’s Misguided Export Ban

For years people have been told to expect a dismal energy future.  But because of rapid market innovation Americans now can look forward to an abundant energy future.  The U.S. could even become a leading exporter—if Washington gets out of the way. 

An energy revolution currently is underway, with increasing supplies and falling prices.  Even more could be done if Washington expanded access to federal lands and waters and freed producers to make best use of what they extract.

Arbitrary restrictions bedevil energy exports.  For instance, natural gas licenses are granted automatically for nations with free trade agreements—in this case Canada and Mexico—but otherwise the review process is lengthy and approval is rare.  Last year Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced that he was delaying decisions on a score of applications for political reasons even though the department had already concluded that such exports would benefit the U.S. economy. 

The ban on oil is even tougher, with only small amounts being shipped to Canada.  Few licenses have been issued under the law’s “national interest” exception, and none since 2000.

As I point out in my latest Forbes online column:

Forbidding petroleum exports does not make additional oil available to Americans.  Rather, the ban prevents energy companies from saving money.  For instance, it would be cheaper to sell Alaskan crude to Asia and purchase more oil from Latin America.

Closing the Books on 2013: Another Year, Another Nail in the Coffin of Disastrous Global Warming

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

A few weeks have now passed since the end of last year, giving enough time for various data-compiling (and “data-adusting”) agencies to get their numbers in order and to release the sad figures from 2013.

U.S. Annual Average Temperature

We pointed out, back in this post in mid-December, that there was an outside chance—if December were cold enough—that the average annual temperature for the U.S. in 2013 would fall below the 20th century average for the first time since 1996.  Well, despite how cold it seemed in December, it turned out to not quite be cold enough to push the January-December 2013 temperature anomaly into negative territory. Figure 1 below shows the U.S. temperature history as compiled by the National Climatic Data Center from 1895 through 2013.

Figure 1. U.S. annual average temperature as compiled by the National Climatic Data Center, 1895-2013 (data: NCDC Climate at a Glance).

Please be advised that this history has been repeatedly “revised” to either make temperatures colder in the earlier years or warmer at the end.  Not one “adjustment” has the opposite effect, a clear contravention of logic and probability.  While the US has gotten slightly warmer in recent decades, compared to the early 20th century, so have the data themselves.  It’s a fact that if you just take all the thousands of fairly evenly-spaced “official” weather stations around the country and average them up since 1895, that you won’t get much of a warming trend at all.   Consequently a major and ongoing federal effort has been to try and cram these numbers into the box imposed by the theory that gives the government the most power—i.e., strong global warming.

What immediately stands out in 2013 is how exceptional the average temperature in 2012 (the warmest year in the record) really was. In fact, the recovery in 2013 from the lofty heights in 2012 was the largest year-over-year temperature decline in the complete 119 year record—an indication that 2012 was an outlier more so than “the new normal.”

Hot Air About Cold Air

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Last summer, we predicted that come this winter, any type of severe weather event was going to be linked to pernicious industrial activity (via global warming) through a new mechanism that had become a media darling—the loss of late summer/early fall Arctic sea ice leading to more persistent patterns in the jet stream. These are known as “blocking” patterns, which generally means that the same type of weather (usually somewhat extremish) hangs around longer than usual.

This global-warming-leading-to-more-extreme-winter-weather mechanism has been presented in several recent papers, perhaps the most noteworthy of which was a 2012 publication by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus, which was the subject of one of our blog posts last summer. We noted then how their idea ran counter to much of the extant literature of the topic as well as a host of other newly published papers investigating historical jet stream patterns.

After running through a list of observations compiled from the scientific literature countering the Francis and Vavrus explanation of things, we nevertheless wondered:

It’ll be interesting to see during this upcoming winter season how often the press—which seems intent on seeking to relate all bad weather events to anthropogenic global warming—turns to the Francis and Vavrus explanation of winter weather events, and whether or not the growing body of new and conflicting science is ever brought up.

We didn’t have to wait long. After a couple of early winter southward Arctic air excursions, the familiar and benign-sounding “jet stream” had become the “polar vortex”[1] which “sucked in” the United States. Of course, the U.S. being sucked into a polar vortex was part and parcel of what was to be expected from global warming.

Since we had predicted this action/reaction, we weren’t terribly surprised.

What did surprise us (although perhaps it shouldn’t have) is that the White House joined in the polar vortex horror show and released a video in which John Holdren, the  President’s Science Advisor—arguably the highest ranking “scientist” in the U.S.—linked the frigid air to global warming:

In the video, Holdren boldly stated:

 …a growing body of evidence suggests that kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues…

It seems that Holdren neither keeps up with our writings at Cato nor the scientific literature on the topic.

While perhaps it could be argued that Holdren’s statement is not an outright lie, it is, at its very best, a half-truth and even a stretch at that. For in fact, there is a larger and faster growing body of evidence that directly disputes Holdren’s contention.

In addition to the evidence that we reported on here and here, a couple of brand new papers just hit the scientific journals this month that emphatically reject the hypothesis that global warming is leading to more blocking patterns in the jet stream (and accompanying severe weather outbreaks across the U.S.).

The first paper is a modeling paper by a team of U.K. scientists led by Giacomo Masato from the University of Reading. Masato and his colleagues looked at how the magnitude and frequency of atmospheric blocking events in the Atlantic-Europe region is projected to change in the future according to four climate models which the authors claim match the observed characteristics of blocking events in this region pretty well. What they found was completely contradictory to Holdren’s claim. While the researchers did note a model-projected small future increase in the frequency of blocking patterns over the Atlantic (the ones which impact the weather in the U.S.), they found that the both the strength of the blocking events as well as the associated surface temperature anomalies over the continental U.S. were considerably moderated. In other words, global warming was expected to make “polar vortex” associated cold outbreaks less cold.

The second paper is by a research team led by Colorado State University’s Elizabeth Barnes. In their paper “Exploring recent trends in Northern Hemisphere blocking,” Barnes and colleagues used various meteorological definitions of “blocking” along with various datasets of atmospheric conditions to assess whether or not there have been any trends in the frequency of blocking events that could be tied to changes in global warming and/or the declines in Arctic sea ice.

They found no such associations.

From their conclusions:

[T]he link between recent Arctic warming and increased Northern Hemisphere blocking is currently not supported by observations. While Arctic sea ice experienced unprecedented losses in recent years, blocking frequencies in these years do not appear exceptional, falling well within their historically observed range. The large variability of blocking occurrence, on both inter-annual and decadal time scales, underscores the difficulty in separating any potentially forced response from natural variability.

In other words natural variability dominates the observed record making it impossible to detect any human-caused global warming signal even if one were to exist (which there is no proof of).

So, the most recent science shows 1) no observed relationship between global warming and winter severe weather outbreaks and 2) future “polar vortex”-associated cold outbreaks are projected to mollify—yet the White House prepares a special video proclaiming the opposite with the intent to spread climate alarm.

Full scientific disclosure in matters pertaining to global warming is not a characteristic that we have come to expect with this Administration.

References:

Barnes, E., et al., 2014. Exploring recent trends in Northern Hemisphere blocking. Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2013GL058745.

Francis, J. A. and S. J. Vavrus, 2012: Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, doi:10.1029/2012GL051000.

Masato, G., T. Woollings, and B.J. Hoskins, 2014. Structure and impact of atmospheric blocking over the Euro-Atlantic region in present day and future simulations. Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1002/2013GL058570.


[1] For what it’s worth, there’s been two polar vortices (north and south) on planet earth ever since it acquired an atmosphere and maintains rotation. 

CO2 Regulation News from the Federal Register

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

The Federal Register has been brimming with announcements of government activities aimed to reduce/regulate carbon dioxide emissions emanating from the United States.

You may wonder why the government finds the need to pursue such action since 1) U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have already topped out and have generally been on the decline for the past 7-8 years or so (from technological advances in natural gas extraction and a slow economy more so than from already- enacted government regulations and subsidies); 2) greenhouse gases from the rest of the world (primarily driven by China) have been sky-rocketing over the same period, which lessens any impacts that our emissions reduction have); and 3) even in their totality, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have a negligible influence on local/regional/global climate change (even a immediate and permanent cessation of all our carbon dioxide emissions would likely result in a mitigation of global temperature rise of less than one-quarter of a degree C by the end of the century).

We wonder the same thing. Nevertheless, the government has lots of ideas for how to save ourselves from ourselves (with likely to opposite outcome).

Here is a summary of new announcements appearing in the Federal Register over the past month or so on actions aimed to curtail our carbon dioxide emissions (primarily the result of our desire for cheap and reliable energy—gasp!).

Posted November 26, 2013: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a call for review of the Technical Support Document currently justifying the Administration’s value of the social cost of carbon (SCC) used in federal cost/benefit analyses.  We have discussed this announcement previously, and while it provides a glimmer of hope for injecting some new science and common sense into the government’s social cost of carbon, we are highly skeptical of a positive outcome. We mention the announcement again here, because the public comment period ends on January 27, 2014.  Comments can be submitted here.

Posted December 6, 2013: The Department of Energy announced another in its seemingly endless string of intrusions into our personal choices through its energy efficiency requirement updates for all sorts of consumer products. These revised efficiency regulations rely on the SCC to offset the costs and enrich the apparent benefits of the new requirements. We have already submitted comments on several of these proposed regulations (from walk-in refrigerators to furnace fans), but they just keep on coming.  The latest pertains to commercial and electric motors. Final comments are due February 4, 2014 and con be submitted here.

Posted December 31, 2013: The Department of Energy (DoE) announced that it has declined a Petition for Reconsideration of its rule updating the energy conservation standards for of microwave ovens.  The Petition for Reconsideration was brought by the Landmark Legal Foundation which pointed out that the DoE used a social cost of carbon estimate in the cost/benefits analysis for the rule that had not been subject to public comment and which was some 50% higher than the value used in the C/B analysis that was available for public comment.  In other words, the DoE pulled a pretty big bait and switch.  We at the Cato’s Center for the Study of Science submitted comments on the Landmark Petition pointing out just how far afield from the actual science that the Administrations SCC estimate had become.  The denial was disappointing, but the fight over the proper value for the SCC has now moved to the OMB (as described above).

Downsize the Department of Energy

The Department of Energy spends $29 billion per year on various schemes with a disastrous track record, often with bipartisan support. From regulations that destabilize markets, decrease domestic output and harm consumers, to subsidies that pick and choose winners and losers, this department is a perfect example of a white elephant – an expensive project of little to no useful purpose.

Solyndra is the best example of such waste. The solar panel company received a $535 million loan before filing for bankruptcy in 2011. The federal government will likely recover just $27 million from that loan.

The department can be abolished by relegating security and clean-up-related tasks to the EPA or the Department of Defense and by returning research functions to the private sector. In all, abolishing the Department of Energy would save taxpayers about $7 billion a year. To that end we’ve created a short video which makes these and other points, which you can watch below.