Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fueling the Future's Electric Cars

As a part of the uranium battle in which CARE has been engaged over the last 10 months, Executive Director, Marita Noon, frequently says, “Even if we could suddenly wave a magic wand and turn all of America’s personal transportation fleet into electric cars, we’d still have a problem--we are going to need more electricity and we are already facing an electricity shortage. The only logical and “clean” way to generate the massive amounts of power needed is through nuclear power. But, with the current amount of nuclear power plants we have in America, we use more uranium than we produce here. Ninety percent of the uranium we use is imported with the largest percent from an increasingly unfriendly Russia. Getting off of gasoline and on to electricity is really just trading one boogey man for the other.”

With that background, you can see why the following posting caught our attention when it landed in the in-box. (This article appeared in Reuters.com on December 18 2008)

It has been more than a year since we had a posting from Diana Furchtgott-Roth, but they are always insightful and we appreciate her passing them on to us. If you’ve not read her previous pieces we have on the CARE Blog, please check them out. Her commentary on CAFE Standards is a CARE favorite.

As you read on, you’ll see that the energy situation in America is much more complicated than getting electric cars on the road. Do you think they are part of the solution?

Electric Cars Will Not Cure Environmental Woes
The world is falling in love with plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars. President-elect Obama wants to put 1 million on the road by 2015. GM features them, particularly the Chevy Volt, in its new business plan for a debut in 2010. The EU wants them to shrink greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by 20% from 1990 levels. This month the Chinese auto company BYD began selling the world’s first commercially-available plug-in hybrid sedan.

No matter that these cars are not widely available; that they are priced far above traditional models; that many have a short range, making them useful only for local trips; that batteries may be prone to catching fire; and that many motorists park on the street, where charging is impractical.

For some, these issues pale in importance to saving the planet from harmful emissions of carbon, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide--all of which are released from internal combustion engine vehicles. If battery powered cars reduce emissions, environmentalists argue, they should be produced and consumers should be enticed to buy them.

But whereas electric cars don’t pollute when they’re running on batteries, they’re not pollution-free. Making the lithium-ion batteries is pollution-intensive and recharging the batteries uses electricity. And most electricity generation, from coal- and gas-fired power plants, still causes pollution.

Which means that pollution from the extra electricity for car batteries has to be weighed against savings from burning less gasoline. Whether battery power can trump the internal combustion engine, which is continually getting more efficient, depends on when drivers decide to charge their future cars, as well as how the electricity is made.

A 2008 study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory projected U.S. power needs in 2030 if 25% of the car fleet used some form of battery power.

If drivers charged vehicles after 10:00 p.m., when household power consumption is at its lowest, then at most eight extra power plants would be needed for electric cars. In contrast, if drivers charged cars in early evening when household use is peaking, 160 new power plants would have to be built.

At issue here is the way that America will generate its electricity when Obama’s 1 million plug-in hybrids hit the road in 2015. Nuclear power plants do not generate harmful emissions, and are a far cleaner source of electricity than oil, natural gas, or coal. Yet America has refused to build them for fear of accidents and because of controversy about where to dispose of spent fuel. A third problem is long delays in winning government licenses for new plants.

Private companies don’t want to face litigious American consumers, trial lawyers at the ready, and so do not dare embark on nuclear power plants. Until Congress makes serious efforts to shield companies from liability, nuclear power won’t be viable. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not licensed a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years.

France, on the other hand, does have nuclear power; it generates 78% of its supply from splitting the atom, far more than America’s 19% share. Electric cars in France, therefore, if they can overcome problems of range, safety, and price, would be more environmentally friendly than their American counterparts.

Until America can resume construction of nuclear power plants, it might be that the way to energy efficiency on the road is not through the electric car but by making improvements in the way cars burn gasoline. That would be a good use of the $25 billion that Congress gave to the auto industry last year to improve efficiency.

Call it a dual-highway route to saving energy on the road.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Farm Animals, Methane Gas and Global Warming

Those of us who follow the climate change agenda recall the news stories a year or two ago touting cow flatulence as the largest producer of methane gas—a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Perhaps you saw the political cartoon that showed an uncomfortable looking cow with what looked like a catalytic converter protruding from its backside. It became a comedic point since we all know that flatulence is a naturally occurring gas.

However, this only gave the "Glo-Bull Whining" crowd fuel for their fire as the vocal climate change alarmists have other beefs with the fat and happy Americans. This source of methane gas could be minimized if we’d quit eating beef or drinking milk, eating cheese—or any dairy product including ice cream. Forsooth!

Today on the news, there was a piece about the Endangered Species Act and the changes made to it in the last days of the Bush White House. The news clip featured a comment from the Pacific Research Institute. That rang a bell as we at CARE regularly receive their updates. We dug through the “in-box” looking for something from them. There we found an unopened piece from them introducing a new approach to the farm animal methane gas dilemma. We had not heard much about the “cow-tax” lately and found this piece to be thought provoking—if not down right entertaining. Worthy of posting.

We e-mailed them to ask for something current on the ESA. Maybe tomorrow. Read on!

Will the EPA Have a Cow?
In response to an April, 2007, Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently ended the public comment period on “proposed rulemaking” for regulating greenhouse gases. Buried within the proposal is a controversial measure for regulating methane from agricultural and livestock operations. While EPA bosses claim they do not intend to implement a “cow tax,” dairy and livestock producers are understandably nervous.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, and thus could be among the emissions regulated by the EPA. While the largest sources of methane emissions in the United States are landfills and natural gas systems, the EPA estimates that 21 percent of methane emissions are from “livestock enteric fermentation.” This somewhat euphemistic phrase refers to the natural digestive process of ruminant animals like cows, sheep, and goats, which produces methane as a by-product exhaled by the animal. Production of other types of livestock – pigs, for example – also generates methane through the breakdown of manure products.

Never mind that ruminant animals and their burps are naturally occurring. The proposed regulation could impose a fee on farms with livestock operations that emit more than 100 tons of carbon equivalent per year. This would mean that dairy operations with more than 25 cows, according to the proposal’s calculations, would be subject to regulation. In California the average dairy herd is 850 cows, and only 16 percent of dairies have fewer than 50 cows. At a potential annual fee of $175 per cow, the average California dairy would pay nearly $150,000 per year in greenhouse gas fees. Undoubtedly, this cost would be borne by people who consume dairy products. The story is similar for the proposed fees on cattle and hogs.

Burping cows and other ruminants, however, may not be as critical as originally thought. According to a joint program between the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the link between ruminants and atmospheric methane seems to have broken down. Since 1999, atmospheric levels of methane have leveled off, with emissions being equivalent to removals. Yet from 1999 onward, global ruminant populations have been increasing at a rate of almost 17 million head per year, faster than the increase prior to 1999 of about nine million head per year. It may be that improvements in animal husbandry and ruminant diet in developing countries have decrease per-head methane production, or there may be other factors.

Like all agricultural activity, livestock production has environmental impacts. On the other hand, livestock production offers a number of benefits, including a source of renewable fertilizer, and high-quality dietary protein in milk or beef, not to mention the livelihood of 13 million people worldwide. A cow tax would adversely affect those people, and could also wind up a slippery slope. Water vapor accounts for 60-70 percent of the greenhouse effect at any given time. Is it a far stretch to wonder if creatures that exhale water vapor might be next on the fee schedule? Those creatures would include dogs, cats, and human beings.

The idea of regulating cows comes as politicians seek a surge in EPA clout. California Senator Barbara Boxer is pushing to elevate the EPA to presidential cabinet level. Former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman is on record that such a move “would deliver a strong message as to the importance of the agency.”

Scientific research, meanwhile, is identifying a number of strategies through which the environmental footprint of livestock production can be decreased while maintaining productivity. Strapping the industry with fees would certainly not promote any of that. Happy cows may come from California, but if a revamped EPA deploys greenhouse gas emission fees, it will create unhappiness for producers and consumers alike, with negligible benefits for the environment.

Pacific Research Institute Environmental Studies Fellow Amy Kaleita is an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University. Dr. Kaleita is involved in scientific research on impacts of agriculture on the environment, as well as on environmental monitoring and modeling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Big Three Bailout and Global Warming: Is There a Connection

With the Holidays nearly upon us, it seems that all our favorite experts are out celebrating (or shopping) instead of pontificating. Or, perhaps the news has not been as conducive to our issues—after all Blagojevich has little to do with energy. Nor, did we think, does the auto bail out. And then this posting arrived in our in box.

It has been a while since we’ve had an opinion piece from one of our most prolific contributors: Dennis Avery. Here, he’s managed to connect the Detroit bail out with global warming. Interesting. What do you think? Has he hit on something? It is certainly worth thinking about.

Green Cars For Cheap Gas
Now we’re going to give Ford, GM and Chrysler billions of dollars so the Feds can order them to build more “green” cars—with gas now costing $1.49 per gallon. How many Americans will pay $30,000 for one of these new high-mileage lightweights instead of getting a family-protective SUV for the same bucks? Or a pickup to pull the boat? At $1.49 per gallon, not many. So Detroit will go broke again, unless the Feds slap on another $3 per gallon in gas tax.

Haven’t we just been there? And we didn’t like it much. We demanded, “Drill, baby, drill.” We forced a liberal Democratic Congress that hates oil to end the drilling ban on public lands. Thus, we could pump more domestic gas and oil and bring down the price—so Detroit’s old lineup of SUVs and big pickups would sell again.

Which way are we going? And why?

My sister is a GM widow in Michigan; I understand the problem of Big Three pensions and medical insurance. But that doesn’t really have much to do with the sort of cars we build. The costs the United Auto Workers saddled onto the Big Three years ago makes their cars non-competitive today no matter how tiny and fuel-efficient they get.

On the other hand, if we want globally competitive U.S. auto companies, it is clear how to get them. Let the Big Three go bankrupt, so some enterprising investors can reorganize all of those plants, skilled workers and infrastructure into a new company—or two— that can compete with Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Let the UAW organize its own cost-effective health insurance for the retirees, where the doctor visits aren’t “free” and the insurance kicks in for the big stuff. That’s what the rest of us already have to do. None of our health insurance should be tied to a job. Everybody should get the tax break for buying health insurance, so we could all get care without the lobbyists and lawyers loading up the systems with the frills that pay off their clients.

The joker in today’s deck is global warming. That’s the real motive behind the Federal bailout of the Big Three. But most of our global warming came before 1940—too early to be blamed on global industrialization. After 1940, the warming stopped for 35 years—during the very period when the Greenhouse Theory says the temperatures should have soared.

Now, it’s been ten years since the last warming, and temperatures have just dropped back to about their 1940 level. NASA’s Jason satellite says the Pacific Ocean has shifted into its cool phase; the warm phase ended in the last hot year, 1998. The satellite is predicting global cooling for the next 25–30 years. The alarmists have been wrong about the warming.

Nor will Detroit run out of oil to burn. The Bakken formation in the Dakotas gives the U.S. more proven oil reserves than Saudi Arabia—400 billion barrels. Not to mention six trillion barrels of oil in the world’s tar sands, half of them conveniently located in nearby, stable Canada. No Muslim extremist takeovers, and none of Vladimir Putin’s tanks either.

In Europe, 11,000 metal workers demonstrated in Brussels against CO2 limits forcing their jobs to India. In Britain, 40 percent of the electricity will disappear in the next eight years, supposedly replaced by 7,000 wind turbines with a reliability of 15 percent.

The new administration is selling an insurance policy against the planet overheating. But what if the insurance premium costs more than your house and the earth is cooling on its own schedule.

DENNIS T. AVERY is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and is the Director for the Center for Global Food Issues. (http://www.cgfi.org/) He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 2442 or email to cgfi@hughes.net

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama's Global Warming Policies Are Not Based on the Scientific Evidence

This just arrived in CARE's in-box from Kevin Lundberg, Representative to the Colorado House for District 49. He is also a member of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado .

It has been a while since we posted anything on the Climate Change issue. This piece, connected to our President-elect Obama, gives the topic fresh newsworthiness.

What do you think will happen to this issue in the Obama admistration?

Where are the Facts?
The Republican Study Committee of Colorado (RSCC) is challenging Obama to provide any evidence that the facts he cited in his first major policy statement on global warming are based in reality.

It sounded more like something a Hollywood speech writer would put together for a movie script, rather than a serious policy statement for a president-elect.

On Tuesday, November 18, President-elect Obama laid out his policy intentions concerning the issue of global warming in a speech to a global climate summit, convened by the governors of California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Wisconsin.

His speech was politically correct, but the facts were simply not there. Just about every "proof" he cited was, at best, an outdated myth.

Where are sea levels rising? Which are shrinking coastlines? Where is there any scientific evidence that hurricane storms are either larger, more frequent, or related to any long term global warming patterns? A careful analysis of the details reveals that each of these examples is without merit and that there is significant and growing debate about whether or not anthropogenic global warming has had much effect at all. There are also serious doubts that radically restricting and restructuring industrial activity can meaningfully alter any long term weather patterns.

The RSCC has conducted several hearings on global warming and our nation's energy resources. We have looked at the facts and will not be deceived by such shallow rhetoric.

An example of the serious doubts many scientists have can be found in Christopher Monckton of Brenchley's article published by the American Physical Society. The facts reported are that globally-averaged land and sea surface absolute temperatures have not risen since 1998, and may have even been falling since 2001.

The only fact that is indisputable is the severe stress that Cap and Trade tax schemes, unrealistic renewable energy mandates, and Kyoto-like treaties will have on our faltering economy. We cannot afford to squander our children's future on outdated notions from global warming alarmists.

We expect more from our nation's next leader and call on him to correct these errors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is Nuclear Power Safe?

With President-elect Obama looking to energy sources other than oil and gas, and threatening to bankrupt any new coal-fired power plant someone might attempt to build, nuclear power is sure to be part of what fuels America’s future. While his initial support for nuclear power was weak, he softened his position and even stated that he supported nuclear power. This is apt to bring about many questions and revive old fears.

Here, we offer you a thoughtful posting from a team of scientists who have spent their lives--long lives--working with nuclear power.

CARE was introduced to the Los Alamos Education Group (LAEG) through our efforts to support uranium mining. This is their first piece to be included in the CARE Blog--though it will probably not be the last. If you have specific questions about nuclear power, please post them here. The LAEG will be happy to provide answers for you that we’ll post here.

Reactor Safety
If you’ve ever wondered "Is there anyone out there willing and able to educate us about nuclear power in a balanced fashion?" you’ll want to read on.

Many people have expressed ill-defined fears about radiation, fission products, and the dreaded core, or nuclear meltdown, all of which derive one way or another from the use of nuclear weapons.

The Los Alamos Education Group has qualified members active in reactor and radiation safety. Many of us are retired WW II veterans that recall the entire postwar nuclear era, including knowledge of nuclear explosions.

One of the group was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Committee on Reactor Safeguards for nine years and took part in the committee’s review of three fourths of the US reactors in operation. In 1979 he was appointed to the staff of the President’s Committee on the Accident at Three Mile Island (Kemeny Commission). The task of figuring out what happened in the core, e.g., what fraction melted, what happened to fission products and in particular why did iodine not escape, became tasks he was given.

With the help of consultants from other national laboratories, universities, and industry the problems were solved.

The report of the commission and working groups are in the public literature. These reports stimulated Nuclear Regulatory Commission studies that demonstrated the same conclusion: nuclear electric power plants are much safer than had been believed.

Another member has been and still is active in radiation studies, health physics, and associated activities. The LAEG provides factual answers--conclusions belong to the questioner. We contend that nuclear electric power is safe by any reasonable standard of safety and has a history of operational safety that far exceeds other comparable industrial activities.

Of the 104 commercial nuclear power stations now operating in the US all are pressurized or boiling light water reactors; most of the 339 reactors in 32 other countries are of a similar design. Exceptions include some pressurized heavy water of Canadian design, a very few sodium cooled plants, some old graphite moderated reactors (UK) scheduled for replacement and the Chernobyl design in Russia. The total reactor-years of operation world wide is over 3000 and increasing by 443 each year. The basic light water design concept was developed and chosen by the Naval Reactors organization on the basis of perceived safety superiority. About 500 reactors of the naval design have been used, each one for several years with no accident. The evolution for commercial operations led to the pressurized and boiling water reactors that we see all over the world. The commercial plants are larger physically and produce more electric power and with more safeguards to protect the public. No person has been harmed by radiation in all these reactor years of operation light water reactors.

To defend this assertion of safety of the light water reactor we must discuss the accident at Three Mile Island, the Davis Besse incident and the Chernobyl accident.

The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 was, initially, a minor "scram." The reactor shutdown was caused by workers on a part of the cooling water system outside the reactor and containment. The reactor shut down properly, the control rods went in and stopped the production of power, the high pressure emergency cooling system turned on automatically (as was proper), and that should have been the end of the incident. However, the control panel erupted with a dozen alarms, confused the operators who turned off the emergency cooling. A slow leak in a valve in the high pressure system allowed water to slowly escape to the containment, but not to the environment. The containment was not challenged. Of all the actions they could have taken, this was the worst. It was turned on again, later, but too late to save the core of the reactor. Poor, inept press relations by the utility and the NRC and panic by the press did the rest. A great many people were unnecessarily frightened.

The problem of the control panel was recognized and has been redesigned. Simulators resembling airplane flight simulators permit operators practice all sorts of simulated emergencies--their realism is extraordinary.

Did fission products escape? Yes, the first search found some 5-day xenon-135, a harmless noble gas that is biologically inert, but no iodine-131 (half life 8 days), volatile and metabolically dangerous to the thyroid gland. Airborne search teams were activated very quickly, found the xenon, but could not find iodine-131 or cesium-137 that everyone expected. They went back to base, recalibrated instruments, searched diligently again and found traces that could have been as much as 18 curies, a negligible amount.

Essentially no radioactive iodine escaped! That was a puzzle because for twenty years, accepted doctrine had been that given an accident to the core, such as TMI, 50% of the iodine would escape to the containment, half of that would be deposited on surfaces and 25% would be available to escape to the environment.

This was the accepted assumption--it did not happen. Historically, this assumption, accepted without experimental evidence, had been the basis for the incredible consequences predicted by early "safety" studies. The studies subsequent to the Kemeny Commission report incorporated correct physics and chemistry assumptions.

The accident was not a public radiation event. No person was injured--not even a grasshopper received any measurable radiation dose and the measuring equipment is very sensitive. An extraordinary example of the near unbelievable sensitivity of modern radiation detection and chemistry occurred in the summer of 1979. A pike caught in the Susquehanna river showed evidence of cesium. Analyses, however, showed that because of the different decay rate of two isotopes, Cs-134 and Cs-137, the cesium was identified as originating in China, nine months earlier, during an atmospheric test!

The reactor was ruined and the damaged core was removed and shipped to a storage site in Idaho. During the removal of the damaged fuel, samples of the pressure vessel steel from beneath and containing the molten fuel were taken. The steel showed no damage--a big surprise and natural safety factor unrealized before. The event WAS a core meltdown, but natural phenomena intervened and prevented the accident from progressing into the imaginary and dreaded "China Syndrome"--in fact, the "China Syndrome" is an impossible event.

In 2002, the Davis-Besse pressurized water reactor near Toledo, Ohio was found to have a very severely corroded spot on the pressure vessel head or top piece. It was caused by boric acid (boron is a neutron poison used for control in the reactor) leaking at a control rod penetration. Inadequate inspection by staff was the basic problem. This could have been an accident comparable to TMI, but was caught by safety inspection, control panels were of a superior design, and operator training was much better. The importance of periodic inspections by different groups is obviously important. The power station was shut down for a considerable period, the utility fined severely, placed on a special "watch list" by the NRC and is now back in operation

These two events are the only serious ones in the US light water reactor industry. We assert that this reactor design is safe and may be manufactured and used with confidence. No person has been injured in a reactor accident by radiation. Production of electricity by nuclear power is actually much, much safer than by coal or natural gas. The usual industrial accidents, e.g. falls, steam burns, falling objects, etc. certainly will continue.

The Chernobyl accident was a bad one, the seriousness compounded by the incompetence of the USSR public relations organization. For days they would not even admit that anything had happened, and the worldwide panic was caused, again, by news media’s lack of good information, lack of understanding of radiation hazards, and by panicky exaggeration. It was bad--it did not need exaggeration.

Thirty "liquidators," first responders, were killed outright by radiation and/or thermal burns while fighting the fire. Later fatalities increased the total to 58, and some excess thyroid cancers, with three deaths, have appeared in young people in the area at the time of the accident. But because health records were inadequate in that area prior to the accident, convincing epidemiological evidence is difficult to derive.

The accident was triggered by an electrical engineering experiment that required the reactor to be in an unstable condition, unique to the design--it could not happen in a US-designed pressurized or boiling water reactor. A steam explosion blew off the top of the reactor, and the graphite moderator caught fire because it was operated at extremely high temperatures. THERE WAS NO CONTAINMENT. Because of the lack of containment and the steam explosion, some of the iodine and cesium probably escaped as a compound. Fission products were deposited in nearby areas, sufficient to cause extensive evacuation and prevailing winds carried detectable amounts into Europe, and, indeed, around the world.

Prior to the 1970s, France depended in large part on cheap mideast oil for their electrical power. The oil crises of the 1970s caused near panic---the Metro could not run, elevators would not operate and they were seriously worried about riots in the streets. The decision was made to make the electrical network depend on nuclear power. They did and the job was completed in the 1990’s (only 20 years) after construction of about 50 pressurized water reactors of uniform design. Now they export electricity to their neighbors. There has been NO accident and public attitude is supportive.

What now can we add about the new designs that would make them even safer? Adding something to make a nuclear power station even safer is not easy. However, the power station designers have the advantage of operating experience for the past 40 years. The new ones are designed for easier safety and operational maintenance, more components will be manufactured in the manufacturers’ shop where quality control is much better and designs will be optimized for easier safety and operational inspection. But the most important issue of which we are aware is emergency core cooling. Current designs depend on electrical power for activation, either offsite or emergency diesel power. The newer designs will also make use of gravity--a force that never fails, to provide immediate availability of water to the core and pressure vessel. Some of these new designs are under construction abroad. As with existing nuclear power plants, these will be operated with complete safety.

Finally, the safety of spent fuel is a legitimate question connected to reactor safety. Fuel (1/3 of the core) is changed in the light water reactors every year, year and a half, or two years depending on design. The fuel is removed by remote control to a "spent fuel storage pool" where the deep water provides both shielding and cooling and allows visual and instrumental inspection. The pool is essentially a large, deep swimming pool, temperature controlled and very clear. No accident has happened in this operation. After a few years the heat and radiation rate has decreased sufficiently that air cooling with shielding is adequate and can be safely located external to the immediate reactor area. The stuff is thermally too hot to handle and too heavy to steal without obvious lifting and hauling equipment. Another safety factor not generally realized is that volatile iodine-131, the most dangerous of the fission products, has a half life of only 8 days. After 10 half lives or 80 days, the activity is down by a factor of 1000 and is no longer significant. Nearly all other fission products are solids and do not readily become airborne even if fuel pins are damaged. There has been NO accident during transfer in or out of the spent fuel pool or during transportation to a different location. The operation is safe.

Why are we making such a fuss and spending so much money on Yucca mountain storage? The concept of permanent disposal of transuranics and depleted UF6 is viable only if stupidity or antinuclear activity is successful in terminating nuclear power production. Otherwise, recycled, it is worth close to a trillion dollars as fuel in sodium cooled reactors, and Yucca Mountain and WIPP would be adequate for permanent disposal of fission products far into the future.

This is a safe and satisfactory end point for spent fuel and reactor safety questions but a serious problem remains--the finite amount of uranium that can be mined even at a cost much higher than the current price. Estimates of years before we run out of uranium-235 vary from 50 to 100 but are finite. The oceans have enormous quantities of uranium but the cost to retrieve it is certainly high. The answer to problems of fuel availability, waste management, and sodium-cooled reactors is the subject of the next essay.

Bill Stratton has a PhD from the University of Minnesota. He is a retired reactor safety expert with extensive advisory service to the Nuclear Regulatory Commision. As a staff member of the President's Kemeny Commission, he was instrumental in explaining the minimal radiation release from Three Mile Island.

Don Petersen has a PhD from the University of Chicago. He is a retired radiation biologist involved with health effects of radiation, neutron dosimetry and effects of neutrons and alpha particles. He has had first hand experience with investigation, description and reporting of radiation accidents involving injury and fatality.

Both spent their entire careers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Monday, November 17, 2008

RGF President (and others) Discuss Global Warming Science, Policy

Recently, I appeared on a special on Channel 4 called "The Climate Case" to discuss global warming and what, if anything, should be done about it. The show lasts 30 minutes and can be found below:


Also, if the current fiscal crisis has any silver lining it is that Congress, according to New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Chairman of the Energy Committee, says that Congress will not act until 2010 on global warming legislation. At least Congress recognizes that the American people view purported climate change as far less of a problem than the economy. Of course, whether government at any level has the right solutions is an even better question.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Wealth Production America Needs and the Election

Throughout the last year, the author of this piece has been an insightful addition to CARE. Not a member of our staff, just a member of CARE, he has presented ideas that have been reflected in many of the opinion editorials written by CARE’s Executive Director Marita Noon. While he prefers to remain anonyms, going by the moniker Stranger in a Strange Land, we believe you will benefit from his view. An American, he has spent most of the last 40 years living overseas. His outsider perspective of the country he loves provides a fresh look at the current situation. We hope you’ll check this out and expect this to be just the first of many postings.

Forty years ago, America was a superpower, both revered and feared. The change has been gradual, filled with subtle shifts—imperceptible to the average citizen so close to the situation that they cannot see the big picture.

Attitudes would be different if everyone could take a step back and, through the filter of history, look at what made America the great nation it once was and compare that with our country today. People would be slamming on the brakes, insisting that we rethink our direction and revise the plans.

I am a stranger in a strange land. Born and raised in America, my attitudes and opinions were shaped in the Heartland.

My professional journey has kept me overseas for the last forty years. With pockets full of cash, I’ve returned—intent on investing my profits back in the homeland.

Washington wants foreign money to come back to America—and America badly needs the economic boost. Yet, the roadblocks to wealth creation are myriad.

I’ve spent the last several months nosing about in coffee shops, bookstores, bars, and malls throughout the West and Midwest. I’ve had the luxury of conversing with Americans from diverse ethnicities and ideologies. I’ve watched the television news intently and followed the election process. With the view of an outsider and the concern of a citizen, I am shocked at what I have learned. I fear the whole country is going the way of California.

California has a plethora of wealth-creating resources, yet it is hopelessly in debt. It depends on other states for their electricity and motor fuels—though blessed with resources to provide both. Despite the dilemma, they continue on with the policies that got them into this mess—seemingly refusing to change their philosophy.

Here’s where history comes in. Formerly, we were taught the principles from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. We understood the basic premise that there are two kinds of work: productive and unproductive. The new wealth comes from productive work and the unproductive, depends on it. For example, mining creates new wealth. Processing, shipping and selling the earth’s bounty are part of that effort and therefore create jobs. The government jobs that assist in regulating are unproductive. Without the productive jobs the unproductive would not exist. Both are important. The problem comes when the two are out of balance.

America used to be a “can do” nation where an individual was encouraged to create wealth. We became the wealthiest nation in the world.

The government regulators have erected roadblocks and created unproductive jobs with the sole task of saying, “do not.” The balance is weighted to the unproductive side. Wealth creation is stifled. The negative effects this imposes on our nation’s economy has brought us where we are.

The government is too big and too unhelpful. It has too much power over the citizens.

Fueled by pseudo-documentaries, such as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”—filled with lies and misleading information, bureaucrats regulate, litigate, excoriate and tax vast supplies of essential resources into oblivion. (They must sit around and think up the next problem.) Today, those who want to “do” are considered guilty until proven innocent. We have to prove that nothing bad will happen if we proceed in extracting the resource.

The free market is prevented from functioning. Government control is flourishing.

Overseas, people see this as a ploy to get uneconomic systems, i.e. “alternative energy,” up and running at a higher cost while putting more and more problems in front of existing and effective systems. Thus, prices are forced up and fill government coffers with hidden taxes, creating more unproductive jobs that do not create new wealth and, in fact, hinder production.

Rather than encouraging production, the only way to stimulate the economy seems to be to print more money. Government must love this approach as it creates committees and more nonproductive jobs. But nothing gets better.

Those perpetuating this plan must come from a Marxist school of thought as they just want to take the wealth we have and redistribute it. They’ve been troubled by America’s dominance on the world stage and aim to knock us down. They revel in the economic crisis as we are rapidly rolling down hill toward being on a par with other countries—no longer a world power.

Can anything be done to turn it around? Fellow citizens, you have a choice this election. When taxes are taken and given to the unproductive, the overall wealth declines.

I am watching and waiting—keeping my wealth in my pockets. I may be better off to take it back to where it came from. Though I am an American, the land I have come home to is not the one I left. I am a stranger in a strange land.

“Stranger in a Strange Land” is a geologist who frequently shares his views with CARE. He is a member of CARE and supports CARE’s energy advocacy efforts. For more information on CARE, visit www.responsiblenergy.org.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nuclear Power Reality Check

Since Roy Innis caught the vision of energy’s impact on the poor, as articulated in his book Energy Keepers - Energy Killers, he has become a staunch advocate of abundant, reliable, affordable energy--which is the mantra of CARE. We have posted several of his previous opinion pieces in the past. (If you have not read them, please type his name in the search box to retrieve them all.)

CARE is a strong supporter of nuclear power. So when this piece arrived in our in-box, we had to share it with you. Roy has effectively brought up the prominent arguments against nuclear power and rebuffed them with sound data. If you affirm America’s push toward nuclear power, you’ll want to read this so you have the answers to the obstacles in mind. If you are opposed to nuclear power, you need to read this! If you are still not convinced, tell us why.

Nuclear Horror Stories and Alternative Energy Visions Often Bear Little Resemblance to Reality
Abundant, reliable, affordable energy makes our jobs, health, living standards and civil rights possible.

Remember that when you read about people losing their jobs or having to choose between heating, eating, paying the rent or mortgage, giving to charity, or covering healthcare, college, car or retirement costs. Remember it when Congress makes more hydrocarbon energy off limits – or puts more obstacles in the path of nuclear power that generates a fifth of America’s electricity.

I recently visited nuclear power plants and a fuel reprocessing plant in France, which gets almost 80% of its electricity from uranium. And I’ve read some shockingly ill-informed claims about nuclear power and its supposed alternatives. Here are some essential facts.

Reliability. Nuclear plants generate electricity over 90% of every year, shutting down only occasionally for maintenance, repairs and changing fuel rods. Wind turbines can be relied on just 30% of the time, on average – and just 10% of the time during hot summer days, when air conditioners are on high, but there’s barely a breeze.

Operational safety. Three Mile Island was the “worst accident in US history.” But it injured no one and exposed neighboring residents to the radioactive equivalent of getting a CT scan or living in Denver for a year. It led to major improvements in nuclear plant management, operation and training.

The Chernobyl disaster was due to its shoddy design, construction, maintenance and management. According to the World Health Organization, “fewer than 50” people died as a direct result of this massive meltdown and fire, and nearly all were employees and rescue workers.

Storage of used nuclear fuel. The Energy Department spent 25 years and $10 billion studying the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, before concluding that it will meet all safety standards. In fact, the largest expected annual radiation dose for someone living near this geologically stable site would be less than 1 millirem – compared to 1,000 millirem from an abdominal CT scan.

America’s 104 nuclear plants generate enough electricity for nearly 75,000,000 homes – and produce about 2,000 tons of “spent” uranium fuel annually. So Yucca will be able to hold all the used fuel from the past 50 years, plus another 35 years of used fuel, without expanding on the original design.

Spent fuel and other wastes (high-level defense wastes, plus low-level wastes like protective clothing) are solid materials. There is no liquid that can leak into rocks or groundwater. Liquid wastes, like water used in reactors, are treated and reused.

Transportation safety. Shipping containers are constructed from layers of steel and lead, nearly a foot thick, and carried on trucks or rail cars. (The 25 to 125-ton containers are too heavy to go in airplanes.) They’ve been slammed into concrete walls at 85 mph, dropped 30 feet, burned 30 minutes in 1475-degree fires, and submerged in water for hours. They haven’t broken or leaked.

Over 3,000 shipments of spent fuel have traversed 1.7 million miles, with no injuries, deaths or environmental damage. Only one significant accident occurred. A semi-truck overturned while avoiding a head-on collision, and the trailer and attached container crashed into a ditch. No harmful releases of radioactivity ever occurred.

That hasn’t stopped imaginative writers from saying “catastrophic” accidents could put “millions” of Americans at risk of exposure to “deadly radiation” or even death, especially if an airplane crashed a cargo of nuclear wastes into a city. They’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies, where every car accident becomes a raging inferno.

Theft and terrorism. The notion that spent (or even fresh) power plant fuel could be stolen and turned into a powerful bomb is likewise more Hollywood than reality.

Those pesky little atomic numbers and enrichment levels are confusing, but important. Weapons grade materials are plutonium, uranium 233 and highly enriched (better than 20%) U235. Power plant fuel is slightly enriched (under 4%) U235. Spent fuel is U238, which cannot cause a chain reaction.

Turning spent fuel into a bomb would require sophisticated reprocessing facilities, which terrorists are unlikely to have. Even a “dirty bomb” (radioactive materials around a non-nuclear explosive) would cause more fear than actual damage. And the US nuclear industry’s commitment to safety applies to plant design and management, shipping and storing wastes, and guarding against theft and terrorism.

The bottom line? We need the electricity that nuclear power provides, and we can get it safely. Just try to imagine life without all the things that require electricity. Remember the pain, inconvenience and financial losses you or people you know suffered when storms or blackouts knocked out the electrical power.

Consider the warnings of experts: We are dangerously close to experiencing major brownouts and blackouts in many parts of the United States, especially in our western states, because we haven’t built the power plants and transmission lines we need for a growing population that depends on electricity 24/7/365.

We need to conserve more, install more insulation and better windows, and use more efficient light bulbs, computers, servers, heaters and air-conditioners. We need more wind and solar power, where those sources make economic, practical and environmental sense. But we also need a lot more affordable, reliable electricity from nuclear power plants.

Ponder how far our heating, cooling, communication and other technologies have come in just 100 years – and where we’re likely to be 50 or 100 years from now. However, we’re not there yet.

Futuristic technologies – like solar generators orbiting above the Earth, beaming electrical power to urban receivers – for now are pure science fiction. They’ll be reality about when Scotty beams Captain Kirk back to the Enterprise. We need to work on them. But we need real energy for real people, today.

Otherwise, homes, factories, offices, schools and hospitals will go dark. Bread winners will go jobless. Energy prices will soar even higher. Families won’t have basic necessities, much less luxuries. And poor and minority citizens will see civil rights gains rolled back, because only energy and a vibrant economy can turn constitutionally protected rights into rights we actually enjoy.

Roy Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (http://www.core-online.org/), one of America’s oldest civil rights organizations, and author of Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Environment and Elected Officials: A Conflict of Interest?

Shamefully, we at CARE have been remiss in getting you up-to-date information on current energy issues—as is the goal of our Blog. We have not been lax. There is just so much going on regarding energy and the elections that we have been busy writing opinion editorials. Last week we had three different ones posted in three different papers in New Mexico. Today, one of our commentary pieces was sent to the top 500 papers in the US and that same piece was posted on Heartland’s site. So, we have been getting the word. Just not through our own Blog.

We have several relevant items to post. Just not the time to post them. And then this one landed in the in-box. We just had to stop everything and share it with you! While it specifically addresses New Mexico, our home base, similar activities are probably happening in other states. This is especially enlightening in relation to the upcoming elections. Please let us know if you know about any comparable cases. This could start an interesting nationwide study.

Elected Officials on the Payrolls of Environmental Groups
Every special interest group that seeks to influence public policy pays lobbyists. There is nothing remarkable in that observation. Manufacturers, hospitals, insurance companies, banks, even churches pay lobbyists to transubstantiate their agenda into laws, money, and regulations. But some environmental groups in New Mexico have gone where no interest group has gone before. They have three elected officials directly on their payrolls.

Deanna Archuleta is Vice Chair of the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners and Southwest Regional Manager for The Wilderness Society. State Representative Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces is the Southern New Mexico Director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA). Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Small is also on NMWA’s payroll as a “wilderness protection organizer.”

The mission of these groups is to influence public policy to preserve wilderness and other public lands. Their work has expanded to include fighting the oil and gas industry as a general principle. Their fight against oil and gas drilling has taken them from the Rocky Mountains to the depths of the oceans.

The Wilderness Society has been one of the leaders in opposing opening the Outer Continental Shelf and areas in the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration and production. NMWA has led the opposition to natural gas drilling in Otero Mesa, a sprawling desert emptiness on the Texas border. Blocking energy production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been at the top of the agenda for The Wilderness Society for a generation. Even though the Arctic plain is thousands of miles distant, with a climate, flora and fauna unlike anything in New Mexico, NMWA has joined that fight.

Both organizations want reintroduction of large predators in New Mexico, expansion of their range and restrictions on human activities that come in conflict with the animal’s needs and behavior. These groups have worked aggressively for reintroduction of wolves in southwest New Mexico. They also want to see reintroduction of the jaguar. The current executive director of NMWA has called for releasing grizzlies in New Mexico even though that might cause an “inconvenience” for human beings. Both organizations also participate in litigation to stop human activities, from recreation to natural resource extraction, which they deem contrary to the interests of selected wildlife species.

The programs of these organizations adversely impact the oil and gas revenues that constitute a third of the New Mexico state budget and support schools around the state. These organizations’ wildlife policies also place them into direct conflict with agriculture, one of the major employers and sources of income and taxes in rural New Mexico.

Opposition to developing ANWR, the OCS and other federally owned energy deposits has the added consequence of reducing federal revenues critical to New Mexico’s economy and contributes to the nation’s increasing dependence on foreign sources of oil.

The Wilderness Society has headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it does not pay taxes on its income. According to its 2006 report to the IRS, The Wilderness Society earned $37.5 million in income. It claimed assets of $53.9 million, including an investment portfolio of $27.6 million. Its top executive officer earned nearly $300,000. It has more than 85 employees who earn over $50,000, about twice the median income of a New Mexican family of four.

Though it is much smaller, NMWA has offices in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Carlsbad and Santa Fe. Its budget in 2005 exceeded $750,000. Its 2006 budget was $427,000. Its executive director makes more than $50,000. Details on other staff salaries are not public information.


(a) Nondisclosure and Misleading Disclosure

Under state and federal law, a person paid to influence legislators and their staffs is required to register as a lobbyist, disclose their clients, and report gifts, meals and trips provided to legislators and staff.

Environmental groups, like industry groups, have teams of lobbyists that work Capitol Hill and the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Certain New Mexico lobbyists, such as Gregory Green and Linda Siegel, specialize in representing environmental groups as part of a “progressive” advocacy practice. A search of lobbyist disclosure records reveals the identity of their clients. A search by organization, conversely, reveals the lobbyists each organization has retained.

No similar disclosure requirements apply to the three elected officials on the payrolls of The Wilderness Society and NMWA. The on-line legislative profile of Jeff Steinborn describes his occupation only as “land conservation.” That information is so inadequate it is misleading. The occupation of “land conservation” could equally apply to a range scientist working with ranchers and farmers. Much of the work of Steinborn’s employer, on the other hand, is intended to, or has the consequence of, adversely impacting agricultural activities. Steinborn’s employer’s idea of “land conservation” is removing land from all uses except sitting idle as wilderness.

Steinborn’s vague occupational description fails to reveal that he works in direct opposition to the state’s largest private employer, the oil and gas industry, and the largest single pillar upholding state government’s budget. NMWA fights the industry throughout the state. Sometimes those battles swirl around remote areas like Otero Mesa. But NMWA has also jumped into the fight to prevent oil drilling in the Galisteo Basin outside Santa Fe. This area has been so impacted by human activity—subdivisions, roads, utility corridors, mining—it would never qualify for wilderness designation.

NMWA also injects itself into controversies about oil and gas operating regulations. NMWA has endorsed tighter and more costly restrictions on oil and gas operations that, by their very nature, do not take place in wilderness but in existing production areas.

Neither Bernalillo County nor the City of Las Cruces requires very detailed financial disclosure information from elected officials. The nature of the employment of Archuleta and Small is not described on those governments’ websites.

Because so little information is publicly available about the work and financial interests of these public officials, the author e-mailed four questions to each of them at the address of their environmental employers. The questions were identical for each official:
1. What are your duties and responsibilities for The Wilderness Society [or NMWA]?
2. How do you separate your role as County Commissioner [State Representative, City Councilor] from your role as an employee of The Wilderness Society [or NMWA], particularly how do you prevent your public office and title from benefiting The Wilderness Society’s [or NMWA’s] work?
3. Do you perceive any conflicts of interest between the interests of The Wilderness Society [NMWA] and the interests of your constituents? If so, please explain.
4. What is your compensation from The Wilderness Society [NMWA]?

None of the officials would answer these questions.

(b) Separating the Special Interest from the Public Interest

The New Mexico State Legislature is a volunteer legislative body. Legislators receive only a per diem while in session or performing committee work between sessions. Their occupations range from lawyer to rancher. Many are educators. Many are retired. A few work for non-profit organizations or tribal governments.

No legislator but Steinborn works for an organization whose sole reason for existence is to influence public policy and law through political action, grassroots pressure and lobbying.
Bernalillo County pays commissioners just under $30,000 for what is supposed to be a part-time job, but sometimes balloons into a full-time calling. The Commissioners have other jobs in real estate, broadcasting and education. None but Archuleta works for an organization that exists to bend governmental policy to serve its organizational objectives.

The Las Cruces City Council is composed of volunteers. Only Small is employed by an organization that also lobbies the Council.

Other legislators have occupations and trades. Why does it matter that these elected officials work for organizations that exist to influence governmental action and policy?

Consider more closely Nathan Small’s dual role as a Las Cruces City Councilor and a “wilderness protection organizer.” He and Steinborn have spearheaded a multi-year, costly campaign by NMWA to persuade Congress and the President to designate about 400,000 acres surrounding Las Cruces as federal wilderness and National Conservation Areas. The wilderness designation is the most forceful tool in the preservationist’s toolbox. It imposes the most stringent, sweeping restrictions of any federal conservation measure. No building or road construction may occur and no motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment may be used in wilderness. Flood control authorities may not use bulldozers, the lame cannot use wheelchairs, and policemen would have to get out of their vehicles and chase on foot or horseback a criminal driving—illegally—into a wilderness area. The implications of these restrictions for life in a large urban area have triggered opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, community leaders, off-road vehicle recreationists, and law enforcement.

One of the strategies of the campaign directed by Small and Steinborn has been to seek endorsements from local governments to demonstrate for Congress local support for the wilderness proposal. Before Small was elected, he lobbied the City Council to win its endorsement for wilderness. Since Small’s election, opposition to wilderness has exploded and the Council is being asked to join other local governments in reversing its position. The Las Cruces City Council has yet to schedule that vote.

During City Council consideration of any matters involving wilderness, Small makes a show of excusing himself. But a theatrical departure from chambers cannot completely insulate council from his influence. Legislation is a process of compromise, negotiations, trading favors and storing up payback. At some point, a fellow council member will need Small’s support on a close vote for roads, sewers, playgrounds and public improvements in their council district. Legislators remember favors granted and favors denied. Small may be out of the room when wilderness is being discussed, but he is never out of the picture.

Tom Cooper of Las Cruces is co-chair of People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, a coalition of ranchers, industry organizations, and hundreds of businesses opposed to NMWA’s wilderness proposal. Does Small’s recusal from chambers while wilderness is being discussed satisfy Cooper? “Absolutely not,” Cooper says. “It is difficult to take seriously. He constantly works on wilderness. That’s his job. We’ve been told many times he works behind the scenes.”

A second problem is that the elected office and title held by these individuals cannot help but benefit their employers.

Small cannot seem to keep his NMWA role separate from his official duties when he is in the public eye. He led a rally on June 24, 2008 in support of the wilderness proposal. The story earned a banner across the top of the front page of the Las Cruces Sun-News. Small’s photo occupied the upper right hand corner. He was identified as a city councilor speaking in support of wilderness.

Hatch is an agricultural village in Dona Ana County north of Las Cruces. Small sought support for NMWA’s campaign from its village trustees and chamber of commerce. He was identified in those proceedings as a Las Cruces City Councilor. Hatch Village Trustee David Sment says he did not know Small was being paid by NMWA until sometime afterwards.

Then there is the battle over Otero Mesa.

Otero Mesa is located about 150 miles east of Las Cruces, across the Organ Mountains, White Sands Missile Range, and tens of thousands of acres of other federal land. It can only be reached by rough roads with a well-earned reputation for destroying tires, as this author has personally experienced. Otero Mesa contains large groundwater reserves that are currently being tapped for agriculture across the border in Dell City, Texas. The El Paso metropolitan area is the most likely recipient of that groundwater if it is ever mined for municipal use.

Ranching is the sole industry on Otero Mesa. This shadeless, windy steppe offers little recreational value to a distant urban population. It has no developed visitor sites, campgrounds or trails. If you visit Otero Mesa, bring your own water. The only potable water is inside the few isolated ranch houses. A person who comes unprepared will have to decide if they are thirsty enough to slurp the muck from earthen stock tanks.

Since Small’s election, the Las Cruces City Council has discovered Otero Mesa. This year City Council voted to endorse NMWA’s proposal to block gas exploration and production in Otero Mesa.

Bob Gallagher, President of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, points to the curious interest of the Las Cruces Council in an empty patch of New Mexico in another county as evidence that Small’s status as a city councilor is being exploited by NMWA. Except for the fact that Small is a member of that body, asks Gallagher, “What the hell does the Las Cruces City Council have to do with whether some gas drilling takes place on Otero Mesa?”

Gallagher also points to Steinborn’s record of fighting his industry in the State Legislature and the administrative agencies of New Mexico government. “I don’t think it’s right that Steinborn is a legislator employed by NMWA. It has absolutely hurt our ability to work with the Legislature. Every day I hear from legislators who don’t want to cross him by supporting our industry, or I receive warnings that he’ll somehow use his office to hurt us.”

Kent Evans, a Dona Ana County Commissioner, is challenging Steinborn for his seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. “To me,” says Evans, Steinborn’s employment “is an issue. He’s trying to pretend he doesn’t work for an environmental group. It is a clear conflict of interest. He has a definite agenda, and that is forcing wilderness on the community.”
“And,” continues Evans, “just the fact that he works for the wilderness group is enough. It is clear where he’s coming from, who pays him, and where his interests lie.”

In researching this report, inquiries were made as to whether any industry advocacy group has any elected official on their payroll. No elected official on the payroll of an industry advocacy group could be identified. Gallagher says he’s never heard of it. Michelle Frost of the New Mexico Cattle Growers/New Mexico Wool Grower’s Association laughed. “We have only two people on staff, period. Me and our executive director.”

Coincidental or not, every one of the elected officials on the payroll of these environmental groups is a Democrat.

By placing on their payroll politicians with no other significant source of income, these environmental groups can effectively subsidize a political career. As that career advances, the politician is in a better position to repay, if not simply remember, who their patron has been.

U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released in September 2008 a report on the increasingly indistinct lines between tax-exempt environmental organizations and prohibited partisan political activity. Entitled, “Political Activity of Environmental Groups and Their Supporting Organizations,” the report details the myriad creative ways environmental organizations have been using tax-exempt money to engage in electoral politics. New Mexico may be on the cutting edge of a disturbing new development in this area.

Jim Scarantino is an investigative reporter with the Rio Grande Foundation. A nationally recognized political columnist, Scarantino appears as a regular panelist on KNME-TV’s weekly public affairs program, “In Focus”. Scarantino also was executive director of The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2003 and served as Chair of the Coalition for New Mexico Wilderness from 2000 to 2004.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who is Manipulating Oil and Gas Prices Now?

It seems like only yesterday that Congress and all manner of people who are ignorant of basic economics were bashing oil and gas companies for their supposed efforts to manipulate prices and keep them high. Now, with the global economy on the skids, crude prices are plummeting right along with the stock market and are likely to keep dropping.

So, the question must be asked: where are the speculators and manipulators? If Exxon has an iron lock grip on the prices it charges for its product, why aren't they keeping them high or at least stabilizing them? The simple fact in is that they don't control prices; they are "price takers."

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Social Responsibility of Coal

Omigosh! Reading this is like reading all of the last year’s worth of op-eds, newsletters and blog posting from CARE. It is like the author Paul Driessen got inside CARE and said everything in one smart, and articulate posting. You must read this!

In fact, CARE and Paul are very close--as you will see if you go back and review the various writings available through CARE. But this piece is just brilliant! It captures the current worldwide energy picture in a clear and concise manner. Read it and pass it on to everyone you know who cares about energy.

Relying More on Coal Generates Benefits that are Too Often Ignored
They get little credit for their efforts, but most resource extraction, manufacturing and power generation companies strive to be “socially responsible”--by emphasizing energy efficiency, resource conservation, pollution control and worker safety in producing the raw materials, consumer products and electricity that improve, safeguard and enrich our lives.

It’s not easy, due to the nature of their business, public intolerance for any ecological impacts--and the fact that “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is often defined and used by activist groups to promote ideological agendas. Above all, activists want to engineer a “wholesale transformation” of our energy and economic system, away from hydrocarbon fuels and into “eco-friendly” renewable resources; reduce our living standards to “sustainable” levels (their definition again); and give them power over the power that sustains our modern society.

This “hard green” version of CSR largely ignores socio-economic considerations, the many benefits of fossil fuel and nuclear power, the significant land and environmental impacts of wind, solar and ethanol--and the oppressive effects of soaring energy prices on jobs and poor families.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi closed down the House of Representatives on August 1, to avoid an energy vote that Democrats would have lost, and later displayed her acumen on the subject when she opined: “natural gas is a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels.” News flash: Natural gas is a fossil fuel.

An Energy Economics 101 course is clearly needed, so that members of both parties can legislate more astutely … understand why mining and burning coal is a socially responsible component of sound energy policy … and help stanch the unnecessary flow of $700 billion a year in foreign oil payments.

Energy is the master resource, the foundation for everything we eat, use and do. Sound policies ensure that energy is abundant, reliable and affordable. Restricting supplies in the face of rising global demand drives up prices and sends shockwaves through families, industries, communities and nations.

Average total energy costs for a typical American household doubled from $2,400 in 1997 to over $5,000 in 2007. Food prices also soared, while wages remained relatively stagnant. More low and middle income families have been forced to choose between heating, eating, driving, medicines and housing--with little left over for vacations, emergencies, retirement, college or charity.

Thankfully, most electricity bills rose more modestly, because half of all US electricity is generated using coal, and the price for that fossil fuel has risen far less than oil, gasoline and natural gas prices. However, in places like Florida--where coal is verboten, natural gas is promoted but drilling for it is banned, and wind and solar are all the rage--electricity prices continue to climb. Florida Power & Light must pay four times as much for photovoltaic power as for coal power, the Heartland Institute reports, and schools face budget crunches for buses and electricity.

America has centuries’ worth of coal. Our reliance on this resource has tripled since 1970--but sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions are down 40% and 90% below 1970 levels, respectively, notes air pollution expert Joel Schwartz. New technologies and regulations will reduce coal power plant emissions even further by 2020, but even current emissions (including mercury) pose no significant risks to human health, he emphasizes.

Radical environmentalists worry and wail about speculative health risks, to justify anti-coal campaigns. But their concerns often disappear when the discussion shifts to millions of Africans who die every year from real, preventable lung and intestinal diseases that result from an absence of electricity for cooking, heating, refrigeration, safe drinking water, hospitals and decent living standards. Wind and solar will save few of those lives--and yet green pressure groups stridently oppose fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric power for Africa.

US electricity consumption will continue climbing, even with conservation, because our population and technology use are increasing steadily. Meanwhile, 59 coal-fired plants were cancelled in 2007 thanks to eco-activists, who are challenging 50 more.

The US now has virtually no excess capacity, and switching to natural gas as a primary power plant fuel (and fuel for backup generators to support wind farms) means electricity prices could increase “as much as tenfold,” says energy analyst Mark Mills, especially if we continue to ban drilling. “After that we may see forced conservation, or even blackouts in rotation among business and residential customers.”

Energy shortages and price hikes could cost millions of jobs in the automotive, airline, tourism, food and beverage, textiles, paper making, plastics, chemicals, metals and manufacturing industries--especially if Congress also enacts cap-and-trade rules. Most will never be replaced by “green collar” jobs that some claim will be created by intermittent, unreliable wind and solar energy.

Switching to plug-in hybrid cars will only exacerbate the problem. They will need a well-stocked power grid to plug into, and current energy policies virtually ensure that it won’t be there.

In addition to balance of trade issues, over-reliance on imports has major national security implications, as Russia’s invasion of Georgia forcefully reminded Europe. Germany imports 40% of its natural gas from Russia, and six Eastern European countries are entirely dependent on Mr. Putin’s energy. Shackled further by their opposition to nuclear power, fear of climate change Armageddon and fixation on the Kyoto Protocols, the EU has barely protested actions by a rogue bear that has already cut off natural gas supplies to Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, to impose its will.

That should cause Congress to reflect more soberly on US dependence on oil from Venezuela, Nigeria, Iran and Russia. Coal could be converted into synthetic liquid and gas fuels, to replace the oil and gas we refuse to develop, but legal and regulatory hurdles restrict that option, too.

A key justification for these anti-energy policies is cataclysmic global warming. However, 32,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, saying they see “no convincing evidence” that humans are causing climate change, or that it will be catastrophic. Climate models continue to predict chaos but, as one scientist wryly notes, faith in their predictions is as misplaced as reliance on emails from Nigeria, advising recipients that they have won the Lotto.

Global temperatures have not increased since 1998, despite steadily increasing carbon dioxide levels, and solar scientists like Pal Brekke say the sun’s formerly high activity level is leveling off or abating, which could bring falling global temperatures.

China and India are planning or building 700 coal-fired power plants; European countries plan to build 50 more in five years, to reduce dependence on Russian gas; and other nations are also increasing fossil fuel use for transportation and power generation.

Thus, no matter how much the USA reduces its energy use, driving, heating, air-conditioning and living standards--no matter how much it punishes poor families or commits economic suicide--its actions would not reduce global CO2 levels, or affect Earth’s climate.

We need to conserve, and continue improving renewable energy technologies that currently provide just 0.5% of our energy. But at this time renewables are simply too inefficient, expensive and unreliable to permit a shutdown of hydrocarbon-based systems.

Putting “social responsibility” and “environmental justice” in the hands of eco-activists and liberal Democrats is like giving a machine gun to an idiot child. We need definitions that recognize the full spectrum of societal needs, and energy policies that acknowledge life in the real world.

Paul Driessen is author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death (http://www.eco-imperialism.com/) and senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, whose new book (Freezing in the Dark) reveals how environmental pressure groups raise money and promote policies that restrict energy development and hurt poor families.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Wind and Solar: Are they really "Key to Our Energy Future?"

It seems like every week or two the Albuquerque Journal feels compelled to publish a hopeful article by proponents of some "alternative" energy source. This week's edition, "N.M. Sun, Wind Key To Our Energy Future" comes to us from the N.M. Solar Energy Association.

The authors assert in their article that:

A concentrated solar plant (CSP) utilizing about 15 square miles of otherwise unusable land would produce enough electricity to offset New Mexico's total electrical energy requirements. A CSP of around 100 square miles could meet the country's entire need, producing more energy than the U.S. consumption of oil, natural gas, coal, hydropower and nuclear energy.

Wind energy programs are working well in New Mexico and have proven to be a cost-effective energy source. Eastern New Mexico could easily produce 20 times the amount of electricity needed in the state. New Mexico's wind could supply a major percentage of U.S. energy.

This all seems wonderful and without a doubt that wind and solar can become a more important part of both our state and national energy picture, but as it stands now (according to the Energy Information Agency), they combine for less than 1 percent of our energy supply.

Certainly, what the authors promise for wind and solar doesn't seem to mesh with reality. It's hard to believe there's a conspiracy here because if you could solve our energy problems with the measures they proscribe, someone would have done it or be doing it now.

America can't run on a pipe dream. Solar and wind can help, but they will be niche players for the foreseeable future.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bob Balling Global Warming Presentation

Recently, the Rio Grande Foundation and CARE co-hosted a series of screenings of the film "The Great Global Warming Swindle" statewide to large audiences. You can view the film here.

Bob Balling, a climate scientist at Arizona State University gave a post-film presentation with his take on the movie. His powerpoint presentation is available here. Video of Bob's Albuquerque presentation along with some Q and A is available below:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Needs a Treasurer Anyway?

As the Albuquerque Journal reported on Wednesday, New Mexico Treasurer James Lewis travels as a part of his job -- a lot. The Journal followed up with an editorial questioning who is paying for Lewis's flights around the globe and to what extent those who pay for Lewis's flights might be doing so to curry favor with the man that -- as The Journal points out, "is the elected official in charge of billions of dollars in New Mexico's investment portfolio."

While it is hard not to read about Lewis's inflated airfare costs -- $3,600 first class to Atlanta, business to Brazil -- and $2,200 in hotel charges, my question is why the State of New Mexico should be investing billions of dollars. I know it is in the Constitution, but wouldn't the permanent fund money be better off in the hands of New Mexicans' instead of politicians? Isn't it the very definition of socialism to have governments to own and control businesses?

It may be impossible to abolish the office as a whole, but shouldn't we as individual New Mexicans control whatever revenue is generated by taxes on extractive industries? Aside from that, government really shouldn't be in the business of investing. Instead, New Mexico should adopt the Alaska model and return oil and gas money to taxpayers. This would serve another positive function by creating a constituency for ongoing mining/drilling.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Russia, Georgia and the Implications to American Energy

When the entire world was watching the Olympics, Russia thought they could slip, unnoticed, into Georgia—and they almost did. If they actually knew it happened, it seems that the average person on the street has little comprehension of what that skirmish means. Now, while all eyes are focused on Denver and the Democratic Convention the Georgian/Russia chaos is all but forgotten. Yet, there are deep implications to America’s energy picture—one of the top topics on the minds of most Americans and in each campaign and convention.

We guess you are reading this because you care more about energy—or are more aware of the global ramifications—than the people you’ll run into at the gas station. For you, this interesting posting captures many of the topics we at CARE are most interested in: oil and gas, off-shore drilling and ANWR, nuclear power, biofuel, tar sands, global warming, the Gang Green’s opposition to alternative power, and world energy supplies.

Read on, you’ll be glad you did.

Russian Tanks Signal a “New Energy War”
“Russia’s adventure in Georgia has been described as a ‘warlet,’ a contained firing spree that wound up and down within a week. But to Europe’s energy markets, it was the equivalent of wide-scale carpet bombing,” writes Eric Reguly in Britain’s Global and Mail on August 15th. “Before the Georgian crisis, Europe seemed to be doing all the right things, with little Georgia at the centre of a sensible energy diversification plan. A column of Russian tanks wrecked that strategy in an instant . . . a new energy war is about to begin.”

Since the Russian tank attacks, Europe’s energy position is far worse than America’s. Europe’s North Sea oil and gas are waning, and its marginal coal mines have long been shut down. Europe’s been importing lots of gas, 40 percent of it from Russia. Georgia was threatening to allow another gas pipeline that Russia wouldn’t control—so Vlad the Assailer demonstrated that he can control Caspian-region gas exports whenever he chooses to send tanks.

Europe now urgently wants a long-term partnership with the big undeveloped oil and gas deposits in Libya, Tunisia and the rest of North Africa. Alarmingly, last month Russia’s Gazprom offered to buy all of Libya’s gas exports.

The U.S. is now trapped, however, in the crossfire between Russian military/economic aggression, Moslem extremism and European energy starvation. We will soon be enormously grateful for our opportunity to drill off our own coasts and in our own ANWR, to import our Alaskan gas through a new pipeline, to tap Appalachia’s big, tough gas deposits—and to add more of our own nuclear power. France, Finland and Eastern Europe are already building more nuclear plants, and Germany’s Angela Merkel may block the German nuclear phase-out.

Solar and wind power will be built too, but so far they’ve been expensive, erratic and severely disappointing. Biofuels actually aggravate both global food shortages and greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s Athabasca Tar Sands, one of the world’s largest petroleum reservoirs, got a visit last week from U.S. billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The Athabasca is also in a strategically secure location for the U.S.—400 miles north of Montana. Eco-activists have lately campaigned against the tar sands, calling it “the worst project on earth” because of the CO2 released as the heavy oil is produced. However, CO2 has had a weak correlation with earth’s temperature changes—only 22 percent since 1860.

Fortunately, the earth’s temperatures are now continuing to decline; more and more clearly separating CO2 emissions from climate change. The first five months of 2008 have been the coolest in at least five years, continuing the cooler trend of the past 18 months. The cooling was predicted by a 2000 downturn in the sunspot index, which has a strong, ten-year-lagged correlation with our temperature history.

The Greens have recommended non-polluting tidal power, but are opposing one of the world’s outstanding tidal-power opportunities on Britain’s Severn River. The Severn has a 40-foot daily tide range. A ten-mile dam across the Bristol Channel would emit no CO2 or radiation, while producing as much electricity as three nuclear power stations for the next 200 years. The eco-activists are unhappy about the loss of local mud flats which would force shore birds to relocate.

It now looks as though the West must choose between relocating some shore birds and seeing lots more Russian tanks monopolize the world’s energy supplies.

DENNIS T. AVERY is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and is the Director for the Center for Global Food Issues. (www.cgfi.org) He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 2442 or email to cgfi@hughes.net

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Russia, Georgia and Energy Connection

Why is there suddenly activity in Georgia that looks a lot like war? Most of us know nothing about Georgia and think that it is a state in the US. Why is Russia flexing its muscle? What are we not hearing in the news?

These are but a few of the questions we were asking when we heard the reports of fighting between Russia and Georgia. We turned to someone who knows a great deal about the inner workings of that part of the world, Michael Economides—one of our favorite contributors and author of the new book From Soviet to Putin and Back, subtitled: The Dominance of Energy in Today’s Russia.

We asked Economides for his insights on the situation and this is what he sent us. We believe it will shed new insights on the situation for you.

Scratch Russia-Georgia War and You Find Oil and Gas Pipelines
The war between Russia and Georgia has some nationalist elements, some old grudges but mostly it rubs the wrong way Russia’s newly found power: energy imperialism.

Georgia has refused to play along like other former Soviet states and, if anything, its independent attitude has been a giant irritant for Russia ever since Vladimir Putin used oil and gas to project hegemony over the region and, by extension, into all Europe. At the same time, Georgia, a tiny, 4 million people country has been trying to ward off the giant on its north by seeking membership in NATO or the European Union. In the post-Cold War era, the United States and Russia-dependent Europe are reduced to just pleading for calm.

A look at the map makes the issue at hand quite transparent.

Oil and gas can come from Russia into Europe by tanker through the Black Sea from its massive terminal in Novorossiysk or by pipelines through Belarus, Ukraine and even plans of under water construction in the Baltic. All of these give Russia a huge leverage, almost monopoly, over both the transit and destination countries. More than 25 European countries depend now for more than 75% of their oil and gas from Russia.

But Georgia was eager to act as a spoiler and European countries were even more eager to comply while trying to avoid incurring the wrath of the hand that feeds them.

First, it was the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (Turkey) oil pipeline that started in 2002 with a much weaker then Russia. The 1776 km line was to connect the Caspian and south Europe in what was to be an “Energy Corridor” for European oil and gas supplies. The pipeline was designed to carry 1 million barrels per day from Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil fields to the export terminal Ceyhan via Tbilisi, with Georgia acting as a very important transit country. This did not sit well with Russia, cutting it out from oil exports to that vital part of Europe. The pipeline, funded by western oil companies and banks at the tune of $3.2 billion, was commissioned in 2006.

What gave and still gives Russia fits is what else can happen that could affect its control. For example, how about building under-water pipelines across the Caspian linking Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan?

What really caused the ire of Russia was the talk of a gas pipeline, similar to the oil pipeline, again linking Azerbaijan and Turkey and points beyond (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum) through Georgia. This would give Georgia energy independence and create an alternative route to the holy grail of Russian geopolitics: Gazprom’s monopoly.

Back in 2006, Gazprom, flexing its muscles, was manipulating the former Soviet states, by setting new records in gas export prices practically every month. It was clear then that the geopolitical climate in Eastern Europe would be severely damaged. In fact, double and triple increases in gas prices were imposed on Russia’s neighbors: Ukraine, then Belarus, then Armenia after all of them were threatened with gas supply interruptions, until new contracts with huge price increases were signed. They had no other choice but to surrender on Gazprom’s terms and conditions.

Georgia resisted the Russian might and that conflict predictably ended up with a war.

Things did not deteriorate all of a sudden. The conflict between Russia and Georgia started with the election in 2004 of the western-oriented president, Mikhail Saakashvili, who refused to accommodate Russia’s ambition of control over his country.

Then, Georgians discovered and expelled alleged Russian spies. In return, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, stirred a crass witch hunt against ordinary Georgians in Russia while Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Georgia unless it agreed to pay new gas prices from $110 to $230 per thousand cubic meters.

The blackmail from Gazprom was blatant: “The Georgian side could still maintain lower gas prices. They could compensate for gas price by trading off some assets… For example, Armenia had already paid Gazprom with its transportation network.” What this referred to was that Armenia saw the writing on the wall and kept the same price for gas supplies as before – $110 per thousand cubic meters. But they relinquished control of their gas network in the bargain.

But it was the talk of the construction of the gas pipelines via Georgia that was bound to create an alternative energy supply route to Russian oil and gas, thus threatening Russia’s energy stranglehold on the vast south European markets. This was not something that Russia could tolerate and the war, no matter what the daily pretexts are, is blatant and punishingly brutal.

Prof. Michael J. Economides, University of Houston and also Editor-in-Chief Energy Tribune Houston, TX

Saturday, August 2, 2008

China, Olympics and Energy

With the Olympics upon us, China is in the news on a regular basis. CARE received an e-mail from one of our friends stating that A reporter from Business Week magazine just asked for some contacts who could speak with knowledge about the air pollution situation in Beijing. We wracked our brains, knowing that within our circles was someone who’d spent a great deal of time in China. Bingo! Michael Economides, one of our favorite contributors. He sent us the following posting. (We forwarded it on to the contact with Business Weekly. What happens next remains to be seen.) While it did not directly connect to the Business Weekly topic, we thought it was worthy of passing on to you.

Within a matter of days, the next piece on China—addressing their approach to biofuels—arrived in our inbox. Again, it was worthy of sharing with you. While neither piece is directly fuel focused, both are of from members of our energy counsel and we believe their comments and insights will enrich your overall energy education.

Read them both. Pass on your comments. Let us know what you think!

An Olympic Salute to China from a Greek
I am supposed to write an energy and energy geopolitics column for the China Daily but the temptation is too great to let it pass by. Taking a break from depressing sky-high oil prices and conflicts for energy sources is squarely in the true spirit of the Olympics. Today, we are not close to their ancient requirements: wars would seize while the games were happening. Being of Greek background makes this column all the more appropriate. Let’s all celebrate the Beijing Olympics.

Years ago China won the privilege to host the 2008 Games for all the right reasons. Virtually no other country, established or developing, exemplifies the 21st century more than China. An economic superpower already, it is bound to influence the world economy and politics like no other in the not too distant future. It also has one of the greatest assets, a huge population that is industrious, values education, and is proud of its history and culture.

Only a handful of countries have a historical continuum that spans 5,000 years and, interestingly, China and Greece, now joined by the Olympics, would be in everybody’s very short list that would fit this description.

I have been visiting China for the better part of 30 years and the country has become unrecognizable in almost all good ways. Living in Houston, one of the US’s more dynamic cities, it has been strikingly different for decades on how many more construction cranes have been dotting the Beijing skyline compared to those of my city. Yes, Beijing and China still need work in services, bureaucracy and the environment but there should be no question that what has been achieved in so little time is more than any other country can show, perhaps in all history.

And yet, a world press, thriving incessantly on the negative which always sells more than the positive, applies the same on China, refusing to admit the obvious: the country is the epitome of modern success. A week before the Games, members of the press still harp on whether China can meet air standards and, even more preposterous, whether food would be safe to eat, this in a country where food is an art and people have been known to travel just to taste it. Tibet is the other item that often comes up in spite of the fact that the issue is truly irrelevant in the big scheme of Chinese politics. It is only brought up by misfit westerners and Hollywood types who do not understand the Chinese or even the Tibetan reality. Backlash inside China would have exactly the opposite effect they profess to desire.

What is rarely mentioned, and it should be, is that China has finished state of the art Olympic facilities in record time and along with them the country has produced a huge infrastructure that could only be the dream of every other country. Multiple lane highways have sprung up everywhere seemingly all of a sudden. The United States and Europe would be green with envy if they found out that China can build better highways in a fraction of the time that would take them. The Beijing airport is now the state of the art facility of its kind in the world--and will remain so for years. Chinese airlines, which perhaps just ten years ago would be iffy to fly, has emerged as a world class carrier with excellent service. They are also some of the best customers for Boeing and Airbus.

What is also rarely mentioned is that China has been quite circumspect in world politics and although accusations have occasionally surfaced for its role in the Sudan and Myanmar, in reality China has steadfastly avoided confrontation with the United States and Russia even at times when the Chinese interest might have dictated otherwise. The future historian will be kind to China during this era.

The Games should be China’s celebration. It has arrived in the world scene as an imposing, influential and constructive presence. The country and its people deserve the salute of the world. They earned it both as a nation and as the hosts of the Olympics. Xerete, which in Greek means enjoy yourself and be happy.

Prof. Michael J. Economides, University of Houston and also Editor-in-Chief Energy Tribune Houston, TX

China Releases Biotech Rice, Bars Biofuel
China says short world grain supplies have persuaded it to release biotech rice nationwide, ensuring the broadest-ever use of genetic engineering in a food crop. Chinese plant breeders say biotech crops are certain to produce higher yields, forestalling the need to finance costly rice imports for China’s billion-plus consumers.

To further protect its grain supplies, China has also been discouraging grain-based ethanol for the last two years. Chinese demand for grain ethanol—mainly from corn—had threatened to inflate prices for China’s rice and livestock products as world oil prices hit record levels.

These strategies may quickly become the model for developing countries as the world strives to double food and feed production over the next three decades—with or without biofuels.

Western biofuel mandates have, unfortunately, more than doubled world grain prices since 2005. Corn costs have soared from less than $2 per bushel to more than $7, before settling recently at about $5.50 per bushel. Pork, poultry, beef, and milk producers are still warning of further food price inflation ahead due to biofuels mandates.

The Chinese have already developed genetically engineered rice strains with bred-in pest and disease resistance. They’re also experimenting with new nitrogen-efficient rice that needs only half as much fertilizer to get top yields. The new rice thus costs much less to grow, and emits far less greenhouse gas per ton of rice produced. They also say biotech rice “escapes” will not be a problem, since they’ve pre-programmed the rice to be hyper-sensitive to a particular herbicide.

China already permits the growing of genetically engineered peppers, tomatoes, and papaya, and much of its huge cotton crop is genetically modified to resist pests. Biotech has overcome the deadly ringspot virus, which severely hampers papaya production in much of the world, and provided virus resistance for tomatoes and peppers. Another genetic modification permits Chinese tomatoes to survive the longer shipping delays caused by the poor Chinese roads and lack of refrigeration.

The nitrogen-efficient biotech rice being tested by the Chinese emerged at Canada’s University of Alberta, as breeders were seeking drought-tolerant crops. Someone forgot to fertilize the seeds in the greenhouse, but one set of plants grew vigorously anyhow. They had discovered a new and more efficient pathway for crop nitrogen uptake that allows top yields with half the nitrogen fertilizer.

Arcadia Biosciences is marketing the nitrogen-efficient crops, working with Chinese rice growers and Australian wheat growers and is working to develop the new nitrogen efficiency in corn. Arcadia has already signed a licensing agreement with the Maharashtra Seed Company in India, the world’s second-most-populous country.

Greenpeace claims that rice smuggled from biotech experimental fields has already been sold on consumer markets without government approval, and perhaps even exported. However, with world rice prices recently hitting record highs, no one has seemed to care.

The question today is how to produce adequate food, with cropland per person declining. In addition, fertilizer prices have been sharply inflated by the conversion of power plants to burn much of the natural gas which used to supply fertilizer factories.

World leaders are also welcoming the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s major effort to create a renewed Green Revolution to create the first high-yield farming in sub-Saharan Africa, supply the last surge of human population growth worldwide, and provide higher-quality diets for the tropical countries.

DENNIS T. AVERY is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and is the Director for the Center for Global Food Issues. (http://www.cgfi.org/) He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 2442 or email to cgfi@hughes.net