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