By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., April 29, 2013 – Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators, all of them mired in a failed paradigm, proposed a solution to the nation’s long-festering problem of what to do with what comes out of the back end of nuclear power plants. It’s nasty stuff, that’s for sure.
But the proposal the solons have come up with comes up short: a new federal agency to do what the Energy Department and predecessors have failed to do for over 60 years. It reminds me of that old saw: “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.”
The current tepid idea from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) seems to be, if you can’t figure out what do to, create a new federal agency and tell them to figure out what to do. Is this some sort of elitist crowd sourcing? Only, the crowd will be very small, and very predictable. In-crowd sourcing?
This latest round of hand-wringing has its origins in the Obama administration’s “blue ribbon commission,” created in 2009 to divert attention from the entirely worthy decision to end the Yucca Mountain fiasco (you can read more about that and earlier nuclear waste failures in my 2012 book “Too Dumb to Meter, Follies, Fiascoes, Dead Ends and Duds on the U.S. Road to Nuclear Energy”). The Obama commission, the sole achievement of which seems to be the installation of geologist Allison Macfarlane as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was a classic example of Washington-work: let’s assemble all the conventional thinkers and clap loudly when they produce conventional wisdom, then go home.
Maybe there isn’t a solution, other than “don’t do anything?” Could “energy policy” be a model? Over the past five decades, politicians, policy wonks and pundits (I must confess that I was among them) were saying, “The U.S. needs an energy policy.” Well, it turns out we had one, and it was, in the words of Ronald Reagan (don’t get me wrong, I’m a Democrat), “Stand there, just don’t do something.” How irresponsible was that?
It worked. Ronnie was right (not just far right). Today, we’ve got energy by the tail, and are reducing carbon dioxide emissions (for those who care) as well as reducing imports and producing electricity at lower cost to average folks. The Euros are wringing their hands in despair. How sweet it is.
Maybe the same approach — call it deliberate ad hocery — works for nuclear waste? Don’t just do something. Stand there. Let spent fuel sit (assuming it is safe), and let the utilities that generated it and their customers who benefited from cheaper power pay the price for managing it. Keep the costs where they belong, not spread to the innocent.
The notion that taxpayers should own civilian nuclear waste generated from plants owned by private sector actors is an artifact of the early days of the nuclear endeavor. The first waste problem – and it remains as probably the worst – was what to do with the nasty gunk from the government’s weapons program. That this spawned a government approach is understandable.
But it doesn’t make sense to apply the same approach to commercial reactor waste. Government policy should not shove the cost of disposal onto all “nuclear” consumers through a gigantic federal program that uses the nuclear tax to develop a federal spent fuel graveyard. That’s the thrust of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which the “small government” conservatives now seem to embrace uncritically and which has failed completely.
The problem with the waste fee on “nuclear” consumers is that it gets spread to all consumers. It isn’t confined to consumers of electricity from atomic power plants but flows to all customers of a utility that has nuclear, fossil, wind, solar, or squirrel-cage generation. That’s particularly the case where commerce in electricity is through organized markets, such as PJM, ISO, NYISO, ISO-NE, and ERCOT.
Those who most directly benefited from nuclear electricity are nuclear utilities and shareholders. So government policy should allocate the costs of waste disposal onto the utilities and their investors who benefit. It doesn’t make sense to externalize the costs of nuclear cleanup when the damage can be properly internalized.
Claiming that nuke waste disposal is a social cost to be loaded onto all consumers of atomic electrons (as if those distinctions can really be made) is foolish. These costs belong to the generator. Why not make the same claim for disposal of coal ash for electric generating plants?
So here I stand, opposed to a gigantic bailout of the failed Nuke Waste Policy Act of 1982 by compounding the errors it created. It was bad law in 1982, grounded on faulty thinking about the problem. Nothing on the current policy or legislative agenda appears to recognize that.
I suspect my arguments will be ignored by conventional Democrats, who wish to treat nuclear waste as a social cost to be spread to all consumers of electricity, and by blinkered Republicans , who seem to believe that anything radioactive is worthy of federal government (and taxpayer) subsidy, particularly if benefits investors.
By David Wagman
Denver, April 25, 2013 — Southern Company said the 582-MW Kemper County integrated gasification combined cycle power plant under construction for its Mississippi Power utility will cost as much as $333 million more than the $2.88-billion cost cap state regulators are allowing for the project.
The company said during an April 24 earnings conference call with analysts that the project remains on schedule to enter service in May 2014. It pinned the increased cost on an underestimation of the amount of piping needed in the project. The company said it is improving the quality of the piping, including its thickness and metallurgy. An overnight labor shift also was added to the project to help ensure it is completed on time.
The company also said on the call that it does not expect to add more gas-fired generating capacity across its multi-state system until 2023 at the earliest.
Tom Fanning, chairman, president, and CEO said that while the company is disappointed with the estimated cost increases at Kemper, “we continue to believe that the scheduled in-service date is achievable.”
Fanning said major challenges surround the process of “harmonizing the operation of the plant” through its instrumentation and control systems. That includes coordinating everything from the intake of lignite fuel to the gasification to the stripping out of the CO2 to the remaining synthesis gas going to the combined cycle units and producing electricity.
“Harmonizing the operation of the plant I think is probably what we are most focused on,” Fanning said. “Those start-up activities have been mostly focused on the combined cycle units, so the big effort is going to be start up around the gasifier and the carbon capture equipment.” The plant is expected to capture around 65% of its carbon emissions by 2016.
Fanning said the plant’s long-term variable operating cost is expected to be between $1 and $1.25 per million Btu. In terms of economic dispatch, he said Kemper “looks like a nuclear plant: High capital cost, cheap energy.” The plant‘s location at the mouth of a company-owned lignite mine will help dampen fuel price volatility.
Fanning also addressed recently rising natural gas costs. He said that units that combust coal from the Powder River Basin typically dispatch in the range of $3-$4/MMBtu. With gas prices at around $4.25/MMBtu that favors Southern’s Scherer and Miller generating stations. Also, the company is moving away from firing coal sourced from Central Appalachian coal mines to coal from the Illinois basin. Units that fire Illinois basin coal start dispatching at around the $5/MMBtu range. Central Appalachian coal, by contrast, dispatches in the $6/MMBtu range.
At the end of March, all the Miller units and at least three of the Scherer units were dispatching ahead of Southern’s most efficient gas unit, the company said.
Fanning told analysts that Southern Co. likely will not need additional gas-fired generating capacity before 2023, based on an assumed 2% growth in gross domestic product and 1.3% growth in electricity sales.
He said additional capacity under construction at the Vogtle nuclear station, along with purchased power agreements from competitive generation providers, the addition of the Kemper station as well as power supplied by a solar initiative in Georgia, “will all speak to our needs through the end of this decade and perhaps into very early the 2020s.”
By David Wagman
Denver, April 23, 2013 — Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) is expected to release this July regulations for restarting the nation’s fleet of nuclear generating stations. Much of that capacity shut down following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. Those nuclear closures threw domestic Japanese and global energy markets into turmoil as utilities there sought to replace a significant portion of the country’s generation mix.
Nuclear generating capacity made up around 30% of Japan’s total mix in 2010, part of a long-term government goal for nuclear power to make up half of the country’s generation and enhance its energy self-sufficiency. Coal in 2010 comprised around 25%, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) fired capacity stood at around 30%. After the Fukushima accident, nuclear’s share dropped to 11%, coal capacity remained at 25%, and LNG’s share grew to almost 40%. Still more shutdowns cut nuclear’s share to 2% of the mix in 2012. Coal’s share last year was around 26% and LNG grew to 47%. Meanwhile, oil’s share of the generating mix doubled from 8% in 2010 to 16% in 2012.
Increased imports of oil and LNG came at a price, however, and the Japanese trade balance fell from years of surplus to deficit: a 2.6 trillion Yen ($26.2 billion) deficit in 2011 and a 6.9 trillion Yen ($69 billion) shortfall in 2012. Japanese utilities paid around $15.8/MMBtu to import LNG last December. By contrast, the U.S. benchmark price at Louisiana’s Henry Hub was trading at around $3.50/MMBtu. Higher electricity prices led to increased electricity conservation, which helped to dampen the power crisis by reducing demand.
As a result, the NRA’s restart rules will likely be welcomed and the first reactors could return to service as early as this autumn. But at least one hurdle remains if the country’s nuclear power plants are to claw back market share. Local governments need to approve the restarts. Here hesitancy remains as doubts linger over nuclear power’s long-term safety. Nuclear’s return later this year is by no means certain.
Most of Japan’s electric utilities are developing contingency plans to cover what could be the long-term loss of nuclear capacity. One scenario, outlined at a recent conference of energy economists in Boulder, Colo., envisions substituting up to one-third of Japan’s 46 GW of nuclear generating capacity with natural gas-fired capacity by 2020. That would amount to around 15 GW of new gas capacity and some 10.3 million tons of new LNG imports. Most of that prospective capacity—some 8.6 GW—would be added between now and 2015, with the bulk in 2014. The Tokyo, Chubu, and Kansai electric utilities would add the most gas-fired generating capacity.
Japan faces an uncomfortable reality, however. Replacing up to one-third of its nuclear capacity with natural gas won’t be cheap. As a result, Japanese industrials are looking to partner with several proposed North American LNG export projects, which propose tapping the continent’s low-cost and seemingly plentiful shale gas resources to meet demand in the global market. Those Japanese firms aim to secure stable LNG supplies and possibly reduce import prices. Mitsubishi and Mitsui are involved in Sempra Energy’s proposed Cameron, LA, export facility; Sumitomo and Tokyo Gas are involved in Dominion’s proposed Cove Point, MD, export project; and Osaka Gas and Chubu Electric Power are involved in the proposed Freeport, TX, export facility. Other industrials are participating in shale gas fields in Canada as well as in the northeastern and south central United States.
The economic aftershocks of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami continue to echo across North American energy markets. The Obama administration has yet to decide whether or not to allow LNG exports, which Japan desires. By contrast, Canada is moving forward to approve and build export terminals in British Columbia. U.S.-based industrials hope to protect low-cost shale energy resources as feedstock for expanded domestic manufacturing. Shale gas developers argue that any domestic price spikes are likely to be short lived and will spur still more gas production, some of which has been shut in due to low prices. Many power generators for now may be content to remain on the fence, since U.S. power demand is generally flat and the pressure to build new generating capacity is nonexistent most places.
Japan’s nuclear decision in the coming months will be telling for the long-term prospects of global energy markets and domestic U.S. natural gas alike.
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., April 17, 2013 – One of my oldest friends in the energy business is Jerry Halvorsen, now semi-retired and spending as much time as he can fishing in Wisconsin. But Jerry, who lobbied for nuclear, coal, and gas pipeline interests during his long career (and was a Democrat among a shark-filled sea of Republicans) keeps an eye on what’s going on in Washington. He recently sent me this email, which I am reprinting with his permission, because I share his views and value his insight.
“I have been dismayed for months over the strategy being followed on the efforts to gain approval in Washington for the Keystone Pipeline.
“Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is, I believe, in jeopardy because of a flawed strategy from the beginning by the project`s developers and supporters.
“The optimum strategy for any controversial energy project is to be low-key, non-controversial and to have bipartisan support from political leaders in Washington.
“In contrast, the developers of the Keystone XL pipeline agreed to let the Republicans lead a very public advocacy for the project and in essence let the Republican presidential candidate as well as Republican leaders in the House and Senate use the project as a club to beat both the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in the Congress over the head publicly for months for being anti-jobs and anti-energy development.
“This strategy clearly demonstrates that Canadian energy companies have learned nothing from past mistakes. There is 20 years of history that was ignored on the Keystone XL pipeline. In the early 1990s, Canadian pipelines and producers made aggressive and very public proposals to move large quantities of natural gas into fast-growing markets in California and the Northeast. The most public of those projects was the Iroquois pipeline to move natural gas from Eastern Canada into the Northeast United States.
“Producers in the United States launched an aggressive campaign to block the project on the basis that the natural gas could be supplied by producers in the United States and domestic jobs would be lost if the project was approved. The state of New York vowed to block the project because of its possible violation of state environmental laws. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held public hearings on the project and legislation was developed to block Iroquois from being completed.
“It was only through an active effort by a bipartisan group of senators from the Northeast and a looming natural gas shortage in the region that this legislation was averted and the pipeline was completed, but only after a long and costly delay and fines from the state of New York for violating state water quality laws. A pipeline construction crew was even jailed in New York as they attempted a stream crossing.
“If approval for [Keystone] is rejected, the developers and advocates will only have themselves and their political advisors to blame for following a strategy that is polarizing and not consensus building at a time when nothing gets approved in Washington unless it has bipartisan support from the start.”
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., April 15, 2013 – This is pure speculation. I’m not channeling unnamed sources, but solely working from what my gut tells me about why the White House is once again putting off Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon dioxide emissions for new electric generating plants.
Those rules, which would have made it impossible to build new coal-fired generating capacity, went into the political deep freeze last year, not long after they had been announced. The administration did its first drop back-and-kick maneuver to put the issue beyond the November 2012 elections. EPA said it would take a year to revise its plans, and would not be able to come up with rules for existing plants until it had the regs for the new plants in place.
Now, the administration has again put the rules on hold, this time without any promises about when, or if, it will again address the issue. There has been much speculation among the stakeholders and experienced observers, and a lot of it makes sense. The Clean Air Act is not well-suited to the kind of regulation the administration is contemplating, and the rules would be vulnerable to court challenge. Jeff Holmstead, who ran the EPA air office in the George W. Bush administration, told the New York Times, “There’s no way it can stand up in court. They cannot simply declare that the best technology for building a coal plant is to build a natural gas plant.”
It is also the case that EPA has received some 2 million comments on the proposed rule, which the agency must consider under the Administrative Procedures Act before it can issue a final rule. If it fails to consider the comments, it risks seeing the courts overturn the rule on procedural grounds.
But I think another calculation is at work. That calculation has a name: Joe Manchin. The West Virginia Senator has rescued the White House from an embarrassing defeat on gun legislation. Manchin, whose political career depends largely on backing from the coal industry and coal labor, has long made his opposition to the administration’s climate plans well known. Recently, POWERnews reported, he led a group of four moderate-to-conservative Democratic Senators in writing to the White House to protest the EPA plan.
When Manchin first ran for the Senate, he aired TV ads demonstrating his love of guns and distain for global warming claims. The ads featured him shooting a deer rifle into a target that was the administration’s failed cap-and-trade legislation.
It would be political malpractice for the White House to reward Manchin’s service in rescuing victory from the barrel of defeat on gun legislation with a swift kick to the Senator’s political groin. Indeed, during her Senate Environment Committee confirmation hearing, EPA nominee Gina McCarthy repeatedly insisted that the administration is not waging a “war on coal,” which no doubt mystified the Sierra Club, Mike Bloomberg, and many at EPA, who are.
Another factor is that Obama is not, deep down, much of an environmentalist. His statements on climate have always struck me as pro forma and passionless. He’s an urban guy. The only time he appears to get outside is on a golf course. He plays basketball for relaxation.
But it looks to me like he cares about guns far more than he cares about the climate. And he certainly cares about winning a battle he started last December after Newtown, which has political implications today, more than he cares about rules about building new coal fired plants that nobody is planning on building anyhow.
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., April 10, 2013 — The latest public relations tactic from anti-global warming activists is to flood media accounts of developments in climate science and policy with comments. Somehow the idea has circulated that it benefits their cause for the folks who want strong, quick government action to curb energy use to bombard comment sections of online publications.
I don’t get it. Why flood the comment sections with comments that folks uncommitted to views on the subject are not likely to read? Will that generate converts?
Is it to show just how much some people care about these issues (when most people clearly do not)? Is it to drown out any criticism of the Al Gore agenda in a flood of noise?
I don’t know what the intent really is. But dare I call it what it is? It is green spam. Here’s how the web news site Inside Climate News describes the latest (and nuttiest) effort of the climate campaigners:
“The Climate Reality Project, a group overseen by Al Gore, is trying to win over public opinion by getting people to spread accurate global warming science in the comment sections of news stories online, where the battle rages with particular ferocity.
“For example, a recent CNN article titled “Global Warming Is Epic, Long-Term Study Says” attracted nearly 12,600 comments. That’s more than 50 times what articles published the same day on technology and environmental health received.”
The green group justifies its attempt to fill up the blogosphere with comments (many, no doubt, vitriolic, ad hominem, and ungrammatical) by alleging that “deniers,” which means anyone who raises any questions about the science of global warming, or the policy proposals for how to counter the problem, are making their case the same way. Well, not exactly.
Andy Revkin, self-confessed climate activist who blogs at the New York Times and who is in my judgment more intellectually honest than many on any sides of the dispute, commented recently, “But does it matter? I doubt it. The online climate wars — which seem so momentous to those deeply dug in on various fronts — are taking place on the sharp end of a needle buried in a haystack of other societal concerns.”
That’s right. The general public hasn’t bought the argument of the Goreites that the sky is falling, it’s falling right now, if we don’t do something, particularly something draconian, immediately, civilization as we know it will end tomorrow.
Indeed, the climate may be warming (although it hasn’t done so this century), and, if so, that will have consequences for society. But those consequences may be good or bad (Bjorn Lomborg argues that they will be good for the next 70 years or so before they turn bad, but who knows?). In any case, there are far more pressing problems today: access to electricity, availability of potable water, malaria, cultures that denigrate and deny human rights for women (and downplay that rape is a problem).
I trust that most folks will see the panoply of problems that confront the world and apply the proper priorities.
So, in the end, I don’t think the green spam approach will have legs.
By Thomas Overton
San Diego, April 3, 2013 — Despite all the sound and fury surrounding potential U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), industry observers have consistently suggested the market is unlikely to support more than three to four operating terminals. In the race to nab one of those coveted spots, Dominion’s Cove Point facility near Lusby, Md., has joined the short list of front-runners who have been able to contract for their projected output capacity.
Only one terminal, Cheniere’s Sabine Pass project, has been approved by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for export to non-free trade agreement countries. Cheniere—clearly doing its best to race as far ahead of the competition as possible—has thus far signed contracts for the entire capacity of its first five liquefaction trains and is exploring the potential for a sixth.
Two other projects, both expansions of existing LNG import terminals, have also secured contracts for projected output. The Freeport LNG project in Freeport, Tex., has contracts in place for both of its planned trains, while Sempra’s Cameron LNG project in Hackberry, La., has contracts for the output from its three trains.
On April 1, Dominion announced that it had signed contracts for all of its projected capacity, about 5.25 million tons per annum (mtpa). U.S. affiliates of Japan’s Sumitomo Corp., and GAIL (India) Ltd. have each contracted for half the output. With those agreements in hand, Dominion has contracted with IHI E&C International and Kiewit for the engineering and construction, and is filing its export application with FERC.
Collectively, these four projects have contracted for almost 45 mtpa of LNG, or about 5.9 Bcf/d. This figure is important because the consensus of industry analysts I’ve talked to is that the global market is unlikely to support much more than 6 Bcf/d of U.S. exports. The more LNG the U.S. pushes out, the more global prices will start to converge, and eventually the costs of export and lower LNG prices worldwide will make U.S. LNG too expensive to be competitive.
What that means is that the window for U.S. exports projects is closing, if it hasn’t closed already. For obvious reasons, long-term export contracts make obtaining financing for these freakishly expensive projects much easier. But with so much business already locked up, it seems less and less likely the also-rans will be able to do catch up.
Of the remaining seven export projects that FERC is currently considering (see chart below), only two—Trunkline LNG in Lake Charles, La., and Elba Island in Ga.—have any infrastructure in place at all (in both cases, idle regasification terminals the owners hope to convert to export). All of the others exist only on paper.
It’s still anyone’s bet what the DOE is going to do about approving these projects, but I’m prepared to go out on a limb at this point and suggest we’re going to see the projects without contracts start to fade away as the financing dries up. That may make the DOE’s decision to allow exports—one I and other observers expect—easier to swallow.
—Thomas W. Overton is POWER’s gas technology editor. Follow Tom on Twitter @thomas_overton.
LNG Export Projects Awaiting FERC Approval
Existing Import Terminal, Contracts Signed
Freeport LNG, Freeport, Tex.
Cove Point LNG (Dominion), Md.
Cameron LNG (Sempra), Hackberry, La.
Existing Import Terminal, No Contracts in Place
Trunkline LNG, Lake Charles, La.
Elba Island, Ga.
Previously Permitted Import Site, No Infrastructure
Cheniere, Corpus Christi, Tex.
Jordan Cove Energy Project, Ore.
Oregon LNG, Astoria, Ore.
Magnolia LNG, Lake Charles, La.
Excelerate Liquefaction, Lavaca Bay, Tex.
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., March 29, 2013 – I thought it was a joke, maybe an April Fools’ Day gag, or something from the Onion. An email landed in my inbox yesterday from a friend, asking if I’d seen that A123 Systems, the bankrupt battery maker and supplier to Fisker Automotive, the running on empty electric car company, had changed its name. To B456.
A123 stiffed the federal government, bailing out and selling out to a Chinese company, Wanxiang Group, after receiving a $250 million Department of Energy grant. Another triumph for the Obama plan to turn the economic stimulus program into an incubator for green technology.
Now it’s B456? You’ve got to be kidding. Nope, check it out, as Herb Jackson, the city editor at my first big-time daily journalism gig in Rochester, N.Y., often told me many years ago. And there it is, on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s website, in an 8-K filing.
Says the official government document: “On March 22, 2013, A123 Systems, Inc. (the “Company”) filed a Certificate of Amendment to the Company’s Restated Certificate of Incorporation, as amended (the “Amendment”) to change its name from A123 Systems, Inc. to B456 Systems, Inc. The Amendment was adopted in accordance with Section 303 of the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware and under an order by the Bankruptcy Court in connection with the Company’s proceeding under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Company filed the Amendment with the Secretary of State of the State of Delaware, and the Amendment became effective on March 22, 2013.”
A couple of years ago, I read a pretty good book – although it was far too optimistic — about the development of lithium ion battery technology, and I thought I remembered that A123 actually meant something. I was able to dredge the title out of memory and look it up in my Kindle archive. The book is “Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy” by Seth Fletcher. He notes that A123 is “the force constant used in the study of nanoparticles.” B456 appears to be a nonsense substitution, but I don’t know much about the physics of nanoparticles, so maybe I’m wrong.
I passed this information on to my friend Bob Peltier, the esteemed editor in chief of this magazine. He recalled, “When ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ was being developed, the writers wanted to make HAL an IBM computer. IBM said no. So the writers moved one letter to the left to form HAL.”
And that sparked another memory about nomenclature. Thomas J. Watson, the IBM founder, had been a top salesman for National Cash Register. When he took over a struggling business tabulating company in 1924, he renamed it to be distinctively different than his former employer: International (not national) Business (not cash) Machines (not registers).
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., March 27, 2013 – Poor Ernie Moniz. The MIT academician and energy policy wonk — President Obama’s choice to be the next Secretary of Energy (there’s a career black spot for you) — is facing an onslaught from folks who think that trying to be an honest broker about energy is disqualifying, politically incorrect.
Because he hasn’t hewed to a green line that eschews the Keystone XL pipeline project, nuclear power, and fracking for natural gas, and has actually taken money for telling people his views on these and other issues, some believe he is untrustworthy to be in Obama’s cabinet. Now, if he had carried signs against the XL project, argued that fracking amounted to poisoning water worldwide, and said nuclear power would turn our children and grandchildren into cancer-ridden corpses, he’d be acceptable.
But if Moniz had taken that second set of opinions – even if he believed that the science directed him to those views – he’d be anathema to another group of whack jobs (from the right). He be tainted by green paint.
So Moniz gets hammered for organizing inquiries that called them as they saw them. That’s sad.
Moniz has honestly put his views on the table over the years, regardless of where they might fall on the political spectrum of blue to red. that makes him fair game for all wingnuts, regardless of which direction their threads turn. The guy can’t catch a break. That’s an indictment not of Moniz but of the current political environment and a political process that values personal attacks over substance.
Let’s get this clear. I don’t know whether Ernie Moniz will be a good secretary of energy. I’d be very surprised if that turned out to be the case, as I have yet to come across one of those administrative unicorns. Nor do I have any idea whether he will be a bad secretary of energy, a more likely outcome. But he is clearly as qualified as anyone else who has ever held the job, and certainly more qualified on paper, whatever that’s worth, than many of his predecessors. Federico Pena couldn’t carry his slide rule.
But I also don’t give a damn about his work in the past – including his largely useful work at MIT producing a series of studies on energy issues that are at least as valuable as any of the myriad of predecessors from interests left, right, center, and from the moon. I don’t care that folks who drill for gas or fission atoms or perform analyses for them paid him, or that folks who erect windmills and make solar panels didn’t (or did).
Moniz is the president’s tool; Moniz’s policy views are not central to the president’s positions. Moniz won’t make policy (and let’s hope nobody does, as not making policy seems to be working very well). He won’t whisper seductive notions about how to destroy the world with fossil fuels into the ear of a complaisant chief executive. He most likely won’t even be allowed to hire the folks who will advise him every day and carry out the administration’s policies in his name.
Like every predecessor, Moniz at best will be a marginal influence on the direction of the White House. More likely, he will be irrelevant. In any case, he’s Obama’s choice and not that of the myriad interest groups who somehow hope to influence administration policy through his upcoming confirmation hearing.
Moniz has done good work at MIT, organizing useful and mostly intellectually honest inquiries into a variety of energy issues over the years. As a journalist with a lot of experience in these issues, I’ve found the work worthwhile. It may actually have some impact in the future.
But Moniz should not be held accountable for anything those projects produced. Nor should be he held accountable for determining that direction of the administration is on energy and environmental issues. That will not come from DOE. The president makes the policy and he’s entitled to the cabinet officers he wants. Honest past views should not constitute disqualification because they don’t comport with the views of interest groups. That applies to Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., March 10, 2013 – What if Congress scheduled a hearing on global warming, then had to cancel it at the last minute because of a severe late winter snow storm? A scene from a bad Hollywood farce? No, that’s what really happened last week. And yes, you are allowed to laugh out loud.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s environment subcommittee weeks ago scheduled a hearing on “policy-relevant climate issues in context” for Wednesday morning, March 6. Three witnesses were on the schedule: Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, Dr. William Chameides of the Nichols School of the Environment at Duke University, and Dr. Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
The planned hearing got off to a bad start when Chameides had to cancel because of illness. But then it got much worse.
Starting Monday, local weather forecasters were predicting that a late winter snow storm, not uncommon, was headed toward the nation’s capital. Soon, the weather models were predicting a major direct hit on the D.C. area. By Tuesday, the bad-weather boffins were bubbling with anticipation. The snowcasters were predicting 6-8 inches in the city, up to 20 inches in the far reaches of the commuting region.
As the sun rose on Wednesday, snow was swirling down. Visibility vanished. Washington shut down, schools closed in a 100-mile radius, the federal government told the bureaucrats to stay home. Heaven forfend, that was weather ninja Jim Cantore doing a standup in front of the U.S. Capitol. Wags were calling the storm “snowquester,” a pun on the government’s just-started budgetary haircut, which the solons and bureaucrats had titled “sequester,” no doubt in large part so nobody outside the political-industrial complex would know what the hell they were talking about.
Here’s the email Judy Curry got early Wednesday morning, 4:30 a.m. to be precise: Dr. Curry,
Due to the weather and the OPM announcement (below) that Federal Offices will be closed, today’s hearing on “Policy-Relevant Climate Issue in Context” will be postponed. I’m sorry for the trouble.
FEDERAL OFFICES in the Washington, DC, area are CLOSED. Emergency and telework-ready employees required to work must follow their agency’s policies, including written telework agreements.
By this time, no doubt, climate change evangelists were dancing – or sliding – in the streets. How great, an extreme storm shuts down a hearing where some prominent skeptics – Curry and Lomborg – were likely to play down the coming climate Armageddon. Woohoo!
Curry tried to get back to Atlanta, to no avail, so she spent the day in D.C. catching up “on all the things I let slide while preparing my testimony.”
Lomborg, the Danish doyen of climate calm, posted what would have been his testimony on his website. Among the points he planned to make: “Man-made global warming is a reality and will in the long run have overall, negative impact. It is important to realize that economic models show that the overall impact of a moderate warming (1-2 degrees C) will be beneficial whereas higher temperatures expected towards the end of the century will have a negative net impact. Thus…global warming is a net benefit now and will likely stay so till about 2070, after which it will turn into a net cost.”
In short, don’t panic. Al Gore to the contrary notwithstanding, the sky is not falling.
By mid-morning, the snow, accumulated to an inch or so, changed to rain. The Weather Channel crew had packed up their gear; Cantore was headed to the next snowpalooza somewhere else. Out here at POWERblog central, 62 miles north and west of the District of Columbia, the official snowfall was 2.7 inches, a trivial amount.
How’s that for global warming’s effect on severe weather? Well, as Roger Pielke Jr. at the University of Colorado has been demonstrating time and again, neither the climate models nor the empirical evidence suggest a link between global warming and extreme weather. Indeed, a warming world is likely to see less, not more, extreme weather, if the models and the evidence are to be believed.
In some sort of fundamental way, the snowquester and the government’s sequester were quite similar. There were all kinds of horror stories ahead of the event, but when it happened the result was a fizzle. As for the sequester, so far the most visible effect has been the decision by the Secret Service to shut down tourist tours of the White House. My God, is civilization as we know about to end?