Tag Archives: New York

Sea Level Rise and Sustainability

Do you feel lucky?  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently does not.  He sent one of his Long Term Planning and Sustainability staff members to a hearing before the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee in Washington DC on April 19th to testify on New York City’s concerns about the impact of rising sea levels.  The NYC witness Adam Freed, told the Committee that the mayor wanted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop detailed flood projection maps to help New York prepare for the impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and real estate properties in the next century.

Another witness, Ben Strauss, chief operating officer and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, told the committee that sea levels in the United States will rise between one and eight inches by 2030 and between four and 19 inches by 2050. But while Mayor Bloomberg’s staff member was sent to worry out loud in a politically correct way about rising sea levels, the Climate Central witness wanted action on a four-step federal program to reduce risk and vulnerability:

  1. Protect existing beaches that help prevent the impacts of storm surge,
  2. Build artificial defenses where appropriate;
  3. Halt construction in high risk areas; and
  4. Develop a planned retreat from areas that cannot be effectively protected.

With trillions of dollars of Federal debt looming and deficits as far as the eye can see, what do you assess is the probability that the Government will spent your money entertaining strategies like this?  I know—that’s what worries me too!  If we can fund bridges to nowhere imagine how much Congress might spend to keep Broadway from turning into Venice.

Then again, think of the charm New York would have if the streets of Manhattan were all turned into canals with yellow hybrid water taxis wisking you from downtown to midtown.  Bike lanes could turn into kayak channels and since the subways would all be flooded we could build giant moving sidewalks to connect the building above the projected high water line powered by wave action turbines used to squirt sea water through the subway tunnels under pressure.

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building v...

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building vom Top of the Rock English: Empire State Building as seen from Top of the Rock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The torch on the Statue of Liberty can be replaced with a wind turbine and solar panels can be mounted on all rooftops oriented toward the Empire State Building which can be converted into a concentrated solar power tower with giant tanks of molten salt in the underwater floors to create a combined heat and power microgrid to power the city.

Think of it—auto emissions would be a thing of the past.  We would not need RGGI or EPA regulations or the New York Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all—by all mean prepare the maps.  And make sure you hire the same climate scientists who cooked the books to get more research grants because Al Gore told them the climate science was incontrovertible.  Let’s see where did I put that hockey stick formula again?

New York Gets Fracking

Marcellus Acquifers

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation released recommendations on hydraulic fracturing on July 1, 2011 designed to remove the moratorium on use of the technique for recovering oil and natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shales that underlie the state.

Concerns had been raised about the impact of fracking on drinking water in New York, and the recommendations are designed to respond to that concern by prohibiting surface drilling within 2,000 feet of public drinking water supplies; on the state’s 18 primary aquifers and within 500 feet of their boundaries; within 500 feet of private wells, unless waived by landowner; in floodplains; on principal aquifers without site-specific reviews; and within the Syracuse and New York City watersheds.

What’s left after all those limitations, you ask?

According to NYDEC more than 80 percent of the Marcellus Shale where oil and gas drilling is viable would are still accessible under these recommendations with permits that assure drillers meet the recommended guidelines.

NYDEC’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement reviewed the experience and regulations in other states and got 13,000 public comments in considering real or imagined impacts.

The NYDEC says its fracking recommendations are ‘the most comprehensive measures in the country to protect not only drinking water but land, air and environmentally sensitive areas’.

Why New York is Lifting its Fracking Moratorium?

The bottom line is simple, while environmental activists may hate hydraulic fracturing for making more fossil fuel available economically, the potential for economic recovery, growth and job creation from the rapidly growing investment in unconventional oil and gas is very real.  New York does not want to miss out of the jobs, tax revenue and economic growth that the resurgence of America’s domestic energy production is producing.

Nothing concentrates the mind of politicians nearly as well as the near term prospect of being left out of a good news story.  Not even the US EPA has found reason to object to hydraulic fracturing.  The practice has been used since the 1980’s with little evidence of adverse impact.

The benefits are, on the other hand, real and tangible and green—as in dollars and jobs and tax revenue!

Shovel-Ready Domestic Energy Projects at Work

Every day there is more bad economic news it seems, and even President Obama started campaigning for reelection a year early.  But things are different in North Dakota.  The only things they worry about there is whether they can hire enough people to meet the labor demand and can they build the pipeline and other infrastructure needed to turn their black gold into real gold fast enough.

Welcome to America’s domestic energy production economics lab experiment!

This science experiment in the potential for putting American technology and entrepreneurship to work in unconventional oil and gas is going well—real well.  Monthly oil production is ahead of year over year levels by 23% and up 78.5% over the past two years according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.  Oil production in 2011 has averaged 10.5 million barrels per month, twice the 2008 levels, and three times the rate of five years ago.

President Obama would certainly like to take credit for the growth in jobs and personal income in North Dakota. Oil related jobs more than doubled from 6,800 jobs in May 2009 to 15,200 jobs in May of 2011. North Dakota’s unemployment rate is 3.2% compared to the Us average of 9.1%.

In the first quarter of 2011, North Dakota personal income grew faster than anywhere else in the US at a 6.9% increase four times the national average of 1.8%. As the ripple effect of high employment rolls through the North Dakota economy overall state employment level reached an all-time high in May 2011 and is now 2.5% above the June 2009 level when the recession officially ended.

When that oil gets to market and taxes are paid, North Dakota’s treasury ended up with $237.5 million MORE than projected over the last two years.  For May 2011 state income tax revenues beat expectations by 10.6% and sales tax revenue was up 13%.

Maybe that is why resistance to unconventional oil and gas production using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing long stalled in New York State suddenly seems to be easing.  Why Pennsylvania is seeing the same signs of growth from its own rationalization of policies and regulations that held back domestic energy production in the Marcellus shale and Utica Shale.

America gets it! 

Domestic energy production is one of the most promising avenues for climbing out of our economic hole.  Even better it uses American technology, American entrepreneurship, using American workers to harvest American energy and keep American money at home rippling through our economy.

Now that’s a stimulus program we can believe in!

Reading the Energy TEA Leaves after the Election

While the results of the 2010 midterm elections are still be digested, the impact on the energy industry seems likely to be net positive if you believe in a balanced energy future that includes using more of America’s domestic energy potential.  If you are the American Wind Energy Association you probably are still drinking to ease your pain.  This gallows humor is meant to suggest that the GOP and TEA Party view that America should have a well rounded, domestic product focused energy strategy is likely to move forward in search for common ground with the Democrat view of climate change action and renewable energy.

From RES to CES. The panel said that AWEA’s push for a national renewable energy standard (RES) had little chance of passing but a modified clean energy standard (CES) that included tax support for building new nuclear power plants and investing in clean coal technology along with continued tax credits and loan guarantees for renewable energy might find common ground. As you can imagine adding tax supported competition for new baseload generation from zero emission nuclear power and low emissions from clean coal carbon capture and sequestration was not what the wind boys wanted to hear on top of their other problem competing with China.  But that is where they are like it or not so the debate is shifting toward finding a compromise number higher than the 15% RES proposed by AWEA but allowing nuke and clean coal to count.  Unless you raise the target it becomes a zero-sum game with the larger baseload plants swamping the smaller wind and solar plants.  Do I hear 33% anybody?

Waxman-Markey is Dead and AB32 Got a Stay of Execution. It seems clear that hell will freeze over before any kind of carbon tax bill makes it out of Congress.  Even the president admitted this was dead until at least after the next Presidential election.  Even in California where voters rejected Proposition 23 to suspend AB32 the California Global Warming Solutions Act those same voters approved Proposition 26 which reclassified administrative fees and impact fees just like CARB expects to impose to tax carbon releases under AB32 as a “tax” and thus requires a 2/3 vote of the Legislature or voter approval.  Carbon taxes are going to be radioactive in this new political environment.

New Nukes. It is time to step up the nuclear licensing, standards and regulatory approval process for new standard technologies for smaller scale, safe nuclear power plants. We should create a competitive market among the major architect-engineers and take advantage of the construction experience in other countries while America has been on the nuke sidelines to accelerate our go-to-market strategies.  America needs more baseload power for the future and now is the time to build the next generation of nukes to expand the current fleet and progressively replace the oldest units.  And we need to do this BEFORE inflation eats our lunch and sends us déjà vu into the same death spiral cost overrun conditions that hurt the first generation nuclear units.

Drill Baby Drill. Domestic oil and gas production won new champions in this election in the belief that America should produce more of its own energy book and put its best technology to work to do so efficiently, cleanly and effectively.  Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are America’s current technology wonder of the world and we should use to our own advantage.  States like New York and Pennsylvania that seek to restrict the use of these technologies in the Marcellus shale risk being left behind with higher price energy costs and lower tax revenues.

Will Clean Coal still be King? The technology risk associated with carbon capture and sequestration and other clean coal technologies make them very costly and commercially un-viable today.  More R&D is needed to unlock that potential and drive down the cost.  There is a role for the government in encouraging and supporting such R&D efforts but the coal industry must now step up and spend more of its own money to extend its useful life.  Similarly, creating a market for the captured carbon and turning it into useful CO2 gathering products makes perfect sense and also need to be supported.  Meanwhile, add scrubbers and other pollution control equipment to the current units and mitigate their negative impacts.

EPA and New Rules for Regulatory Accountability.  A likely scenario to a wounded President unable to get his energy and environmental agenda through a disbelieving Congress is to use his executive authority to regulate everything that moves in the energy industry through the US EPA and other Federal agencies.  The new Republican majority in the House will need to guard against this over-reach.  And the TEA party members will probably welcome one more revolutionary idea—all Federal regulations must reasonably balance policy objectives intended with the public and economic interests of the nation and be submitted to Congress for an up or down vote.  Give Congress 90 days from submittal to act or the rules go into effect but force legislative accountability for regulatory actions.  Also sunset every regulation at least every ten years so we have to rethink this stuff periodically.  If the goal is to control the size and reach of government and force it to balance interests reasonably the Congress must fix the problem of regulatory free will.

There ends the rant!

California’s Achilles Heel: The High Cost to Do Business

The High Cost of Doing Business also Kills Green Jobs

Did you read the op-ed by TJ Rogers in the WSJ today?  He describes the real choice we have here in California and elsewhere between growth and the environment.  It’s not a throw the baby out so we can keep the bath water lesson.  That is improving environmental quality does not have to destroy jobs.  But that is often the unintended consequence of the cumulative impact of rules and regulations that seem reasonable at the moment but haunt us over time.

California is an example of both extremes at work.  Some of the early environmental policy decisions made in California involved establishing energy efficiency standards on a wide range of products sold in the state.  Yes manufacturers opposed such unilateral actions, but California lived into it best traditions as laboratory and trendsetter in focusing on reducing wasteful energy use.  Today the energy intensity in California of about 50% of the national average and the size of the California consumer market meant that manufacturers could do well by doing good by adopting the California efficiency standards for the products sold across the United States.

Similarly, setting renewable energy portfolio standards requiring utilities to get 20% of energy consumed from clean, renewable sources indeed jump started the market for wind and solar energy and a range of other technologies and California utilities are closing in on the 20% targets.

But TJ Rogers talks about his company’s acquisition of money losing Sun Power and how the decision needed to save the company from bankruptcy and return it to profitability meant moving the solar panel production from increasingly high cost California to lower cost Malaysia while growing its sales and customer service functions in the California market.  Eventually, he said 4000 jobs went to Malaysia while 800 new jobs were created in California.

Over time the cost of doing business in California is having impacts that even threaten our environmental goals.  While we still generate ideas and our venture capital in Silicon Valley builds new companies and new products they can’t afford to build them here and thus our high cost status deprives us of the job creating benefits of that cleantech investment as R&D turns into manufacturing.

Proposition 23 on next week’s ballot would suspend AB32 the California Global Warming Solutions Act until unemployment in the state is below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters.  As I write this the polls suggest that California voters are likely to vote the proposition down.  Doing so will not improve the odds that California will achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets but it may cost the state as many as 1.1 million jobs as business shifts its manufacturing and other operations out of state.  Even if California held its GHG emissions steady at it 0.36 gigaton 1990 levels (the target for 202 under AB32) TJ Rogers described the impact as reducing the total US GHG emissions of 5.98 gigatons in 2007 to 5.94 gigatons. NONE of those emissions would actually go away they are just exported to other markets along with California jobs.

And that’s the lesson, when California policy makers stick to environmental strategies that encourage real changes in energy intensity and use that is lasting we can have a profoundly positive environmental impact within the state and well beyond our borders.  But when those policies are a zero-sum game that induces business to go elsewhere California forfeits both its environmental leadership and its economic growth and standard of living.

So pay attention to how California voters decide three propositions on the ballot:  Prop 23 on suspends the Global Warming carbon tax, Proposition 24 adds $1.3 billion in new taxes on business by eliminating investment tax credits on new plant and equipment for business growth and Proposition 25 reduces the legislative votes required to pass a budget from 2/3 to a simple majority.

The Tax Foundation called California the second worst business tax climate of the 50 states after New York but it will displace New York as the worst depending upon how voters act.