Monday, June 5, 2006

War, peace, and oil

Link: US downplays Iranian oil threat (Washington Post).

... Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the world's fourth largest oil exporter, said on Sunday that oil flows could be disrupted if the United States made a "wrong move" against Iran. His remarks prompted oil prices to rise.

"I understand why the commodities markets may be unsettled by a comment like that, but over time if this succeeds the commodities markets are going to be very happy and so should we all be," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Khamenei did not specify what would be considered a wrong move, but the White House interpreted the comment as referring to an invasion. Khamenei also said the United States was not capable of securing energy flows in the region.

"He threatened that in the case of a United States invasion. That was a theoretical statement," Snow said.

"I am not going to tell what steps one might take in such a situation. That not only would be irresponsible, it would be unprecedented," he added.

Snow urged patience to allow Iran to consider the offer agreed last week by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, designed to persuade Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to deliver the package to Iran this week.

"There are going to be any number of statements coming out of Iran. I would caution against leaping to conclusions until the leadership in Iran has actually had an opportunity to look over the package of incentives and disincentives," Snow said.

"The Iranians are going to realize that this is a serious offer. It's an offer that offers great promise for them, it offers great promise for the region, but it's going to take some time," Snow said.

Western nations suspect Iran is enriching uranium to make an atomic bomb. Iran insists its aims are peaceful and that it wants to make fuel only to generate electricity.

"Let's give it time, let the Iranians take a look at what the offers are, the incentives and disincentives. One can probably expect there to be a couple of quick rejoinders. We counsel patience," Snow said.

Hoping to make the incentive package more attractive to Iran, Washington last week announced it was ready to join multilateral talks with Iran on condition that Tehran ceased uranium enrichment.

June 5, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ethanol

David Sandalow describes the shift in Brazil to ethanol, where 70% of Brazil's vehicles now are dual fuel vehicles.  His paper, published in the Aspen Institute volume: A High Growth Strategy for Ethanol, can be found at the Brooking Institute site.

Link: Ethanol: Lessons from Brazil.

Ethanol is hot. In the United States, production increased by more than 20% in 2005. The nation's 97 ethanol plants are operating at close to full capacity, with another 33 plants under construction. Politicians from President George W. Bush to Senator Richard Lugar to Senator Barack Obama to Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean all support aggressive programs to promote ethanol.

Yet today ethanol provides only about 3% of the United States' transportation fuel. Few experts expect this figure to increase to more than 7% by 2010. In Brazil, in contrast, ethanol provides more than 40% of the fuel for transportation. Flex-fuel cars – capable of running on gasoline or ethanol -- grew from less than 1% of the Brazilian new car market in 2001 to more than 70% today.

As the United States explores ways to reduce oil dependence, many observers are looking south for guidance. This paper summarizes the history of the Brazilian ethanol program, describes the program's current status and considers lessons for the United States from the Brazilian experience.

June 5, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Exposing the Dirty Little Secret: The Federal Government Massively Affects Land Use

Link: Who Should Decide Land Use? U.S. Government Already Does - New York Times.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that the federal government has no business in land use regulation, that decisions about what should be built and where must be made at the local level, where people understand their landscapes and have a strong vested interest in doing the right thing.

This view has lots of political support. Initiatives as diverse as reshaping the federal flood insurance program and enhancing the Endangered Species Act have foundered amid accusations that they would produce, in effect, unacceptable federal control over local land use decisions.

This view is wrong, at least according to Bruce Babbitt and Roger G. Kennedy. In new books, they say the federal government has long played a powerful role in local land use decisions. But its influence has been disguised — as tax deductions for mortgages, as highway programs or as logging concessions.

Both senior officials in the Clinton administration, Mr. Babbitt, former interior secretary, and Mr. Kennedy, who headed the National Park Service, cite different examples and offer different suggestions. Their underlying message, however, is the same.

If development has scarred American landscapes and shredded ecosystems — and it has, Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Kennedy argue — much of the damage has been done with the connivance of the federal government. They say it is time to marshal the federal government's legislative, scientific, financial and even moral resources to solve the problems that are the legacy of these decisions.

Their books have somewhat misleading titles. Mr. Babbitt's is "Cities in the Wilderness," when in fact he advocates keeping unnecessary development out of the wilderness. Mr. Kennedy's book, "Wildfire and Americans," tells engrossing tales of the American experience with fire and makes an array of recommendations for dealing with fire threats, but his thinking applies to far more than burning brush or timber.

The authors argue that a patchwork of federal policies, accreted over generations, has dispersed too many people into places they should not be — in landscapes too delicate to tolerate heavy use, as Mr. Babbitt says, or in places like fire-prone slopes where it is now too dangerous to live, as Mr. Kennedy asserts.

As examples, Mr. Babbitt cites the Everglades, where generations of federally sponsored interference severely damaged an important ecosystem; farmlands where streams and grasses have been ravaged by farm policies that produced what he calls "agricultural sprawl"; and waterways and watersheds degraded by overuse and pollution, much of it supported by taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Kennedy cites the ways people were encouraged to settle in fire-prone areas, the forest policies that made a dangerous situation even worse, and the cost in money and lives routinely paid for these bad decisions. And he notes that the same kinds of policies and programs also encourage unwise building in flood-prone areas.

Mr. Kennedy attributes postwar patterns of American development to two of the 20th century's most notorious top-down thinkers: Hitler and Stalin. Among other things, he writes, Hitler taught Eisenhower the usefulness of autobahns for the quick movement of troops and materiel, and the difficulty of destroying industrial infrastructure if it is well dispersed. And after Stalin got the bomb, Mr. Kennedy goes on, American leaders concluded that the nation would survive thermonuclear war only if its population moved out of the cities and scattered.

A result, as Mr. Kennedy and others have argued, was federal mortgage incentives, insurance programs and other initiatives that dispersed people into unsettled areas. The biggest incentive of all was the creation of the interstate highway system, built, officials said at the time, not to enhance commuting to the exurbs but for the nation's defense.

But as Mr. Kennedy notes: "Property values are not set in the heavens. They too rise with demand, which may be expected to increase when customers are delivered to the sellers on federally subsidized roads, carrying money provided by federally subsidized mortgage payments, and assured of cheap power because the federal government has built for them dams and a power distribution grid."

Mr. Babbitt says much the same about efforts to extract resources from the land, particularly oil and gas. The most damage is done not by mining or drilling itself, he writes, but by the construction of roads the enterprises need. Where the roads go, development often follows.

Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Kennedy argue that decisions made with other problems in mind — the cold war or the energy crisis, for example — have had lasting effects on the landscape. Then, the consequences were not taken seriously. Mr. Kennedy says, "Now, finally, they should be."

But how to approach the problem? A first step, both Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Kennedy say, is to acknowledge the federal government's role in land use decisions. "The notion that land use is a local matter has come to dominate the political rhetoric of our age," and it is just wrong, Mr. Babbitt writes.

June 5, 2006 in Land Use | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Case Closed: The Debate about Global Warming is Over

Link: Case Closed: The Debate about Global Warming is Over
Gregg Easterbrook of Brookings Institute/AEI writes:

Here's the short version of everything you need to know about global warming. First, the consensus of the scientific community has shifted from skepticism to near-unanimous acceptance of the evidence of an artificial greenhouse effect. Second, while artificial climate change may have some beneficial effects, the odds are we're not going to like it. Third, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases may turn out to be much more practical and affordable than currently assumed.

This briefing will address the three points above and, in an appendix, offer non-jargon explanations of the most important recent findings of greenhouse science. But the pressing point of this briefing is not so much scientific as it is practical—that action against artificial global warming may not prove nearly as expensive or daunting as commonly believed. Greenhouse gases are an air pollution problem, and all air pollution problems of the past have cost significantly less to fix than projected, while declining faster than expected. This gives cause to hope that artificial greenhouse gases can be controlled reasonably cheaply and without wrenching sacrifices to the global economy. And if there is a chance of an economical approach to greenhouse-gas reduction, then what are we waiting for? Let's start now.Download easterbrook.pdf

June 5, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ever Been to New Delhi (cough)?: Indian Air Is Highly Polluted, Study Finds - New York Times

Link: Indian Air Is Highly Polluted, Study Finds - New York Times.

Millions in India breathe air loaded with cancer-causing chemicals and toxic gases at levels that are thousands of times higher than permissible limits, according to an independent study released Saturday.

India, one of the most polluted countries in the world, does not have a standard for many harmful chemicals and gases, and thus has no way to monitor or regulate them, the report said.

The study by the Community Environmental Monitors, or CEM, an independent environmental and health agency, is India's first comprehensive national survey of ambient air. The group based its findings on a two-year survey carried out in 13 locations around the country.

The study found that millions of Indians in cities and villages were exposed to at least 45 dangerous chemicals, including 13 carcinogens, some of which were present at levels 32,000 times higher than globally accepted standards.

Last month, the World Bank said pollution was growing rapidly in India and China because of inefficient investment in energy.

India is mainly dependent on coal for its energy, but it has about 15 nuclear power plants and is under pressure to increase energy production to meet a furious pace of industrialization.

June 5, 2006 in Air Quality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Energy Shortage

The NY Times editorial endorsed energy conservation as a strategy to deal with energy security issues.  In particular, it promoted S. 2747, the Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006.  That bill is here: S 2747 Link: Energy Shortage - New York Times.

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Editorial Energy Shortage
Published: May 30, 2006

Sherwood Boehlert, the moderate Republican who will retire this fall, observed on the floor of the House last week that despite polls showing conservation as the "preferred option" among Americans worried about high gas prices and oil dependency, "this Congress has not voted on a single conservation measure since gasoline hit $3 a gallon." At which point his colleagues voted (yet again) to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling in the misguided but apparently unshakable belief that a nation that uses one-quarter of the world's oil while possessing 3 percent of its reserves can drill its way to lower prices.

The legislative outlook is brighter in the Senate, which has before it the Enhanced Energy Security Act of 2006. The bill has impressive bipartisan sponsorship and incorporates the best features of an earlier (and more cumbersomely named) vehicle called the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act. Its stated purpose is to reduce oil dependency, but the strategies and technologies it encourages would also do much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill would require the president to figure out ways to cut oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels — 12.5 percent of current use — by 2016, and cut it in half by 2031. It offers a menu of loans, direct subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives that would encourage the production of fuel-efficient cars as well as gasoline alternatives like cellulosic ethanol. It does not mandate specific improvements in fuel economy standards — a Congressional red flag — yet the goal it sets would get us to the same place.

There is also real money here — $1.8 billion for hybrid "plug-in" vehicles, for instance, $1 billion for cellulosic fuels. And while anything is possible in a Congress habituated to pork, the bill is not yet encumbered with the special favors and tax breaks for the oil and gas industry that have disfigured recent energy bills. It would, in fact, repeal some of those breaks in an effort to lessen its cost.

This is a relatively straightforward bill with big ambitions — to reduce the demand for oil, thus reducing America's contribution to global warming while enhancing its national security. President Bush, who has made so much of the dependency issue without offering legislation of his own, would do the country a great favor by getting behind it.

June 5, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Army Admits that Levee Design was Flawed

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The NY Times reported on the June 1 Army Corps of Engineer study of the causes of the disaster in New Orleans, attached here:  Katrina_Corps_study_of_levees.pdf


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[T]the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged today that the levees it built in the city were an incomplete and inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina.

"The hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only," said the draft of the nine-volume report.

The region's network of levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates lacked any built-in resilience that would have allowed the system to remain standing and provide protection even if water flowed over the tops of levees and floodwalls, the report's investigators found. Flaws in the levee design that allowed breaches in the city's drainage canals were not foreseen, and those floodwalls failed even though the storm waters did not rise above the level that the walls were designed to hold.

But the system was also overwhelmed in significant ways by Hurricane Katrina, and some degree of flooding would have happened even if the floodwalls had not been topped by the surging waters, the report stated.

"Regardless of breaching or no breaching, there would have been massive flooding and losses" from Katrina, said Dr. Ed Link, the director of the study and an engineering professor at the University of Maryland, in an interview. "The losses were increased because of the breaching that occurred," he said.

June 5, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, North America, Physical Science, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)