Category Archives: Clean Energy

Ethanol Wins

If you wanted proof of how difficult it is to get things done in Washington right now, there was a perfect example of it today. This afternoon, the Senate took a vote on whether to end subsidies for ethanol, which failed 40-59. Now, I know I just railed against Blue Dogs and the Farm Bill, but this is different.

Ethanol is made from sugar using other plants such as corn, wheat and barley. The demand for ethanol has gone up in recent years because it is not a carbon emitter and is being mixed with gasoline used in cars, which then releases less carbon dioxide into the air. The amendment was introduced by Senator Tom Coburn, representing Oklahoma, who is one of the more conservative members of the Senate. He is an ardent opponent of government waste, extreme deficit hawk, and sees the ethanol subsidies as an example of both.  In his speech before the vote today Coburn said:

But we have a way to get same amount of ethanol produced and we put into our cars without spending $3 billion between now $8 billion is what it’s averaged over the last few years. We spent $34 billion of money we didn’t have subsidizing something that’s mandated. I mean, it even goes beyond the Reagan quote, which is a government view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases.‘If it keeps moving, tax it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.’

Yes, ethanol is a product America has produced for decades. But as the demand for ethanol has gone up, exporting this product will lead to higher costs for consumers, as farms  won’t be able to make enough money to produce it at the rate that people need. It’s the same situation when we worry about oil during the months of summer.

Export demand for ethanol is projected this year at $900 million bushels, already up $170 million more than originally thought. The price of ethanol recently rose 7 cents, which is the highest it has been since 2008. But it is still used for growing a variety of foods such as maize, potatoes, wheat, sugar-cane, and fruits. When dealing with a lack of funding and having to fight mother nature, it’s hard for farmers to create ethanol and still grow food.

But proponents say using ethanol for fuel will eventually allow America to be energy independent. But right now, while the ethanol industry produces 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop but less than 10 percent of the fuel supply.

Coburn’s amendment would have raised an additional $2.4 billion in tax revenue this year, and we all know we could use the money. But that doesn’t mean his amendment should have passed. While America is a leader, it is not the only country producing ethanol. The country’s farmers would have been at a disadvantage if the subsidies were gone, having to sell their products at a higher rate than their competitors.

Also, remember that list of food mentioned earlier? All of those items would have cost more to grow, leading to higher prices at your local supermarket. Then considering how much chocolate I eat, I would be filing for bankruptcy by the end of the year. Food prices around the world have been steadily rising, along with the population, and without these subsidies those prices will rise even faster. And when we remind ourselves that long term deficits are in the trillions, $3billion is not going to cause that much of a dent.

This wasn’t even part of the Farm Bill, it was introduced as an amendment to the Public Works and Economic Development Act, originally passed in 1965 to create jobs and grow the economy. Without the subsidies it would be hard for farms to make any money right now. It’s also one of the items Eric Cantor wants to eliminate altogether.

Now with all that being said, I decided to write this because it was finally a good example of a serious policy recommendation being proposed. We haven’t seen a lot of them recently, and Senator Coburn should be applauded for trying to do something productive.

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Filed under America, Clean Energy, Congress, Ethanol, Farming, Tom Coburn

Nuclear Puzzle

A guy named Gregory Jaczko is about to get more exposure to the media then he has ever wanted. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to be the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and will be testifying before Congress this coming week on a report that came out, from the NRC, that concluded “Mr. Jaczko failed to fully inform the other four members that he was issuing budget guidance that would essentially halt the commission’s work on the project, which was to decide whether the Energy Department should be allowed to build and operate the dump.”

The project they are talking about is Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which is about 90 miles away from Las Vegas. According to the article, Jaczko used to work for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has always been fighting to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming a permanent site for nuclear waste. During the 2008 election, Obama, while being in favor of nuclear energy, said many times Yucca Mountain will not become a place for nuclear storage. More information has come out since then making it clear Obama and Reid are close. It was Reid who convinced Obama to run for President, and when the Republican National Committee put millions into “Daschelzing” Reid last year, Obama held events and fundraisers in Nevada.

Policy wise though, it made no sense for Obama to be in favor of using nuclear energy but not store it at Yucca. Time and time again the NRC has said Yucca Mountain was the best place to store nuclear energy and was close to it in President (W’s) Bush’s first term. Bush signed the law to turn the area into a storage facility, only for it to be vetoed by the Governor, and then overturned by Congress.

As far as Jaczko is concerned, the report said he did not break any laws, but he obviously didn’t make any friends. Obama put him on the commission to look at other sites in the country that can be built for storage. It’s an example of a political appointment, and someone coming in with an agenda. It’s the nature of the game. But while other sites around the country are closer to residential areas, Yucca is closest to volcanic lava on federal land. Using nuclear energy is clean, creates jobs, is more efficient, and costs less than other forms of energy. According to World Nuclear the price of generating nuclear fuel is cheaper then coal and gas, making it cheaper for consumers in the long run. Readers know I want to visit Las Vegas again, but people don’t like to see wind turbines in their back yard, and solar power can’t be used everywhere or at any time.

I write a lot about how politics get in the way of good policies being put together, this is an example of that. At the same time, politics is also a necessary evil. If it wasn’t for Harry Reid, Obama may not have run for President, and of course the alternatives to a democracy/a republic don’t look to good. All the pundits were saying nuclear energy would take a step back after the earthquake in Japan, but eventually there’s going to be more nuclear plants in this country, it just makes too much sense. Designs for nuclear plants have improved since the one at Fukushima was built, and obviously we don’t have to build them on a fault line. There’s a smart way to do it, and eventually enough politicians will solve the puzzle to get it done.

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Filed under Clean Energy, Congress, Environment, global warming, Harry Reid, Nuclear, Politics, President Obama, Reid

Stop Fracking Around

When local news stations are only a half hour, and their’s maybe a five minute segment on government issues, it’s sometimes hard to remember that all politics are local. In New York, a big ruckus is taking place over whether a type of drilling called hydraulic fracturing (or better known as fracking) should be allowed to take place near the Catskill Mountains. The goal here is to use get the natural gas beneath the surface. Local residents, including actor Mark Ruffalo, visited areas of Pennsylvania where fracturing is occurring and became afraid that the same environmental damage will occur where they live.

At an event organized by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century (DL21C), Ruffalo, Kate Sinding Senior Attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Susan Zimet, a Representative from Ulster County; expressed their fears about what might happen if fracturing is allowed in New York. Ruffalo visited Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania where the environmental damage has been enormous. Ruffalo said people living in the commonwealth had to arrange for over 200 gallons of water be delivered to people’s homes every day, because the water coming out of their sinks was black.

Experts consider fracking as a bumper option while the nation moves to other technologies, such as solar and wind, to curb our use of greenhouse gases. To reach the natural gas, drills are used to dig deep underground to where the natural gas is located. Once the gas is reached, a mixture of chemicals and water are used to push the gas up where it can be collected. The problem is that the chemicals used are carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene. Those chemicals also get into the water supply making it unsafe to use. Only adding to the danger, the drills dig deep enough to areas where there are high concentrations of radiation that people living in the surrounding area can be exposed to.

While researching for this post, it took me less than two minutes to find this video of a Pennsylvania native lighting her water on fire because of all the chemicals that entered her water supply because of fracking.

Fracking technology is new, and it turns out (surprise, surprise) Halliburton is the company that invented the equipment. The powerful energy company has been lobbying state and federal officials to allow them to drill. And for two years, the EPA has been trying to get Halliburton to come out with the formula they use to push the gas up from the pipes. So far, Halliburton has only released the chemicals they use, but not the amount that has been pumped into the ground, or the exact concentration of each chemical being used in the overall solution. Two important facts needed to understand the safety concerns that are plaguing local residents.

Before he left office, Governor Patterson signed a moratorium on fracking, which Governor Cuomo extended until June. But it is unlikely that the report will be ready by then. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for writing the report, and Cuomo tapped Joe Martens to lead the agency. Kate Sinding told me that NRDC likes the new Commissioner “and believe the new analysis will be completed fairly.” But between the budget cuts and the senior staff that needs to be appointed, it will be a while before the report is released.

The facts are clear. But with the lack of current media attention, keeping the pressure on Albany is a must. When the report is released, there is a time period required by law which allows public comments on the report to take place. If there is an overwhelming amount of people against the fracking, Governor Cuomo won’t have a choice but to stop any plans to drill in the future. There are so many other ways to get cheaper and cleaner energy that can be applied now. There is no point of using a bumper inbetween. The technology is there, wind turbines and solar panels are already being built. Not to forget Indian Point Nuclear Facility in Buchanan. So whenever the report finally does come out, tell Albany to stop fracking around.

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Filed under Clean Energy, Energy, Fracking, global warming, Governor Cuomo, hydraulic fracturing, New York, New York City, NY