September 26, 2022

Cold War 2.0, the Environment, and the Economy Require Passing Manchin’s Permitting Reform

Republicans must save it from Progressives even if Democrats get the credit.

Senator Joe Manchin’s own explanation of the reform and the urgent reasons for it are in op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. The journal article is behind a pay wall but the content is the statement of a public official so I’m posting it here to make sure you can see it.

Both Parties Should Support My Permitting-Reform Bill

It will help secure our energy future by slashing the time it takes to build critical infrastructure.

Congress votes this week on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. It’s a defining moment. Will we promote energy security and independence, or will we allow extreme ideologies and politics to embolden our nation’s enemies? Will we allow toxic tribal politics and the Vladimir Putins of the world to dictate our future, or will we protect our nation’s energy security?

We are in the midst of a global energy war, and the American people—Republican, Democrat and independent—are paying the price. Contrary to the radical agenda of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his allies, who seem oblivious to the reality of the global and domestic energy challenges we face, the common-sense permitting reforms contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 will help cut costs and accelerate the building of the critical energy infrastructure we need. Some have said the legislation was crafted without Republican input or that it would make it harder for fossil fuels to be permitted. They are simply wrong. They aren’t being honest about what’s in the bill and how it came to be.

Democrats and Republicans, along with leaders in the energy industry and stakeholders of all stripes, were instrumental in the substance of this balanced legislation. These essential reforms have been advocated by developers of all types of American energy—oil and gas, electric transmission, mining, solar and wind, and more. In fact, it is the kind of balanced and all-of-the-above energy approach America needs if we are to defend this nation’s energy security from those who seem hell-bent on weakening it.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, and the permitting reform it lays out, will help secure America’s energy future more quickly by setting deadlines and requiring simultaneous agency reviews, something we did for public-works projects in the bipartisan infrastructure law. This reform will reduce timelines for building critical infrastructure down to three years or less from the current five to 10 years (or more). This will bring the U.S. more in line with our allies in Canada and Australia.

Speeding up the permitting process is an idea that countless Democrats support when it comes to clean energy. Many of my Republican colleagues signed up for it earlier this month as cosponsors of the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency Act. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 also shortens unnecessary litigation delays by capping how long plaintiffs have to bring lawsuits and requiring agencies to act within six months on permits that have been sent back by a court.

Permitting reform has long been a priority for advocacy groups representing a diverse mix of energy companies and stakeholders across the political spectrum. During my 12 years in the Senate, trade groups have urged Republicans and Democrats to join forces and speed up the permitting process in a responsible manner to ensure America’s energy independence and security. Now’s our chance. Whether you support more clean energy, more fossil fuels, or a balanced approach as I do, this reform will help the U.S. achieve it. It’s time to bring forward smart bipartisan ideas to produce the energy we need to continue to be the superpower of the world.

Even during this historic moment, some say it isn’t enough. They stand in the way of major progress on realistic reforms. Instead they offer a wish list with no chance of passing an evenly divided Senate. We’ve seen this story before, and inaction is no longer an option, for the energy crisis will only get worse the longer we wait. If we’re truly interested in addressing the energy challenges facing our country, then it’s time to live in the realm of the possible instead of continuing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When looked at objectively, this legislation and the underlying reforms should be a unifying moment for both parties. Instead, extreme politics are blinding some to the realities of what we must do to keep our energy future secure for generations to come. What else could possibly explain why any Republican would even consider supporting the same position as Sen. Sanders when it comes to energy?

At such a consequential moment in our nation’s history, now is the time for those fortunate enough to be elected leaders to push away the noise of partisan politics that is drowning out common sense. We must ignore the toxic “all or nothing” legislative approach that has made it hard to discern what is truly essential for our nation. Passing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 is essential, and not only because it includes smart ideas and proposals that both my Republican and Democratic colleagues have championed for years, but also because it will send a message to the world that the U.S. won’t let anyone threaten or undermine its energy security.

****************************end of Manchin text*******************************

See also:

If Sanders and Warren Think Climate Change Is an Emergency, Why Are They Against These Green Energy Reforms? (from Reason)

Joe Manchin’s Red Tape Reform Could Supercharge Renewable Energy in the U.S. (from Time)

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

September 20, 2022

US National Climate Advisor Misses the Cost of Climate Hysteria

No job losses, she claims, ignoring the news from Europe.

Two headlines

Both headlines above are from the front page of Monday's digital NY Times.

Gina McCarthy is a former EPA Administrator and the outgoing US National Climate Advisor. Her article lauds projected increases in electric vehicle sales and wind power in the United States and the subsidies the Biden administration has gotten through Congress towards those goals. She ignores, of course, rising energy costs caused by the Biden Administration war on drilling and pipelines. In a narrow sense, she is right that the US economy is still doing very well.

But then there are our friends in Europe. See the headline above on the right and the associated story. Many factories there cannot afford to operate given their current energy costs. Production is shifting from Europe, often to the US; but beggaring our allies is not a good strategy for world peace, the world economy, or the environment. World prices for oil are lower than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine but much higher than they were when Biden took office. Those prices went up and stayed up because the US is producing less oil than it did previously and than it could be producing now. You can thank Gina McCarthy and her boss for that shortfall.

Putin didn’t as much cause high energy prices as take advantage of them both to finance his Ukrainian mis-adventure and to attempt to coerce his European customers into acquiescence. Russia’s refusal to send gas to Europe has further increased the cost of that commodity as well as electricity which is mostly generated from natural gas despite the European rush to renewables.  There simply would not be enough gas to keep Europeans warm and run their factories this winter if the US were not shipping huge supplies there. Good thing for everybody that we didn’t ban fracking the way that most of Europe did – and the way the Biden administration would still like to do here.

Europe’s vulnerability stems from climate hysteria. There’s nothing wrong (except maybe the cost) with deploying wind and solar as Europe had done. There’s everything wrong with banning fracking and refusing new leases for oil and gas before a green alternative is in place. Europeans told themselves they were being green when they outsourced their growing need for natural gas and oil to Russia. Germans felt particularly environmental when they decided to shut down their nukes in an over-reaction to Fukushima. Now they’re trying to keep the last few nukes running and burning massive amounts of coal. Still they can’t keep the factories running.

In the short term, Americans are gaining jobs as European production shuts down and/or can’t compete. For our own  future, we must look at what’s happening to Europe now as an object lesson in what happens if you shut down traditional energy sources before you actually have a domestic replacement.

Postscript

Someone beside me may have noticed that irony of the juxtaposition of these stories on the digital front page of the NYT. The headline in Gina McCarthy’s story by Monday afternoon was:

McCarthy

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

September 19, 2022

Zero Net Emissions Does NOT Require Zero Use of Fossil Fuels

The distinction is essential to an achievable climate strategy.

In the introduction to its May 2022 special issue SAVING FORESTS, National Geographic says “Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels.” The implications of that statement are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will NOT be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

The SAVING FORESTS issue gives many examples of using trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester carbon in the ground including better management of existing forests, reforesting abandoned farmland, controlled burns, and replanting burned areas with a mix of species less likely to fuel infernos. All these cost money; the logical question to ask, project by project, is “does this project remove more CO2 from the atmosphere per dollar spent than, for example, subsidizing electric cars?” But the question is never asked. Any money allocated to planting more trees must, apparently, be in addition to the nearly limitless cost of eliminating all fossil fuels.

On page 73 of SAVING FORESTS, in an otherwise excellent article on threats to trees, author Craig Welch contradicts the introduction and writes “The planet won’t stop warming until we completely [emphasis mine] halt fossil fuel emissions.” This is nonsense, of course, because it’s only net emissions which count. Earth isn’t punishing us for the hubris of burning fossil fuels.; but authors like Welch typically include a ritualistic condemnation of all fossil fuels in their articles to protect themselves from the suspicion that they are proposing carbon reduction methods which might compete with eliminating fossil fuels. They are intimidated by the green industrial complex which brooks no challenge to any of its schemes to replace fossil fuels no mater how impractical, slow, or expensive. That means that tree-plantings aren’t allowed to compete for climate mitigation dollars with schemes like subsidies for electric cars or reliance on battery technologies which don’t exist yet.

Equating the end of all fossil fuel use with the net zero goal means that we don’t prioritize our reductions because “all” fossil fuels are bad. If we confuse the goal of zero net emissions with a needless jihad to replace all fossil fuels, we squander wealth, deny people a way out of poverty, and quickly forfeit support for the programs necessary to reduce emissions.

A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.

The National Geographic issue on trees is full of good strategies for maintaining and even increasing plant-based reductions in net emissions. But fear of offending the all-fossil-fuels-must-go crowd prevents the magazine from following its own facts to reasonable conclusions and policy recommendations.

See also:

Trees v. Solar Panels

Vermont Can Exceed 2025 Carbon Reduction Goal Just by Planting Trees

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

 

September 13, 2022

Liz Truss Off to a Great Start

Tackles both short- and long-term energy problems.

In the brief time after Liz Truss took office as UK Prime Minister and before the death of Queen Elizabeth, Truss made her inaugural speech. Despite her conservative reluctance to interfere in markets, she said that her government will cap domestic energy prices for up to two years. That move is necessary to get Brits past the worst immediate effects of Russia’s attack on the Ukraine and to keep the British public firmly supportive of Ukraine.

Much more important for the long term, Truss announced that she will issue more than 100 new licenses for oil drilling in the North Sea and lift a ban on fracking for gas and oil put in place in 2019. She also announced an energy supply task force to negotiate long-term energy supply contracts. The contracts will not only give the UK assurance of future energy supply at known prices but also be convertible into capital for more production around the world including the US. She’s quoted by AP saying “we are supporting this country through this winter and next and tackling the root causes of high prices so we are never in the same position again.”

The price guarantee means that the government will have to borrow to subsidize oil and gas which suppliers will be selling below cost. Costs for British consumers and businesses will still be much higher than they were last year, so the subsidies don’t eliminate the incentive to reduce usage. But subsides aren’t a sustainable strategy; that’s why she limited the subsidies to two years and accompanied them by her plan to reduce prices through increased supply. She’s gambling, wisely IMO, that better long-term energy supply will have enough economic benefit to pay back what the government must borrow for the subsides in the short term. By moving quickly on supply, the UK will get an advantage over parts of Europe which have not yet come to terms with the need to end dependence on Russia for energy.

Not everyone loves Truss’ plan to increase fossil fuel supplies. According to The Guardian, “Climate justice activists, poverty campaigners and trade unionists have vowed to take to the streets and occupy key sites next month to oppose the UK government’s energy and cost of living plans… while direct action groups including Just Stop Oil saying they will ‘occupy Westminster’, with supporters prepared to risk arrest to block roads with ‘a wave of action including strikes and occupations’ throughout the month.” Not explained in The Guardian article is why anti-poverty advocates or trade unionists, whose jobs depend on factories being able to afford energy, think that lower energy prices are a bad idea.

The Guardian article does say “Experts say this [Truss’ plan for more supply] would have minimal impact on the cost of living crisis…”. However, the article doesn’t name any such experts or explain why they think lower energy prices won’t reduce the cost of living.

One of the first tests for Truss as Prime Minister is whether she can control illegal protests against increased fuel production. If she does, and if the UK actually manages to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel, she’ll be setting a good example not only for the rest of Europe but also for us here in the US. Although our need is not as urgent as the UK, both our green and traditional energy projects are ensnared in red tape, litigation, and vandalism disguised as protest.

See also:

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

The Dynamo of Democracy

September 06, 2022

Manchin’s Regulatory Reform Proposal Needed for All Energy

Huge opportunity for bipartisan environmental, energy, and economic progress.

Senator Joe Manchin agreed to support the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on condition of a promise from President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi “to pass comprehensive permitting reform legislation before the end of this fiscal year [September 30]”. These permitting reforms, if they become law, will do more for the environment than all the subsidies in the IRA. If the reforms don’t pass, the subsidies like those for electric vehicles will accomplish almost nothing since it will take more than 20 years to rebuild the electric grid and add energy sources sufficient to charge significantly more EVs.

The plan agreed on by Schumer is to make these reforms part of a “must pass” bill. The most likely candidate is the continuing resolution needed in September to keep the government funded through the upcoming election. We’re going to hear a lot about these reforms this month.

Regulatory reform is needed as much for a transition to carbon-free energy sources as to keep the lights on during the transition. Not reforming US permitting means leaving Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran supplying critical energy to Europe and exacting an increasing political as well as economic price.

Manchin’s reforms (see here for a draft outline) don’t weaken environmental requirements; but they set time limits on the process for granting (or denying) permits and, most important, on the time during which permits can be appealed.

Federal agencies will have one or two years, depending on the complexity of the project, to rule; and a lead agency must take responsibility to avoid consecutive trips through many agencies. States and tribes, which have authority over water-quality permits, must act expeditiously according to clear rules and base their decisions solely on the projects’ effects on water quality. NY State under Cuomo infamously used spurious denial of water quality permits to halt two federally approved pipeline projects which should be bringing Marcellus gas to New England by now. New England may very well pay a very high price this winter both for electricity generated from natural gas and for gas used in heating. New England greenhouse gas emissions will include the very high emissions from coal which will be burned instead of the missing gas.

Critically important, the reforms call for a statute of limitations on court challenges to approved projects. Although permitting itself can now take five years or more, major projects are often delayed an additional fifteen or twenty years by after-the-permit court challenges. America has literally tied itself in knots. We cannot build anything significant within the time frame that planning can reasonably foresee. Projects which do get done are always obsolete (as well as way over budget) when they are completed.

The Manchin reforms are intentionally an “all-of-the-above” approach. The President is directed to designate and update a list of 25 high-priority energy projects and expedite their permitting. In the language of the draft released by Manchin’s office this must be “a balanced list of project types, including: critical minerals, nuclear, hydrogen, fossil fuels, electric transmission, renewables, and carbon capture, sequestration, storage, and removal. Criteria for selecting designated projects includes: reducing consumer energy costs, improving energy reliability, decarbonization potential, and promoting energy trade with our allies.”

So who could be against these common sense reforms?

  1. Progressives who call themselves environmentalists who’d rather see renewable projects and the rebuild of the electric grid delayed indefinitely than allow even well designed nuclear and natural gas projects to go ahead.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is circulating a letter asking leadership to separate the Manchin deal out from a continuing resolution that would temporarily avert a government shutdown. 

“’Don’t attach it to a budget, to a CR, must-pass legislation and therefore take this essential Republican agenda and have Democrats pass it,’ he told The Hill earlier this month."

Senator Bernie Sanders confirmed he would vote for a government shutdown rather than have permitting reform pass. “Yes. You’re talking about the future for the planet,” he said.

 

  1. Partisan Republicans who don’t think the permitting reform goes far enough and, like the Progressives, would rather have nothing than give an inch or allow the Biden administration to get any credit. Again, according to The Hill:

“Republican Conference Chairman and top GOP senator on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee John Barrasso (Wyo.) signaled that there could be another barrier to Manchin’s deal: The permitting language, which may not be strong enough to win GOP support. 

“’This narrow proposal does not go nearly far enough. It will not prevent the Biden administration from continuing its war on American energy,’ he said.”

Passing the Permitting Reforms is a huge bipartisan opportunity

It will not get 100% of Democratic votes so it can’t be forced through the legislature. Realistically, for partisan reasons, it won’t get a majority of Republican votes. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for reasonable Republicans in both the House and the Senate to create a coalition around these reforms with reasonable Democrats and pass this must-pass legislation without either the votes of Progressives or the most partisan Republicans.

Permitting reform is not nearly as polarizing as the issues around abortion. On the other hand, it doesn’t show up on the list of things that are on the top of voters’ minds. It is the job of media (which it may well not do) to explain that permitting reform means clean and affordable energy and saving Europe from Russian energy blackmail.

We the people have a lot at stake.

See also:

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

The Dynamo of Democracy

September 05, 2022

Kyiv Independent Reports on Starlink in Ukraine

August 31, 2022

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

Offshore wind is an example of money allocated and progress blocked.

Pres. Biden set a goal of 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generating capacity for the US by 2030. A medium sized nuclear power plant has a capacity of about one GW. 30 GW can power a lot of electric cars not to mention run factories, keep the lights on, and displace dirty coal. According to an article in Reason: “Last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) made $3 billion available to upgrade ports so the equipment needed to install offshore wind turbines could be shipped out to sea, and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included measures providing tax credits of up to 30 percent for offshore wind projects that are started before 2026.” Given the tax credits, there’s plenty of private money to finance the actual projects.

Unless there’s regulatory reform, almost no offshore wind is going to get built anytime in the near future!

After decades of effort America currently has only 42 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity with another 932 MW under construction. Altogether, this is less than the output from an average-sized nuclear power plant. 18 GW are in permitting, none of them anywhere near the end of the process. Even when permits are granted, projects are typically delayed decades by after-the -permit appeals and lawsuits. According to Reason: “In July, for example, the DOE's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management canceled two potential wind energy developments off the coast of Long Island due to concerns that included ‘visibility from nearby beaches.’”

Environmental impact statements take on the average 4.5 years. The tax credits in the IRA for offshore wind are only for projects which begin construction before 2026. Ain’t gonna happen without permitting reform!

Offshore wind is just an example of infrastructure we can’t build even when the money is there. We are not going to achieve any of our infrastructure goals if we let “visible from the beach” or any number of other local impacts block projects. Here in Vermont people want cell towers but they don’t want to see them; unfortunately they don’t work when they’re hidden in the trees. Infrastructure has an impact. That impact must be balanced against the cost of not having the infrastructure. Once the balance has been determined – with local input, local interests or competing technologies must not be able to block or substantially delay projects as they can today.

A suggested three-step fix

  1. All federal permits must be issued or denied within 18 months of application. The requirements must be rigid but predictable.
  2. We must restate and reassert federal primacy in all interstate projects. This used to be the rule and it is what the Constitution provides for. Politics eroded this so, for example, NY State was allowed to block federally approved pipeline projects to bring much-needed Marcellus gas to New England because that’s what Cuomo wanted.
  3. No injunctions or restraining orders can be issued for permitted projects unless the opponents post a bond equal to the likely public and private cost of delay. If the appeal succeeds, the project stops (or is changed) and the bond is returned with interest. If the appeal fails, the bond reimburses the cost of delay

Regulatory reform is a huge opportunity for a bipartisan win for America. The administration must push it. Progressive Democrats won’t support any meaningful deregulation; Republicans should vote to make regulatory reform happen.

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Confessions of a Stimulator

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

August 28, 2022

The Dumbest Headline I Ever Read in The New York Times

“Maternal Instinct Is a Myth that Men Created”

You can read the column by Chelsea Conaboy here. Meanwhile I have a thought experiment to suggest to Ms. Conaboy: think about standing between a mama bear and her cubs. While you are thinking about yourself in this situation, imagine asking Ms. Bear what male talked her into being so over-protective.

July 27, 2022

Congressional Assailant Released by NY State but Detained by Feds

If he had tried to stab an ordinary citizen, he’d still be free under NY law!

On July 21 in front of many onlookers David Jakubonis tried to stab NY congressman and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin (R). Jakubonis was subdued and arrested, but a town judge released him without bail and on his own recognizance. This was not a case of a rogue judge or a reluctant prosecutor. According to the NY Times “Since 2020, under New York law, judges have been barred from setting bail on the charge of attempted assault, a nonviolent felony; previously, prosecutors would have had the option to request that Mr. Jakubonis be held on bail.”

He was later arrested by the feds on charges of “assaulting a member of congress using a dangerous weapon.” They are holding on to him.

Presumably if Jakubonis tried (but failed) to stab anyone who is not a member of congress in NY State, he’d still be on the loose. This NY law is idiotic. It’s been denounced by NYC Mayor Eric Adams who wants judges to be able to take “dangerousness” into account. NY Governor Kathy Hochul, whom Zeldin is running against, had a chance to include fixes to bail law in the budget negotiations in March but settled for tweaks to the law instead. She says that the bail “reforms” are not responsible for rising crime. After Zeldin was stabbed, she tweeted:

“My team has informed me about the incident at Lee Zeldin's campaign event tonight. Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.”

As relieved as she was to hear that the suspect was in custody, she didn’t tweet anything when he was released from custody a few hours later under her state’s bail law.

Some have said that, given that a congressperson was the target, the NY prosecutor (who is connected, bizarrely, to Zeldin’s campaign) could have filed a more serious charge so that requiring bail would have been permissible. Others say that the alleged perpetrator was drunk and depressed so that it was not his fault and that it was not a political attack. Even others say no harm no foul since the feds have locked him up or that the weapon wasn’t very fearsome. All of that is irrelevant. The point is that if Jakubonis had tried to stab an ordinary citizen, he’d still be free under NY law!

The police have not only been defunded; they’ve been disarmed. They can’t do their job of keeping us safe if people they arrest for attempted violent crimes are not held pending trial, even when those crimes indubitably happened. The police won’t even be told about much crime if they are not able to protect victims and witnesses. How would you feel about telling the police about someone who tried to assault you if that person was surely going to be out on the street within a few hours with an opportunity to finish the job?

The NY law needs to change so that not just congresspeople are protected. The communities with the most crime will benefit the most when the police can protect them effectively.

July 14, 2022

The Dynamo of Democracy

Time to get out of our own way.

We can have it all. We can bankrupt Putin. We can have affordable energy for our citizens and the Europeans who will otherwise surrender to energy blackmail. We can even reach zero net emissions in a reasonable amount of time. We can be not only the arsenal but the dynamo of democracy.

We’re not on track to do any of these good things. We’re standing squarely in our own way.

Our problem is an inability to build anything significant in real time. It takes decades to build a highway or new train track. Pipelines don’t get built at all in the US anymore. The 100-year-old electrical grid is sparking wildfires and isn’t in the right places to let us use renewable energy effectively. We need nuclear power as a clean source of electricity if we want to electrify most things, but “it’ll take forever to build new nuclear plants.” Offshore oil and gas wells and wind turbines make sense. Good luck in getting them built. During the great recession of 2008, we allocated almost a trillion dollars for recovery and found that nothing in America is shovel ready. No significant new infrastructure got built.

Construction isn’t the problem. Most things only take a year or two to design and two years to build. Bridges that fall are replaced within two years. Vermont replaced its roads wiped out by Tropical Storm Irene in less than a year. Ukraine replaces bombed rail lines almost overnight. China started building the fast train between Beijing and Shanghai as a public work to counter worldwide recession in 2008. I rode that train in 2011.

Even permitting is only part of the problem. Initial hearings often take up two years. That could be cut to one but permitting isn’t the cause of most of the delay.

Post-permit delays have crippled the ability of our country to build. Once a permit has been issued, the appeals begin. The appellants ask for and obtain restraining orders to stop construction. At almost no cost to themselves, anyone can impose the enormous cost of infrastructure delay on the builders and on the country which must do without the needed infrastructure. After the first decade of delays, the opponents start to claim – correctly – that the design is out of date. The builders either stick with the outmoded design or risk resetting the clock by redesigning and reentering the permit process.

Once the legal appeals have been exhausted, the illegal protests start. If it’s a big enough project, you can count on some Hollywood celebrities showing up in front of the cameras with locals who are affected by the project and politicians calling for further study. A new administration can score political points by reversing permits given by its predecessor (see the Keystone Pipeline). BTW, the real opponents of a project – the ones who put up money to stop it – are often commercial competitors; they try to stay away from the cameras. Fossil fuel companies and solar promoters don’t like wind turbines; green entrepreneurs don’t like gas pipelines. None of them like nuclear.

Here’s a pathetic example of tolerating intolerable delay. The US Forest Service uses controlled burns to prevent massive wildfires. These controlled burns require permits. The Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center published a report.

“Once the Forest Service initiates the environmental review process, it takes ​​an average of 3.6 years to begin a mechanical treatment and 4.7 years to begin a prescribed burn.

“For projects that require environmental impact statements—the most rigorous form of review—the time from initiation to implementation averages 5.3 years for mechanical treatments and 7.2 years for prescribed burns.”

If a project is appealed, the average time goes up to 9.4 years! Of course what really happens is the forests which needed the treatment often go up in smoke in the meantime.

The three-step fix

  1. All federal permits must be issued or denied within 18 months of application. The requirements must be rigid but predictable.
  2. We must restate and reassert federal primacy in all interstate projects. This used to be the rule and it is what Constitution provides for. Politics eroded this so, for example, NY State was allowed to block federally approved pipeline projects to bring much-needed Marcellus gas to New England because that’s what Cuomo wanted.
  3. No injunctions or restraining orders can be issued for permitted projects unless the opponents post a bond equal to the likely public and private cost of delay. If the appeal succeeds, the project stops (or is changed) and the bond is returned with interest. If the appeal fails, the bond reimburses the cost of delay.

No project will be perfect. Some will be seriously flawed. The cost of the flaws will be far, far less than the cost of delay.

Only Congress can pass these reforms. They are not partisan issues any more than forest fires are. These delays affect our ability to generate and use carbon-free energy as much or more than our ability to use clean natural gas and keep home heating and travel affordable. We can’t build back better if we can’t build at all. It would be great if Congress would start to act now. Given the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v EPA, congresspeople can no longer hope that nameless bureaucrats will take on policy issues that are politically risky to address. These elected congresspeople must make tough decisions themselves. That is what we pay them to do.

We run a good chance of both great economic hardship and western democracies succumbing to energy blackmail if we don’t immediately get our act together.

If we do pass reforms which let us build again, we won’t need federal funds for most infrastructure projects. Private money will rush in to fund good projects once the threat of unpredictable delay is gone. We will build back much, much better. We will have affordable energy, good roads, new railroads, and pipelines, and the electric grid we need as well as less catastrophic forest fires and a cleaner environment. We will be the dynamo democracy needs.

See also:

Keeping Our Republic

Confessions of a Stimulator

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

Everything is Shovel-Ready in China

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

July 11, 2022

What Did the Wisconsin Supreme Court Do?

You be the judge.

Wisconsin Statute. § 6.87(4)(b)1: “The envelope shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots.” Also in the law is a provision for voting in a registered nursing home; special officials may be sent.

Do you read that sentence as authorizing unattended drop boxes into which ballots may be deposited? Neither did the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Just to close a loophole, the statutes do talk about alternative polling places (Wis. Stat. § 6.85) but make clear that these must be attended and are used instead of rather than in addition to the municipal clerk’s office.

Therefore, the court said, voting via the use of unattended drop boxes is not legal under Wisconsin law. The court did NOT say that drop boxes were a violation of either the US or Wisconsin constitution. The court did not say that properly authorized drop boxes were either a bad or good idea. It’s not up to the court to say what’s a good or bad idea. The court simply said that elections must be conducted according to the law as passed by the legislature. It did say that elections not conducted according to law lose legitimacy and erode respect for the democratic process.

Nevertheless, the ruling has been taken as a blow against open and fair elections.  The New York Times says “The court adopted a literal interpretation of state law” but considers this a move to restrict voting access in urban areas. Not sure what sort of interpretation of state law the NYT would like the court to make if not a literal one; perhaps one which assures outcomes desired by the NYT? The normally more conservative Wall Street Journal also treats this as a political decision without mentioning the plain language of the law.

It might be a good idea if reporters retook that part of civics 101 which says that the courts are supposed to interpret law, not make it.

There is a reason why this decision has raised so much angst. The case came about because there were more than 500 such unattended drop boxes in use in Wisconsin during the 2020 election which Trump lost to Biden in that state. Trump’s allies claimed that these drop boxes facilitated fraud which cost him election. There is no evidence that this happened. The court did NOT rule that the 2020 election was invalid because the drop boxes were used. It said they should not be used again unless authorized by the Wisconsin legislature, which is currently unlikely. The decision does affect future elections but not those in the past.

The court is not supposed to make public policy so their job in this case is done, whether such drop boxes are desirable or not.

There is still a public policy question which needs to be decided by action or inaction of the Wisconsin legislature and the legislatures of other states. Should unattended drop boxes be allowed to make it as easy as possible to cast ballots?

I say No! Emergency measures made sense when the pandemic hit suddenly. It’s good that ballots cast in drop boxes were not thrown out in 2020. But the emergency is over. With hindsight or foresight, I can’t see why using a mailbox rather than a drop box causes a hardship to any would-be voter, especially in urban areas. I can easily see how, with two years to plan, bad actors on either side or even from abroad can think of ways to tamper with ballots in the drop boxes either to change an election result or to discredit the election itself. It’s a time of great mistrust. We cannot afford a discredited election. Mailin ballots make it possible for more eligible people to vote; that’s good. It must also be demonstrably true beyond reasonable doubt that only legitimate ballots are counted.

Mail-in ballots should go in the US mail (postage paid, of course).

See also:

Keeping Our Republic

Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

July 04, 2022

Keeping Our Republic

As the Constitutional Convention adjourned in Philadelphia, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin “well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy”.

Franklin famously replied “A Republic if you can keep it.”

This July 4th the question is still open. The most obvious recent threat is Trump’s treasonous (IMO) attempt to overturn the last election and the continuing credible threat of his regaining power. However, over the long term, Congress has been turning its responsibilities over to the President (and to some extent the courts). This abdication of responsibility by Congress gives the President dictatorial powers. Put dictatorial powers together with an executive who won’t leave office and you get a monarchy.

Trump

The January 6th committee reports are giving us all increasing evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office. I wish they could be less partisan, but it is the job of the opposition to ferret out the misdeeds of the other side. (It’s the job of the press to expose both sides but that’s another blog for another day).

In one respect, I think the committee is unintentionally downplaying Trump’s cowardice. The surprise isn’t that he said he would go with the mob to the Capitol; the surprise is that he didn’t go. As he is reported to have said “I’m the f’ng President”. He could’ve gone if he wanted to. Could’ve walked for that matter. It’s possible that the story about his trying to grab the wheel of the limo came first from him or his loyalists to excuse his absence. If it turns out that he didn’t try to grab the wheel or get himself where he’d said he’d be, with his troops, why not? That’s a question those who still support Trump should be asking themselves. Why did he abandon them?

Dictatorial Powers

The decision by the Supreme Court that the EPA cannot regulate greenhouse emissions is an important step to preserving our republic. It does NOT say that the federal government cannot regulate these emissions. It does NOT say that regulation is unconstitutional. It does not say that global warming is unimportant (or important). It does say that the President may not order his regulators to go beyond the authorization that Congress has explicitly given them.

It is not the job of the Supreme Court to make public policy decisions. They should not and did not rule on whether such emissions should be regulated or whether it is good public policy to ban coal-fired power plants.  Part of their job is to keep the two other branches of the federal government in their lanes and to keep the republic from becoming a monarchy.

“But,” people say about this issue and many others, “Congress didn’t act so the President had to do something!” These are well meaning people, but they are really saying “if Democracy doesn’t give the results I think are necessary, then we need to have a dictatorship.” Meanwhile congresspeople escape accountability for decisions and can blame any inconvenience on the damned bureaucrats or on businesspeople depending on their party (see the price of oil).

This decision does endanger many other unauthorized regulations. The Court already decided that the CDC does not have the authority to ban evictions nor does OSHA have the right to mandate large employer vaccination policies. The Court hasn’t said and shouldn’t say whether an eviction ban or a vaccine mandate are good or bad public policy. They have said that it is the role of Congress and not of the President through the executive agencies to make such policy or at least to explicitly delegate such authority to the executive branch.

If we want to keep our republic, we need to stand against both leaders who want to lead without the consent of the governed and legislative abdication to the executive.

Happy Fourth of July.

June 23, 2022

Buying an EV in Europe Now Helps Putin and Hurts the Environment

Electricity in Not Green Pixy Dust

Russia is now throttling back the supply of natural gas to Europe. Because gas is mostly delivered by pipeline, it is more difficult for Europe to source elsewhere than either oil or coal. Europe uses natural gas for heat (not critical at this time of year), to run factories (some of which are shutting down), and to generate electricity.

A new electric vehicle on the road means new demand for electricity. New renewables come online in years, not days. Germany shouldn’t have shut down its nukes; but it did – and became even more dependent on Russian natural gas for generating electricity. Now Germany is planning to restart old coal plants – perhaps the most polluting energy source of all – to make up for the high price and short supply of gas for power generation. For at least the next year, each new electric car- or appliance or heating system – means more coal must be burned. Coal emits at least twice as much greenhouse gas as natural gas per kilowatt hour of electricity generated besides lots of other unhealthy stuff like Sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Running cars on gasoline or diesel is far less polluting than running them on electricity generated from coal.

Each new EV increases the demand for electricity and helps push the price of natural gas even higher. Higher prices for natural gas mean that Russia makes more and more by selling less natural gas. New EVs in Europe increase the money Putin has for war.

The only ways to decrease Russia’s revenue and leverage and make energy affordable again are to cut back on use (price is forcing that) and to increase energy supply. Money spent on electric cars is money NOT spent on new renewable energy sources, new nukes (yes, we need them), and drilling for more natural gas and oil in both the US and Europe. Europe made a terrible mistake outsourcing production of fossil fuels to Russia in order to appear greener. There’s plenty of good reason to add more carbon-free generating capacity as well as more relatively clean natural gas. There’s no reason to increase the demand for electricity by adding electric cars to the grid until coal is not the only short-term alternative for increasing electricity supply.

See also:

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

June 08, 2022

An Overabundance of Caution is Excessive

The price is often much higher than the risk avoided.

How many times in the past few years have we heard leaders say that some action was taken or not taken out of “an overabundance of caution”. This usually means that a politician is willing to impose an unknow cost on a large number of people in order to escape the risk that he or she will be blamed for doing nothing or, even worse, be blamed for something which does go wrong. Here are a few examples, glad to have you add to the list.

Out of an overabundance of caution, Germany started closing its nuclear plants after Fukushima.

The cost is overreliance on Russia for energy and an income flow to Putin which enabled and still enables his onslaught on Ukraine. How many lives has that overabundance of caution cost so far? The environmental cost is not only the emissions from war and burning cities, but also greenhouse and noxious gasses from burning coal to keep the lights on. We’re all paying the economic price at the pump - especially Europeans. Winter fuel will be an enormous problem.

Out of an overabundance of caution, the FDA pressured a manufacturer to shut down a huge infant formula plant without evidence that any contaminated product came from the plant. Out of an abundance of caution, the manufacturer complied.

The cost is babies going without formula or drinking ersatz concoctions. The cost is parents desperately driving from one unsupplied store to another.

Out of an overabundance of caution, public schools stayed shut long after the initial “short-term, bend the curve” Covid shutdowns.

The initial shutdown when hospitals were running out of space and supplies was probably a good call, especially given what we didn’t know about the virus at the time. We are still tallying the cost in lost emotional development and education from the extra one and a half years some schools stayed closed.

Out of an overabundance of caution, police didn’t attack the active shooter in Uvalde, Texas for more than 70 minutes.

No comment.

Out of an overabundance of caution, the school board in Burlington, Vermont shut the high school over high air-born PCB readings.

The fault is more with the state which apparently set the threshold so low that it could be exceeded even with local source of PCBs according to an article in 7Days. Hard to blame the Board for using the state figures which are now NOT being used in the screening of other schools for possible PCB contamination. However, Burlington is now facing a more than $200 million cost to build a new high school and tear down the old one. Is it an overabundance of caution which is preventing simply going back into the old school?

Out of an overabundance of caution and fear of offending Putin, we haven’t given Ukraine the weapons it needs to defeat Russia on a timely basis.

It’s understandable that we didn’t ship weapons to Ukraine in the first days of the war when almost everyone believed Russia would overwhelm the country quickly and end up with any weapons shipped in. But now that we’ve seen Ukrainian’s ability and willingness to fight, we ought to be adding to their arsenal as quickly as we can. Our weapon escalation should not come after public dithering. The first Putin should know that Ukraine has longer range artillery, better ship-sinking missiles, or more planes is when these new weapons break the back of planned Russian assaults or drive Russians back. The price of our caution is Ukrainian lives and a greater threat to our own and European freedom.

Caution is often appropriate. An overabundance of caution is excessive and dangerous.

May 31, 2022

Every First Responder HQ in Vermont Needs Two Portable Starlink Dishes

Satellite Broadband is Terrestrial Emergency Proof

When tropical storm Irene lashed Vermont eleven years ago, many towns became islands. The roads and bridges to them were gone. Some towns were also cutoff from all communications. The poles that brought them electricity, phone, and some Internet service (if they had any) were gone. Cellular towers were blown down, lost their own wired connections to the communications backbone, and/or ran out of diesel fuel for their backup generators. repair crews did a fabulous job; but they couldn’t be everywhere at once – and some places were simply inaccessible to the trucks for weeks.

Some cut off towns sent couriers out on foot to get emergency medicine or arrange helicopter evacuations of sick and injured people. Sometimes people found there was one hill they could drive to and get spotty cellular coverage as long as they had enough gas to get there and run the car to keep the cellphones charged.

No matter what weather or catastrophe hits us in the future, there is no excuse for ever losing communications again. The difference is the ready availability of satellite communication. Satellites circling 200 miles above us and powered by solar power obviously aren’t affected by whatever terrestrial problem  afflicts us. As long as first responders have some source of 110-volt power and a view of the northern sky, they can keep on communicating during and after a storm or other catastrophe.

Starlink terminals are now transportable so they can easily be taken to the site of any emergency and used to establish broadband communication almost instantly even if the site of the disaster didn’t have broadband coverage before. Think, perhaps, of a train wreck on an isolated section of track or a forest fire destroying the infrastructure around a rural town. In Ukraine Starlink terminals have kept communication alive even under relentless and ruthless Russian bombing of infrastructure. Reportedly the brave defenders of the Azovstal garrison in Mariupol had Starlink service up until the time they were overrun.

At the moment Starlink is available for immediate delivery almost everywhere in Vermont. Only the dark blue areas below are waitlisted.

Capture

 

The cost is trivial in a first responder budget. $599 for the initial kit including a WiFi router and everything you need for a ground installation (close to $700 when you add Vermont tax and shipping). $110/month with no minimum commitment or contract. Another $25/month for the option to move the dish from place to place.

Sometimes I sound – even to myself – like a salesman for Starlink. I do NOT have any financial interest in Starlink or anything else associated with Elon Musk. I do not think Starlink is a better option for home broadband than fiber – if you can get fiber. But, in a catastrophe, there are currently no other broadband alternatives. When there are, I’ll look at them, too.

Why wouldn’t a first responder unit want to have a dish on its roof and another on a truck ready-to-go? Hopefully they’ll never be used although they’re always good for creating a Wi-Fi hotspot between emergencies. Assuring portable emergency broadband is an action every town, fire department, ambulance service, and police department should take now. No need to wait for a grant. Very bad idea to wait for an emergency before preparing.

See also:

Starlink To Go

Where is Starlink Available Now? Finally An Official Map

Starlink

May 23, 2022

Some Good News for Democracy

We can us it.

Gerrymanders

Gerrymanders breed extreme partisans. If a district is “safe” for either the Ds or the Rs, then whoever wins the primary in the district wins the general election. The primary, in effect, becomes the election. The voters in primaries, only a small fraction of those who vote in general elections, tend to be extreme. Therefor candidates move to the extreme left or right to win the primary and get onto office.

If a district is competitive, the need to appeal to the broad electorate in the upcoming general election (usually) keeps candidates reasonably near the center. Primary voters then must think about electability as well as their hyper-partisan wishes.

Every ten years districts must be redrawn to reflect the most recent census. Each party does its best to win advantage from this process and accuses the other party of abuse of process. Since redistricting is done under state law at the state level, a party which controls the governorship and both houses of the state legislature usually has an advantage. Incumbents of either party also like getting re-elected so they have a stake in gerrymandering which is only selfish, not partisan.

The good news is that state courts this year have reversed some egregious gerrymanders on the basis of state laws or the state constitution. The most prominent reversal so far is in New York where the highest state court mandated a less-partisan revision of the electoral map drawn by a Democratic governor with super-majorities in both houses of the legislature. It speaks well of the justice system that all the justices who voted for the 4-3 decision were appointed by Democratic governors.

In North Carolina a Republican drawn map was rejected as unconstitutionally partisan. The court produced its own map, and that map survived an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court also let stand a court-drawn map in Pennsylvania which replaced one drawn by Republicans. In other states, allegedly partisan maps have not been overturned.

At the beginning of the 2022 election cycle, “experts” said that redistricting would advantage Republicans. Then, after the NY legislature circumvented the state constitution in its enormous attempted gerrymander, it looked like the advantage had shifted to the Democrats nationally. Now it looks like the puts and takes of redistricting will be about a draw as far as partisan advantage. What’s a loss for partisans is a gain for the rest of us. But only a small gain so far.

Aid to Ukraine

Congress just passed a $40 billion aid to Ukraine bill which President Biden has now signed. The best news is that Ukraine will get another installment of the aid that it needs. Also good news is that a majority of both parties in both houses voted for the bill despite the fact that the extreme left and the extreme right have not been fans of supporting Ukrainian resistance. The parties were not held hostage to their extreme wings.

The Democrats got all their left wing on board; good for them. That includes the squad, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, who have until now been pretty successful at pulling the party their way on other issues.

There were a significant number of Republican no votes although most Republicans voted in favor of Ukraine. This continues an unfortunate isolationist Republican minority tradition we also saw before the second world war. Even worse, there is a fascist tinge to the isolationism now as there was then.

Nevertheless, according to Politico:

“Aid for Ukraine goes far beyond charity,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Thursday morning. “The future of America’s security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight.”

The Republican leader called on “every senator on both sides to join this bipartisan supermajority” in passing the bill. “Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose,” McConnell said.

Australia Sets a Good Example

According to Associated Press via Politico, defeated incumbent Scott Morrison conceded before all of the races were decided so that his successor could quickly be sworn in.

“I believe it’s very important that this country has certainty. I think it’s very important this country can move forward,” Morrison said.

“And particularly over the course of this week with the important meetings that are being held, I think it’s vitally important there’s a very clear understanding about the government of this country,” he added.

A very good lesson for you know whom.

See also: Democrats and Republicans Both Fear the Next Election Will be Stolen

May 18, 2022

Pandemic Lesson #2 – Experts Are Too Narrow to Make Policy

“Lock it all down,” the epidemiologists said. They were correct that, the less people left their houses, the less the disease would spread.

“How will food get to their houses?” we can imagine leaders asking.

“There will have to be few essential exceptions,” we can imagine an epidemiologist responding.

“And those would be?” Not a question to ask the epidemiologists. Outside their area of expertise. No criticism of them; we should expect experts to be narrowly focused on their area of expertise.

If you were a mayor or a governor or a head of state who must make immediate decisions in the face of a new pandemic, you have two choices: 1) just listen to the epidemiologists – a strategy which allows you to claim that you made the expert-endorsed decisions regardless of the outcome; 2) as quickly as you can, consult as wide a variety of experts in different fields like logistics, food supply, energy, and waste removal, talk to people whose thinking (as opposed to expertise you trust) and make the best decision you can at warp speed.

The first approach gives you the political cover that you listened to THE experts and THE science. You can claim that you are “acting from an excess” of caution. You will be tempted to stick with this decision even in the face of adverse effects like lost years of schooling, an economy in tatters without unsustainable subsidies, a rising suicide rate etc. etc. China is sticking to its lockdown policy despite people starving in their homes. How can you not do what the experts in infectious disease said to do?

If you take the second approach and do the best job you can of balancing the recommendations of experts in diverse fields, you are in the short term more vulnerable to second guessing. You, the non-expert, made the final decision. You will have to monitor results and almost assuredly adjust policy as both the virus and the society react and mutate in unpredictable ways. Experts from different fields (sometimes in the same field) will continue to disagree. You will be blamed for every death. You will be blamed for the demise of every business which you did not deem essential. And you will have done what leaders are chosen to do, synthesized the best advice you can get, acted, observed, and modified your actions.

Gov. Scott (R -VT and the second most popular governor in the country) took mainly the second approach and Vermont avoided the worst results of the pandemic in terms of mortality and also avoided the worst effects of an “excess of caution” – our schools reopened relatively early. Trump actually took a third course at first – he tried to wish the pandemic away. But he shut down international travel early and was accused of xenophobia (of which he is guilty in general), then was accused of acting too late. Recent “expert opinion” is that shutting down travel always amounted to locking the barn door while the horse galloped down the street. Some governors like Newsome in California took the “epidemiologist” approach of very tight lockdowns; others like DeSantis in Florida kept their economies largely opened.

We saw surges of Covid first in the mainly blue states with strict measures. Before the partisan gloating was over, the virus surged in the red states. Now, although much less virulent, it’s been back strong on the coasts again. Florida’s age-adjusted death rate is a tiny bit better than that of California. Florida’s unlocked economy has fared better.

The danger is that we see all this through partisan lenses and don’t learn the lesson we need for the next emergency. There is no simple “the science” according to which a leader can govern. There is no one type of expert who can make overall policy from the narrow perch of his or her expertise (sorry, Dr. Fauci). We must do our best to elect competent, calm people to executive positions and hope that they encourage a clash of expertise and opinion before making decisions, then monitor the results and change course as often as necessary.

See also:

Pandemic Lesson #1: “The Science” Must Always be Challenged

https://blog.tomevslin.com/covid/

May 13, 2022

Starlink To Go

Stress tested in Ukraine and now available to you.

Capture

Russians have targeted Ukrainian electricity and communication infrastructure. In some areas there may not be any utility poles left standing and underground conduits may have been bombed to oblivion. Starlink has been an important tool for these brave people to coordinate their resistance to Putin’s brutal invasion. Satellite communication doesn’t require any middle-mile infrastructure. Starlink provides low-latency high-bandwidth communication wherever there is 110/220 volt electricity available. Any vehicle with an inverter can supply this power as can a portable generator. Russia has endorsed Starlink’s effectiveness by  trying hard to hack it; so far, they haven’t succeeded.

Much more mundanely, a year ago I took a long RV trip and struggled with uneven WiFi in campgrounds and data caps on my Verizon phone. I saw camper setting up their portable Dish Network and DirectTV dishes and dreamed of the day when I’d be able to put my Starlink dish on a couple of cinder blocks next to the RV.

That day has come!

For an extra $25/month, traveling Starlink subscribers are now able to transport their dishes to new locations which currently have service. It can go to a campground. It can go to a camp or event site; but it must have 110/220 volt power available - same as at home. It must also have a clear view of the northern sky above about 25 degrees of elevation in the northern hemisphere or the southern sky in the southern hemisphere. You can turn roaming on or off from the Starlink website so you only have to pay the premium for the months you’re on the move.

The FAQs on https://support.starlink.com/ explain further limitations;

  • Best Effort Service: Portability service is provided on a best effort basis. Stated speeds and uninterrupted use of services are not guaranteed. Starlink prioritizes network resources for users at their registered service address. When you bring your Starlink to a new location, this prioritization may result in degraded service, particularly at times of peak usage or network congestion.
  • “International Travel: Starlink can only be used within the same continent as the registered Service Address. If you use Starlink in a foreign country for more than two months, you will be required to move your registered service address to your new location or purchase an additional Starlink to maintain service.
  • “No In-Motion Use:  We do not support Starlink use in motion at this time. Using the Starlink Kit in motion will void the limited warranty of your Kit. While our teams are actively working to make it possible to use Starlink on moving vehicles (e.g., automobiles, RVs, boats), Starlink is not yet configured to be safely used in this way.”

The Starlink service map is essential for planning travel. It shows, for example, that all the lower 48 states in the US have service. Alaska does not, and only part of Hawaii does. Southern Canada does and Northern Canada doesn’t. Mexico does but not Honduras.

The map also shows areas where there is a backlog for new service. In these areas you would expect to have degraded service during peak times because there are already as many permanent users there as Starlink can currently support.

Happy travels.

See also: https://blog.tomevslin.com/starlink/

May 05, 2022

Pandemic Lesson #1: “The Science” Must Always be Challenged

But that doesn’t mean all challenges are right.

In the beginning, scientists in Wuhan, the only scientists who had direct access to Covid data at the time, said that the disease couldn’t spread from person to person; it only spread when infected food was eaten. The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed that “science”. It was wrong.

Once China and WHO changed their view and conceded that infection could spread from person to person, they also said that it spread mainly on surfaces. We had a mini-epidemic of handwashing and surface cleaning. Mary and I still have most of a big bottle of sanitizer left. We took our mail out of the mailbox with rubber gloves and quarantined it three days before opening. Dr. Fauci and the US CDC did not recommend masking at that time. Still to be determined is whether they didn’t recommend masking because they didn’t want the public to gobble up the limited supply of surgical masks or because they truly didn’t believe that airborne infection was significant.

An interesting side note is that epidemiologists had not kept up with the latest physics about tiny droplets. The physics embedded in their literature only acknowledged larger droplets, which are more likely to alight and persist on surfaces, and ignored tiny droplets which stay in the air – it’s those tiny droplets that the virus travels on. The “science” which emphasized infected surfaces was wrong. It’s a good thing it was challenged. It’s a good thing that we learned that small weave masks are effective. What if no one had been allowed to question “the science”?

Dr. Fauci and other experts said it would take at least two years to develop an effective vaccine. They were being optimistic based on experience up until then. Fortunately, they were wrong.

When the vaccines first got emergency approval, they were billed as being 85-95% effective. Most people, including me, thought that meant getting vaccinated would reduce the chance of getting infected by 85% to 95% and could well snuff out the disease like what has almost happened with polio and smallpox. Those estimates were the best available; but they were wrong, especially as the virus mutated. I urged vaccine requirements for air travel and some professions like medicine thinking that vaccinated people were largely not spreaders. I was wrong. The “science” was wrong. Experience has shown the vaccines effective at preventing hospitalization and death – a good thing; but not nearly as effective at preventing spread. For the least vulnerable, it is beginning to appear that mild infection is more effective than a shot at preventing hospitalization. The world changes and “the science” changes as well.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that we learn more as time goes on or that old truths become invalid as the world changes. What is wrong is to think that “the science” should go without challenge; that would be catastrophic. What is wrong is to think that any legion of fact-checkers can decide what we ought to read; that is also catastrophic. Science flourishes on challenge. New discoveries always tread on old truths. Progress depends on challenge – even if most challengers are wrong.

April 27, 2022

Neither High Energy Costs nor Dependence on Russian Energy are Acceptable

Both problems can be solved while reducing net greenhouse gas emissions.

We must have both energy independence and a responsible climate policy. The good news is that we can have both without imposing soaring energy prices on those who can least afford them. An “all of the above” energy policy, better infrastructure, and permitting reform will enable a transition to zero net greenhouse gas emissions, no dependence on murderous regimes for energy or critical energy components, and lower energy prices.

The Problems

Although climate change has always been part of human history, it is likely that, if the concentration of greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere continues to grow significantly, climate will change faster than we’re prepared to deal with new precipitation patterns, changed growing zones, and rising sea levels.

However, the cost of Europe’s premature abandonment of its own gas and oil resources and early shutdown of nuclear power was clear when energy costs on the continent skyrocketed even before the Ukraine War. Now that economic problem has become a literal matter of life and death with most European countries unable to do without the imports which finance Putin’s war and nearly helpless against his threats to cut off their energy supplies.

Although the US is fortunate to be a net exporter of oil and gas, we have dangerous energy dependencies of our own. Critical metals for electric cars, batteries, and other components of a greener economy are mostly imported, many from hostile places. Almost all our solar panels are made in China. We import uranium from Russia.

The electric grid in the US is ancient and obsolete. It is not dependable enough for an economy transitioning to electrically delivered energy. It is not engineered to be fail-safe. It is in the wrong places to deliver renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed. It is starting deadly fires. Similarly, some gas pipelines are old and leaky; and we don’t have the pipeline capacity to move natural gas from where it is in abundance to where it is needed to displace coal and oil. The problem is so acute that the New England had to burn carbon-intensive oil and even more polluting coal to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on this past winter. A few years ago Russian tankers were offloading Siberian natural gas near Boston while US gas just 300 miles away was stranded for lack of pipelines,

Like most of Europe, the US has shut down carbon-free nuclear plants whose lives could have been extended. We have not set up a permanent depository for nuclear waste. Vermont used to be an exporter of carbon-free electricity; now, thanks to the shutdown of Vermont Yankee. Vermont imports electricity generated from fossil fuel in neighboring states.

It takes forever to build anything in the US. Major projects like new power and pipelines, railroads, power plants, wind farms, and solar installations often take as long as twenty years. Permitting requirements are overly detailed; endless injunctions often string out for decades after permits gave been issues. When legal appeals are exhausted, illegal protests raise costs and delay projects even further. Commercial rivals of projects are very skilled in rallying “environmental” opposition to almost anything – including renewable energy projects - and misusing the concerns of those who’d rather have a project built in someone else’s backyard.

The Good News

As late as 2007, more than half of US oil was imported. Now, thanks to new technology, we are net exporters of oil and gas. We cannot be blackmailed by Russia or Saudi Arabia. We are even able to provide some supply to our European allies. Even better, because the price of natural gas in the US is a fraction of what it was fifteen years ago, it is largely displacing coal. Natural gas emits only half the CO2 that coal does per megawatt of electricity generated and none of the other deadly pollutants that come from coal. The transition from coal to natural gas was driven by economics, not government mandates. As a result, the price of electricity in most of the US has declined in absolute dollars as coal was phased out and the US has more than met the emission reduction targets assigned to it in the Kyoto Treaty (which we never signed).

The cost of solar panels has come down 90% in the last decade and their efficiency has improved. Wind turbines have also become less expensive. Renewables are providing significant amounts of electricity. The pairing of renewable but intermittent sources like wind and solar with on-demand natural gas generation has made it practical to deploy much more renewable energy than we would have been able to otherwise.

The cost and performance of batteries has improved to the point where they are practical, in many cases, for electric cars and even trucks. Electric cars are in so much demand that dealers can’t keep them in stock and incentives to buyers are not necessary. There is danger that use of electric cars will outpace the growth of renewable electricity to charge them and the ability of the electrical grid to deliver that energy reliably.

Small, even safer nuclear power plants have been developed and are being deployed in other parts of the world. The US has no problem building nuclear power plants safe enough to power submarines and surface ships in wartime conditions.

The latest UN climate report says that warming will stop almost immediately when net zero emissions have been achieved. The old science was that warming would continue for at least decades and possibly centuries after the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere stabilized. The implication of this change is that we do have time to take reasonable sustainable actions to reduce net emissions and don’t need to make an emergency economic and social crash landing.

So What Do We Do?

  1. “all of the above” energy sourcing to drive down the cost of electricity while increasing the supply. Reduced electric rates are the best possible incentive for people and businesses to electrify. Continue the deployment of renewables where they are cost justified – which they are in many cases given new technology. Build small nuclear plants as part of a new regionalized grid. Keep existing nukes open until replaced by other carbon-free sources. Open the Yucca nuclear waste depository. Enable responsible production of natural gas; free market economics will result in that gas replacing the remaining use of coal and diesel fuel to generate electricity.
  2. Build the energy infrastructure back better.

    The electric grid must be much more decentralized and reliable to support more dependence on electricity and deployment of renewables and small-scale nuclear. As much of the grid as possible should be underground for reliability and reduced maintenance costs. Burying utilities including electricity and fiber for broadband should be considered as part of every road repair or building project. The US could lead the world by transitioning to the first direct current grid since Thomas Edison’s days with an enormous saving in transmission and conversion energy loss. A side benefit is losing all the inverters and other bumps in the line we use for converting alternating current to the direct current needed not only by electronics and battery charging but also by more and more appliance motors.

    Energy infrastructure includes oil and gas pipelines. Gas pipelines are needed now so that the abundant gas in the Pennsylvania can get to New England and other parts of the nation which need it and reduce both costs and emissions. These pipelines will eventually be used to transport green hydrogen so are not a short-term investment. Oil pipelines, especially those which have already been permitted, are needed so that US and Canadian oil can flow more readily (cheaply) to domestic markets and especially for shipment to world markets which we don’t want to have dependent on Russian supply.

    The well-studied Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste has been stalled for decades by politics. Time to open it.

  3. Assure that we mine our own ample supply of uranium and the rare earths like chrome, nickel, cadmium, and lithium needed to build a greener economy now, not after 20 years of appeals and protests.
  4. Continue building pilot projects for green hydrogen, geothermal, and various kinds of energy storage as well as continued research into new battery architectures, nuclear fusion, and mechanical carbon sequestration.
  5. Continue and expand the forestry effort which is already funded by the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the President signed. Trees take an enormous amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere (natural carbon sequestration) and store it as a useful carbon supplement in the ground. Taking a pound of greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere obviously has the same effect as avoiding a pound of emissions. Improved forestry worldwide is probably both the most effective and cheapest alternative we have for reducing greenhouse gas.
  6. Implement permitting reform and stop delays to approved projects! We have more time than we thought we had to reduce emissions, but we don’t have forever. There is a huge urgency to reducing the world’s dependence on energy from ill-intentioned suppliers and assuring our own energy independence. Getting to yay or nay on a project should always be possible for a well-prepared applicant in two years, preferably one. Once a permit has been duly granted, anyone who seeks injunctive delay of the project must be required to post bond for the full cost of the delay they are seeking. If they win the appeal, they get their money back; if not, it is forfeit. Illegal actions and vandalism to stop an approved project must simply not be tolerated no matter how many Hollywood celebrities show up in support. Protecting legal projects is one of the many things for which we need a well-financed and well-trained police force.

New powerlines, pipelines, wind and solar facilities, nuclear plants and mines for rare earth need to built and operable in the next few years. We can do this. We can reduce emissions, maintain and improve our own energy independence, and end the world’s dependence on Russian and middle eastern energy.

We must and can do these things in the next few years – and can make energy cleaner and more affordable in the process!

See also:

Fracking Saved Our Freedom

Subsidizing Electric Cars Might Even Hurt the Environment

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

Let’s Really Build the Electric Grid Back BETTER

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