During 2012 Americans were able to learn a great deal about how vulture companies like Bain Capital, at one time headed by then candidate Mitt Romney, would take over companies and essentially strip them of any assets. Among those assets were pension funds that workers had planned to live on in their old age. In the case of Bain victim companies, pension funds would be raided and added to the payments Bain extracted from the company. Thus Bain got some huge checks, many lives were ruined (insignificant no doubt in the Bain way of thinking), and the American taxpayer gets a bill to make up some of the pension “raided” – stolen actually.
Since the pension funds were part of the compensation for work done by company employees every bit as important as their weekly pay, medical benefits and vacations, “raiding” the pension funds is simply a polite term for theft. Why laws were passed for legalizing this theft is simply unbelievable. Bain had a fairly structured way of taking their targeted companies apart and stealing the future from the companies employees was simply part of the plan.
What was good for Bain also appears to be good for governments. Last year we witnessed the dismantling of Detroit. Among the assets seized to pay Detroit’s debt were the pension funds. Funds that police and fire fighters and all sorts of municipal workers had planned to be there when their so-called “golden” years was gone. Some of these folks had worked for the city for as long as 40 years.
In New Jersey last week, Presidential wannabe Chris Christie was handed a judgment that said he must fully fund pension funds. When offered a plan that would raise taxes on the wealthy that would raise the money needed to fund the pension fund, Christie immediately rejected it.
In Illinois new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner wasted little time in going after public pensions. Even though most public pensions are part of a negotiated contract which we may assume are negotiated in good faith with access to viable fiscal projections. Seems like Rauner wants to unilaterally change the contract like so many of his Republican gubernatorial colleagues across the country have been doing. And of course while he can’t find money in the budget to pay legally mandated payments, he can find oodles of money to cut his own taxes and those of his rich buddies.
And let us not forget our governor for life Terry Branstad. While the pension story here in Iowa is good so far, we still have yet to hear anything on Branstad’s paying released employees last year with moneys that seemed to have been shifted illegally.
When I hear some politician, usually Republican, rail about this country being a nation of laws I just have to shake my head. “We are all equal in the eyes of the law” the old story goes. But there is hardly a person among us who can’t tell a story right off the top of their head of some well connected person who got a big break. Still waiting for one person to be arrested and tried for the financial meltdown in 2007 and 2008? So am I. Maybe at least a few real questions of those who led us into an illegal war in Iraq? Still waiting.
In some of the cases above, actions taken were made legal even though they are, to many, repugnant and unethical. When you have money and can buy some influence, you get favors. The reason I used so many stories of workers having their pensions, often pensions they contributed to, flat out stolen from them is to bring it home to the reader. Yes, they are just like you and me. If you think you have a good job with a solid company or a government pension awaiting your golden years don’t be surprised if you wake up one day to find all that money in the back pocket of some Wall Street hedge fund manager and you looking at working until you die.
And when some politician, particularly a Republican tells me they are a Christian, I think of Ghandi’s statement: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” If you claim to follow the Ten Commandments then do something to stop the unethical laws, stop the thievery, stop the discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or skin color. In short let the beliefs you profess actually guide you.
Oh – what’s this? Illinois Congress member Aaron Shock living the high life on the taxpayer’s dime and campaign funds? Que surprise? Hey just rub our noses in it knowing that enough campaign commercials and you will forget – you always do.
On Tuesday, The Climate Reality Project announced three North American trainings, one of which will take place within a short commute from my home. Here is the announcement email I received from colleague Mario Molina:
Our New Delhi, India training is coming to a close, and we have some important news to share with you as we continue along the Road to Paris.
We’re hosting three trainings in North America this coming year — and we’re going to need your help to grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps! Below are the upcoming training locations and dates:
Will you share this exciting information with your networks today? We know some of our best new Climate Leaders will be sent to us from you, and we trust your judgment. As a matter of fact, our training in New Delhi boasted the highest ever referral rate from existing Climate Reality Leaders.
Each one of these trainings is a key stop along The Road to Paris, and it’s extremely important that by the time COP21 descends on Paris, we have a strong, loud, and dedicated group of leaders to demand climate action.
Training applications are now open, so don’t let these future leaders wait. Their opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.
Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and for inspiring your friends, family, and colleagues to join you.
Mario E. Molina
Climate Reality Leadership Corps Director
The Climate Reality Project
State Senator Joe Bolkcom, member of the natural resources and environment committee, spoke last Tuesday at the capitol about environmental issues.
“Is there anything related to the environment you would like to see covered in greater detail?” I asked.
“There are some questions around megadroughts coming mid-century,” he said. “Have we dedicated enough attention and resources to protecting underground water systems?”
Bolkcom pointed to a number of concerns: recent defunding of the Department of Natural Resources underground water monitoring system; gaining an understanding of the water withdrawal rate for ethanol plant operations; a needed review of policy by the Environmental Protection Commission; a review of DNR regulations pertaining to water permitting; the need for a geological survey of water resources, the Silurian and Jordan aquifers specifically; and the impact of water usage by data centers such as Google and Facebook. He had given the matter considerable thought.
“Should we have other thoughts about the Jordan and Silurian aquifers as we head toward 2050?” Bolkcom asked. “Today, once an industrial user secures a permit, they can withdraw as much water as they want.”
There were more questions than answers during my brief time with Bolkcom, but his thrust was that Iowa needs to do more to ensure resiliency during extended drought conditions.
It is difficult to forget the severe drought of 2012. Governor Branstad called a special meeting of agriculture groups in Mount Pleasant that July. (Read my coverage of that meeting here.) Climate change was completely absent from the discussion, even if farmers had to deal with its enhancement of drought conditions. To paraphrase the reaction, farmers planned to plow the crop under, capitalize the loss, and plant again the following year.
What if the drought extended more than a season or two? What if it lasted for decades? According to a study released this month that’s what we can expect.
“Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years,” according to a Feb. 12 press release issued in conjunction with a new study led by NASA scientists.
“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”
When Bolkcom referred to megadroughts, this is what he meant.
The potential exists for megadroughts more severe than any in recent history, according to the study published in Science Advances by Cook, Toby R. Ault and Jason E. Smerdon.
“Future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE),” the authors wrote. “The consistency of our results suggests an exceptionally high risk of a multidecadal megadrought occurring over the Central Plains and Southwest regions during the late 21st century, a level of aridity exceeding even the persistent megadroughts that characterized the Medieval era.”
Whether Bolkcom’s questions find answers is uncertain, however he is alone among legislators I spoke with in asking them. He was correct that members of the public haven’t engaged on something the legislature should be taking up during its 86th General Assembly.
Tip of the hat to www.dailykos/comics
As some of you may have read here Thursday Iowa is in the process of “studying” allowing the Bakken Oil to build a pipeline across Iowa. Minnesota is also looking at a pipeline from North Dakota crossing their land.
Rivers in West Virginia have had all sorts of chemicals and sludge dumped into them as though they were corporate toilets. Yet even with all that the West Virginia legislature is discussing rolling back environmental provisions even further.
Republicans have been targeting the Environmental Protection Agency from the day it was conceived by, oddly enough, Richard Nixon’s Administration. While crying about environmental laws in this country, corporations take their processes to countries with few laws so they can pollute freely over there.
One of the world’s largest cities is running out of water due to climate change, a condition many on the right refuse to acknowledge.
Oklahoma now has daily tremors, a condition that did not exist before fracking. Across the country we see many youtube videos of folks lighting their tap water on fire thanks to fracking.
In Iowa the water works in Des Moines is resorting to the courts to try to force the sate or county governments to enforce some standards on nitrates.
After many years companies are finally slowly taking micro beads out of cleansing products after these products had done much damage to fish and other aquatic wildlife.
And of course we are approaching the 5 year anniversary of the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (here is a story on the anniversary last year). Over the years the effects of the spill have slowly faded from the collective memory. The perpetrators have slowly been released from paying for the damages they caused. And projects with huge potential damage are in the works or being planned with little thought toward recovery in the case of problems. Call me old and cranky, but like many I don’t think that a company or a person should leave an area in worse shape than it was before they came. At the very least it should look like no one was there.
The earth is closing in on some tipping points. We may already be too late to reverse climate change with all the feared effects of wild weather and drought. Overpopulation has put a huge stress on earth’s resources. But some of the greatest stresses that the earth must endure are those put on it by industrial polluters. Using the skies, the rivers and the oceans as their toilets they have endangered much of the life on earth and their own species.
It is like they believe there is some kind of an escape hatch, some type of a new America that they can run from the mess they have made. News flash folks: they can’t and neither can we. The earth is full. There are no undiscovered lands on the earth. There are no “nearby” planets that can sustain life. There are no remote and undiscovered planets that could sustain our type of life. Even if there were planets we knew of, how would we get there?
Some subscribe to a theory that a supreme being will swoop down and make it all good. Aside from some mythological books written in the iron age there is no proof nor any real expectation that such will happen.
What we are left with then is humanity’s collective desire to survive on the one world we have and the only world we will have into the foreseeable future. Few want to see their children or grandchildren suffer. People will sacrifice today for their posterity. Our forefathers and mothers did so. Before we have pipelines we need real plans for clean up and restoration. Resources (money) for such restoration must come from those who stand to gain from such projects and not from the taxes of the citizens.
But our political systems worldwide are geared to serve those who have money and power. This has always been true to some degree, but the Supreme Court took the lid off a few years back wight the Citizens United v. FEC decision. Now we find power pretty much fully controlled by those with money.
One thing for sure. No one dies from a spill of sunlight.
There has been a lot of news about the Dakota Access Pipeline (aka Bakken Oil Pipeline) during the last three months. Where does the project stand? Here’s a Blog for Iowa update based on information gathered this week.
On Jan. 20, Dakota Access, LLC, an Energy Transfer Company, filed its petition for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit with the Iowa Utilities Board in Docket No. HLP-2014-0001 according to Donald Tormey, IUB spokesperson.
After the petition has been fully reviewed by board staff and is determined to be sufficiently in order, an order will be issued by the board setting the date for a public hearing.
“Due to the size of this project, the petition review process will take considerable time and there is no certain way to predict an exact hearing date,” Tormey said. “When a hearing date is established, it will be posted on the Board’s hearing and meeting calendar on the IUB website.”
During a meeting with state Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) Tuesday, he said a bill has been introduced into the legislature to increase the amount of liability insurance for companies seeking to pursue large projects such as the Bakken Oil Pipeline. State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) said he is seeking House support for a similar bill.
Wally Taylor and Pam Mackey Taylor, representing the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, were at the capitol soliciting signatures on a letter to the IUB opposing approval of the Dakota Access project. The draft letter cited four reasons for opposition. The pipeline would provide no benefit to Iowans, landowners would be forced to give up their land by eminent domain, pipelines leak, and the pipeline will further enable this country’s addiction to oil.
A new pipeline will delay the U.S. transition to clean and renewable energy and more fuel-efficient vehicles according to the Sierra Club.
The period for filing comments, objections and letters of support is still open according to Tormey. Anyone seeking to file objections, comments, and letters of support in this docket may do so by using the Iowa Utilities Board’s Electronic Filing System (EFS), citing the docket number, and clicking on the “Submit Filing” tab and following all instructions to log-in as a guest. Persons lacking computer access may file written comments by mailing them to the Iowa Utilities Board, Executive Secretary, Docket No. HLP-2014-0001, 1375 E. Court Ave., Rm 69, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0069
100Grannies for a Livable Future planned a series of lectures intended to educate and encourage members of the public to take climate action. The lectures will take place beginning in February at the Iowa City Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St. Lecturers include, Jerry Schnoor, Connie Mutel, Miriam Kashia, Ferman Milster and Cindy Spading.
Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m.: “Sustainable Systems” by Jerald Schnoor, Allen S. Henry Chair in Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Iowa. Schnoor will discuss how sustainable systems can reverse dangerous climate change and opine as to whether the U.S. will be a leader at the Dec. 11 international meeting on climate change in Paris.
Feb. 9, 6 p.m.: “Writing Climate Change” by Cornelia F. Mutel, senior science writer for IIHR – Hydroscience and Engineering, University of Iowa. Mutel, author of “The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa,” and editor of “A Watershed Year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008,” will speak about her current project, a book that addresses climate change through the use of memoir and story-telling.
Feb. 23, 6 p.m.: “My March for Climate Action” by Miriam Kashia. Kashia closed her psychotherapy private practice in Iowa City in 2005 at age 62 and spent more than two years in Namibia with the Peace Corps where her primary assignment was helping meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. She will share stories she witnessed all across the U.S. while on the Great March for Climate Action — stories of the destruction already being experienced by communities from climate calamities as well as from the actions of extreme energy extraction methods used by fossil fuel corporations.
March 2, 6 p.m.: “The University of Iowa Biomass Fuel Project” by Ferman Milster, registered professional engineer, University of Iowa Office of Sustainability. Milster will discuss how cofiring dedicated energy crops (blending coal and biomass fuels) is a way to capture sunlight energy, use Iowa’s agricultural resources, and produce energy for use on the UI campus. Dedicated energy crops, one source of biomass, produce disproportionate benefits in the areas of soil conservation and water quality. He also will describe other forms of biomass, such as organic industrial byproducts and wood.
March 9, 6 p.m.: “The Impact of Food on the Environment” by Cindy Spading, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. Spading will discuss how eating less meat and dairy is good for both the planet and human health. The emphasis will be on how to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet.
“It is unfortunate that Republicans have refused to move any comprehensive jobs legislation to keep jobs from going overseas. A good first start would be an immediate consideration of a long-term transportation bill so American workers can get back to work and the U.S. economic recovery can be further enhanced.” – Rep. Dave Loebsack
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement after the House voted on the Keystone Pipeline.
“I have long subscribed to the belief that the best course of action regarding energy policy is to move from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy as quickly and as feasibly as possible. I understand the concerns about the potential impact of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. At the same time, any decision such as the one regarding Keystone is hardly a simple or easy one to make. Environmental concerns are important, but so are other factors.
“In my mind, one of the most important reasons is the infrastructure jobs that will be created due to the construction of the pipeline. I am fully aware of the short-term nature of the 40,000 plus jobs that will be created by this project. But I cast my vote today in favor of creating these jobs that can’t be shipped overseas and for the countless hardworking men and women who put their hard hats on every morning so that they can put food on the table and help their children pay for college. We have seen Wall Street recover, yet working folks across Iowa and America continue to wait their turn. Our focus must continue to be on improving the economy, getting Americans back to work, and moving our country forward. It is unfortunate that Republicans have refused to move any comprehensive jobs legislation to keep jobs from going overseas. A good first start would be an immediate consideration of a long-term transportation bill so American workers can get back to work and the U.S. economic recovery can be further enhanced.
“Additionally, today’s vote marks only the beginning of the work Congress must do on energy policy during the next session and in the years beyond. First, we must do all we can to reduce carbon at its sources and ensure that polluters bear the costs of their action. This can be done by imposing a carbon fee on the pollution emitted by the use of fossil fuels, with the revenue generated returned to households. We also must extend the Production Tax Credit to continue to spur the generation of wind power, extend the Investment Tax Credit to incentivize the development of solar power, and continue other policies to enable the increased use of other renewable forms of energy. These policies will both protect our environment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs across America. These efforts will continue to move our nation on a path that practically and affordably moves us farther from reliance on fossil fuels and towards significantly more use of renewables.”
[Bolding added by BFIA]
During the run-up to the Nov. 18 vote on S-2280, a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, I messaged Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, asking them to vote no. Harkin voted no, Grassley yes.
Senator Grassley sent along an explanation of his vote, which is pasted below. As he indicated, the motion failed to pass the Senate. What this letter doesn’t say is that I asked him to vote no, without any other comment. I have been around politics too long to believe that logic and rational thinking have much to do with why a U.S. Senator votes a certain way.
The framing of Grassley’s response points out the challenges opponents of the pipeline will have once the 114th Congress convenes. His arguments are rational in their way, if misguided.
It is hard to disagree with building a pipeline per se. There are many pipelines in the world, and they are a mode of transportation that serves the oil and natural gas industry, which in turn supports political stability. As Grassley pointed out, building pipelines creates jobs.
This is not a partisan issue. In Hillary Clinton’s secretary of state memoir, she mentions building pipelines several times, always as a solution to energy problems which in turn increases political stability around the globe. It will be hard to win the argument against Keystone XL because of the existential fact of it being a pipeline.
If oil prices continue to decline, the economic conditions which made the Tar Sands viable will erode. The reasons for declining oil prices are complex, but it boils down to a combination of increased U.S. shale oil production, lack of willingness by OPEC to curb production, and our society’s addiction to fossil fuels. It seems unlikely that the oil and gas industry will allow prices to get too low, and we are not in control here, except for our personal energy choices.
Something’s got to give to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Plugging an electric car into our household grid is not an answer if all we do is switch our energy source from gasoline to coal and nuclear, both of which have their own risks to human health. Grassley doesn’t directly mention decreasing reliance on fossil fuels as an issue in his response.
The argument about what happens to the oil in Texas is unresolved, despite Grassley’s assertion otherwise. The issue with refining, in light of increased U.S. oil production, is one of limited capacity. It has been a while since I was familiar with refining operations, but I suspect refineries are still running every minute they can to keep up with demand.
Could the refineries re-tool to handle Tar Sands oil? Yes, definitely. Is there an economic reason to do so when there is plenty of Middle East oil entering the Gulf of Mexico at a low price? Probably not in the short term, and there appears to be little interest in increasing refining capacity in light of the current regulatory environment. Going forward, one would expect the Tar Sands crude oil to be exported the way U.S. light sweet crude currently is—because the refineries are already doing all they can to keep up with imports.
Grassley’s right to say we should decrease our reliance on imported oil. The simple fact is there is not enough oil being produced in North America to meet U.S. needs, and as I mentioned, there are economic constraints to refining capacity. What is missing is affirmation of the need to decrease use of fossil fuels, and that’s more the problem with the response.
The trouble for opponents of Keystone XL is that Grassley takes apart many of their arguments in a way that will build political support for a likely re-consideration of the project in 2017, if not in 2015. It is important to read his response and learn from it… and hope the climate doesn’t reach the tipping point while we dance around what most needs doing: reducing and eliminating our reliance on fossil and nuclear fuels.
Charles E. Grassley
December 4, 2014
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you.
I appreciate knowing your concerns regarding the crude oil pipeline from Canada to Nebraska called the Keystone XL pipeline. On November 18, 2014, the Senate held debate and voted on S. 2280, a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. I was an original cosponsor of this bill and supported its passage. However, the bill failed by a final vote of 59-41, one vote short of the 60 votes necessary for it to pass the Senate.
The pipeline would supply more than 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude oil to U.S. refineries and help to counteract both insufficient domestic oil supplies in the United States and reduce dependence on less reliable foreign sources. The Keystone XL pipeline is a $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline that would create thousands of private-sector jobs at no cost to American taxpayers.
In 2008, TransCanada applied for a presidential permit from the State Department to construct and operate the pipeline. Due to environmental concerns, the State of Nebraska approved a modified route in January, 2013. Following this modification, the State Department released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the new presidential permit application. The State Department noted that oil sands development would go ahead regardless of the production of the pipeline by using different pipelines or rail to get to market. The report essentially found that the pipeline would not accelerate greenhouse gas emissions or significantly harm the environment along its route.
After nearly six years of rigorous regulatory review, the State Department issued its fifth environmental review on January 31, 2014. This fifth review reached the same conclusion as earlier reviews. It found that the pipeline will have no significant impact on the environment and is the safest way to transport the oil. It also found that rejection of the pipeline will not affect Canada’s decision to develop these oil resources. The administration had been in the middle of a 90-day review period for federal agencies assessing the State Department’s environmental study when, on April 18, 2014, the State Department announced an indefinite extension of the agency comment period.
Opponents of the Keystone pipeline argue that the pipeline will not increase oil and gas supplies in the United States, rather, that all of the Canadian crude would be sold to world markets. Even President Obama reiterated this claim when he said the pipeline would allow the Canadians to “pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else.” However, the Washington Post “Fact Checker” disproved this claim. It noted that the State Department’s final environmental impact statement specifically disputed claims that the oil would pass through the United States and be loaded onto vessels for ultimate sale in foreign markets. It found that the crude oil would almost certainly be refined in the United States, with at least 50 percent of the refined products remaining in the U.S. market. It stated, “market conditions could change, of course, but there is little basis to claim that virtually all of the product, or even a majority, would be exported.”
The energy and economic development benefits of this pipeline are too important to delay any longer. We need an all-of-the-above approach to meet the country’s energy needs and give consumers choice. That means oil, ethanol, electricity from wind, and nuclear power. A pipeline would be safer than transporting oil by rail. Canada will produce this oil with or without U.S. involvement in the shipment. I’d rather work with one of our strongest allies than continue to get oil from the volatile Middle East or Venezuela.
What is needed now in the United States is an increased supply of oil. It is simple economics. If you increase the supply, you decrease the price. We are still relying on a very finite amount of oil. We must increase our own domestic supply of energy while promoting the use of alternative sources of energy at the same time. I will continue to support these goals with your thoughts in mind.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate receiving your comments and urge you to keep in touch.
People don’t connect the dots between lower gasoline prices and the shale oil boom.
Yesterday I filled my gas tank for $23.70, with the per gallon price in the mid-$2.40 range. That’s not low compared to when I commuted to Eldridge and fueled at Walcott for $1.02 per gallon for what seemed like months. Neither is it like when I was young and gas wars yielded prices below $0.30, enabling me to top off my tank for a buck or two. However, we are now below $3 per gallon with the prospect of going lower, so prices seems low in a short-term, relativistic way.
There is no doubt that the revolution in shale oil production through hydraulic fracturing is causing the lower oil and natural gas prices in the U.S. The shale boom is replicable world-wide (at least to some degree) because shale is a common and abundant form of sedimentary rock. In some ways, the game changing of shale is just getting started, even though it began in the 1940s.
When I was in my 20s, we thought shale oil was inaccessible. Hydraulic fracturing is a technology that revolutionized exploration, development and production of shale oil. In light of higher oil prices, it became profitable. Some credit goes to politicians, but most credit goes to the oil companies who persistently lobbied for a relaxed regulatory environment with anyone who could be influenced from the president on down.
What does this mean besides lower gasoline prices? Three things seem most important.
The arguments for and against hydraulic fracturing are reasonably accessible.
“Hydraulic fracturing is highly controversial, proponents advocating economic benefits of readily accessible hydrocarbons, and opponents concerned for the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, degradation of the air quality, the triggering of earthquakes, noise pollution, surface pollution, and the consequential risks to health and the environment,” according to Wikipedia.
There is plenty of meaning in the existential fact of hydraulic fracturing and use of its products. What is less discussed is the impact on climate change, and the impact on renewable energy development.
While shale oil production is booming, 2014 will be the warmest year on earth since record-keeping began, and a clear departure from the climatic conditions in which the industrial revolution emerged. It’s hot and getting hotter world-wide. The climate has changed and is changing.
It is a scientific fact that man-made pollution is contributing to the warming planet. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide when burned. While part of domestic carbon emission reductions during the last ten years have come by switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation, there are problems.
Methane released as a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing operations is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Methane leakage would reduce the value of the air pollution reduction realized by shifting electricity production from coal to natural gas. Some say methane leakage could negate any gains made in CO2 reductions from switching from coal to natural gas.
As a fossil fuel, natural gas should be viewed only as a so-called bridge fuel, although the clear and present danger is that it will be perceived as a destination fuel and become a permanent fixture in our energy mix.
That raises the third issue. There is a broader economic impact that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) spelled out in a Dec. 10, 2014 article. Not only is gasoline cheap in a shale gas development scenario, it is impacting the U.S. energy mix, and nuclear power and renewables are taking the hit.
The basic argument about bridge fuels is that the shale boom and its products can act as “bridge” fuels, curbing emissions while non-fossil energy sources such as renewables and nuclear energy are ramped up.
As we have seen in Iowa, new nuclear power has become financially untenable unless its excessive costs can be passed along to rate payers.
Not only are new nuclear power plants imperiled because of the economics of the shale boom, existing nuclear plants have been as well. “While cheap gas is not the only culprit eroding the profitability of nuclear energy, it is the straw that is breaking the camel’s back,” wrote BAS.
What’s more important is the economics of shale gas are suppressing development of renewable energy. As we have seen in Iowa, without government subsidies of renewable energy, production of new renewable capacity languishes. In the current political climate, it is uncertain whether renewable energy subsidies will continue, and for how long.
While the economics of wind and solar may be reaching parity with fossil fuels in some markets, we are not there yet, and the subsidies are essential to continuing development of alternatives to fossil fuels.
It is important that we extend our reach beyond personal or family budgets and do what is right about the shale boom. That means developing the political will to finish a transition to a fossil fuel free world.
Easier said than done, but the price society will pay for failing to do so is much higher than what we see at the gas pump.