Environment

WPC's Center for the Environment brings balance to the environmental debate by promoting the idea that human progress and prosperity work in a free economy to protect the environment.

What's New

Expensive and Ineffective Cap-and-Spend Replaces Cap-and-Trade in Washington

November 18, 2008 in Publications

After the Legislature passed legislation earlier this year to support a regional cap-and-trade effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, environmental activists are now looking to modify the system, increasing the costs and making it less likely to effectively reduce CO2 emissions. The new system puts hundreds of millions, even billions, in the hands of politicians, hoping they will make good decisions about reducing greenhouse gases. The problem with this cap-and-spend approach is that it imposes an enormous new tax increase on Washington residents and rather than encouraging efficiency, will provide incentives for businesses to avoid the system, leading to loss of Washington jobs while doing little to reduce emissions. This month the Environmental Watch looks at the pitfalls of this costly and ineffective new proposal.

Fix it quick before the problem goes away!

November 11, 2008 in Blog

Back in June there was a lot of angst about oil prices and the fault was laid at the feet of "speculators" who some accused of driving prices up. Here is what New Jersey Governor and Obama ally Jon Corzine said at the time:

"I think everyone believes there's too much speculation in the oil markets," said New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, an Obama ally who announced the proposals in a conference call with reporters. "A lot of the price of oil, I think, people put at the doorstep of speculators bidding up and holding supplies off the market."

Oil prices have fallen from $145 to $60 a barrel in six months, the fastest decline in history. Without government regulation.

Back in June I wrote that such government regulation would be risky and that I had more faith in consumers and oil purchasers to find the proper price because "speculators risk their own money." Those who bought oil at $140, or more, a barrel are not very happy right now. Consumers reduced their demand, oil consumption fell, oil purchasers became nervous about being overextended and prices fell.

During a campaign it is understandable that candidates would pander, promising to solve the issue du jour with resolute government action. The case of oil "speculation," however should be an object lesson to politicians who jump at the chance to add permanent and costly government regulation rather than allowing the aggregated decisions of millions of people to adjust prices.

The ultimate irony, however, is that Obama's supporters who wanted to crack down on speculators because of the oil price spike will now lament that cheap oil is encouraging people to drive more. Don't be surprised when those same folks call for an increase in gas prices to fight climate change.

Public comment period on Puget Sound Partnership's Action Agenda begins!

November 6, 2008 in Blog

The Puget Sound Partnership released today a draft copy of its Action Agenda.  The Agenda, according to the Partnership, will serve as a roadmap to help prioritize cleanup projects and protection plans for the Puget Sound.

The public is invited to participate in a public comment period, which begings today and will close on November 20, 2008.  The Partnership is required to deliver a finalized Agenda to the legislator by December 1, 2008.

Also released today is a draft of the Partnership's  Finance Plan  outlining how the Partnership proposes to pay for the Agenda action items.  The Partnership is estimating that it will cost, at a minimum, $200 million to $300 million to implement the Agenda in the 2009 - 11 biennium.

Stay tuned for more details...

How did environmental measures on ballots fare this election?

November 6, 2008 in Blog

Wind power This past week voters in several states were asked to vote on a variety of ballot measures that included environmental initiatives.  The results might just surprise you.

Keith Johnson, writer of Environmental Capital - Wall Street Journal, provides a great play by play of the separate measures in his blog post yesterday Not So Green: Voters Nix Most Environmental State Ballot Measures.

Of particular interest to me is the one measure that passed in Missouri.  Johnson explains that the Missouri measure:

"set out to gradually increase the use of renewable energy to 15% by 2021, mandating slow-but-steady yearly increases. That’s the kind of measure that power companies and electricity grid operators like, because it gives them time to absorb the new power into the system without disruptions."

According to the news story, Too much wind power may be bad news for endangered salmon, it appears that Missouri's "slow-but-steady" approach may be the right move.

Low Impact Development Standards: State's Top-down Approach Not Working

October 1, 2008 in Publications

For the past several years the State of Washington, through the Puget Sound Partnership, has being leading the charge to stop negative impacts of development on the environment. Millions of dollars have been spent at all levels of government to regulate development by using Low Impact Development techniques. These regulations include retention of native vegetation, rain gardens and many other techniques that are meant to capture pollutants and eliminate stormwater runoff.

ST2 will not reduce CO2 emissions as officials claim

September 17, 2008 in Blog

Will Sound Transit's new $22.8 billion light rail proposal reduce CO2 emissions?

As a commenter in a previous post mentioned, the answer is quite different than what Sound Transit supporters suggest.

Alex Fryer, a representative of the "yes" campaign was quoted in a recent PI article on Sound Transit's new light rail study. He said:

"One thing that really struck me is, when people get a sense of the
greenhouse gas levels that will be reduced, that will be a compelling
argument," said Alex Fryer of the group Mass Transit Now.

Sound Transit's study says that ST2 could reduce annual CO2 emissions between 99,552 metric tons 178,333 metric tons. That is an annual reduction of between 0.71% and 1.11%.

It should also be noted that the Sound Transit study does not account for the carbon output of construction of ST2, which has been shown to erase all of its CO2 reductions.

Nevertheless, lets assume ST2 will reduce CO2 emissions by the amounts cited in the study.

Terrapass, a nationally known firm that sells carbon offsets, charges $5.95 per 1,000 lbs of carbon reductions.

Using this conversion calculator (convert metric tons to lbs, divide by 1000, then multiply by 5.95) shows the same CO2 reduction could be achieved by purchasing carbon offsets for between $1.3 million and $2.3 million.

For $22.8 billion, ST2's ability to reduce greenhouse gas levels is not exactly the "compelling argument," Alex Fryer claims. 

Meat in your diet?

September 10, 2008 in Blog

Beef, its what's for dinner!  Not according to the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, who recently told The Observer, a British paper, that reducing consumption of meat would have a positive impact on climate change.  In fact, in The Observer he said:

"In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of brining about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity," said Pachauri. "Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there."

However, as silly as Pachauri's suggestion may sound, it is the conclusion in a column by Bryan Walsh in TIME that may have many Americans struggling to s!
wallow this idea.  Walsh writes in argument against Pachauri's voluntary solution, stating:

"Relying on individuals to voluntarily change their behavior is nowhere near as effective as political change aimed at speeding the transition to an economy far less carbon-intensive than our current one."

Relying on "political change" or the governmnet to supply us with the answers to problems has proven to be costly and often wrong.  While Pachauri's suggestion seems silly, at least it will be my choice and not the governmnet's decision of what is put on my dinner table.

Moving to Government-Owned Power

September 2, 2008 in Publications

This November, citizens in Jefferson, Island and Skagit Counties will vote on whether to continue receiving their electric service from a regulated, privately-owned company or from a public utility instead. Puget Sound Energy (PSE), a privately-owned utility, has been the longtime provider of electrical services in these counties, but the announcement that PSE might be purchased by an overseas investment group has caused many people to ask whether it would be better to set up a local utility district to provide electrical services.

Car-Free Days Are Seattle's Latest Eco-Fad, but Are There Any Real Benefits?

September 1, 2008 in Publications

As part of the Seattle’s Climate Action Now campaign, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has asked Seattleites to reduce the number of vehicle miles driven by 1,000 miles annually. The Mayor says citizens should do this to help the city reach its official global warming reduction goal. To force Seattleites to participate, the Mayor announced early this summer the closure of three streets, which took place on Sundays in August and September. These closures are part of a growing eco-fad known as Car-Free Days.

Air quality better even as standards tighten

August 19, 2008 in Blog

This past weekend the City of Seattle and surrounding areas violated the Federal Clean Air Act and if you read today’s coverage by the Seattle Times, found here, you might be alarmed by some of the claims that were made by Reporter Isaac Arnsdorf.  In his article, Arnsdorf writes:

Now that the region failed to meet the stricter standard, Washington's governor will have to report to the EPA in 2009 which areas of the state are too polluted. The EPA will then evaluate the governor's recommendation and finalize the designat!
ion in 2010, at which time local officials will have three years to develop and present a plan to clean up the air…The details of such a plan could range from tightening auto inspections to canceling Mariners' games on hot days.

In an email response to Arnsdorf, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Executive Director Dennis McLerran wrote:

I don't think anyone would consider cancellation of baseball games to be an effective strategy for reducing ozone precursors in the region. 

Additionally, the violation should come as no surprise based on reports last week from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency that cautioned Puget Sound area residents that ozone levels, commonly referred to as smog, could reach levels that would require the State to be considered a “nonattainment area”.  The term “nonattainment area” is a fancy way to say that there is too much smog in the air.

What may be a surprise to most is that the Seattle is in violation not simply as a result of increased pollution, but instead because of increased standards that were issued earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In March the EPA lowered standards of acceptable smog particles per million (ppm) from .08 to .075 ppm.  For their part the Seattle PI, seen here, wrote a fair article that expressed this point, unfortunately the Times article did not.

In 1992, the last time the State had a “nonattainment area”, the standard set by EPA was .12 ppm.  The three year average that put Seattle over the top this time was .077 ppm, barely breaking the allowable standard today, but nevertheless this shows the vast improvements made in our overall air quality since 1992.