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.

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Audits Show Green Buildings Don't Save Energy

September 15, 2009 in Blog

There is a growing consensus that "green" building standards, like those Washington adopted in 2005, don't live up to their promise. Many of the reasons cited echo the data and flaws we've highlighted in the past.

In their article "Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label," the New York Times notes that buildings built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard aren't saving energy as expected.

One problem, they note, is that "the certification relies on energy models to predict how much energy a planned building will use, but council officials and many experts agree that such models are inexact." This has been a particular problem in Washington state where the Seattle City Hall and numerous schools were projected to save energy, but ended up increasing energy use. Our research has shown that in virtually every school district, green schools use more energy per square foot than recently-built schools that don't meet the arbitrary standard.

One reason, as we've noted, is that these buildings use large windows in an effort to increase natural lighting. Those windows, however, see large energy losses in the Winter and large energy gains in the Summer, making it difficult to keep a room at a consistent temperature. One person in the NY Times article noted:

But Mr. Siegal, 59, a customs service broker, said his three-bedroom apartment has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that offer great views but also strong drafts. “If there’s a lot of glass, is that going to be efficient?” he asked.

The same problems were found by the San Francisco Chronicle.

In an article titled "Green buildings standard seen as flawed," the Chronicle notes that "many buildings certified as green under a broadly accepted national standard for energy savings are not performing as well as predicted." As a result, San Francisco is looking to change the rules.

Worse, it is widely acknowledged that these regulations increase the cost of buildings -- funding that could go to helping teach school children or on projects that actually help the environment.

The best solution is to let districts find the best way to design buildings that save energy. The fact that districts were building schools that are more efficient than the schools built following the new regulation shows that local districts have the incentives and knowledge to build good schools. That knowledge consistently outperforms the cookie-cutter approach now mandated by law.

Politicians and activists who support these standards often argue that they are necessary to reduce carbon emissions. The question is, if they continue to support policies that don't actually reduce carbon, do they really care about the environment?

Governor’s Office looks to streamline Natural Resource Agencies, seeks citizen feedback

September 15, 2009 in Blog

As part of an effort by Governor Gregoire to reduce duplicative process in government, the Governor’s Natural Resource Subcabinet has released more than twenty “ideas” that they hope will provide “a starting point for further discussion” as they seek ways to consolidate services, improve efficiency and reduce costs  within the natural resource agencies.

Some of the ideas that are being suggested by the Subcabinet include:
· Reorganizing existing agencies in to new agency models,
· Using a unified vision model to prioritize and synchronize management,
· Re-align and co-locate regional offices,
· Sharing Services and functions,
· Improving environmental protection, permitting and compliance and
· Streamlining of quasi-judicial boards.

Additional information and analysis of the “ideas” presented by the Natural resource Subcabinet can be found here: Ideas to Improve Management of Washington’s Natural Resources.

The Subcabinet is also looking for feedback from citizens.  To provide feedback on the Subcabinet’s “ideas”, as well as provide your own ideas, you can use the Electronic Feedback Survey or send an email to resource [dot] reform [at] ofm [dot] wa [dot] gov.

Comments will be accepted until October 28, 2009.

Mixed Results from Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency Contracts

September 6, 2009 in Publications

During the past several years, Washington has engaged in a number of efforts to improve energy efficiency with the goal of reducing costs and emissions of greenhouse gases. There have been, primarily, two types of efforts: performance-based contracting and promotion of “green” building standards. Both of these policies have been in place for a few years and data are available to assess their performance. Examining the data from these efforts, we find that the results are mixed at best, with a number of investments that are unlikely ever to pay off.

Greens vs. Science: End of the World Edition

August 28, 2009 in Blog

It is the mantra of the environmental left that they "follow the science." Frequently, however, repeating that claim substitutes for actually adhering to scientific rigor.

The latest example comes today in the Seattle Times, where State Senator Phil Rockefeller claims that "Quite literally, greenhouse-gas emissions threaten to render our planet unlivable." This is simply not true by any reasonable standard.

The body most often cited as the basis for the "scientific consensus," the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that such a threat is virtually nonexistent. The most likely scenario under a "business as usual" approach to carbon emissions is an increase of 1 to 3 degrees C (1.8 to 5.4 degrees F). It should be noted that if we apply current temperature trends, the projections are at the lowest end of that range. Saying that such increases would render the planet "unlivable" is hyperbole to the extreme.

The public should be dubious of policies that rely on unscientific hyperbole for justification.

Additonal analysis of cap-and-trade; will cost jobs and economy

August 27, 2009 in Blog

Earlier this week I noted several key findings from the Heritage Foundation’s state-by-state economic analysis of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, H.R. 2454.

In related news, Association of Washington Business (AWB) President, Don Brunell, noted on AWB’s Olympia Business Watch blog, a separate economic analysis conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF).

Both of the economic analysis’ provided by Heritage and NAM/ACCF show that the Waxman-Markey legislation will have substantial negative impacts on Washington state’s economy and job market.

Here are a couple of additional key findings that Brunell noted from the NAM/ACCF economic analysis:

    - decrease in disposable income of $696 – 1,213
    - increase in gasoline prices of 21 – 27%
    - electricity price increase of 19%
    - natural gas up 77%

Of particular note, NAM/ACCF finds that:

“The impacts of W/M will be felt especially by the poor who… will spend between 12.4% and 12.8% of their income on energy under W/M compared to a projected 11.5% without W/M.”

This in comparison to a claim by the Congressional Budget Office which found, “that households in the lowest quintile would see an average net benefit of $40 in 2020.”

Cap-and-trade's $7 billion stamp for Washington

August 25, 2009 in Blog

Thumbnail Last week the Heritage Foundation, a public policy research institute based in Washington D.C., released its state-by-state economic analysis of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, H.R. 2454, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins this past June.

Heritage’s research shows that the Waxman-Markey legislation, as it is before the U.S. Senate, would result in the annual loss of Washington state gross product by more than $7.1 billion, reduce personal income by $2.6 billion and destroy more than 25,000 jobs annually between 2012 through 2035.

The cost of the Heritage’s analysis is in stark contrast to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis.  Heritage elaborated on the shortcomings of CBO’s analysis, pointing out that:

“Their allowance cost numbers do not add up; they ignore economic costs such as the decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of the bill; and the analysis is an accounting analysis, not an economic analysis.”

As a result, the CBO analysis likely underestimates costs which led members of the House to claim that the federal cap-and-trade policies would cost an average U.S. family less than the price of a stamp per day.

In addition to providing the state-by-state analysis, Heritage also broke down the costs of the federal cap-and-trade legislation by congressional district.  The table below, pulled from the Heritage report, shows the impacts to Washington State by congressional district:Wm2504_table1-12 (2)
In total, seven of the nine Congressional Representatives from Washington supported H.R. 2454.  They include, Representative Inslee, Larsen, Baird, Dicks, McDermott, Reichert and Smith.

Where to Fill Your Hydrogen Car

August 24, 2009 in Blog

Washington has designated I-5 its "hydrogen highway" in an effort to highlight that emerging technology. A new online tool will help you find filling stations along the highway.

The National Hydrogen Association (motto: "Hydrogen is #1...on the periodic table") has launched a web page that allows you to enter your state and shows you all the filling stations available. So I decided to test it. I entered a search for currently operating hydrogen filling stations in Washington and it said:

    No results found. Try another search ?

OK, that was just for existing stations. How about planned stations?

    No results found. Try another search ?

Hmm. Could it be that despite government subsidies and advocacy the technology isn't feasible? Could government have chosen the wrong technology?

Will we count the green jobs that we eliminate?

August 17, 2009 in Blog

At the Washington Policy Center, we have long advocated for natural resources industries, such as forestry, for both its sustainability and as vital part of our economy.

Earlier this month the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), at their 2009 Convention,adopted resolution #21 to support forest products jobs as green jobs.  Their adoption of this resolution is an affirmation for WPC policy recommendations. The resolution reads:

“WHEREAS, all forest products workers who work with sustainable forests and its products consider these green jobs;
WHEREAS, forest industry jobs include loggers, log haulers, pulp and paper workers, mill workers and all jobs that lead back to sustainable forests;
WHEREAS, annually in the United States unmanaged forest wild fires create carbon footprints equal to 54 million cars; and
WHEREAS, there is no greater example of carbon sequestering than a well-managed forest and its products; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the WSLC endorses forest product jobs as green jobs.”

But just last week Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced adoption of new forest practice rules that will further reduce the amount of wood harvested, requiring supply to be made up overseas.  This action will undoubtedly eliminate some of the family wage jobs that the WSLC just voted to support.

The discrepancy between the WSLC’s adopted resolution in support of green jobs comes at a time when policies, like DNR’s new forest practice rules, continue to eliminate sustainable resource jobs.

With so much attention on green jobs that are“created,” we should ask if the state plans to count the green jobs that they eliminate.

The Environmental Costs of the Seattle Bag Tax

August 13, 2009 in Blog

Today's Seattle Times has a graphic outlining the environmental impacts of plastic bags. It says "Here’s a look at the environmental costs of bags," noting water use and CO2 emissions would be reduced. It indicates that water use for bag production will be reduced by 39 million gallons each year and it will reduce CO2 emissions by 6,000 tons each year. The estimated annual cost to achieve these goals is $10 million.

It is useful to put those numbers in context and relate the costs to the benefits.

One key question for any environmental policy is whether we could achieve the same environmental benefits for a lower cost. This is not only a concern about keeping taxes low (which in a tough economy should be reason enough), but it also asks whether we could do more for the environment with the same amount of money.

With regard to water and CO2 and even trash, the answer is "yes." Even if the bag tax performs as supporters promise, it wastes resources and misses opportunities to make real environmental improvements.

While 6,000 tons of CO2 sounds like quite a bit, it is actually a very small amount. In Europe it currently costs $20.52 to reduce one metric ton (2,204 lbs) of CO2. Reducing 6,000 short tons of CO2 would cost $111,731.40, or 1 percent of the cost of the bag tax.

When it comes to water, the Seattle Times' graphic notes that the tax would reduce the water used to make bags but doesn't put the number in context. Each day, Seattle uses about 130 million gallons of water. Reducing water use by 39 million gallons a year is less than one one-hundredth of one percent of water used in Seattle. Even that number is probably too high. Many of those 39 million gallons are used outside the city limits of Seattle, so reducing water use for bags doesn't reduce Seattle's direct water use. So, the amount of water saved by this tax is infinitesimal.

How much is that amount of water worth? Using residential rates, which have the highest marginal rates, the cost for 39 million gallons (5,213,904 cubic feet) is between $169,452 and $553,716 depending on the amount used, assuming use during peak times.

In other words, the bag tax will cost $10 million to create environmental benefits that could be acquired for $281,183.40.

Finally, the focus of most of the argument is on the reduction in trash in landfills. The Times estimates that plastic bags cost about $3.85 million annually to manage, about 2.5 percent of the total trash budget. Assuming that the bag tax reduces bag use by 50 percent, it could save $1.9 million each year. There are two things to understand about this number.

First, this number is high because it is unlikely that the City will reduce staffing or overhead costs because they still have to deal with all the other trash. Thus, a reduction of one percent in load does not equate to a one percent reduction in cost.

Second, it should be remembered that we already pay to collect that trash. While the bag tax increases costs for bags, it does not reduce the garbage taxes already being paid. So, Seattle taxpayers are unlikely to see any savings despite a reduction in trash volume. The Times does estimate that the City would use 47 fewer railcars of trash. Based on a rough estimate of cost per railcar, that amounts to less than $200,000 per year.

Adding the reductions in trash, water and CO2, the bag tax creates about $500,000 of benefit for $10 million in taxes.

Some will respond by saying that it is worthwhile to reduce our environmental footprint and that while the cost may be high, the need is great. But this argument is simply incorrect. Proponents of the bag tax claim to be concerned about waste of resources. Waste of money is waste of resources and the City could receive more environmental benefit by spending $1 million to reduce CO2, water and trash. The ironic conclusion is that the bag tax creates more waste by missing opportunities to reduce environmental impact.

Until environmental activists do a more rigorous analysis of the policies they propose, they will continue to support efforts that not only have little impact but are actually counterproductive.

It's Not an Error...We've Simply Updated Our Knowledge

August 11, 2009 in Blog

Two years ago, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction put out a video claiming all manner of benefits from green schools, including that one school in Spokane reduced its energy costs by about $40,000.

We noted at the time that this claim about the benefits of green schools was silly. We noted then:

A quick fact check shows that the number is not only wrong, but isn't even reasonable. The three elementary schools using the green building standards in Spokane have average annual energy costs of about $44,000 a year each. Schools would have to be reducing their energy costs by 90% a year.

Now the OSPI has admitted that the data is incorrect. There is a disclaimer on the web page with the video that reads:

Please note:
This video was produced in 2007 and may not represent current conditions and knowledge of high-performance schools.

What they don't say, of course, is that current knowledge indicates that energy savings are far below (or non-existent) what is claimed in the video. Indeed, the Spokane school highlighted in the video actually uses more energy per square foot than a recently-built, non-green school in the same district.

We'll see if the OSPI and Ecology make use of this new knowledge when reporting to the legislature.