Election issues: Proposed solutions for global warming
Reader feedback at end
E minus 57 - Last week’s focus was on political convention messaging; now we’ll begin reviewing the competing proposals that are on offer in various areas. The choice of global warming as the initial essay in this series was prompted, among other things, by Joe Biden’s recent statement concerning fracking. US presidential hopeful Biden says he would not ban fracking, Jarrett Renshaw, reuters.com, 8/31/20.
“I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me,” Biden said during a speech in western Pennsylvania, home to one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits.
This denial notwithstanding, Biden has repeatedly expressed opposition to fracking – as has his running mate. Kamala Harris has endorsed complete fracking ban, David Rutz, freebeacon.com, 8/31/20.
At a debate on July 31, 2019, CNN moderator Dana Bash asked Biden, "would there be any place for fossil fuels including coal and fracking in a Biden administration?"
"No," he said. "We would work it out. We would make sure it's eliminated, and no more subsidies for either one of those. Any fossil fuel."
Bottom line, people who favor continued acceptance of fracking may wish to consider supporting the Trump/Pence ticket. And more generally, voters would do well to remember that campaign statements on the issues can’t necessarily be taken at face value.
With that caveat in mind, our thoughts follow as to where the two parties stand re combatting global warming (aka climate change) and which side has the sounder views.
A. “Renewable” energy model –Why has the Earth’s climate been generally warming (albeit with periodic reversals) since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution? According to proponents of the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT), the principal driver has been an exponential increase in the human use of fossil fuels. In combination with carbon emissions from other causes, this has led to a growing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Catastrophic results are predicted over the next 50 years or so, which could threaten the continuation of life as we know it on this planet. And the proposed solution is to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels while there is still time, (a) replacing electric power plants run by fossil fuels with “renewable” (aka “clean”) power plants (generally equated with wind and solar power), and (b) replacing conventional motor vehicles with electric-powered vehicles that can be periodically recharged. There are some major problems with this approach, however, including the following:
(1) Uncertainties abound about the MMGWT, and this scientific theory probably won’t be conclusively proven or refuted for decades. We already know, however, that actual global warming has consistently undershot the predictions of climate alarmists.
(2) Being intermittent, wind and solar power cannot drive a continuously available electric power grid. Reliable power sources, e.g., fossil fuel power plants, will remain necessary for this purpose. OK, excess wind and solar power in some periods could be stored in batteries until needed, but that would be quite expensive. And while reliable power sources can be utilized intermittently to keep the grid running, this drives up the cost of the reliable power.
(3) For reasons noted in the previous point, growing use of wind and solar power would inflate electric power costs. And developing countries like China, India, etc. will not be willing to constrain their economic development by shouldering the cost involved. Unilateral efforts of the US and Europe to “save the planet” would therefore place us at an economic disadvantage without solving the problem.
(4) Renewable energy enthusiasts have typically ignored the very substantial environmental issues involved in deploying, maintaining, and ultimately decommissioning wind and solar power plants. Takes up large volumes of on-shore and off-shore space – pollution involved in extracting and refining large volumes of rare earth elements – bird kills – etc.
(5) Even if the MMGWT was eventually proven, thereby establishing a clear need for action, the most likely solution would be to replace fossil fuel power with nuclear power – not to vastly expand the arrays of wind turbines and solar panels in use. A question of power, Robert Bryce, 2020. For reasons best known to themselves, however, climate alarmists have not embraced nuclear power as a solution to their concerns.
B. GOP policy – Over the past four years, the Trump administration has been dialing back renewable energy policies that were put in place during the Obama administration. Thus, President Trump has announced an intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, primarily on grounds that this deal was not in the best interests of the US, and various environmental regulations have been modified or targeted for reversal.
The MMGWT theory has not been explicitly repudiated, however, nor has the president attempted to block pronouncements by career government officials that global warming is a catastrophic threat. US government report presents dire global warming outlook, 12/3/18. While we don’t happen to agree with this guidance, we do favor continued research about the effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere (currently about .043%) on the off chance that they may ultimately be proven to cause at least some of the problems that have been predicted.
What has been clearly evident is strong support for expansion of US oil & gas production and exports, as summed up by the US “energy dominance” slogan. Underlying policies include efforts to open up previously undeveloped areas for oil exploration and development, notably the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, federal support for fracking, etc. Judging from the campaign rhetoric thus far, these policies would be continued in a second Trump term.
This doesn’t necessarily betoken indifference to environmental problems. Indeed, EPA Director Andrew Wheeler recently suggested that the agency should and will focus on its mission to set and enforce pollution controls versus dialing back the use of fossil fuels in the name of combatting global warming. EPA’s Wheeler pledges to focus on pollution rather than climate in Trump second term, Abby Smith, Washington Examiner, 9/3/20.
In his speech at the Reagan Library, Wheeler cited several examples in which state officials preoccupied with the purported global warming threat have dropped the ball on real pollution issues. For example:
•New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s moves to block natural gas pipelines leave people in his state and in New England using “more polluting wood and heating oil to heat their homes.”
•California recent rolling power blackouts are apparently attributable to the state’s increasing reliance on renewable energy. And in one instance, when the power was shut off and back-up wastewater pumps failed, 50,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Oakland Estuary when back-up wastewater pumps failed.
The one area in which we would take exception to current energy policies is the politically convenient support for expansion of the ethanol blending program, which unnecessarily drives up the cost of motor fuel for the benefit of mid-western corn farmers and ethanol producers with undesirable environmental side effects. Renewable fuel standard is an unjustifiable giveaway, 6/10/19.
However, the Biden campaign also supports the renewable fuel standard (ethanol blending in motor fuel). Biden says supports ethanol, hits Trump on handling of US biofuel laws, Stephanie Kelly, reuters.com, 8/25/20.
C. Democratic policy – As one might suppose, Democratic candidates are almost invariably in favor of reinstating the energy policies of the Obama administration, e.g., reversing the planned US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement (negotiated without congressional review) and reaffirming regulations like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (adopted without congressional approval). This is only the first step, however, since the prime thrust is to accelerate the previously planned transition from fossil fuels to “renewable” energy.
Early on in the Democratic presidential primary process, it became clear that all of the leading candidates would be under heavy pressure from the progressive (leftist) wing of the party to support aggressive solutions to this “existential threat.” Marketing the climate crisis, 9/16/19.
Notwithstanding the characterization of Joe Biden as a “moderate” on policy issues, he had already proposed to double-down on the Obama administration policies that he had previously supported (as vice president). Joe Biden releases $5T climate change plan that goes “well beyond” Obama agenda, Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 6/4/19.
Biden would spend $1.7 trillion in federal money over 10 years on clean energy, leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total to more than $5 trillion in funding. His underlying goal is to have the U.S. obtain 100% of its energy from clean sources, and achieve net-zero emissions, no later than 2050 — a target timeline consistent with goals targeted by the United Nations as necessary to avoid the worst harms of climate change.
Were these the candidate’s true views, and what were they based on? A contemporaneous video showed Biden doing all of the talking. His basic rationale for proposing a clean energy “revolution” was “science tells us,” backed up by dramatic images of violent storms, forest fires, crumbling sea ice, etc. No downside was mentioned – only an opportunity to create over 10 million new jobs by developing, producing and selling to the world cutting edge technology “made in the USA” that would eliminate all excess carbon emissions (after taking offsets into account) by 2050. Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution & Environmental Justice, video (4:51), 6/4/19.
An updated version of the Biden energy plan is now posted on his campaign’s website. Among other things, the current version reflects discussions between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders after the latter’s campaign was suspended in April.
Notice the cross-reference to the Green New Deal, a very large and expensive renewable energy proposal that was and remains supported by Sanders and other progressives. “Biden believes,” it is stated, that “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.”
Overall, we view the Biden energy plan as an unwise response to a problem that is either nonexistent or exaggerated. It would be best to defer action on this matter until the MMGWT has been thoroughly evaluated.
While the plan commits to “a historic investment in energy and climate research and innovation” starting in the first year of a Biden administration, none of the ensuing discussion of research programs is about confirming the validity of the MMGWT. The apparent research focus would be on fixes to the purported problem. Carbon capture and sequestration – a 90% reduction in electric power storage costs – “using renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen at the same cost as that from shale gas” – nuclear waste disposal – better farming methods – etc. Who knows whether any of these ideas are technically feasible, let alone economically justifiable.
The only federal cost mentioned is $1.7 trillion in expenditures over 10 years, to be funded by tax increases that purportedly would only raise the tax burden of affluent individuals and big corporations. The purported immunity of most Americans to the proposed tax increases will be explored in a future essay on the competing tax plans of the candidates; for now, suffice it to say that we don’t believe it.
The true costs of the Biden energy plan would far exceed $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Among the costs that should be factored in: (1) some $3.3 trillion in expenditures from state, local and private sources; (2) compliance costs of an avalanche of new or stepped-up regulations (building codes, low income housing developments in the suburbs, farming methods, petroleum exploration permitting, infrastructure planning, motor vehicle mileage, appliance efficiency, etc.); (3) compliance costs of state and local regulatory regimes that are approvingly mentioned (notably the regional cap and trade pact in which Delaware and eight other northeastern states are participating); (4) federal revenue losses resulting from the continuation of numerous energy tax credits and creation of new ones; (5) bailouts of multiemployer pension plans and other support for displaced workers in the fossil fuel energy sector.
While no reliable cost estimates have been offered for the Biden energy plan, it’s worth noting that earlier estimates of the cost of the Green New Deal ranged as high as $93 trillion over 10 years. This included a lot of programs that weren’t clearly related to the objective of cutting carbon emissions, but the core effect of the proposal would have been to impose a substantial tax on carbon emissions (e.g., $54 per ton of CO2, indexed for inflation). A glimpse of what the Green New Deal would cost taxpayers, Kevin Dayaratna & Nicholas Loris, heritage.org, 3/25/19.
By 2040, according to the Heritage Energy Model, the taxes and carbon-based regulations could be expected to result in (1) Peak employment shortfall of over 1.4 million jobs; (2) Total income loss of more than $40,000 for a family of four; (3) Aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) loss of over $3.9 trillion; and (4) increases in household electricity expenditures averaging approximately 12 to 14 percent.
While the costs of the Biden energy plan could arguably be covered by cost savings and other economic payoffs, experience with similar government campaigns in the past, e.g., the New Deal in the 1930s, has not been encouraging. New Deal or Raw Deal? Burton Folsom, 2009.
Or to take a current example, consider the success of the US government (e.g., Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a host of state and local government agencies) in leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic. In our view, the results have been mixed at best. And the biggest mistake was not failing to do enough, as has been asserted by the Biden campaign, it was acting too hastily on the advice of the resident government “experts” without thinking through all of the consequences.
Finally, the claim that the US could “lead the world” to make the sacrifices required to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050 is unrealistic. China, India, et al. have no reason to go along with such a request – accepting the US as the “clean energy superpower” in the bargain – so carbon emissions from fossil fuels will continue rising no matter what the US does. A question of power, Robert Bryce, 2020.
D. Assessment - The Trump energy policies are basically transactional versus based in principle Practically speaking, however, they are much closer to our policy preferences than the Biden plan.
Some political centrists are apprehensive of the Green New Deal/ Biden plan, which they view as overblown, but think an accommodation on the global warming issue will be necessary. Thus, the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed 23 supposedly moderate Democratic members (first elected in 2018) of the House of Representatives in hopes that they will return the favor by opposing drastic energy legislation in 2021. Chamber bets it can help centrist Democrats hold the line on climate decision, Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 9/4/20.
For an incisive critique of this strategy, see Chamber of errors, Kimberly Strassel, WSJ, 9/3/20.
“To err is Washington, and even the most seasoned Beltway players can be forgiven the occasional strategic mistake. But deliberately ignoring history, evidence and principle by engaging in an act that undermines one’s reason for existence is another matter. Meet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
#Biden's not going to set policy if elected, extreme leftists would be in charge. The new administration would raise taxes and destroy our energy position, look for continued civil unrest. – SAFE director
#Excellent review. – Retired financial executive