Commentary Magazine


Topic: environmentalism

Cuomo to (Upstate) New York: Drop Dead

In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

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In January 2013, the New York Times revealed that an environmental risk assessment by the state’s health department found hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–could be done safely (as it is in many states already). But there was a twist: the Times had the report not because it was released, but because it was apparently being suppressed and the paper got the assessment “from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.” Governor Andrew Cuomo was playing politics. Yesterday, he formally banned fracking after getting a primary scare from the state’s increasingly extreme left-wing fringe.

Cuomo banned the practice on the recommendation of his health commissioner, who fretted over “potential risks” that “are not even fully known.” One option would have been to hire a better informed Cabinet, but one suspects the reporting of this health commissioner was what Cuomo wanted to hear anyway. The health commissioner said he based his decision, according to the Times reporter’s paraphrasing of his remarks, on “a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?” It almost makes you wistful for the times when the Democrats were the Party of Science, and they could at least pretend to nod in the direction of rationality.

But a major problem for Cuomo now is that while his minister of health doesn’t want to live in a community that allows fracking, Cuomo’s tenure is going to be notable for solidifying a vast swath of New York State where New Yorkers don’t want to live.

As the Times notes, it was with a heavy heart that Cuomo told much of New York State to drop dead:

Fracking, as it is known, was heavily promoted as a source of economic revival for depressed communities along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, and Mr. Cuomo had once been poised to embrace it.

Instead, the move to ban fracking left him acknowledging that, despite the intense focus he has given to solving deep economic troubles afflicting large areas upstate, the riddle remained largely unsolved. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” he said. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ ”

In a double blow to areas that had anticipated a resurgence led by fracking, a state panel on Wednesday backed plans for three new Las Vegas-style casinos, but none along the Pennsylvania border in the Southern Tier region. The panel, whose advice Mr. Cuomo said would quite likely be heeded, backed casino proposals in the Catskills, near Albany and between Syracuse and Rochester.

But New Yorkers fated to continued economic misery can take solace in the fact that Cuomo believes he did the right thing–for his career: “For Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, the decision on fracking — which was immediately hailed by environmental and liberal groups — seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.”

And that’s really what’s important here, isn’t it? If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs, right? So while it may seem unfair that Cuomo condemned a portion of his state to poverty, you have to balance that with the grand gesture of human progress that is a praiseful Zephyr Teachout press release.

It should be noted, however, that Cuomo isn’t the only reason fracking is banned. He’s the reason many of those economically depressed areas will remain that way, but some of them had already been stripped of any hope by local politicians:

Local bans, on top of restrictions that the state had planned, put 63 percent of the Marcellus Shale off limits to drilling, said Joseph Martens, the state environmental conservation commissioner. “The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast,” he said.

As for Cuomo’s political fortunes, appeasing the extremist job killers that make up the New York Democratic Party’s base is not necessarily the best long-term move. Cuomo won’t be term limited out of office, so he might already be thinking of his next reelection campaign. The logic would be as follows: there is no serious Republican Party in New York, and therefore Cuomo’s relationship with the Democrats is of utmost importance. He needs New York City, in which the party’s left-wing base is crucial. He has treated other areas of New York as if he doesn’t need them because he doesn’t.

But this is too clever by half. Since there’s no Republican Party to speak of, he essentially runs unopposed in the general. If he’s worried about the primary, that’s silly: Cuomo beat Teachout by nearly thirty points, with a clear majority.

On the other hand, if Cuomo still has national aspirations–a stretch after his recent political history–banning energy production and the jobs that come with it will come back to haunt him in a presidential general election. Here too he might be thinking about the primary, and it’s true that if the Democratic Party continues to veer left, he might need to shore up his grassroots credibility. But unlike at the state level, if he won his party’s nomination he’d still have a general election battle on his hands. He seems on pace to leave office, eventually, with a poor record. That’s fine–though also unnecessary–if he only wants to beat primary jobbers for the rest of his political life. It’s foolish in the extreme if he thinks he’s going to be president.

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Keystone Scramble Shows Dems Already Forgetting Midterms Defeat

Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

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Republican losses typically produce an outpouring of concern trolling from Democrats, eager to “help” Republicans turn their fortunes around. The advice usually includes loosening the hold of the base on the party’s agenda, to become less extreme; paying more attention to polls; and buying into a proactive, productive legislative agenda. Yet now that Democrats have been on the wrong end of a national wave, will they take their own advice? Not if the machinations around the Keystone XL pipeline are any indication.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Democrats have for years opposed the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. But Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is facing an uphill battle in her December 6 runoff election against Republican Representative Bill Cassidy. Keystone would be a “boon” for Louisiana, as even the New York Times admits, so Landrieu is trying to push Keystone across the finish line hoping it’ll drag her there along with it.

Were the situation reversed, Democrats would be doing what Republicans are now: imploring them to stop getting in their own way and support the pipeline. After all, it’s popular, it would show the Democrats can support a legislative agenda that brings jobs to an important industry, and it’s only been sidelined so far because President Obama is hostage to the bidding of his extremist base. And yet, Landrieu is not having an easy time getting enough Democrats to join the 60-vote threshold for the vote expected to be held early this evening.

Of course, even if Landrieu can get the votes in the Senate, the Keystone vote is already a less-than-perfect subject for a Hail Mary, as the Times notes:

On Friday, a Keystone bill sponsored by Mr. Cassidy passed the House. Ms. Landrieu is now close to mustering a filibuster-proof 60 Senate votes in favor of the pipeline in the Senate. She told reporters on Friday that she had 59 votes and was reaching out aggressively to colleagues to round up the critical final vote necessary to send the bill to Mr. Obama’s desk.

That’s right–she’s been handed the baton by her rival, Bill Cassidy. It’s not as though Landrieu is in favor and her opponent isn’t. Landrieu is no better on the issue than Cassidy; in reality, she’s playing catch-up because of Democratic opposition to the plan. It’s unclear how passing the Keystone bill would give her the boost she needs to beat Cassidy, though the high-profile scramble for votes would seem to at least help her by elevating her profile.

But that’s only if it passes. And right now, Democrats aren’t so sure it’s worth helping her reelection, in part because it’s no guarantee they’ll retain the seat even if the bill passes. Here’s Politico:

With Keystone apparently stuck on 59 votes — one shy of the amount needed for passage — Landrieu has turned into a one-woman Senate whip, seeking a vote set for Tuesday night that would show her clout in oil-rich Louisiana ahead of her Dec. 6 runoff. …

Much of the focus of Monday’s guessing games was on Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who hails from a fossil fuel state and whose upcoming retirement could leave him with little to lose. But he said Monday evening that he’s voting no.

Another rumored waverer was Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. He indicated he’s still leaning no but said, “I’ll make a decision when I vote.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she’s voting no because she doesn’t think “Congress should be siting pipelines.”

And what if she does get that 60th vote? Back to the Times:

Even if the Senate supports building the pipeline in a vote on Tuesday night, President Obama is likely to veto the measure on the grounds that an environmental review of the process remains incomplete.

Nonetheless, the events of this week suggest that after the expected veto, Mr. Obama may eventually approve the pipeline, which would run from the oil sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The project is anathema to the environmentalists who are part of the president’s political base.

Obama, who isn’t running again, is expected to choose his extremist base over a member of his party trying desperately to hold her seat. And that environmentalist base has not become any more moderate or levelheaded over the course of this administration; the liberal interest group MoveOn.org sent an email today about the Keystone vote with subject line: “Game over for our planet?”

The Times report also notes that in early 2015 there will be more Republicans in the Senate and thus fewer lawmakers held hostage to a fringe element of the liberal base. In such a case, an Obama veto now (if this bill passes) will invite yet another Keystone bill sent to his desk next year, and this one will be closer to having enough votes to even override his veto. If he’s going to deal with that kind of repeated showdown, the Times reports, he may want a trade.

And maybe he’ll get one. Or maybe he’ll have no leverage. Either way, it won’t do much for Landrieu in 2015. Not that the president cares much one way or the other.

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Of Pipelines and Fundraisers

For six long years, the Obama administration has been holding up the Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring oil from the Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Approving the project would provide thousands of well-paying construction jobs, boost the economy, help lower the world price of oil (which has been declining sharply on its own in recent weeks—as you have probably noticed at the gas pump), and reduce the influence of Russia and OPEC in world affairs. In other words, Keystone is a win-win-win-win project.

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For six long years, the Obama administration has been holding up the Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring oil from the Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Approving the project would provide thousands of well-paying construction jobs, boost the economy, help lower the world price of oil (which has been declining sharply on its own in recent weeks—as you have probably noticed at the gas pump), and reduce the influence of Russia and OPEC in world affairs. In other words, Keystone is a win-win-win-win project.

Obama, however, prefers to cater to self-appointed environmental interests that are a major component of his base. They, of course, being uniformly affluent, don’t give a damn about working-class jobs, however well paying. They prefer driving around in their Range Rovers, maintaining more than one large home, jetting off hither and yon, and congratulating themselves on their good stewardship of planet earth. It’s another indication of how much the Democratic Party has become the party of the elite. Siding with the environmentalists, of course, not only injures the American economy, it also injures the Canadian economy and strains our relationship with one of our closest allies and NAFTA partners.

But Canada is a sovereign state. It’s not going to abandon one of its key natural resources because a bunch of over-privileged Americans don’t like its exploitation and go to Obama fundraisers. So Canada is beginning to develop alternatives. One would be to build a 2,900-mile pipeline that would carry a million barrels of oil a day from the oil sands region to the ice-free port of St. John, New Brunswick, on the Bay of Fundy. There it would be refined and then shipped to customers around the world via supertankers.

The oil was always going to reach market one way or another, sooner or later, a fact that the environmentalists and the Obama administration refuse to acknowledge. So the only fruits of Obama’s policy of endless delay will be considerable harm to the American economy and some successful fundraisers. No wonder his Gallop approval rating is down to 39 percent.

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Fracking and Food Security: Eco-Leftists Lose Again

In a recent article on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food crops, the New Yorker quotes an Indian farmer pushing back at Western crusaders against GMOs: “Why do rich people tell us to plant crops that will ruin our farms?” Indeed such “rich people,” usually eco-leftists, tend to fall into one of two categories. They are either conspiracy theorists who rail against lifesaving agricultural advancements and wonder drugs/vaccines as capitalist plots, or they push false environmental “science” intended to stop progress on energy development that lowers the cost of living while improving air quality.

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In a recent article on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food crops, the New Yorker quotes an Indian farmer pushing back at Western crusaders against GMOs: “Why do rich people tell us to plant crops that will ruin our farms?” Indeed such “rich people,” usually eco-leftists, tend to fall into one of two categories. They are either conspiracy theorists who rail against lifesaving agricultural advancements and wonder drugs/vaccines as capitalist plots, or they push false environmental “science” intended to stop progress on energy development that lowers the cost of living while improving air quality.

These activists are, in other words, often exceedingly harmful to the planet. But GMOs aren’t the only aspect of feeding children eco-leftists oppose; sometimes their anti-science environmentalism and their anti-medical-advancement conspiracy theorism combine to form a potent enemy of genuine progress. Such is the case with fracking. As a result, more liberal-leaning states and politicians have restrained oil and gas extraction. More conservative, reality-based states and politicians have not. The results are clear: as Bloomberg reports, North Dakota is showing that fracking is not just about energy companies’ bottom line or the price at the pump. It’s about food security:

North Dakota’s oil and gas production boom has boosted incomes and, according to a government report today, left the state with the lowest percentage of households struggling to afford food.

An estimated 8.7 percent of North Dakota households were at risk of hunger in 2013, compared with 14.3 percent of U.S. households, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an annual report. Virginia was second lowest, at 9.5 percent, the USDA reported, and Arkansas was highest at 21.2 percent.

“The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably from state to state,” according to the report’s authors.

North Dakota, which has become the nation’s No. 2 oil producer after Texas as drillers use hydraulic fracturing to extract trapped oil and gas, had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in July at 2.8 percent.

The state’s economic health index — which measures indicators such as employment, income, tax revenue and home prices — was up 2.7 percent in first quarter from the same period last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That put it among the top-performing states in the nation.

There are two caveats. The first is that this isn’t exactly earthshattering news. If you enable an economy to thrive, people will have jobs. If they have jobs, they can buy food. If they can buy food, they can feed their children. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a bit beyond the grasp of the average eco-leftist.

The second caveat is partially mitigated by the first, but is worth discussing. There are real problems with the way the government measures food insecurity. This is an annual report, and thus it is an annual argument, so much of this is repetitive. Nonetheless, the federal government seems to go out of its way to exaggerate Americans’ lack of access to food.

As James Bovard notes in today’s Wall Street Journal, the USDA, at the behest of the National Academy of Sciences, dropped its reference to “hunger”–the food insecurity it warned of was not the same thing as a lack of access to food. Bovard points out what it does mean:

Is being “food insecure” the same as going hungry? Not necessarily. The USDA defines a “food insecure” household in the U.S. as one that is “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food” at times during the year. The USDA notes: “For most food-insecure households, the inadequacies were in the form of reduced quality and variety rather than insufficient quantity.”

Reduced quality and variety is not starvation. Of course, it certainly can mean a less healthy diet. Bovard says that low-income children, according to studies, consume more calories than others. But in raising this objection he might actually be falling prey to the kind of pro-government-regulation arguments that have been used here and in developing countries, which put too much emphasis on total calories consumed and thus often work at cross-purposes with those trying to improve health outcomes in poor populations.

On the other hand, Bovard is certainly right that the government tends to inflate such statistics, at times, in order to justify more government intervention, such as food stamps, which the data show do not improve overall food security. What does improve food security, however defined, is a serious energy policy like North Dakota’s, which shows the kind of prosperity that is possible when the government doesn’t let eco-leftists hijack policy.

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The Fierce Urgency of After the Midterms

The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

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The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

Centrist Democrats who support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline might not get the cold shoulder from green groups this fall. 

Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who’s challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was the latest to buck her party’s leaders when she announced this week she supports construction of the pipeline. 

Democrats from conservative states have joined with Republicans in supporting Keystone XL, which they argue would create jobs and improve the country’s energy independence. In addition to Grimes, at least seven other Senate Democratic incumbents or candidates have supported its construction so far. 

But even though green groups have fought tooth and nail to block the oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. over environmental concerns, they aren’t making the issue into a litmus test for Democratic candidates they consider supporting.

Instead, organizations with environmental priorities are weighing Keystone along with other top environmental issues when deciding who to throw their weight behind.

They’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort on treating Keystone as a cause worth fighting for. And the fight has been good for their bottom line. As the New York Times reported back in January, “no one disputes that the issue has helped a new breed of environmental organizations build a mostly young army eager to donate money and time.” So why wouldn’t they live up to the hype and make this a litmus test issue?

Here’s the justification from the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, as reported by the Hill: “The action fund has made the strategic conclusion in this cycle to focus on climate change, and, specifically, the president’s climate plan.” So Keystone just isn’t much of a “climate change” issue then? On the contrary, says … the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Building the 875-mile northern segment of Keystone XL would lead to a dramatic increase in the carbon pollution that worsens the effects of climate change. Hence, construction of the pipeline fails the all-important carbon test the president laid out in his June 2013 climate address to the nation, when he said Keystone XL’s permit would be approved only if the pipeline “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The dissembling makes it pretty clear just how the environmentalists choose their “litmus tests.” Another clue comes from the indications that President Obama has delayed a decision on Keystone in order to kill the pipeline deal after the midterm elections. That flies in the face of the science on Keystone, which effectively rebuts the greens’ anticommerce propaganda. But it is perfectly synchronous with the demands of Tom Steyer, the billionaire writing large checks to finance Democratic campaigns, especially those who fight Keystone.

Why wouldn’t Steyer demand–since he can, apparently–that the pipeline project get its rejection notice immediately, if it’s truly the right thing to do? Because while that would follow the professed principles of Steyer and others in the environmentalist far-left, it would also make life tougher for embattled Democrats in non-loony states who don’t want to oppose the commonsense job creator Keystone represents. This way, they can run in support of Keystone without suffering any consequences.

Now, you might say, that doesn’t sound quite so principled. Enabling Democrats to run in support of Keystone while plowing money into attacking Republicans because they also support Keystone would appear to elevate partisanship over principle. And aside from Steyer’s business interests, he appears to be mulling a political career of his own, possibly as a candidate for California governor. Initially, he seemed willing to attack Democrats who supported Keystone; as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel noted, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu was, at first, on the list:

Mr. Steyer then spent some quality time with senior Democrats, who presumably explained that the establishment would not look kindly on a would-be governor who blew their control of the Senate. Ms. Landrieu came off the list, and Mr. Steyer has downgraded his criteria for playing in races to whether “something important” is at stake.

Despite the unhinged rhetoric from high-profile Democrats–for example, Harry Reid calling conservative political activism “un-American”–Steyer and the greens are perfectly entitled to participate in the electoral process. It’s just helpful to know that it’s about power and electing Democrats, not the Earth hanging in the balance.

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Obama (Still) Out of Excuses on Keystone

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

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Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have always had the science, the politics, and the economics on their side. But the Obama administration, wary of upsetting the extreme voices in the environmentalist movement, has been looking for excuses to defy the science, politics, and economics and trash the pipeline anyway.

Last month, the president ran out of excuses–or so it seemed. The great hope of the left was that the administration could be relied upon to find a kernel of bad news on Keystone that it could exploit and exaggerate to kill the project. Thus they waited with bated breath on the State Department’s environmental impact report. At the end of January, it was released: the State Department confirmed the pipeline “would be unlikely to alter global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The left still had one straw at which to grasp, however. An investigation had been launched into whether the State Department violated conflict-of-interest rules in the course of conducting the environmental review. Yesterday, the inspector general’s report was released, absolving the State Department of the charges:

The State Department’s inspector general largely cleared the department on Wednesday of allegations that it had violated its conflict-of-interest procedures when selecting a contractor to analyze the Keystone XL oil pipeline — the latest in a series of defeats for environmental groups fighting a last-ditch effort to block the project’s approval.

Republicans quickly claimed victory.

“Another day and another government report that finds no reason to continue blocking this common-sense, job-creating project,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. “It’s long past time the president stop pandering to his extremist allies and just approve it so we can get people back to work.”

The Keystone pipeline system transports oil from Canada to refineries in the U.S. and the “XL” extension would further increase the system’s capacity, creating jobs along the way. The oil from Canada would go somewhere, of course, so blocking the pipeline wouldn’t change the environmental picture, it would simply reject an ally’s mutually beneficial project so leftist extremists wouldn’t be angry with Obama.

For a president who obnoxiously promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” and who has done precisely the opposite, Keystone was a chance for him to come back to reality. He’d rather not. But if the scientific facts, economic benefits, and job creation aren’t convincing to this president, he also has another reason to embrace the pipeline: safety.

There has been an unfortunate amount of scapegoating of the oil industry for accidents involving the rail transport of oil. The oil, after all, doesn’t make a train more likely to crash, regardless of how much the left would like to publicly shame energy companies. But if they don’t want to transport the oil by train, they’ll have to build the pipeline infrastructure necessary to ensure its timely delivery.

Well they don’t have to, I suppose. Perhaps they can teleport it. Or they can try sticking oil into an envelope and have the postal service mail it. Or they can eschew the oil altogether and ask the country’s motorists to follow the Flintstones method of powering their vehicles; the first lady, and her Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign, would surely approve.

This is the natural progression of progressivism, of course. I’ve written before about how the over-regulated state of New Jersey resulted in the government mandating activity it was also essentially legally prohibiting. In such cases, there is almost no way for the average citizen involved in certain activities to follow the law without also breaking the law. It sounds humorous, but to the people living under such a regime it’s not funny at all. It’s also morally repugnant, and evidence of a government filled with bureaucrats mad with power and contempt for the rule of law, to say nothing of basic democracy.

The oil transport situation isn’t quite there yet, to be sure. But it’s reminiscent of the same attitude that leads us there. We must transport oil, but we’re also not allowed to transport oil. The Obama administration is completely out of excuses–the president never had good reasons, only feeble excuses–to reject the pipeline. It’s time to act accordingly.

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The Decline of Oil

So-called environmentalists never tire of predicting the end of oil. They’ve been talking about “peak oil” for decades, after which annual production would inevitably decline as we drain the world’s finite supply.

In fact, proven reserves (oil that we know is there and is recoverable with current technology and under current law) have been steadily rising, despite the fact that the world pumps 83.9 million barrels a day out of the ground, a 32 percent increase over 20 years ago. New techniques, such as fracking and horizontal drilling, have brought new life to both old fields and new ones whose oil had previously been unrecoverable. And vast new fields, such as the giant finds off the coast of Brazil, have added new reserves.

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So-called environmentalists never tire of predicting the end of oil. They’ve been talking about “peak oil” for decades, after which annual production would inevitably decline as we drain the world’s finite supply.

In fact, proven reserves (oil that we know is there and is recoverable with current technology and under current law) have been steadily rising, despite the fact that the world pumps 83.9 million barrels a day out of the ground, a 32 percent increase over 20 years ago. New techniques, such as fracking and horizontal drilling, have brought new life to both old fields and new ones whose oil had previously been unrecoverable. And vast new fields, such as the giant finds off the coast of Brazil, have added new reserves.

Much of that 32 percent increase in world production has gone to power the fast-rising economies of the developing world, such as China, India, and Brazil. Oil consumption has been rising very slowly in the United States, however, up a mere 8.1 percent in 20 years.

But the U.S. population has risen over 20 percent since 1993, so U.S. oil consumption is down significantly on a per capita basis. We used 24.15 barrels a year per person in 1993; today the figure is 21.6 barrels, a 10.6 percent drop per person. The decline in oil consumption on a GDP basis is even more dramatic. In 1993, the U.S. had $1,096 of GDP per barrel of oil consumed. Today the figure is $2,393 per barrel of oil. Taking inflation into account, GDP per barrel of oil is up a whopping 34.8 percent in the last 20 years.

What accounts for that? There are several things. One is a slow but steady switch to other power sources, such as natural gas. In 1993, natural gas produced 13 percent of total U.S. electricity; today it produces 24.7 percent. Oil, meanwhile, went from producing 3.5 percent of total electricity 20 years ago to a mere 0.7 percent today. Another reason is a steadily increasing efficiency. Space heating took 53.1 percent of home energy consumption in 1993; today it is only 41.5 percent. The nation’s fleet of cars and trucks have much higher average miles per gallon than 20 years ago. A third reason is that GDP growth in recent decades has been centered in non-energy-intensive industries. Manufacturing automobiles is energy intensive. Manufacturing software is not.

Once oil drilling began in 1859, petroleum became ever more central to the world’s economy, first as an illuminant (kerosene) and lubricant. Then, just as electricity began to replace kerosene for home lighting, the internal combustion engine produced a vast new market for petroleum. By the mid-20th century, oil was the world’s most important product and therefore it was a main driver of world politics. The Middle East would have been a backwater, seldom mentioned in the nightly news, had it not sat upon a very high percentage of the world’s then known oil.

We are a long way from seeing the end of oil as a major force in the world economy, but it is steadily losing its centrality. You would think that would be good news for environmentalists. But, of course, nothing is good news for them. Chicken Little runs the environmentalist public-relations operations, which goes a long way to explaining why fewer and fewer non-liberals listen to them anymore.

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Speaking of Failed Big-Government Programs…

The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

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The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

  • The $2.85 billion program provided a short-term boost in vehicle sales, but the small increase in employment came at a far higher implied cost per job created ($1.4 million) than other fiscal stimulus programs, such as increasing unemployment aid, reducing employers’ and employees’ payroll taxes, or allowing the expensing of investment costs.
  • Total emissions reduction was not substantial because only about half a percent of all vehicles in the United States were the new, more energy-efficient CARS vehicles.
  • The program resulted in a small gasoline reduction equivalent only to about 2 to 8 days’ worth of current usage.
  • In terms of distributional effects, compared to households that purchased a new or used vehicle in 2009 without a voucher, CARS program participants had a higher before-tax income, were older, more likely to be white, more likely to own a home, and more likely to have a high-school and a college degree.

That last part just seems like pouring salt in the left’s wounds. Not only was the program a massive failure, but it was also, by the way, a taxpayer-funded subsidy for white homeowners–just in case the left reached for an “inequality” or race-based argument in a desperate attempt to shut down the debate on the program.

And along those lines, conservatives will especially like that first finding in the list above: a tax cut would have been a better stimulus than this program. Of course, that isn’t a very high bar to clear; here’s the headline from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Almost anything would have been better stimulus than ‘Cash for Clunkers’.” It would have been difficult to come up with a worse idea for a stimulus than the program Obama chose.

It’s not like they weren’t warned, however. As the Post notes:

The program had something for everyone: It would lend a hand to the ailing U.S. auto industry. It would tamp down on oil consumption. And, once launched, the program proved so popular with consumers that it burned through $1 billion in its first five days. Sure, a few critics argued that the program wouldn’t be very cost-effective, but no one was really listening.

But, as it turns out, the critics were on to something.

Yet we’ve known for almost a year that some aspects of Cash for Clunkers were failures. Part of the rationale for the program was to help the environment. In early January of this year, the environmental-news website Grist.org reported that Cash for Clunkers “drove right into a brick wall of waste.” (It’s fair to say the program was at least a stimulus for headline writers.) Grist explained:

Billed as stimulus both for automakers and the environment, the Car Allowance Rebates System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, turned out to be clunker itself. Besides fueling more unsustainable new-car-buying consumerism, the program also destroyed thousands of older, functional vehicles — vehicles that, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), were almost 100 percent recyclable. Through Cash for Clunkers, about 690,000 vehicles had their engines destroyed and many were sent to junkyards, bypassing recycling companies altogether.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, auto dealers are speaking out to defend the boondoggle. Politico sums up their defense of the program: “And since many states and localities place high taxes on auto sales, the program generated $900 million for municipal and state coffers, according to the auto dealers.” That’s the defense: the program was a massive waste of taxpayer money whose benefit was to increase tax revenue during an economic downturn.

So yes, ObamaCare should serve to discredit big-government liberalism. But so should just about every other ill-conceived program dreamed up by the Obama administration.

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The Oil Boom Continues

Guess which country is the world’s largest oil producer. No, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Russia. It’s the United States, which passed Saudi Arabia in November of 2012, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and reported in Investors Business Daily.

In 2012 American domestic output rose by an astonishing 800,000 barrels a day. That’s more than total oil production in such middling oil producers as Argentina, and the greatest single-year increase in the United States since Edwin Drake drilled the first well in 1859.

That has consequences far beyond the oil patches of Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota. In 2006, the United States imported 60 percent of its oil. In 2013, that might well fall to 30 percent. That would mean roughly a $600 million turnaround in the balance of payments per day.

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Guess which country is the world’s largest oil producer. No, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Russia. It’s the United States, which passed Saudi Arabia in November of 2012, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and reported in Investors Business Daily.

In 2012 American domestic output rose by an astonishing 800,000 barrels a day. That’s more than total oil production in such middling oil producers as Argentina, and the greatest single-year increase in the United States since Edwin Drake drilled the first well in 1859.

That has consequences far beyond the oil patches of Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota. In 2006, the United States imported 60 percent of its oil. In 2013, that might well fall to 30 percent. That would mean roughly a $600 million turnaround in the balance of payments per day.

This revolution has been accomplished on private and state lands, thanks to new technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling. This has not only opened new fields, such as the Bakken shield in North Dakota, but revived old fields such as the great Permian basin in West Texas and New Mexico. West Texas production had been declining for years after peaking about 1970. Now it is growing again.

The Obama administration has been doing its level best to see that this renaissance in American oil production is throttled in its crib. Vast areas of offshore are off limits, as are many areas of federal land. (The federal government owns about 28 percent of all the land in the country, roughly 635 million acres.) And the Obama administration has been slow-walking drilling permits. In North Dakota it takes about 10 days to get a permit for drilling on state land. The wait for federal permits averages 307 days. As a result, oil production on federal land has actually been declining in recent years while increasing everywhere else. Not only does that retard our increasing independence from foreign oil, it costs the federal government serious money, as the government is paid handsome royalties on minerals extracted on federal land.

There’s probably not much to be done about that as long as the deeply anti-capitalist so-called “environmental movement,” is in charge of energy policy in Washington. But the country is very lucky the federal government only directly controls 28 percent of the country’s territory.

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EPA: Hiding One’s Light Under a Bushel

The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, a few months after Earth Day had demonstrated to even the most obtuse politician that the American population wanted the environment cleaned up. So what has happened to the American environment in the 42 years that the EPA has been leading the cleanup effort? The environment has improved markedly.

In 1970 31 million tons of sulphur dioxide, a prime contributor to smog, was emitted into the atmosphere. In 2008 it was 11 million tons. In 1970 34 million tons of volatile organic compounds were emitted. In 2008 it was 16 million. In 1970 204 million tons of carbon monoxide; in 2008 it was 72 million. The EPA recently declared carbon dioxide a pollutant (which means we pollute the atmosphere every time we exhale). And the only major country in the world where carbon dioxide emissions are declining? The United States. We emitted less CO2 in 2012 than in 1992. Water pollution has similarly abated. Unhealthy air days in major U.S. cities these days are a rarity. Even Los Angeles had only 18 in all of 2011. Manhattan had exactly none.

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The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, a few months after Earth Day had demonstrated to even the most obtuse politician that the American population wanted the environment cleaned up. So what has happened to the American environment in the 42 years that the EPA has been leading the cleanup effort? The environment has improved markedly.

In 1970 31 million tons of sulphur dioxide, a prime contributor to smog, was emitted into the atmosphere. In 2008 it was 11 million tons. In 1970 34 million tons of volatile organic compounds were emitted. In 2008 it was 16 million. In 1970 204 million tons of carbon monoxide; in 2008 it was 72 million. The EPA recently declared carbon dioxide a pollutant (which means we pollute the atmosphere every time we exhale). And the only major country in the world where carbon dioxide emissions are declining? The United States. We emitted less CO2 in 2012 than in 1992. Water pollution has similarly abated. Unhealthy air days in major U.S. cities these days are a rarity. Even Los Angeles had only 18 in all of 2011. Manhattan had exactly none.

And this despite the fact that the population of the country has doubled, the GDP has more than tripled in real terms, and the number of cars and trucks hugely increased.

You would think that the EPA would want to highlight the tremendous progress that’s been made over its bureaucratic lifetime. But try to winkle the statistics out of its website. They either aren’t there, or they are hard to find, or they are incomplete, or they hard to compare with each other.

Why would this be? Simple: Bureaucracies want to manage problems not solve them. Solving the problem a bureaucracy was created to handle might have an adverse impact on its funding, and bureaucracies measure their prestige by the size of their budgets. So success, in effect, is bad news for bureaucrats.

Likewise, the various environmental organizations are at great pains to not tout how much progress has been achieved. That might cause people to put away their checkbooks.

As a result, one of the great American success stories of the last 40 years—just how clean the American environment is getting—is hidden from sight.

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Eco-Luddites New Target: Air Conditioning

The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.

The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.

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The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.

The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.

There is something slightly disingenuous about this entire discussion since it is the use of heat in winter rather than air conditioning in summer that may have the bigger carbon footprint. But, as George Will wrote Friday in the Washington Post, forty years after the Club of Rome’s seminal work about “The Limits of Growth” that spawned a generation of environmental hysteria, there is a reason why what he calls “apocalypse fatigue — boredom from being repeatedly told the end is nigh” has set in. The idea that “intractable scarcities” in virtually all commodities would be created by continued population growth” has effectively been debunked by virtually every technological development since then. But don’t tell the environmental extremists.

Those plagued by Malthusian pessimism about the future of humanity have always underestimated human innovation. Instead of humanity being reduced in the decades after the first “Earth Day” to a “Soylent Green” nightmare of shortages and poverty in which scarcity of limited resources as swamped by a surplus of people, we have seen prosperity grow. To the surprise and dismay of the doomsayers, this has happened not only in the West but also in developing nations whose citizens believe they have the same right to comfort as the residents of the Upper West Side.

As both Abe and John Steele Gordon noted on Friday, just as nobody among the environmental hysterics foresaw the decline of CO2 emissions because of the way the free market mandated changes in the way we produce energy, so, too, are they unable to imagine that humanity is capable of solving other problems. And one need only read the hundreds of comments by the liberal readership of the Times in response to the article about air conditioning to see that many of them are still focused on the thesis that underlined that original fallacious Club of Rome report about scarcity: there are too many people on the planet and laws must be passed to limit procreation.

That is the inevitable conclusion of any such argument against capitalism. The default position of the left is to always fall back on the idea that there too many people and that those who are allowed to live in the future must heed the instruction of the intellectuals and accept restrictions on their freedom if they are to be permitted to remain.

The eco-Luddites may sweat in the summer if they like and preach to the masses about the benefits of fans and tell us why sleeping (naked) in rooms where the temperature is 84 degrees is really comfortable as Ms. Rosenthal suggests. The rest of us will rely on the free market to do what it has always done: provide cost-effective solutions to humanity’s problems and keep our air conditioners humming when it is hot. The only answer to the problem the Times references is more growth, more wealth and more innovation. Which is to say more capitalism and more individual freedom.

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