Is a Carbon Cap Also a Jobs Program? Or Just Big Government?

March 3, 2009

Just came back from Da Hizill, specifically the Rayburn Hizouse Bizuilding.  (Too much?  Yeah, too much.)  Anyhow, we happened to catch a show put on by EDF, about how switching to clean electricity will actually be a huge generator of jobs.  (Admission was free.)

The pitch goes like this: cutting carbon from electricity use depends on a couple of important steps: switching to clean energy (wind solar tidal hydro etc.) and fixing up the ratty old grid we have out in the garage.  Doing either one means building lots of big stuff — power stations, turbines, new transmission lines, solar arrays, you name it.  That takes parts, which you gotta buy from people who make them, and labor, which you gotta get by hiring people who need jobs.

They even have a whole website thingy about it:

There were also company reps there talking up their own efforts on tidal energy, solar energy, waste heat, and the green-ness of Wal-mart.

Here’s some bullets to take home with you:

  • Those big mammajamma wind turbines have 8,000 to 12,000 parts.
  • EDF’s site shows where all those parts get made, or could get made, in the US of A.
  • Solar panels come in flexy sheets, like 18-foot-long Fruit Roll-ups.  All you gotta do is peel and stick, really.  Well, not really.
  • Big heavy industry plants, that do things like pour liquid metal, etc., spew tons of waste energy.  They also buy tons of power.  Capturing that waste heat reduce their power needs, and can take a lot of dirty generation off line.
  • The tidal-energy guy wishes that his tax credit was as big as the solar and wind tax credits are.
  • Wal-Mart says a lot of stuff, and I don’t know how much to believe, because they are quite evil, and capitalist imperialist pig-dogs.  But they seem sincere about selling lots of stuff, and they seem sincere about cutting their costs.  To the extent the stuff they sell is green, and the costs they cut are energy costs, then hey it’s a win-win, right?  And they’re not totally insincere; EDF has two staffers based in Wal-Mart’s Arkansas HQ, and why would they bother doing that if Wal-Mart wasn’t playing ball?
  • Like always, green issues intertwine with others: new tech needs skills, so we need to educate or import the brainpower.

All this work wouldn’t last for ever — at some point you eventually get done building all this energy stuff, and then what?  But for a decade or more, it would likely be a job-creating stimulus.

The panel generally agreed on two things: 1) it sucks that we’re not leading on green tech, because we’re losing economic activity, and 2) the way to get this jump-started is to put a fat sticker price on carbon emissions.

The panel generally ignored the whole embedded-carbon question — how much carbon emissions go into making all these low-carbon improvements?  Are we just cranking the coal-fired powerplants up to eleven in our enthusiasm to build green stuff?

My takeaway is that there are regulations that drive good economic trends, either by redistributing money to where it creates more economic activity, or by putting burdens where they’re most efficiently met (the minimum wage, social security, product safety regs, stuff like that) and then there are bogeyman regs that just slow things down and gum up the works to avoid a particular problem.

The name of the Green game right now is to prove that clean energy regs are in the first category — they can be designed in ways that drive, rather than suppress, economic activity.  That means showing that over time, the payoff in economic activity will be at least on the same scale as the cost imposed.

My other takeaway is that there’s not much room for all us softy social-science majors in this.  The green turnaround is going to be in the hands of the MBAs who run businesses, skilled blue-collar folks who can build stuff, and ridiculously smart people who know stuff like fluid dynamics and meteorology.  Concerned lefties with their BAs in Emotional Typology or Hobbes and Locke are in the bleachers for this very important game.


And the Answer is: No!

December 7, 2007

No Energy Bill for US!

The Democrats failed to attract any defectors, and the energy bill died a quick death — at least in its current form.

Look out for an anemic, flimsy alternative to happen, or for nothing at all.

When it comes to the environment, or to the war in Iraq, Democrats are basically Republicans, just with a bit of angst about it.

Can They Pass the Energy Bill? Or Any Bill?

December 6, 2007

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a GREAT energy bill that would push auto fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon, getting it half way to the President’s desk.

And not a moment too soon! In addition to jacking up the mpg, the bill would also make some other big changes:

  • It would require the electric companies to use more and more renewable generating capacity, to the point where 15% of all electricity comes from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, i.e. NOT coal)
  • It would levy $21B in taxes on oil companies. They currently get such lavish tax breaks that they practically paid no taxes at all in recent years, despite crazy record profits

But will any of this get past the insurmountable hurdle that is the Democratic Senate? After all, if there’s one thing the Dems have trouble doing, it’s doing anything at all.

Think about it: Have they beaten a filibuster, even once? Come up with the magical 60 votes for something important, even once?

The Republicans never had 60 votes in the Senate but they regularly found a few defectors to vote with them. But the Democrats, despite facing a demoralized, regrouping opposition that is politically and psychologically weak (as well as suffering under big election losses and endless hypocrisy-highlighting scandal), can’t move a bill. And even when they do, as with the kids’-health-insurance bill, they get beat with the veto and then simply accept defeat.

Given that track record, it is naive at this point to expect the bill to survive. That’s so sad, because even though it sounds like a dramatic world-changing law, the truth is that this energy bill is really only catching up to the situation on the ground.

  • Lots of states (and our little ‘burgh, Washington DC) are already taking on California’s car rules, which will eventually push up MPG requirements even without the federal government’s say-so.
  • Lots of utility regulators (like our hometown again) are setting higher requirements for renewable energy in their electricity supply. Many are aiming higher than 15%.
  • Lots of cars get better than 35 MPG already — all the hybrid sedans (Prius, Camry Hybrid, Civic Hybrid), which add up to several hundred thousand cars on the road already. They’re 20+ years ahead of this bill, if this bill even passes this year.

In retrospect, this was the wrong story to write about — Congress’s likely-meaningless charades aside, the real story is happening in state and local governments, where the lightbulbs have been fluorescent for years….

Paris Hilton, Uhh, Well Just Read This

September 27, 2007

Paris Hilton is gonna Green Her Home.

Hard time does strange things to an inmate, but this is something else: they must do some pretty intense reprogramming at LA County. The Heiress came out a changed woman, apparently. Her itinerary, which used to be a continuous, half-conscious migration from thumping club to vacation town and back again, is now chock full of Angelina Jolie material.

Here’s a rundown of the next couple of months:

  • Shoot a movie called “Repo! The Genetic Opera” in Toronto (actually, not so Jolie, that)
  • Go to Rwanda (that’s right — Rwanda)
  • Go to other places like Rwanda, actual destinations TBA
  • Make her Beverly Hills house eco-friendly. (She said “green friendly”, actually, but you go girl, you’re on the right track.)

And there’s a quote about the green-living effort: “I just bought the house and haven’t been able to work on it yet,” Hilton said. “But I intend to.”

Now, the idea of Paris actually driving a nail, or in any other way working on her own house, just makes my head twitch from sheer impossibility. But if she’s serious (and isn’t taken in by some huckster who wafts incense around her house for $500 an hour), she could do for the green-living movement what she might do for Rwanda. Which could be quite a bit, considering people pay her $300k just to show up at places and not even say anything.

You scoffers must give respect to the silly young lady’s ability to drive traffic and attract cameras. Don’t believe me? Then answer this:who, really, would move more CFL’s by just holding one in front of a camera? Paris Hilton, or Al Gore? Paris Hilton, or Leonardo DiCaprio? Paris Hilton, or Ralph Nader?

Same answer, all three times. Now I go off to confidently await the highest visitor totals this blog has ever had, all because I wrote about Paris Hilton.

I’ll Hammer Out YOUR Bill in Conference….

August 7, 2007

…if you know what we mean.  Wait, oh come on, we were kidding….

They’re gonna hammer out a doozy in September, folks.

The House passed an energy bill that would make the energy industry produce 15% of all our electricity from renewable sources — solar, wind, etc. — by about a dozen years from now. (It also put some taxes on oil companies — $18 billion in taxes, actually.)

Meanwhile, the Senate passed an energy bill that would make automakers produce cars that get 35 mpg or more, also by about a dozen years from now.

So these two energy bills go to conference, and what will come out? Will the merged bill have the renewable-energy standard and the fuel-efficiency standard? Will it have the same standards (15% and 35 mpg), or will they be weakened?  Will it have only one of the two? Will it have (shudder to think) neither one?

George Bush says he’ll veto a bill that makes life hard on his poor, unfortunate, record-profit-reaping friends in the not-so-dog-eat-dog energy industry. And you can bank on that; GWB will never be disloyal to his truest constituency. He was willing to abandon the social conservatives to take care of the boardrooms in the immigration debate earlier this year, so he’ll have no problem squaring off against Nancy Pelosi on behalf of the same crew.

Will the dems back down in conference? Will they put out a weaker, watered-down bill to avoid the fight? Or will they force a veto? Will they back down after the veto? How long until the Democrats inevitably remember who they are, and cave in? After all, the DLC’ers are probably grouchy about the fact that the party can be tied to a piece of substantive legislation that doesn’t test at 100% among undecideds. Their chorus will eventually be heard, won’t it?

We shall see, at about the same time this godforsaken sweatbath heat snap finally breaks.

From the Grey Lady Herself

July 11, 2007

Three stories from your New York Times today:

We’re having a back-and-forth over the whole global-warming thing with a fair-minded skeptic right here.  Check it out!  Mad russian scientists make an appearance. 

This is a fun article, about a guy who’s in a fight with his neighbors over the windmill he installed in his back yard.  It’s clean energy vs. NIMBYism, and a sign of the cultural maw between those who want to do something about clean energy and those who like to sound concerned and maybe buy some green hipness.

In an article that should make any self-respecting social conservative wince, the storied baseball bat is an endangered species.  Twin threats are looming over the white ash tree: invasive bugs and global warming.  The bugs kill the trees, and the ones that don’t die will produce flimsier wood, because warmer weather lets them grow faster. 

Providence is lining up to be the next New Orleans.  Yipes.  And, no lobsters!

Better news and more fun, next post.  We swear.