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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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News Items 10/13/08

The Treasury has come up with some solution details.  First: purchasing troubled mortgage-back securities.  That’s okay, I guess.  Second: buying mortgages, particularly from regional banks.  That’s a lot better.  Third: insuring mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.  That’s a good idea too.  Fourth: purchasing equity in a broad array of financial institutions.  That’s a darn good idea.  If taxpayer money is being used to take assets off company books, taxpayers should be in line for any potential future gains.  Fifth: helping delinquent borrowers stay in their homes.  That’s kind of vague, but it’s a good summary statement.  I’d really like to see some details on just how they’re planning on achieving this goal.  [Update]: These details and weekend-long meetings among the largest economic powers had a positive effect on U.S. markets today: the Dow gained 936.42 today, as an example.

67% of Coloradans would rather protect pristine national forest lands and not increase oil and gas protection in them. 70% thought that the high number of already unused leases was reason enough not to grant the industry new ones on public lands.  56% were intelligent enough to recognize that opening drilling up in the lands wouldn’t lower gas prices.  Just one more reason why “Drill, baby, drill” isn’t working out West: we live next to the areas where the drilling would actually occur and we don’t think it’s a good idea.

Google has come out with a 21st century energy plan (ClimateProgess’ take) and it’s darn good.  Here is their top-level summary of goals:

Our proposal will allow us to reduce from the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) current baseline for energy use:

  • Fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%
  • Vehicle oil consumption by 38%
  • Dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 33%
  • Electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%
  • Personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 38%
  • US CO2 emissions overall by 48% (40% from today’s CO2 emission level)

The cost of Google’s plan?  $4.4 Trillion!  Ah, but the savings of Google’s plan?  $5.4 Trillion!!  I’ve heard estimates of the cost of business-as-usual, but I forget what they are.  I’ll follow up on this in the future.

A Siegel also provides a take on Google’s plan.

The effects of climate change in Colorado are being assessed.  Among them: change in river flows through mid-century. Climates are expected to migrate upward in elevation.  Supplies of water will decrease.  Demand is likely to increase.  Guess what will happen to costs.  Or we could actually do something about our climate change forcings.  See the Google plan above.  It’s a step in the correct direction.

Help 350.org send 35,000 invitations to Sen. Barack Obama and John McCain to attend the December U.N. Climate Meetings.

The hysteria over Amendment 41 continues among wonky circles. It shouldn’t, as info from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission came out last week. Scholarships, insurance policies and dinners are allowed, just like A41 supporters have maintained.  A41 banned gifts from lobbyists and anything over $50 in value from non-lobbyists.  The Colorado Supreme Court has refused to look at A41′s constitutionality until the law was applied or enforced.  I think the intent behind A41 was apparent to voters.  I don’t think the Commission will whittle away the intent, as opponents claim.

Arctic sea ice volume likely set an all-time minimum this year.  While the areal extent reached the second lowest value on record, the volume of the remaining ice was less this year than last.  It’s not hard to figure out why this is.  A record low areal extent last year meant the ice that formed last winter was new and thinner than ice that formed over decades or longer.  That ice melted easily this summer.  The small area of thicker ice?  It melted more this year because of the warmer ocean waters underneath it.  As those waters get warmer year after year, the ice above it has less long-term viability.  The NSIDC should continue to verify the final volume value for 2008.

Republicans have maintained their stranglehold on local and state politics with their GOPAC program – it trains folks how to push fringe policies to the public.  That’s how they’ve gotten so many extremists in positions of power.  Want to counter it?  Throw a little something toward Progressive Majority.

What does it mean to be fiscally conservative?  CONServatives certainly don’t know the answer.


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News Pieces 9/27/08

In a move toward improving the transparency of bills in Congress, PublicMarkup.org has put the original Bush Bailout plan and Senator Chris Dodd’s plan dealing with the same issue up for public view.  The public can also comment on the legislation.

Oh, in case you’re wondering – despite having billions of dollars worth of bad assets and paying executives millions of dollars every year, the financial institutions looking for a $700 billion handout is still paying for lobbyists.  In the millions this year alone.  While families are losing their houses.  That’s immoral.

The Republican County Clerk in El Paso is illegally trying to prevent students at Colorado College from voting this November.  Why would that be?  Could it be that young voters are breaking 65-32 for Obama over McCain?  Every vote Bob Balink prevents for Obama and other Democrats is one step closer toward his party’s success.  There are 10 days left to register to vote for this year’s election.  How many voters will be unable to vote because of this Republican’s immoral efforts?

While the summer season has drawn to a close for the Arctic, thankfully ending the horrible rate of melt this year, the Antarctic’s winter is also ending.  This winter wasn’t as good to the sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere as last winter was.  The maximum extent was 15 million sq. km, over 1 million sq. km. less than the area last year.  It appears Aug. 2008 wasn’t a good year for ice worldwide as the Southern Hemisphere actually lost over 500,000 sq. km. of ice in a two-week time period.  August also saw the fastest rate of melt of ice in the Northern Hemisphere.  After attaining a +2 million sq. km. anomaly last year, the Southern Hemisphere is lucky to be right at the 1970-2000 mean, and appears to be heading negative as the melt accelerates.

The shuttle mission to Hubble has been delayed by 4 days, from Oct. 10th to the 14th.  Most of the delay was caused by Hurricane Ike’s landfall and damage to the Houston, TX area.  Atlantis is scheduled to make the trip to Hubble.  Endeavour is waiting on a nearby launch pad in the event that Atlantis experiences damage significant enough to prevent a return to Earth.  Endeavour is scheduled to make another construction flight to the International Space Station later this year if the rescue mission is unneeded.

A potential lunar colony site has been mapped in 3-D using camera data that wasn’t meant for 3-D.  I think Mars exploration and colonies should come first, but recognize the long-term importance of the Moon as well.

Gas shortages are occurring across the southern U.S. A couple of factors are causing this situation.  Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down drilling and refining infrastructure as well as power delivery systems across the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana and Texas.  More disturbing is the following:

In its most recent Weekly Oil Data Review, Barclays Capital pointed out that the U.S. gasoline inventory has reached its lowest level since August 1967, when demand was a little more than half its current level of 9.3 million barrels a day. At 178.7 million barrels, inventories are 21.6 million barrels below their five-year average.

Replacing those inventories isn’t easy either.  “Once the refineries get back up and running, they’ll drain the already low crude oil inventories.”  Not discussed in the article is the impact of fuel corporations sitting on millions of acres of leased land without drilling.  Not discussed in the article is the impact of not building additional refining capacity in the last 30 years, making the drilling issue completely irrelevant.  It’s that lack of refining capacity (which are only operating at 67% of capacity right now) that has put a large region of the country in danger of running out of gasoline.  If that situation gets worse, food won’t be able to be supplied.  Then the anger over Bush’s Wall St. Bailout will seem minor in comparison.


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News Items 9/9/08: Iraq Troop Levels, Colorado Drilling Rules; GI Bill; Palin’s Scam

George Bush decided not to change the number of troops holding down our occupation of Iraq for the remainder of his time in office. Like the courageous visionary he is, he’s leaving the decision to the next President.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff recommended the elimination of the proposed 90-days drilling restriction in some wildlife areas. Imagine if instead of spending millions on lobbying, fuel corporations spent that money on developing new technologies. Imagine if their actions were responsible and moral.

Why won’t John McCain sign the GI Bill? Must be that mavericky thing the corporate media crows so much about.

Sarah Palin billed taxpayers to stay in her own home. $16,951 by herself; $43,490 for her husband (the secessionist) and daughters. Fiscal conservatism in action.

Sarah Palin’s Alaska is a welfare state. In 2005 (the most recent figures), according to the Tax Foundation, Alaska ranked 18th in federal taxes paid per resident ($5,434) but first in federal spending received per resident ($13,950). Where does all that money come from to spend on each resident? The rest of the country’s taxpayers. Leeches! The last paragraph sums up the situation very nicely (emphasis in bold is mine):

Why is a windfall-profits tax good for Alaska but not for the U.S.? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? People in Alaska are better than people in the rest of the U.S. They’re more American. Although there are small towns and farms and high school hockey teams in the lower 48, there are fewer down here, per capita, than in Alaska. And there are many more journalists and pollsters and city dwellers [and community organizers] and other undesirables who might benefit if every American had the same right to leech off the government as do the good citizens of Sarah Palin’s Alaska.


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Colorado Shafted By Gas and Oil Corporations: Roan Plateau

Gas and oil corporations have been pushing to open the pristine Roan Plateau up to drilling for years. Recently, they used arguments that Colorado would reap a financial windfall at an auction for drilling sites. They have been spewing figures like $2 billion in total sales, meaning Colorado could receive $1 billion dollars (the federal government gets the rest).

The sites were placed on auction yesterday. How many billions did they end up selling for? $0.114. You read that correctly: the total dollar value of all the sites sold to oil and gas corporations was a mere $114 million. That’s 1/20th the number those corporations were using to ensure the auction took place. The Roan Plateau will have thousands of drill pads developed on its top, changing it for the rest of my lifetime as well as that of future generations. That’s not all. Not only did Colorado get shafted out of $1,886,000,000 of funds corporations played off as guaranteed, the state will end up losing twice because of the actual guaranteed decrease in tourism on the Plateau. Tourism generates $7.3 billion per year for Colorado. That means the state got gipped by the auction once, but any gains realized by the energy corporations by oil and gas prices (which will likely be higher in the future, of course) will act as a double hit to the state in the form of fewer tourism dollars filling the state’s coffers.

What’s particularly disgusting in this case is that the same industry lobbying group that pushed the $2 billion number so hard immediately blamed Democrats for the short-change.  Gov. Ritter has said since his time in office that the number was a ploy to get the land sold.  Simply put, it worked.  Two spokesmen even had the audacity to compare the Roan sale to a previous sale that netted a much larger average bid price without mentioning one critical difference: the Roan is public land while the previous sale was private land.  Isn’t it interesting how the government got fleeced by corporations while private land sold for 20 times as much per acre?

Oil and gas lobbyists don’t even blink an eye at this level of immorality.  They don’t have Colorado citizens’ best interests in mind.  They work to drive up profits while disregarding every other facet of their industry.


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8/3/08 News Items & Thoughts

Colorado homeowners will have the opportunity to sign up for net metering in two days as a new law takes effect. If homeowners generate more power, via things like solar panels, they can sell the excess back to their utility. This is a step in a good direction. It will reduce demand on fossil-fuel powered generation systems (albeit very small at first). As neighbors see panels being put up on each others’ houses and hear that their energy bills are going down, more people will want them installed. As that happens, demand for solar panels will increase and the price to manufacture it will go down as larger scale economies kick in. It distributes power generation, which is an excellent thing. Any way we can reduce our need to connect to power being generated hundreds of miles away is a positive. In the long-term, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, which we have to work hard at doing.

Now, there are a lot of things to be done between now and then, but this is the kind of opportunity that a Democratic legislature and Governor can provide a state. Put another way, government is working for people.

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I always enjoy visualizations to help understand things. Here is one I just read about: the Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming. It shows how USDA hardiness zones have changed from 1990 to 2006. We’re feeling the effects already – I can vouch for that since I’ve been gardening in this time frame. Year-to-year differences are small, but if you think back to how things were different 15 years ago…

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The Colorado Department of Natural Resources submitted a protest last Wednesday (July 30) to the federal Bureau of Land Management today objecting to the BLM’s plan to lease the top of the Roan Plateau for commercial drilling on Aug. 14. I’m not sure it will actually do anything. It sounds like it’s just formalizing an opinion. If that’s the case, it’s incredibly frustrating.

***

Another new law will take effect in two days: HB 1407 is the culmination of years of insurance company abuse against its policy-holders by unreasonably denying or delaying the payment of valid claims. It requires insurance companies to pay double damages if they don’t pay what they owe when they owe it. You and I have to pay what we owe or face staggering penalties. If we’re going to treat corporations as persons, then let’s treat them as persons: benefits and responsibilities.

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More of this please.


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Drilling In Colorado & Paying Your Fair Share

The Colorado Petroleum Association paid for a report that says if Colorado were to eliminate the corporate welfare currently given away to oil and gas corporations, Colorado taxes would rank second in the nation behind Wyoming. The message they’ve manufactured is that taking away their welfare will end up costing consumers more. I’m not buying it.

Here is the important fact: the ad valorem tax credit allows energy companies to subtract 87.5% of their property tax bills from the mineral taxes they owe the state. Why was the credit established? Gov. Ritter has provided that answer. The credit has its roots in the late 1970s when Colorado wanted to help the energy industry establish itself in the state. Does anyone seriously think the drilling industry isn’t established in Colorado? I agree with the Governor: enough is enough. Oil and gas companies are recording record profits every quarter. If the companies want to continue to do business in the state, they should pay what they owe.

Once the giveaway is canceled, the state will receive an additional $260 million in revenue. Gov. Ritter, looking ahead for our state, wants to use some of that money to underwrite “Colorado Promise” scholarships. That makes sense to me: oil and gas corporations pay their fair share and young Coloradans gain another avenue to further themselves.

There is an alternative ballot measure that would redirect the taxes to a different recipient: transportation (read: roads). This is a less optimal situation. Once the money is spent on roads, it’s spent. Roads need additional funding, that’s for sure, but Republicans are trying to do so without raising taxes. Here is my opinion: if our infrastructure needs investment, let’s invest in it. If nobody ever pays anything for the infrastructure, it’s going to fall apart and end up costing us more in the long-term. If the money is directed toward improving citizens’ future earning potential, I think the state sees a larger benefit from that in the long term. They’ll not only earn more, and therefore generate more revenue for the state, but they’ll produce more for the state during their careers, thanks on their increased education.

The oil and gas corporations want people to buy into their myth that eliminating their welfare would hurt their industry.  I’ll expose that for the lie that it is: are the corporations fleeing Wyoming, where their taxes are higher, for Colorado?  Of course not.  The energy industry is thriving in Wyoming also.

Colorado deserves its fair share from the energy industry just like it does from every other industry.  The time for giveaways is over.


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Drillers In Colorado Could Pay More Up Front

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission continues to discuss proposed drilling rule changes. One topic: the amount corporations will have to pay up front to cover potential environmental clean up. Currently, they pay less in Colorado than they do in surrounding states. Does anyone wonder why those corporations are fighting potential rule changes tooth and nail? Of course, if all of their whining were based on fact, they wouldn’t be doing business in other states. You know, because of the harsh business environment and all that.

David Dillon, engineering manager for the commission, noted that rates haven’t been increased in 12 years and, since 1996, the commission has recovered only 50 cents on the dollar to deal with problems at abandoned wells. It’s had to take the remaining money – nearly $500,000 – from a state environmental response fund.

If companies want to drill in Colorado, they should put adequate money up front to ensure conditions are just as good when they’re done extracting resources.


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Long Hit & Quick Hits 5/12/08

Climate change and social justice. Two concepts that don’t ordinarily show up together in a discussion of either. The Progressive States’ Network issued a dispatch a while back that did just that. Some of the concepts presented included “Cap and Dump”, where lower-income communities could see no improvement of industrial emissions caps. Too often, polluters and commodity traders make most of the decisions regarding cap and trade schemes. Local governments need to make sure they’re heavily involved in these processes. Too many examples exist of corporate irresponsibility.

Cap-and-trade systems aren’t the most efficient or fair choice to implement, I think. Carbon taxes seem to me to be a better alternative. One reason is they apply to every carbon source. If a cap-and-trade system is implemented, emissions allowances must be auctioned off, not given away. The European Union made this mistake while setting up their initial market. I think I’ve read that to date, emissions aren’t down, nor are they steady. Emissions in the European market have continued to increase, although perhaps at a slower rate. The U.S. must not make the same mistake now that we have the opportunity to learn from Europe’s decisions.

The PSN Dispatch notes that a recent Brookings Institution paper presented a mechanism to help offset the cost of a carbon tax on lower-income households. The paper calls for the creation of an environmental earned income tax credit in the personal income tax that would be equal to the employer and employee payroll taxes on initial earnings (up to a limit). The tax credit could be financed by revenue raised through implementing the carbon tax. Economic analysis in the study shows that properly enacted rebates would completely offset any increase in costs by a carbon tax, a truly important consideration.

Another good point: new and better jobs in low-income communities can help fight the disproportionate burden of climate change on those communities. Specifically, environmentally beneficial jobs and economic growth can do quite a bit to offset that burden.

Those are some of the highlights I picked up from the report. Click on the link above to see the whole thing for yourself. They also include a large amount of additional resources as links from the Dispatch.

*****

A well laid out diary with maps of the Democratic Presidential contests held thus far. It’s a little long, but worth the read.

*****

The successful Colorado Forest Restoration Pilot Program extension has been passed by both chambers of the Colorado legislature. CO SB08-71, sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs, will provide $1 million annually through 2012 to help consumers implement forest treatment projects to reduce wildfire fuels.

The bill being send to Gov. Ritter couldn’t have come at a better time. One recent study estimated that every lodgepole pine forest from Pueblo to Wyoming will be decimated by the pine beetle infestation within five years, which is very bad news for the forest ecosystems and the state’s watersheds.

*****

The Colorado Wildlife Commission tackled what it saw as shortcomings in the oil and gas commissions’ plans for drilling, as required by CO HB08-1298. Chief among their concerns included timing restrictions, surface-occupancy limitations and reclamation. The issue of reclamation was a major point of discussion, which is appropriate given the industry’s track record of leaving land even remotely similar to how it existed prior to drilling. Here’s hoping the CWC’s work does some good.

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