Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Now here is a reason to be scared; today is the Day of Seven Billion. That is, today is approximately the day when the world's human population will reach 7 billion people. In my lifetime, the world population has grown more than 2 billion people. That's pretty scary. Fortunately, some work is being done on this. The United Nations Population Fund is working to build awareness about the challenges associated with this level of human population. Hopefully awareness-building will produce results.

(The pressure such a large human population puts on the environment is the issue discussed on Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog. If this interests/concerns you, I highly recommend adding Dot Earth to your news routine.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple's China Problem

With Apple's release of the iPhone4S today, it's important to remember that the much-loved company has some serious questions to answer about its operations in China. Alex Wang over at Legal Planet has a great write-up with several links that are worth checking out. According to the update, it looks like pressure might be starting to get somewhere. Let's hope so.

Solyndra: Bankrupting Clean Energy

Currently there is a Congressional hearing looking into the Solyndra loan debacle, [Solyndra is a California based solar energy company who filed bankruptcy this summer after having received $528 million in guaranteed loans from the Dept. of Energy in 2009], but truly it is clean energy investing that is on trial by the Committees’ Republicans. Seemingly as a result of this beating, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced today that he is scheduling a hearing on U.S. clean energy investments as compared to other countries for the coming weeks. An interesting note on this subject too is that Sen. Bingaman was integral in the existence of the law allowing the DOE to authorize guaranteed loans as he helped develop it. When asked specifically, Sen. Bingaman said he didn’t think that his hearing would touch on the Solyndra bankruptcy (as it is currently being investigated), but he did go on to say that “the Solyndra bankruptcy shouldn’t be used to cut clean-energy investment.”

Well Senator, you should have words with Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs the energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations heading the Solyndra investigation. According to NPR, Rep. Stearns was just quoted today as saying "We can't compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines," and he “doesn't believe in any type of subsidy for industry.” Rep. Stearns words are clearly at odds with Sen. Bingaman's own which is perhaps why Sen Bingaman decided to have his own hearing to determine the future of clean energy investing. Ironically, Rep. Stearns signed the original bill allowing for the DOE to authorize loan guarantees. And for perspective, Rep. Stearns also voted to continue oil subsidies totaling $21 billion just a few months ago which, if you are keeping score at home, is in fact a “subsidy for industry.”

If Rep. Stearns has his way, he will use the Solyndra fiasco to undue all clean energy investments in the future. Attacking the investments by saying, "I think the administration is putting taxpayers' money at risk in areas that are not creating jobs." One rebuttal is from NPR’s Yoki Noguchi: “Solyndra was just one of the clean energy projects and businesses that got loan guarantees from a Department of Energy program that ended Friday. In all, it financed 28 projects. The Energy Department says the projects will create about 17,000 construction and permanent jobs.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dam Republicans

Though not national news, an interesting argument arose from the public comments and hearing for the removal of the Paint Creek Dam in Oakland Township, Michigan. I'll get to the argument in a moment, but first, a little background.

The decision to remove the dam had come after the Clinton River Watershed Council had received a $700,000 federal grant to study the dam’s impact and possibly remove the dam. According to the Patch,

"Because it[, the Clinton River Watershed Council,] had a federal grant, it decided it would be in the best interest to the township to move ahead with the operation at no cost for the purpose of improving the riparian and aquatic habitat[, which includes the only designated trout stream in the county]."
The Patch further explains that supporters claimed removal of the dam and filling of the adjacent 100-year floodplain would improve aquatic and riparian habitat, while those opposing the project were concerned about the project changing historical character of the area.

Now, back to the interesting argument. The Oakland Township Patch reported,

"The dam removal project would be paid for by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Some iexpressed uneasiness about spending money the U.S. government "doesn’t have” and argued that all grants should be refused to help keep the nation’s deficit down. (sic)"
This is an interesting outgrowth of the Congressional Republicans push to cut federal spending on pretty much everything while refusing to consider revenue increases. Interesting why? Because 1) the Council already had access to the funds and 2) it is likely to save the Township money in the long-run.

On 1), the Council had obtained the funding with dam removal in mind as an option. The federal government had already agreed to provide the funding. If the money had not been used, it would have likely been used to fund another project, or perhaps gone to the general fund then been designated to another project. My point here is that the money was going to be used on a project someplace, so it is better that the money be used in a way that was already determined to be a good use of federal funding. It isn't as if the federal government would have used it to pay off the debt and it doesn't have a savings account to put the money in. It has to be spent.

On 2), it seems that some believe that short-term spending should be avoided when it yields long-term benefits. At the very least, it seems pretty typical of spending cut arguments I have seen. I imagine the thought process goes something like this: Should we spend money now to mitigate the damage of future natural disasters? No, we may not have to spend as much money in the future. Should we spend money now to help those who have had their communities devastated by a floods, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires? No, that would prevent the local economies from quickly recovering and it may put some people to work while the economy is stagnant. Should we adamantly fight to keep taxes low for people who have more than enough money? Of course, we need those people to make and keep more money so that they can ... have lots of money.

Larger political issues aside, the emergence of this argument at the local level is a bit disconcerting considering there are a great deal of climate adaptation projects that are needed to help the country deal with the problems associated with ever-escalating climate change.