Thursday, May 29, 2008
From Staff ReportsThe Register-Herald
Mandatory production of 6 billion gallons of coal-to-liquids fuel by 2022 is the thrust of the proposed Clean Coal-Derived Fuels for Energy Security Act that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito intends to offer next week.Coal can be converted into clean, zero-sulfur, synthetic fuel and oil products for nearly $35 to $45 a barrel, Capito, R-W.Va., said Tuesday.This means that with the use of modern technology, a cheaper alternative to traditional crude oil, now going for nearly $135 a barrel, is possible, she said.“West Virginians are feeling it at the gas station and they’re feeling high gas prices in the spike in food costs,” the 2nd District representative said.“It’s time for an all-hands-on-deck policy and coal must play a part in our energy solutions. Our nation’s coal reserves are larger than the combined oil reserves of the rest of the world. We’ve seen enough excuses and it’s time to get serious about coal-to-liquids.”Capito said her plan can lead to production of clean fuel on the home front that leads to more American jobs, “and it’s the right thing to do for West Virginia.”An energy policy that expands domestic oil and natural gas exploration and embraces conservation efforts and investment is renewable energy technology is needed, she said.“There is no single or easy solution to our nation’s energy needs,” Capito said.“But without increased domestic production of energy, we will continue to subject ourselves to the massive fluctuations in global energy prices that have led prices to their record highs.”
Friday, May 23, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, at age 38 and having served less than five terms, did not leap over a dozen of his seniors to become ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee by bashing GOP leaders. But an angry Ryan last Wednesday delivered unscripted remarks on the House floor as the farm bill neared passage: "This bill is an absence of leadership. This bill shows we are not leading."
Ryan's fellow reformer, 45-year-old Jeff Flake of Arizona, in his fourth term, is less cautious about defying the leadership and has been kept off key committees. On Wednesday, he said of a $300 billion bill that raises farm subsidies and is filled with non-farm pork, "Sometimes, here in Washington, we tend to drink our own bath water and believe our own press releases."
A majority of both Senate and House Republicans voted for a bill that raises spending 44 percent above last year's, dooming chances to sustain President Bush's promised veto. GOP leaders were divided, with Bush sounding an uncertain trumpet. Today's Republican Party -- divided, drifting, demoralized -- is epitomized by the farm bill.
At the moment Congress passed the farm bill, Republican were terrified by the previous day's defeat in the Mississippi 1st Congressional District, the third straight supposedly safe Republican seat lost in special elections. Fearing a November tsunami for the Democrats, incumbent Republicans talked about following their new standard-bearer, John McCain, against pork. But that's not the way they voted last week.
George W. Bush was just as ambivalent last week. In 2002, he signed a massive farm bill. But with Democrats in control of Congress, Bush preaches the old time religion. Addressing the House Republican caucus behind closed doors at the White House May 7, he disclosed that he would veto the farm bill, then implied it was all right if members "voted their districts" -- that is, if the "aggies" supported the bill. This message was pressed on his colleagues by Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee.
Nevertheless, would the party's leadership in Congress push hard enough to produce enough votes to sustain a veto? There was never any hope in the Senate, where Republican Leader Mitch McConnell not only supported the farm bill but earmarked a tax provision benefiting horse farms in his state of Kentucky. But in the House, Republican Leader John Boehner always has been anti-pork, even if passive about exhorting other Republicans to follow his example.
On May 9, Flake sent Boehner a candid letter: "We need more than individual members of the Republican leadership to state their opposition to the bill. We need the leadership to use its good offices to explain the importance of sustaining the president's veto as opposed to advising members to 'vote their districts.'"
Boehner, waiting four days before responding, last Tuesday rejected the "vote their districts" escape for House Republicans: "I believe they should also vote their consciences, and cast their votes in a manner consistent with the small government principles upon which our party was founded." Boehner took the floor Wednesday to speak against the bill.
But nobody cracked the party whip. On the contrary, Minority Whip Roy Blunt voted for the bill. So did Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, who was seen whipping votes for passage. House Republicans voted 100 to 91 to approve the bill (with only 15 Democrats in opposition), assuring an overriden veto. Similarly, in the Senate, Republicans voted 35 to 13 for the bill, and the only Democrats opposing it were Rhode Island's two senators.
That did not conclude the dismal Republican performance for the week, as lawmakers raced out Thursday for their usual long weekend. Seventeen pork-minded Republican senators gave the Democratic leadership necessary support to waive from the farm bill the brand new ban of earmarks on a bill that had cleared both houses. Thirty-two craven Republican House members voted for upper-bracket tax increases to finance new veterans benefits. They all return to work this week to encounter a new comprehensive reform introduced by Paul Ryan on health care, Social Security and taxes -- titled "A Roadmap for American's Future." If anybody needs a roadmap, it's Ryan's colleagues.
WASHINGTON — Six weeks after a fatal Minneapolis bridge collapse prompted criticism of federal spending priorities, the Senate approved a transportation and housing bill Wednesday containing at least $2 billion for pet projects that include a North Dakota peace garden, a Montana baseball stadium and a Las Vegas history museum.
That's not the half of it.
Total spending on transportation "earmarks" next year is likely to be about $8 billion, when legislative projects from a previously approved, five-year highway bill are factored in. A newly released report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general identified 8,056 earmarks totaling $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in October, or 13.5% of the Transportation Department's $63 billion spending plan.
The inspector general's report found that the vast majority of earmarks — project-specific spending instructions written into bills, usually by lawmakers — were not evaluated on their merits, and that many "low-priority" earmarks often squeezed out more important projects.
The Federal Aviation Administration, for example, had to delay updating high-priority air-traffic control towers in favor of lower priority facilities requested by legislators, the inspector general found.
The report — requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a vocal critic of earmarks — does not name the airports.
After the Minneapolis bridge collapse last month, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others pointed out that Congress for years failed to fund repairs on scores of "structurally deficient" bridges even as lawmakers earmarked money for projects such as the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has proposed a temporary 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase that he said would raise $25 billion over three years to help reduce the backlog of critical bridge repairs. Among Oberstar's earmarks in the House transportation bill is $250,000 for a bike trail in his district, which he has defended as legitimate. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington state Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that drafted the $106 billion transportation and housing bill, defended the bill and pointed to insertion this week of an additional $1 billion for bridge repairs.
Coburn's staff identified 500 earmarks in the bill, totaling $2 billion, that were publicly disclosed under new rules designed to shed some light on the practice.
"No one in America seriously believes that bike paths, peace gardens and baseball stadiums are more important national priorities than bridge and road repairs," Coburn said.
Coburn and a handful of other lawmakers routinely try to strip bills of earmarks, only to see colleagues crush them with bipartisan efficiency.
On Tuesday, Coburn offered an amendment prohibiting spending on earmarks until every structurally deficient bridge was fixed. It lost, 82 to 14.
The bill, which President Bush has threatened to veto, must now be reconciled with the House-approved version. That measure contains, among other earmarks, money for a California mule and packer museum.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Billions More Could Be Paid Through Little-Noticed Provision
By Dan MorganSpecial to The Washington Post Wednesday, May 21, 2008; Page A02
A major new program in the recently enacted farm bill could increase taxpayer-financed payments to farmers by billions of dollars if high commodity prices decline to more typical levels, administration and congressional budget officials said yesterday.
The potential costs came to light as administration officials pored over details of the 673-page, $307 billion legislation. President Bush has promised to veto the measure, which he called "bloated." The House and Senate passed the bill by bipartisan margins large enough to override him unless dozens of lawmakers switch sides.
The final details of the new program were approved at the end of four months of House-Senate negotiations over the legislation and received almost no attention during floor debate last week. The voluntary program guarantees farmers a subsidy if they suffer losses because of low prices or poor crops.
Since the amount of the subsidy for 2009 is tied to recent record prices, farmers could reap a windfall if prices drop suddenly.
"I don't think many people on the House side who voted for the farm bill realized there were $16 billion in potential higher costs in there," said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Charles F. Conner. "The budget exposure is tremendous."
A blog item posted Monday by the agricultural magazine Pro Farmer described the new program, known as Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE), as "lucrative beyond expectations," and said it is a "no brainer" for farmers to sign up for it.
The Agriculture Department estimates that subsidy payments to corn farmers alone could reach $10 billion a year if prices -- which have been $5 to $6 a bushel -- were to drop to $3.25 a bushel, a level seen as recently as last year. The $10 billion figure assumes most farmers would participate in the program, a view disputed by key lawmakers.
Kate Cyrul, spokeswoman for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa), the leading congressional champion of the program, called USDA's projections a "doomsday scenario."
She noted that USDA's forecasts of corn, wheat and soybean prices suggest that they will stay too high for farmers to qualify for any benefits.
"From our evaluation, the program does not look excessively expensive for the lifetime of the farm bill," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee. He said the program will be reviewed and evaluated as the new farm bill nears expiration in 2012.
But fellow Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a strong critic of the new farm bill, accused House and Senate negotiators of "unbelievable gall."
"I don't think any of us had a clue this was in there. It was simply dropped into the conference report," he said.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Provides 100-percent fuel economy improvement over Vue 2 Mode
Based on modified 2-mode hybrid system and plug-in technology
Hybrid lithium-ion battery recharges from household outlet in under five hours
Battery replenishment via electric motors and regenerative brake systems
At least 10 miles of all-electric range at slow to moderate speeds
Potential to be world’s most fuel-efficient production vehicle (in many driving situations)
Production may begin in 2010
Whether the Vue Green Line Plug-in Hybrid is a stand-alone model, or joins the Vue Green Line 2 Mode Hybrid (debuting as a 2009 model late this year) in the Saturn Vue lineup, is as yet unclear.
Hardware: The powertrain in the Green Line Plug-in Hybrid features two interior permanent magnet motors within the 2-mode transmission, and the GM 3.6-liter V-6 engine with variable valve timing (VVT) gasoline engine with direct injection.
Although not yet announced, the Vue Green Line Plug-in Hybrid, like the Vue Green Line 2 Mode, is likely to include electronic stability control, tire-pressure-monitoring system, and 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS).
Technology: The Vue Green Line Plug-in Hybrid will use a modified version of the GM 2-mode hybrid system used on the 2009 Saturn Vue Green Line 2 Mode, along with plug-in technology, lithium-ion battery pack, higher-efficiency electronics and powerful electric motors. This combination is expected to achieve significant fuel economy increases—potentially doubling any current SUV’s fuel efficiency when the batteries are fully charged. Battery replenishment occurs after the electric-only propulsion has depleted the lithium-ion energy storage system by using the hybrid system’s electric motors and regenerative brake systems. Early testing reveals the Vue Green Line Plug-in Hybrid to be capable of more than 10 miles of electric-only propulsion at low speeds. During brisk acceleration, higher speeds, or when conditions warrant, the vehicle’s driving power comes from a combination of engine and electric power, or engine power only.
The plug-in aspect refers to the vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries, which can be fully recharged in four to five hours by connecting the vehicle to any standard household electrical outlet of 110 volts. The connection port is integrated into the front fender for easy access. Recharging—and not refueling—contributes to reduced consumption of petroleum. A key difference between a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle and a non-plug-in hybrid-electric model is that the plug-in version provides extended electric-only propulsion, as well as greater battery capacity and recharging from an external electrical outlet.
The vehicle has two driving modes: city and highway. In addition, four fixed mechanical gears maximize efficiency while maintaining performance. Special controls will enable higher speeds during electric-only driving while simultaneously maintaining a longer period of electric-only propulsion. Other technology features are expected to include a navigation system, AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player and auxiliary input jack, and a power sunroof.—Suzanne Kane
Monday, May 19, 2008
The Barnett Shale is a geological formation of economic significance. It consists of sedimentary rocks of Mississippian age (354-323 million years ago) in the U.S. State of Texas. The formation is estimated to stretch from the city of Dallas to west of the city of Fort Worth and south, covering 5,000 square miles (13,000 km²) and at least 17 counties.
Some experts have suggested the Barnett Shale may be the largest onshore natural gas field in the United States.  The field is proven to have 2.5 trillion cubic feet (59 km³) of natural gas, and is widely estimated to contain as much as 30 trillion cubic feet (850,000,000,000 m³) of natural gas resources. Oil also has been found in lesser quantities, but sufficient enough (with recent high oil prices) to be commercially viable.
The Barnett Shale is known as a "tight" gas reservoir, indicating that the gas is not easily extracted. The shale is very hard, and it was virtually impossible to produce gas in commercial quantities from this formation until recent improvements were made in hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling, and there was an upturn in the natural gas price.
Future development of the field will be hampered in part by the fact that major portions of the field are in urban areas, including the rapidly growing Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Some local governments are researching means by which they can drill on existing public land (e.g., parks) without disrupting other activities so they may obtain royalties on any minerals found, whereas others are seeking compensation from drilling companies for damage to roads caused by overweight vehicles (many of the roads are rural and not designed for use by heavy equipment).
The Barnette Shale field may increase our known reserves by as much as 15%. (Tim)
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Yesterday The Ticket broke the stunning news of America's acquisition of seven, maybe eight, new states, according to future president Barack Obama.
He was speaking at the start of a two-day swoop through Oregon, which is already a state.
In Beaverton, which is not a state yet, the Democrat let it slip that during this marathon 16-month party presidential nomination struggle against a bunch of dropouts and this female political zombie from New York who won't surrender short of a silver stake, he had already visited 57 states with one more to go.
That's not counting the existing states of Alaska and Hawaii, he said, which his staff decided aren't important enough to visit. Unless maybe you're Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich, who weren't very important either, come to think of it.
Here's the spoof-proof Obama video as evidence:
Has this aging freshman senator -- he'll be almost 60 in 13 years -- lost his bearings? Are the eight new states caucus or primary? And will Howard Dean bar them from the convention too?
Obama's gaffe caused a noticeable stir online during the day and even the respected Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic anticipated that the political media would kindly write the Democrat's mis-statement off to fatigue. But he wrote if, say, the Republican nominee-to-be had uttered the same silly fatigue flub, it would surely be added to eager suspicions of senility.
Besides trying to noodle out what the new states are, some clever campaign folks over at the phenomenal Suitably Flip blog got to thinking right away.
And they've now unveiled a new patriotic lapel pin that anyone can wear with pride even, say, a Harvard-educated senator from Illinois who's been trying to make a point about opposing a war before it even started.
Here is the new pin replete with all 57 stars:
You'll probably want to order several for friends and family. And any Chablis-sipping senators you might know.
By Andrew Malcolm - LA Times
Of course if this had been George W. Bush he would be labeled as stupid and if John McCain had done this he would be labeled senile. What's Obama's excuse? Skipped American history classes, not a real issue concerning Americans, or trying to dumb down his elitist status. (Tim)
Friday, May 16, 2008
IT SEEMS THAT the world is beginning to come around to my point of view, that the credit crisis has been averted and the economy is not going to weaken enough to deserve to be called a "recession."
Several speeches this week by Federal Reserve officials have talked about the credit crisis very much in the past tense. The Fed finally came up with new liquidity facilities that were effective at easing the crisis — after nine months of flailing, doing everything wrong and nothing right. This after years of keeping interest rates too low, and triggering the cycle of speculation that led to the credit crisis in the first place. So now the Fed speechifiers can pontificate about the mistakes that bank lending officers and brokerage firm risk control experts made.
Even my longtime ideological nemesis Paul Krugman, the economist who writes a column for the New York Times in which, for years, he has forecasted every possible horrific outcome for the economy, admitted last week that "the worst of the financial crisis is over."
The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story this week about how most professional economists have changed their gloomy minds. Just a month ago the consensus agreed that the economy is already in recession — now the consensus says it's not, and that we won't fall into recession from here.
I have to say, all this worries me. I am always much more confident of my views when I am out-of-consensus. When everyone starts to agree with me, I have to start looking for a new point of view.
But I don't think the credit crisis will erupt again. And I don't think the economy will fall into recession.
But as others are getting more confident, I'm getting more worried. In fact, I've told my institutional clients that I still expect a substantial recovery in stocks over the next several months. But I've also told them that looking out a little further, I think that it's time to prepare to get out.
What I'm worried about is politics. In economic matters, I am a conservative. I favor low taxes, no trade barriers, little regulation, sound money and a minimal role for government in the marketplace. For short, call it Reaganomics.
In today's politics that kind of economics is in retreat. When it came into ascendancy in the early 1980s, it was a revolutionary solution to deep structural problems in the economy. It's what lifted the American economy out of the rust bowl of the 1970s, and made the U.S. a technology leader coming into the new millennium.
In the 1970s the economic pie was shrinking. Now it's grown tremendously. So our psychology has changed quite a bit. Now we have the luxury of not worrying about how to make the pie grow, but instead to worry about how we distribute the pie.
So now there are calls to raise taxes on the rich (though it's low taxes on the rich that grew the pie in the first place). There are calls to stop global trade to protect jobs at home (though it's that trade that has collapsed the prices of most consumer goods). There are calls to nationalize health care, so that everyone can have an equal call on the miracles of modern medicine (though it's the mostly private approach to medicine that enabled those miracles in the first place). There are calls to heavily regulate financial services (though deregulation is what enabled almost every American, rich or poor, to carry a credit card, and so many to own their own homes for the first time).
It's not particularly a matter of Democrats versus Republicans. John McCain more closely represents the kind of economics I prefer than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. But none of the candidates really embraces it fully.
Why? Because the American people don't embrace it anymore. We've forgotten what created the prosperity we enjoy today. We're fat and happy. We're complacent. And in my view, that means we're being very stupid.
So is it any surprise that politicians on both sides of the aisle say what they say and do what they do? They're just giving us what we want. However stupid it may be.
And talk about stupid! This week the McCain campaign sent out a press release trumpeting the fact that "eco-friendly" clothing is now available for purchase on their web site. For instance, you can buy a "Go Green McCain Embroidered Polo Shirt with New Recycle Logo," made of 70% bamboo and 30% cotton. I won't ask why that's more "eco-friendly" than an ordinary one made of 100% cotton. For eco-fanatics, it's the thought that counts.
I wish it were just a matter of clothing. But no. In this time of great prosperity, we have the luxury of being nonrational on a grand scale when it comes to the environment. McCain, Obama and Clinton have all embraced the need to legislate caps on carbon emissions. All three support the idea of "cap-and-trade," in which industries that undershoot their emission caps can trade pollution rights to others who have overshot theirs.
Oh, sure, it sounds good to say we're going to stop global warming. But global warming is just a theory. And even if the theory is true, it's just another theory that capping emissions will stop global warming. And even if that theory is true, it's yet another theory that the cost of stopping it will be less than the cost of not stopping it.
I'm not just talking about the dollar cost of higher utility prices, reduced manufacturing capacity and lost jobs — and all the other inevitable consequences of setting an arbitrary carbon cap. Let me be fashionable, and say that money doesn't matter. So let's talk about the opportunity cost. Whatever we spend to maybe stop global warming that may or may not even exist, that's money that won't be available to, say, cure malaria. Malaria definitely exists. And we definitely know how to cure it.
So this is why I'm worried for the long term. When even the most conservative of the candidates embraces something as economically nonrational as capping-and-trading carbon emissions, you know that the economic philosophy of the nation is in decline.
That means higher taxes. More regulation. More barriers to trade. Government doing more things that the private sector can do better. It won't matter who the next president is, except perhaps in degree.
I truly believe that economic philosophy is what moves the world. We had a quarter century of a philosophy of free markets. Suddenly, we are moving very much the other way.
Our marvelous economy still has a lot of momentum. And there's still lots of opportunity to take advantage of the recovery from the credit crisis and the recession that was never a recession. But the philosophy is changing.
At some point, it will be time to sell, and probably stay out of the market for several years — until we've learned our lesson.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Company debuts ethanol home refinery system to offer consumers an alternative to gasoline
By Larry Greenemeier
A company banking on drivers' weariness of skyrocketing gasoline prices unveiled a home refinery device on Thursday offering another option: ethanol. E-Fuel Corporation says its EFuel100 MicroFueler can produce up to 35 gallons (132 liters) of ethanol a week that consumers can pump directly into their cars and trucks. There is no combustion inside the device, which runs on a standard household 110- to 220-volt AC power supply (consuming about 150 watts*) and uses a membrane system to distill the sugar, yeast and water solution required to make ethanol rather than combustion heating elements, as commercial ethanol producers do. Interested drivers in the U.S. can put in their orders now for their own EFuel100 MicroFueler at the company's Web site with a $3,000 down payment toward the total $10,000 tab; the first units are expected to ship some time this fall. The company, which has plants in Los Gatos and Paso Robles, Calif., as well as Hong Kong, also plans to sell MicroFuelers in Brazil, China and the U.K.The prototype rolled out at a press conference in New York City yesterday is 72 inches (1.8 meters) high, 42 inches (1.1 meters) wide and 72 inches long, but the company says the consumer units are likely to be a bit smaller.
Ethanol fuel is made from a combination of water, yeast and sugar, Tom Quinn, E-Fuel founder and CEO, said at the press conference, adding that the process was no more complicated than what is taught in "third-grade science." The adoption of ethanol has been held back because drivers do not have access to the fuel, he said, pointing out that there are only 1,200 ethanol stations in the U.S., compared with about 176,000 gas stations.To make ethanol in the EFuel100, feedstock (consisting of sugar and yeast) or discarded liquor is loaded into the device's 200-gallon (757-liter) tank. Using the LCD screen located on the front of the device (next to the pump), the operator places the EFuel100 either in ferment (for feedstock) or distillation (for liquor) mode to begin the process. The EFuel100 is hooked up to a water source—much like one's washing machine or dishwasher is—and regulates the amount of water flowing into its tank to begin the ethanol-conversion process.
Once the feedstock is fermented, the device transfers the solution to its distillation system, where it is vaporized in a vertical column tube and sent through a membrane that separates the alcohol from the water. The distilled vapor is then cooled back into liquid form and sent to the 35-gallon storage tank, from which it can be pumped into an automobile using a 50-foot (15-meter) retractable hose. The process of turning sugar into ethanol fuel takes nearly a week (although alcohol distillation can be done in a matter of hours).
The cost of operating and maintaining the EFuel100 vary, depending on rebates (a $1,000 federal tax credit is available) and the cost of the sugar feedstock—it takes 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms) of feedstock to produce a gallon of ethanol. E-Fuel also offers its Carbon Credit Coupon Program, which will allow its customers to buy discounted E-Fuel–certified sugar feedstock for an estimated 15 to 30 cents per pound, the company said Thursday. One of the company's main objectives with the program is to keep the cost of ethanol less than $1 per gallon.The company says that families would save a barrel of cash in the long run. It estimates, for instance, that a family will save about $4,200 per year on fuel (assuming gas costs $3.60 per gallon and ethanol costs $1 per gallon) if it has two cars that get 22 miles per gallon (9.3 kilometers per liter) and are driven a total of 34,500 miles (55,500 kilometers) annually. Automobiles do not require their fuel to be 100 percent ethanol, so greater savings are possible if drivers dilute the finished product with water (as long at that mixture contains at least 65 percent ethanol).E-Fuel chose sugar as its raw material (instead of corn feedstock or cellulose) because of its ease and abundance: corn feedstock or cellulose have to be broken down into sugar before they can be turned into ethanol.
But E-Fuel said it plans to eventually build corn and cellulose versions of its microfuelers, although no time frame has been set. A version that uses corn is lower priority, Quinn said, because corn, unlike sugar, is an essential part of the world's food supply. As Bruce Padula, the company's vice president of sales and marketing puts it, "Doctors aren't telling you to eat more sugar." Still, much of the ethanol-producing infrastructure in place is designed to use corn feedstock—corn-based ethanol accounts for most of the total ethanol produced in the U.S. at this time, according to Louisiana State University's Agriculture Center.However, the company's claims about the environmental friendliness of ethanol are in dispute. E-Fuel touts ethanol as cheaper and more environmentally sound than gasoline, claiming that it produces 85 percent fewer climate change–causing carbon emissions than gasoline. But Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering, says ethanol is no better for air quality. Jacobson last year published a report in Environmental Science & Technology noting that ethanol produces less benzene and butadiene than gasoline, but it releases more formaldehyde and acetaldehyde into the atmosphere.Although ethanol is made from seemingly innocuous materials (like sugar or corn), it becomes dangerous when broken down in the atmosphere into acetaldehyde and acetic acid (the latter of which is corrosive and irritates the eyes), Jacobson says. "[Ethanol] kills people," he says. "Just like cigarette smoke, you're breathing in particles that are harmful."Criticism by Jacobson and others against this fuel that many hope will become an alternative to high-priced, foreign-sourced petroleum is an issue E-Fuel and other ethanol backers will have to address, no matter how much cheaper their product is.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
NEWARK -- In the world of alternative fuel vehicles, those that use compressed natural gas often are muscled out of a conversation dominated by gasoline-electric hybrids, biodiesel and hydrogen fuel cells.
Advocates, however, say compressed natural gas can play a big part in reducing dependence on foreign oil.
At less than $2 for the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, CNG is appealing to drivers pained by escalating gasoline prices. In addition, CNG is one of the cleanest-burning fuels -- with near-zero emissions -- and it is in plentiful supply domestically. More than 80 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States comes from North America. Last week, Royalty Enterprises CNG Auto Station opened at 600 W. Church St., offering sales, service and refueling for vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. Owner Clayton King said he thinks it is the only station in Ohio to combine all these services in one location.
It also is one of only four public natural gas fueling stations in Ohio, said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit organization. A member of Clean Fuels Ohio, King also owns the other three public fueling stations -- in Columbus and Coshocton.
"I believe (Newark) will be a much bigger market (than Coshocton)," King said. "It's centrally located."
The grand opening of CNG station Thursday included a seminar highlighting the benefits of natural gas vehicles. Among attendees were industry representatives, farmers, businessmen and county officials.
'YOU HAVE TO THINK AHEAD'
Sheriff Randy Thorp and two men from his office were present to accept the loan of a CNG cruiser. While there, they also found a used cargo van that could work for the county SWAT team, the sheriff said.
"We're interested in this type of fuel, if for no other reason than the fuel savings," Thorp said. "It's something we're excited about, but it's in its infancy right now."
The sheriff's office racked up more than one million road miles in 2007, and for 2008, the office has budgeted almost $300,000 for gasoline. The sheriff said he was eager to analyze the performance and fuel efficiency of the CNG cruiser, but he had some reservations about using such a vehicle for officers who spend long hours on the road and need to refuel more frequently.
King said CNG vehicles are best suited for commuters, fleets and business owners, such as contractors who drive some distance but come back at night.
"You have to think ahead," King said. "You don't run on the bottom eighth (of the gas gauge) as some people do."
On Thursday, a natural-gas-powered Honda Civic GX sat outside the CNG station for attendees to inspect. A dedicated CNG vehicle, which runs strictly on compressed natural gas, the Civic GX had an 8-gallon tank capable of fueling a 200- to 250-mile trip.
Andrew Chiarelli, alternative fuel vehicle manager for Motorcars Honda, drove the Civic down from his Cleveland dealership, where he said he has sold 30 CNG vehicles in the past nine years. The suggested price of the Civic GX is about $25,000, although it qualifies for a $4,000 tax credit.
'I'M HERE FOR THE ECONOMICS'
According to the Natural Gas Vehicles for America advocacy group, more than 150,000 natural gas vehicles are on the road in the United States and more than 1,500 fueling stations are available, about half of which are open to the public.
John Hinderer Honda in Heath, an authorized dealer of the Civic GX, recently sold its first model to a Wisconsin buyer, sales consultant Alan Feasel said. CNG cars are especially popular in the West, he said, because compressed natural gas prices there are less than 70 cents for a gallon equivalent.
Now that Newark has a fueling station, he expects local Civic GX sales to increase.
Chiarelli said, "If I had a fill station like down here, I bet you I'd sell 5 to 10 a month."
In northeast Ohio, Chiarelli's customers have their own sources of CNG. Products are available, such as the Phill, which can be installed in a garage, tap a gas line and fill a CNG car's tank overnight.
Several farmers attended the CNG station opening with the hope of using natural gas on their properties to run automobiles and farm equipment. Natural gas must be dried and compressed before being used as fuel.
"I'm here for the economics," said Tori Todd, who owns a farm south of Granville and is considering converting to CNG. "I think, long-term, my break-even isn't that far down the line."
As more people discover the benefits of natural gas, demand likely will push up costs. Historically, however, the prices have been less volatile than gasoline, King said.
"When petroleum goes up, (natural gas) goes with it, but not as bad," said King, who buys his natural gas from the Energy Cooperative.
Honda is the only manufacturer selling new light-duty CNG cars in America. Shortly after the Bush administration announced funding incentives for hydrogen fuel cells, Ford, Chevy and Dodge dropped their CNG models, King said. Therefore, he is buying used, factory-built models to sell at his station and also is doing conversions.
Large trucks and vans are the best candidates for conversion, he said, because the return on investment is quicker. The cost of converting a vehicle to CNG can cost about $8,000.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimated in 2000 that Ohio had 1.179 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves with an additional 1.1 tcf discovered recently under Lake Erie. Ohio is the 17th largest producer of natural gas in the country.
In addition, CNG can be obtained from renewable sources. For example, in Grove City the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio has broken ground on a green energy center that will capture methane, the main component of natural gas, from landfills.
Not only is natural gas safer for the environment than gasoline, it could be safer for passengers, said Bill McGlinchey, a Lancaster-based consultant.
"Safety always comes up -- 'Isn't that like carrying a bomb in your trunk?,'" he said. "(Natural gas) is the safest transportation fuel we've got. It's only because we've grown up with gasoline that we're still using it today."
Natural gas leaks will dissipate, rather than pool like gasoline, therefore reducing a fire hazard.
Spofforth said it is difficult to make direct comparisons between CNG cars and other Earth-friendly options. Overall, people should keep in mind how they use their vehicle.
"There really is no magic bullet," Spofforth said. "We really need to look at a variety of solutions."
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Clinton on Monday standing by her threat made last month to "obliterate" the Islamic republic should it use nuclear weapons on Israel, whose US backers form one important constituency in the Democratic nominating race.
Obama accused the New York senator of taking a page out of President George W. Bush's assertive foreign policy, but Clinton herself insists she is not being bellicose, but rather trying to deter Iran from taking a step too far.
Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American academic and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said there was an element of campaign posturing in Clinton's threat -- but he also saw the outlines of a new US approach to Iran.
"Its broader significance is that it shifts from the current debate of how to stop Iran from going nuclear, if Bush's current policies are not working," he told AFP. "She already has outlined a sort of deterrence doctrine."
Clinton's campaign chief strategist Geoff Garin said the debate was about how to stop Iran acquiring nuclear arms in the first place, and that her policy of engagement with Tehran was in marked contrast to Bush's.
Iran's leadership must have no doubt that under a Clinton presidency, their country would face "massive retaliation on our part," Garin said on a media conference call.
"She believes that is the best way to deter an attack," he said.
"More broadly in terms of Iran, Senator Clinton has talked about the need to move to a different kind of more constructive level of diplomatic engagement," Garin added.
"She has a much more nuanced policy that includes a much greater use of diplomatic engagement of Iran than has occurred under President Bush."
Obama too wants to bring Iran in from the cold, but goes much further than Clinton in advocating direct talks at a leaders' level.
The Illinois senator denied his own position left any doubt about whether the United States would come to Israel's aid in the event of an Iranian attack.
"An attack on Israel, one of our most important allies in the world, would be considered as an attack on the United States," he said on CNN Monday.
"Using the word obliterate, however, is the kind of language that we've seen George Bush use over the last seven years," he said, accusing Clinton of "stirring up international incidents ... right before an election."
The foreign policy exchanges have sharpened as the two Democrats prepare to renew battle in their epic nominating contest on Tuesday, with primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.
In an April 22 interview with ABC, Clinton was asked what she would do as president if Iran were to launch a nuclear strike on Israel.
"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," she replied.
"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them," she added.
On Sunday, Clinton said she had no regrets about the remark, which triggered an Iranian complaint at the United Nations and a comment by junior British foreign minister Lord Mark Malloch-Brown that her position was "not prudent."
"I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing," the former first lady said.
But Steve Clemons, executive vice president of the left-leaning New America Foundation, said Clinton's tone on Iran was worrying even if it does form part of her campaign narrative against Obama.
"You can pretend it is theater, but this is real-world stuff," he said, recalling Republican contender John McCain's jokey rendition of "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to a Beach Boys tune last year.
Underlining that Iran takes such commentary deadly seriously, Clemons warned the White House runners against saying anything that could be "deeply, deeply destructive to American interests."
By SCOTT GOTTLIEBMay 5, 2008
Laughing gas can be useful during complicated dental procedures, but should every health plan be required to cover it and should health insurance cost more because of it?
Barack Obama thinks so. As a state senator in Illinois, he voted to require that dental anesthesia be covered by every health plan for difficult medical cases. Today, the requirement is one of 43 mandates imposed by Illinois on health insurance, according to the Illinois Division of Insurance. Other mandates require coverage of infertility treatments, drug rehab, "personal injuries" incurred while intoxicated, and other forms of care.
By my count, during Mr. Obama's tenure in the state Senate, 18 different laws came up for a vote and passed that imposed new mandates on private health insurance. Mr. Obama voted for all of them.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama says people lack health insurance because "they can't afford it." He's right. But he is also partly responsible for why health insurance is too expensive. A long list of studies show that mandates like the ones Mr. Obama has championed drive up the cost of insurance for the very people priced out of coverage.
A 2008 study by an insurance-industry supported research organization, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI), estimates that mandates increase the cost of basic health coverage by 20% to 50%, depending on the state. Average policies in high-mandate New Jersey cost about $4,000 according to a 2004 insurance survey, much more than the $1,200 charged in low-mandate Wyoming.
CAHI estimates that there are 1,961 state-mandated benefits across the country. It's not just specific products and services that get mandated, but also whole categories of providers like chiropractors and psychologists. By one count, states have enacted about 500 laws mandating coverage for 25 different types of providers.
States also mandate new categories of eligibility that force small businesses to cover additional dependents. One popular measure is the "slacker mandate," which extends coverage to unmarried dependents under the age of 30.
Not all mandates are equally expensive. Drug rehab, for example, increases a plan's premiums by 9% on average, according to America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). Coverage for psychologists adds 12% to premiums. But in total, in some states mandates increase the cost of insurance from 10% to 20%, according to AHIP.
These increased costs aren't shared equally among all who have health insurance. People who are covered through self-insured employers (usually large corporations) are shielded from state mandates because of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which prevents states from enacting controls on plans that cross state lines.
The burden of paying for state mandates is usually borne by individuals who buy their own insurance, small employers and others not covered by ERISA. In total, about half of the people who have insurance bear the brunt of the cost of state mandates. And, as it turns out, individuals who do not work for large corporations are much more likely to be uninsured. AHIP calculates that between 20%-25% of uninsured Americans can't afford coverage because of the increased cost of providing mandated care.
It doesn't have to be that way. If insurers were allowed to offer "bare-bones" plans – which would be cheaper because they would cover just essential care – many consumers who are priced out of health insurance now would likely buy these plans instead of living without insurance.
State mandates even hurt those who have insurance because they prompt insurers to cut back on coverage for catastrophic illnesses. This undermines the purpose of insurance by turning policies into prepaid health care rather than security from the economic consequences of serious medical problems. And because many mandates define the duration and scope of specific benefits, they lock in treatment standards that grow outdated as knowledge advances. That can diminish incentives to find more effective ways of delivering medical care.
Why, then, do we have mandates?
For the simple reason that each mandate has a powerful constituency – be it chiropractors, dentists or other groups – who benefit when their services are included on the list of mandated care. These groups pressure lawmakers to expand the list of mandates and, over time, the list grows to be very long and expensive. Often the care that is being mandated is for minor medical problems because small, routine ailments are suffered by more people and therefore have broader political constituencies.
One way to make insurance more affordable is to extend the benefits of the ERISA exemption to people who buy insurance on their own, putting them on a level playing field with those who get coverage through large employers by freeing them from expensive state insurance laws.
Most insurance plans would still cover important health-care items such as prenatal HIV testing or routine colon cancer screening or bone density tests – three additional mandates Mr. Obama helped enact in Illinois. But without government mandates, plans would also have the flexibility to offer lower-priced insurance options.
Better still, Congress could pass legislation that has long languished in the House allowing people to purchase health plans across state lines. People could choose which state regulations to buy into, creating a market for the insurance mandates. This would give states more incentives to fix local problems that have helped make health insurance expensive in the first place. It's a fair bet that there would be an exodus of policyholders from higher-cost, higher-mandate states like New Jersey and even Illinois (which has more expensive mandates than about half of the other states).
Mr. Obama says people need more options to purchase insurance outside the workplace. He also says he can draw on his experience as a state legislator to lead a reform of the kinds of special interests that pursue these mandated benefits. Right now Mr. Obama's health-care proposal, like Hillary Clinton's plan, does the opposite by adding federal regulations on top of state laws.
"My plan emphasizes lowering costs," Mr. Obama says. If that is really what he wants to do, he can start by freeing consumers from forced subsidization of the pricey state mandates. Given a choice between the lower costs he promises and subsidized dental anesthesia he has delivered, some would opt for the affordable health insurance and make do with some extra Novocain.
Dr. Gottlieb is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Friday, May 2, 2008
On December 19, 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 6) was signed into law. This comprehensive energy legislation amends the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) signed into law in 2005, growing to 36 billion gallons in 2022. By doing so, the bill seizes on the potential that renewable fuels offer to reduce foreign oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions and provide meaningful economic opportunity across this country, putting America firmly on a path toward greater energy stability and sustainability.
According to a January 2008 study, the economic impact of a 36 billion gallon RFS is as follows:
will add more than $1.7 trillion to the Gross Domestic Product between 2008 and 2022;
generate an additional $436 billion of household income for all Americans during the same time period;
support the creation of as many as 1.1 million new jobs in all sectors of the economy; and,
generate $209 billion in new Federal tax receipts.
Summary of the Biofuels Provisions - Title II
DEFINITIONS (Sec. 201)
Establishes definitions for the renewable fuels program, including conventional biofuel, advanced biofuels, cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel.
Conventional biofuel is ethanol derived from corn starch. Conventional ethanol facilities that commence construction after the date of enactment must achieve a 20 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction compared to baseline lifecycle GHG emissions. The 20 percent GHG emissions reduction requirement may be adjusted to a lower percentage (but not less than 10 percent) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator if it is determined the requirement is not feasible for conventional biofuels.
Advanced biofuels is renewable fuel other than ethanol derived from corn starch, that is derived from renewable biomass, and achieves a 50 percent GHG emissions reduction requirement. The definition – and the schedule -- of advanced biofuels include cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel. The 50 percent GHG emissions reduction requirement may be adjusted to a lower percentage (but not less than 40 percent) by the Administrator if it is determined the requirement is not feasible for advanced biofuels. (Cellulosic biofuels that do not meet the 60 percent threshold, but do meet the 50 percent threshold, may qualify as an advanced biofuel.)
Cellulosic biofuels is renewable fuel derived from any cellulose, hemicellulose, or lignin, that is derived from renewable biomass, and achieves a 60 percent GHG emission reduction requirement. The 60 percent GHG emissions reduction requirement may be adjusted to a lower percentage (but not less than 50 percent) by the Administrator if it is determined the requirement is not feasible for cellulosic biofuels.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
According to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, drilling in ANWR “will produce no oil for a decade and do nothing to end our addiction to oil.”
Fact: Yes, it may take a decade for ANWR oil production to get going. But keep in mind that President Clinton’s veto of ANWR in 1995 was upheld thanks to Hoyer and his colleagues. Had that veto been overridden, we could now be seeing an additional one million barrels of oil a day flow into a world market with virtually no excess capacity. Those million barrels would help ease prices.
Steny Hoyer has the audacity to say ANWR oil is not worth it. In 2008 if we were pumping one million barrels per day at $120.00 per barrel that would equal $120m per day. Over the course of one year that would equal $3.6b per month and $43.2 billion per year. That's $43.2 billion that wouldn't be going to Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada, etc.
Consider this, in February 2008 we imported 9.6m barrels per day. The 1.0m barrels per day from ANWR could replace 10% of the total imports. Put another way we imported 945,000 barrels per day from Venezuela in February 2008. If we had ANWR oil today we could tell Venezuela to kiss off.
The only thing Democrats want to do is conserve which is a great idea but we also need more internal sources of energy including nuclear, cleaner coal, alternative fuels, and more oil. (Tim)