Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taxing Electric Cars

Law makers in Washington State will soon be voting on a bill that will require electric car owners to pay an annual flat fee of $100. The bill was recently moved into House after a passed vote in the state Senate, and if passed, will be the United States first electric car fee. Currently, the state offers tax breaks to all those who purchase electric vehicles as part of the states program to incentivize electric cars. In Washington, the government receives a sale tax of 37.5 cents per gallon of gas, and at the same time, waives all sales taxes of electric cars. However, because of the declining purchases of gas, the state government is facing a $5 billion dollar deficit. The flat fee of $100 would be funding the vital road maintenance projects the state has had to cut spending for. On the other hand, some residents and law makers would like the fee to be a reflection of how much each electric car owner drives. The “user fee” would “consider a price based on odometer readings that owners would self-report each year”. If the bill is passed, profits are said to reach $376,000 in the first year.

From my understanding, Washington state does not want the fee of $100 to take away the incentive to buy electric cars. This could be a real major point of resistance in getting the bill passed. However, I think that the flat fee may encourage people to drive more than they would before because there would be no incentive to drive less. I think that the flat fee ultimately cause rebound effect, more people driving more because there are no consequences to driving more miles. A user-fee, that would charge people by the mile, would be more effective environmentally and economically because it would reward those who do not drive as much and charge more to those who drive a lot.
--Karen Zeiter

Gulf Spill Still hurting Tourism

In the USA Today Article, “Tourism Returning a Year After the Gulf Oil Spill," Charisse Jones discusses the economic and environmental impacts the oil spill has had on tourism along the Gulf coast. According to Jones, rental reservations along the Gulf are still down 25% from last year. But with effort, tourism is slowly beginning to come back in the area. This is in part by the marketing campaigns that have been put in affect by local officials and BP. However, other factors still keeping tourism at bay include rising gasoline prices and the overall economy.

While the BP oil spill has had devastating consequences to the Gulf that have ultimately led to a serious decline in tourism, I agree with Jones that other factors are only going to contribute to the tourism decline. I think that while after a year many people are beginning to get over their fear of the oil spill, contributing economic factors are going to continue to keep tourism down worldwide. In the past few months, gas prices have skyrocketed making travel drastically more expensive. Many people who would transport to the Gulf by car will most likely become more hesitant to do so as the prices continue to rise through the summer.

Jones also makes a strong point about the economy. While we are seeing a slow comeback in the economy, vacation is simply something that many families cannot afford like they could in previous years. As a combined result of the oil spill, gas prices, and the economy it is most likely going to take several more years before the Gulf sees a return on tourism.
--Samantha Easter

Private Property & the Environment

The article "Environmental Economics" by Art Camden of Rhodes College, focuses on government restriction, recycling, and private property rights as they relates to the environment and the economic system. He looks at the effects of each system and compares them different social processes.

He first looks at the effects of private property and the environment. Private property is vital for a social economic system to function and create prices. The private property rights give the owner a chance to make money from creating a product, finding a better way to make a product, or any other competitive advantage because the owner has the responsibility of good stewardship while using resources. The author argues that environmental resources without private property have no price. Without price we can't tell what the specific profit for a forest is, compared a high rise building profit. Overall, we need private property to give us prices for these natural resources.

Land restrictions can effect the prices of land and land use. Land restrictions in certain areas drive up housing prices, driving people to less energy efficient places such as the suburbs. People move to suburbs and drive more to get to work, use more energy, resources, and causing more pollution. Since some of this land is used for farming, the raised housing prices causes the farmers to develop there land for houses.

Recycling is owned by the government and is not very effeicent. Recycled aluminum is 95% cheaper than mined aluminum, according to the author, so why wouldn't people look towards this source to lower costs, because no one owns it. If the recycling system was privately owned, it would be run better because of the profit motivation. With privately owned recycling, and profits being made, there would be competitors that develop more efficient ways of recycling which has positive impacts on the environment.

Altogether, private property, land restrictions, and recycling can all effect the environment. If each of these aspects has good stewardship and becomes privatized, then they according to the author, will become more efficient because of competition and the drive to make profits.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Airports: international gateway to taxes

Countries worldwide are beginning to replace their older policies with more environmentally responsible and sustainable practices. One of these changes in practices is the adoption of a carbon trading system by many European countries. Recently the European Union has moved to make foreign vessels using its ports and airports pay for the emissions that they release while nearby. The EU wishes to extend its Emissions Trading System to most international flights landing and taking off from European airports. The E.U. is attempting to expand such regulations in part in order to alleviate problems it has had with its Emission Trading System. This problem is caused by the fact that neighboring countries are setting formal limits on greenhouse gases far more slowly than European nations have been. This has caused a disparity between companies operating under the E.U. trading system and companies located in other countries which do not have as strict limits or any limits at all. European companies say that this provides them with an unfair burden because they must deal with higher costs due to pollution that those foreign companies do. This has pressured the E.U. to find other ways to make polluters pay for their mess, such as the extension to international flights which account for a large portion of release pollutants. There is also talk of extending such regulations to international shipping which has also been met with criticism by countries which depend on it heavily.

It is important for countries to change their policies so that the problem of pollution may be addressed. The European Union’s Emissions Trading System is certainly a step in the right direction. The Cap and Trade system which they have in place serves to create a goal that companies must meet that may either be achieved by reduction emissions or buying permits and making it more costly for them to pollute. While this system sounds promising to lower carbon emissions, inefficiencies are created when all countries do not have the same emissions standards and those under the E.U. system. This creates a disadvantage to those countries under the system as they must bear the costs of pollution that those countries without emission standards do not have to account for. In recognition of this problem I believe that the E.U. is right to extend its regulations to the airplane and shipping industries which while using its ports and airports release pollutants that E.U. companies must account for. It is not unreasonable for these companies to pay for the pollutants that they release while using E.U. ports and airports.
--Chris Howard
[Question: should they also pay for the pollutants they release while flying elsewhere? That's part of the question! See the article for details. James]

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Unbridled Concentration of the Meatpacking Sector"

Global giant JBS claims to control 25% of the beef trade internationally, and they continue to expand. Clearly economies of scale and vertical integration both help the $40 billion Brazilian producer and processor. They purchased Swift and Pilgrim's Pride, two American companies, and look to continue to expand worldwide as demand for meat grows on the backs of growing economies in China, India, Brazil, and elsewhere. Looks like the face of the meat industry to come.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Food prices

Another article in a recent NYT on the influence of biofuels on food prices, with a great economic quote: "'The fact that cassava is being used for biofuel in China, rapeseed is being used in Europe, and sugar cane elsewhere is definitely creating a shift in demand curves,” said Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University who studies the topic. “Biofuels are contributing to higher prices and tighter markets.'"

A Bipartisan Bill

Used to be that cap & trade was bipartisan because it used market mechanisms to accomplish environmental aims, but now it's "just another tax." These days Republicans are opposed to any kind of environmentalism, such as allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, partly on the grounds that they do not acknowledge climatic change to be happening (even though George W. Bush did), whether anthropogenic or not.

One proposal, the Boone Pickens bill, pumps heavy subsidies into the use of natural gas for transportation. The proposal has bipartisan support, and the use of domestic, relatively clean-burning natural gas is appealing on both national security and environmental grounds. However, some argue that broader incentives would be better: if we just incentivize decreased emissions, vehicle manufacturers (and drivers) will choose whatever's best, whether natural gas or not. Instead it might be better to incentivize the use of natural gas for electricity production, a safer bet. On the other hand, hydrofracking to produce natural gas is generating additional pollution, as shown in one of our class videos. I support the development of the natural gas industry, but I also support careful supervision by our EPA. Domestic security, clean air, and clean water ought to be goals we can agree upon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Natural gas not as green as once thought?

A new study released to the NYT shows that the extraction of natural gas may be unexpectedly costly in terms of CO2 emissions. If getting gas from shale results in large emissions, then it won't matter how much more cleanly the gas burns. At the same time, I'm swayed by the industry representative who argues that the amount of emissions described by the author are unrealistic. Of course I know nothing about the technical details, but if indeed so much is lost in the process, the extractors are losing a great deal of money. That seems unlikely. Still, looking at the environmental extraction costs is a gap in the literature that finally has been addressed. One more item on the laundry list of issues to keep track of as the natural gas economy continues to build....

Saturday, April 9, 2011

World Bank proposes to limit funding to coal plants

Recently the World bank has proposed a new initiative that would only allow them to give loans out for coal plants for the poorest countries. Furthermore, they can only use coal plants if they have tried to use other cleaner or renewable energy sources first. However, just last year the World Bank, despite heavy criticism, loaned South Africa 3.75 billion dollars for a brand new coal plant to help with an increasing energy crisis there. Steve Kretzmann from Oil change international was in favor of this new regulation and thinks it is a step in the right direction. Ultimately he believes all fossil fuel projects must stop. However, others aren’t as happy, Alison Doig believes that The World Bank is trying to “green-wash their activity” but are continuing to do business the same way. Projects like this one will increase climate change significantly and go against the World Bank’s goal to reduce emissions.
To me it seems like The World Bank is just trying to make up for the loan they gave to South Africa a year ago. Their new policy only would not restrict them from loaning money to poor nations which are mainly the one’s who need money for new infrastructure like coal mines. Ultimately it doesn’t seem like it will really affect how they are doing business right now, they are just trying to give the illusion that they are taking steps to try to support a less fossil fuel dependent world.
I believe that the World Bank should try to commit to making a greener world. I agree with Kretzmann in that I think all fossil fuels “should entirely be phased out.” However, I understand that the decision they made was probably based more on economics than the environment. Obviously coal and fossil fuels are cheaper to use than renewable energy sources right now and the World Bank’s first priority is to aid the poor. Although this may be the easiest and cheapest way to provide South Africa Energy I don’t think a quick fix like adding another coal plant is what will be best in the long run.
--Kyle Moore

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recycling water

The article I chose to present is “From Toilets to Tap”. This article describes how Singapore is choosing to recycle waste water to use for drinking, industrial, and agricultural purposes. Waste water comes mostly from water used in showers, sinks, washers, and just a small portion comes from toilets. Singapore has had to import water from Malaysia to support themselves, however they were very worried about how they would get their drinking water if their ties to their water supplying countries were severed. They decided to look for another means to get water without depending on other countries. One method they used was desalination, which is to purify sea water. However this was pretty costly. Another method they decided to use was recycling waste water. The process of recycling waste water was a lot cheaper than purifying sea water.

Using this process Singapore introduced a small portion of recycled waste water at first. Now they have bumped up the portion of waste water to supply 1/3 of their daily water needs. Some areas in the US are also using recycled waste water. Drinking water Northern VA is about 5% recycled waste water and 1/5 of drinking water in Orange County California is recycled waste water. California chose to use recycled waste water to help solve drought and water shortage problems without having to rely on other states for their water. This process of recycling waste water began in the 1970s and so far there have not been any negative outcomes from using recycled waste water.

Despite the major benefits of recycling waste water, a lot of countries can’t get over the “yuck” factor, even though only about 10% of the recycled water comes from toilets. A pioneer in waste water filtering technology claim that recycled waste water is cleaner than store bought water due to more strict rules and testing. Australia thought about implementing recycled waste water, but the plans fell through because the general public couldn’t get over the “yuck” factor. However as drinking water becomes limited, prices for the available drinking water will rise. The director of the Urban Water Research Center even goes to say “Water is going to be the oil of the 21st century.” In order to solve the problem of limited drinking water, many countries might have to recycle waste water.

Many people in California and Northern Virginia probably don’t even know that they are drinking/using recycled waste water and it doesn’t seem like it is doing any harm. The process seems very safe and thorough. With drinking water becoming scarcer, I think it would help to implement it now to extend the time and save the amount of drinking water we have available. This would also offset the increase in price that has been predicted in the future. I think this is a good idea and should be implemented throughout the US.
--Carrie Moore

Monday, April 4, 2011

Carbon Sinks

This article focuses on the mass deforestation of the world that has happened over the last 150 years and how this has led to a huge global increase in CO2 build-up. Forests absorb carbon dioxide, making them natural regulators of CO2 in the atmosphere. They can also provide a natural barrier to natural disasters such as over-flowing rivers. As a vital part of many ecosystems, various species rely on forests and vice versa. The main idea presented in this article to reverse this high CO2 build up is the idea of creating “Carbon Sinks.” Reforestation, or planting of new forests, may help with climate change and warming of the earth’s atmosphere. This idea is criticized however because it legitimizes the continued destruction of pristine forests that already have a thriving ecosystem. Industries feel that deforestation would be countered by reforestation; however this is not the case. To create a new forest would mean creating a new ecosystem as well.

I believe in reforestation but not as the perfect fix. First of all, the science behind doing this is not complete. Creating an ecosystem is a lot more complex than originally thought. Second, these “carbon sinks” will store mass amounts of CO2, and if they burn down, this will pollute the air with CO2 which is the opposite of its purpose. A third point is that these carbon sinks will be implemented in countries of low international power. Countries such as Uganda need to improve their own needs and not those of the international power houses such as the United States and Canada. The dominant countries will take advantage of these 3rd world countries which will do nothing but create tension. More needs to be done about carbon emissions rather than thinking newly built forests will counteract deforestation.
--Mike Gnip