Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A balanced view on fracking?

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, and the President of the Environmental Defense Fund, have a more or less pro-fracking piece in today's NYT. They acknowledge some problems but argue that they are solvable, and that on balance natural gas is a step in the right direction. This seems a pretty common-sensical position, which in today's world probably means that no one will support it at all, alas....

Monday, April 28, 2014

Taxing Solar in Oklahoma

Last week the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, signed SB 1456, which “sets up a mechanism for electric utilities to levy a tariff on customers with distributed generation- that is, electricity from on-site wind or solar generation” (Krehbeil).  The purpose of the bill is to make sure that customers with distributed generation aren’t subsidized by customers of the same utility that do not have solar or wind power. The utility companies will have to pay customers with distributed generation for excess power entering the grid, but the industry argues that these customers should be charged for this because it doesn’t take in account of the cost of up keeping of the grid: costs that will get passed onto the customers of that utility.  This bill will not apply to the 350 utility customers that already have alternative energy generation on site.
There is also controversy with the passing of a bill like this one.  “MSNBC and others have dubbed the possible tariff a 'sun tax' and a crude attack on alternative energy” (Krehbeil).  “Monopoly utilities want to extinguish the independent rooftop solar market in America to protect their socialist control of how we get our electricity” according to the website of Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (Voorhees).  There are multiple claims such as the ones above that are bashing the major electricity companies for trying to stop alternative energy.
I think this bill may be a little much, but I also understand why a bill like this was passed.  With a large amount of Oklahoma's economy based on the oil and natural gas markets, as well as being mostly energy independent, there is always some fear of alternate energy markets taking money from the oil and natural gas markets.  With this bill it helps keep the money in the utility industry and helps Oklahoma to become closer to having its own power grid.  I myself have intentions of actually moving to Oklahoma after I graduate, and I really don’t view this much different than the “rain tax” we have here in Maryland; the “rain tax” wouldn’t prevent me from adding a paved driveway to my home or business.  I think the idea of putting solar panels on one’s house or business is a beneficial investment; I don’t think this tariff imposed on private wind or solar energy generation would stop me from putting solar panels on my house if I ever choose to do so.
--Eric Caswell

Friday, April 25, 2014

Good News for Migrant Workers

It's Florida, not Maryland, but hey: it's nice to have a success story to report on. For the past few years, tomato pickers in Florida have been agitating for large corporations to pay a little extra- a penny per pound of tomatoes- to ensure better conditions for the migrant workers who pick there. After getting a few large corporations to sign on, they finally landed a real whopper (more of a whopper than Burger King, which had already signed on): Walmart is in. The corporations buying the tomatoes are spending a total of about $4 million more per year, and a lot of that is going to cover costs such as providing tents where growers can get out of the sun, Spanish-speaking telephone hotlines over which workers can report sexual harassment, and wages for the time pickers spend waiting. Much of the rest is going to higher wages for the pickers.

Since I just finished reading your Hands of Harvest essays, I've got Maryland's migrant workers on the mind. One step toward getting the crab pickers more money might be to get buyers paying a premium for Maryland crabs. That's a start, not a complete solution, because then someone needs to oversee implementation of worker safety, the phone hotline, etc., but it might help!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

True Blue Maryland Crabs

Kinda seems like it should be true "red yellow black and white" or something (I still don't know what to make of the Maryland flag!) but I wanted to point you to a website that one of you referred to in responding to the Hands of Harvest movie. True Blue Maryland Seafood shows where to get real locally produced crabs.

Also, let me be sure you don't misunderstand: the idea of "local food" creates problems when it's overemphasized, but that doesn't mean I'm against eating local crabs, for instance! In fact, we should enjoy our local specialty as much as possible since our state is well-situated to produce them.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Setback for Cellulosic biofuels

  Everyone knows that corn ethanol isn't a great way to produce fuel, and the hope has long been that we could do something like take the unused parts of the corn plant (stalks, leaves, etc.) and turn that into fuel. Well, that vision suffered a setback today when an in-depth study found that the process is not as productive as hoped: in fact, it may be counter-productive, according to a professor at the University of Nebraska. That's unfortunate: it would sure be great if we could get that technology rolling!

Marijuana Decriminalization: A Recipe for Environmental Destruction?

     Marijuana, grass, reefer, pot, herb, ganja, whichever nickname you prefer, Maryland’s general assembly recently passed a bill to decriminalize (not legalize) possession of less than 10 grams of it. Governor O’ Malley signed the bill and it will take effect in the beginning of October. Although this bill does not condone marijuana growing operations in the state of Maryland, its outcome is likely to increase demand for one of America’s favorite recreational drugs (surpassed only by alcohol and tobacco).
     Approximating illegal drug consumption is quite tricky, let alone determining black market value; however, over 14 million Americans regularly consume marijuana in a market worth an estimated $2.34 billion. But before you rush out to buy the finest bag to celebrate this momentous occasion in Maryland’s history, I’d like to reveal some of the clouded side effects of marijuana.
     According to The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, prohibition of marijuana costs tax-payers $12 billion annually for eradicating crops, prosecution and incarceration, law enforcement and other anti-marijuana-related programs ( ).  Meanwhile, the legalization of marijuana in Colorado brought in over $3.5 million in taxes, licenses, and fees in January alone.  Compared with last year’s revenue of a $256,856 for medicinal marijuana only, legalization obviously has the potential to generate a substantial amount of money.  Many Marylanders see decriminalization as the first step to full-on, tax-generating, marijuana legalization.
    However, in addition to public health concerns, marijuana poses significant risks to our environment and requires the same resources as any other crop.  In 2013, California authorities seized 119,000 pounds of trash, 17,000 pounds of fertilizers, 244 propane tanks, 89 illegal dams, 61 car batteries, and 40 gallons of pesticides from illegal marijuana growing operations!  In addition to pollution, outdoor operations in California alone use nearly 60 million gallons of water a day during the growing season, which is 50 percent more than the consumption of San Francisco residents. Nationally, enough electricity is used by indoor marijuana growing operations to power 1.7 million homes.  And for every pound of pot grown indoors, 4,600 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.  Furthermore, the production and distribution of marijuana emits as much carbon as 3 million cars.  Marijuana also caused over two dozen streams to stop flowing and is considered to be the number one threat to salmon in northern California.  Perhaps marijuana isn’t as green as the plant or the money it produces.
     Although growing operations pose serious risks, federal legalization would enable states to enact legislation and restrictions to prevent many of these detrimental impacts to the environment.  Not only does the current bureaucratic dichotomy prevent federal and state authorities from creating and enforcing growing regulations, it increases the demand for black market marijuana, which only serves to exacerbate environmental negligence.  The economic benefits of the marijuana industry, illustrated by Colorado, need to be removed from drug dealers and placed into the hands of local governments where they can be spent on education, prevention, and support services.  With Baltimore City schools facing a $31 million budget shortfall next year, this policy has the potential to upgrade facilities, hire teachers, and result in an overall improvement for Maryland’s education system.  Federal legalization would also create jobs and enable marijuana to be harvested locally; currently 80 percent of the estimated 22 million pounds produced annually, come from only 5 states.
    Finally, regardless of your stance on marijuana use and abuse, people are going continue to smoke, eat, vaporize, or otherwise ingest the drug.  Keeping harmful substances out of the hands of our children should be the number one concern, but the fact remains that prohibition doesn’t resolve this issue.  Channeling income into educational resources—for drug and conventional schooling—is a much better use of public money than spending it on jailing, prosecuting, and sentencing citizens for possessing such a widely used drug.  Maryland’s move to decriminalize will produce revenue in the form of fines: first offense: $100, second offense: $250, subsequent offenses: up to $500, but it’s unlikely to equal the amount generated in taxes, fees, and licenses from lawful businesses.  Therefore, legalization should be Maryland’s next course of action in order to save our schools and the environment.
--Nick Healy

Toilet to Tap?

     Residents of California are experiencing a record setting drought, the worst in 500 years, “so bad it can clearly be seen from space,” (Resnick 2014). This has caused many problems, for residents and especially farmers. The most current proposition is: toilet water. Recycled water has been used in California before, as Orange County recycles some water and puts it back into aquifers (Sangree 2014). Orange County is one of the only places in California able to use recycled wastewater. Past attempts at implementing a wastewater recycling program to make said water potable, once in 1997 and then again in 2000, have been shut down due to public outcry (Resnick 2014). People can’t get past the “yuck factor,” (Sangree 2014). The main problem people have with drinking recycled wastewater is psychological (Resnick 2014). But the benefits of using this system would far outweigh any psychological concerns.
    Over “a billion gallons of treated wastewater are pumped into the Pacific Ocean each year,” (Sangree 2014). In the midst of a severe drought, Californians should start warming to the idea of using recycled wastewater for more than irrigation, and should realize the necessity of using it as drinking water. Particularly with climate change and the risk of droughts persisting, California should seriously put more effort into treating their water to make it potable. Regardless of the “yuck factor,” it remains true that with the amount of treatment the wastewater would go through, the treated water would be “on par with distilled water,” (Sangree 2014).
     Some investments have recently been made to start getting more recycled water into the California water supply (Resnick 2014). The city of Escondido has also approved a plan of $285 million to “turn all of its sewage into irrigation water over the next 15 years,” (Resnick 2014).
--Claire Fremuth

Resource issues in West Virginia

Coal never took very good care of the people of rural West Virginia, but now that it's gone it sounds like they really have nothing. 47% of income in McDowell County is from Federal programs like Social Security, disability, and food stamps. Just 1/3 of the population is in the labor force, which, if they're using the term properly, includes people working or looking for work: the rest are unable to work or not looking for some other reason. People turn to drugs, and that's just not a good long-term solution. Grim.

Crop choice: another cause of the California drought

This chart, from the NYT, shows how farmers' crop choices have contributed to the drought. Farmers, meanwhile, blame environmental regulations such as those protecting the delta smelt. I suppose both are right, to some extent.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

ITER: How a New Star will be Born

The ITER project is collaborative endeavor to create and offer a clean and inexhaustible energy source through nuclear fusion giving humanity an endless supply of energy. Nuclear fusion is the fusion of lighter atoms into heavier ones, similar to how a star works. The process generates the tiny loss of mass that translates into a huge quantity of energy. One gram of fusion fuel generates as much power as eight tons of oil! (Arnoux)
The ITER project is hoping to achieve this through the creation of a tokamak, a Russian machine developed in the 60’s, which uses magnetic fields to generate the pressure necessary for the fusion process. ITER’s tokamak will be the first of its kind to achieve a net production of fusion power by giving back ten times the energy invested to light the fusion fire. Properly demonstrating this process will open the doors to industrial and commercial production of fusion-generated electricity. (Arnoux)
This process of energy generation is safe and has minimal environmental impacts. There are no greenhouse-effect gasses emitted and no high-level, long-lived nuclear waste to manage. This will help mitigate most if not all of the negative externalities generated through fossil fuel consumption.  Also, the fuel supply is universally available and almost inexhaustible. The two main fuel sources are tritium and deuterium. (Arnoux) Tritium needs can be met by recycling tritium from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons while deuterium can be obtained from the hydrogen in water. ("Background on Tritium Production")
This energy production method creates an elastic supply source which is exactly what is needed for a world where there is a growing demand for electricity. Initially there will be high startup costs with developing the plants and infrastructures for this technology. However, with an abundance of fuel sources, fuel prices shouldn’t have as big of an impact on energy prices as fossil fuels do on today’s markets since fossil fuel sources are rapidly depleting. Outside of startup costs and fuel prices, the only main costs should be maintenance and regulatory costs. This is also a technology that will only improve and become more efficient as we learn more and perfect it, generating even lower costs.
The applications of this technology will have huge economic benefits throughout the world. Being able to place one of these machines in Africa will dramatically improve the quality of life in that region. Land will become more valuable since it will become more productive. The development of desalination plants will become even more feasible with lower energy costs. Land used for the development for gasoline will be reallocated for other and less harmful uses. The costs for anything that uses energy, which is just about everything, will fall and increase the welfare for everyone.
--Chris Murrow

Quenching Texas' Thirst

       As with a number of western states, Texas is in the middle of an extensive drought. In order to find where water is available, a small team has been analyzing written logs from old and abandoned oil and gas mining operations. These logs are from the University of Texas at Austin and are giving clues as to where to find water reserves that the state can tap for drinking and be used in agriculture. There are estimates totaling of hundreds of trillions of gallons of water throughout 30 of Texas’ aquifers, though much of it requires extensive desalination before it can be consumed by humans or used for agriculture. The project has shown that the Pecos Valley Aquifer holds more than 32 trillion gallons of water, only 4 trillion of which is fresh water. If the brackish water is pumped it could mix with the freshwater, necessitating desalination. Currently there are no regulations on pumping rates of brackish water in Texas meaning rapid extraction may leave them with future water security issues still.
In my opinion, it seems like this is a sticky situation; providing water for thirsty people and crops is essential, but since it has to be desalinated before use, Texans may have to pay a lot for that water. Brackish water, when compared to fresh water, requires more energy input to purify it and more desalination plants will likely have to be built (Texas currently only has 12). With the threat of extraction contaminating their fresh water aquifers, this process seems a little risky. If there are no clear extraction rate laws established, they could be left in the same situation down the road.
--Mitch Dunn

Wind and Solar energy generators being built on Maryland farmland

    A new bill in the Senate right now would allow for landowners who have sold their development rights to the state to use up to five acres of their land to generate energy via wind or solar, or via decomposing animal and crop waste.  Groups supporting the cause claim it will help bolster dwindling revenues from farms, as well as streamline prospects for clean, renewable energy, helping Maryland reach its goal of twenty percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022.  Among the proponents are the farmers, who need the extra funds to help stabilize their business.  The turbines would take up about a half acre of land each, allowing animals and crops to graze and grow around them.  Opponents of the bills say that allowing any non agricultural activities on land that has been reserved for farming would undermine efforts to keep farmland, which only one fourth of is currently shielded from development pressures.  They say we cannot afford to lose anymore farmland when we have the rest of the state available for these energy endeavours.
     I believe this bill would have more positive externalities than it would negative. Land that is leased to companies to build turbines could turn six figure incomes for farmers, helping to greatly secure their businesses.  The turbines and solar arrays are also very mobile, and much less invasive than other forms of development.  Yes, we would lose some farmland, but limiting the area lost to five acres per farm seems reasonable, since many of these farms are comprised of hundreds of acres. From other presentations in class, it seems that people who want offshore wind power are against actually looking at the windmills; they want a clear view of the ocean.  If the turbines are off in the middle of a farm, this would not detract anyone’s view, and would produce the same energy results.  The extra income generated from the renewable energy could also allow the farmers to reinvest the money into the crops or livestock they raise, potentially increasing their yield, which would make up for the land lost to the energy projects.  I feel this is overall a beneficial project.
--Pat Gosey

No place like... in a flood zone?

      There are currently 98+ homes being planned in Britain, some valued at one million dollars.  The only odd thing about these homes is that they are being planned in high-risk flood areas. 21% of all new London homes were built in high-risk areas as well.  The government is subsidizing these buildings through surcharge fees from current homeowners with flood insurance.  These low-risk homes are paying additional money so homes can be built in high-risk areas.  This pooling of flood risks is a key factor in why the National Flooding Insurance Program is in a $24 billion debt.  It is estimated that one in ten homes receive an insurance pay out that is worth more than their home is.  This higher insurance premium being pushed to those who are in low-risk areas may cause the low-risk homeowners to leave their current insurance. If they leave, low-risk homeowners will cause less subsidizing for these new homes in high-risk flood areas, which will not help the NFIP get out of their debt.
I do not see the point in building homes in a high risk area other than an insurance scheme.  Who are planning these homes?  From these articles, it seems to me that they are being privately planned and these private planners are playing a gambling game.  If there house is flooded they will cash out on their insurance pay out and until that flooding does occur they are living life in a decent home.  I believe policies should be implemented to restrict construction on known flood areas.  The land should be protected and not used as a residential area.
--Devon Le

Energy from the ocean?

      One proposed concept to produce sustainable energy is to develop ocean current technology and use it to produce electricity on a commercial scale. Harnessing ocean currents for energy is appealing because they are “relatively constant” and carry “a great deal of energy because of the density of water” (Ocean 2014). Due to this characteristic, ocean currents are more effective in comparison to wind energy, as ocean currents moving “12 mph exert the same amount of force as a constant 110 mph wind” (Ocean 2014).
While “small numbers of prototype and demonstration units have been tested” ocean current technology is still in the early stages of development (Report to Congress 2009). Florida is a likely candidate for this technology because it is “estimated that taking just 1/1000th the available energy from the Gulf Stream would supply Florida with 35% of its electrical needs” (Sniderman 2012). Engineers studying currents in Florida have also been able to develop a method to easily identify locations for turbines that will lead to the greatest economic gains.
As good as it sounds; this technology will take time to develop due to multiple obstacles in its way. Mainly, a lot of time and funding for research and development will be required and spending this money elsewhere might be more beneficial to society, such as using nuclear power. Developing nuclear power may be more effective because the technology is already well understood, and we may be able to rapidly evolve its safety measures with proper funding. Ocean current technology could also be wrapped up in politics for years as it goes through the rigors of being analyzed by environmental impact assessment reports. Even after overcoming these obstacles, ocean current technology will need to become capable of being reliable and easily maintained before it becomes a cost effective option for producers and consumers.
--Garrett Grubb

US Government's Oceans Policy

   In "A Blue Budget Beyond Sequester: Taking care of our oceans," Alexandra Adams examines the potential impact that the new fiscal budget will have on protection of our coastal communities and marine natural resources. The new budget for Fiscal Year 2015 indicates that the U.S Government will invest in protecting our coastal economies and preserving our valuable ocean resources. (Adams 2014). One of the organizations responsible for protecting our coastal economies and oceanic resources is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For fiscal year 2014, the “NOAA has proposed a budget of approximately $5.5 billion, an increase of 3.2% above the 2014 enacted funding” (Adams 2014).
    The NOAA proposed budget will be used for funding both effective ocean, coastal, and fisheries programs (Adams 2014). Unfortunately, some programs that are critical to protecting our ocean resources will not receive the funding they need to carry out their operations.  The Ocean Exploration and Research program is one of the vital programs that will be subject to a budget cut of approximately $7 million (Adams 2014).
    The budget cut for this program will lead to weaker protection for species and resources that are already under stress (Adams 2014). One of the areas being hurt as a result of the budget cuts is the deep canyons in the Atlantic Sea. The canyons and seamounts in the Atlantic have now become vulnerable to bottom trawling, seismic exploration, and oil and gas drilling (Cousteau 2011). Their vulnerability to such procedures is a direct result of recent development in technology. New developments in technology allow us to broaden our capability to explore the deep canyons (Cousteau 2011).
   Although the problems associates with recent exploration are destructive, it is extremely important to continue exploration of the oceans. A solution to some of the destructive contemporary exploration procedures would be to utilize technology with a less harmful effect on the ocean environment. Productive and efficient exploration is a necessary step towards maintaining our oceans health.  The question remains: what type of technology should be used to explore the undiscovered sections of the ocean? We should first invest our time and energy towards analyzing the sensitivity of these undiscovered areas of the ocean before we use potentially damaging means to explore. According to Alexandra Adams, a member of the National Resources Defense Council, "Moreover, with a national ocean economy that is larger than the entire U.S. farm sector in terms of jobs and economic output, keeping this economic powerhouse functioning matters to us all" (Adams 2014). The improvements made in the fiscal budget will provide extremely beneficial information to the U.S in the upcoming future.
--Nick DiSanti

Is Coal an Answer to the Fukushima Disaster?

In light of the terrible disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan has had to find new ways to meet the energy needs of the country. On March 11, 2011, three of the nuclear plant’s reactors blew when the plant was hit by a tsunami that was triggered by the Tohoku earthquake. This nuclear disaster was the largest incident since Chernobyl and measured a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Since this disaster, Japan has been reluctant to produce much nuclear energy. According to the Wall Street Journal (class members: article posted on Blackboard under Readings), all 48 of the nuclear power plants in Japan are offline at the moment. Some regulators expect to see some of these plants activated again in the near future; Japan has also become a leader in coal imports globally (Iwata, 2014). It is currently the second largest importer of coal, right behind China and before India (Iwata, 2014). Japan currently imports about 85% of its energy requirements. Japan’s nuclear reactors were supposed to generate 40% of the country’s electricity around 2017, (an increase from the past rate of 30%.) However after the Fukushima disaster, these rates have been cut almost in half and there will be a longer process in place to gain clearance for restarting the 48 nuclear reactors in Japan.
Japan is in a tough situation in terms of where to go for energy. It is difficult to say whether Japan should reinstate the 48 reactors and begin producing nuclear energy again. If the disaster had not happened, Japan could currently be producing 40% of its energy domestically through nuclear plants. If the benefits of continuing with nuclear power outweigh the costs of another possible disaster, I would say to proceed. I personally do not believe that the road leading to coal is the best road to take, but I can understand the reluctance of Japan to jump back into nuclear energy. It seems to me that the best way for Japan to continue would be to use coal imports for short term relief while the nation decides whether or not to reinstate the nuclear reactors, and focus on more sustainable energy sources for the long term, like wind energy.
--Shelby Conrad

The Artificial Leaf

In this article, Jack Hitt discusses a new way to create energy, in a way that is similar to the process a tree would use to create energy.  This process uses light and water.  The creator of this source of energy has hopes that it will be in homes everywhere one day, helping homes become more energy efficient.  The whole idea is based off of photosynthesis, which everyone knows works to create energy/food for plants.  The process in more detail involves water that is exposed to light, a silicon strip is covered in catalysts which can break down the water so that on one side of the strip oxygen is bubbling up, and on the other hydrogen is being produced and then used as fuel.  The problem after that is what to do with the hydrogen.  A can of hydrogen won’t do anything; you need a fuel cell in order to actually utilize the hydrogen.  The problem ends up being that there isn’t enough technology available to the public that can actually use this new energy yet. There are a few auto companies that have developed hydrogen-powered vehicles but this is only the beginning.  Another concern is actually getting consumers prepared to use the new energy source. It isn’t like consumers are just buying fuel from a different company, since they have to change some patterns in their lives in order to use fuel cells.
This new energy has been under study for years already, but recently while researching ways to make it affordable and appealing to consumers, the natural gas and fracking business came into the picture. Hydrogen can also be produced from natural gas (harvested via fracking) but when it is there is also a CO2 byproduct. The artificial leaf does the same, minus the pollution factor.
Everything ultimately should come down to efficiency and whether or not it is economically feasible. Another article reviews the economics of the artificial leaf.  From a strictly environmental perspective there is a great benefit of using the leaf because it comes in just under the production of hydrogen from solar panels and electrolysis in price, $7 versus $6.50 per kilogram. However, obtaining hydrogen from fossil fuels only costs $1-2 per kilogram.  If coming from a strictly economical perspective it is a wasteful idea.  Environmentally the hydrogen from fossil fuels has harmful byproducts, so it is possible that the externalities could make it not worth the saved money. Personally I think the leaf should be taken into consideration for the future, but also I think more effort needs to be placed on finding a way to cleanly utilize fossil fuel produced hydrogen as well.  If the government or some other private organization could find a way to efficiently and cheaply use the hydrogen produced from fracking then I think there could be a benefit.  This isn’t changing the creation of harmful byproducts, but maybe the extra hydrogen being used can prevent some coal from being used.
--Jessica Krebs

Increasing Coal Production in Response to Natural Gas Price Hikes

According to the EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, natural gas prices have been nearly double or triple in the last few months over their recent year's average. Since January of 2012 until January of 2014, natural gas prices have averaged between $2 and $4.50/MMBtu, but in the first three months of 2014, natural gas prices have risen drastically to between $4.50 and $8/MMBtu. The report says that due to the very cold winter that the entire U.S. experienced, the demand for natural gas heat went up, and thus the prices for natural gas rose.
This article reports on the happenings at Spring Creek Mine in Montana, which is owned by Cloud Peak Energy. The CEO of Cloud peak discusses that in recent years, production at the mine has been below the overall average from the life of the mine, but this winter, the mine was called upon to produce more coal in order to keep up with the demands of power plants in order to supply the energy for increased heating due to the polar vortex. But coal isn’t slated to lose it’s drive now that winter is coming to a close, coal prices are predicted to be around $2.36/MMBtu yearly average, while natural gas is predicted to be around $4.44/MMBtu, and people are interested in the “cleaner” low sulfur coal that is mined from the Spring Creek Mine. Foreign demand for American coal is also on the rebound now that economies around the world are starting to make a comeback from the global economic downturn, but currently, America is not prepared to export the predicted demands of coal due to lack of viable shipping ports.
I found it very interesting to see how natural gas and coal were substitute goods when demand for energy increased. It makes sense in concept, but to actually see the changes in demands graphically was useful. One of the major thoughts that I had when I finished reading the CNBC article and after comparing it to the EIA report, was the externalities of coal and natural gas, but mostly coal. While coal is predicted to trade around $2.36/MMBtu, around $2 cheaper than natural gas, will the negative externalities actually outweigh the upfront price paid? And while the demand for coal on the foreign market is gaining traction, is it worth expanding the coal shipping industry or would expanding other export industries have a lessened environmental impact on both a local and a global scale? I personally think that calling lower sulfur coal “cleaner” does a disservice to the public on a level around that which calling cigarettes “light” creates the belief that they are healthier. 
--Tom Scalley

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

CAFE: not so great?

We talked about how improving vehicle gas mileage can cause problems, including the "rebound effect" by which people will drive more when driving is cheaper. Another issue has been uncovered by researchers Mark Jacobsen and Arthur van Benthem: they find that people keep their used cars longer and drive them more when newer cars become more expensive. They conclude that 12-17% of the expected savings from CAFE standards may disappear via this means.