Monday, June 09, 2008


There is nothing evil in the least about petitioning the government to do what is right. Doing so is one of the very basic freedoms offered to us by our constitution. Day after day pollution continues to kill. Something should be done. The problem is that politicians fall in love with power. They seek to tailor regulations in a way that will "earn" campaign contributions from the "winners". Politicians convert the goal of protecting the environment into the goal of producing campaign contributions. Politicians on the other side also win by not solving problems but by preventing solutions from being implemented.

We have made an awful lot of bad choices. Much of the damage from past bad choices can never be fixed. We can do better.

By mandating the use of ethanol and then subsidizing some of the richest people in the world to produce the stuff, we waste our time effort and energy and we create frustration, distrust, high prices for food and even starvation of poor people. Seventy percent of the farmers in Iowa and 78% of the farmers in North Dakota receive subsidies while the average Joe pays through the nose for fuel and food. US farmers are the richest farmers in the world. Some are New York City farmers who collect the subsidies without ever setting foot on the land. It is one thing to support a crop stabilization co-op and quite another to pay massive subsidies at the height of the agricultural profit cycle. The Cap and Trade system has been designed to split the difference. It will give existing businesses oligopoly power and campaign contributions to incumbent politicians. Big business and big government win but the consumer pays through the nose.

Government has gotten too big and the profit from lobbying has gotten out of hand. We can set up appropriate regulations without constantly robbing from Peter, enriching Paul and paying off politicians in the process.

Nuclear power gave us all a scare. It took about 25 years, but the fear has largely subsided. As a result, there are nuclear power deals being made daily. The big one was the agreement between Russia and the USA. Russia will build 45 nuclear plants over the next 22 years, producing a very large amount of low cost electricity. I believe the total built by Russia will be several times the 45 called for in the agreement. Once the process gets started, who can guess the total number? In the USA, we would need to go from 104 plants to about 700 plants to reach the market share that exists in France today.

The total number of plants that will be built in the rest of the world will be greater than the number built in Russia and the USA combined. In the past few days, Jordon has executed 123 agreements with France and the USA. Japan just renewed its agreement with the USA. India is in a battle royal over its prime ministers agreement with Bush. Around the globe, and particularly in the Middle East, it is like a nuclear power race is on. The backlog for nuclear power components is great. The major components are sold out for several years to come. The doubling of the price of oil in the past year has made nuclear and many other methods of producing energy very profitable.

Over the past 25 years, trillions of tones of coal have been burned because we have not been willing to drill for cleaner burning oil and because we have not been willing to build nuclear power. Billions of barrels of oil have been consumed because we have not drilled for cleaner burning natural gas. We could put every acre of land into production of ethanol and still not hardly make a dent in our energy needs. The amount of resources needed to build enough wind mills would be incredible.

Drilling does much less environmental damage as other methods. With trillions of cubic meters of gas just a short distance off our coast lines, it makes no sense to damage the environment by tilling vast tracks of fertile land or dotting the countryside with noisy windmills made of steel and concrete.

The country has gotten into a group think mode that has resulted in the suspension of belief in the basic laws of supply and demand. Supposedly knowledgeable people are constantly saying things like the corn used in cars does not drive up the price of food because it is a different kind of corn than we eat. They say putting corn in cars does not effect the price of rice because most rice is grown in other countries. They say subsidies do not distort markets but makes them better. They even say that using double the amount of steel and concrete in a wind farm is not a consideration in comparing wind energy to nuclear energy.

Your point about the scaring of land and the damage to water resources is a good one. Yes, the total costs of mining and burning coal have not been factored into the cost of the energy produced. Determining the exact cost is impossible. A commission needs to be established to estimate externalities to the best of their ability with the support of the scientific community and the congress should only vote up or down. The externalities should be taxed and the revenues should go to eliminate taxes on earnings. We need incentives to produce less pollution and incentives to produce more work and investment.

Again, we do not want to take away our right to petition the government, but we want to reduce the necessity for it. Decade after decade the congress was unable to close extra military bases because representatives fought for local pork. Most everyone agreed there were too many bases but no one was willing to volunteer to have their base closed. A commission established which bases should be closed they were.

Right now, we use energy as a political football. Everyone has their own ideas about how to "fix the problem". The incentives to come up with good solutions are huge. If the externalities created by mining and burning coal were included in the price, we would burn less coal. However, I believe it will not be long before someone comes up with the best method for microbes to digest the coal and burp out clean burning methane gas. Thirty years ago, we grew 16 bushels of corn per acre. Today, we grow as much as 250 bushels of corn per acre; Monsanto projects that we will double yields in 5-7 years; 30 times the yield in 40 years! "Bugs" are already eating coal and oil and producing methane. A number of scientist have given us good reason to believe the natural process can be sped up many times, perhaps 10,000 times.

Once people realize that the natural process of producing energy is a renewable process, they will stop wasting so much time and effort on weak substitutes. Of course, improvements in batteries could change the dynamics of wind, solar, nuclear and other power solutions. The Chinese will buy upwards of 14 million electric scooters this year not to protect the environment but because the electric scooters cost less to make than the gasoline powered scooters. With about 30 nuclear power plants coming on line over the next 12 years, China will be able to charge as many scooters as the public will buy.

Governments and capitalist are willing to gamble. There will be winners and losers but the consumer will ultimately win. History has shown that free markets generally make fewer mistakes when allocating resources than do governments. Free markets drive down prices, whereas governments frequently drive up prices. Government is needed to set up the least amount of rules as are necessary. We should trust the people to do the rest.

On Sun, Jun 8, 2008 at 10:30 PM, Al Miles wrote:

I live in eastern Pennsylvania, about 30 miles from the deep mine anthracite coal belt.The destruction of human lives and the environment through a hundred years of unregulated mining still scare the land, Coal banks, the residue from deep mining still pollute our water 40 years after major deep mining became too costly. Only five miles from my home is a Zink smelting plant which has left the Blue Mountain totally denude of any vegetation and polluted ground water for most of my 64 years. It has taken most of my life for the Lehigh River to regain its ability to support aquatic life. Deep Zink mining 15 miles south of me had caused stream flow reductions and even a lake to run dry. I firmly believe we need to developed our natural resources, BUT in a responsible manor! Mining, drilling wells and nuclear power can be done in environmentally safe ways. This can only be accomplished when government is no longer swayed by the lobbyists with the biggest bundles of money.

Al Miles

This is not an endorsement of Obama, as his campaign takes money from state lobbyists, but not federal lobbyists and I fail to see why state lobbyists are less "evil" than their federal cousins.