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Philip Bump's Posts


N.Y. town board sued for banning discussion of fracking at meetings

City government meetings are boring and tedious and deal with boring, tedious things -- zoning, ceremonial items, paying a city's bills. Most also allow time for the public to comment, which almost always entices the local gadflies and cranks to show up and share whatever's on their minds. And it's often the most interesting part of the meetings.

Nonetheless, the town board of Sanford, N.Y., got tired of one particular topic coming up in public comments: fracking. Speaker after speaker would rail against the practice, which is currently banned in the state. The town board reached its limit last fall, voting to ban any further comment from the public on the topic.

In spirit, we can appreciate the frustration. In practice, however, we would strongly encourage elected officials to remember that public meetings don't exist for their convenience. To help remind the Sanford board of that fact, local residents (with the support of the Natural Resources Defense Council) are suing. From the Associated Press:

"If people are silenced by their own elected representatives, how can they trust them to act in their best interests?" said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Kate Sinding as her group announced the U.S. District Court lawsuit. NRDC and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed the lawsuit on behalf of town residents who are members of their groups.


North Dakota’s red-hot, frack-fueled economy is starting to slow down

A fracking rig in North Dakota.
Lindsey Gee
A fracking rig in North Dakota.

Remember that massive economic boom in North Dakota? That was so early 2012.

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson outlines the state's slowdown at the end of last year. He starts with this graph:

Click to embiggen.
Derek Thompson/Atlantic
Click to embiggen.

This chart tells two stories about America's little petro state. First story: At the beginning of 2012 (much like in 2011 and 2010), North Dakota's stratospheric job creation numbers made even the next frothiest states look like they're were suffering a post-Soviet-breakup depression. Second story: Something happened in the second half of 2012. North Dakota's economy fell back to earth. …

You might say, don't be unfair, North Dakota never could have kept up its 2011 rate!, and I might respond, you're right. If the U.S. had experienced Dakotan growth across 2011, we would have added about 400,000 jobs per month, and that's just absurd.


Test drive of Tesla sedan leaves New York Times stranded

Tesla is Silicon Valley's car. The company's head of product design, Elon Musk, went from rethinking online payments as a cofounder of PayPal to rethinking automobiles. Tesla's first vehicle was an electricity-and-testosterone-powered roadster; recently, it added a sedan (electricity only).

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a review of the sedan by John Broder. His test drive, a haul from the outskirts of D.C. to Boston, could have gone better. From "Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway":

The Model S has won multiple car-of-the-year awards and is, many reviews would have you believe, the coolest car on the planet.

What fun, no? Well, no.

The problem was power. The electric car, like a regular car, needs to be refilled. But unlike a regular car, you can't refuel every few miles. Broder's trip was meant to highlight two new charging stations between the cities, spaced within the range of a full charge of the car. Ideally. As Broder discovered, that wasn't his experience -- something for which the cold weather may have been partly to blame.

As I crossed into New Jersey ..., I noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating. At 68 miles since recharging, the range had dropped by 85 miles, and a little mental math told me that reaching Milford would be a stretch.

I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low -- the temperature was still in the 30s -- and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65). Buicks and 18-wheelers flew past, their drivers staring at the nail-polish-red wondercar with California dealer plates.

Broder's trip ended on the back of a flatbed truck in Connecticut. But the story didn't.


2013 will be a banner year for farm profits, according to analysis that ignores the drought

2012 was a brutal year for American farmers. The massive drought meant that the Department of Agriculture paid out $15 billion in crop insurance; prices of staple crops skyrocketed as yields plummeted.

It appears, however, that this was the darkness before the dawn. A new estimate from the USDA suggests that 2013 will be the most profitable year for farmers in four decades. From The Wall Street Journal:

The Department of Agriculture projected in a report Monday that net farm income in the U.S. will reach $128.2 billion in 2013—the highest since 1973 when adjusted for inflation and the highest on record on a non-adjusted basis.

The rosier outlook is driven by expectations farmers will grow more corn and soybeans after last year's drought. Analysts predict increases in production will more than offset any price declines and rising costs, with the agency seeing corn stockpiles rising by more than 2 billion bushels.

The forecast also reflects a continued boom in the farm belt initially fueled by rising global demand for grains and increased mandates for corn-based ethanol.

And the first thing those farmers will do is repay the USDA for its crop insurance outlays in 2012, I assume. After all, it was God who made a farmer, not the USDA.

farm city
Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Minnesota mayor doesn’t see why he can’t also run a sand-mining advocacy group

An auditorium in Red Wing, Minnesota
An auditorium in Red Wing, Minn.

Congratulations, Dennis Egan, on your new job as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, an organization that advocates for the industrial use of sand, particularly in fracking. But, while we have your ear, maybe we should talk about your other job as mayor of Red Wing, Minn.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

At an intense City Council meeting attended by about 50 people who applauded the harshest rebukes of the mayor, two City Council members directly asked Egan to resign as mayor or step down as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council. He steadfastly refused either option, saying he has no conflict of interest that can't be managed on a case-by-case basis by recusing himself from city action on sand-mining issues.

"I deeply care about Red Wing,'' said Egan, who was elected in November to a four-year term before he went to work for the sand council.

In an AP article, the honorable mayor notes that he signed a ban on frack sand mining in the city before he took the second job with the advocacy group. Interestingly, the prospect of sand mining in Red Wing is not the only point of concern for the city council. Again from the Star-Tribune:

Council President Lisa Bayley said Egan's post with an industry that has encountered public opposition in its plans to expand sand-mining operations in Minnesota has taken a negative toll on the city and could hurt economic development.


Shell retreats from the Arctic, sending its battered vessels to Asia for repair

You know how in movies there's sometimes a moment after some cataclysm in which the protagonist sits up in bed or steps out of a doorway, rubs his eyes, and the sun is shining? All around him are crumbled buildings and cars missing doors, but he looks up and the air is still and the sun is out and you, the audience, understand that something has changed. The terror is behind us.

Well, sit up in bed and rub your eyes. From the Times:

In another blow to its Alaskan Arctic drilling program, Royal Dutch Shell said on Monday that it had decided to tow its two drill vessels there to Asian ports for major repairs, jeopardizing its plans to begin drilling for oil in the icy northern seas next summer.

The new potential delay in drilling does not necessarily doom Shell’s seven-year, $4.5 billion quest to open a new oil frontier in the far north, but it may strengthen the position of environmentalists who have repeatedly sued to stop or postpone exploration that they claim carries the risks of a spill nearly impossible to clean up. ...

For drilling to proceed, two vessels are needed, one to stand by to drill relief wells in case of a blowout. It would be difficult to find other suitable ships for drilling in the Arctic.

The Kulluk during happier times.

The two vessels Shell is sending out for repair are the Kulluk -- which ran aground in December, damaging its hull -- and the Noble Discoverer -- which escaped its moorings and almost ran aground, but needs fixes to its propulsion systems.


Celebrities to Obama: Fix the climate! Obama to celebrities: Sure, you got it

Can Evangeline Lilly, Ian Somerhalder, Malin Akerman, and Phillipe Cousteau succeed where others have failed? I don't know. I don't know who those people are. I'm guessing the last is Jacques' son, and Lilly is an actress, I'm pretty sure, but I'm not going to Google her.

These are some of the 24 (!!!) celebrities who have signed a letter to the president initiated by the Sierra Club. It quotes Obama's inaugural speech and then reads:

The letter in ad form. Click to see bigger version.
An ad featuring the letter. Click to see big PDF version.

Your legacy as 44th president of the United States rests firmly on your leadership on climate disruption. Only the president has the power to lead an effort on the scale and with the urgency we need to phase out fossil fuels and lead America, and the world, in a clean energy revolution.


Emphasis and capitalization in the original because pay attention, Obama.


Germany’s conservative environment minister kiboshes fracking

I do not understand German politics. Are they always the complete opposite of America? Is that how it works?

In Germany, for example, a conservative politician, the country's environment minister, suggested that he opposed fracking. From The Guardian:

Pending rules for the drilling techniques would likely be tightened, said Peter Altmaier, a conservative politician in chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

"The message is we want to limit fracking, we don't want to facilitate it," he told Deutschlandfunk radio. "And anyway I don't see in the foreseeable future that fracking will be employed anywhere within Germany." …

Altmaier said he would recommend that interested parties refrain from applying for exploration licences.

Those "interested parties" include BASF and ExxonMobil.

This is somewhere in Germany, for what it's worth.
This is somewhere in Germany, for what it's worth.

Bizarroland, right? It gets weirder.


Are green jobs meant to help the economy or the jobless?

Image (1) green_jobs_economy.jpg for post 31361

Over the weekend, two very different media outlets ran two very different takes on green jobs.

David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times, begins with a common critique: Green jobs produce more expensive energy, so they're a net loss for the economy.

Green jobs have long had a whiff of exaggeration to them. The alternative-energy sector may ultimately employ millions of people. But raising the cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day -- a necessary effect of helping the climate -- is not exactly a recipe for an economic boom.

Not when framed like that, certainly. Leonhardt doesn't address the built-in economic advantages fossil fuels enjoy, nor the recent examples of price parity between fossils and solar, for example. He's trying to make a broader point: The climate should be fixed for its own sake, because the economic cost of climate change over the long run will be enormous. The goal is preventing disaster, not worrying about jobs.

This is an easy argument for the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times to make. Contrast Leonhardt with Aaron Alton, as profiled in a thoughtful piece by Brentlin Mock at Gawker.

After an intense six-week training program, the only thing that stands between Aaron Alton and a $90,000 fracking job is a commercial driver's license. It's August of 2012. The job, at a natural gas drilling company, is Aaron's ticket out of Harrisburg, PA.


Can we blame climate change for the Northeast’s massive blizzard?

The great blizzard of 2013 (which shall remain nameless) has come and gone. At least 15 people were killed, and 700,000 lost power. A nuclear power plant in Massachusetts was knocked offline. Storm surge in the state flooded several communities. In many parts of the Northeast, new one-day snowfall records were set. It was a massive storm -- one whose damage could have been much worse.

Christopher Burt at the Weather Underground puts the storm in perspective:

The storm was certainly among the top five to affect Southern New England and Maine and for some localities, the worst winter storm on record (going back 300 years since European inhabitants began keeping track of such things). …

It can probably be said that winter storm Nemo was the 2nd most intense winter storm event for Long Island, Connecticut, eastern Massachusetts, and perhaps Rhode Island. For Long Island and Connecticut the Blizzard of 1888 remains unparalleled whereas for Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts the Blizzard of 1978 remains the top event. For southeastern Maine it would appear that Nemo has been the most extreme snowstorm on record. …

I might add that it is a bit unsettling that two of the most significant storms in the past 300 years to strike the northeastern quadrant of the U.S. have occurred within just four months from one another.

Emphasis added, because it's worth emphasizing.

nemo blizzard nasa
Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy