Jason Barton

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Congressional Republicans Move in Two Directions at Once

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Neither of these effort is close to certain, but we are seeing one prominent Senator, Dick Lugar (R-IN), possibly moving towards federal renewable energy standards, while another group is seeking to gut the President’s ability to implement the same.

These aren’t necessarily contradictory, as the efforts could lead to similar results with less power held in the White House.

Sen. Lugar is drafting a bill that could include standards increasing vehicle efficiency, renewable electricity, waste-to-energy, and other measures throughout our energy matrix.

Meanwhile, in the article from Politico below, congressional Republicans would greatly reduce the President’s ability to mandate clean energy or climate change measures through the White House or the EPA. I like the decentralization of power they are working towards, but do see some value in letting the President use those tools that have traditionally been at his disposal.

It will be interesting to see if either or both efforts is successful, and if Obama attempts to fight it by replacing Carol Browner, or concedes the point and dissolves her office.

It’s still a fascinating time to be alive.

Sen. Lugar Prepping Bill That Could Include ‘Clean Energy’ Standard

Published: February 11, 2011

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar is crafting broad energy legislation that could include a “clean energy” mandate similar to the one President Obama called for in his State of the Union address.

The Indiana Republican this week said his bill, which is still “weeks away,” could include a clean energy standard as well as “energy efficiency in many, many facets.”

Read this entire article here.

CR would slash EPA, White House energy office


House Republicans threw down the gauntlet at the Obama administration’s energy and environmental agenda Friday night, proposing to defund the White House energy adviser’s office and block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by $3 billion – nearly twice as much as they originally proposed – GOP lawmakers included language in the continuing resolution to strip the agency of its ability to implement climate change rules.

Read this entire article here.

Confusion on the Future of Energy

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Well this article is puzzling. The first paragraph is tongue in cheek (I hope), and yet it has some important and accurate points, as well as some dubious ones.

Gilbert seems to be making some sort of a comment on the proceedings in Davos, but it’s not clear what his comment is, or even if he knows very much about the energy issues he’s discussing. Bloomberg is a trusted media channel, but there appears to be little to trust in Mr. Gilbert’s article.

No, oil disasters are not good. I get the point that when one happens we tend to pay more attention to safety, but it shouldn’t take that. I also get the sarcasm, but would appreciate some clarity.

Yes, our appetite for energy does threaten to compete with food and water. Biofuels can compete with food not only when we divert corn or sugar from food to fuel, but also when we divert land used for food to produce non-food crops such as grasses for cellulosic ethanol, though there are definitely ways to avoid having to make this Hobson’s choice. I’ve written about the validity and exaggeration of the competition between these two at other times, so will leave it for now, but you can read more here if you like.

Traditional fuels such as natural gas and petroleum can also stress our water supplies. Read more about water used in the tar sands for petroleum here, or about natural gas and the potential impacts of fracking on water here.

So it’s tough to know from that first paragraph what Gilbert’s take is on the developments n Davos.

He continues to obfuscate the situation further in the paragraphs that follow.

He goes on to talk about China and their use of coal, proposing they use more hydro power (see paragraph excerpted below). I wonder if Mr. Gilbert is familiar with the Three Gorges Dam. It’s not a small project.

Yes, China will use a lot of coal as they grow their economy in the coming decades, but they are also doing an admirable job of investing in and implementing renewable energy. Read more about that here.

Next is nuclear energy.  Gilbert seems to deride it, but, again, it’s unclear. He mentions the possible security concern, which is a very credible threat, since the technology used for plants such as breeder reactors brings more use and awareness of  the technology used in nuclear weapons. Risky, but potentially worth it since nuclear power can bring energy to disenfranchised people who are at risk of being wooed by terrorist organizations. We can put political or religious faces on the fights, but they are most often between the haves and the have-nots, and helping more people to be haves reduces the motivation to attack. It’s also a nice thing to do, reducing the number of have-nots, just on moral grounds.

Back to energy, Gilbert moves on to biofuels, grossly over-simplifying the issue I touched on above. Yes, the competition with energy can raise food prices, but if energy supplies are constricted, because of dwindling supplies of non-renewable energy resources or geopolitical events in the Middle East or any number of other issues, food prices will rise as well. In fact, the rise in food prices we saw in 2008 had less to do with biofuels than it did with petroleum prices (See Abbot, Hurt, and Tyner, 2009).

It takes energy to fertilize, irrigate, process, package, and transport our food, so if we resign ourselves to the current, non-renewable energy matrix, those ever-decreasing supplies will continue leading to ever-increasing food prices. Diversifying our energy matrix, prudently over time, will help to mitigate if not eliminate this threat. Bread wars could come much more easily from rising energy prices than rising energy prices could be caused by biofuels.

So, thank you, Mr. Gilbert, for giving us all of this food for thought.

Green-Energy Future Looks Black as Recession Bites: Davos Diary

By Mark Gilbert – Jan 26, 2011 6:07 AM MT

The future is black, not green. Get used to oil trading at $100 a barrel. Drilling disasters are good because they focus the oil industry’s attention on safety. Oh, and our insatiable thirst for yet more energy sources threatens to deplete the world’s food and water supplies.

That’s the bleak message from the World Economic Forum’s opening discussion on global energy at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, led a panel that delivered a somber outlook for renewable energy.


Hydropower, for example, would be a great way to meet China’s future needs, especially during demand peaks in the morning and early evening, because you can switch on water- generated supply in eight minutes, whereas coal takes 32 hours to come on line, while a nuclear power reactor takes 56 hours. The problem is the huge capital-expenditure cost because the hydropower plants are typically far away from where the electricity is needed, demanding transmission networks.


The gloomiest aspect of the energy debate is the impact on agriculture. As governments champion the use of biofuels, diverting agricultural resources to producing energy raises food prices. That’s a worrying trend for those of us who reckon food and water security will be the world’s most pressing issue in the coming years.

Read the entire article here.

CBO says energy bill would cut deficit by $19B

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I’m not necessarily convinced by the numbers presented by the CBO or Congress. Teaching statistics gives great insight as to how complex models can be manipulated, often with the most ethical of intentions and methods, to present very different pictures.

It is still entirely plausible to me, however, that investing in domestic, clean, renewable energy can be extremely positive for the U.S.

8 Jul, 2010
9:16am, EDT

“Senator John F. Kerry’s signature energy and climate change legislation would cut the deficit by $19 billion, according to an estimate released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office,” the Boston Globe reports. “The legislation faces strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats from energy-producing states, but the report gives the Massachusetts Democrat and his allies a compelling financial argument amid concerns about the implications of a burgeoning deficit.”

Read the entire article here.

A Nobelist’s Energy Pitch for Obama: Slow down, Stay Simple

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There are several portions to these comments from the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Burton Richter, that are so clear, so brilliant, so obvious once we read them:

1. Focus on vehicles, electricity generation, and efficiency. Taking on too much at once is counter-productive.

2. Tell the free market what is needed, then let the people there figure out how to do it. The market gets jobs done much more efficiently than government, so provide the vision, but not the micro-management on how to arrive there.

3. Don’t stop renewables, but realize that there is still much work to be done until they are cost-effective.

There’s a lot more there, but these are the big three points in my mind.

June 28, 2010, 10:17 am


President Obama is preparing to take another stab at seeking consensus in the Senate on energy legislation with components that could rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.


Last week, I sent a query to a variety of smart people who’ve spent a long time assessing the tangled interface of energy technology, climate science, politics and economics to collect their “pitches” — made as if they had 30 seconds or so to present their prime points to the president at a fantasy White House energy summit. (It sure would be nice to see the White House host a real one, with varied informed voices.) One who has weighed in is Burton Richter.

Richter’s comments:

We do not have to run everything on solar cells and windmills tomorrow to make fast progress in reducing energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. The  Waxman-Markey energy bill in the House is a huge brick of paper and seeks to do everything at once. The  Kerry-Lieberman bill in the Senate is nearly as complicated.

I would start with those parts of the economy where the way to make progress is clear, the potential gains are large, and the required regulations are relatively simple. To me this says: Start by focusing on cars, electricity generation and efficiency. The industrial sector is complicated and we should stay away from most of it until we know better what we are doing. Also, tell the private sector what you want done, not how they must do it. There is a huge amount of brain power in our society directed toward making money and tilting the playing field so that more money could be made by doing the right things will unleash it.

Read the entire article here.

Nuclear Energy, Big and Small

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The biggest problem with nuclear energy, much bigger than the overblown fears of future accidents such as Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, is the potential for weapons proliferation, as the article below from The Economist discusses.

On another front, the BBC article further down presents a whole different side of nuclear: a very small fusion reactor, hand built in an amateur’s New York workshop. Individual inventors like this, not just in nuclear, may be key to helping the U.S. achieve energy independence. I’m quite certain the creator’s lack of hair is unrelated to his work in nuclear energy.

Finally, the Energy Central article at the bottom of this post gives some of the more practical concerns for the use of nuclear energy in the U.S.


Nuclear proliferation in South Asia

The power of nightmares

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India. But the damage will go far wider

Jun 24th 2010

AT FIRST sight, China’s proposed sale of two civilian nuclear-power reactors to Pakistan hardly seems a danger sign. Pakistan already has the bomb, so it has all the nuclear secrets it needs. Next-door India has the bomb too, and has been seeking similar deals with other countries.


America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t). The deal incensed not just China and Pakistan but many others, inside and outside the NSG. An immediate casualty was the effort to get all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), who have already promised not to seek the bomb, to sign up to an additional protocol on toughened safeguards. Many have, but on hearing of the America-India deal Brazil’s president is reputed to have flatly ruled that out. And where Brazil has put its foot down, others have also hesitated.

Read the entire article here.

Extreme DIY: Building a homemade nuclear reactor in NYC

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 09:01 UK

By Matthew Danzico
BBC News, Brooklyn, New York

Many might be alarmed to learn of a homemade nuclear reactor being built next door. But what if this form of extreme DIY could help solve the world’s energy crisis?

By day, Mark Suppes is a web developer for fashion giant Gucci. By night, he cycles to a New York warehouse and tinkers with his own nuclear fusion reactor.

Read the entire article here.

Nuclear’s New Path

June 18, 2010

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider

BP’s oil spill cuts two ways in terms of nuclear energy. On the one hand, it would tend to bode well for the growth of the non-fossil-fired energy. On the hand, it begs for a greater dialogue about nuclear safety.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

June 24th, 2010 at 8:13 am

Energy Realities: The oil spill is my fault

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Well, this definitely isn’t getting any less interesting. Unfortunately, the energy situation in the U.S. is also not getting any clearer or easier to solve, even with pundits on all sides hurling dissatisfaction and vitriol at BP, Obama, Jimmy Carter, each other, seagulls, volunteers, parish presidents, and anyone else who happens to enter their field of vision.

This will not be easy. We will be using petroleum, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power for decades to come, and accidents like this will happen. Yes, there is much we can do to lessen our use and the related risks, and more we can do to mitigate the impact in the event they occur, but there is nothing, not a thing, to which anyone can point that will eliminate this risk, not even in the next 15 years. Maybe more.

We demand these resources. I demand them. And as long as we refuse to stop, we’re putting government or industry into the position of a parent, asking them to put out of reach the fix we know is there and that we very much want, even though we know it’s not good for us. Then we become petulant children when we get sick, and demand… What?

Some sort of methadone? There is no methadone, and every day we participate in and perpetuate a system, a habit, that has risks.

Once we face this reality, we can push past the questions for how we can end offshore oil drilling next week, and can put into proper, long term context the technologies for safer drilling, alternative fuels, vehicle fleets, and others that we’re now somehow hoping will materialize later this afternoon, after Keith Olbermann and Glen Beck, President Obama and Sarah Palin, Tony Hayward and Billy Nungesser have traded a few more punches.

When the topics of this oil spill or our energy use comes up in conversations with friends or colleagues, there’s often someone who insists technology is out there to clean up the spill or end our addiction to oil, but the powers that be either haven’t watched that particular show on the Discovery Channel, or those powers have some vested interest in letting these problems persist and keeping out competing solutions. Maybe I’m naive, but I just don’t see it.

I think part of the reason we insist on believing in these fairy tales, why we wait for our leaders–be they industry, government, or otherwise–to hand down our salvation is because it relieves us of any personal responsibility.

At the same time that I haven’t commuted to work or school since I was 17, riding my bike, walking, or taking the bus instead, I still put about 10,000 miles per year on my car and fly about that many miles as well.

The oil spill is my fault. I accept this reality and will continue to work towards greater independence from imported, nonrenewable sources of energy, focusing on all the healthy externalities derived from saving money on fuel and electricity, exercise and stress relief instead of frustration and smog in traffic, and all those silly pleasures so rarely discussed in the context of our current debacle.

The article below is one of dozens I’ve read in the last few weeks that criticizes Obama for his lack of a definitive response to the spill. Mr. Taranto, as usual, makes several excellent points. But like many on different sides of the debate, he foolishly uses the spill to decry a certain political ideology, as if any ideology has offered a concrete solution beyond the bland reality laid out in this post: It will take time; it will require sacrifice; it will require substantial investments from industry and government and citizenry to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and protect ourselves against the risks of dependence on nonrenewable, foreign sources for our energy.

Yes, we should formulate a comprehensive energy strategy, the one that has been promised by Republican and Democratic presidents for decades, that will work towards energy independence and bolster our economic and political security. And we should realize that this will require some sacrifices, sacrifices that will be better for us in the long run. And we will need to accept the reality that it will not eliminate the problems or drastically change our lives, our world, or our energy matrix, next week or even next year.

Maybe this is the leadership that government and industry have been providing. It’s not exciting. It doesn’t offer a quick solution. It’s just the reality. The oil spill is our fault.

JUNE 21, 2010

Keith Olbermann’s Wisdom

Obama, BP and the crisis of American liberalism.


“What has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny–our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how we’re going to get there. We know we’ll get there.”–President Barack Obama, June 15, 2010

Or, as Harry Truman might have put it: There is as yet no consensus on where the buck stops. And so I’ve established a national commission to understand the buck’s velocity and the degree of kinetic friction between the buck and the surface across which it is traveling. Even if we don’t know precisely where the buck is going to stop, we know it’ll get there.

On the Democratic left, Obama’s oil-spill speech last week has escalated what the mainstream media would call a civil war if it were being waged on the Republican right instead.

Read the entire article here.

Lieberman encouraged that energy bill will be on track

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This comes as only somewhat of a relief after yesterday’s news that tripartisan talks on the energy bill had broken down the day before a draft of the legislation was to be released. I say “only somewhat” because saying it may be done “this year” is a far cry from previous estimates that it would be done in the next couple of months.

The reason I see the energy bill as so important is not because I’m hoping for one set of policies or another. Yes, I have my preferences, but it seems all of industry is waiting to hear what’s in this bill so they can plan their energy use and investment strategies accordingly. Clearly, however it shakes out in the particulars, this bill will demand at least some changes in energy use on the part of business, government, and regular citizens.

This does not necessarily put us solely in the reactive position, as many stakeholders have been proactively engaged, from regular voters voicing concerns to elected officials, to industry, to utilities, and to  oil, coal,  gas, and alternative energy providers.

The sooner the politicians enact the voices of the people who’ve spoken and release this bill, the sooner we can move forward.

WASHINGTON — A day after bipartisan support for an energy and climate change bill appeared to crumble, a Senate sponsor said yesterday he was optimistic the coalition would regroup and lawmakers would consider the measure this year.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said that he was encouraged after talking to Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who were at odds over Reid’s suggestion that an immigration overhaul might be considered before the energy bill.

Read the entire article here.

Sen. Graham walks away from climate and energy bill

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It has been so encouraging to see Graham (R), Kerry (D), and Lieberman (I), work on this bill together, not just because a comprehensive energy bill is so important to our country, but also because, at a time when our country is so terribly divided, their tri-partisan efforts have been a welcome bright spot in an otherwise dim Congress.

Hopefully they can resolve their differences and get back to work quickly.

UPDATED: 6:30 p.m.

By Juliet Eilperin

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) abandoned his effort to push a climate and energy bill Saturday, saying he would continue only if Democratic leaders promise to relinquish plans to bring up immigration legislation first.

Graham’s departure likely dooms any chance of passing a climate bill this year. He is the sole Republican working with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a compromise proposal that they had planned to unveil Monday.

Read the entire article here.

Is It Worth the Investment for Energy Independence?

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Is it worth the investment to have energy independence and more renewable energy?

Optimism for a clean energy future

By MAGGIE L. FOX | 4/20/10 10:47 AM EDT

Read the entire article here.

But the good news is that, behind all the daily political turmoil, the Senate is working on an agreement to forge a new energy future that will help our economy, promote energy independence and give us millions of new jobs.

Nuclear’s New Confidence

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In a recent conversation with oil and gas industry executives here in Sao Paulo, they asked me about the prospects for nuclear energy in the U.S. I gave them the same response I’ve expressed previously on this site: There are many people in the U.S. who are strongly in favor of nuclear energy, as long as the nuclear plant is in the state next door.

The article below balances between outlining the high capital costs required to build a nuclear plant, and the enthusiasm for nuclear energy that has recently be arising once again in the U.S.

April 12, 2010

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider

Nuclear energy development in this country is getting a big boost now that the nuclear loan guarantees are being processed. Southern Co., which snagged the first $8 billion of what will be $54 billion pie, still has to wait about a year for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to okay its license application.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 11th, 2010 at 1:39 pm