Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘The Environment’ Category

Cooperation on Biofuels Increasing between Brazil and US

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With the US ending both the tariff on imported ethanol and the tax credit for domestic blenders, cooperation between the US and Brazil on biofuel technology is increasing, as well as efforts to trade renewable fuels on global markets. (See my post at the end of last year)

Yes, we need to be ever vigilant on the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food availability and prices as well as on land use, soil and water quality, and related issues. In my doctoral dissertation, however, I examined these issues in depth and contend that increased production can occur along with protection of ecological health.

The cooperation discussed in the article below can lead to greater efficiency of renewable fuel production, using less land and less water to produce more fuel.

Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and as countries in Latin America and Africa increase their ability to produce renewable energy domestically, they create more jobs and better the lives of their people in ways that will improve economic as well as environmental conditions for generations. These are undoubtedly positive.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.

Insight: U.S. and Brazil – At last, friends on ethanol

A gas station worker fills a car's tank with ethanol in Rio de Janeiro April 30, 2008. Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of ethanol. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

By Brian Winter

BRASILIA | Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:21pm IST

(Reuters) – After years at each other’s throats, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote the use of ethanol in a collaboration that could revolutionize global markets and the makeup of the biofuel itself.

The breakthrough came in January when Washington allowed a three-decade-old subsidy for U.S. ethanol producers to expire and ended a steep tariff on foreign biofuels. The tariff, in particular, had poisoned diplomatic relations between the world’s top two ethanol-producing countries for years.

Continue reading this article here.

Fracking in Colorado

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Ugh, this is such a tough issue.

On one hand, there are substantial benefits from the oil and gas brought out by this process, as well as the jobs and revenues that come with them. On the other, we need the long term vision that will protect human and environmental health and the discipline to ensure both of them.

Particularly in places like Weld County, which is Colorado’s biggest agricultural producer and home to many proposed and existing fracking sites, we see the tangible positives and negatives of fracking, and are hearing from citizens who fall on both the pro- and anti-fracking sides of the debate. In agricultural communities the health of soil and water is important not just for the immediate implications to human health, but also for the long term implications for the health and safety of the food we grow, and the livelihoods of the people who depend on selling that food.

I’ve said on this site before that it is the job of government to internalize the externalities, to create a regulatory framework that ensures industry activities do not have negative impacts on the communities where they operate. This framework must include proactive measures motivating companies to guard against problems, as well as reactive measures that force organizations to pay those external costs of clean up and damages if there are  problems.

The important issue raised in the article below is that companies have worked to avoid making the payments even when they are found to be at fault, causing local citizens to question the statewide framework and seek to implement policies on local levels.

The upsides are that Colorado citizens are learning the details of these issues, making our voices heard from different perspectives, and forcing government and corporations to listen and take action. Keep at it, y’all.

By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post

Denver metro cities digging in before oil and gas drills do

COMMERCE CITY — Even in this bastion of industry that hosts a refinery, residents are imploring their elected leaders to protect them from oil and gas drilling planned within city limits.

“This is where we live, where we made our investments of our lives. It’s not about money,” Kristi Douglas said Thursday during a working-group forum, the latest of dozens of city and county meetings in Front Range communities.

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Colorado’s State Land Board hit the brakes on a controversial metro-Denver drilling project after learning that ConocoPhillips is embroiled in a lawsuit for failing to pay the state $152 million for cleanup of leaky underground gas tanks.

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“The state has the experience and the infrastructure to effectively and responsibly regulate oil and gas development,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “A healthy industry is important to our state’s economy, and a mosaic of regulatory approaches across cities and counties is not conducive to clear and predictable rules that mark efficient and effective government.”

[…]

But the board delayed a decision after it learned another state agency is suing Conoco in a dispute over past cleanups of contamination at 354 sites of leaking underground gas tanks.
[…]
“We need to get the state General Assembly involved. We need to get some things, like setbacks, addressed,” Benson said. “Yes, we welcome industry here. But you’ve got to protect the health and safety of your people.”
Read the complete article here.

US Ends Tariff on Imported Ethanol

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With surprisingly little fanfare, the US has ended the $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. This comes at the same time that Congress also allowed the $0.45 per gallon of ethanol tax credit for blenders to expire, potentially opening the door to much more US importation of Brazilian ethanol, as well as cooperation between the two countries on more advanced biofuels. Brazil was the leading producer of renewable fuel until 2005 when US production of ethanol from corn surpassed production of Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol.

The article below is clearly biased, quoting two top officials from UNICA, Brazil’s powerful sugarcane industry association, without presenting views from American officials who have been opposing these measures as they work to protect domestic energy production and agricultural markets.

That said, decreasing government intervention has always been favored by this humble author, and the elimination of these barriers to trade should make for the more efficient functioning of energy and agricultural markets.

Cooperation between the two largest producers of renewable fuels could also lead to faster development of fuels from non-food crop residues such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, and other cellulosic feedstocks.

Congressional Recess Means the End of Three Decades of US Tariffs on Imported Ethanol

Time for the world’s top two ethanol producers, the United States and Brazil, to lead a global effort for increased production and free, unobstructed trade for biofuels, says Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

SAO PAULO, Dec. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — For the first time in more than three decades of generous US government subsidies for the domestic ethanol industry, coupled with a steep tariff on imports, the United States market will be open to imported ethanol as of January 1st, 2012, without protectionist measures. The adjournment of the 112th Congress means both the US$0,54 per gallon tax on imported ethanol and a corresponding tax credit of US$0,45 per gallon for blenders, the VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit), will expire as expected on December 31st.

Continue reading this story here.

Obama and the New Brazil

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After a first visit to Brazil earlier in the 20th Century, a foreign diplomat boldly stated that “Brazil is the country of the future!” Self-deprecating Brazilians quickly added, “And it always will be.”

Based on my four years of living in Brazil and many return visits in the four years since, I don’t think Brazilians are saying this any longer, nor are the popular media or President Obama.

It has been fascinating to watch the changes in Brazil since my first arrival shortly before Lula’s election in 2002. I feel very fortunate to have earned the job that first brought me there, and to have stayed in close contact with the amazing colleagues and friends with whom I worked and laughed during the past decade.

Mr. Obama, Meet the New Brazil

By JULIA SWEIG and MATIAS SPEKTOR
Published: March 18, 2011

When Barack Obama lands in Brazil this weekend, he will find a country transformed. In little more than a decade, some 30 million people have been lifted out of poverty and the country has risen to seventh place in the world economy.

Change at home has revolutionized policies abroad. Brazil has woken up to the 10 states along its borders, becoming the eminent power and driver of regional integration in South America. It has set out to develop closer ties simultaneously with Israel, Syria and Iran.

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With most of the Amazon within its borders, the world’s 10th largest oil stores, and nearly a fifth of the world’s fresh water, Brazil is an environmental power, an energy power, and guarantor of global food security.

Read the entire article here.

More Advancements in Cellulosic Biofuels

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Government investments in cellulosic biofuels may be paying off.

Not only do these advances move us closer to using grasses and other crops that require less water and fertilizer and compete less with food, it also moves us closer to the advanced biofuels that, unlike ethanol, can be used as drop in replacements for gasoline (read more here).

We need to combine these advancements with further efforts in conservation and efficiency, or we risk converting so much of the Earth’s biomass to serving human uses that we will decrease biodiversity to the extent that we risk further ecological collapse.

This doesn’t just diminish our ability to go camping in pretty places, it also threatens our supply of essential resources such as clean, healthy water and soil.  I like to go camping, but I like eating and drinking healthy food and water even more. They’re really important, and clearing diverse forests and prairies so we can plant crops such as grasses, whether for fuel, food, fiber, or feed, poses risks to water and soil.

Energy Department Announces New Advance in Biofuel Technology

Highlights Opportunity to Reduce America’s Oil Dependence and Create Jobs in Rural America

March 07, 2011

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today congratulated a team of researchers at the Department’s BioEnergy Science Center who have achieved yet another advance in the drive toward next generation biofuels: using bacteria to convert plant matter directly into isobutanol, which can be burned in regular car engines with a heat value higher than ethanol and similar to gasoline. This research is part of a broad portfolio of work the Department is doing to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and create new economic opportunities for rural America.

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Secretary Chu added that: “America’s oil dependence—which leaves hardworking families at the mercy of global oil markets—won’t be solved overnight. But the remarkable advance of science and biotechnology in the past decade puts us on the precipice of a revolution in biofuels. In fact, biotechnologies, and the biological sciences that provide the underlying foundation, are some of the most rapidly developing areas in science and technology today – and the United States is leading the way. In the coming years, we can expect dramatic breakthroughs that will allow us to produce the clean energy we need right here at home. We need to act aggressively to seize this opportunity and win the future.”

Read the entire article here.

Obama Pursues a Moderate, Pragmatic Approach During Energy Woes

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Of course times are tough. I tend to drive my car until the gas light comes on so I have to fill up less often, but then kick myself for driving so much as I watch the cost climb past $40 a tank. These are minor pains compared to the ones some folks are feeling, but even this light irritation is enough to make me want a fast change to whatever it is we’re doing, or not doing, in terms of making energy more affordable.

Patience is key. Jumping in to more drilling without taking the time to make sure it’s safe and efficient could cause as many problems, and increase total costs, as much as launching scads of new and often inefficient wind or solar projects.

Energy is expensive. Our government has helped it to be artificially cheap since early in the last century. This has lead to great advantages in our country, such as the great access most people in the U.S. have to everyday conveniences such as lights, heat, cars, buses, and airplanes. In most countries these aren’t nearly as accessible to people on, say, the bottom half of the socio-economic strata.

As Obama weathers the criticism from the right that we need to expand our use of fossil fuels, and from the left that more needs to be done to move us to alternative forms of energy, I hope that he and Secretary Chu continue their pragmatic approach, leaving the door open to more fossil fuels so long as they are safe, while also encouraging innovation and investment in alternatives.

More fence sitting, I know, but I believe this middle path is the best one.*

Obama Faces Bipartisan Criticism on Energy Policies

By Jim Angle

Published March 05, 2011

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are questioning the Obama administration's energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy. (AP)

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy. (AP)

With energy prices rising in part because of turmoil in the Middle East, lawmakers from both parties are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy.

“I don’t think the president’s position on oil and gas is as strong as it should be,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, where the oil industry plays a large role in the local economy. “Oil and gas is an important industry in the United States today and it will be in the next decades.”

Many in the administration emphasize alternative forms of energy and some, including the president, have openly talked of the need for higher prices on oil and coal to make alternatives such as wind and solar more price-competitive.

Read the entire article here.

* I hope my post is fair and balanced. Not like the Fox version, but truly fair and truly balanced.

BP Chief Says Brazilian Ethanol is Best Bet to Replace Petroleum

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There is definitely substantial agricultural land for much more fuel, fiber, and food production in Brazil, as well as preservation of forests and even reforestation, but the headline seems quite an overstatement of the facts.

My PhD research has investigated the potential for Brazil to supply enough ethanol for the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standards, which may have renewables accounting for as much as 20% of our transportation fuels in 2022. There does appear to be sufficient arable land for both Brazilian demand as well as to supply the U.S. for these renewable mandates signed into law by George Bush in 2007.

To say there is enough land to replace all petroleum globally, however, especially considering the booming demand in China and India as their economies expand and have more people driving cars, is a stretch, to say the least.

Between the typos, the outdated photo, and the lack of background research for the article below, I’m wondering where to send my resume for a job at the Telegraph.

Brazilian ethanol is the best hope for replacing oil, says BP’s Bob Dudley

Ethanol derived from Brazilian sugar-cane offers the best hope of replacing oil as the world’s main source of fuel when it runs out, according to Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive.

Brazilian ethanol is the best hope for replacing oil, says BP's Bob Dudley

By Robin Yapp, in Sao Paulo 7:03PM GMT 13 Feb 2011

He said Brazilian ethanol is the “best type of renewable energy” and offers the possibility of an “ultrapotent fuel that could revolutionise the market”.

“The alcohol extracted from sugar cane is cheaper, less polluting and more efficient than that from corn, for example, produced in the US.

BP is channelling its research into renewable fuels accordingly, with 40pc of its $1bn (£625m) annual spend in this area targeted at Brazilian ethanol, Mr Dudley told the weekly Brazilian news magazine Veja.

“There will obviously a time when the oil runs out and with this prospect on the horizon, we will use more renewable energy sources,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 17th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

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

By KATIE HOWELL AND JEAN CHEMNICK of Greenwire
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

By ROBIN BRAVENDER & PATRICK REIS & DAN BERMAN | 2/11/11 8:46 PM EST

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.

Energy and Climate Change Discussions in Congress

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As Obama said during his campaign, and as this article reiterates, it’s preferable for Congress to take some sort of stand on a comprehensive energy policy. But if they’re not going to do it, the White House should use it’s tools to make something happen.

A buddy and I were just talking about this same set of policy decisions, drawing a parallel with how the last few weeks have impacted doing business in Egypt. Stick with me for a minute.

Corporate leaders around the world are eager to see who’s going to be in charge of Egypt, Africa’s largest economy, and an important leader in the Arab world. Of course this transition can’t be rushed, but investment will be withheld until there’s some certainty.

Good, bad, or indifferent, businesses will formulate their strategy based in large part on the policy environment in this important country.

Similarly, companies in the U.S. will make decisions regarding manufacturing practices, their vehicle fleets and transportation, and other, energy-intensive aspects of their business based in part on the policies about which our Congress continues to debate, without substantive action. Another article from the recent issue of The Economist discusses the influence of policy on energy prices as well as the trouble with policy uncertainty.

How many U.S. presidents, of both parties, have discussed the need for a comprehensive federal energy policy? I’m too tired to find the exact number, but it’s at least two. Thankfully, the article below is well researched and clearly delineates the desire on the part of several levels of government, including the present administration and the last one, as well as the call from business leaders to provide a decision on energy policy.

Plenty has already been written on this site about the need for balancing the objective of domestic, renewable energy, with economic realities, so rather than than pontificate about what SHOULD be done, I’ll just say that SOMETHING has to be done.

Congress, I know you’re busy, but this is important. If it’s only votes you’re after, figure out a way to win votes by making a decision. Dithering rarely wins the hearts and minds of voters.

Good, bad, or indifferent, whether you’re going to continue with the status quo by favoring imported fossil fuels; decide this is not a matter for the federal government and tell states they should formulate their policies independently; forge ahead with a more progressive policy that encourages research, development, and gradual implementation of domestic energy resources; or do something entirely different, please, just do something.

Grilling Lisa Jackson is a very small step. Take more steps. Soon.

Heated but hollow

Congress embarks on a rhetorical debate about greenhouse gases

Feb 10th 2011 | WASHINGTON, DC | From The Economist print edition

 Grilling Ms Jackson

WHILE campaigning to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives, Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, vowed that he would grill Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in front of his committee so often that she would need her own parking space on Capitol Hill. On February 9th Ms Jackson submitted to her first interrogation, about one of the Republican Party’s pet peeves: the EPA’s plan to restrict emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and factories by decree.

That plan has been a long time in the making. During the administration of George Bush junior several states, frustrated by the administration’s refusal to address global warming, sued the EPA. They argued that it was required to use its powers under the Clean Air Act, a law from the 1960s aimed first at smog and later acid rain, to declare carbon dioxide a threat to the environment and public health and regulate it accordingly. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which decided in 2007 that the EPA did indeed have the authority to do this. But the Bush administration, which maintained that restrictions on emissions would raise the price of energy and so hurt the economy while doing little to help the climate, managed to prevaricate for almost two years before passing the buck to Barack Obama and Ms Jackson.

Read the entire article here.

Patience, Efficiency Are Key to Safe, Profitable Use of Brazil’s Oil

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There are a lot of people with a lot to gain from drilling this “presal” oil off Brazil’s coast as quickly as possible. I have worked with some of them and understand their desire to move forward with the extraction now, not later. I also understand their many good intentions as well as their confidence that the oil can be extracted safely using existing technology, even if I don’t agree.

I can also attest, from personal experience, to the truth of the article’s contention that government bureaucracy will be as inefficient at getting the job done as it will be at distributing any public funds to Brazilians and much needed government services. The barrier however, is not the Brazilian government, but existing technology.

And yes, prices at the pump are rising with no sign of abating, but it’s hard to see how speeding this oil drilling ahead in the next few years will do much to ease those prices in anything but the longest term. Plus, oil is a great example for supply creating its own demand. Increase the supply of oil and the lowered prices will drive us to use enough gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to keep demand and prices high.

The first paragraph in the article below describes a process that is every bit as difficult, and as dangerous, as the one employed for the Deepwater Horizon platform formerly situated in the Gulf of Mexico. These processes and others like them can be and have been done safely, though recent experience tells us that not only is this safety far from ensured, but also that if something goes wrong, the consequences remind us exactly what the word “disaster” means.

The pressure to drill now is exacerbated by the high current demand for oil in the face of growing constraints. Some are reluctant to continue drilling off U.S. shores while the people and economies of Louisiana and other Gulf states are still reeling from last summer’s spill. Regardless of your political stripe, Middle East politics make us all a bit uneasy, especially when we think of how much of our oil comes from despotic and unstable regimes there.

Slowing our demand for oil, first by increasing efficiency and reducing use of transportation fuels, and then by continuing to develop viable alternatives to petroleum, will decrease the drive to rush drilling in places like the oil fields over 7000m beneath the ocean’s surface, through 3000m of rock and another 2000m of salt.

Given time, companies such as Petrobras will certainly improve technologies so that this oil can be reached more safely, with more effective failsafes in the event something does go wrong, and likely it will all be doable at lower costs, to the companies doing the drilling and to the consumer.

The additional time will also allow Brazil to continue eliminating corruption and streamlining its bureaucracy so that the permitting process is more efficient, as are the avenues through which the government spends its revenues and improves infrastructure.

These factors combine to create win-win-win situations for people, profit, and ecological health. Patience and efficiency are key.

Brazil’s offshore oil

In deep waters

Extracting the black gold buried beneath the South Atlantic will be hard. Spending the profits wisely will be harder

Feb 3rd 2011 | CIDADE DE ANGRA DOS REIS | From The Economist print edition

THE coast of Rio de Janeiro is 290km and 70 minutes away as the helicopter flies. High overhead, gas is flaring; underfoot, enough oil to fill 330,000 barrels is waiting to be offloaded. The ocean floor is 2,150 metres beneath. Drill past 3,000 metres of rock and you will hit a layer of salt 2,140m thick. Only after boring through that fossilised ocean will you strike oil—6.5 billion barrels’ worth in the “Lula” field alone. (Supposedly, it is named for the Portuguese word for squid, not the former president called Lula for his curly hair.)

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More hopeful is the prospect that technological progress, led by Petrobras, can diversify Brazil’s economy. The company employs more than 1,600 people in research and development, says Carlos Fraga, who leads these efforts. It also works with 85 Brazilian universities and research institutes, and for every one of its own researchers, another ten outside the company are working on its projects full-time. A technology cluster is springing up around Petrobras’s research labs in Rio, with university facilities alongside new $50m laboratories built by the likes of General Electric and Schlumberger.

From this perspective, the technical obstacles of sub-salt drilling look like an opportunity. Exploiting offshore oil, says Mr Fraga, could spur Brazilian innovation just as the space race did in the United States. “Just extracting the oil is not enough to move Brazil on in technological development,” says Segen Estefan of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “These are finite resources. Brazil must seize the moment to lead in technology, not just in extracting and exporting raw materials.”

Read the entire article here.