Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Archive for the ‘U.S. Investment’ tag

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.

Trains Across America?

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This is interesting to me. As is the case with much of what I write on this site, I know very little about trains, but like very much to travel on them, and have often thought the U.S. would be better off with more of them. Excellent memories of traveling on trains within the cities of Washington, New York, and Chicago, as well as longer trips around Europe, have only been augmented by articles from the perspectives of enviros and others in favor of more rails connecting American cities.

So it’s interesting to read an article, insightful and objective, that discusses some of the drawbacks and difficulties of long-distance passenger trains here at home. Even in my desire for more of this potentially efficient means of transport, I’m not advocating anything silly or polemic like the elimination of air planes. But for trips from Minneapolis to Chicago, San Francisco to L.A. (though I’m not sure why anyone would want to leave the one for the other), or from Missoula to Seattle, trains could provide convenient travel between urban centers, and with much less energy use per person per mile than planes or even one or two people driving by car.

Still, this article from The Economist illustrates how difficult it might be to make this move, and the importance of letting the free market work in order to ensure an efficient and effective system.

American railways

High-speed railroading

America’s system of rail freight is the world’s best. High-speed passenger trains could ruin it

Jul 22nd 2010

UNION STATION in Los Angeles has been restored as a fine example of the Art Deco architecture that typified California in the 1930s. It has served as a backdrop for many Hollywood films, from “Union Station” (naturally) to “Blade Runner” and “Star Trek: First Contact”. It was the last grand station to be built before America’s passenger railways went into what you might call terminal decline.

[…]

Staggering progress

Amtrak’s passenger services are sparse compared with Europe’s. But America’s freight railways are one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years. They are universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world.

Their good run started with deregulation at the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration. Two years after the liberalisation of aviation gave rise to budget carriers and cheap fares, the freeing of rail freight, under the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, started a wave of consolidation and improvement. Staggers gave railways freedom to charge market rates, enter confidential contracts with shippers and run trains as they liked. They could close passenger and branch lines, as long as they preserved access for Amtrak services. They were allowed to sell lossmaking lines to new short-haul railroads. Regulation of freight rates by the Interstate Commerce Commission was removed for most cargoes, provided they could go by road.

The paragraph above reminds me of Ayn Rand. I dig Atlas Shrugged.

The $34 billion purchase last year by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), one of the seven main freight railways (see chart 2), opened many Americans’ eyes to the industry’s significance. That America’s shrewdest investor should place his biggest bet on BNSF focused attention on how the country’s railways have been quietly boosting the economy by sucking costs out of many supply chains.

Coal is the biggest single cargo, accounting for 45% by volume and 23% by value. More than 70% of coal transport is by rail. As demand grows for the lower-sulphur coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, it has to travel farther. In response railroads have invested in more powerful locomotives to haul longer coal trains: since 1990 the average horsepower of their fleet has risen by 72%. Yet energy efficiency has also improved.

[…]

The corridor, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in modern America, was completed on time and on budget for $2.4 billion by a public-private partnership considered by many to be a model for other rail schemes, such as California’s proposed high-speed passenger line.

[…]

The trouble for the freight railways is that almost all the planned new fast intercity services will run on their tracks. Combining slow freight and fast passenger trains is complicated. With some exceptions on Amtrak’s Acela and North East corridor tracks, level crossings are attuned to limits of 50mph for freight and 80mph for passenger trains. But Mr Obama’s plan boils down to running intercity passenger trains at 110mph on freight tracks. Add the fact that freight trains do not stick to a regular timetable, but run variable services at short notice to meet demand, and the scope for congestion grows.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

July 22nd, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Trash power? U.S. communities use landfills to produce energy

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Feb 25, 2010
07:20 AM

A tractor sorts garbage at the Altamont Landfill in Livermore, Calif. Waste Management, a Houston-based company that runs the landfill, is using 100 wells with black tubes to vacuum up methane from the trash and convert it to liquid natural gas to power its garbage-collecting trucks.
By Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

More communities in the United States are turning trash into power.

Nationwide, the number of landfill gas projects, which convert methane gas from rotting garbage into power, jumped from 399 in 2005 to 519 last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. To see a list of them, click here.

Intel Plans $2 Billion Investment Fund

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FEBRUARY 23, 2010, 9:22 A.M. ET

By DON CLARK

Intel Corp. is working with venture-capital firms to establish a $2 billion fund that would invest solely in U.S. companies, people familiar with the chip maker’s plans said.

The move comes a year after Intel said it would invest $7 billion over two years to upgrade capabilities of its U.S. chip factories. That investment plan was announced during a speech in Washington D.C. by Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive officer.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 23rd, 2010 at 8:31 am