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Tilting at Windmills

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May 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

KING COAL....Hey, if it was good enough for Hitler, it's good enough for us!

Even as Congressional leaders draft legislation to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming, a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.

....Among the proposed inducements winding through House and Senate committees: loan guarantees for six to 10 major coal-to-liquid plants, each likely to cost at least $3 billion; a tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of coal-based fuel sold through 2020; automatic subsidies if oil prices drop below $40 a barrel; and permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel.

OK, the Hitler crack was unfair. I hereby award myself a Godwin's Law penalty.

But seriously, folks: on the list of energy technologies to subsidise, coal-to-liquid doesn't even make the top hundred. Even with carbon sequestration — which is untested, hated by the coal industry, and mostly used as pie-in-the-sky hokum to sucker the yokels — its carbon footprint is as high as gasoline. And without it, it's one of the most carbon intensive technologies known to man.

Besides, what about that federal carbon tax that both liberals and conservatives are starting to coalesce around as the best policy response to global warming? What are we going to do? Grant billions of dollars of subsidies to CL technology and then drive them all out of business with a carbon tax? That's some great policymaking there.

Jeebus. Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important? What am I missing here?

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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Comments

If we replaced coal power plants with nuclear and gasoline with coal oil, we'd come out ahead. Its keeping coal plants AND switching to coal oil that we wouldn't see any improvements.

Posted by: beowulf on May 29, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't it Willard "Muff" Romney who first enthusiastically touted the Furher's fondness for King Coal?

You can't spell Mormon without Moron.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on May 29, 2007 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important?

Yes, they are.

Posted by: BJ on May 29, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important? What am I missing here?

Robert Byrd?

Posted by: Martin on May 29, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama just dropped significantly in my evaluation of the Dem contenders.

Posted by: David Bailey on May 29, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

> What am I missing here?

Americans don't like doing difficult things, or things that make them uncomfortable, unless they are absolutely forced to or absolutely scared into doing so. Ref the Y2K fixes: very necessary, but the US had to be scared into doing them by overhyped fearmongering.

The Danish have been working for, what, 20 years now on energy independence? They are x% toward their goal (x=40 today I think[1]) and they progress a percent or even half percent per year. It is difficult and uncomfortable, but they are making steady progress. We in the US?

Cranky

[1] Admittedly as compared to the US Denmark has wind and tidal energy easily available. But they have still _started_ whereas we have not.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 29, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, coal to oil is dirty & expensive, but with oil getting more scarce & the process getting a little cleaner & safer, it might become economic.

But really, there's nothing so good about it that it deserves subsidy, which is why all the congressmen mentioned are from coal states. Yes, including Obama -
http://www.commerce.state.il.us/NR/rdonlyres/1C724CC6-E056-41A4-836C-1CC8A74BF710/0/TheIllinoisCoalIndustryJune2006.pdf

It's way past time to just admit that the supply of liquid fuels to keep our massive traffic jam running is going to get smaller, & start adjusting.

Posted by: Downpuppy on May 29, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin. Liquifying coal does nothing for CO2.

Unfortunately, nothing elst does much good, either. Burning ethanol releases CO2. Popular "green" energy sources like wind, hydro-electric, and solar are good, but they can only contribute relatively small amounts of energy. And, we can't use them for cars and trucks unless we convert our transportation system to hydrogen power or electric.

More nuclear could provide a lot of energy without CO2, but the envirornmentalists have made it impractical to build new nuclear plants. Also, to use nuclear for transportation would require somehow converting our transportation system away from gasoline and diesel oil.

The bottom line is that the US isn't going to do much to convert to non-CO2 energy sources. Congress can pass all the taxes and incentives they like. Alternative energy simply isn't available in large amounts.

Furthermore, developing countries like China will do much less than we do. So, any US reduction in CO2 will be negligible compared with the worldwide increase.

The conclusion is: regardless of what Congress does, the CO2 level in the earth's atmosphere will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. I don't like that conclusion, but it's reality.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

It's called "lack of vision", Kevin. The neofascists in Congress (read, the GOP) have no vision. They are trying to take us back to the good old days of the 18th Century. Meanwhile, the GOP Lite party (read, Democrats) are cowering under their desks, fearful that they might offend Emperor Bush or Vice Emperor Cheney.

As a result, we get worthless, anachronistic legislation like this.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 29, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Problem: Too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Solution: Burn more coal -- essentially pure, elemental carbon.

Yeppers, that'll work.

Posted by: Matt on May 29, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, Wyoming is the dominant producer - more than the next 4 states combined.

http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/coal/weekly/weekly_html/wcpmonth.htm

Posted by: Downpuppy on May 29, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Roger Ailes: You can't spell Mormon without Moron.

Sadly, liberals are now purveyers of religious bigotry. One more reason why I'm an "ex-".

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

what you're missing is that we've passed peak oil and are totally screwed.

Posted by: sam on May 29, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

"I hereby award myself a Godwin's Law penalty."

Sometimes the Hitler comparison is apt, and Godwin's law recognizes this. You shouldn't invoke Godwin's law as a mindless way to bat down a Hitler comparison. From Wikipedia:

"[Godwin's Law]states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.[2]

Godwin's Law does not dispute whether any particular reference or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued,[3] that overuse of the Nazi/Hitler comparison should be avoided, as it robs the valid comparisons of their impact."

Liquified coal is very carbon intensive, and has been used almost exclusively by regimes that were cut off from better energy sources. Regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa, and yes, Hitler's Germany.

Do Congressional leaders really feel that we are becoming that isolated in the world?

Posted by: nemo on May 29, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK
Burning ethanol releases CO2.

All of which the plant absorbed from the atmosphere in its lifetime and would release in the process of decomposition, anyhow.

The difference is that we get the useful energy out of it rather than various decay organisms getting it; but that CO2 was going to be released with or without human activity.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 29, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Wyoming and many other states also have coal reserves.

The idea is to convert coal energy to liquid so that it can be used by cars.

Combustion of any fossil fuel, i.e. coal, oil, gas, will increase atmospheric CO2.


ex-liberal -- burning ethanol actually has no NET effect on atmospheric CO2 because the CO2 that is released was captured earlier by a green plant. However, the use of fossil fuels to make the ethanol will increase CO2.

Posted by: NeilS on May 29, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

you forgot the all-important state of wyoming.

Posted by: supersaurus on May 29, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Good point, cmdicely. What I should have said is that the fossil energy needed to make ethanol is greater than the energy in the ethanol, according to some experts.

David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.

The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser. According to their calculations, ethanol contains about 76,000 BTUs per gallon, but producing that ethanol from corn takes about 98,000 BTUs. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains about 116,000 BTUs per gallon. But making that gallon of gas—from drilling the well, to transportation, through refining—requires around 22,000 BTUs.

In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America's total energy consumption, not decrease it. (Pimentel has not taken money from the oil or refining industries. Patzek runs the UC Oil Consortium, which does research on oil and is funded by oil companies. His ethanol research is not funded by the oil or refining industries*.)...

Way back in 1997, the General Accounting Office concluded that "ethanol's potential for substituting for petroleum is so small that it is unlikely to significantly affect overall energy security." That's still true today.


http://www.slate.com/id/2122961/

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"erx-liberal" wrote: the envirornmentalists have made it impractical to build new nuclear plants

Damn those envoronmentalists for inventing the intractable problem of transporting and storing nuclear waste!

Posted by: Gregory on May 29, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

As best as I can recall, I first started writing posts in favor of using taxation -- as opposed to regulation and subsidy -- as a policy tool to address the related though different policy problems presented by price fluctuations in world oil markets and climate change sometime in 2001.

I do not detect any consensus by anyone in favor of carbon taxes for any purpose. If Kevin does, either his contacts in the political world are way better than mine, or he is mistaking what he wishes were true for what is actually the case.

Posted by: Zathras on May 29, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Why rob banks? Because that's where the money - the easy money - is. Why burn coal? Because as oil production dwindles, coal is where the energy - the easy energy - is.

Time to drag out the Dickens. The US has been ramping up coal use for several years, especially as the Bush admin has been licensing a number of new plants to be built - all are old=style dirty energy producers--even as the pundits pay lip service to "clean coal," an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Kevin - you need to revisit Peak Oil--the fundamental, inevitable, and catastrophic problem bearing down on all humanity.

Posted by: geo on May 29, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important? What am I missing here?

I can give you hundreds of Billions of reasons Kevin.

Posted by: Simp on May 29, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Good point, cmdicely. What I should have said is that blah blah blah

Shorter "ex-liberal": Busted again!

Posted by: Gregory on May 29, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Damn those envoronmentalists for inventing the intractable problem of transporting and storing nuclear waste!

The French solved that years ago by using reprocessing, which gives you a very small amount of ultra-nasty waste rather than a very large amount of super-nasty waste. Any environmental problems that the French generate through the process are the result of intentionally sloppy practices (e.g., dumping radioactive hydrofluoric acid into the English Channel).

When fuel rods get taken out of American nuclear reactors, they still have well over 90% of their original fissile material present. When one adds to this the energy required to mine uranium ore and then enrich uranium from yellowcake, it's analogous to completely emptying and then refueling your gas tank every time you get below 90% full. WTF?

I suspect the ban on reprocessing is motivated by uranium mining interests more than anything else.

Posted by: Pete on May 29, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Anything to increase the Corporate Welfare State

Sadly, liberals are now purveyors of religious bigotry... ex-lax at 12:55 PM
Evangelical Christians and Mormonism


Posted by: Mike on May 29, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I do not detect any consensus by anyone in favor of carbon taxes for any purpose.

CW ahoy!

Posted by: Pete on May 29, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Coal mining is destroying Appalacia. Please go to Google Earth to see for yourself how the mountains are being flattened and destroyed forever. Coal makes absentee mineowners rich, but robs the people of their homes.

Google Earth website:

www.iLoveMountains.org

Posted by: KD on May 29, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

For so many, filthy coal is a dirty four-letter word, said Representative Nick V. Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. These individuals, I tell you, have their heads buried in the sand.

So, the Democrats put a coal-burning-advocate from West Virginia in charge of the House Natural Resources Committee. Too funny! Great thing those environmentally-conscious Democrats defeated Rich Pombo!

Posted by: Al on May 29, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would be better to develop the high-tech coal industry domestically then simply export our coal to the 3rd world to be burned inefficiently. Here's a wiki link on coal gasification:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasification

I'd forget the carbon taxes and just crack down on consumption/demand directly through CAFE, tax incentives for hybrids, etc. I would still place the $$$ priorities on the following:
1) Conservation-demand reduction for power and portable hydrocarbons
2) Renewables-P/V and wind electricity-biofuels
3) Nuclear power
4) Cleaner coal technology

Got to have a mix of approaches and continue to grow them.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 29, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important?

No, not at all. But the congressional elections there are pretty important to the existing senators and representatives.

Posted by: Shelby on May 29, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, if you want to prove that Evangelicals are bigoted against Mormons, please find Evangelical leaders telling people not to vote for Romney because of his religion.

The article you cited quotes Shirley Dobson as saying that Mormonism is incompatible with Christian beliefs. So what? Orthodox Judaism is incompatible with Christian beliefs, yet conservative Christians strongly support orthodox Jews and Israel.

The point is, not believing in Romney's religion is different from not voting for him on account of his religion. So far, the people who have publicly suggested not voting for a Mormon have been liberals, such as the Clinton supporter yesterday who shouted at Gov. Romney, "I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon."
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070529/ap_on_el_pr/romney_new_hampshire;_ylt=AlfXkd2izIldUkk5ESDhuV6s0NUE

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Orthodox Judaism is incompatible with Christian beliefs, yet conservative Christians strongly support orthodox Jews and Israel.

Evangelical/fundamentalist support for Israel is NOT philosemitic.

I know.

I was reared in that environment and know it intimately. Support for Israel is entirely based on a (comparatively recent) gloss of scripure, to the effect that the Jewish nation must be revived so that the 7-year tribulation may begin. Armageddon is supposed to occur there--in fact, Armageddon is a town in the Valley of Jezreel.

Posted by: James R MacLean on May 29, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

James R MacLean: Evangelical/fundamentalist support for Israel is NOT philosemitic.

So what? Support is support. Who are the bigots? The UK journalists' union that boycotts Israel?* Or, conservative Christians who would oppose such a boycott?

*See "UK reporters union to boycott Israel"
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1176152792457

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 29, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

If you wanted to choke of technology innovation, having Congress subsidize alternative fuels, instead of taxing that which you wish to minimize, is a good way to do it. Of course, that is the direction where we are headed with ethanol and coal. Maybe the Indian manufacturer will bail us out with their compressed air engine, but we would still need to get innovative regarding electricity generation.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 29, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK
... please find Evangelical leaders telling people not to vote for Romney because of his religion........ ex-lax at 2:41 PM
You are conveniently trying to move the goalposts and make it specific to Romney, but your statement was about anti-mormon in general. Since that was off topic, I didn't quote from the link. Here's more discussion on fundamentalists and Mormonism. Church leaders have learned not to violate the tax code with specific recommendations, so there will be no instances of the kind you are now demanding, (that demand is a typically dishonest propaganda technique itself).

I noted the article on the incident you mention. It was about a 'self-described' Clinton supporter. We are all familiar with Republican dirty tricks, and using 'self-described' supporters as provocateurs is a well known tactic. It's revealing how quickly you jumped to use it.


Posted by: Mike on May 29, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

"...the intractable problem of transporting and storing nuclear waste!"
____________________

The problem isn't technologically intractable, though it's become part of the theological argument in which all things nuclear are inherently impossible and/or evil.

Posted by: Trashhauler on May 29, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone here really believe carbon sequestration could mitigate the effect of extracting energy from coal? Except for some volatiles trapped within, which bring a few hydrogen atoms along, there's nothing in the coal bin *but* carbon.

Look up the Greek word for coal: it's carbon. If you want to sequester the carbon from a trainload of coal, you've basically got to just dump it back into the ground they way you found it. Then, plant enough trees to balance the diesel your locomotive took to drive the carbon around on its brief above-ground tour.

Posted by: This Burden Shall Pass on May 29, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Trashy wrote: The problem isn't technologically intractable

Yeah? Prove it.

though it's become part of the theological argument in which all things nuclear are inherently impossible and/or evil.

Oh, I dunno...I, for one, would support a nuclear waste dump next to Trashy's house.

Posted by: Gregory on May 29, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

The coal (most of it) is in Wyoming - not Montana (although some is there too). Wyoming has an influential former congressman.

Posted by: Rick on May 29, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

For some reason, the American public, or a large number of them, anyway, have a hard getting straight the different issues with petroleum as a fuel. Yes, petroleum is bad because (1) it contributes to global warming and (2) it makes us dependent on governments that may not be stable and may not have our best interests at heart. However, that doesn't mean that any alternative to petroleum-based fuels helps both of these problems. Replacing petroleum by coal or by biodiesel may help problem number (2) but don't necessarily help much if any with number (1), because they both produce carbon dioxide as a waste product. Some alternative fuels, such as hydrogen or electricity, don't necessarily help either problem, because the hydrogen or electricity has to be produced from some energy source. If that energy source is coal or oil, then it doesn't save anything over using coal and oil directly.

Conservation, solar power, wind power and nuclear power have the potential to help with both the problems associated with petroleum.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on May 29, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

This Burden Shall Pass,

I think that the idea behind carbon sequestration is that you go ahead and burn the oil or coal, but then try to capture the CO2 before it escapes into the atmosphere. According to this Wikipedia article, attempts to capture CO2 can reduce the CO2 produced in coal-powered plants by up to 90%, at the cost of making energy production much less efficient.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on May 29, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

> but don't necessarily help much if any with
> number (1), because they both produce carbon
> dioxide as a waste product.

If you could develop a biodiesel based on crops which did not require excessive energy input and were not ecologically destructive in themselves (the canonical example being pond-grown algae, although so far it doesn't seem to exist) then there would be no net increase in atmospheric carbon from burning it. That is, the amount of carbon required to grow the crop would more or less balance the amount release by burning it.

So far this is a pipe dream, and soybean biodiesel is clearly a net negative product ecologically. But it is not technically impossible; it is simply using biological agents rather than big mirrors to capture sunlight and turn it into a useful liquid form.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 29, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

France gets 80% of its electricity from those reactors....meathead republicanat 3:26 PM

French nuclear energy is all a product of Électricité de France, a previously nationalized company that was partially privatized, but still 70% owned by the French government. Fuel manufacture and industrial design is done by the government owned Atomic Energy Commission CEA. I take it that you would have no problem if nuclear energy were to be a government owned and operated industry?

...inherently impossible and/or evil. Trashhauler at 3:35 PM

Inherently dangerous is more like it and we are acquainted with the environmental damage the industry has done.

Posted by: Mike on May 29, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I take it that you would have no problem if nuclear energy were to be a government owned and operated industry?

Come on, everyone knows that private environmental destruction is much more efficient.

Posted by: craigie on May 29, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal -- burning ethanol actually has no NET effect on atmospheric CO2 because the CO2 that is released was captured earlier by a green plant. However, the use of fossil fuels to make the ethanol will increase CO2."

No, shocking as it seems, actually ex-lib is correct (as he later noted). To make corn-based ethanol requires fertilizer, to make fertilizer you need hydrogen, and we currently make hydrogen by steam reforming natural gas or coal.

Posted by: Sock puppet of the Great Satan on May 29, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Are the electoral votes in Montana and West Virginia that important? What am I missing here?

A Constitutional Amendment eliminating the Electoral College.

Posted by: cld on May 29, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

burning ethanol actually has no NET effect on atmospheric CO2 because the CO2 that is released was captured earlier by a green plant. However, the use of fossil fuels to make the ethanol will increase CO2.

Is this not a contradiction? If fossil fuels came from plants in the first place, then some part of the CO2 in plants must remain in the soil to, in time, fossilize, while burning the ethanol releases all of it.

Posted by: cld on May 29, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

> If fossil fuels came from plants in the first
> place, then some part of the CO2 in plants must
> remain in the soil to, in time, fossilize, while
> burning the ethanol releases all of it.

You missed the point where at some point in the past a very large amount of carbon was deposited on the ground in a short period of time, transformed into a dense solid or liquid form, then buried under layers of rock, clay, etc. - taking it out of the atmospheric cycle permanently or so Gaia thought.

Your children or grandchildren may get to see this part of the cycle though...

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 29, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I don't mind admitting I'm not hip to geology.

I do remember reading a vivid description of an era where the oceans were a giant mass of algae a mile thick, and the theory that it all died at once.

Posted by: cld on May 29, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Peak Oil - see The Oil Drum, a website run by & for those interested in facts & not blather. Lots of petroleum professionals are involved. Good stuff !

"Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know." - M. King Hubbert

Posted by: daCascadian on May 29, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Mike wrote about nuclear power:

"Inherently dangerous is more like it and we are acquainted with the environmental damage the industry has done."
______________________

Every large technological project is inherently dangerous. It took 20,000 lives to build the Panama Canal. Scores die in coal mines every year. Every levee is built with the understanding that there is some risk not covered by it.

The key to any technical question is in determining the acceptable risk and engineering the solution to meet that risk. The trouble with the nuclear industry is that it's opponents insist on such a small degree of risk every step of the way that the engineering questions remain unanswered.

Posted by: Trashhauler on May 29, 2007 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

What gets me is the subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives thrown at energy companies who are already making big bucks. The idea I suppose is to encourage people making vast amounts of money with the way things are to develop ways to do things differently. Why doesn't anyone wonder A) that doesn't this give them the incentive to spin the process out as long as possible, and B) have the effect of keeping the people who've gotten us where we are in the driver's seat indefinitely?

IF these companies are really successful at what they do with competent leadership - and not just good at gaming the political system - why should they need incentives to invest in their own future? And, how many of them already have a big investment effort going - in politicians?

You know, I'd let the corporations who already have vast amounts of money do all the research and development they want on their own dime. I'd rather see public investment in people who aren't already major players but have the potential to really innovate. I suspect this would keep the big boys more honest AND would give us a broader selection of viable alternatives.

But then what do I know? I'm probably just a crypto-fascist pinko commie liberal socialist.

Posted by: xaxnar on May 29, 2007 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

xaxnar >"...I'm probably just a crypto-fascist pinko commie liberal socialist."

hmmm, you left out "drug addled dirty hippie"

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

Posted by: daCascadian on May 29, 2007 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

trashy wrote: The trouble with the nuclear industry is that it's opponents insist on such a small degree of risk every step of the way

Oddly enough, trashy is sort of right: Due to the problems in the nuclear industry -- the much higher consequences of failure, and the rather poor track record of the industry itself in assessing, reporting and mitigating those risks versus the rewards of slipshod work -- opponents are forced, therefore, to demand a lower level of risk.

Shame on Trashy for making it sound like that's some kind of problem.

But I'd still be in favor of a nuclear waste dump next to Trashy's house. You'd agree that that's an acceptable risk for the benefits of nuclear power, right, Trashy? Oh, I forgot -- you're a conservative, so risks are for the other guy; you just want the reward.

Tool.

Posted by: Gregory on May 29, 2007 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, according to that never-to-be-trusted arch-liberal rag, the Wall Street Journal (and other sources), Denmark has already achieved full energy independence and is Europe's only exporter of energy. Unlike us, the Danes took the lesson of OPEC's 1973 oil embargo seriously.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20060602/ai_n16460905

Posted by: Larry on May 29, 2007 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK
Good point, cmdicely. What I should have said is that the fossil energy needed to make ethanol is greater than the energy in the ethanol, according to some experts.

If you actually read and understood what you quoted, you'd realize even that was wrong: what they say is that the fossil-based energy input into making ethanol from corn exceeds what you get out of it. Of course, there is considerable dispute about that, but corn is a pretty godawful stupid thing to make ethanol fuel out of, and is only popular in that use in the U.S. because of the political power of the corn-growing lobby.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 30, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK
The trouble with the nuclear industry is that it's opponents insist on such a small degree of risk every step of the way that the engineering questions remain unanswered.

This is only true if, by "its critics", you mean "the nuclear industry itself". The only problem with the nuclear industry, that is, is that the industry itself demands an absolute shield from any liability from accidents in order to build new reactors, because the actual scope and probability of potential harm is so great that building new reactors isn't a commercially viable proposition any other way.

It isn't the risk-aversity of critics of the nuclear industry that has stopped new plants from being built in this country: its perfectly legal for them to be built now, but no one is even trying, though every few years the industry makes a push to get their absolute liability shield and suggests that if they got it they would start building plants—the public takes all the risk, and they take all the profit.


Posted by: cmdicely on May 30, 2007 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

Besides, what about that federal carbon tax that both liberals and conservatives are starting to coalesce around as the best policy response to global warming? What are we going to do? Grant billions of dollars of subsidies to CL technology and then drive them all out of business with a carbon tax? That's some great policymaking there.

what policies do you support? do you think that fuel sufficiency can or should be achieved without any subsidies at all? what compromises would you be willing to make with people who disagree with you in order to get some actual new policies in place? The debate is taking place now, and congress will act soon. Tell them what you want.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 30, 2007 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

Just on Denmark

The Danes are actually energy poor. It's not even an ideal country for wind (unless you go offshore, which they are starting to do). Biomass is good, because of all the waste animal products (Denmark is the biggest pig farmer in Europe).

A lot of heating in Denmark is provided by District Steam Heating plants, fueled by nasty coal imported from Germany, Poland etc. But the combined heat and power aspect makes them terribly thermally efficient (80%+ v. 30% for electricity from a coal fired power plant). They also use biomass to fuel these.

The US actually has far greater resources of wind power. The US has some of the best wind opportunities in the world.

What would be necessary is high voltage DC lines (a technology the Russians cracked very well during the Cold War) linking the Great Plains states with the Midwest and the South East (where the coal fired generating stations are).

Currently the US has no national grid operator, and no way of building those lines and finding someone to pay for them (in the post deregulated world, it's not that simple).

This is like the French v. British railways problem. British railways were built by speculators, and so London has more mainline train stations than any other city in the world (each company built its own terminus). France's system was laid out, rationally, by a national department. 150 years later, the French system still makes more sense than the British one.

Posted by: Valuethinker on May 30, 2007 at 5:10 AM | PERMALINK

Normal West Virginians don't want this either. We are dying for the government not to give coal another handout to stick around and destroy our mountains trying to extract this dirty resource. Everything the coal-people in that NY Times Article said has been said a million times over. It is our state politicians beholden to the industry that see this as essential that it continue.

Posted by: AndrewB on May 30, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK
.....The trouble with the nuclear industry is that it's opponents insist on such a small degree of risk ...Trashhauler at 6:14 PM
The cost in lives of the Panama Canal is as irrelevant as the cost in lives of building the Pyramids. It would also be unacceptable today just as the loss of lives in coal mines that was tolerated a few decades ago is no longer acceptable. Human life is valued higher than formerly, unless those lives are to be sacrificed for a Republican war.

There's the environmental damage from old uranium mines and there's the fact that nuclear energy incurs some unique dangers.

Due to the high potential cost of disastrous accidents, it makes economic sense to engineer for the greatest possible safety. If you want nuclear waste or a plant in your back yard, you can volunteer; just don't assume you can volunteer others.

Posted by: Mike on May 30, 2007 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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