Sunday, August 27, 2006


Things Worth Investigating

When it comes to fossil fuels, the political class (mostly, but not entirely, on the left) has developed a case of "investigitis." We're seeing this dynamic reappear along with the latest energy problem -- the BP oil pipeline shutdown. Calling for congressional hearings into the situation, Democratic Representative John Dingell, top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, observed that "It is appalling that BP let this critical pipeline deteriorate to the point that a major production shutdown was necessary."[i] This particular outbreak of investigitis is both ironic, and misdirected. It's ironic because the target of Democratic fury -- BP CEO John Browne -- has been a poster boy for the left's most-ardently sought regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.[ii] Vanity Fair lauded his "environmental conscience" only a few issues ago and Bill Clinton praised him for his responsible commitments to environmental goals in 1999. [iii] The call for an investigation is misdirected because the best target for investigations into irrational energy policy would be...Congress. In the interest of helping to find some real answers to questions regarding energy, the various committees involving energy and environment should quiz themselves ruthlessly on several questions pertaining to the artificial constraints on supply that are mostly of their own creation. Why, they might ask themselves, does Congress let a few state legislators prevent exploration and development of the oil reserves of the Outer Continental Shelf and federal lands that are the property of the entire American public?....


Yet another federal mandate -- an EPA order that 80 percent of diesel fuel production after June 1 meet new "ultra-low-sulfur" requirements -- is causing the latest government-inspired energy mess, says the Wall Street Journal.

The mandate has brought the freight industry to a standstill, and is creating problems in many states, says the Journal:

* Rationing at stations has raised prices by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early July.
* Prices in the region have hit $3.35 a gallon, and stations are limiting purchases.
* Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman recently issued waivers for how long truckers hauling diesel could drive, just to keep the fuel flowing into his state.

The refining industry warned Congress and regulators about the timing of the mandate, foretelling the problems now being faced:

* Refineries, fuel terminals and pipelines haven't been able to make or distribute enough of the new diesel fuel to replace the older product.
* The mandate is coming into effect at the height of the agriculture harvest season, when diesel demand is especially high.

This latest energy mess recalls Congress's ethanol fuel mandate, says the Journal. In that situation, manufacturers were unable to keep pace, and the makers of a rival fuel additive, MTBE, fled the market because of liability concerns, resulting in spot gas shortages and higher prices nationwide.

Consumers will feel the pinch of a diesel crunch as well, given that an estimated two-thirds of freight in the United States is still delivered by trucks. Ultimately, higher diesel prices will find their way out of the freight industry, and into everyday goods.

Source: Editorial, "Diesel Blues," Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2006.

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Invasive Species: Animal, Vegetable or Political?

What do mute swans, kudzu, red clover, pigs, and starlings have in common? Not much, except that they are all non-indigenous species - that is, the species does not originate from within the United States. And that is essentially all they have in common. Yet many government agencies, lawmakers and environmental special-interest groups would like to clump together the thousands of these species introduced within our borders and stamp out their existence. More than 50 bills are pending in the U.S. Congress to address so called "invasive species."1 Most bills would expand federal authority to further control land use and authorize billions of tax dollars to eradicate non-native flora and fauna. Some "exotic species" are problematic, overtaking other species and imposing large economic costs in damages. But, contrary to public perception, these are more the exception than the rule. Most non-native species adapt to their surroundings, and many are even useful. Legislation should be narrow in scope, case-specific, and based on science to control the spread of those that truly are destructive. The "invasive species" bills pending in Congress are not based on science but rather assume all non-indigenous species are harmful unless proven otherwise. Most of the bills would create massive government bureaucracies and, worse, grant federal agencies greater authority to regulate lands and waters, public or private, where these species exist. Some experts warn legislation that defines "invasive species" so broadly and directs government agencies to "control" invasives on private as well as public lands could lead to a massive erosion of property rights....

No, Rice Krispies Aren't Bio-Toxic

If you listen to environmental activists these days, you might think that snap, crackle, and pop coming from your Rice Krispies is the sound of impending doom. This week they're trying to scare consumers about bioengineered, or genetically modified, rice. But when it comes to scare stories about biotech food, consumers should take these warnings with a grain of salt. On Friday, Bayer CropScience and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that traces of an unapproved bioengineered rice variety were found in harvested rice from the nation's southern rice-growing region that includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. The biotech variety, known as Liberty Link 601, was developed by a company Bayer acquired in 2001. It has an extra gene that makes the rice crop resistant to the Liberty brand of herbicides also produced by Bayer. No one knows how the unapproved rice got into the commercial crop - at levels equivalent to about 6 of every 10,000 grains in the tested samples. LL601 was field-tested from 1998 to 2001, but it didn't perform as well as some of Bayer's other varieties, and the company never submitted it to regulators for commercial approval. Figuring out how this variety re-surfaced five years later, and how to keep such leaks from happening in the future is a genuine issue that will keep scientists and agronomist busy for years. That's the bad news. The good news is that the new gene in LL601 and the protein it helps to make are known to be perfectly safe for consumers and the environment. Two other rice varieties carrying the same herbicide-tolerance gene were approved by the USDA in 1999 and cleared by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. Other approved crops, such as corn and soybeans, also carry the gene. And numerous varieties with the gene have been approved for food use in other countries, including Canada, the 25-nation European Union, Japan, and Mexico. But that's not the spin radical environmentalists are putting on this story....

Judicial Activism in Overdrive: Massachusetts, et al, v. EPA

August 31 is the deadline for fi ling the petitioners’ brief with the Supreme Court in Massachusetts et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Plaintiff s, who include the attorneys general (AGs) of 12 states, are suing the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new motor vehicles (See July 2006, Page 10). A victory for plaintiff s would not only result in fewer choices for U.S. auto buyers and a less competitive U.S. auto industry, it would also establish the precedent for judicial imposition of economywide CO2 controls like those proposed in the Kyoto Protocol and the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. Plaintiff s’ game plan, which the Court can either aid and abet or nip in the bud, aims at nothing less than litigating America into compliance with a non-ratifi ed treaty and/or a non-enacted bill. Th is is judicial activism in overdrive, perhaps the most audacious attempt ever to legislate from the bench....

Animal-Rights 'Report Card' Flunks Ethics Test

Continuing the grand tradition of animal rights groups exploiting the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM, the lab-coated affiliate of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) callously issued an agenda-driven "report card" giving Hancock County Schools in Mississippi a "D" for not eliminating meat from school lunches. Where to start? The school district cancelled five weeks of classes after it bore the full brunt of Hurricane Katrina (click here to see its location). The storm flooded Hancock County Middle School so badly that students had to finish the 2005-2006 school year in temporary trailers. Federal aid totaling over $2.5 million (click here and here) was needed to pay for portable classrooms and replace lost computer equipment, furniture, and other necessities. Click here to view photos of Hancock County Schools in the aftermath of the hurricane. Take a look at the pictures and judge for yourself whether replacing BBQ with tofu should have been one of Hancock County's priorities....

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