I am finally approaching the halfway point in this quest, and pocketbook issues have considerable importance. This section is the first of two consecutive segments dealing with the economic end of government. Trade and job creation, to me, are the areas of government which most directly affect your income. (The next section, taxation, is the other end of the pocketbook equation.)
As I have noted throughout, you can work your way through the series by starting here and working forward as issues gain in weighting my decision.
In five bullet points or less, our next President should:
- Revisit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and other deals) to see if they can be salvaged as a good deal for the United States – which provides the majority of the GDP in each deal and should have the most favorable terms while maintaining our sovereignty. Otherwise, I believe in free trade that is fair, so we should work to isolate countries who don’t play by the rules.
- Get government out of the way! According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, regulations cost business $1.885 trillion in 2015. That has to stop.
- Rather than knuckle under to the knuckleheads who think we should have a “living wage,” the federal minimum wage should be abolished entirely. States are free to continue the lunacy and watch their businesses suffer the consequences when minimum wages get too high for the market.
- Be an advocate and cheerleader for the right-to-work movement.
- Invest in necessary federal infrastructure, particularly highways – the “post roads” of the modern era. Not only does this benefit job creation but it would assist in getting goods from place to place more quickly.
So where do my contenders stand? Let’s find out how many of the nine points they will receive.
Castle: Opposed to TPP as “the worst of our free-trade agreements.” Should freely trade with all nations but formal agreements cost us sovereignty. (Facebook)
Hedges: Opposes Republican policy of giving away our jobs through free trade.
Supports “appropriate employment at a living wage available to all citizens who are able to work.”
“The importing of goods from and the offshoring of services to other nations are the primary causes of lost jobs and impoverished communities in America. We favor free trade only on a reciprocal basis among equals. We will impose balancing tariffs on all goods imported from countries whose wage scales, labor benefits, and environmental protections are not similar to our own. No nation which fails to protect the civil rights of its citizens may be accorded ‘most favored nation.’” (party platform)
As a party they also support right-to-work states and would index Congressional pay to the minimum wage.
Hoefling: “Politicians constantly talk about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ even though they don’t have any jobs to offer that aren’t government jobs, or jobs that are subsidized by the taxpayers, and by debt shoved off on our grandchildren. As if we don’t already have more than enough of those kinds of jobs, right?
Here’s another thing: while working for a paycheck is certainly an honorable thing, it is not the American ideal. The ideal is for YOU to OWN your own piece of this country.
My goal, should I become the governor, is not to offer jobs to my fellow Iowans, or to use your money to bribe some company to provide you with a job. My goal is to secure your rights, and to then create an economic environment of FREEDOM, low taxes, reasonable, minimal regulation, and OWNERSHIP, an environment that will quite naturally lead to productivity and prosperity for all.
And, of course, the bonus is, companies will line up to do business in a state like that. You know it’s true.
‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’?
OWN, OWN, OWN!” (as Iowa gubernatorial candidate, 2014)
Johnson: Reduce the administrative burden. Level the playing field. Incentivize job growth.
As governors, both Gary Johnson and Bill Weld supported policies that incentivized job growth. In 2012, Gov. Johnson was praised as having the best “job creation” record of all presidential candidates. And Weld transformed Massachusetts from having the highest to the lowest unemployment rate of any industrialized state in less than 8 years.
Yet, Johnson has said that, “As Governor, I didn’t create a single job.” His point, of course, being that government doesn’t “create” jobs. Entrepreneurs, businesses, and economic prosperity are the building blocks for job growth.
Governors Johnson and Weld believe that we must allow a regulatory and tax environment that incentivizes fairness. Not one that picks winners and losers. The purpose of government regulation is to protect citizens from bad actors and the harm they might do to health, safety, and property. But regulation should not be used to manipulate the economy, to manage private lives and businesses, or to place unnecessary burdens on those who make our economy work.
Today, the reason so much corruption and power thrive in Washington, D.C., is that powerful corporate interests actually benefit from over-regulation. After all, they have the resources to comply with onerous laws. But for the average American, entrepreneur, or small businessperson, they don’t have teams of high-priced attorneys to help them navigate the bureaucracy.
We simply need to apply common sense to regulatory policy. Let’s get rid of the unnecessary laws and taxes that siphon the resources businesses use to create the jobs we need.
Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld helped create the conditions for job growth in their states. In the White House, they will create the conditions for massive job growth across the entire country. (campaign website)
McMullin: American businesses export more than $2.2 trillion per year of goods and services. The demand for American exports supported 11.5 million jobs, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. On average, these jobs pay 18 percent more than jobs that are unrelated to exports. For all these reasons, Evan believes that trade is an engine of prosperity and that well-designed trade agreements can help our economy grow even more.
At the same time, we can do more to help American workers adjust and thrive in the 21st century. Since 2000, the U.S. economy has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, although more than 12 million Americans still work at factories. The main driver of this trend is advanced technology, especially advances in robotics and computing. Today, U.S. automakers produce just as many cars as they did 20 years ago, yet the auto industry employs 300,000 fewer workers, a reduction of almost 25 percent.
Therefore, Evan believes that one of the most important ways to help American workers is to make education more affordable while supporting the growth of technical schools, online education, and work-based training programs. It is essential to support these alternatives to the typical full-time four-year degree program, which may not be a good fit for older students who need to work and support their families while studying. While U.S. factories have cut millions of jobs for those with a high school education or less, hiring of college graduates remains stable, while hiring of those with graduate degrees continues to demonstrate strong growth.
Around the globe—even in China—manufacturing employment is shrinking rapidly as factories rely more and more on advanced technology. Thus, using tariffs to raise the cost of Chinese imports won’t bring those jobs back to the United States. In fact, it will kill American jobs, because China and others will block U.S. exports, which now support more than 11 million jobs.
In addition, raising the cost of imports will force hard-pressed American families to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more each year for basic necessities, from clothing to pots and pans and diapers.
Evan supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress, which must vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without making any changes to the agreement.
One of the biggest advantages of the TPP is that reducing tariffs to zero favors American companies. Right now, America has low tariffs, not far above zero. In contrast, other countries’ tariffs will plunge when the TPP goes into effect, opening up their markets to U.S. exports. TPP is still a good deal for those countries, because it gives them better access to the biggest market in the world (ours) and the third biggest (Japan).
TPP also helps create a level playing field between U.S. workers and their counterparts overseas. If foreign companies lower their costs by mistreating workers and polluting the environment, then its puts American companies at an unfair disadvantage. However, TPP has the strongest protections for labor and the environment of any major trade deal.
Finally, TPP is important for national security reasons. Our allies in Asia are watching to see whether the U.S. still has the ability to set the rules of the road, or whether their security depends on submitting to China. That is why the secretary of defense has said, “TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.” If the U.S. abandons TPP, China is likely to intensify its campaign of intimidation in the South China Sea. Thus, support for TPP is a win-win proposition; it enhances our security and reinforces the growth of job-creating American export industries.
Americans are ready to work hard to provide for their families, but fewer and fewer are capable of finding the good jobs necessary to support a middle-class standard of living and help them to pursue their dreams. If we accept the slow growth of the Obama years this won’t change. Only if the economy begins to grow faster—at a rate of more than 3 percent year instead of less than 2—will good jobs become more widely available.
Right now, there are three major roadblocks standing in the way of a stronger economy: a tax code that rewards special interests while hurting small businesses, excessive regulations that cost businesses almost $2 trillion per year, and runaway entitlement spending that multiplies the national debt.
Evan McMullin will dismantle these roadblocks. (Editor’s note: see my next part, taxation, for point 1).
Federal regulations play an essential role in making sure that Americans have clean air, clean water, and safe food. Yet the blizzard of intrusive regulations issued by the Obama administration have gone far beyond what is necessary to protect our health and the natural environment. Instead, these regulations serve as an invisible tax that raises the cost of doing business and prevents firms from creating jobs. As president, Evan McMullin would direct federal agencies to identify a clear problem that needs to be fixed before resorting to further regulation. If an agency believes regulation is necessary, it would still have to prove that the benefits of a proposed regulation are greater than its costs. The same test would also be applied to existing regulations, which would be lifted if they were not achieving their goals.
If the United States can’t get its national debt under control, the government will eventually have to impose harsh taxes or pursue other policies that would drive the economy into a deep recession, destroying millions of jobs. The number one cause of runaway debt—now more than $19 trillion—is the cost of entitlements. Our country needs Social Security and Medicare to ensure the health of senior citizens and prevent them from falling into poverty. We also need Medicaid to provide health care to the needy. Yet these programs are so inefficient, wasteful, and susceptible to fraud that their costs are out of control. The result is that the government must borrow vast sums to keep the programs going. The Obama administration has already added $9 trillion to the debt, almost as much as every previous administration combined.
With a smarter tax code, streamlined regulations, and entitlement reform, the U.S. economy can begin to grow again at the rates it did in the 1980s and 1990s.
Evan McMullin believes that America should be the best place in the world for innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity. We must reform a system that too often benefits the politically connected and the corporate elite, while leaving too many Americans without good jobs. By running for president, Evan McMullin is giving voters the opportunity to get the economy moving again instead of doubling down on the status quo. (campaign website)
I wish Darrell Castle had been more specific and forthcoming on his economic policy. I’m sort of stuck here – on the one hand, the fealty to the Constitution he advocates would mean he would properly address most of my issues, but there are always the provisos and conditions to watch out for. I consider this a wasted opportunity for him. 3 points.
Jim Hedges has somewhat of a right idea on free trade, but the rub comes in dictating what policies other nations may have – particularly when we are so overregulated. Moreover, his stance on jobs at a “living wage” is troubling, and suggests he may not be as strongly in favor of the right-to-work platform plank. I can only give him 1.5 points.
I suspect Tom Hoefling is speaking of entrepreneurship, which is indeed sorely lacking in this country. Even better, it is a philosophy that is scalable to a national level, although the details could really be fleshed out more. He has the same problem as Castle insofar as the specifics aren’t being put out there and easily available. I give him more credit since he addressed the more important aspect of job creation. 4 points.
Gary Johnson gets it insofar as the philosophy goes, and he makes an extremely salient point regarding how the regulatory climate stifles competition. Big corporations become big donors, and then they move into the realm of lobbying for regulations designed to keep small players from gaining market share. But the question is how much will he do to promote “fairness” vs. to promote “opportunity.” There is a subtle but important difference, because fairness implies equality of outcome and that isn’t the way a free market works. Maybe I’m being picky with the term, but generally these campaign issue statements are thought through to make a certain point. 5.5 points.
Evan McMullin is much more sold on TPP than I am, particularly because China is not a party to it. One has to ask what we are giving up if other nations are suddenly going to reduce their tariffs to our level. I don’t think not having access to economies in Chile, Brunei, and several other signatories will break us.
And there’s the idea of justifying regulations – well, any idiot will tell you that of course the government agency that writes and enforces regulations will say they are justified. This needs to be determined independently of the government because job one for a bureaucrat is preserving his job, not solving problems. It’s also telling to me that Evan really didn’t discuss these educational alternatives in workforce training in his general education segment. Here he seems to want more government involvement, not less.
Note that I moved the taxation part of job creation to the next installment, but left the part about entitlements in because he also makes those same points there. I’ll discuss that subject in due course. Anyhow, Evan doesn’t do that well in this category with his political-speak. 2.5 points.
As I noted above, it’s certain my next part is taxation.
The author really didn’t plan it out that way, but I think it worked out well that my usual Tuesday morning column from Marita Noon preceded this particular post, since we share a very similar philosophy insofar as energy issues are concerned. In five bullet points or less, the next President should:
- Dismantle to the fullest extent possible the Environmental Protection Agency, which was created in 1970. Governmental functions that predated the EPA can be reverted to their original department after a review of their current usefulness.
- The same goes for the Department of Energy, which was a waste of same since President Carter created it.
- Eliminate the federal subsidies and carveouts for so-called “green” energy. If wind, solar, and so forth are viable they should be able to stand in the market.
- On a related note, dispatch with the Renewable Fuel Standard (ethanol mandate), CAFE standards (anti-market regulation), and (coal-industry killing) Clean Power Plan.
- Finally, walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Make the (correct) statement that mankind has little impact on the climate.
This was one for which I could have made about fifteen bullet points. But let’s see what candidates have to say, bearing in mind this category is worth seven valuable points. If you want to see the first parts of this overall exercise before continuing on, feel free to begin here.
Castle: Does not believe in man-made climate change, believes it is a “hoax.”
“I’m for the United States becoming energy independent as quickly as possible, using all of the resources that we have. Coal miners would be very happy with me, I think.” We seem to worry more about our environment than that of the places we get energy from. (Facebook)
Hedges: “We advocate increased research on and development of non-fossil fuel resources, tax breaks for companies engaging in such, and subsidies for consumers wishing to change from fossil fuels to renewable domestic sources of energy.” (party platform)
“(P)ollution abatement projects must balance costs with benefits. We believe that climatic change is an existential threat to civilization, and we will co-operate with other nations in mitigating its effects.” (party platform)
Hoefling: Energy independence is a given if we will simply get government out of the way. We have vast resources, just waiting for us to rein in the radical environmentalists and the out-of-control judges who have empowered them. (Facebook conversation)
Johnson: Protect the Environment. Promote Competition. Incentivize Innovation.
We need to stand firm to protect our environment for our future generations, especially those designated areas of protection like our National Parks. Consistent with that responsibility, the proper role of government is to enforce reasonable environmental protections. Governor Johnson did that as Governor, and would do so as President.
Governor Johnson believes the Environmental Protection Agency, when focused on its true mission, plays an important role in keeping the environment and citizens safe.
Johnson does not, however, believe the government should be engaging in social and economic engineering for the purpose of creating winners and losers in what should be a robust free market. Preventing a polluter from harming our water or air is one thing. Having politicians in Washington, D.C., acting on behalf of high powered lobbyists, determine the future of clean energy innovation is another.
In a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded, consumers, innovators, and personal choices will do more to bring about environmental protection and restoration than will government regulations driven by special interests. Too often, when Washington, D.C. gets involved, the winners are those with the political clout to write the rules of the game, and the losers are the people and businesses actually trying to innovate.
When it comes to global climate change, Johnson and Weld believe that the politicians in Washington, D.C. are having the wrong debate.
Is the climate changing? Probably so.
Is man contributing to that change? Probably so.
But the critical question is whether the politicians’ efforts to regulate, tax and manipulate the private sector are cost-effective – or effective at all. The debate should be about how we can protect our resources and environment for future generations. Governors Johnson and Weld strongly believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda. (campaign website)
McMullin: Affordable gas and electricity are important for every American family. From the cost of commuting to the price of groceries, energy expenses are built into every part of our economy. Energy companies have made remarkable advances that create jobs and benefit consumers, yet interference from Washington has prevented American families from reaping the benefits they should. Evan McMullin will roll back the heavy-handed regulations that are hurting consumers while ensuring that we protect the natural environment.
Over the past ten years, there has been a revolution in American energy production; transforming the U.S. into an energy superpower. We are now the world’s leading producer of oil, even ahead of Saudi Arabia. With more oil being produced, prices have come down at the pump. Natural gas prices have also fallen dramatically because of booming American production. Meanwhile, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen because natural gas burns more cleanly than other fuels.
Evan McMullin will make sure that there is a level playing field for all types of energy producers, so American families have lower electricity bills and pay less at the pump. Right now, renewable energy producers receive more than $13 billion per year in subsidies, while fossil fuel producers receive $3.5 billion. Evan would put an end to all of these subsidies, which benefit politically connected corporations rather than American consumers. Evan also opposes state-level renewable energy mandates, which force consumers to purchase expensive electricity from renewable sources, adding to the burden of families who are already dealing with a long-term increase in electricity prices.
Our natural environment is a divine gift and each of us has the responsibility to serve as its steward. There is an important role for the government to play in ensuring that our children and our children’s children have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean parks and forests to play in.
We should also be concerned about the direction of global temperatures, which have risen about 1 degree Celsius over the past 50 years. President Obama’s response to climate change has been to rely on expensive, heavy-handed regulations that put Americans out of work.
Evan McMullin believes that promoting innovation is the most promising way to deal with climate change without placing a heavy burden on the backs of American taxpayers and workers. The right way to promote innovation is to invest in basic research, not to provide loans and grants to politically connected corporations. Our environment will be best preserved when America’s leading minds are focused on the problem, not when government is dictating the answers.
The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change policy is the Clean Power Plan, whose implementation has been blocked by the Supreme Court. The plan will force dozens of power plants to close and destroy tens of thousands of jobs. The annual cost of implementation will be more than $8 billion. The administration also signed the Paris Climate Agreement, whose implementation would lead to annual economic losses of $40 billion per year if its goals were accomplished via regulation.
Evan opposes the Clean Power Plan because he believes we can protect the environment without causing so much economic devastation. He would reject a regulatory approach to pursuing the goals of the Paris accord, focusing instead on innovation.
The natural gas boom in the United States has already shown how innovation can benefit both the environment and the economy. Since the beginning of the gas boom, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have fallen back to the levels they were at in the mid-1990s. This happened not because of government planning or regulation, but because the private sector made technological breakthroughs that increased our access to cleaner natural gas.
Together, we have an opportunity to create jobs, save money for hard working families, and protect the environment. (campaign website)
I’m relatively disappointed that Darrell Castle hasn’t seemed to pay a lot of attention to this issue, as it certainly is influenced with a proper reading of the Constitution. On the surface he does well, but not to the extent where he would get a high score. 3 points.
In listening to and reading about Jim Hedges, he noted there were places where the Prohibition Party was far more “progressive” in an attempt (misguided, in my opinion) to draw younger voters. This is one area where that philosophy certainly applies, and “more of the same” is not good for our nation when it comes to energy policy. No points.
I feel the same way about Tom Hoefling as I do Castle: a nice approach on a broad scale, but more specifics would be nice. 3 points.
Gary Johnson gets it, sort of. But the problem is that he is conceding key points of the argument to the other side by leaving open-ended the contention that government is essential to provide “reasonable” environmental protection. Given that, one could make the case that everything we have adopted over the 46 years since the EPA came into being is “reasonable” because some bureaucrat thought it so. I think the government should get out of the free market, too – but I have outlined a number of concrete steps on my bullet point list above. Where are his? 2.5 points.
Despite his misplaced “concern” about global temperatures, I actually believe Evan McMullin has the best overall approach and philosophy. No, it’s not perfect, but on balance I think he would certainly consider addressing much of what I would like to see done. In this category he shines compared to the competition. 5.5 points.
We will see if the candidates recover when it comes to the next category, social issues.
Commentary by Marita Noon
One of the recent WikiLeaks email dumps revealed some interesting things about hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. (This enhanced drilling technology is a big part of America’s new era of energy abundance.)
First, they add to the growing question about what Hillary Clinton really believes: her public comments, or her private positions?
Regarding fracking, the leaked emails offer a glimpse into speeches she made to closed groups that we’ve previously been unable to access. One such speech was given to the troubled Deutsche Bank on April 24, 2013. There, she praised fracking as a tool to “make even more countries more energy self-sufficient.” She told the audience: “I’ve promoted fracking in other places around the world.” She bragged about “the advantages that are going to come to us, especially in manufacturing, because we’re now going to produce more oil and gas.”
Yet everything she’s said in the campaign paints a different picture.
Her stated energy policies are decidedly anti-fossil fuel. The Democratic Party platform calls for “a goal of producing 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050.” In addition to promoting “enough clean renewable energy to power every home in America within ten years,” Hillary’s website outlines her desire to “reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world.” She’s declared that banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands is: “a done deal.” While she won’t come out and clearly state that she’d ban fracking, at a March 6 CNN debate with Bernie Sanders in Flint, Michigan, she proudly stated: “By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” And, she has pledged to “stop fossil fuels.”
Then there’s her comment about green-group funding, as coming from Russia. It’s long been suspected that Russia is protecting its national oil-and-gas interests by funding anti-fracking activism – while not a new idea, the current attention makes it worth revisiting.
To the best of my knowledge, Russia’s reported involvement in shaping public opinion came to light in 2010, when different WikiLeaks revelations made public private intelligence from Stratfor – which had previously published a background brief on Shale Gas Activism – that speculated on Russian funding for the anti-fracking movie Gasland.
In 2013, filmmaker Phelim McAleer, in his film FrackNation, pointed out Russia’s “disingenuous objections” to fracking. In it, British journalist James Delingpole said: “Russia is screwed if it can’t export its gas, so it is really important for Russia that the shale gas revolution does not happen. It is also in Russia’s best interest to fund those environmental groups which are committed to campaigning against fracking.”
Then in June 2014, while serving as NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark, stated that he’d “met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.” According to The Guardian, “He declined to give details of those operations, saying: ‘that is my interpretation.’”
A few months later, the New York Times (NYT) featured a story titled: “Russian money suspected behind fracking protests.” It recounts several cases in different Eastern European countries that are most dependent on Russian energy, where Chevron planned exploratory gas drilling that then “faced a sudden surge of street protests by activists, many of whom had previously shown little interest in environmental issues.” NYT quotes the Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta: “Energy is the most effective weapon today of the Russian Federation – much more effective than aircraft and tanks.”
“Russia,” the NYT adds, “has generally shown scant concern for environmental protection and has a long record of harassing and even jailing environmentalists who stage protests. On fracking, however, Russian authorities have turned enthusiastically green, with Mr. Putin declaring last year that fracking ‘poses a huge environmental problem.’ Places that have allowed it, he said, ‘no longer have water coming out of their taps but a blackish slime.’” Russian television, aimed at foreign audiences, carried warnings about poisoned water. Yet, exploration in western Romania by Gazprom, Russia’s biggest oil firm, has not stirred similar mass protests. Additionally, “Pro-Russian separatists in the east, who have otherwise shown no interest in green issues, have denounced fracking as a mortal danger.”
In January 2015, The Washington Free Beacon reported on a Bermudian firm that had connections to Russian oil interests and was funneling money to anti-fracking groups in the U.S. It outlines how the money-laundering scheme works and concludes: “The overlap between executives at firms with ties to Russian oil interests and a multi-million-dollar donor to U.S. environmentalist groups has some experts worried that Russians may be replicating anti-fracking tactics used in Europe to attack the practice in the United States.” I addressed it in February in my column titled: “Naming enemies of U.S. fossil fuel development” – where I also brought up reports of OPEC reported involvement in funding anti-fracking activities.
In March 2015, at the Forbes Reinventing America Summit in Chicago, Harold Hamm, Chairman and CEO at Continental Resources – also known as the “fracking king” – said: “Russia’s spent a great deal of money over here to cause a panic in the United States over fracking to stop it, because suddenly their market share is going away.”
Anti-fracking groups such as Greenpeace, dismiss such accusations as “silly.”
Despite all the multiple claims linking Russia to anti-fracking activity, there’s been scant hard evidence.
But, now, thanks to WikiLeaks, Russia’s reported anti-fracking funding is back in the headlines: “Leaked emails show Hillary Clinton blaming Russians for funding ‘phony’ anti-fracking groups,” wrote the Washington Times.
With knowledge only someone with a high-level security clearance and an understanding of foreign relations, like the Secretary of State, would have, Hillary, in a June 2014 speech in Edmonton, Canada, reportedly said the following to an audience:
“We were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media. We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia.”
Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we have the first “semi-official confirmation,” as Delingpole called it, “of Russia’s sponsorship of the vast, influential and obscenely well-funded anti-fracking industry.”
McAleer, in a press release, accuses these groups of “acting as paid agents for a hostile foreign power.”
Remember, these groups are big supporters of Hillary and - based on her stated public policies – she’s a big supporter of their anti-fracking agenda. As I’ve said before, we are in an economic war and there are many who don’t want America to win. The cheap energy prices fracking has provided give the U.S. an economic advantage – hence the hostility toward it.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.
Commentary by Marita Noon
At the end of September, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) surprised the markets by agreeing to a production cut. As soon as the 14-nation deal was announced, oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to some of the highest levels since the crash two years ago. (Editor’s note: Locally prices at the pump are relatively unchanged because the area was mildly affected by the Alabama pipeline break earlier in the month, so prices were just beginning to recover.)
The proposed output cap is historic and represents a shift in the “pump-at-will policy,” as Bloomberg called it, “the group adopted in 2014 at the instigation of Saudi Arabia.”
Many analysts see that the Saudi gamble, aimed at putting American producers out of business, has failed. While U.S. oil production is down from last year’s highs and bankruptcies are up, the industry has become more efficient and the cost of extracting oil from shale is continuing to come down – resulting in the sixth straight week of an increased rig count and the 15th without a decrease. Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports: “Many oil producers believe drilling in some U.S. regions can be profitable even with oil prices in their current range of $40 to $50 a barrel.”
Additionally, U.S. crude stockpiles have fallen for the fifth consecutive week – as have crude imports. American drivers are consuming more gasoline than ever. Exploration budgets, due to the low oil prices, have been slashed with the predicted result of lower production in the next few years. It appears that demand is catching up with production and prices have been creeping up since February’s lows. Phil Flynn, senior market analyst with the PRICE Futures Group explains: “While supply is still at a historically high level for this time of year, strong U.S. demand and rising U.S. exports are cutting down the glut.”
Meanwhile, the social costs of low-priced oil have been high for OPEC members – hitting Saudi Arabia especially hard. The cartel’s biggest producer has lost billions of dollars of revenue, which has resulted in a 20 percent pay cut for its ministers, reductions in financial benefits for government employees, and an increase in fees and fines, and cuts in subsidies, for all in the kingdom. Fear that the loss of the coddled lifestyle could throw the country into chaos, according to industry veteran and consultant Allen Brooks, likely convinced Saudi Arabian officials to moderate their position. The view from Bloomberg concurs: “Saudi Arabia’s willingness to do a deal, in particular, demonstrates the economic pain lower oil prices has caused producers.”
Iran, OPECs other majordomo, has, due to sanctions, gotten used to austerity and is now seeing its economic pressures easing and its oil exports increasing. It, therefore, heading into the OPEC meeting, appeared to be rejecting the Saudi output offer and dashed hopes of a compromise to cut crude production. The Financial Times quotes one Gulf OPEC delegate as saying: “All producers are hurting.”
The surprise came on Wednesday, September 28, when, after two years of failed attempts at an agreement and months of dialogue leading up to the meeting, “Saudi Arabia agreed to take on the bulk of OPEC’s proposed cuts,” wrote the WSJ. The headline from the New York Times read: “OPEC agrees to cut production, sending oil prices soaring.”
The proposed cuts are moderate in reality, only 1-2 percent of the 14-nation cartel’s 33.2 million barrels a day of production and they represent less than 1 percent of total global production. Yet, the announcement buoyed markets and added power to the previously mentioned price momentum. According to CNN Money, the agreement offers “powerful symbolism.”
While the price of oil received a bounce from the news that has given the industry cautious optimism, it is not expected to have a big impact on the price of gasoline. Oil prices are now expected to stay near $50 a barrel through the end of the year and below $60 a barrel through 2017 – which will likely mean an increase of a few cents a gallon at the pump. Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economic, in CNN Money, called the situation “a period of ‘Goldilocks’ oil prices” – low enough to help consumer spending and “high enough to keep major producers afloat.”
The slight bump in prices the proposed deal adds to the upward trend is enough to send some producers back into the oil field and encourage another burst of drilling. That increased production will have a self-leveling effect on prices. As prices go up, production increases. As more oil enters the already-glutted market, prices come down.
Additionally, the OPEC agreement is only a plan. It isn’t finalized. That could happen in Vienna in November if, and it is a big if, the members can agree on who will make the cuts, when the cuts will go into effect, how long they will last, and how they will be enforced. While all 14 countries – and non-OPEC producers such as the U.S. and Russia – will benefit from higher prices, no one wants to be the one taking the cut. Iran, Libya, and Nigeria are all trying to increase production that has been stifled due to sanctions or conflict. Plus, as WSJ reports: “OPEC has a long history of agreeing to production cuts, only to have the pact collapse when countries change their minds.” CNN Money adds: “cartel members also have a tendency to overshoot production quotas.”
So, while the OPEC announcement is “not a game-changing move that will send oil prices shooting back up towards the $100 a barrel level,” as The Guardian reported, it is big news that brightens prospects for the energy industry while keeping things just right for consumers.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.
The Buffalo Billion fraud and bribery scheme: corruption and pay-to-play, a symbol of everything they’re doing
Commentary by Marita Noon
When New York’s Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo gushed over SolarCity’s new solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, the audience likely didn’t grasp the recently-revealed meaning of his words: “It is such a metaphor – a symbol of everything we’re doing.”
The 1.2 million square foot building, being built by the state of New York on the site of a former steel plant, is looking more and more like another political promise of help for one of the poorest cities in the state that ends up enriching cronies without ever achieving any potential for the people.
Yes, it is a symbol of everything they’re doing.
Previously, during her first senatorial bid, Hillary Clinton also promised jobs to the economically depressed region of the state of New York – 200,000 to be exact. Citing a report from the Washington Post, CBSNews states: “Jobs data show that job growth stagnated in Upstate New York during her eight years in office, the report said, and manufacturing jobs dropped by nearly a quarter.” The Post’s extensive story reveals that jobs never materialized – despite “initial glowing headlines.” It claims: “Clinton’s self-styled role as economic promoter” actually “involved loyal campaign contributors who also supported the Clinton Foundation.” Through federal grants and legislation, she helped steer money to programs, companies, and initiatives that benefitted the donors but failed to reverse the economic decline of the region.
Now, new corruption charges reveal the same pay-to-play model linked to Cuomo’s upstate “Buffalo Billion” economic revitalization plan – and the promised jobs also look they will never materialize.
Back on January 5, 2012, Cuomo announced a $1 billion five-year economic development pledge for Buffalo. It was to be the governor’s banner economic initiative with the SolarCity factory as the cornerstone and a pledge of 1,460 direct factory jobs. Other companies, including IBM and a Japanese clean-energy company were also lined up.
With the state-of-the-art solar panel factory ready for equipment to be installed, the wisdom of the entire program is being scrutinized – and is coming up short.
First, on September 22, two of Cuomo’s closest aides – along with several others – were charged in corruption and fraud cases involving state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Addressing the press at his Manhattan office, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara asserted: “that ‘pervasive corruption and fraud’ infested one of the governor’s signature economic development programs. Companies got rich, and the public got bamboozled,” reports The Observer. Bharara described the bid-rigging and bribery arrangement: “Behind the scenes they were cynically rigging the whole process so that the contracts would go to handpicked ‘friends of the administration’ – ‘friends’ being a euphemism for large donors. Through rigged bids, state contracts worth billions of dollars in public development monies, meant to revitalize and renew upstate New York, were instead just another way to corruptly award cronies who were willing to pay to play.”
The 79-page criminal complaint notes that campaign contributions to Cuomo poured in from people connected to the bribe-paying companies as soon as those businesses began pursuing state projects.
One of the companies that received the lucrative contracts was LPCiminelli – run by “Cuomo mega-donor” Louis Ciminelli. He allegedly offered bribes to Cuomo confidante Todd Howe – who has admitted to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers to rig bids on multimillion-dollar state contracts linked to Buffalo Billion projects.
Ciminelli received the $750 million contract to build the SolarCity plant. The Buffalo News cites Bharara as saying: “the state’s bidding process for the factory being built for SolarCity at RiverBend in South Buffalo turned into a ‘criminal’ enterprise that favored LPCiminelli, where company executives were given inside information about how the deal was to be awarded.”
Part of Cuomo’s deal with SolarCity – in which the state owns the building and equipment with SolarCity leasing it under a 10-year deal – requires the company to meet a timetable of job-creation quotas or pay hefty penalties. Even before the building was complete, however, the company slashed its job commitment from 1460 to 500. According to the Investigative Post, SolarCity claims it will still employ the original number, but due to automation, the majority of them will not be at the Buffalo plant. With the state’s $750 million investment, that works out to $1.5 million per manufacturing job. In a press release, Cuomo promised 1460 “direct manufacturing jobs at the new facility.”
Even the 500 jobs will only materialize if the plant actually starts production – currently slated for June 2017. SolarCity’s future is, as Crain’s New York Business puts it: “uncertain.”
Amid the company’s myriad problems are the facts that it has never been profitable, nor does it have manufacturing experience.
In February 2014, SolarCity’s stock price peaked at about $85 a share. Today, a share is less than $20. Microaxis gives it a probability of bankruptcy score of 48 percent. Crains reports that it posted a $251 million loss in Q1 2016 and a loss of $230 million in Q2. To “stop the bleeding,” Elon Musk (a donor to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation), who owns more than 20 percent of the company, announced that Tesla (of which he also owns more than 20 percent) would purchase SolarCity – this after as many as 15 other potential buyers and investors looked at the company and decided to pass. SolarCity even considered selling the solar panel manufacturing business.
Both SolarCity and Tesla are, according to the Buffalo News, facing a “cash bind” – this despite receiving billions in federal and state grants and tax credits as I’ve previously addressed. Tesla is described as “cash-eating electric vehicle and battery making businesses.” For SolarCity, its model – which finances its solar panel installations in order to make a profit on a lease that can be as long as 30 years, while it collects the lucrative government incentives worth billions (a practice for which Solar City is currently under Congressional investigation) – requires constantly raising new money from investors. Once the Tesla deal was announced, SolarCity’s lenders started to pull back.
The Buffalo News reports: “Stock in SolarCity…now trades for $4 a share less, or 19 percent less, than what Tesla is offering – a gap indicating that investors are uncertain the deal will be completed.” Additionally, the deal is being challenged by four separate lawsuits – which could delay the deal. Addressing the merger, one analyst said: “We see a lot more that can go wrong than can go right.”
Then there is the manufacturing angle. Originally, the Buffalo plant was going to manufacture high-efficacy solar panel modules developed by Silevo – a company SolarCity bought in 2014. Crain’s reports that it will instead produce complete solar roofs: something it says “Dow Chemical recently abandoned after five years because it could not find a way to make a profit on the technology.” But then, the Buffalo News says: “The initial production in Buffalo is expected to include photovoltaic cells that SolarCity purchases from suppliers and are used in the products that will be assembled in the South Park Avenue factory.”
Whatever the plant builds or manufactures, getting it operating will be expensive – even with the New York taxpayers owning the building and equipment – and will drain scarce cash from SolarCity at a time when its financing costs have increased.
Buffalo residents wonder if they’ll be stuck with the world’s largest empty warehouse and without the promised jobs.
No wonder the entire project is in doubt. Because of the Cuomo administration corruption allegations, other proposed job-creators, including IBM, have pulled out until the probe is completed.
For now, Cuomo is not a part of the criminal complaint – though his name is mentioned many times – and he claims he knew nothing about it, nor does he think he’s a target of the ongoing federal probe. “It is almost inconceivable the governor didn’t know what was going on,” Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, said. “And if he didn’t know what was going on, you can argue he should have known.”
Bharara has suggested that the better name for the program would be: “The Buffalo Billion Fraud and Bribery Scheme.”
Yep, the Buffalo Billion project is a “symbol” of the political promises and crony corruption – “everything we’re doing” – that takes taxpayers dollars to reward political donors and then walks away when the jobs don’t materialize.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.
As a Republican in Maryland, there are two things you have to account for in a statewide race: you have a smaller pool of party regulars in the voting bank when compared to the Democrat in the race and you will have less money and free media than the Democrat has at his or her disposal. These have been givens throughout the modern political era, and it’s a rare Republican who can overcome them.
But I think the idea of playing up just how low-budget a campaign is (against a well-funded Washington insider) doesn’t work well as a serious campaign ad. I’m going to share Kathy Szeliga’s ad so you can judge whether she plays this shtick (as well as the motorcycle riding angle) too much.
In truth, when I looked up the latest FEC reports (as of June 30), Van Hollen only had about a 2-to-1 cash on hand advantage on Szeliga, with $566,795 on hand. Admittedly, Van Hollen had definitely churned through a lot more money than Szeliga over the previous 15 months covered in his report, but he was also trying to fend off a well-known challenger for the Democratic nomination in Fourth District Congressman Donna Edwards.
And Kathy was determined to squeeze her nickels:
Our fundraising has been going well, but we didn’t want to waste a dime, so we shot the ad on an iPhone – saving the campaign thousands of dollars. And TV ads are expensive, so we decided to buy cable and focus on a strong social media push.
She would need more than a strong social media push, though: her 17,126 Facebook likes trail Van Hollen’s 21,333, while the margin is even worse on Twitter: Szeliga has just 2,349 followers compared to 28,780 Twitter followers for Van Hollen. (Of course, Chris has more of a national profile as a Congressman so that should be expected. As evidence, current Senator Barb Mikulski has 48,683 followers while Andy Harris has 6,281.)
But since the Democrat is afraid to debate in the hinterlands of the state (or include the third candidate in the race, Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers), perhaps the ante needs to be increased. This is what you really need to know about Chris Van Hollen: a description from his campaign website but edited for more truthfulness by this writer. Normally this would be a blockquote but I have it in normal text to make the edits (deletions
struck through, additions in italics) more clear.
Chris Van Hollen has been described as “one of those rare leaders who runs for office because he wants to DO something, not because he wants to BE something.” Yet it’s what he has done that should trouble the hardworking Marylanders he’s trying to win over.
This sentiment captures Chris’s approach to public service, an approach that he will bring to the U.S. Senate to fight – and win – for Marylanders who depend on the ever-expanding federal government to deal with
on the challenges we face today.
Government-dependent Maryland families can count on Chris to be their champion – because that’s what he has been doing for over two decades. As for the rest of you, well, you are correctly described by our Presidential nominee as the “basket of deplorables“ because you don’t share my ‘progressive’ vision.
Chris was first elected to public office in 1990, when he campaigned for the Maryland House of Delegates as part of the ‘Choice Team,’ which unseated
an a pro-life incumbent opposed to women’s reproductive rights. So I have spent 26 of my 57 years on this planet in public office, and as you will see later on I was groomed for this practically from birth.
In Annapolis, Chris quickly earned a reputation as a champion for progressive causes and a talented legislator who was not afraid to
take on blame powerful special interests for problems we in government created – like the NRA, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco – on behalf of hardworking families. I just didn’t let on that the NRA never pulled the trigger on a murder victim in Baltimore, Big Oil makes a fraction of the profit for putting in all the work compared to the ever-increasing bonanza we take in with every gallon, and we don’t have the guts to actually ban tobacco because we need their tax (and settlement) money.
He led successful fights to make Maryland the first state to
require infringe with built-in safety trigger locks on handguns, ban the prospective job creation of oil drilling around the Chesapeake Bay, and prevent tobacco companies from peddling cigarettes to our kids, taking credit even though sales to minors have been illegal for decades. Chris also negotiated an historic tax increase in funding for all Maryland schools. Just don’t ask me to increase the choices you have to educate your children by allowing that money to follow your child.
Time Magazine said Chris was “a hero to environmentalists, education groups and gun control advocates.” The Baltimore Sun called him “effective” and “tenacious” and the Washington Post dubbed him “one of the most accomplished members of the General Assembly.” If you were a special interest that depended on a continual government gravy train, I was definitely your “fair-haired boy.”
In 2002 Chris was elected to Congress on a wave of
grassroots special interest support, ousting a 16-year Republican incumbent thanks in large part to some creative redistricting. There he brought the same brand of can-do activism socialist failure with him. He led the successful effort to stop big banks from reaping outrageous profits from having student loans as part of their loan portfolio - instead, we made sure Uncle Sam got that piece of the action and rigged the game so that even bankruptcy cannot save most graduates who can’t find a job to pay their loans from - and was also credited with helping Democrats win back control of the House in 2006, just in time to steer the national economy into the rocks. He became a Democratic leader and played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act perpetual annual increase in health insurance rates and deductibles, the Wall Street Reform protection law, and the Economic Recovery Act that helped rebuild our shattered economy has helped saddle us with the worst recovery from recession in the last century.
When the Republicans took over the House in 2010, Chris’s colleagues elected him to lead the battle against the Tea Party budget sanity. In that role he has been leading the fight to protect Medicare and Social Security from
GOP budget attacks necessary reforms and protect vital investments in education, transportation, medical research and programs for the most needy. We have to buy those votes somehow and grease the right palms – debt is only a number anyway, right?
Chris has also unveiled a comprehensive plan to address one of the greatest challenges of our time – growing inequality in America. His ‘Action Plan to
Grow the Paychecks of All, Not Just the Wealth of a Few’ Redistribute Even More Wealth and Create More Government Dependency’ has been called a forward-looking blueprint for building an economy a government behemoth that works for everyone the ruling class inside the Beltway.
In the Senate Chris will continue to fight
for against bold measures to revive the promise that every individual has the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity and lead a successful and fulfilling life. We Democrats can’t let an individual be successful on his or her own, particularly if he or she is a minority.
The son of a Baltimore native, Chris’s involvement in social justice and political action began at an early age. Chris’s mom and dad were both dedicated public servants, and growing up he saw their strong commitment to making the world a better place. As a student, he joined efforts to end Apartheid in South Africa and stop the nuclear arms race. And while Chris put himself through law school at night, he worked as a Congressional aide and then as an advisor to Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer. So in my adult life I have never held a private-sector job or signed a paycheck. But I’m fighting for you because I am down with your struggle to balance a household budget when both parents are working multiple jobs!
Chris and his wife, Katherine, live in Kensington where they have raised their three children.
The above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but along the line in this campaign I am very tempted to look at some of the local races on a more issue-by-issue basis, a “compare and contrast” if you will. I have no doubt that Chris Van Hollen is well to the left of most hardworking Maryland families.
But if Kathy Szeliga is as conservative as she says, perhaps we should downplay the “Washington insider” angle a bit because that’s not going to play inside the Beltway. The latest voter registration numbers tell the tale: just between the two counties directly bordering Washington, D.C. we find 31% of all state voters. Add in the close-by counties of Charles and Howard and the number edges close to 40%. Put another way, 2 in 5 Maryland voters have some degree of connection to the seat of federal government – even if they don’t work directly for Uncle Sam, their area was built on the economic impact of the government bureaucrat.
So the real question has to be about real solutions. Van Hollen cites a lot of things he has worked on, but one has to ask if the work he has done has actually solved the problem. Intentions might be grand for putting together a political webpage, but they don’t fly in the real world.
Even if you go back to his earliest days, consider these checklist items: as a youth, Van Hollen worked to stop apartheid in South Africa and against nuclear arms proliferation. Unfortunately, the transition away from apartheid also led to the decline of South Africa as a nation – just like a number of American inner cities in the 1950s and 1960s the nation was a victim of white flight because among those who were liberated were too many who used the occasion to settle scores instead of living peacefully as may have occurred with a slower transition. And that youthful resistance against nuclear proliferation yielded to political partisanship when Van Hollen supported the Iranian nuclear agreement. Perhaps the proliferation he sought to end was only our own.
Or ponder the effects of the policies Van Hollen backed in the General Assembly. Trigger locks became required for all guns sold in Maryland, so there’s already an extra expense. And I seriously doubt the bad guys have one on their guns, so if some citizen is shot and killed because they couldn’t disengage a trigger lock in order to defend themselves, will Van Hollen apologize or believe more legislation is needed?
And like many liberal policies, Chris took the first step and his cohorts have walked them a mile. We went from banning oil drilling in the Chesapeake (which may not be economically viable anyway, but we have no way of finding out) to thwarting the state’s efforts to drill for its proven natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale region (as well as other prospective areas including Annapolis and parts of the Eastern Shore.) That cost the state hundreds of possible jobs. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland perpetuates the hypocrisy of encouraging people to stop smoking with a small portion of the taxes they rake in with every pack – a sum that “progressives” annually want to increase as one of the state’s most regressive taxes.
Nor should we forget the policies Van Hollen has supported over the last eight years. Just ask around whether your friend in conversation feels they are better off with their health coverage, or if the economy is really doing well for them. If they have student loans, ask them what they think of the price of college. In all these areas, government that considers meddling as its task has made things worse for the rest of us in Maryland.
These are the questions Kathy Szeliga should be asking, rather than joking about her low-budget campaign. The aggressor sets the rules, and to win over the voters the candidate has to define the opponent for them. My definition of Chris Van Hollen is that he’s part of the problem, so the task is to make sure voters know that before explaining the solution.
Commentary by Marita Noon
Ford Motor Company made headlines on Wednesday, September 9, when, during an investor conference, CEO Mark Fields told attendees that it will invest $1.6 billion building a manufacturing plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and will move all of its small car production there during the next two to three years.
The announcement was hardly news as Ford has been talking about the shift for more than a year. But in the throes of an election that has both candidates decrying companies that send jobs to low-wage countries, the decision was an invitation for attention. The next day, during a speech in Flint, MI, Donald Trump declared that it was: “horrible.” He’s previously called the proposed move “an absolute disgrace” and promised to punish Ford with a 35 percent tariff on cars made in Mexico that are then sold in America – which he believes will prevent them from moving production out of the U.S.
No one wants American jobs to go away – and Ford plans to build more profitable vehicles in the plants that currently produce the Focus and C-Max small cars. It claims it is not going anywhere and that the U.S. is its home. Reports do indicate that no jobs at the Wayne, MI, plant will be lost, as it will likely be converted to building the new mid-size Ranger pick-up truck and, possibly, a new Bronco compact sport-utility.
But there’s more to the story that isn’t generally being addressed.
Earlier this year, Fields told CNBC: “We’re always going to invest where it makes sense for business.”
Obviously, it no longer makes “sense” to invest in small car production in America. Most of the news surrounding the move to Mexico addressed the benefit of low-cost labor. According to the Detroit Free Press: “The industry has known for decades that domestic manufacturers struggle to make a profit on small cars.” In Slate’s MoneyBox blog, Jordan Weissmann says: “You can protest that Ford should find a way to consistently churn out profits while manufacturing small cars at home, but that’s easier said than done.”
The number of auto jobs in Mexico is up 40 percent from 2008, while they are only up in the U.S. by 15 percent over the same period. Reuters reports: “American automakers pay Mexican workers $8 to 10 an hour, including benefits.” By comparison, Ford’s labor costs average $57 per hour at home.
Even with the huge labor cost differential, American car companies’ trucks and SUVs are profitable to manufacture in the U.S. and they are the vehicles Americans want to buy – which should raise the question: Why do car companies make small cars when they can’t make them profitably? The answer is the story not being addressed in the current coverage of Ford. And this is where Trump could, possibly, change the outcome.
In a free-market world, companies that want to stay in business should stop activities that lose money and focus on those that make money. Yet the Big Three automakers continue to produce small cars that for years have made little, if any, money.
Business Insider explains: “If Ford is going to keep them around, it needs to address the profit problem. Americans don’t want to buy small vehicles at the moment (actually, they almost never want to buy small cars), so Ford’s only rationale for continuing to build them is to satisfy the more stringent fuel-economy standards in the future.” Those fuel standards are called CAFE - which stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy. In short, it means that car companies can only sell the bigger vehicles that Americans want if it also produces cars that achieve very high fuel efficiency (including electric vehicles, in which Ford is investing heavily) that results in an “average” of the mandated miles per gallon – which is now 54.5 by 2025.
Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, blames the Ford move on, along with other draconian government policies, the CAFE standards: “The CAFE standards, which began in 1975, require auto manufacturers to meet government-imposed fuel economy standards across a fleet of cars. In order to meet those standards, which have been dramatically increased under President Obama, carmakers have to make light, inexpensive cars with high fuel economy to offset their trucks and SUVs with lower fuel economy. And electric cars really help their fuel economy balance. So the companies make minimally or even unprofitable small cars and electric vehicles so they can sell their popular and profitable large products – and hope for a profit in the end. By moving their small cars to Mexico, which has skilled but cheaper labor, Ford hopes to break even or make a little profit off of them.”
While the CAFE standards have increased dramatically under the Obama administration, and have also increased costs for consumers, most people don’t realize that they are not set in stone. Brad Plumer, senior editor for VOX.com outlines the options: “A new president can revise them, up or down. These CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) rules are scheduled to come up for a midterm review in 2017. At that point, automakers may lobby to allow the standards to rise more slowly – particularly if sales of fuel-efficient vehicles have been sluggish due to low oil prices. Green groups, meanwhile, could push to make the standards stricter, or to have them keep increasing past 2025, to push vehicle emissions down even further.”
A President Trump could, perhaps, by promising to allow car companies to make whatever kind of cars they want to make, entice Ford to keep its money in America – though, admittedly, there are other factors (such as trade deals) that make manufacturing small cars attractive in Mexico. CAFE is just one of the many policies that make doing business difficult in America.
Revising the CAFE standards, which could reduce the cost of future cars and would remove government intrusion from vehicle selection, is something Trump can do that would make doing business in America “make sense” again for U.S. car companies. For all business, let’s make America a place where it makes sense to invest.
When the 2015 season came to a close in early September, you may recall that the Shorebirds embarked on a project that, it was hoped, would reduce the number of games lost to weather. By stripping the field down to bare earth and reworking the entire drainage system (along with redoing the sod) I have to say the field looked very good most of the season and perhaps that may have had a little to do with the Shorebirds finishing second in the league in fielding percentage. That set of renovations, along with improved lighting, was the second of three phases in a complete renovation of Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – the first phase, completed during the 2014-15 offseason, concentrated on player amenities.
With the field complete, Delmarva was closer to the league average when it came to openings. No SAL team went without at least one rainout (Columbia, Greenville, and Hickory came the closest by having just one) but the Shorebirds had 65 openings and the league averaged 66.3 per team. However, while attendance rebounded slightly this year to 209,120 patrons, the per-game average fell by 13 fans to 3,217. Given the performance around the league, however, holding virtually steady in attendance can be regarded as a victory: only three of the thirteen returning teams increased their gate average from 2015 to 2016 and the overall league average increased by just 62 per game despite the relocated Columbia Fireflies drawing nearly twice as well as the Savannah Sand Gnats they replaced. West Virginia, Rome, and (particularly) Kannapolis saw precipitous year-over-year declines in their average draw.
The program for this offseason, though, is an ambitious one, and it’s already underway.
(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)
One of the key changes will be all new seats, which includes the replacement of the bleachers that were the general admission seating with regular fold-up box seats. This can be a good thing – if the seats are the same size. While I am slowly losing pounds and inches, my concern is that the new seats may be a little bit smaller than the ones they are replacing since fewer seats fit into the original bleacher space because of armrests, so stadium capacity would decrease by some percentage. Of course, the sections can easily be rearranged to suit thanks to the way the seats were originally laid out (you just drill new bolt holes as needed.) I fit just fine into the seats that were there, thank you, so hopefully us bigger folks will have ample room on the new ones.
It’s my understanding that the other key construction project is the extension of the concourse to be a 360-degree concourse, presumably at the level of the top of the outfield fence (so a home run would likely bounce on the concourse.) When I discussed this idea last year, I used another SAL park I’ve visited as a comparison because I recalled it also had a similar setup.
Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park has most of the same amenities as Perdue Stadium but also uses their outfield concourse for a tiki bar, pizza restaurant, and a third picnic area. It’s nice but I think there are other food and drink possibilities that we could use as well, like moving one of the Dippin’ Dots carts out there or adding mini-hotdog stands. If some of the areas are made a little wider, such as the triangular area near the foul poles, they can use them to set up for postgame entertainment (such as the Thirsty Thursday postgame shows of a decade ago) or pregame activities like the player autograph sessions we also haven’t had in some time.
But the crowning achievement in all this will be the new videoboard. Over the last two to three years the stadium has lost use of the videoboard, the bottom section of the scoreboard (where the player information used to be) and, at times, the scoreboard itself would go on the blink. In truth, a videoboard could serve as a scoreboard with one panel reserved for that purpose. It would also be nice to have an alternate ribbon scoreboard located on the opposite end of the stadium – if the main scoreboard stays in left field, the ribbon would be placed along the first base side. Then you could linger in the outfield concourse but still be able to keep track of the score, inning, balls, strikes, and outs while watching the action.
If you look at the minor leagues from a promotional standpoint, over the last decade the trend has gone away from one-night novelty acts (like Myron Noodleman or Reggi) to a plethora of giveaways of everything from bobbleheads to hats to posters to beach towels to doormats. Fireworks continue to be a staple as well, although my perception is that the difference in attendance isn’t all that great anymore – then again, I don’t go to more than one or two fireworks nights a season. They’ve also become far more clever in figuring out ways to fill the sixteen half-innings that a normal game features with games and giveaways.
But something I think would be interesting (and it can be done with a new videoboard) is a game with no between-inning promotions, walkup music, or PA announcer. It would be sort of like those April midweek nights when there might be 300 people actually in the stands, which is neat because you can hear the players and umpires. It’s probably not in the cards because it would be a promotion aimed at traditionalists like me – the guy who thinks the designated hitter and interleague play should be eliminated – but put it in the hopper.
And lastly, the concern on everyone’s lips regarding the improvements to the stadium is: what’s it going to cost me? They raised the parking fee this year to $4 from $3, although I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when parking was free. (I think some selected ticket prices went up this season, too.) But I have been told that the idea is to hold these fees steady for several years if possible, so once they go up they should be constant for 3-5 seasons.
However, if they eliminate the general admission bleachers for what I would guess is ticketed individual seats, will that now be considered a box seat? Presently there is a $5 difference per seat from general admission to reserved box. My guess is that the new box seats will have their own tier priced somewhere between the current GA price and the reserved box cost (but kept under $10 so it’s still considered affordable.)
If you consider the league as a whole, it’s something of a wonder that Delmarva makes it to the middle of the pack in attendance because it’s among the smallest markets. (The most comparable SAL franchise in terms of population and metro area is Rome. Hagerstown and Hickory are in slightly larger cities and counties, while the city of Kannapolis is of similar size to Salisbury but lies on the edge of the much larger Charlotte metro area. The rest are significantly larger in population.) And once the thrill of getting a new team wore off after the first few years, in recent seasons the attendance has been remarkably consistent at around 3,200 per game – which translates to just over 200,000 per year.
These improvements probably won’t bring back the days of 300,000 or more attending Shorebird games over the course of a season, but I think 250,000 can be a realistic expectation if the product on and off the field is improved. For the millions of dollars spent on renovations, it bears noting that each person probably spends at least $20 at the ballpark so an extra 50,000 patrons brings in at least $1 million. If you add that much value to the experience, the dollars spent on renovation will be worth it.
I had no idea until I checked out the hotel the first night I stayed here (to interview for my old job the next morning) that Salisbury even had a minor league baseball team – I basically followed the Mud Hens so I knew a little about the other Tiger affiliates and the other teams in the International League where the Toledo nine plays. Since the Shorebirds were in neither category, I was pleasantly surprised to find that out about the city I would adopt as my hometown.
To be quite honest, though, having a brand new, critically acclaimed stadium (at the time, Fifth Third Field was 2 years old) in a much larger AAA market spoiled me for Delmarva, so I was left a little bit wanting for the first season or so. It took getting used to. But now that I am here and have probably attended a couple hundred games or more, I would like them to stick around so I’m pleased to see someone else wants to improve the Shorebirds’ nest and maybe make it like new again.
I can’t wait to see what the old place looks like come April. But it would look a lot better with the 2017 SAL pennant on the flagpole.
Commentary by Marita Noon
People in seven states, from South Dakota to Texas, were awakened Saturday morning, September 3, by Oklahoma’s most powerful earthquake in recorded history. The 5.8 tremor was centered near Pawnee, OK. Several buildings sustained minor damage and there were no serious injuries.
That we know.
What we don’t know is what caused the quake – but that didn’t stop the alarmist headlines from quickly blaming it on “fracking.”
Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein promptly tweeted: “Fracking causes polluted drinking water + earthquakes. The #GreenNewDeal comes with none of these side effects, Oklahoma. #BanFracking”
A headline in Forbes stated: “Thanks to fracking, earthquake hazards in parts of Oklahoma now comparable to California.”
The Dallas Morning News proclaimed: “Oklahoma shuts down fracking water wells after quake rattles Dallas to Dakotas.”
NaturalNews.com questions: “Was Oklahoma’s recent record breaking earthquake caused by fracking?”
A report from ABC claims: “The increase of high-magnitude earthquakes in the region has been tied to the surge in oil and gas operators’ use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking…”
Citing a March 2016 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on “induced earthquakes,” CNN says: “The report found that oil and gas drilling activity, particularly practices like hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is at issue. Saturday’s earthquake spurred state regulators in Oklahoma to order 37 disposal wells, which are used by frackers, to shut down over a 725-square mile area.”
Despite these dramatic accusations, the science doesn’t support them. The USGS website clearly states: “Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes.” An important study from Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences on the Oklahoma earthquakes, which I wrote about last year, makes clear that they are “unrelated to hydraulic fracturing.”
While the exact cause of the September 3 quake is still undetermined, geologists close to the research do not believe it is fracking related. (Realize 5.5 El Reno earthquake, centered near the western edge of Oklahoma City, in 1952 was from natural causes.) At a September 8 meeting on Seismicity in Oklahoma, according to Rex Buchanan, Interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey: “There was relatively little conversation about fracking and far more conversation about wastewater.”
William Ellsworth, Professor (Research) of Geophysics at Stanford University, told me that while no specific information about this direct case is available: “I don’t have any information that would allow me to rule out fracking. However, it is extremely unlikely. Fracking occurs for a few days at most, if at all, when the well is being finished. Wastewater injection goes on continuously for years and years.”
The error in the reporting occurs, I believe, because people don’t generally understand the difference between drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and produced water and flowback water, and, therefore, merge them all into one package.
Yes, it does appear that the increase in induced, or human-caused, earthquakes may be the result of oil-and-gas development, yet totally banning fracking, as Stein and Hillary Clinton support, would not diminish the tremors.
First, not every oil or gas well is drilled using hydraulic fracturing. As Ellsworth mentioned, fracking is a part of the process used on some wells. However, much of the drilling done in the part of Oklahoma where the seismic activity first occurred is conventional and doesn’t involve fracking – which provided a premise for the Stanford researchers’ study.
When a well uses the hydraulic fracturing enhanced recovery technology, millions of gallons of water, plus sand and chemicals, are pumped into the well at high pressure to crack the rock and release the resource. When the oil or gas comes up from deep underground, the liquids injected come back to the surface too. This is called flowback water. That water is separated from the oil and/or gas and may be reused, recycled (as I wrote about in December), or disposed of in deep wells known as injection wells – which are believed to be the source of the induced seismic activity.
“Ha!” you may think, “See, it is connected to fracking.” This brings the discussion to produced water – which is different from flowback water.
This type of wastewater is produced at nearly every oil and gas extraction well – whether or not it is fracked. The water, oil, and gas are all “remnants of ancient seas that heat, pressure and time transformed,” explains Scott Tinker, Texas’ state geologist and director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology. He continues: “Although the water is natural, it can be several orders of magnitude more saline than seawater and is often laced with naturally occurring radioactive material. It is toxic to plants and animals, so operators bury it deep underground to protect drinking-water supplies closer to the surface.” In Oklahoma, the wastewater is often injected into the Arbuckle formation.
While the hydraulic fracturing process is typically only a few days, the produced water can be brought to the surface with the oil and/or gas for years. With the increased oil and gas extraction in the past several years – before the 2014 bust, the volumes of wastewater also soared. In parts of Oklahoma, ten barrels of wastewater are produced with every barrel of oil. Scientific American reports that some of those high-volume injection wells “absorbed more than 300,000 barrels of water per month.”
The authors of the Stanford study were “able to review data about the amount of wastewater injected at the wells as well as the total amount of hydraulic fracturing happening in each study area, they were able to conclude that the bulk of the injected water was produced water generated using conventional oil extraction techniques, not during hydraulic fracturing,” writes Ker Than for Stanford. Professor Mark Zoback, lead author of the study states: “We know that some of the produced water came from wells that were hydraulically fractured, but in the three areas of most seismicity, over 95 percent of the wastewater disposal is produced water, not hydraulic flowback water.” Ellsworth agrees. Last year, he told the Associated Press: “The controversial method of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, even though that may be used in the drilling, is not physically causing the shakes.”
So, if banning fracking won’t stop the shaking, what will? The geologists contacted for this coverage agree that more work is needed. While the quakes seem to be connected to the wastewater injection wells, there are thousands of such wells where no discernable seismic activity has occurred. Oklahoma has been putting new restrictions on some of its thousands of disposal wells for more than a year to curb seismic activity and that, combined with reduced drilling activity due to low prices, has reduced the rate of the tremors. In Texas, when the volumes of wastewater being injected into the vicinity of that state’s earthquakes were reduced, the earthquakes died down as well. Other mitigation strategies are being explored.
Jeremy Boak, director, Oklahoma Geological Survey, told me: “The Oklahoma Geological Survey is on record as concluding that the rise from 1-2 M3.0+ earthquakes per year to 579 (2014), 907 (2015) and the current 482 (to date in 2016) are largely driven by increased fluid pressure in faults in the basement driven largely by injection of water co-produced with oil and gas and disposed of in the Arbuckle Group, which sits on top of basement. Both the increase and the current decreasing rate appear to be in response to changes in the rate of injection. There are natural earthquakes in Oklahoma, but the current numbers dwarf the inferred background rate.”
Interestingly, most of the aforementioned reports that link fracking and earthquakes, ultimately acknowledge that it is the wastewater disposal, not the actual hydraulic fracturing, that is associated with the increased seismic activity – but, they generally fail to separate the different types of wastewater and, therefore, make the dramatic claims about fracking.
Boak emphasized: “There are places where there are documented cases of earthquakes on individual faults occurring very near and during hydraulic fracturing operations, including one published case in Oklahoma. These are generally small earthquakes, although some larger ones (M4.0+) have occurred in British Columbia. Therefore, it is technically very important to maintain the distinction between injection-induced and hydraulic fracturing-induced earthquakes, or we may take the wrong action to solve the problem. Should the OGS and Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) staff find further Oklahoma examples of such earthquakes, the OCC will take action. The current issue of injection-induced seismicity must take precedence.”
When you hear supposedly solid sources blaming hydraulic fracturing for earthquakes, remember the facts don’t support the accusations. Fracking isn’t causing Oklahoma’s increased earthquakes.
Commentary by Marita Noon
University of Michigan’s Energy Institute research professor John DeCicco, Ph.D., believes that rising carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming and, therefore, humans must find a way to reduce its levels in the atmosphere – but ethanol is the wrong solution. According to his just-released study, political support for biofuels, particularly ethanol, has exacerbated the problem instead of being the cure it was advertised to be.
DeCicco and his co-authors assert: “Contrary to popular belief, the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas emitted when biofuels are burned is not fully balanced by the CO2 uptake that occurs as the plants grow.” The presumption that biofuels emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases (GHG) than gasoline does is, according to DeCicco: “misguided.”
His research, three years in the making, including extensive peer-review, has upended the conventional wisdom and angered the alternative fuel lobbyists. The headline-grabbing claim is that biofuels are worse for the climate than gasoline.
Past bipartisan support for ethanol was based on two, now false, assumptions.
First, based on fears of waning oil supplies, alternative fuels were promoted to increase energy security. DeCicco points out: “Every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has backed programs to develop alternative transportation fuels.” Now, in the midst of a global oil glut, we know that hydraulic fracturing has been the biggest factor in America’s new era of energy abundance – not biofuels. Additionally, ethanol has been championed for its perceived reduction in GHG. Using a new approach, DeCicco and his researchers, conclude: “rising U.S. biofuel use has been associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.”
DeCicco has been focused on this topic for nearly a decade. In 2007, when the Energy Independence and Security Act (also known as the expanded ethanol mandate) was in the works, he told me: “I realized that something seemed horribly amiss with a law that established a sweeping mandate which rested on assumptions, not scientific fact, that were unverified and might be quite wrong, even though they were commonly accepted and politically correct (and politically convenient).” Having spent 20 years as a green group scientist, DeCicco has qualified green bona fides. From that perspective he saw that while biofuels sounded good, no one had checked the math.
Previously, based on life cycle analysis (LCA), it has been assumed that crop-based biofuels, were not just carbon neutral, but actually offered modest net GHG reductions. This, DeCicco says, is the “premise of most climate related fuel policies promulgated to date, including measures such as the LCFS [California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard] and RFS [the federal Renewable Fuel Standard passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007].”
The DeCicco study differs from LCA – which assumes that any carbon dioxide released from a vehicle’s tailpipe as a result of burning biofuel is absorbed from the atmosphere by the growing of the crop. In LCA, biofuel use is modeled as a static system, one presumed to be in equilibrium with the atmosphere in terms of its material carbon flow. The Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use study uses Annual Basis Carbon (ABC) accounting – which does not treat biofuels as inherently carbon neutral. Instead, it treats biofuels as “part of a dynamic stock-and-flow system.” Its methodology “tallies CO2 emissions based on the chemistry in the specific locations where they occur.” In May, on my radio program, DeCicco explained: “Life Cycle Analysis is wrong because it fails to actually look at what is going on at the farms.”
In short, DeCicco told me: “Biofuels get a credit they didn’t deserve; instead they leave a debit.”
The concept behind DeCicco’s premise is that the idea of ethanol being carbon neutral assumes that the ground where the corn is grown was barren dirt (without any plants removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) before the farmer decided to plant corn for ethanol. If that were the case, then, yes, planting corn on that land, converting that corn to ethanol that is then burned as a vehicle fuel, might come close to being carbon neutral. But the reality is that land already had corn, or some other crop, growing on it – so that land’s use was already absorbing CO2. You can’t count it twice.
DeCicco explains “Growing the corn that becomes ethanol absorbs no more carbon from the air than the corn that goes into cattle feed or corn flakes. Burning the ethanol releases essentially the same amount of CO2 as burning gasoline. No less CO2 went into the air from the tailpipe; no more CO2 was removed from the air at the cornfield. So where’s the climate benefit?”
Much of that farmland was growing corn to feed cattle and chickens – also known as feedstock. The RFS requires an ever-increasing amount of ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. Since the RFS became law in 2005, the amount of land dedicated to growing corn for ethanol has increased from 12.4 percent of the overall corn crop to 38.6 percent. While the annual supply of corn has increased by 17 percent, the amount going into feedstock has decreased from 57.5 percent to 37.98% – as a graphic from the Detroit Free Press illustrates.
The rub comes from the fact that we are not eating less. Globally, more food is required, not less. The livestock still needs to be fed. So while the percentage of corn going into feedstock in the U.S. has decreased because of the RFS, that corn is now grown somewhere else. DeCicco explained: “When you rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter has to get his resource from someplace else.” One such place is Brazil where previous pasture land, because it is already flat, has been converted to growing crops. Ranchers have been pushed out to what was forest and deforestation is taking place.
Adding to the biofuels-are-worse-than-
DeCicco says: “it is this domino effect that makes ethanol worse.”
How much worse?
The study looks at the period with the highest increase in ethanol production due to the RFS: 2005-2013 (remember, the study took three years). The research provides an overview of eight years of overall climate impacts of America’s multibillion-dollar biofuel industry. It doesn’t address issues such as increased fertilizer use and the subsequent water pollution.
The conclusion is that the increased carbon dioxide uptake by the crops was only enough to offset 37 percent of the CO2 emissions due to biofuel combustion – meaning “rising U.S. biofuel use has been associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.”
Instead of a “disco-era ‘anything but oil’ energy policy,” DeCicco’s research finds, that while further work is needed to examine the research and policy implications going forward, “it makes more sense to soak up CO2 through reforestation and redouble efforts to protect forests rather than producing biofuels, which puts carbon rich lands at risk.”
Regardless of differing views on climate change, we can generally agree that more trees are a good thing and that “using government mandates and subsidies to promote politically favored fuels de jour is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
I find the controversy over Governor Hogan’s executive order mandating that Maryland public schools begin classes after Labor Day and wrap up by the following June 15 to be a good opportunity for commentary, so I decided to add my couple pennies.
First of all, this isn’t a new idea. In 2015 and 2016 legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a similar mandate. As proof of how Annapolis works, the 2015 versions only got House and Senate hearings but the 2016 versions picked up the remaining local House delegation as sponsors (only Delegates Mary Beth Carozza and Charles Otto were local co-sponsors in 2015) and got a Senate committee vote. (It failed on a 5-5 tie, with one of the Republicans on the committee being excused. The other two voted in favor.) There was a chance this legislation may have made it through in 2017, but apparently Hogan was unwilling to take the risk. He took the opportunity to make a news event at a perfect time – when most local districts were already a week or two into school, Larry announced this from the Ocean City boardwalk on a pleasant beach day – and showed he was willing to stand up for one of his principles, that being improving opportunities for small business. (At a minimum, with Hogan’s edict kids are off for 11 weeks for summer vacation.)
In reality, what Hogan has done is shift the calendar backward by about a week: for example, Wicomico County public school kids had their last day of school June 9 and returned August 29 and 30. But the thought process is that families are more likely to take a vacation in July and August than they are in June, so because Ocean City is a great tourist attraction the state should follow Worcester County’s lead and begin school after Labor Day. (They simply went an extra week into June, concluding on June 17 this year.)
Granted, our family has enjoyed a post-Labor Day start for a number of years since parochial schools have more calendar flexibility: our child began her summer vacation after classes ended June 3 and returns on Tuesday the 6th. Growing up, I seem to recall the city schools I attended began after Labor Day and went into June but the rural school I graduated from began classes in late August and was done by Memorial Day. (We had a longer Labor Day weekend, though, because our county fair runs that weekend and the Tuesday after Labor Day was Junior Fair Day. Thirty-odd years later, it still is.) The point is that each of these localities knows what works best, so I can understand the objection from those who advocate local control of school schedules. And talk about strange bedfellows: I’m sure many of those praising Hogan’s statewide mandate locally are also those who have fought for local control of our Board of Education - after at least ten years of trying, we finally have a chance for local control (as opposed to appointments by the Governor) over our Board of Education through a referendum this November. (I recommend a vote for the fully-elected Option 2 on Question A.)
So I agree with the objections on those grounds, even though I personally think a post-Labor Day start is a good idea based on the school calendar typically used. (If I truly had my way, though, we would adopt a 45-15 style plan so that summer break is somewhat shorter and kids spend less time relearning what they forgot over the break.) What I don’t see as productive are those who whine about how this would affect preparation for particular tests – that shouldn’t be the overall goal of education. Obviously they would be the first to blame the calendar (and by extension, Larry Hogan) if test scores went down. But Hogan’s not alienating a group that was squarely in his corner anyway, as the teachers’ unions almost reflexively endorse Democrats, including his 2014 opponent, and mislead Marylanders about education spending. It’s increased with each Hogan budget - just not enough to fund every desire the teachers have.
Come January, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats attempt to rescind this executive order through legislative means, daring Hogan to veto it so they can override the veto and hand him a political loss a year out from the election. While most Marylanders are fine with the change, the Democrats are beholden to the one political group that seems to object and those special interests tend to call the tune for the General Assembly majority.
Yet the idea that the state feels the need to dictate an opening and closing date to local school districts is just another way they are exerting control over the counties. We object when they tell us how to do our local planning, so perhaps as a makeup for this change our governor needs to rescind the PlanMaryland regime in Annapolis.
Commentary by Marita Noon
If a country’s goal is to decrease carbon emissions by increasing reliance on renewable energy, it only makes sense to install the new equipment in the location with the best potential – both in geography and government.
For Australia, which has a national Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 33,000 gigawatt hours of electricity generated by defined renewable sources by 2020, South Australia (SA) is that place. According to SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, who is also the Energy Minister, the federal government had determined that SA is where “the best conditions for wind farms” could be found. The state government was amenable, with SA Premier Jay Wetherill promising to make Adelaide, its capitol city, “the first ‘carbon neutral’ city by 2050.” The state’s RET is for 50 percent renewable energy by 2025. Wetherall, in 2014, claimed: “This new target of half of the state’s power to be generated by renewable sources will create jobs and drive capital investment and advanced manufacturing industries.”
In reality, SA has now found that talk is cheap, but renewable energy isn’t.
The decision to set a 50 percent renewable target is now being called “foolish,” by Tony Wood, an analyst at think-tank Grattan Institute, and “complete naivety and foolishness” according to Lindsay Partridge, chief executive at Brickworks, one of the nation’s leading providers of building products.
Now the largest producer of wind power, SA has enough installed capacity that, under ideal conditions, it could meet 100 percent of the current electricity demand. “However, wind generation tends to be lower at times of maximum demand,” according to the Australian Energy Regulator. “In South Australia, wind typically contributes 10 percent of its registered capacity during peaks in summer demand.” In fact, on some days, Jo Nova explains, they actually “suck electricity instead of generating it.”
Last month, SA experienced an energy crisis that The Australian, the country’s largest newspaper, blamed on “an over-reliance of untrustworthy and expensive wind and solar.” The paper warned that the federal RET “will force other states down the path taken by South Australia, which has the highest and most variable energy prices in the national electricity grid.” Nova adds: “South Australia has more ‘renewable’ wind power than anywhere else in Australia. They also have the highest electricity bills, the highest unemployment, the largest number of ‘failures to pay’ and disconnections. Coincidence?”
In July, the confluence of several factors resulted in a huge spike in electricity prices – as much as 100 times the norm.
In May, pushed out of the market by subsidized wind, SA’s last coal-fueled power plant was closed. Even before then, The Australian reported electricity prices were “at least 50 percent higher than in any other state.” According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, the average daily spot price in SA was $46.82 per megawatt hour. After the power plant was turned off: $80.47. In June: $123.10 – more than double the previous year. In July: $262.97.
Fred Moore, CEO of SA components manufacturer Alfon Engineering, addressing the electricity price hikes that are smashing small and medium business, says his latest electricity contract had increased by almost 50 percent. Until the end of May, his businesses electricity bill was about $3,000 a month and is now about $4,500 a month. He says: “I don’t know how long the company is going to be able to afford it.”
As a result of the loss of coal, when there’s no wind or sun, SA is now reliant on natural gas generation and from coal-fueled electricity being imported through a single connector from neighboring Victoria.
In part, due to a calm, cold winter (weather that is not favorable to wind farms), natural gas demand is high and so are prices. Additionally, the Heywood interconnector was in the midst of being upgraded – which lowered capacity for the coal-fueled electricity on which SA relies. Because of SA’s abandoning coal-fueled electricity generation and its increased reliance on wind, The Australian reports: “The national energy market regulator has warned that South Australia is likely to face continued price volatility and ‘significantly lower’ electricity availability.”
Then came the brutal cold snap, which caused more folks to turn on their electric heaters – thus driving up demand. The left-leaning, Labour state officials were prompted to plead for more reliable fossil-fuel-generated power. With the connector constrained, the only option was to turn on a mothballed gas-fueled power station – a very expensive exercise. The gas plant had been shut down because of what amounts to dispatch priority policies – meaning if renewable energy is available, it must get used, pushing natural gas into a back-up power source. This, combined with the subsidized wind power, made the plant unprofitable. The Australian Financial Review (AFR) explains: “Energy experts say South Australia’s heavy reliance on wind energy is compounding its problems in two ways, first by forcing the remaining baseload generators to earn more revenue in shorter periods of time when the wind isn’t blowing, and secondly by forcing baseload coal and gas generators out of the market altogether.”
Big industrial users, who are the most affected by the power crisis, are “furious about the spike in higher power prices.” According to AFR, Adelaide Brighton Cement, one of the few energy-intensive manufacturing industries still operating in South Australia, said the fluctuating price was hurting business. “As a competitor in a global market, it is essential for us to have access to the availability of uninterrupted economically competitive power.” In The Australian, Jacqui McGill, BHP’s Olympic Dam asset manager, agrees: “We operate in a global market…to be competitive globally, we need globally competitive pricing for inputs, of which energy is one.” The report adds that some major businesses in SA warn of possible shutdowns due to higher power prices – the result of a rushed transition to increased renewable energy. The Adelaide Advertiser reported: “some of the state’s biggest employers were close to temporarily closing due to surging SA electricity prices making business too expensive.” Not the job creation promised by Wetherall.
“Of course, if you were some sort of contrarian eccentric,” writes Judith Sloan, Contributing Economics Editor for The Australian, “you could argue that escalating electricity prices, at both the wholesale and retail level, have made manufacturing in Australia increasingly uncompetitive and so the RET has indirectly contributed to the meeting of the emissions reduction target – but not in a good way.”
The SA energy crisis serves as a wake-up call and a warning to the other states, as the problem is, according to Koutsantonis, “coming to New South Wales and Victoria very soon.” But it should also, as the Financial Times reports: “provide lessons to nations rapidly increasing investment in renewables.”
Malcolm Roberts, CEO at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, called the situation in SA a “test case” for integrating large scale renewable energy generation into the electricity grid. According to Keith Orchison, former managing director of the Electricity Supply Association of Australia (from 1991 to 2003), now retired and working as a consultant and as the publisher of Coolibah Commentary newsletter and “This is Power” blog, current policy is driven by “ideology, politicking and populism.”
Roberts added: “No technology is perfect. Coal is great for base-load power, but it’s not so great for peak demand but gas is well suited for meeting peak demand. You need gas as an insurance policy for more renewables.” Even the Clean Energy Council’s chief executive, Kane Thornton, in the AFR, “conceded conventional power generation such as gas would most likely be needed as a back-up.”
Perhaps the best explanation for SA’s energy crisis came from the Australian Energy Council, formerly the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, which called it an: “accidental experiment in how far you can push technologies such as wind and solar power in to an electricity grid before something breaks.” According to Orchison: “The council says that intermittent renewables at scale reduces carbon emissions but ultimately increases end-user prices and system reliability risks.”
On August 13, The Economist, in an article titled It’s not easy being green, addressed the three goals of Germany’s energy transformation: “to keep energy supply reliable; to make it affordable; and to clean it up to save the environment, with a target of cutting emissions by 95% between 1990 and 2050.” All three of which, Clemens Fuest, of the Munich-based Ifo Institute think tank, says, “will be missed.” He calls Germany “an international example for bad energy policy.” Now we can add South Australia, and, perhaps, most of Australia, as another.
This is the result, Orchison says, of “pursuing a purist view at the political expense of power reliability.”
The question remains: will America learn from these bad examples, or will we continue down the path President Obama has pushed us onto – spending billions, achieving little environmental benefit, and raising rates on households and industry? The result of November’s election will provide the answer.