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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Commentary by Marita Noon
What is the “biggest unfinished business for the Obama administration?” According to a report from Bill McKibben, the outspoken climate alarmist who calls for all fossil fuels to be kept in the ground, it is “to establish tight rules on methane emissions” – emissions that he blames on the “rapid spread of fracking.”
McKibben calls methane emissions a “disaster.” He claims “methane is much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide” and that it does more damage to the climate than coal. Methane, CH4, is the primary component of natural gas.
Apparently, his progressive friends in California agree, as they are now, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ): “seeking to curb the natural gas emanating from dairy farms” – more specifically cow manure and flatulence. The August 12 editorial says that the California Air Resources Board “suggests that dairy farms purchase technology to capture methane and then sell the biogas to customers.” It acknowledges that the supposed cure would only be cost-effective with “substantial government subsidies and regulatory credits.” WSJ points out that while California’s proposed regulations might produce the “least GHG intensive” gallon of milk in the world, it would also be the “most expensive.”
To buttress his anti-fracking argument, McKibben is selective on which studies he cites. He starts with a paper from “Harvard researchers” that shows increased methane emissions between 2002 and 2014 but doesn’t pinpoint the source of the methane. He, then, relies heavily on “a series of papers” from known fracking opponents: Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. Within his report, McKibben mentions Howarth’s bias, but, I believe, intentionally never mentions Ingraffea’s. Earlier this year, in sworn testimony, Ingraffea admitted he’d be lying if he said that every one of his papers on shale gas was “entirely objective.” Additionally, a group that Ingraffa co-founded and for which he serves as Board Chair, Emeritus: Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, received, at least, tens of thousands of dollars in coordination with wealthy foundations to support the broad movement of opposition to shale gas drilling.
Because of bias, McKibben claims to reach out to an “impeccably moderate referee”: Dan Lashof. Mckibben then goes on to report on Lashof as having been “in the inner circles of climate policy almost since it began.” In addition to writing reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and crafting Obama’s plan to cut “coal plant pollution,” Lashof was the “longtime head of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council” and he now serves as COO for “billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America.” Lashof is hardly an “impeccably moderate referee.”
Because McKibben goes to great lengths trying to appear balanced in his conclusions, a casual reader of his report might think the research cited is all there is and, therefore, agree with his cataclysmic views. Fortunately, as a just-released paper makes clear, much more research needs to be considered before cementing public policy, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s “tight rules on methane emissions.”
In the 28 peer-reviewed pages (with nearly 70 footnotes) of Bill McKibben’s terrifying disregard for fracking facts, Isaac Orr, research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute, states: “Although McKibben – a journalist, not a scientist – accurately identifies methane as being exceptionally good at capturing heat in Earth’s atmosphere, his ‘the-sky-is-falling’ analysis is based on cherry-picking data useful to his cause, selectively interpreting the results of other studies, ignoring contradicting data, and failing to acknowledge the real uncertainties in our understanding of how much methane is entering the atmosphere. In the end, methane emissions aren’t nearly as terrifying as McKibben claims.”
In the Heartland Institute Policy Brief, Orr explains why it has been difficult to achieve consistent readings on methane emissions: “Tools have been developed only recently to measure accurately methane emissions, with new and better equipment progressively replacing less perfect methods.” He then details the various methods:
- Direct measurement of emissions, on-site, identifies methane emissions from specific sources;
- Ambient Air Monitoring uses aerial surveys, allows large areas to be surveyed, with results affected by uncertainties;
- Life-Cycle Analyses draw on multiple sources to provide an integrated measure of emissions from the entire natural gas value chain; and
- Meta-Analyses combine the results of multiple studies using different methodologies or databases to search for overarching trends, recurring facts, and robust findings.
Throughout the section on methodology, Orr draws attention to the results of the various techniques – which he says shows “great uncertainty about how much methane is entering the atmosphere, how much is produced by oil-and-natural gas production, and how emissions can be managed in the future.” He also points out that more than 75 studies examining methane emissions from oil and gas systems have been done, yet “McKibben chose an outdated study [Howarth/Ingraffea] that used unrealistic assumptions and reached inaccurate conclusions.” Additionally: “Natural gas producers have a powerful economic motive to reduce methane leakage and use technologies that capture methane emissions during the drilling and well completion phase.”
Orr calls McKibben’s assertions that methane emissions are from the oil-and-gas sector: “simplistic” and “inappropriate.” Regarding the Harvard study, he explains: “Estimating the contributions from different source types and regions is difficult because there are many different sources of methane, and those sources overlap in the same spatial area. For example, methane is produced naturally in wetlands – and it is worth noting that environmentalists support ‘restoring’ wetlands despite the increases in methane emissions this would cause. Methane also is produced by agriculture through growing rice and raising livestock, fast-growing activities in developing countries. This makes it difficult to calculate exactly where methane is coming from and what sources should be controlled.”
Based on McKibben’s approach, other sections of The Heartland report include: Methane and Global Warming, Repeating Gasland Falsehoods, and What’s the Fracking Alternative – with the latter being my favorite.
Because McKibben’s ultimate goal is to keep fossil fuels in the ground, he goes to great lengths to support how wind and solar – the fracking alternatives – have progressed (an argument that Orr takes apart). However, a careful read of McKibben’s version of the story reveals that he acknowledges that his preferred energy sources are uneconomic. Within his report, McKibben admits that fracking has “brought online new shale deposits across the continent.” He sarcastically derides politicians who viewed fracking as a win-win situation by suggesting they were cynically saying they “could appease the environmentalists with their incessant yammering about climate change without having to run up the cost of electricity.”
McKibben even attacks President Obama’s support of natural gas – made abundant thanks to the companion technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. (He’s not too happy with Secretary Clinton’s efforts either.) Here are a few of the key phrases McKibben uses in that paragraph: (Note: McKibben sees these as negatives.)
- “The fracking boom offered one of the few economic bright spots”;
- “Manufacturing jobs were actually returning from overseas, attracted by newly abundant energy”; and
- “The tool that made restrictions on coal palatable.”
Combine these McKibben statements and he is clearly aware that his plan will take away one of the few economic bright spots; that due to higher priced electricity, manufacturing jobs will leave our shores; and coal regulations will be unpalatable. While McKibben touts the oft-mentioned line about Denmark generating 42 percent of its power from wind, Orr reminds us that the figure only accounts for electricity – not total energy. When factoring in all of Denmark’s energy consumption, wind, solar, and geothermal only account for 5 percent of the energy mix and, as Orr explains, Denmark has the highest electricity rates in Europe and is still dependent on fossil fuels for the vast majority of its energy.
I am often asked why the anti-fossil fuel crowd has so recently turned against the decades-old technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has provided such economic and environmental benefits and has become even safer due to ever-increasing advances. In his report, McKibben states what is essentially the answer I often give: “One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables.” It has upset the entire world-view of people like McKibben who’d banked on oil and natural gas being scarce – and therefore expensive. In that paradigm, wind and solar power would be the saviors. Now they are an expensive redundancy.
Worrying about whether methane emissions come from oil-and-gas activities, from agriculture, such as cow flatulence or rice farming, or from naturally occurring seeps may seem irrelevant to the average energy consumer’s day. However, when you consider that long-term, expensive public policy is being based on this topic, it is important to be informed fairly and accurately – and to communicate with your elected officials accordingly.
Commentary by Marita Noon
If you get your news from the mainstream media, you likely think the views expressed by the environmental activists represent the majority of Americans. After all, their highly visible protests against the Keystone pipeline – sit-ins in front of the White House, locking themselves to the White House fence and then being arrested for it, and parading down the National Mall carrying a huge inflated tube emblazoned with the words: “Just say no to Keystone” – were effective. Despite repeated polling that showed a majority of Americans supported the pipeline, with a small minority opposed, the loud theatrics of the anti-fossil fuel crowd eventually won out. After years of stall tactics, President Obama finally bowed to their demands and said no to the job-creating infrastructure project.
Earlier this year, the usual group of suspects, led by well-known anti-fracking activist Bill McKibben, planned a “global wave of resistance” called BreakFree2016 - scheduled to take place from May 3-15 – on six continents. The event’s website announced the various activities, including an appearance and speech by McKibben, a Vermont resident, at the Colorado rally that promised: the “largest mass mobilizations for climate action in the history of Colorado.” It confirmed that there would be “civil disobedience.”
Did you hear about it? Probably not.
A news report of the planned Colorado activities said: “And on May 14, 350 Colorado is planning a day of speeches, live music and activities protesting oil and gas developments close to neighborhoods and schools in Thornton. The goal is to draw 1,000 people to the upcoming events.” The website, post-event, states: “about 800 people joined the action throughout the day” with “about 30-40 people” still there at the end of the day for the dramatic “frack-site” invasion. Yet, as even their own Facebook page photos indicate, not even 100 were present for the big McKibben speech. Without vendors and media, he may have had no audience at all.
After flying in to Denver, and then being driven to the protest site in a limousine, McKibben jetted off to Los Angeles, California, where he was joined by the greens’ “Daddy Warbucks,” billionaire political campaign donor Tom Steyer – with much the same results: a few hundred protesting fossil fuels and, as Energy In Depth reported, “the very social and economic underpinnings of liberal democracy.” The typical anti-everything protestors were present – but only a few.
In Iowa, as I addressed last week, a meeting of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition – which according to the organizer includes those with “concerns about the impact it could have on the environment, farmers who worry about their cropland and religious groups who view expanding use of fossil fuels as a moral issue because of climate change” – expected a crowd of 200. Instead, according to the Ottumwa Courier, “only 40 or so were seated when the meeting began. Others trickled in as the meeting progressed.”
Now, Colorado is ground zero for “one of the biggest environmental fights in the country this year,” as Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director for Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for safety in food production and oil and gas production, called it. Two ballot initiatives, 75 and 78, have the potential to, according to Colorado regulators, “effectively halt new oil and gas development in as much as 90 percent of the state.” In order to get the initiatives on the ballot, 98,492 valid signatures needed to be turned into the Colorado Secretary of State by August 8 – no later than 3:00 p.m.
In June, The Tribune reported that Tricia Olson, who has pumped in most of the funding for a group backing initiatives 75 and 78, hoped to “collect 160,000 signatures to account for the invalid signatures that inevitably pop up.” (Politico just announced: “recent campaign finance reports were filed with the Colorado secretary of state, the Sierra Club gave $150,000, making it the largest single reported contributor to the anti-fracking effort.”)
Because the Colorado Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on May 2, declared local fracking limits “invalid and unenforceable,” as state law trumps local ordinances, Olson sees the ballot initiatives as their “last ditch effort.”
On Monday, August 8, exercising stagecraft, at 2:30 p.m., dozens of supporters emptied a U-Haul truck and delivered box after box of signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. They celebrated their “victory.” 350 Colorado, one of the groups behind the measures, proclaimed: “We did it! Over 100,000 signatures delivered on initiatives to limit fracking!” – not the 160,000 originally hoped for, and likely not enough to get on the ballot in November.
By CBS Denver’s accounting about 105,000 signatures were turned in – most in half empty boxes. Lynn Bartels, Colorado Secretary of State Communications Director, tweeted: “Proponents of fracking measures turned in lots of boxes with very few petitions in them.” Once the petitions were consolidated, there were roughly 50 empty boxes. Simon Lomax, an associate energy policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute in Denver and a consultant who advises pro-business groups, said: “To make it look more impressive they added a bunch of empty boxes, or boxes with very few petitions. It just sort of shows, these groups don’t do substance, they just do deceptive publicity stunts.”
On CBS Denver, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler explained that since you need about 98,000 signatures to get on the ballot because, for a variety of reasons, at least 30 percent are rejected, you need to submit at least 140,000. He says that for the 105,000 signatures turned in to qualify would be “unprecedented,” something that “has never occurred in Colorado for a ballot initiative.” According to Gessler, the effort is “doomed” – though we will not know for sure until next month when the final counts are released.
Noted election reporter and national affairs columnist for the National Review, John Fund, told me: “If there is enough public support for an issue to get the votes needed to pass, getting a surplus of signatures to get it on the ballot is an easy task.”
Many Democrats, including Governor John Hickenlooper, support hydraulic fracturing and have come out against the ballot initiatives. Politico posits that because mainstream environmentalists “fear that their movement will suffer a demoralizing defeat if the two proposals make it in front of the voters,” they “hope the ballot initiatives will die instead.” Additionally, “A decisive referendum on oil and gas production would increase calls for [Hillary] Clinton to explicitly take a side.” She’s previously aligned with 75 and 78 – which could spoil her attempts to attract moderate Republicans she’ll need to win the state.
Despite their drama and declared “victory,” it doesn’t seem that the Colorado anti-fossil fuel crowd has enough signatures, or support, to make it onto the November ballot. They may be loud, but, alas, they are few.
The mailing had everything needed for the shock value: a worried-looking senior citizen juxtaposed over a stack of paper stamped “DENIED.” “Worried About Government Bureaucracy Restricting Your Medicare?” it asked. If the piece of paper could listen I would tell it that I’m not even counting on having Medicare when I get to that age, but I figured this may be a fun bit of research and exploration to do. “Okay, I’ll bite,” I thought.
The mailing came to both my wife Kim and I as two separate “families” and was paid for by the American Action Network (AAN). So my first question was obvious: who is the American Action Network? According to Wikipedia, the AAN is “a nonprofit issue advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. which promotes center-right public policy. It was established in 2010 by Fred Malek and Norm Coleman as a 501(c)(4) organization.” On their behalf, the AAN argues its “primary goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.” So the heart must be the center and the mind must be right?
In essence, it’s a group similar to one I pointed out last week, Americans for Limited Government. AAN may have fancier digs and a larger mailing list and donor base, but they are just another of the thousands of issue advocacy groups orbiting around the capital region – one that has $1.7 million to spend on sending a piece that specifically asked me to, “Tell Congressman Andy Harris to Continue His Fight to Protect Your Medicare.” Since both Kim and I are registered as Republicans, I’m thinking the list was culled to specifically target GOP voters and it wouldn’t shock me if they also narrowed this mailing to only reach those over 50 (as Kim and I both are.) According to AAN, 61 districts in 27 states were targeted for the advocacy campaign, for a total cost (with print and digital ads) of $4.8 million.
To be specific, the mailing advocated the passage of two bills: H.R. 1190, which is better known as the Protect Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act of 2015, and H.R. 5122, which doesn’t have a fancy title but is intended “To prohibit further action on the proposed rule regarding testing of Medicare part B prescription drug models.” Harris (as well as every other Republican present, and 11 Democrats) voted for the former bill last year, but it’s been bottled up in the Senate.
H.R. 1190 has two purposes: one is the termination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (or, in the words of Sarah Palin, the “death panels”) while the other cuts billions of dollars in spending on the Prevention and Public Health Fund over the next decade. But because Barack Obama isn’t going to agree with this anyway, it’s apparent that the bill will go nowhere in the Senate (they won’t even make it past the cloture vote.)
The second bill, H.R. 5122, would eliminate spending on a proposed rule, which is 33 pages to explain that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to try a new method of payment for certain drugs administered to Medicare patients as a trial program. The overall idea is to encourage the use of lower-priced drugs, since the authors of the rule contend the providers use more expensive medications to take advantage of a flat 6 percent reimbursement rate. As an experiment, the rate would go down to 2.5% plus a flat $16 additional reimbursement. After its introduction the bill has apparently sat in a desk drawer someplace because no vote has been taken on it.
Yet AAN objects to both bills, and ”calls on seniors to advocate for two key legislative priorities: (1) H.R. 5122, to prevent the Obama Administration from changing the Medicare Part B payment policy for treatments, and (2) H.R. 1190, to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Both bills will block bureaucrats from imposing harmful changes to Medicare that could threaten seniors’ access to care.”
So I investigated further, and found a missive Coleman wrote last month about this and other issues. Among the things Coleman said:
Despite assurances that ObamaCare would be the end all, be all, for health care reform in America, we now know that it is simply collapsing in on itself. Insurers are fleeing the system - premiums are increasing - and recent court rulings have undermined the credibility of the financial assumptions used by liberals to justify the creation of ObamaCare.
All this is true. Yet Coleman goes on:
In the end, America doesn’t need only to reform government.
We need to reform the notion that government is the solution to our problems or the key to our future prosperity.
Again, truer words have never been spoken. But the premise of the AAN mailing is that of protecting a government program by appealing to the beneficiaries. (A subsidiary site operated by AAN and promoted on the mailing makes this clear: DontCutOurMedicare.com.) If government isn’t the solution to our problem, one would think AAN would be looking to repeal Medicare entirely (over a relatively lengthy sunset period, of course) to truly reform the notion that Americans should depend on our government for health care or feel entitled to it. At the very most, the idea of Medicare should be no more than a state-level initiative – if the people of Maryland want a lavish senior care program, let them adopt it as their own. However, those in Delaware may feel differently.
So the definition of “center-right” seems to be the same sore subject that millions of Donald Trump voters used as their excuse to vote against the “establishment.” While they have selected a deeply flawed vessel to amplify their message, it seems those frustrated voters are looking more for the “right” than the “center,” since all the center seems to be is the maintenance of a failed status quo.
On the other hand, one can argue that their objection is not about government involvement, but instead only a complaint about the originator of the idea. They don’t seem to have the same issues with the Medicare Part D program enacted under Republican President George W. Bush – which is, in some respects, similar to the pilot program H.R. 5122 seeks to defund because Part D tends to reward the usage of less expensive medication. It’s still the federal government subsidizing health care, but it was done in the name of a centrist ”compassionate conservatism” instead of the leftward ”fundamental change to America.”
To me, it’s very ironic that a group which wants to back away from the idea that our government is a solution sends out a directive to appeal to our very conservative representative to maintain a costly government entitlement program. Even more so, those who complain “don’t touch our Medicare” would be the first to object to expanding eligibility to cover those over 50 years of age, in part because it’s Hillary Clinton’s idea. (Trump seems to favor the Medicare status quo with a few tweaks, which may explain why much of the AAN target audience is his support base.)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is figuring out where they got $4.8 million for the campaign. We have a few clues, but the backers of this group aren’t being very public about it. So if they were looking for exposure, I suppose this piece is added value to them. But I must say: the “center” of their “center-right” really comes out with this one, particularly if you consider the center as our current situation – a President pulling to the left and Congress mildly countering to the right. Then again, to AAN we are only a “democracy” anyway, so at the moment the people want largesse from the public treasury, with AAN’s large donors perhaps trying to preserve their cut of the proceeds.
While those on the Left, such as writer Igor Volsky, celebrated Medicare as a success and believe the issue is settled, I happen to think those Volsky cites who argued against the concept when it was first proposed over 50 years ago were proven correct. Volsky also quotes an exchange between then-Congressman Mike Pence and journalist Andrea Mitchell:
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) explained his opposition to a new public health care option by arguing that Medicare spending has exceeded actuarial estimates from 1965. As Andrea Mitchell pointed out, somewhat jokingly, “I don’t know if you want to go back to Indiana and campaign against Medicare.”
Obviously those on the center-right don’t want to, so it’s going to take decades of re-education on the concepts of liberty and personal responsibility to counter the effects of the entitlement mentality society we live in today. Some may consider Medicare a success and wish it saved, but to achieve the rightsizing of government we need it’s clear Newt Gingrich was correct: Medicare does need to “wither on the vine.” Given the sheer number of insurance companies that now cater to the senior market, the problem Medicare was created to “solve” can easily be addressed by the private sector.
Commentary by Marita Noon
Final federal approval for what is being called the “new Keystone” came from the Army Corps of Engineers on July 26 – allowing the pipeline to move forward. The 1,168-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), also called the Bakken Pipeline, is comparable in length to the Keystone XL. It will cross four states and carry 450,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to a transfer terminal in Illinois where it will connect with other pipelines and be taken to refineries.
The $3.8 billion dollar project has pitted environmentalists against economic interests.
During the Keystone fight, outspoken opponent Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, said: “In America we should be focused on making sure that the oil in North Dakota, Oklahoma, and others, in Montana, that that oil is getting to market.” Now, thanks to DAPL, America’s oil will have a safer way to get “to market” – freeing up as many as 750 train cars a day to transport corn, soybeans, and grain. However, as soon as DAPL came on the scene, they moved the marker, and environmental opposition was mounted. Bold Iowa, a group that shares a website with Kleeb’s Bold Nebraska, says it has members willing to risk arrest in “nonviolent protests.” They are also training monitors to report any environmental violations or hazards.
On August 1, nine pieces of heavy equipment – excavators and bulldozers – were set on fire at three different DAPL construction sites, causing $3 million in damage. At the time of this writing, no arrests have been made. Additionally, protestors have gathered on the grounds of the North Dakota Capitol, calling for Governor Jack Dalrymple and legislators to put a halt to construction of the pipeline until their lawsuits are addressed.
On its “Stop the Bakken Pipeline” page, the Iowa Sierra Club posted: “A new pipeline will delay the US transition to clean and renewable energy and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The United States needs to move away from fossil fuel extractions and to energy sources that have less impact on climate change.”
The Club’s position sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton’s. When she finally came out against Keystone, she said: “We need to be transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy.” She called the pipeline “a distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.”
Opposition, however, is not as broad-based as the environmental groups had hoped for. At an April meeting of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition in Iowa, organizers were disappointed. Chairs were set up for 200, but only about 40 “trickled in.” In the four states the pipeline will cross, more than 90 percent, on average, of the landowners signed the voluntary easement agreements.
At its peak, the DAPL’s construction is expected to involve as many as 4,000 workers in each state and will require the purchase of $200 million in American-made heavy construction and related equipment from Caterpillar, Deere, and Vermeer.
Cory Bryson, Business Agent for Laborers Local 563 reports: “We’ve been inundated with calls from all over the country from people wanting to work on this pipeline project. Mainline pipeline projects like Dakota Access provide excellent working opportunities for our members and tremendous wages. The Laborers excel at this work.” No wonder men and women want to travel to the pipeline’s locale, some workers, most without college degrees, brag about banking $2,000-5,000 a week.
In Illinois, the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce has assembled hundreds of packets with information including restaurants, health-care facilities, RV sites, and laundromats. Executive Director Lisa Musch reports that her office has been receiving calls for months from people looking for rental properties. Teriann Gutierrez, owner of Buena Vista Farms, a resort-campground, and a retired plastics engineer, says: “I’ve been full since the beginning of April.” She told me the boost in population is bringing a lot of money into the community that has been hit hard with the loss of manufacturing jobs. DAPL is putting a lot of local people to work. Gutierrez is very thankful as the boom means she’ll be able to pay down debt.
“Like any major construction project, the DAPL will create, and more importantly maintain, high paying American jobs throughout the supply chain and throughout the nation,” North Dakota’s at-large Congressman Kevin Cramer said. “I’ve seen the crews that work on building the line and they take great pride in their craft. They spend money in local, usually rural, communities throughout the route. The steel suppliers and equipment manufacturers and distributors are just a few of the links in the chain. Everybody from fry cooks to hotel owners to financers are affected. Perhaps, most importantly, in a low price crude market, the economics of moving oil by the most efficient and safe manner possible preserves jobs on the production side of the equation as well.”
While DAPL is already creating lots of jobs, it is just one of many pipeline projects in the works that could be bringing much needed economic development to other communities and high-paying jobs for American workers. Gutierrez explained that, according to the workers staying at Buena Vista Farms: “The hardest thing is getting the permits. The long process holds up jobs.” Apparently, many of them made reservations but, then, had to delay them – and delay starting to work on the pipeline – because the permits hadn’t been approved as expected. It doesn’t have to be that way. Under President Obama, permitting for oil-and-gas activity has been slow-walked. Jobs have been held up.
Donald Trump has made clear that he’ll support pipelines and said he’ll invite TransCanada to reapply for the Keystone permit. On the other side, Clinton opposed Keystone and supports moving away from fossil fuels. Secretary of State John Kerry, Clinton’s successor, has implied that with “some 300 pipelines” we really don’t need any more. He said: “it’s not as if we’re pipeline-less.” A Clinton administration would likely extend the Obama delay tactic.
Whichever candidate wins in November will appoint agency heads who support his or her views – thus driving the policy direction.
Like Gutierrez, union members are grateful for the jobs. Last week, Dave Barnett, Pipeline Representative for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, told me: “We are pleased that the thousands of job opportunities associated with these projects are being decided on their need and merits, not on political pressures by extremists as the Keystone XL was.”
Whether the thousands of additional job opportunities materialize depends on American voters. Will we vote for pipelines that fuel the American economy and transport our natural resources safely and cheaply? Or, will we block job creation and economic development by voting with the environmentalists who want to “keep it in the ground?” In less than 100 days, we’ll have the answer to these important questions.