Perusing social media last night, I saw that Delegate Christopher Adams linked to an article by Bob Zimberoff in the Easton Star-Democrat. Since I have a website, I’m revising and extending my remarks in my comments therein.
Zimberoff’s article talked about the rush to get building permits in Caroline County. It wasn’t thanks to a business boom or new economic opportunity – terms for which neither apply in the Eastern Shore’s sole landlocked county – but a deadline builders were rushing to meet.
(Developer Blaine) Williamson wasn’t the only one to hurry to get a permit. In all of 2014, the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes issued 40 total permits for construction of new residential units. In 2013, 34 permits were issued.
Already in 2015, 46 permits have been issued in Caroline as of June 30. Of those 46 permits, 30 were issued in June. According to Sara Visintainer, chief of staff for the Caroline County Commissioners Office, another 30 applicants started the permitting process in June but failed to receive permits because of financial burden or other considerations.
Every few years, the state of Maryland adopts the most current editions of several building codes, including the International Residential Code. While the code has mandated that new homes have fire sprinkler systems, previously counties were able to opt out of the requirement. (I thought I had written about one such effort before, and it turns out I was right.) Apparently that exemption is no longer allowed, and it’s sending a chill throughout the housing industry. I return to the Star-Democrat:
At Williamson Acres, modest starter homes list for $150,000 to $160,000.
“That’s the market value. That’s all I can sell them for,” Williamson said. “It costs so much to build them now, I’m not making much money. When you add the sprinklers on, I would actually be losing money.”
With five vacant lots and three permits to build, Williamson said he intends to leave two lots undeveloped until regulations change or the housing market improves. Even with the BAT septic mandate, Williamson could profit $5,000 to $10,000 from selling new homes, but the sprinkler mandate effectively eliminated a chance at financial gain.
“I’m not going to build a house knowingly losing money on it,” he said. “The sprinklers are the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
So here is the situation. You will have a rush of construction over the next few months as those houses which got their permits prior to June 30 get built out, but then in a few months the market will slide as the dearth of new permits takes hold. In other words, this artificial boom will be short-lived.
My previous piece on the controversy here in Wicomico County back in 2011 noted the dubious benefits against the costs of the home sprinkler systems, but there is also the issue of how the cost may discourage rural development because it’s more expensive to use a well as a source as opposed to a municipal water system. To Radical Green, though, that’s a feature and not a bug, and you can bet your bottom dollar those who write the codes are squarely in the Radical Green camp – after all, those who believe we can build our way to absolute safety regardless of cost would also be the most fervent believers in the nanny state. We obviously want some element of safety and energy efficiency in our construction, but there comes a point when cost outweighs benefit and in a single-family residential setting sprinkler systems can be a deal-breaker.
Delegate Adams and his counterparts will be well-served in attempting to restore the exemption counties used to enjoy. Something tells me it wasn’t the rural legislators and regulators who took the exemption out, so you can call this a side skirmish in the War on Rural Maryland.
Do you recall the “new” water-saving toilets that you had to flush twice to get the job done? Don’t look now, but Rick Manning tells us that “technology” is coming to dishwashers:
What could go wrong?
Nothing so long as homeowners don’t mind grunge baked onto their dishes due to the failure to have sufficient water to clean off the food. No matter how much Cascade and JetDry you put into the system, not enough water means disgusting baked on egg, and other delights.
The purported reason for the water limitations is to cut those dreaded greenhouse emissions to comply with Obama’s on-going global warming jihad. In Obama’s Ivory Tower world, it is inconceivable that a dishwasher that doesn’t actually get dishes clean might cause people to take alternative action. The most likely of which is to use much more water by hand washing every dish before it goes into the dishwasher and effectively only use the appliance for killing bacteria through the high heat drying process. Or, perhaps people could go full Madge, and only hand wash dishes rendering the modern appliance and convenience useless.
The idea is to wash a full load of dishes in 3.1 gallons of water. As of 2012 an Energy Star dishwasher uses 4.25 or fewer gallons so we are going through all this to save perhaps 300 gallons of water a year, or about 10-12 average showers.
Of course, as Manning points out, this assumes a dishwasher gets all the items rinsed off and doesn’t bake it on but good. In our household we generally pre-rinse dishes to lend the dishwasher a hand, so that doesn’t really change our strategy. But when I was single I didn’t bother because, after all, that’s what the dishwasher was for!
There is a time when returns diminish to almost nothing. Sometimes I think the EPA believes in their heart of hearts that the optimum amount of water needed in a dishwasher would be zero, but that’s impossible unless you can clean the dishes with pixie dust and blow the debris away with unicorn farts.
The dishwasher is supposed to be a labor-saving device, and I know: for over a decade I lived in a house where the dishwasher was my two hands. There was really nowhere to place one in our kitchen. So it is a benefit to be able to use somewhat less water to do dishes – after you fill one side of the sink with a gallon or two of sudsy water and run the tap when it comes time to rinse on the other side it’s likely you’ll use 8 to 10 gallons of water. Thus, a dishwasher is an improvement both in water efficiency and time, because who wants to stand and do dishes for a half-hour?
That’s not to say that the market won’t demand a less thirsty dishwasher, but that should be up to the market. When low-flow toilets originally came out, there was a black market as consumers who could make the drive went to Canada to buy the good old-fashioned 3-gallon models. By next year, that old underground railroad may be back again to provide dishwashers that do it right the first time.
By Cathy Keim
So who needs Martin O’Malley when Larry Hogan will carry on his work?
I was astonished to read that Governor Hogan is expanding the You’ve Earned It! mortgage assistance program from the original $20 million to an additional $70 million. (Hat tip: Gwen Cordner.)
The program is aimed at assisting potential buyers, particularly members of the so-called “Boomerang Generation,” who are employed and have good credit but are saddled with student debt that is proving a barrier to homeownership. These young people are more likely to live with their parents than were young people one or two decades ago and they are saddled with significantly more student loan debt than their predecessors.
The student loan debt in America is over $1 trillion dollars and growing. The federal government supports 95% of student loans and is making billions of dollars of profit on them. There is no incentive by the Feds or by the colleges and universities to cut the spigot. As tuition rises each year, the students borrow more money only to find out when they graduate that there are no jobs for them to earn enough to support themselves and pay their loans.
Another neat trick is that you cannot get out of paying back your student loans by going bankrupt. There is no escape. Is it any wonder that young people who are graduating with a national average of $29,000 in college loan debt must live in their parents’ basement because they cannot pay their loans and live independently on a barrista’s salary?
In a Wall Street Journal interview, Dr. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity links the tuition increases to “the 50-fold growth in federal student financial assistance programs since 1970. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett was mostly right when he said federal aid programs enabled colleges to raise tuition fees, helping to fuel the academic arms race.”
Why do so many people need a college degree? Many of the jobs that require a college degree did not require it in the past. We can thank the government for that also. Businesses used to administer tests to see if the potential employee had the skills necessary to fill the position. The government struck down testing as unfair, so many businesses switched to a college degree requirement as a way to screen applicants without running foul of the government.
Over time the value of the bachelor’s degree was diminished and now many jobs require a master’s degree forcing more students into school longer and causing more debt.
This situation is a serious problem for all of us. We need our younger generation to be buying consumer goods, especially cars and homes, to keep the economy humming. They must do their part, even if the government has to step in to “help” them again. It helped them acquire student loan debt and now it can help them acquire mortgage debt.
But the story doesn’t end there. These mortgages must be for homes in a certified sustainable community. And who determines what is “sustainable?” This group:
Sustainable Maryland is a certification program for municipalities in Maryland that want to go green, save money and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term. Sustainable Maryland Certified is a collaborative effort between the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Municipal League to replicate the success of theSustainable Jersey initiative throughout the Mid-Atlantic States, beginning in Maryland.
To become a certified sustainable city, the city must have a green team comprised of municipal workers, city leaders/businessmen and diverse citizens. This is a standard tactic to get leaders onboard a project and others will follow because if “Joe” is on it, then it must be ok. The city can apply for tax credits and grants to bring improvements such as bike paths or renovating old buildings. The municipal workers on the green team get paid for their efforts (it is part of their job), but the citizens are volunteers because their hearts are in the right place.
(Note: Salisbury is registered, but not certified yet. Snow Hill and Berlin are certified sustainable cities.)
(Editor’s note: one of the Sustainable Maryland “primary partners” is the Town Creek Foundation, which never met a Radical Green program it didn’t like.)
Once these debt-laden former students are ensconced in their subsidized mortgage home, they will be ready to marry and produce the next generation of liberty-loving citizens. The next generation will be taught in the fully implemented Common Core method, which will ensure that they never hear of their heritage as Americans. They will be assessed and evaluated from pre-school to the workforce. The thousands of data points gathered will ensure that they are nudged gently into the correct attitudes so that they will fit into the new world order. Teamwork and cooperation will be their strong suit while individuality and thinking deeply on any subject will be discouraged.
The water in the pot is almost to a boil. If we don’t jump this presidential election, I fear it will be too late.
Okay, now that I have your attention, allow me to add some context. If I did show prep for Rush Limbaugh, this story would be placed in the “lighthearted stack of stuff.” (This explains why I kept it around for a couple weeks.)
Back on April 20 – which somehow seems appropriate – the Washington Times ran the story I allude to in the title. It detailed an April 6 lecture by “a key figure behind New York’s statewide ban on fracking.” Biologist Sandra Steingraber said the following:
“Fracking as an industry serves men. Ninety-five percent of the people employed in the gas fields are men. When we talk about jobs, we’re talking about jobs for men, and we need to say that,” Ms. Steingraber says in a video posted on YouTube by the industry-backed group Energy in Depth.
“The jobs for women are ‘hotel maid’ and ‘prostitute,’” she says. “So when fracking comes into a community, what we see is that women take a big hit, especially single women who have children who depend on rental housing.”
Needless to say, if a conservative said that women were only qualified to be prostitutes and hotel maids, we would have that splashed all over the front pages for months on end. Instead, it took two weeks to leak out to the Washington Times and, aside from that, it’s barely been mentioned. A cursory news search for Ms. Steingraber only found a few articles on smaller outlets about upcoming speeches and minor reaction to this story.
The Times also quotes another anti-fracking activist who compares the procedure to rape:
Ms. Steingraber’s speech, titled “Fracking is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Emergency,” comes after Texas anti-drilling activist Sharon Wilson was criticized for comparing fracking to rape in a March 30 post on Twitter and her blog.
“Fracking victims I have worked with describe it as a rape. It is a violation of justice and it is despoiling the land,” Ms. Wilson said in her blog, TXSharon’s BlueDaze. “Victims usually suffer PTSD.”
I tell you, Valerie Richardson’s story could be comedy gold – but these people take this stuff seriously, and that’s a shame.
While the oil and gas industry isn’t female-dominated by any means, it’s often a function of physical strength and skill level – the women who are coming into the field aren’t typically found at the wellhead but in what the industry calls “downstream” jobs. None of them involve prostitution or scullery work, but they’re usually not going to get their hands overly dirty at the jobsite because they are the technicians and engineers as opposed to the guys doing the drilling and extraction. And that’s just fine – they’re making an honest living. So Steingraber may be right in the specific that nearly all wellhead jobs are held by males, but as an industry she’s well off base.
Yet the problem with this line of thinking is that it pervades the brains of liberals who occupy places of power, such as the EPA or, closer to home, the Maryland General Assembly. The Radical Green leftists in the MGA still haven’t received the “war on women” meme, but they don’t have to be as sly about it, either.
As you are likely aware I am currently working on the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project, and some of my venom is saved for the idiocy which passes for oil and gas industry expertise. Pro-abortion legislators are continually trying to strangle Maryland’s fracking industry before it even makes it to the crib, as you’ll see when I wrap up the mAP in the next few weeks.
One good example is a proposal on the waste products of fracking, which is originally proposed would have made it illegal for a person to “accept, receive, collect, store, treat, transfer, or dispose of, in the state, waste from hydraulic fracturing.” Well, that pretty much covered it: a backhanded ban on the practice. I have at least one other example in the mAP, so be watching.
For America to prosper, we need to create our own energy. And when we have the bountiful resources that we do and can extract them at a reasonable, market-based price, why not do so? You can see the depths opponents have to reach to make their point, which means their argument is a futile one. Drill, baby, drill!
When you stop laughing, hear me out.
It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.
So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.
Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.
Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)
Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.
Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.
As I suspected, the slight bend toward agricultural interests that Governor Hogan made with the revised Phosphorus Management Tool regulations – now re-dubbed the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative – was met with hostility from the environmental community. On Friday the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released this joint statement:
We commend the Hogan Administration for taking the problem of phosphorus pollution seriously and are pleased that the Administration embraces the scientific evidence showing we must implement the Phosphorus Management Tool to better manage manure on oversaturated farm fields.
The environmental community was not involved in the drafting of Governor Hogan’s proposed regulations that were released on Tuesday, and we have gone over them carefully since. Unfortunately, the regulations do not provide the adequate protection or assurance we need, and as such, we must oppose them. Our concerns are detailed in the attached analysis.
The regulations include a significant loophole, referred to by the agricultural industry as a “safety net,” that makes it unclear if they would ever result in full implementation of this much-needed tool. We adamantly oppose this lack of a clear, enforceable end date for putting the Phosphorus Management Tool into place.
It is also unclear whether the proposed ban on phosphorus on fields with FIV over 500 would actually reduce the amount of manure being applied to farm fields or protect Maryland water quality. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been unable to clarify this.
Additionally, the regulations add one more year of delay, and they include troublesome secrecy provisions.
We continue to whole-heartedly support legislation sponsored by Senator Pinsky and Delegate Lafferty (SB 257 / HB 381) to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool with a six-year phase-in. Given the difficulties we’ve had with the regulatory process over the past three years, we prefer having a strong statute in place.
Their statement is an expanded version of a statement I posted on Wednesday from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. The MCAC is an interesting group in that none of the 21 groups involved has a thing to do with farming; instead many of these are “riverkeeper” groups from around the state. These groups blame farmers for a disproportionate share of the problems with Chesapeake Bay, imagining they are just wantonly dumping manure into streams and creeks.
While the groups have done a comparison sheet (or “detailed analysis”) between the O’Malley and Hogan proposals, their chief complaint can be summed up in this paragraph:
The Hogan PMT provisions for an “evaluation” for assessing manure markets and transportation programs, available land acreage, etc., allow for this “evaluation” to stall movement of PMT implementation for a year while MDA conducts a re-evaluation. The result is the possibility of an endless year by year postponement and re-evaluation possibility. (Emphasis in original.)
The way I read this is that, whether the infrastructure is in place or not - and, to be honest, I’m dubious of whether it can be in place – the CBF wants to move ahead on the PMT issue. Even the large-scale concession of immediately stopping the application of manure to certain fields, which is a provision allegedly affecting 1 of every 5 farmers on the Lower Shore, isn’t satisfying to the environmental coalition. They demand the data on how this would affect farmers, but pooh-pooh the need for data on how these regulations might affect the rural Maryland economy through the actual on-site studies sought by the Hogan administration.
In short, the contempt for the agricultural community by these groups is palpable.
So Larry Hogan tried to walk the middle ground. In backing off his original dead-set opposition to the PMT as “mandating how (farmers) use their property” to implementing a slightly less onerous version he still alienated the environmental community as well as discouraging some of the farmers who will be most adversely affected.
This whole episode will hopefully be a lesson to the new administration: you won’t get the friendship or the votes of those who would just as soon see the Eastern Shore collapse economically thanks to the demise of the agricultural industry regardless of what you do. So stick to those issues you ran on: improving Maryland’s economy and lowering the tax and regulatory burden on its citizens. Remember, no amount of regulation is enough for liberals, so why cater to them in the first place?
Since both have been mentioned in the news as potential Presidential candidates, governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York have been natural rivals for the attention of the various interest groups that make up the constituency of the Democratic Party. It seems that they are always trying to one-up the other in enacting off-the-charts liberal legislation – when one allowed gay marriage, passed draconian gun laws, or pandered to illegal immigrants, the other tried to follow in rapid succession.
Martin O’Malley and Andrew Cuomo also both cast their lot with the radical environmentalists who claimed (falsely) that hydraulic fracturing for energy extraction would ruin their state’s environment. Yet while O’Malley relented ever-so-slightly in recent weeks, allowing the practice but with regulations one energy expert called “onerous and time-consuming,” Cuomo stopped the practice cold in his state by decreeing in an announcement last week that fracking would be banned, timed nicely after his re-election. Observers of both states are scratching their heads about these decisions, both in the media and in the energy industry. In New York, local media bemoaned the lost opportunity while landowners in the affected area called Cuomo’s ban a “worst-case scenario.”
Yet in the middle of all this sits the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a state which has embraced the economic benefits of the practice to such a degree that Tom Wolf, the incoming Democratic governor of the state won’t ban it. (However, he may stiffen regulations and increase taxes on energy producers, which will be something to watch in the coming months.)
Granted, their good fortune of geography means Pennsylvania has the largest share of the Marcellus Shale which yielded all that natural gas, while Maryland only has a small slice and New York has a small but significant portion. For their part, Ohio and West Virginia also have sizable portions of the formation, while Virginia’s share is similar to Maryland’s. Ohio has been nearly as aggressive as Pennsylvania in taking advantage of the shale – although recently re-elected Republican Governor John Kasich is also trying to increase taxes on producers – while West Virginia is lagging behind their neighbors and just beginning the process of allowing extraction.
It’s a given that fracking isn’t without risk, but neither are installing large solar farms or erecting 400-foot high wind turbines. Yet the natural gas and oil provided from fracking make for a much more reliable energy source than the intermittent electricity provided by the latter pair, sources which ironically need a natural gas backup to be consistent.
As time goes on we will see just what economic effects a fracking ban will have on the affected areas of New York. But as we have seen in states which have already began the extraction, the Empire State is missing out on the potential for investment and return that having the Marcellus Shale provides for those lucky enough to live over it. Hopefully our neighbors in western Maryland will see some benefits in the next couple years as Governor-elect Hogan puts “sensible” regulations in place to benefit all concerned parties.
Last week, Mark Green at the Energy Tomorrow blog posted a critique of the proposed fracking regulations Maryland may adopt in the waning days of the O’Malley administration. In his piece, Green stressed that Maryland needed to adopt “sensible” restrictions but feared Maryland would go too far. It was echoed in the Washington Post story by John Wagner that Green cites.
But the money quote to me comes out of the Post:
“In the short term, as a practical matter, the industry will probably choose to frack in other states than Maryland where the standards are lower,” O’Malley said. But in the longer term, he said, “it could well be that responsible operations may well choose to come here.”
Or maybe not, which seems to have been the goal of O’Malley and Radical Green all along. It’s funny that they don’t seem to have the objections to wind turbines dotting the landscape despite their own health issues. Certainly no one studied them to death.
Being a representative of the energy industry, Green naturally argues that “sensible” regulations are similar to those already in place in states which already permit the practice. As he notes:
Hydraulic fracturing guidelines developed by industry – many of them incorporated into other states’ regulatory regimes – offer a sound approach proved by actual operations.
I can already hear the howling from Radical Green about the fox guarding the hen house, and so forth. But is it truly in the interest of industry to foul its own nest?
On the other hand, the success of fracking and other domestic exploration may create an interesting situation. Even back in October, when oil had declined to $90 a barrel from a June peak of nearly $115 a barrel, analysts were speculating on the effects the drop would have on the budgets of OPEC member nations. Now that oil in closing in on $60 a barrel, the economic effects on certain nations will be even more profound, and contrarian economic observers are already warning that the oil boom is rapidly turning into a bust with a ripple effect on our economy.
Even the revenue scheme by which Maryland would collect a sales tax on gasoline depended on gas prices staying somewhere over $3 a gallon. Assuming the price of gasoline stays at about $2.70 per gallon through the first of the year, the predicted 8-cent per-gallon rate will only be 5.4 cents. (The sales tax on gasoline is slated to increase to 2% on January 1.)
In any case, there is a price point at which non-traditional oil extraction such as fracking or extraction from tar sands – the impetus for the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline – becomes economically non-viable. I had always heard that number was $75 per barrel, which was a number we had consistently hovered above for the last half-decade. Now that we are under that number, the question of exploration in Maryland may be moot for the short-term, although the price of natural gas is only slightly below where it was this time last year so that play is still feasible.
Whether the decline in oil prices is real or a manipulation of the market by a Saudi-led OPEC which is playing chicken with prices to try and restore its bargaining position by outlasting domestic producers, it may be yet another missed opportunity for Maryland as it could have cashed in during a difficult recession and recovery if not for an administration which believed the scare tactics and not what they saw with their own eyes as neighboring Pennsylvania thrived.
In 2007, Congress passed (and President Bush regrettably signed) a bill which was, at the time, a sweeping reform of energy policy. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA was supposed to regulate the Renewable Fuel Standard on an annual basis, with the eventual goal of supplying 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 – the 2014 standard was set at 18.15 billion gallons (page 31 here.) By the way, this is the same bill that did away with incandescent light bulbs.
Unfortunately, for the second straight year the EPA is late with its update and last month they decided to take a pass altogether on 2014. Mark Green at the Energy Tomorrow blog writes on this from the petroleum industry perspective, while the ethanol industry took the decision as news that the EPA was staving off a possible reduction in the RFS.
We all know hindsight is 20/20 but it should be noted that, at the time the EISA was written, the conventional wisdom was in the “peak oil” camp, reckoning that American production was in a terminal decline. Yet we’ve seen a renaissance in the domestic energy industry over the last half-decade despite government’s best attempts at keeping the genie in the bottle. So the question really should be asked: is the Renewable Fuel Standard worth keeping in this new energy era, or should the market be allowed to function more freely?
It goes to show just how well the government predicts activity sometimes. They assumed that the technology behind creating biofuels from agricultural waste would supplant the need for corn-based ethanol in time to maintain the amount required and also figured on gasoline usage continuing to increase. Wrong on both counts; instead, we are perhaps in a better position to invest in natural gas technology for commercial trucks as some fleet owners already have – although long-haul truckers remain skeptical based on better diesel engine fuel economy, which ironically came from government fiat - than to continue down an ethanol-based path.
But the larger benefit from removing ethanol-based standards would accrue to consumers, as corn prices would decline to a more realistic value. Obviously the initial plummet in the corn futures market would lead to farmers planting more acreage for other crops such as soybeans or wheat as well as maintaining virgin prairie or placing marginal farmland, such as thousands of acres previously reserved for conservation easements, back out of service.
Poultry growers in this region would love to see a drop in the price of corn as well, as it would improve their bottom line and slowly work its way into the overall food market by decreasing the price consumers pay for chicken.
I believe it’s time for Congress to address this issue by repealing the RFS. Unfortunately, it would take a lot to prevail on many of the majority Republicans in the Senate because they come from the major corn-growing states in the Midwest and agricultural subsidies of any sort are portrayed as vital to maintain the health of rural America. Yet the corn market would only be destabilized for a short time; once the roughly 30% share of the crop used to create ethanol (over 4.6 billion bushels) is absorbed by the simple method of planting a different crop or leaving marginal land fallow, the prices will rise again.
Until the common sense of not processing a vital edible product into fuel for transport prevails, though, we will likely be stuck with this ridiculous standard. Corn is far better on the cob than in the tank, and it’s high time the EPA is stripped of this market-bending authority.
Yesterday I discussed what was said by the county-level candidates at this forum, so today I’m covering the six hopefuls who represented District 37: Addie Eckardt and Chris Robinson for the Senate seat, and Christopher Adams, Rod Benjamin, Keasha Haythe, and Johnny Mautz for District 37B.
Of the two seeking the Senate seat, Eckardt has by far the most political experience as she was elected as a Delegate in 1994, serving in the House ever since. At the eleventh hour this cycle she dropped her quest for a sixth House term and jumped into the Senate race, defeating longtime incumbent Senator Richard Colburn in a bitterly-contested primary. Robinson, on the other hand, is making his second straight bid for the Senate seat after losing to Colburn in 2010. He could be considered a perennial candidate as he’s also run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2006, twice finishing second in the First District primary. Chris was also a last-minute addition after original Democratic candidate Cheryl Everman withdrew.
Their first question had to do with the retirement climate in Maryland, which is bad, but relevant to the district as a number of retirees live along the Chesapeake Bay. Eckardt properly noted the state’s poor showing in rankings of best states to retire in, but added that we needed to look at tax policy across the board, along with addressing the “duplicative nature” of our regulatory system.
After stating that “our jurisdiction is no different than any other jurisdiction,” Robinson agreed that we had to “ratchet back” spending and not raise taxes. But on the second question about the Affordable Care Act, Chris made the case that “it hasn’t worked its way through the country,” and while the rollout of the state exchange was “botched” he thought the emphasis on preventative care was worthwhile. “Give this process a chance,” he concluded.
Eckardt told us that the “good news” about the state’s adoption of Obamacare was the Medicaid expansion, which she believed should have been done first before the exchanges. With it being done in its present manner, premiums were up and employers were dropping coverage. She believed the states needed to promote change at the federal level.
When asked about key real estate issues, Addie wanted to bring together mortgage holders and first time homebuyers by conducting an inventory of tax sales and foreclosures. Meanwhile, Robinson wished to “put points on the board” by making towns exciting and vibrant, calling on builders to create quality homes.
I found Robinson’s closing statement to be intriguing, as he said he was “inspired” by Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway. “I want to be just like them,” he said. Eckardt stressed the power of communication to solve problems, and pledged to be focused and deliberate.
To be honest, I didn’t see Robinson saying or doing anything which would suggest he’ll do much better than the 40 percent he got last time against Colburn. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but in this region it’s tough to out-conservative the Republicans.
In contrast to the veteran presence of Eckardt and the perennial candidate in Chris Robinson for the Senate race, the House of Delegates will have two new representatives. Those representatives will have to pay attention to southern and western Wicomico County, which has felt underrepresented in the past based on the thrust of the opening question.
As it turns out, Christopher Adams is from Wicomico, so he stated the obvious: he will be a resident delegate, focusing on our municipalities and business. That business background led him to pledge that “my customers will be my constituents,” regardless of where they live in the district. But he also stressed that we have to start “winning the argument” against the Democrats.
Keasha Haythe replied that she was used to working across county lines as an economic development director, so working with Wicomico County residents wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, Rod Benjamin pointed out the similarities between his home area in Church Creek and the area of western Wicomico County.
Johnny Mautz noted that he had spent a lot of time in Wicomico County and would work with its local and municipal governments.
This quartet got perhaps the strangest question of the night, one which asked about the effects of climate change and flooding.
Mautz indicated his belief that the state should help flood-prone landowners, but reminded us the flood insurance rates are based on federal mandates.
Benjamin also believed the flood insurance cost was “unfair.” And climate change? “Truth is, I don’t know what the truth is,” he said, noting that he’d seen some extreme tides recently.
Haythe believed we needed to be proactive about the sea level rise, stating it’s already affecting the planned Harriet Tubman visitor center.
But Chris Adams turned the question on its head, taking issue with subsidized government interference. The Eastern Shore, he said, “should be pro-growth, pro-construction.” He also objected to the federal government turning a significant part of Dorchester County into a national park, warning that it would adversely affect private property owners in the area who would lose their rights.
Adams stayed in that vein during the “realtor” question, making the case that Sussex County, Delaware was the prime beneficiary of Maryland’s mistakes, which include a prospective 64% property tax increase because of our state’s growing debt. He pledged to be business-friendly, saying “I’m about jobs.”
Haythe thought a path to success for realtors involved taking advantage of state and federal programs, and leaning on pros (like herself) who know how to create jobs.
Land use was “a large concern” to Johnny Mautz, as were taxes.
Benjamin was asked a little later on about this question, and made the case that local control of issues is preferred. He also offered that the “tier system is better than the smart growth system.” He also proposed a Startup Maryland program, based on a program Wicomico County already has in place for tax abatement.
Later, in his closing statement, Rod told us all we had homework: tell others about what was said tonight. He repeated a mantra of “reduce taxes, reduce government.”
Reducing taxes was also on the agenda of Johnny Mautz, who told us “my word is my bond.”
Keashe Haythe encouraged us to consider both her track record of results and her “human American platform.”
Finally, Christopher Adams begged Annapolis to “leave us to our Shore way of life.”
To me, this was the weakest link in the debate. The questions were relatively uninspiring and most of the answers were fairly rote. One interesting aspect of the House of Delegates discussion was that Rod Benjamin was openly trying to sound as conservative as the Republicans. (In fact, I ran into him at the Autumn Wine Festival and his tone was relatively the same.) On the other hand, Keasha Haythe wanted to make us believe that an economic development director could create jobs.
Yet I did a quick bit of research into Dorchester County’s job creation and retention since 2009, and it shows their labor force has declined by 921 people in five years, with 554 fewer unemployed but 367 fewer actually working. Since she began her job in 2008, Dorchester isn’t doing all that well and one could argue it’s state policies holding her back – policies which emanate from her party. Perhaps it’s something which a woman who’s worked in the public sector for over a decade may not understand.
On the other hand, Adams and Mautz both run businesses so they have created jobs and added value. (Both also support this local blog.)
To me, it was telling that almost all of the candidates tried to convince the crowd of their conservatism. It was much the same in District 38, although there were a disappointing number of omissions. More on that tomorrow.
Yesterday I pointed out the voting records of the two men who wish to represent those of us who live in Senate District 38, but another thing I alluded to was the disparity in amending bills. Granted, it’s rare that Democrats have to make floor motions because much of their work can be done as a collective at the subcommittee and committee level; moreover, Senator Jim Mathias sits on the Finance Committee and that committee reviewed the smallest number of bills among the four main committees in the Senate (Budget and Taxation; Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs; Finance; and Judicial Proceedings.) All but the Senate President serve on at least one of those committees. Some members also sit on either the Executive Nominations or Rules committees, but Mathias isn’t among that group.
As I pointed out, often the only way a member (particularly a Republican one) has to amend a bill going through a committee he’s not part of is via the floor and McDermott has done so on many occasions.
But another thing Mike does well is communicate with constituents, and he also has a good way of getting to the root of the issue. Take this recent example, part of a piece he wrote called “Politically Correct Farming”:
Farmers have always been the first conservationists, even though they are often the last one to get called to a “Round Table Discussion” when policy is being crafted. Those “Round Tables” are reserved for election years. Ask any farmer about fixing the Bay and they will first point to the Conowingo Dam. The next point will be to the metro core area septic plants. They would also point out that the farming community is way ahead of the mandated time lines already placed upon them by the government.
The fact is, we do not need any further mandates on the shore. We need action in the areas that are creating the problem! The areas of the Bay which receive the best environmental scores are those adjacent to the Eastern Shore; and they rest next to the shore county (Somerset) that has the highest number of poultry operations in Maryland. Go figure!
Our water does not travel from lower shore rivers into the upper Bay regions, rather it moves toward the Atlantic. In spite of the obvious, farmers are an easy lot to blame; and politicians often do so with food in their mouths.
It should be obvious that poor water quality at the Bay Bridge isn’t being caused by a Somerset County poultry farmer, but from an Annapolis point of view untreated chicken waste flows as if magnetized toward the otherwise-pristine waters of the Annapolis harbor.
Or how about another case, this regarding gambling. McDermott called this the “Capitulating vs. Negotiating” piece, from which I excerpt:
For several years, Worcester County and Ocean Downs Casino have been paying off Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. All of that money could (and should) have been utilized for local spending. When I was elected in 2010, I was keenly aware of this wealth transfer and I looked for a mechanism to bring it back home where it belonged.
That opportunity presented itself in 2012 during our 2nd Special Session when the expansion of gaming was being sought. The issue was no longer about whether or not we would have gambling, rather it was about allowing a 6th casino to be built in Prince George’s County at National Harbor. Gambling was no longer the issue.
This bill originated in the Senate and once again, I noticed that the payoffs to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County were still embedded in the legislation. There was no attempt by Mathias to remove these provisions from the bill.
When the bill arrived in the House, the Democrats were hunting for insurance votes to pass the bill. I took advantage of the situation and spoke to the leader on the bill about the possibility of my supporting it. My demand was straightforward: return the local impact money to the citizens where the casinos are located. Depending on revenues, this could amount to $2 million each year that would remain on the lower shore.
To our benefit, they agreed to amend the bill and cut out the funding for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County as soon as Baltimore’s casino was open for business. In turn, I cast a deciding vote for the National Harbor expansion. The amendment was introduced by Delegate Dave Rudolph (D-Cecil) whose county also benefited directly from these local impact grants staying on the Upper Shore in Cecil County.
I could not help but see the irony of these two separate votes from two Delegates representing the same area:
- Mathias casts the deciding vote that brings gambling to Maryland, establishes a casino in Ocean City’s backyard, and agrees to give Baltimore City and Prince Georges County $2 million of our money every year.
- I cast the deciding vote that expands gambling to Prince George’s County alone and only after seeing the bill amended to strip Baltimore City and Prince George’s County from receiving one dime of our local impact money (returning $2 million to the Eastern Shore.)
Let me state for the record that both voted for this bill, a stance with which I disagreed because it punted this responsibility to the voters instead of in the General Assembly where it belongs. One could argue that McDermott sold his vote, or it can be termed horsetrading. But what horsetrading have we received from Mathias?
I also wanted to see what those on the other side of the political spectrum think. This is from a blog called Seventh State, which is a liberal site. In handicapping the 38th District races, David Lublin wrote back in March:
Backed by Rep. Andy Harris, one of my Eastern Shore sources describes McDermott as “to the right of Genghis Khan” on both social and fiscal issues. No one would confuse comparatively moderate Mathias with a Western Shore liberal but the difference between him and McDermott cannot be missed.
Actually, I would pretty much confuse Mathias with a Western Shore liberal given the preponderance of his votes. But honestly I don’t think the 38th District at large would truly mind “to the right of Genghis Khan” because it’s a conservative district. (It’s also an interesting comparison given what we know about the Mongol ruler.) Ours is also a district which chafes at the influence of Annapolis in its affairs, and considering Mathias has received a large portion of his six-figure campaign account from PACs and out-of-area donors, you have to wonder which of these two would be fighting out of our corner.
In a recent PAC-14 interview, McDermott said, “(W)e need leaders from the shore to go up there and represent our values.” Having heard Mike McDermott speak on a number of occasions, I think he would be a great addition to the Senate because he has shown over the last four years that he does the better job of that than his opponent.
Jim Mathias is a nice guy, but in this instance nice guys should finish last.
No, I’m not talking about a political figure today. Instead, I received an e-mail from the American Wind Energy Association telling me about the state of the wind industry and how its costs are falling rapidly. (This blog post at Into the Wind, the AWEA blog site, has the same information.)
If you look at points 1 through 4, they make varying amounts of sense. With the maturation of the market, it’s no stretch to assume that costs would go down just as they would for any technology. Personally, though, I disagree with the premise that additional carbon emissions are necessarily bad, particularly when the idea is to blame them for climate change. Nearly two decades of steady temperatures combined with the increasing emissions seem to me a fairly good testament that increasing emissions aren’t the problem.
It’s point number 5 that’s the payoff for me, because I knew it would be coming sooner or later.
5. Policy support is still essential for the U.S. to keep scaling up renewable energy
The Lazard study also highlights the need for clear, long-term policy support for renewable energy. While projects located at some of the best wind resources in the country are now cost-competitive, it notes that this is still not the case in most regions. The most recent expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) resulted in a 92% drop in new wind projects from 2012 to 2013.
The PTC helps correct for flaws in our electricity market design that do not value wind’s benefits for protecting the environment and consumers. Wind energy creates billions of dollars in economic value by drastically reducing pollution that harms public health and the environment, but wind energy does not get paid for that even though consumers bear many of those costs.
Wind energy also protects consumers from price increases for fuel, but that is not accounted for in the highly regulated electricity market because other energy sources get to pass their fuel price increases directly on to consumers who have little choice in the matter.
Policies like the PTC correct for those market failures to reach a more efficient market outcome. The PTC has expired, however, for any project not started by the end of last year. An extension is now urgent to avoid shutting down the U.S. manufacturing base, and to ensure that more wind farms are built so that more consumers can benefit from these record low prices.
Yet what if the lack of subsidy isn’t a market failure as they describe? In the original blog post there’s a graphic which shows that every time the tax subsidy is cut, the amount of wind capacity installed plummets. Between that subsidy and the various renewable portfolio standards enacted by many states (including Maryland) it seems to me they artificially prop up the wind energy market, which can’t stand on its own otherwise. This approach is the same argument which posits a carbon tax is necessary because fossil fuel users aren’t paying for the supposed destruction of the environment and public health they create, but discounts the increased standard of living brought on by the usage of reliable sources of electricity to, among other things, improve public health.
Another thing worth pointing out about these studies and reports is that they look strictly at land-based wind turbines. While they are falling in price, researchers around the world are finding that residents nearby are complaining about a litany of health issues derived from the constant noise. Naturally, naysayers would contend that other methods of power generation, such as fracking, also have ill effects but these are anecdotal as well.
So while offshore wind would seem to be a solution, the cost is far more prohibitive. Maryland’s 2013 offshore wind bill, for example, subsidizes the effort through both an increase in the required renewable energy portfolio and $1.7 billion in direct subsidy over 20 years, parceled out as an $18 annual surcharge to residential consumers and a 1.5% hike for businesses. (A business paying $1,000 a month, such as a restaurant, would have to add $180 a year.) Naturally this doesn’t take into account the penchant for our General Assembly, once a new tax or surcharge is enacted, to declare it’s not enough and raise the tariff accordingly. I give it no more than 5 years before someone demands to raise the fee to $30 or $40 annually and hike commercial users up to a 2% or 3% a month surcharge just to keep the business in Maryland’s waters.
It would seem that wind power is a logical way to create electricity in certain locations and situations, but for general use it has the drawback of not being as strictly reliable as fossil fuels are. The fact that we have to create a renewable energy portfolio tells me that the market has otherwise spoken.
We really haven’t heard about this as an issue for the 2014 election, but I would presume the Brown administration would continue on this path as they promise to:
Expand our renewable mix with investments in (read: subsidies for) Maryland-based solar and wind, which can both create new jobs and reduce air pollution that affects the health of everyday Marylanders.
It would be my hope that Larry Hogan would revisit this effort, backing legislation to eliminate this expensive renewable energy portfolio and repealing the prospect of higher electricity rates come 2017 – at the very least, recast this scheme as an opt-in program just like consumer choice has already created with companies like Ethical Electric, which I wrote about last year. Let the market decide how much it wants to support the renewable energy boondoggle, and how many of us simply crave the reliability of knowing that when we flip the switch, the light will turn on.