New York will be on center stage next month – what else is new? - as the state decides whether to frack its section of the Marcellus. Yoko Ono and crew (above) are all lined up against it, announcing that “Fracking kills.” They have the support of a 4th grade class in upstate Middletown. The New York State Department of Health has a different view, however, giving the technology a clean bill of health. And Deroy Murdoch points out that even the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t found anything wrong with the technology. But will any of this make a difference in celebrity-conscious New York? Governor Andrew Cuomo may be in his toughest spot yet.
Nuclear power, the other big no-no, received an even greater endorsement from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), which after 50 years of preaching “no safe dose” has finally reversed itself and conceded that there is no danger to health at levels of exposure below 10 rems. (The average annual dose from background sources is about 1/3 rem.) That means that all the hysteria about exposures at Fukushima have been for naught. As James Conca points out in an excellent entry on Forbes, Japanese officials have now banned foodstuffs such as wild mushrooms on the basis of their natural background levels. Time to end the panic.
Are oil imports rising or falling? Ben Casselman addresses the question in a Wall Street Journal blog. They seem to be doing both. The number of barrels has declined 21 percent in the last two years but the cost of those barrels has risen 14 percent. That’s the because of a higher price of international oil.
Much of the opposition to a carbon tax comes from the observation that it is regressive. But Paul Boudreaux of Stetson University College of Law has a better idea: Exempt the poor! Every home would be given a 5,000 kWh tax exemption. But wait a minute. Is the tax going to be imposed on carbon or on electricity? Taxing coal, gas and oil at the mine or wellhead would be easy. Trying to calculate how much carbon is coming out of each smokestack would be another cap-and-trade nightmare. And if an exemption is put in for the poor, won’t others ask for it as well? How about depressed industries in Appalachia? Don’t they qualify? Well, it’s going to get messy. We may end up like Australia, where the carbon tax was festooned with so many exemptions that the biggest polluters ended up making money off the deal.
Finally, one of the hot ideas in electricity is microgrids. Instead of connecting to the big grid, small units stay independent so they can duck and cover when it comes to blackouts. A handful of university communities, such as UC San Diego, are starting to experiment. The idea floating behind this – wouldn’t you know? – is that these microgrids can run on nice renewable energy and avoid all the nasty oil, gas and nuclear that the big guys use. Fairfield, Connecticut is trying to implement a microgrid that will allow its sewage treatment plant and other essential services to run on renewables during a hurricane blackout.
Wait a minute. Renewables are going to save the day during a hurricane? Wind energy seems plausible but solar? Better rethink that one. And come to think of it, doesn’t a diesel generation qualify as a “microgrid?”