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Saturday, December 10, 2005 

"The Continuing Adventures of Bill Clinton" or "Environmental Regulation"

Like a moth to a flame, Clinton finds the cameras and the microphones. This time he's talking about Kyoto and blasting President Bush about it. Let's examine this a bit. When has the Kyoto Protocol ever crossed the desk of President Bush? Never. Why not? Because in its present form, the Kyoto Protocol was unanimously rejected by the Senate during Clinton's presidency. Yes, unanimously rejected. That's Republicans and Democrats. Why? Because the treaty is flawed and unfair. The treaty exempted "developing" nations from the CO2 reduction plan. China and India are included under the category of developing nations. In case you haven't noticed, those two countries are experiencing booming economic growth and industrialization. About 80% of China's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. They have plans to build hundreds more to keep up with their ever-growing power needs. That's a lot of CO2. That's a lot of CO2 that Kyoto would not regulate.

Kyoto is bad for another reason. According to my pro-industry, right wing source Nature, the effect of Kyoto would be to reduce warming by .02 degrees C by 2050 with Russia signed on. Even the most generous models don't estimate a reduction greater than .15 C. Nature 22 (October 2003). That's it. My thermometer doesn't even register hundredths of degrees.

I know what people will say. "But Kyoto is just a first step." Isn't the goal to stop global warming? If Kyoto won't do that, why enact it? I don't see a single reason for the US to agree to Kyoto as written other than some self-flagellating, Western guilt.

Clinton makes the following claim...
In fact, cleaner technology "would strengthen, not weaken our economy," said Clinton, "... in America, there's no telling how many jobs we could create."

He spelt out a long list of things that could be done, including improving energy efficiency in US power plants, cars and buildings, switching to solar, wind and biofuels and even simple initiatives for ordinary citizens, such as using high-efficiency lightbulbs.
That's a wonderful sound bite, but let's see some hard numbers and real plans. Prove to me that our economy would be stronger and better with solar and wind power. Prove to me that we can maintain and grow our economy on these alternative energy sources. More of my evil corporate stooges, this time the ones at Science, studied the feasibility of doing that and reducing CO2...
Energy sources that can produce 100 to 300% of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist.
Science 298 (Nov. 1, 2002). Does Clinton want us to ignore this? Does he want us to convert to solar and wind, then institute large scale power rationing?

That is what I am focusing on: what are the costs involved and what are the benefits that we will receive. In Environmental Law, we read the Benzene case (Industrial Union Dept., AFL-CIO v American Petroleum Institute). Here, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard of 1 ppm to protect workers from the dangers of benzene exposure. Writing for the plurality, Justice Stevens illustrates that OSHA never showed that a level of 1 ppm would be better than 10 ppm (the minimum level that all of the apt benzene studies used). The cost of the regulations was astronomical. Twenty billion dollars for every year of life saved. One year of life is not worth twenty billion dollars. This is what happens when you take the position that "we must do something" regardless of whether the something is prudent.

I am a huge advocate of nuclear power. I have never understood the hate directed at it. The hysteria caused by Chernobyl (which happened because of the horrible safety measures taken by the Soviets, no nuke plant has ever/will ever be built in the US like that) and Three Mile Island (which was about as dangerous as a chest X-Ray) has pounced upon by a lot of people. Environmentalists helped lead the battle. Oddly enough, there is a segment of the modern environmentalist community that is now very pro-nuclear power. They see it as a clean, cheap way to produce large amounts of energy.

Check out pebble bed reactors. Look at how advanced this technology is. Nuclear power is used widely in Europe, and aren't we Americans always being told how we should be more like those enlightened Europeans? The only thing we have to do is put the waste somewhere and monitor it. Big deal. Compared to burning coal and oil, I think that's a much better situation. Nuclear power can also serve as the spinning reserve necessary to give Clinton his beloved windmills. Strange that he glossed over that little issue of intermittency that wind and solar power have...

There you have it, environmental policy from the view of a cost-benefit loving future lawyer. Feel free to assail me on the comments section, Nick.

I'd hate to ruin your day but I'm all for nuclear reactors, and I think most people are. There's already a coal and a new gas power plant on campus, and another coal on the other side of the Lake Mendota. The gas power plant just went online a year or two ago and I got to sit here and watch everyone yell over it. Well, the campus needs an incredible amount of power -- it should probably go in 'our' backyard and not kill the land value somewhere else.

Concerning Kyoto and oil-dependence, global warming or no global warming, don't forget that all the money spent on oil is going right back to Saudi Arabia and killing Americans. It is absurd that the US isn't funding more energy initiatives to make cost efficient electric motors. It is absurd that GM builds hummers when it should be researching fuel efficiency. If a Prius is good enough for Thomas Friedman, then it's good enough for me. If I made enough coin to buy one.

I don't know if I agree that most people are for nuclear reactors. That anti-nuke mentality is pretty deep in our culture. A sizable percentage of jokes on The Simpsons are nuclear power = mutation and death. According to an ABC poll I found, 4 in 10 Americans favor more nuclear plants. That's not bad, but it's hardly a deafening cry from the masses. We also have to get past the NIMBY issue too.

I agree with you about foreign oil. We need to find a way to be less dependent on nations that we have no reason to trust. Remove oil from the equation and you severely limit Saudi power and influence. I can easily go through life without another Prince Bandar appearance on Larry King Live.

I don't think it's absurd for GM to build hummers. They build what people want to buy. If there was no demand for hummers, GM wouldn't make them. Notice that there is a growing demand for hybrids. Also notice that this was happened not through a government mandate of some kind, but through demand from consumers. More and more people want hybrids. There are waiting lists for some of these cars. I think we should let the market work.

I think that demand for hybrids will only increase in the future. If GM doesn't see this, they will lose even more of the market to the Japanese (who seem to "get" this whole hybrid thing). While they should produce what sells now (hummers), they need to look to the future (hybrids). It's a balancing act, and they need to get it right to survive.

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