Tag Archives: Climate change

The Environmentalist Case Against Renewables

If you missed the Virginia Energy Consumer Conference last week, here’s your chance to catch up. The highlight is Steve Haner’s interview of Michael Shellenberger, author of “Apocalypse Never.” Addressing the energy debate from a national perspective, Shellenberger makes the case that renewable energy sources are no panacea for the environment. Subsequent presentations in the conference provide conservative perspectives on Virginia-specific issues. — JAB

Development and Sea-Level Rise in the Tarheel State

by James A. Bacon

People love living on the water. They just can’t get enough of it. If they can’t afford to live on the waterfront, they will pay a premium just to live near it. Signs of the human proclivity for water views are evident all around Beaufort, N.C. (pronounced Bow-fort, not Bew-fort), a waterfront town of 4,000 to 5,000. The heart of Beaufort is a charming hamlet dating back to the 1700s. The walkable small-town core with restaurants, boutiques, marinas and quaint historical buildings is the nucleus from which development radiates in all directions.

Coastal North Carolina in these parts, just south of the Outer Banks, is as low-lying and vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes as Tidewater Virginia. I know nothing of what preparations the Tarheel state might be taking in anticipation of the kind of extreme weather events that Jim Sherlock has described in recent posts. I will simply observe that whatever restrictions exist, they don’t seem to be slowing the pace of development on the state’s barrier islands and along its sounds, channels and estuaries. Continue reading

Repeal the Clean Economy Act

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) mandates a plan for the Commonwealth electric grid to become carbon free. It is one of the most ambitious climate policies adopted by any state. Dominion Energy is the primary vehicle for achieving the carbon free goal.

There is only one reason for such an ambitious, costly, and risky policy. The General Assembly and the Governor accept the narrative that climate change is caused by fossil energy use and is a foreseeable existential threat. Is it, and is VCEA the best strategy for responding?

There are strong reasons to doubt that the “Climate Crisis” is in fact an existential crisis or that the Commonwealth has adopted the most efficient and cost-effective strategy for dealing with whatever  climate problem actually exists.

Almost all that policy makers and legislators know about climate change comes from interpretations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) and its periodic reports.  For the most part, decision makers are provided papers and briefings on what the IPCC has concluded, primarily from its Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). It will come as a surprise to learn that the Summary for Policy Makers does not necessarily reflect what is contained in the underlying scientific assessment. Continue reading

Trees and the Chesapeake Bay

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There was a scuffle on this blog a few days ago over the production of more hardwood seedlings by the Department of Forestry. There were some who questioned the efficacy of planting more trees in the attempt to mitigate climate change. Others questioned why the state should be subsidizing the production of seedlings in the first place.

Being an ardent fan of trees, I was intrigued, and I contacted the Department of Forestry to get some more background on the program. After getting the agency’s answers to my questions, I realized there is a bigger issue at play.

The bigger issue is the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The health of the Bay is affected by point source pollution and nonpoint source pollution. We have been able to deal fairly effectively with point source pollution, such as the discharges from wastewater treatment plants. Nonpoint source pollution is much trickier. Agricultural runoff and erosion constitute a large portion of the nonpoint source pollution affecting the Bay. Continue reading

Legislative Bamboozle and Blind Faith

Globe on fire

by Bill O’Keefe

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) establishes a mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS) program that requires Dominion Energy to deliver electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2045. Let this sink in. Legislation passed and signed into law in 2020 imposes a mandated outcome for 25 years hence even though the legislators who voted for VCEA had no idea how it was to be achieved. They either believed that the private sector would invent the technology, independent of cost, or that the threat of extinction from climate change was so serious that a way would be found to head it off. More than likely, they didn’t give the “how” question or the question of cost much thought. Theirs was a crusade.

Hair on fire

It is probably true that if cost and cost-effectiveness are ignored Dominion Energy can find a way to satisfy the legislative mandate. Its plan to build the nation’s largest wind farm shows that it knows how to think big and will get its customers to pay the price in terms of higher rates to buy the needed technology. If Dominion can find a way to avoid shuttering it nuclear and natural gas power generation it will at least have a fall back strategy. Pleasing legislators obviously has a higher priority than cost-effect and reliable electric power.

Before it is too late, legislators and Dominion customers might benefit from a dose of reality. Germany which has been a leader in the move from fossil energy to wind and solar may well be the canary in the mine. Continue reading

The New Normal

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

We are used to hearing and seeing weather temperatures reported as being some number of degrees above or below normal. The definition of “normal” has changed this year.

The National Weather Service defines “normal” climate conditions as a 30-year average. New Climate Normals are calculated every 10 years. Before this year, the 30-year time frame was 1981-2010. Now, the “normal” time frame is 1991-2020. As a result, “normal” temperatures have shifted upwards.

Because we are in an era in which climate conditions are shifting, the National Weather Service is adjusting its reporting by providing alternative definitions of “normal.” In response to user groups, it is releasing monthly “Supplemental Temperature Normals.” These reports show averages over 5-, 10-,15-, and 20-year periods, in addition to the traditional 30-year normal. They also show “normal” calculated differently from a straight average. These alternative methods are called “Optional Climate Normal” and the “Hinge Fit.”

Therefore, when it gets hot in the coming months and some folks on this blog, who are not overly concerned about climate change, say that temperatures are not that different from the norm, just remember that normal ain’t what it used to be.

The Virginia Green Car Buyer’s Blues

by Bill Tracy

Let me tell you a sad yarn about buying green cars in Virginia.

Due to a dead hybrid battery after 14 years and 192,000 miles, we recently traded in our classic 2006 Toyota Prius for a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE, the cheapest green RAV4.

Had we lived in a different Blue state, we could have purchased the luxurious new RAV4 Prime Plug-In ($40,000 car), with heated seats and all of the fancy extras, cheaper (after taxes) than the $28,000 economy hybrid model, with no heated seats. How is this possible? Well, states like Colorado offer up to $5,000 plug-in vehicle rebate on top of the existing Federal $7,500 tax credit.  Furthermore, some states throw in generous additional benefits for plug-ins, such as free HOV/HOT lane use during the gridlocked rush-hour.

Virginia has no plug-in vehicle incentives yet, but per Jim Bacon’s recent article, that is on the agenda. The Old Dominion, however,  has a systemic problem in the new car showroom: high property taxes. Just ask former NFL star Michael Vick, who learned the hard way that the Virginia car tax is a progressive tax, especially punishing to newer cars, cleaner cars, and expensive cars.

Let’s take a close look at the green car math. Below I compare NoVA car costs to our neighbors in Washington, D.C. , which offers excise tax-free purchase of all green vehicles over 40 MPG EPA City.  Continue reading

A Reasonable Approach to Sea-Level Rise

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s environmentalists are smarter and more forward-thinking than California’s environmentalists. That’s a low bar, admittedly, but it’s a not-inconsiderable consolation now that environmental lobbyists and their friends in the Democratic Party run the commonwealth.

In California, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is increasing the incidence and severity of heat waves and droughts. But rather than follow through on the logical implications of such convictions, California persisted with forest-management practices and growth-management strategies that turned arid forests into tinderboxes while steering housing development into vulnerable areas. The result has been a series of massively destructive forest conflagrations. Bottom line: California’s environmental and political leaders are idiots.

Here in Virginia, leaders of the environmental/political establishment fervently believe that human-caused climate change is accelerating the rate of sea-level rise and flooding along Virginia’s coast. The difference is that they are following through the logical implications of this belief and giving serious thought to how to make coastal areas more resilient. Thus, while I could nitpick with the breathless conviction that the science is settled, I find the newly issued “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” issued by the Northam administration to be a reasonable and useful document. Continue reading

Freeman Dyson, Scientific Consensus and Virginia Politics

Freeman Dyson. What’s a “scientific consensus” without him?

by Irfan K. Ali

One of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, Freeman Dyson, recently passed away. This most unassuming man hobnobbed with the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology. He was a true giant in the world of science.

The excerpt below from The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), where he worked until his death at age 96, describes his greatest contribution to science:

In the spring of 1948, Dyson accompanied [Richard] Feynman on a fabled cross-country road trip that culminated in one of the most remarkable breakthroughs of 20th century physics. After being steeped in the work of Feynman for months and spending six weeks listening to Julian Schwinger’s ideas in Ann Arbor, Dyson was able to prove the equivalency of their two competing theories of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which describes how light and matter interact. Dyson recalled the moment of discovery as a “flash of illumination on the Greyhound bus.” He had been traveling alone for more than 48 hours, making his way to Princeton, NJ to begin his first Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Dyson wanted to have nothing to do with the so called “scientific consensus”. Had he lived in the times of Giordano Bruno, a brilliant 17th century scientist, he may have met a similar fate of being burned at the stake for his unapologetic skepticism about the notion of man-made climate change. Continue reading

Getting to a Greener World with a Win-Win Agenda

by James A. Bacon

Climate Change Alarmism is out of control. We’re being told that we have ten years to re-engineer the global energy economy or the world will reach a tipping point after which it will inevitably descend into an apocalyptic climate meltdown. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article observing that “Kids are terrified, anxious, and depressed about climate change.” Climate Alarm is feeding the anxieties of an entire generation of Greta Thunbergs, who think they have no future worth living.

There’s just no escaping it. Today we read in the Washington Post an op-ed by Parris N. Glendening, a former Maryland governor and now president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, arguing that states (including Virginia) in the Northeast should joint the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. His rhetoric isn’t alarmist, but he advances a sweeping agenda. Not only does Glendening want more bike lanes, more walkable communities, more mass transit, and more charging stations for Electric Vehicles, he wants Americans to pay more to get them sooner than we otherwise might. Continue reading

Replacing One Existential Threat with Another

by James A. Bacon

I’m a big fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose thinking on such subjects as “black swan” events, “Intellectuals Yet Idiots (IYIs),” “antifragility,” and “skin in the game” I have incorporated into my commentary on this blog. So, when Taleb invokes the precautionary principle in the context of climate change, I take his argument very seriously.

In a nutshell, Taleb contends the accuracy of climate models predicting catastrophic increases in global temperatures don’t matter. We have only one planet, and if there is even a remote chance that rising CO2 emissions will wreck it, humanity cannot afford to take that chance. The environment is a complex system, he writes. “Push a complex system too far and it will not come back.” The uncertainty surrounding climate change projections, far from being a reason to dismiss predictions of catastrophe, puts the burden of proof upon those who claim absence of harm. Read a succinct statement of his thinking here.

I’ve been pondering this argument for quite a while, and I agree with it… to a point. But I think it is incomplete. In the statement I linked to above, Taleb (and his co-writers) do not explore the implications of their logic. The obvious follow-up question is, OK, if climate change is an existential threat, what do we do about it?

What if the proffered solution to climate change creates its own existential threat? Continue reading

How Should We Tax Electric Vehicles?


by James A. Bacon

Electric vehicles (EVs) are commonly touted as a necessary part of America’s green energy future: Shifting from cars powered by gasoline-combustion to cars powered by 100% clean electricity will cut CO2 emissions (and other pollutants) implicated in global warming. Virginia ranks among the states with the lowest EV market share. But on the assumption that EVs eventually will become part of Virginia’s energy future, there’s no time like the present to start thinking about what EV taxation should look like.

Perhaps the most pressing issue is whether to tax EVs the same as conventional cars for the purpose of raising money to pay for the construction and maintenance of roads, highways and bridges. EVs contribute to traffic congestion and cause traffic accidents like any other kind of car. Should their owners not share in the cost of building, maintaining and operating roads?

The rise of EVs, hybrids and high miles-per-gallons vehicles was part of the justification when Virginia overhauled its transportation tax structure during the McDonnell administration. Revenues from the gasoline tax were stagnating, and legislators saw a need to diversify the source of transportation revenues. Once the tax increases were enacted, however, cogitation about the tax structure largely ceased.

Virginia cannot ignore the problem forever. One good place to start thinking about the issue of EVs and road maintenance is a new paper by two University of California professors, Lucas W. Davis and James M. Sallee, “Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay a Mileage Tax?” The paper explores the many trade-offs involved. Continue reading

Should Virginia Beach Buy Out Flood-Prone Properties at Fair Market Value?

by James A. Bacon

As Hurricane Dorian bears down on the South Atlantic Coast, the Virginian-Pilot reports that Virginia Beach officials are considering a program to buy out residents who want to move out of homes that have flooded or face a risk of flooding. The land would be converted into parks, planted with trees, or used as a flood-control projects.

That’s just one of the strategies city officials are pondering to deal with sea-level rise. The seal level in Hampton Roads has increased by a foot since the 1960s, and some climatologists claim that the rate of rise could accelerate. If the city does not take preventive action, writes the Pilot, a projected three-foot rise in the sea level could cost $330 million yearly by 2065.

The Virginia Beach plan would be based on a similar program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., which spends $3.8 million yearly in voluntary acquisitions, funded through stormwater fees, to manage local floodplains. The city assesses which properties are the most vulnerable and targets those first. Continue reading

Norfolk to Create Special Service Districts for Flood-Prone Areas

The City of Norfolk has created a new mechanism for citizens to adapt to flooding and eroding coastlines. Neighborhoods now can vote to form “special service districts” that raise property taxes for projects dealing with flood mitigation, dredging, water quality improvement, and coastal protection, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

Property owners can initiate projects by submitting a petition with signatures from 30% of the homeowners in a proposed district. Once the city has estimated the cost of project, the service district and tax must be approved by 75% of the affected property owners and also by owners of at least 50% of the property value. If the neighborhood votes yes, the district still requires City Council approval.

The Pilot cited the low-lying Hague neighborhood on the edge of downtown Norfolk that might use a district to jump-start much-needed stormwater improvements and floodgate construction.

Bacon’s bottom line: The creation of special service districts represents a huge step forward in building resilience into Virginia’s low-lying communities, although it is only one reform among many that must be made. Continue reading

The Waters Increased Greatly upon the Earth

Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.

The development was Asheville Park.  It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.

The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.

There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading