Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"It was a pretty good finish this year."

So says Brenna Goggin, environmental advocate for the Delaware Nature Society, in Jeff Montgomery's summary of environmental legislation in the News Journal.

The three energy bills (
SB 266, SB 267 and SS 1 to SB 119) that passed the House yesterday will result in Delaware burning less coal and installing more solar panels in the years to come. The House also passed HB 480, which would provide for the most significant reorganization of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) in its history. And the passage of SB 234 means that single stream recycling containers will be provided to every home in Delaware starting next year, though apartment buildings will take longer.

This being politics, sport metaphors abound:
"The recycling bill was the home run of the year. It was big," said Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, who waged a decades-long campaign to expand the state's lagging recycling rate.
Gerald Brady, floor manager in the House for the energy bills, described yesterday's passage to me, saying, "Slam dunk. 30 second drive to the basket." It was more like a 30 minute drive; SB 266 was passed at 6:34, SB 267 at 6:40, and SS1 to SB 119 at 6:59.

These bills got through because the governor was behind them and worked effectively with environmental advocates and other interested parties. SB 234, the recycling bill was the product of discussions with trash haulers, retailers, bottlers, beverage distributors, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and advocates who had been pushing for statewide recycling for decades. (
Read here for more on how the recycling bill was passed less than a year after Jack Markell vetoed the UnBottle bill.)

Likewise, the energy bills were the product of extensive talks that included utilities, solar panel installers, green energy entrepreneurs and energy advocates. And we shouldn't forget that these important steps forward on environmental policy were enacted because ordinary citizens told their elected officials that they want to use more renewable energy and burn less coal, recycle more and bury less trash. Thanks, Delaware.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two Days Left to Pass Green Energy Bills

As I wrote on Thursday, three important energy bills are before the House of Representatives.

SB 266 would give the DNREC secretary greater flexibility in administering the Green Energy Fund, and help ensure that funding is provided to end users more quickly. SB 267 would make it possible for customers (individually or collectively) to finance and build larger renewable energy installations.

Senate Substitute 1 for SB 119 would extend and expand the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) so that 25 percent of Delaware's electricity would come from renewable sources by the year 2025. The bill also includes a stronger solar energy requirement and incentives for local labor and manufacture of renewable energy systems.

Debate on SB 266 got bogged down in some rather minor questions on Thursday, but should be lifted from the Speaker's table early in the proceedings tomorrow. SB 267 and SS 1 to SB 119 should likewise run tomorrow.

There are only two days left in the session; if you favor greater reliance on renewable energy, you should contact your state representative right away to urge them to vote for these important renewable energy bills. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Your Support Needed for Renewable Energy Bills

It was two years ago tomorrow that the General Assembly made history by making Delaware the first state to approve an offshore wind project. Three renewable energy bills that are due to come up for a vote in the Delaware House of Representative as early as today could have an equivalent impact in promoting renewable energy and cleaning Delaware's air.

SB 266 would give the DNREC secretary greater flexibility in administering the Green Energy Fund, and help ensure that funding is provided to end users more quickly. SB 267 would make it possible for customers (individually or collectively) to finance and build larger renewable energy installations.

The most significant bill on the agenda is Senate Substitute 1 for SB 119, which would extend and expand the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) so that 25 percent of Delaware's electricity would come from renewable sources by the year 2025. The bill also includes a stronger solar energy requirement and incentives for local labor and manufacture of renewable energy systems.

SS 1 to SB 119 would reduce Delaware's use of fossil fuels for electricity from 97.6 percent in 2008 to less than 75 percent in the next 15 years. The bill would further provide for the inclusion of the municipal energy providers and the Delaware Electric Cooperative (which provide half of Delaware's electricity) in the RPS for the first time.

Increasing the RPS will have economic benefits for Delaware by moving us away from our reliance on fossil fuels with their inherent price volatility. Delaware is not in the fossil fuel extraction business. But Delaware is in the solar panel business. Motech Americas has grown from 75 to 140 jobs since taking over the solar panel factory in Newark last winter. We should all agree that more of our energy dollars should go to building the renewable energy business here in Delaware than to the continuing extraction of fossil fuels elsewhere.

Passage of these bills would be the biggest legislative step towards reducing air emissions since the approval of the Bluewater Wind proposal two years ago. Two years ago, citizens made the difference on wind power, and citizens can make the difference by urging action on these three bills.

With only four more legislative days in the session, I am asking you to contact your state representative right away to urge them to vote for these important renewable energy bills. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Expanding Delaware's Renewable Portfolio Standard

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 119 is on the Senate agenda today. The bill would extend and expand the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), provide a solar component and include incentives for installing locally made components.

One important feature of the bill is the inclusion of the municipal energy providers and the Delaware Electric Cooperative in the RPS for the first time, either through the statutory program or through an alternative program that would achieve similar results. The munis and the Coop, which provide about half of Delaware's electricity, are structured differently than Delmarva Power, and have different relations with their customers.

According to the federal
Energy Information Administration, 97.6 percent of Delaware's electricity came from fossil fuels, 70 percent from coal. The 2008 Toxic Release Inventory reports that the coal burning Indian River and Edge Moor/Hay Road Power Plants together accounted for 75 percent of air emissions in Delaware.

Increasing the RPS will move us away from our reliance on fossil fuels and their inherent price volatility. Delaware is not in the fossil fuel extraction business. But we do manufacture solar panels. Motech has grown from 75 to 140 jobs since taking over a solar panel factory in Newark last winter.

Update: The bill passed the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 17 to 4, and has now moved to the House Energy Committee.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Financial Reform Needs Your Help

The New York Times reports that bank lobbyists are working overtime to water down the financial reform bill:
Industry lobbyists — and sympathetic members of Congress — are pushing for provisions to undercut a central pillar of the legislation, known as the Volcker Rule, which would forbid banks from using their own money to make risky wagers on the market and would force them to sell off hedge funds and private equity units.
Thanks to an unusual confluence of events, the bill has gotten stronger as it works its way through the legislative process. But that could change.

Congress is hearing from the banking interests. But you can weigh in as well. A group called
Americans for Fairness in Lending (part of has a set up a couple of online petitions. One calls for keeping the bill strong. A second petition targets the auto dealer exemption. Since buying a car is the second largest financing decision most families ever make, it hardly makes sense to exempt auto lending from the overall reform effort.

Amercians for Financial Reform has been working on building and sustaining grassroots support for financial reform. I've sat in on meetings with staffers for Ted Kaufman (who has been a lion on reforming Wall Street) and Mike Castle, who I learned supports the Volcker rule.
Besides signing your name, contacting Carper, Castle and Kaufman directly can help. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Polling Shows Public Support for Renewable Energy

Pew Research has new poll out with some interesting findings on attitudes on energy and the environment. Respondents favor requiring utilities to produce more energy from wind, solar or other renewable sources and tougher efficiency standards for building and major appliances.

Delaware already has laws to do these things. We have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in place, which Senate Bill 119 is designed to strengthen. A substitute bill has been introduced and will be brought to the Senate floor next week. Last year, Delaware enacted laws to strengthen energy efficiency for new home construction and reduce energy demand through efficiency. And of course the approval of the NRG Bluewater Wind project will be an historic step forward on adopting green energy.

The poll also found the the public favors limits on carbon dioxide emissions by more than two to one (66 percent to 29 percent, which is consistent with other recent polling on the subject:
By the way, Delaware already participates in a cap and trade program to limit CO2 emissions, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI.

On the other hand, 68 percent favor expanded exploration and development of coal, oil and gas. If Obama seems inconsistent on the subject, having voiced his support for limited expansion of offshore drilling, then much of the country is as well.

Here's the interesting finding: a majority thinks it's more important to protect the environment than keep energy prices low:

Most Delawareans didn't seem to mind the modest increase in rates projected from the Bluewater Wind project. But the other programs Delaware has adopted, like the RPS and RGGI, haven't yet led to any significant increase in energy prices.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

If Not Now, When?

The News Journal has published a timely opinion piece on energy policy by my friend Jen Mihills:
Time for new energy policy is right now

If not now, when?

For years, Congress has debated the pros and cons of various climate change and energy policies without reaching agreement on any comprehensive legislation.

A new national energy strategy has been labeled too controversial, too uncertain, too costly and too far into the future to demand immediate action.

But after weeks of watching millions of gallons of oil spew into the Gulf of Mexico, citizens across the country are demanding to know: If not now, when? What will it take to convince our leaders that the time for action is now?

America's dependence on oil and other fossil fuels imperils our environment. The Senate must take action this year to reduce this dependence on dirty fuels.

The Gulf disaster, the worst oil spill in our nation's history, has cost the United States approximately $1.6 billion in economic damage thus far (Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies). It threatens our shores, the ocean ecology and sea life. Already, more than 54,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico have been closed to fishing, 22 percent of the total area.

In addition, at last count, 32 national wildlife refuges were at risk, as well as countless birds, sea turtles and dolphins. And there's still no end in sight to the surging oil.

Experts believe it is not a matter of if but when the oil will make its way into the Gulf Stream and up the Atlantic coastline. With the oil slick on the move, Delaware's unspoiled coastline and recreational fishing and tourism industries may be at risk.

In 2006, the state's tourism and recreational industry brought in more than $299 million dollars in revenue, sustaining more than 3,400 jobs.

Toxic chemicals found in oil, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), can endanger human and ecosystem health. These compounds significantly degrade air quality, contributing to global climate change. If left unaddressed, this will cause irrevocable damage to our planet.

Climate change can cause droughts, an increased incidence of severe storms and rising sea levels. The effects of a rise in sea level and saltwater intrusion would be devastating to Delaware and other coastal communities throughout the world.

Lawmakers have a unique opportunity to find a policy solution overwhelmingly supported by the public. They shouldn't take it for granted.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that our elected lawmakers demonstrate strong convictions on a national energy and climate policy. President Obama and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, have promised to lead a discussion on comprehensive climate change and energy legislation this month. We need to hold them to those promises.

Delaware's senators, Tom Carper and Ted Kaufman, have been strong supporters of climate and energy legislation. Sen. Carper has a powerful voice on the Environment and Public Works Committee. We encourage him to use that voice to demand that oil companies be held financially responsible for environmental damage.

For too long, we have heard the time is not right for a comprehensive energy and climate change legislation, but that time has long since passed.

Senators Carper and Kaufman, we ask that you continue to work for the protection and advancement of Delaware's natural resources and for cleaner, more efficient energy technology.

Jennifer Mihills is associate director for natural resources conservation for the Delaware Nature Society.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The BP Oil Spew

I have a new opinion piece on the BP disaster at the Guardian:
It's not an oil spill so much as an oil spew.
Barack Obama has done some good for those affected by the disaster by getting BP to agree to a $20 billion fund to help victims. But he also is looking further ahead:
Obama is absolutely right that the only way to prevent future spills is to reduce our dependence on oil that is driving oil companies to drill nearly a mile below the ocean surface. We may not have reached peak oil just yet, but our continuing dependence on fossil fuels is driving industry to take on greater risks in extracting oil, natural gas and coal. This is an inherently and increasingly dirty and dangerous business, and the next barrel of oil or ton of coal will inevitably be more costly and hazardous to extract than the last.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Energy Bills on the Senate Agenda Today

Two important energy bills, SB 266 and SB 267, are on the Senate agenda for this afternoon.

SB 266 with SA 1 would give the DNREC secretary greater administrative flexibility over the Green Energy Fund to keep it viable. Because of a funding backlog, end users have been forced to wait for up to two years for funding under the program. The secretary could reduce or suspend technology demonstration and R&D grants in order to better direct funds to end users. The amendment attached to the bill looks like technical house cleaning.

SB 267 would allow homes and businesses sell back 120 percent of expected aggregate consumption to the grid, and allow customers to aggregate meters for one location (such as a farm or business campus). Both provisions would make it possible for customers to finance larger installations. A third provision would allow groups of customers, such as a homeowners association to band together to finance and build community owned renewable energy projects on site or off site.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Subsidizing Carbon

Critics who complain that renewable energy technologies like wind or solar can't compete without government help overlook the billions in subsidies for dirty energy sources. Ezra Klein writes in Newsweek that the price of gasoline would jump to $4.60 if it included all of the externalities. Not that we would stop using it at that price:
If an energy source as dirty as coal had to pay its true cost, we’d likely stop using it. But, disasters aside, that’s not the case with oil.
The Environmental Law Institute last year released a study that finds that U.S. fossil fuel subsidies far exceeded support for renewable energy over from 2002 to 2008:
I suspect that number is low. Indirect subsidies like lax regulation and liability caps are much harder to calculate.

Dave Roberts writes in Grist that global subsidies of dirty fuels is higher than was thought. He points to a story in the Financial Times on a draft report from the International Energy Agency that finds that subsidies of fossil fuels in developing countries totalled $557 billion in 2008:
The IEA estimates that in 2008 – the latest year for which data are available – 37 large developing countries spent about $557bn in energy subsidies, according to a draft seen by the Financial Times. Previous estimates put it at about $300bn. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and China top the ranking, according to the report.
Roberts hopes that if we can't put a price on carbon, at least we could do would be to stop subsidizing it:
Given the dim prospects of a serious cap on carbon, it seems to me that in the wake of the oil spill greens ought to be putting way more emphasis on removing these subsidies. Obama signed the statement at the G20 pledging to reduce them and reiterated that sentiment in his speech last week. It would be a crucial first step in unwinding the century-plus worth of advantages the fossil-fuel industry has accrued over its clean competitors.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Public Wants Action on Climate Change

Not content with doing nothing on climate change, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wants to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from acting to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. She has sponsored a "resolution of disapproval" to block the EPA from implementing proposed regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from power plants. Several Democrats, most recently Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia have announced their support of the measure.

Senate Joint Resolution 26 would declare that the EPA's endangerment finding "shall have no force or effect." The resolution would not have made it out of committee; all 14 Democratic members of the Environment & Public Works Committee (including Tom Carper) have signed a letter opposing the measure. But 30 senators can force a vote under the arcane rules governing such resolutions.

It turns out that most Americans want the government to act to control global warming. A Washington Post/ABC News polls finds that most Americans think government should regulate greenhouse gases by a 2 to 1 margin, 71 percent to 26 percent. 52 percent strongly favor regulation of greenhouse gases. Even 55 percent of Republicans favor action.

A poll by the Political Psychology Research Group published in the New York Times earlier this week finds that the skeptics are in the minority:
When respondents were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred.

For many issues, any such consensus about the existence of a problem quickly falls apart when the conversation turns to carrying out specific solutions that will be costly. But not so here.

Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular.
These poll results are surprising to those who have been listening to the skeptics and the tea party crowd. Apparently most Americans, including most Republicans, think the EPA should be allowed to do its job on climate change.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Senate Hearing Today on Two Renewable Energy Bills

The Senate Energy & Transit Committee will meet today at 2:30 to discuss two energy bills.

Senate Bill 266 would give the DNREC secretary greater leeway over the Green Energy Fund to keep it viable. The secretary could suspend technology demonstration and R&D grants in order to better direct funds to end users. While supporting R&D and demonstration projects is an appropriate use of government funds, we already have the technology. It makes more sense for Green Energy Fund to focus on promoting end use of technologies that have already been proven.

Senate Bill 267 would strengthen Delaware's net metering law that governs how much renewable energy utility customers can sell back to the grid. The bill would allow homes and businesses to sell back 120 percent of expected aggregate consumption to the grid, and make it possible for customers to aggregate several meters for one location (such as a farm or business campus). For instance, if a farm has several meters for buildings on one site, it could use the aggregate demand from all of those meters to determine how much power could be sold back to the grid through one meter. Both provisions would make it possible for customers to finance larger renewable energy installations.

A third provision would allow groups of customers, such as a homeowners association to band together to finance and build community owned renewable energy projects on site or off site. For instance, homeowners association could organize to finance and build a solar installation several miles away. It would be a powerful tool to promote medium size renewable energy installations.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

How Recycling Got Done in Delaware

Governor Jack Markell today accomplished what many thought would never happen in Delaware when he signed Senate Bill 234 into law. How did universal household recycling get done, when advocates, lawmakers and even governors have been trying to get this done for years? The answer lies in the shifting politics and economics of recycling.

First, the politics. Last July, I was part of a small group that gathered in the governor's office to ask him to veto House Bill 201, which I called the Un-Bottle Bill. We made the policy case for not killing the bottle deposit system—at least not without having an alternative in place. And we offered a political argument: if we kill the deposit system, let's make sure we get something in return.

Jack Markell announced his veto of the UnBottle bill the following Monday. From that moment on, any effort to repeal the bottle deposit system was tied to progress on recycling. Recycling advocates gained motivated allies among those who wanted to scrap the deposit system. The message for the bottlers, wholesalers, grocers and retailers became clear: If you want those returnable bottles out of the back of your store, help us get recycling done.

Advocates had been working to build a broad coalition in recent years. The Recycling Public Advisory Council (RPAC) was the center of data gathering and advocacy. I first met Alice Jacobson of the Maryland-Delaware Solid Waste Association at the first Delaware Environmental Summit in January of last year. She and her colleagues brought a summary of their draft legislation with them. When Jim Black of the Clean Air Council convened the Zero Waste Working Group (with backing by Rep. Mike Mulrooney), the waste haulers were at the table. Other industry stakeholders had joined the process by early this year.

In the meanwhile, Markell and his staff were holding meetings with key stakeholders. Throughout the process, environmental advocates made it clear that we would not willingly give up the deposit system for anything less than universal curbside recycling.

When Jack Markell announced the outlines of his proposal back in January, advocates faced a dilemma: Was universal recycling worth giving up the deposit system? Many advocates balked at eliminating the deposit system. For instance, the leaders of the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club (of which I am vice chair) decided that we could not agree as an organization to scrap a provision that the Club has explicitly advocated for years. Pat Todd, who has been described as the Godmother of the Bottle Bill, reluctantly acquiesced in the bargain. A key DNREC staffer said to me today that we would not be signing a bill if it had not been for Pat. I agree.

If the veto of the Un-Bottle Bill rearranged the political pieces, shifts in the understanding of the economics provided the policy basis for universal recycling. I first presented my analysis of the economics of landfill diversion four years ago, using an approach similar to one developed by Dick Fleming of the Delaware Nature Society. Fritz Schrank of the old blog, Sneaking Suspicions took my analysis to the next logical step by raising the more fundamental question of whether we could put a landfill in northern Delaware for any price.

Markell acknowledged the economic arguments for recycling in a speech delivered in April of last year:
Expanding recycling: despite the short-term economics of recycled materials, it will be much more cost-effective in the long-term to prioritize recycling instead of the purchase of another landfill site (assuming we could even identify one).
Advances in mechanical sorting have further reduced recycling costs and made it possible to replace the old system of sorting and separate handling with single stream collection. Single stream recycling improves participation and reduces handling costs. By making the system universal, which reduces unit collection and handling costs, the costs go way down without any need for the dreaded trash police.

There is much more that could be said about the last minute machinations against SB 234, including the threat to challenge the law in court, but by the time the late objections were raised, the political and policy groundwork had been prepared. Universal recycling is now the law in Delaware.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Marcellus Shale Blowout

As I wrote back in April, natural gas may burn relatively cleanly, but extracting it through "fracking" is another matter. Reuters reports that a blowout of a well tapping the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is reminding people of the environmental risks:
The incident caused the release of as much as 1.5 million gallons (5.7 million liters) of fluid used to hydraulically fracture the well, said Matthew Maciorkoski, a spokesman for State Representative Bud George, who has called for tighter regulation of gas drilling.
Critics of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," say domestic water supplies are contaminated by chemicals that are forced into the ground along with sand and millions of gallons of water to free gas from fissures in the shale a mile or more underground.
Business Week reports that the operator, EOG Resources Inc.
referred to the incident as a "control issue." The Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources called it a "blowout," and "a serious incident." It sounds pretty serious to me:
The incident on June 3 at the project operated by EOG Resources Inc. shot flames and drilling fluids 75 feet (23 meters) into the air, the state Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement on June 5.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Is the United States a Christian Nation?

Conservatives who hold to the original intent school of constitutional interpretation often also share a belief that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles. The Washington Post today has a story on a traveling seminar organized by Earl Taylor, who teaches that "the Founding Fathers have answers to nearly every problem we have in America today."
Taylor is a grandfatherly figure with glasses and a plume of gray hair. His session here had the feel of a church Bible study. He spoke of the Founders as divinely guided secular saints and said a return to the principles they wrote in 1787 is the only change the nation needs. "The Founders were on a divine mission or manifest destiny," Taylor told his class. "The Founders had answers."
While doing some research for yesterday's post on the separation of church and state, I came across the Wikipedia article on the Treaty of Tripoli, which was signed in 1796 and ratified by the Senate in 1797. Article 11 of the treaty includes this assertion that will prove problematic to those who question the principle of separation of church and state:
Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The Treaty of Tripoli was negotiated while George Washington was president. It was signed by President John Adams. As Vice President, Thomas Jefferson presided over the Senate at the time it was unanimously ratified.

Here we see a problem for those who hold to the original intent school of constitutional interpretation while also pronouncing the belief that the U.S. is a Christian nation. Washington, Adams and Jefferson were of course intimately familiar with the founding of the United States, and could have objected to Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli. But they didn't, and as a result we have an explicit statement ratified ten years after the adoption of the Constitution that "the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."

All this is not to say that our Founders were not devout. I have no trouble imagining Washington praying at Valley Forge. If I had been there, I would have prayed too. But the Treaty of Tripoli clearly shows that they did not translate their personal piety into government policy.

On the question of whether the U.S. was founded on Christian principles, the Founders have the answer. It's just not the answer many conservatives were looking for.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Glen Urquhart and the Nazis

Celia Cohen wrote earlier this week that GOP congressional candidate Glen Urquhart thinks that the separation of church and state originated with the Nazis:
"The exact phrase 'separation of church and state' came out of Adolf Hitler's mouth. That's where it comes from. The next time your liberal friends talk about separation of church and state, ask them why they're Nazis."
Urquhart's comments were captured on video and posted on YouTube. The usually genial Cohen departs from her breezy style and subjects Urquhart to a storm of well deserved sarcasm.

Beth Miller reports in the News Journal that Urquhart now says his remarks were "not as skillfully worded" as he would have liked. Skillfully worded or not, half of the crowd applauded.

Writing at Delaware Tomorrow, Michael Stafford refutes Urquhart's astonishing assertion in
a withering post titled "Mein Gaffe." Stafford admits that Urquhart is correct in saying that Thomas Jefferson did not use the exact phrase, "separation of church and state," in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Instead, Jefferson wrote of “building a wall of separation between church and State.”

Stafford traces the phrase back to James Madison and Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, and reviews the jurisprudence, including a 19th century prohibition on clergy holding public office here in Delaware. He takes us through the history for a reason:

Why this digression into the realm of state court opinions? Because it refutes the argument that the phrase “separation of church and state” did not become a part of our Establishment Clause lexicon until the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v Bd of Education in 1947; an argument frequently made by those who claim the phrase originated with Hitler and the Nazis. As the reader can see even from this cursory summary, the Supreme Court was not creating a new concept out of whole cloth, nor grafting a foreign (Nazi?) principle on the First Amendment--the separation between, or of, church and state has very deep roots in our history.
The claims that Democratic policies or programs resemble the horrors of Nazi Germany have flourished in the last two years. And it has not just been a few tasteless images on the web or on signs at street demonstrations.

Jonah Goldberg, considered by some a serious thinker, wrote an improbable tome called Liberal Fascism. Glen Beck has garnered several million viewers with his spectacle of "Nazi Tourettes,"
as Lewis Black called it on the Daily Show. And Newt Gingrich, who styles himself to be an intellectual (he once taught history), shows he doesn't understand history in his new book, To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine:
The President’s secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.
Glen Urquhart notwithstanding, I am not a Nazi, or even a secularist, for believing in the separation of church and state.

This paroxysm of Nazi allusions will eventually subside, though not before it inflicts further damage on our polity. I am glad there are Republicans who are willing to call out those who abuse history in ramping up the rhetoric.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Flight to Quality and U.S. Debt

Writing in the Washington Post, reporter Neil Irwin looks at the fears of a U.S. debt crisis:
It is the Beltway vs. the bond market, and they can't both be right.
The conventional wisdom is that the U.S. can't sustain its current debt levels:
Among economic commentators, there have been rumblings that the debt crisis that started in Greece and increasingly affects such other Western European countries as Spain and Ireland could eventually spread into a crisis of confidence in United States government debt.
So far, the opposite has happened.
The 10 year Treasury rate closed Friday at 3.31 percent, down 41 basis points in May alone, and down 1.54 percent from the beginning of the year. The 10 year rate is not an arbitrary number set by the Treasury Department; it represents the rate investors are willing to pay. The dropping U.S. rate results from what is commonly called a flight to quality.

Expressions of concern about deficit spending can be found in the media every day, but overall government spending is roughly flat, as federal stimulus spending is offset by cuts in state and local budgets. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports "a larger decrease in state and local government spending" as a factor slowing GDP growth in
its revised first quarter GDP report.

In short, long term budget concerns are not affecting the government's ability to borrow money. Comparisons to Europe, particularly Greece, do not point to the U.S. being next in line to have trouble financing its debt, but instead show U.S. debt to be the market's favorite place to park money in a turbulent world.