Friday, July 29, 2011

Sea Level Rise and Delaware Infrastructure

The costs of sea level rise from global warming will not be limited to beachfront property and wetlands. A look at DNREC's sea level rise maps reveals significant impacts for the infrastructure serving Wilmington and northern New Castle County. DNREC's interactive maps show the effects of 0.5 meters, 1.0 meter and 1.5 meters:
The maps show that even a modest rise in sea level would undermine or flood much of the major infrastructure in and around Wilmington.

I-95 would be flooded at several points between Rt. 141 and Wilmington. I-495 would be undermined near Edgemoor, under the bridge over the Christina River, at the interchange with Rt. 13, and at the interchange with I-95 and I-295. The S. Market Street, S. Walnut Street and 4th Street Bridges across the Christina River would be inundated. The Port of Wilmington would be partially underwater. Erosion along the banks of the Cherry Island Landfill and the Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant would threaten the structural integrity of these facilities that serve most of New Castle County. Amtrak lines would be flooded at several points, including the maintenance facility along I-495.

DNREC's Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee is looking at the potential costs associated with inundated or flooded infrastructure. One current project provides a useful benchmark:
Market Street Safety Project - Wilmington: This project would elevate the roadway out of the floodplain; reducing the impact flooding has on residents and businesses. The contract will also add the following streetscaping: sidewalks, pedestrian lighting and trees. Improvements also include undergrounding utilities. The limits are Market Street from "A" Street to just north of the Market/Walnut Street intersection. Bid opening date was Tuesday, June 8. The contract was awarded to Mumford & Miller Concrete, Inc., on July 9, 2010 with a bid amount of $4,430,809.05. The construction began on September 6, 2010. 684 Calendar Day Project.
That’s $4.4 million for less than a mile of roadway and associated infrastructure. I expect that the total infrastructure costs associated with sea level rise will be very large indeed. And what would the cost be if we decide that shoring up or replacing these transportation lines is just too expensive? Wilmington would be cut off from the highways and rail lines that connect New York and Washington.

When I discussed this at a meeting of environmental advocates with then Senator Ted Kaufman, he responded with the words, "Buffalo, New York." I sat there puzzled for a moment, and he explained that Buffalo's economic relevance began to decline when the Erie Canal was replaced by rail lines and highways as the country's main commercial arteries.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Brink of Default

In a way I am reminded of the Civil War. The South chose to break away from our national government rather than accept limits on slavery. Today, the Republican Party is threatening to break our government rather than compromise on efforts to control the debt.

Minority obstruction has become a way of life in Congress, with the proliferation of filibusters and secret holds of nominations to federal office. Now this obstructionism has metastasized, with the entire government being marched inexorably to the brink of default.

This is not just about the budget or the size of our federal government. Congress has argued about appropriations for more than two centuries. This is about whether one faction can force the government to stop operating unless that faction gets its way. The essence of majority rule is that all citizens and parties accept the legitimacy of the government, even when those with opposing views hold power. The House Republicans do not acknowledge limits to their power in a divided government, and are holding up the machinery of government unless they get their way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Downplaying the Risk of Default

Republicans are downplaying the consequences of default if Congress fails to authorize more debt. The News Journal reports that Glen Urquhart thinks the U.S. government can get by without raising the debt ceiling:
Glen Urquhart, a Republican who lost the 2010 U.S. House race, said Democrats like Markell, Coons and Obama are trying to scare the public in order to secure higher taxes to pay down the debt.

"Those are great DNC talking points, but they're just not the truth," said Urquhart, a businessman from Rehoboth Beach. "The United States is still the safest place to invest. Nothing is going to happen."

Urquhart suggested the U.S. Treasury sell bonds on the proceeds of the Social Security Trust Fund to get by until a resolution can be reached on the debt ceiling.
Urquhart should go back to school for remedial finance. Selling bonds is the way the government finances debt. Bonds cannot be sold unless and until Congress authorizes the government to borrow the money.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The New York Times has a stunning first person account from the victim and the perpetrator of a brutal hate crime in Texas:
Mark Anthony Stroman, 41, a stonecutter from Dallas, shot people he believed were Arabs, saying he was enraged by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He killed at least two: Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was Hindu, and Waqar Hasan, a Muslim born in Pakistan.
A third shooting victim, Rais Bhuiyan, 37, a former Air Force pilot from Bangladesh, survived after Mr. Stroman shot him in the face at close range. Mr. Stroman admitted to the shootings. He is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.
Mr. Bhuiyan, despite being partly blinded in his right eye, has spent the past several months creating a Web site with a petition and meeting with officials in Texas to try to persuade the state to spare Mr. Stroman.
The Times interviewed the two, Bhuiyan by phone, and Stroman who responded via typewriter.

Rais Bhuiyan:
Then there’s a guy coming into the store with a hat and sunglasses and a bandanna and a gun in his hand. I thought it was a robbery. I said, “Don’t shoot me please. Take all the money.” He said, “Where are you from?” He was four or five feet away from me. I felt cold air in my spine. I said, “Excuse me?” It was a double-barrel gun. I felt a million bee stings on my face at the same time. Then I heard an explosion. I saw images of my parents, my siblings and my fiancée and then a graveyard and I thought, “Am I dying today?” I looked down and saw blood was pouring from my head. I placed both my hands on my head to get my brains in and I screamed, “Mom!” I looked and he was still staring at me and I thought he might shoot me again if I don’t fall and he doesn’t think I’m dead. The floor was getting wet with my blood. Then he left the store. I could not believe he shot me. I thought I was dreaming, going through a hallucination. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was not a threat to him. I couldn’t believe someone would just shoot you like that.
Mark Anthony Stroman:
“Yes, Mr Rais Bhuiyan, what an inspiring soul...for him to come forward after what ive done speaks Volume’s...and has really Touched My heart and the heart of Many others World Wide...Especially since for the last 10 years all we have heard about is How Evil the Islamic faith Can be...its proof that all are Not bad nor Evil.”
Bhuiyan's website is called World Without Hate.  Stroman's blog is called Execution Chronicles.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bill Clinton and Reflective Roof Coatings

I have previously noted the simple and cost effective practice of covering dark roofs with reflective roof coatings (here and here). Now Bill Clinton is touting the benefits of putting people to work reducing cooling costs with this simple method:
What's the single best idea to jumpstart job creation?  
Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it's hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York's roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)
Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It's the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it's been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.
This simple technique acts locally by reducing cooling costs, and globally by reflecting sunlight back into space. We don't need to rely on guesswork to measure the benefits; the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has already crunched the numbers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Michelle Obama's Milkshake and Fries

Michelle Obama has drawn predictable carping from her critics who pounced on her lunch of a burger, fries and milkshake as hypocritical, or at least counterproductive, given her high profile campaign to reduce childhood obesity. John Talty challenged her sincerity in the International Business Times:
It's time for Mrs. Obama to either put up or shut up on how she represents the fight against obesity.

She can truly get committed to the process and eat healthy, as she encourages people to do, or she can eat any way she'd like but without all of the pretenses.
USA Today reports that nutritionists, who deal with the issues every day, are more supportive:
"It's perfectly fine to indulge in your favorite foods every once in a while," says Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Boston, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. "A healthy lifestyle is all about balance and inclusion, not deprivation and misery. I would have preferred a cup of fat-free milk to the diet soda, though."

Milk shakes are a good source of calcium, but are loaded with fat and calories, Ward says. Burgers pack protein, iron and other nutrients, but tend to be high in fat, also.

Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian in Bradley Beach, N.J., and author of Fighting the Freshman Fifteen, says, "Michelle Obama's openness about how she eats and exercises is the most valuable nutrition news that's been published in decades.

"The government's dietary guidelines are very clear on the need to establish eating patterns that are flexible and accommodate our personal preferences. Mrs. Obama provides a perfect example of just that when she enjoys the occasional burger and fries for lunch, while also demonstrating to her daughters the hard-to-grasp concept of moderation.
The mistake Mrs. Obama's critics make is to turn this into a question of personal virtue or strength of character. Turning obesity into a question of moral deficiency obscures the large issues of public health policy that need to be discussed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Transport Rule and Delaware

The News Journal has a story today on the EPA's new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, also called the Transport Rule, that targets power plants that emit pollutants that affect the air in downwind states. Because so much pollution wafts into Delaware from sources to our west, compliance with Clean Air Act standards becomes impossible.

This contributor to the Huffington Post noted DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara's testimony to a hearing Senator Tom Carper held on the topic:
O’Mara summed it up with one sentence: “This imbalance allows upwind states to enjoy a competitive advantage for economic development, particularly in the recruitment and retention of manufacturing firms, while the downwind states are forced to deal with the consequences economically and environmentally.”
Upwind states that burn coal enjoy cheaper electricity rates while sending the pollution eastward to Delaware, where it causes billions in health and mortality costs. Because of the lack of fossil fuels and the congested grid, Delaware pays more for its power. Delaware has to pay the costs of cleaning up local sources of pollution, and still doesn't meet clean air standards. We need to promote renewables, reduce our reliance on out of state energy and press for fair enforcement of the Clean Air Act to overcome these disadvantages.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Honoring Our Obligations

Senator Chris Coons took to the Senate floor yesterday to warn of America becoming a bad investment if the U.S. government refused to pay its bills:
And I am gravely concerned that we are on the verge of the most predictable financial crisis in modern American history as we slowly grind toward the predicted deficit – excuse me, the predicted default on America’s mortgage on August 2nd.
His slip of the tongue illustrates the point that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with controlling the deficit, but whether Congress will refuse to meet our obligations. Some countries like Greece are facing default because they are having trouble paying their bills. The U.S. is risking default because one political party thinks we should refuse to pay our bills. Coons yesterday pointed out that the debt ceiling is about meeting obligations already incurred:
This is not about cutting up the credit cards or ending the blank check for our current president. This is about whether we will continue to meet the commitments America has already made.
I honestly can't understand what threatening to default has to do with fiscal responsibility. I grew up learning that bills were obligations, and that those who refused to honor their obligations—whether family, business or government—were untrustworthy.

In a much discussed column in the New York Times, David Brooks had these scathing words for the Tea Party Republicans:
The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.
I don't see how anyone entrusted with responsibility for governing our country could imagine, even for a moment, that casting doubt on the trustworthiness of our government is somehow useful. Brooks said that if Republicans push the government into default, that voters will "conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern." I couldn't agree more.

Monday, July 04, 2011

When in the Course of Human Events

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unaminous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[New Hampshire] Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

[Massachusetts] John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

[Rhode Island] Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

[Connecticut] Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

[New York] William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

[New Jersey] Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

[Pennsylvania] Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

[Delaware] Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

[Maryland] Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

[Virginia] George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

[North Carolina] William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

[South Carolina] Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

[Georgia] Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton