Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Recycling Opponents Try Again in the House

House Bill 29, which would needlessly impede implementation of universal curbside recycling in Delaware, comes up before the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday afternoon. The bill would require waste collectors to present their customers with separate cost breakdowns for regular waste and recycling pickups.

This is a matter that was decided last year by SB 234, which institutes statewide curbside recycling in Delaware, and requires that any waste hauler provide recycling as an integral part of waste collection.
Opponents of statewide recycling tried and failed to pass an identical amendment to SB 234 that would have mandated a separate cost breakdown. House Amendment 1 to SB 234 was defeated with 15 yes votes and 23 no votes. An unsuccessful lawsuit filed in Chancery Court to block the implementation of SB 234 also raised the issue.

HB 29 would impose unnecessary and unwarranted administrative burdens on firms and local governments that collect waste and recyclable material from Delaware’s homes and businesses. Waste collectors would have to have their accountants perform complex cost analysis for no good purpose. For instance, the bill doesn't specify whether costs be allocated by the customer, by the trip or by the ton. I've performed cost accounting in a variety of circumstances, and know from experience that how the analysis is structured profoundly affects the result. No public purpose would be served by this exercise, except to give recycling opponents another chance to claim that recycling is too expensive.

The opponents of recycling continue to ignore the economic advantages of single stream recycling. Waste collectors will use the same trucks and crews for regular waste and recyclable materials. The only difference is that the trucks will deliver one load to a recycling facility on one day and the other to a landfill on another. These opponents also forget that SB 234 will create long term environmental benefits and capital savings for Delaware through the extension of the useful life of our existing landfills.

As I see it, HB 29 is a nuisance bill that would serve no useful purpose other than to create a impediment for those working faithfully to implement the law. Given that the matter has been decided by the General Assembly and Chancery Court, this bill does not deserve more than a cursory consideration from the committee.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Republican Retreat from the Fight against Climate Change

Denying that humans have anything to do with climate change may be a standard among Republicans. But it was not always so. Time magazine's Swampland blog has a handy review of the views of possible GOP presidential contenders whose views on climate change were not always so implacable. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee were all for action on climate change before they were against it. Even Sarah Palin has spoken of the possible effects of global warming, as when she created an "Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet" on climate change back in 2007:
"Many scientists note that Alaska's climate is changing," Gov. Palin announced at the time. "We are already seeing the effects. Coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice and record forest fires affect our communities and our infrastructure. Some scientists tell us to expect more changes in the future. We must begin to prepare for those changes now."
Newt Gingrich is a special case. If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then Gingrich must be a very deep thinker indeed. Think Progress has compiled a timeline of Newt's statements on both sides of the global warming debate going back more than 20 years:
1989: Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) co-sponsors the ambitious Global Warming Prevention Act (H.R. 1078), which finds that “the Earth’s atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use, and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions,” that “global warming imperils human health and well-being” and calls for policies “to reduce world emissions of carbon dioxide by at least 20 percent from 1988 levels by 2000.” The legislation recognizes that global warming is a “major threat to political stability, international security, and economic prosperity.” [H.R. 1078, 6/15/1989]
In the intervening years, Gingrich has oscillated between assailing efforts to combat climate change and urging that we act to protect the climate. As recently as 2008, he appeared with Nancy Pelosi, saying, "we do agree our country must take action to address climate change."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Step Forward for Bluewater Wind

The News Journal reports that Bluewater Wind has passed an important regulatory milestone on the path to building an offshore wind project off the coast of Delaware. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has given Bluewater exclusive rights to develop the site:
Officially, the bureau's decision was a "determination of no competitive interest," which helps Bluewater avoid further delays in its effort to gain a lease and permit to start construction. That's because it won't have to grapple with another developer for the rights to build on the ocean tracts it has chosen.
While this may seem arcane, it is an important step forward, not just for Bluewater, but for the entire industry. Two years ago, the federal government had no process for even considering a request to build offshore wind. There is nothing so difficult for a bureaucracy to manage as novelty. In this instance, the Interior Department had to create a new agency. BOEMRE has expedited the process to weed out bids from firms that can't demonstrate the ability to develop a project.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Faith, Science & Climate Change

I am pleased to offer this guest post by Mike Stafford:

Faith, Science & Climate Change: The Truth Can Never Be a Heresy
Mike Stafford, Delaware Coordinator for Republicans for Environmental Protection

"And yet...it moves." — Galileo (attributed)

Do not be deceived. The opposition to the scientific evidence supporting anthropomorphic global warming ("AGW") among some conservatives may, at times, hide behind a pseudo-scientific veneer. However, much of it is often really rooted in an anti-intellectual strain of religious fundamentalism. It is this element—a barren theology that leaves no room for our God-given gifts of reason and discovery—that gives the opposition its implacable character.

Some say faith and reason are at war in the modern age. Not so for men like Rep. John Shimkus, who premises his rejection of AGW on Scriptural passages promising that the Earth will not perish in a flood. For him, the war is over, and reason has been routed from the field.

And sadly, Rep. Shimkus is not alone. Many conservative opponents of AGW claim that it is impossible because God would never permit it, or that it is erroneous because only God, and not humanity, has the capacity to destroy the world. I suppose these individuals have never heard of nuclear weapons.

It is the religious aspect of the AGW debate that has taken it out of the realm of mere policy, and planted it firmly in the thick of the culture wars.

As a result, any understanding of opposition to AGW, or of the apparent anti-intellectualism in segments of the GOP today, must begin with a discussion of religion and theology—specifically, the anti-intellectual theology underpinning elements of the fundamentalist Christian Right. In this regard, climate denial is merely one aspect of a broader rejection of reason and scientific inquiry.

With respect to the environment, these theological strains tend to place great emphasis on humanity's "dominion" over the Earth, but downplay or entirely ignore our concomitant responsibility for the stewardship of it. In so doing, they provide a false reading of the Book of Genesis, one that ignores the connotations of nurturing and care present in the original Hebrew text in favor of an interpretation emphasizing naked power and supremacy. Simply put, the Biblical mandate is to care for creation, not to commodify and exploit it.

In addition, AGW also touches on millennialist currents and visions prevalent in some streams of fundamentalist Christianity. This is significant. Stewardship is rooted in a concern for the future well-being of others. It matters little if you believe our world has no future, or that God will miraculously deliver you from it, and its consequences. Like the Easter Islanders of old, many among us seem ready to bet that the moai will come to life and rescue us from ourselves. In the face of very real problems, such an escape into magical thinking may temporarily relieve anxiety, but it actually accelerates the trajectory towards disaster.

In its opposition to AGW, the anti-intellectual theological strain also ignores the first of the cardinal virtues- prudence. Prudence speaks to the need for sagacity, for careful reflection and consideration. It is a requisite for effective stewardship, and effective political leadership.

Today, there is no debate in the scientific community about whether the Earth is warming—it is. There is also a nearly unanimous consensus that human activity is responsible for this warming. There is some debate over the severity of the consequences that will inure from this and, on the margins, over whether we can take any remedial measures that will slow, stop, or reverse this process. The consensus position, however, is clear—it will probably have a significant negative impact on human civilization and the natural world, and there are practical steps that could be taken now to avoid this fate.

Given the potential implications for humanity, it is reckless to ignore the broad scientific consensus on AGW. Doing so in the face of this evidence is tantamount to an abdication of both our duty to future generations, and of our duty to care for the natural world. It is an act of immense selfishness. After all, the natural world, our Earth, is a shared, a common, inheritance. As the late Admiral Hyman Rickover once said: "A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare."

Placing religion and theology in the service of such selfishness and irresponsibility is an act of deep betrayal.

In the end, a theology that requires the rejection of empirical evidence on a variety of topics, and an escapist descent into magical thinking, is not a living faith. It is a dead one. Such a faith is not spiritual armor for the believer going out into the world, but rather, an intellectual tomb for someone hiding from it.

Let me suggest something different. Faith and reason are not at war–or at least, do not need to be. Religious belief and rational inquiry, faith and doubt, are not binary pairs of opposites. Indeed, at a fundamental level, both religion and science remind us of the deep mystery underpinning the world, and our existence in it. Scientific inquiry also expands our knowledge of the natural world and the universe which, we are told in Genesis, is a reflection of God. This is why learning, the quest for knowledge and understanding, is a sacred thing. Or as Pope Benedict XVI has taught, religious faith "consolidates, integrates and illuminates truth[s] acquired by human reason." For my own part, I think God gave us our minds, our intellects, and our capacity to reason, in the hope that we would put them to use advancing the common good.

Today, in their opposition to AGW, some religious conservatives imagine themselves as brave dissenters defending individual rights and Biblical truth from yet another assault by a grasping, rapacious, regulatory Government and the atheist liberals that run it. They are wrong. They are actually reprising the role of the Inquisition in the trial of Galileo.

And in so doing, they have forgotten something fundamental about faith. If God is the author of the world, then the truth, whatever it is, can never be a heresy...and people of faith ought never fear it.

Image: "Interdependence" – A Tiffany window at Yale University shows harmony between science and religion, Michael Marsland, Yale University

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Risk Mismanagement

How risky is a nuclear plant, an offshore drilling platform or an investment bank? When disaster strikes, we invariably hear that an unlikely confluence of events (the proverbial perfect storm) led to the catastrophe. Economist Nancy Folbre, writing in the New York Times Economix blog, sees a common thread in the risk management mistakes that led to disasters on Wall Street and at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan:
Early warnings about potential nuclear dangers in Japan and about Wall Street’s propensity for risk-taking without liability were both dismissed as paranoid anticipation of low-probability events. With both disasters, regulatory failures set the stage, and taxpayers will end up paying most of the social costs.

Effective risk management is central to economic efficiency. Yet major players in both crises have insisted that they should not be held accountable for risks they underestimated.
A common fallacy is thinking of the contributing causes of a disaster as unrelated when they are often related. The investment bankers and traders thought the simultaneous collapse of their various investments and derivatives couldn't happen, but in a market meltdown, they all became highly correlated and crashed in unison. Likewise the Japanese engineers imagined that the simultaneous breakdowns of diesel backup generators, cooling valves and pumps was highly unlikely, but the cascading failures were all caused by one event. In each case, the engineers and managers never understood how so many components could fail at once.

This fallacy can lead to a tragic underestimation of risk. Take three components of a complex system. If the chance of failure for any one component is 1 percent, then the odds that all three could fail at the same time would be one in a million
if the three events are unrelated. But if breakdown of one component contributes to, or is correlated to, the failure of another, the chance that all three could fail would be closer to one in a hundred, rather than one in a million.

Floyd Norris, also writing in the Times, points out that managers who underestimate risk can end up taking on even larger risks as a results:
Four years ago, there were fears of a financial meltdown — a term borrowed from the nuclear power industry. Now there are fears of a real meltdown.

Comparing the two events may risk seeming insensitive to the rising human toll in northern Japan, but there are similarities in causation. In each case, overconfidence born of experience led to increased risks once a disaster unfolded.
These errors in risk management are compounded and repeated when the engineers and managers allow themselves to believe that they were overcome by extremely unlikely events. And thus, we hear over and over again that yet another disaster was caused by yet another perfect storm.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Risks and Costs of Nuclear Power

Even in the face of a disaster of unimaginable scale, the cynics still consider the proponents of renewable energy to be impractical. But I don't see why I or anyone should apologize for advocating developing energy resources that don't blow up and poison the air, land and water for miles around.Such large scale disasters are expensive as well as dangerous, which is a key reason why no new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S. for a generation.

Several years ago, I heard Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, say that commercial nuclear power won't be developed in the U.S. without federal liability or financing guarantees. The risks, however remote, are so expensive that investors don't want to take them on, no matter what the ROI. Even so, some supposedly hard-headed folks consider nuclear power to be more practical than wind or solar.

I know that some advocates for tackling climate change are convinced that nuclear power has to be part of the solution. But if the risks are so scary that industry can't finance a power plant without offloading financial liability onto the federal government, it may not be a practical part of the solution.

Photo: DigitalGlobe, via Reuters

Monday, March 14, 2011

John Flaherty

I was pleased to see the News Journal recognize John Flaherty for his work on good government issues. John is omnipresent in Legislative Hall and has a good sense of who is where on what issue at any given time.

I and many other Delawareans have worked with John on good government issues over the years. I don't know how many of his fellow citizens have benefitted from his coaching. Being on the same side as John is a pretty reliable indicator of whether you're on the right side of an issue. And if he says a plan or strategy makes sense, then you're likely on the right track.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Russell W. Peterson's Declaration of Interdependence

Chris Coons was the last speaker at the memorial service for Russ Peterson. He led the gathering in reciting Peterson's Declaration of Interdependence, written in 1973:
We the people of the planet Earth,
with respect for the dignity of each human life,
with concern for future generations,
with growing appreciation of our relation to the environment,
with recognition of limits to our resources and with need for adequate food, air, water, shelter, health, protection, justice, and self-fulfillment,

hereby declare our interdependence and resolve to work together in harmony with our environment to enhance the quality of life everywhere.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry

Talking Points Memo reports that Congressman Joe Barton thinks we need to keep subsidizing the fossil fuel companies to keep them from going broke:
"Over time if you put so many disincentives against any U.S. manufacturing or production company, or oil and gas exploration company, they'll go out of business," Barton said.

Barton, perhaps the oil and gas industry's staunchest support on Capitol Hill, says the subsidies for the industry should remain unchanged "so long as you believe that you believe in the free market capitalist system and they should be headquartered in the United States."
While Barton's comment is outrageous (and irony free when it comes to the question of free enterprise), so is the fact that these subsidies are still in place. Consider Barton's choice of words: cutting subsidies would create "disincentives" for oil and gas companies.

The Environmental Law Institute released a study in 2009 that found that U.S. fossil fuel subsidies far exceeded support for renewable energy over from 2002 to 2008:
President Obama has proposed cutting these subsidies by $46 billion over the next ten years.

Even in the face of these facts, critics complain about subsidies for renewable energy, saying that wind turbines and solar panels should compete on their own. But there is a rationale for these breaks: these are new industries with developing technologies, significant public benefits and large potential for future growth.

On the other hand, the oil and gas business is mature (having been around for more than a century) with standardized technologies, significant public costs and little potential for future growth.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Cumulative Impact of Development

The Delaware Department of Transportation denied a waiver of the requirement that the developer conduct a traffic impact study for a proposed shopping center on a site bounded by Routes 7, 40 and 1. The News Journal reports that the developer's attorney, Larry Tarabicos, complained that DelDOT has granted waivers for other projects in the area:
But Tarabicos maintains DelDOT's decision contradicts the agencys history of granting waivers for traffic impact studies to other developers along U.S. 40 and Del. 7.

"DelDOT hasn't seen a request for a traffic waiver in the Route 40 corridor that they didn't like -- until this one," Tarabicos said.
This provides a good example of the principle of cumulative impact in regulation. If there are already two large shopping centers at the intersection, why not a third? The developer in this case can complain that this project should have been treated exactly like the previous projects, but the real world impact would be to push traffic to the breaking point.

Of course, this project had been helped along by seeking special treatment, such as the absurd request to treat building a large retail facility on a parking lot as redevelopment under County code, and slipping approval through County Council as part of a consent agenda.

The project would have added more than 500 vehicles to the road during rush hour. The first or second 500 vehicles through the intersection may not have led to gridlock, but an additional 500 could. The cumulative impact of another 500 vehicles requires that regulators treat the project differently than they might have a similar proposal twenty years ago.

Public roads are not infinite resources. To demand that each project be given the same approval regardless of the cumulative impact is to ignore the truth that public resources are limited.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Adjusting Solar Rebates to Changing Markets

This is the way it's supposed to work. Aaron Nathans writes in the News Journal that solar panel rebates in Delaware are being adjusted downwards in response to falling prices:
"This is realistically the next step. As prices continue to drop, we don't need such a big rebate," said Dale Davis, president of CMI Solar Electric and president of the Delaware Solar Energy Coalition, an industry group.

He also sits on the Renewable Energy Task Force that designed the program. The task force, which was charged by the General Assembly with designing a sustainable solar industry in the state, also includes utilities, environmental groups, the solar manufacturer Motech, and representatives of various state agencies.
I am a member of the task force as well, and can testify first hand to the work being done to get the biggest bang for the buck. Task force meetings are open to the public; the next meeting is Wednesday, March 9 at 9:30 a.m. at the Public Service Commission hearing room in Dover.

I can think of two ways in which support for solar power is helping to drive prices down. First, unit costs are coming down as manufacturers ramp up production. Second, the growing market for solar panels is driving further innovation, making panels more efficient or less expensive to produce.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural

Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president 150 years ago today. His first Inaugural Address still stands as one of the defining expositions on the principles of self government.
The New York Times has posted the text and a facsimile of his notes, with handwritten edits in the margins and pasted onto a typeset draft. The notes include the famous ending, prompted by suggestions by William Seward, written at the bottom of the page. In the speech Lincoln presents a clear, and now definitive, case that the United States cannot be dissolved by individual states. The argument for states' rights may be raised from time to time, but the question of the constitutional integrity of the United States has been settled by Lincoln's speeches and the outcome and aftermath of the Civil War.
Fellow-Citizens of the United States:

In compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly and to take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of this office."

I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

I now reiterate these sentiments, and in doing so I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause—as cheerfully to one section as to another.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:

No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause "shall be delivered up" their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by State authority, but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by which authority it is done. And should anyone in any case be content that his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

Again: In any law upon this subject ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not in any case surrendered as a slave? And might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that "the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States"?

I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules; and while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to and abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed than to violate any of them trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised, according to circumstances actually existing and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events and are glad of any pretext to do it I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however, who really love the Union may I not speak?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from, will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

All profess to be content in the Union if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right plainly written in the Constitution has been denied? I think not. Happily, the human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify revolution; certainly would if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have referred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves can do this if also they choose, but the Executive as such has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government as it came to his hands and to transmit it unimpaired by him to his successor. Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Photo: New York Times

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Cost of Coal

A group of researchers from Harvard have published a full life cycle accounting of the cost of coal power in the United States, and the results could be meaningful for Delaware.

The study, titled “
Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal,” was just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The authors calculate the externalities (environmental and health costs) of coal power to be $345.3 billion annually. (The authors present a range for each calculation; I will report the “best” calculation to reduce clutter. For instance, the range for the total cost of coal power in the U.S. is $175.2 billion to $523.3 billion.)

The externalities include land disturbance, public health costs in Appalachia, air emissions, and climate costs. If the costs were factored into energy prices, electricity from coal power would be an additional 17.84 cents/kWh. The Harvard study’s authors calculate the national cost of air emissions (one component of the costs) to be $187.5 billion annually, which would add 9.31 cents/kWh rates if it were included in electric bills. The average residential price in Delaware in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration, was 13.93 cents/kWh.

The effects vary greatly by locality, so there is no way to neatly break down the costs for Delaware. The most directly relevant effect for Delaware would be the costs of air emissions from burning coal. Delmarva Power’s draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) includes a calculation of the benefits (in avoided health costs) of $1.8 billion to $4.3 billion over ten years from reducing coal power and increasing renewable energy. But comparing these numbers is not a straightforward exercise; the Harvard study calculates total externalities, while the IRP number is avoided externalities. Even so the Harvard study could provide a useful benchmark for Delaware. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More Sloppy Work from the CRI

The Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI) has stepped up its output when it comes to arguing against renewable energy. Unfortunately the quality of the CRI’s production has not kept pace. Let’s take a look at an example of the CRI’s work, titled “Solar Panel Subsidies Have Un-Intended Consequences.” In it Dave Stevenson of the Center for Energy Competitiveness compares the costs of different energy technologies:
One dollar invested in solar cells produces about 275 watts a year of electricity. Compare this to annual production per dollar invested for the following; offshore wind produces 390 watts/$, onshore wind 775 watts/$, and nuclear power 3000 watts/$ invested.
Sadly, no source is offered for these numbers, which would have been helpful in clarifying the meaning of the numbers. The cost of power plants is typically expressed as either dollars needed to build a kilowatt of capacity or cents per kWh of output. But Stevenson isn't clear as to whether he is talking about capacity or output, which makes his numbers almost impossible to interpret.

I have not seen any figures that support Stevenson’s assertion that nuclear power is ten times more cost effective than solar power. The cost of solar power has been coming down (a point Stevenson helpfully illustrates in a graph), while the cost of a new nuke plant continues to be prohibitive, and the industry insists that no new nuclear power will come online without financial guarantees from the federal government.