Archive for March, 2007

a little slowdown….

March 24th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Roger is still spring breaking for a while and I’m going to be traveling a lot for the next three weeks, so Prometheus is going to get a bit thin, unless we can corral the occasional posters around here to get some material up. I’ll try to post from the road but some of my travel will be computerless.

For you NY-based readers I’ll be giving an earthquake mitigation policy talk at Lamont-Doherty on April 9th to the CHRR.

And I’ll be in northern Michigan week of April 2 … anybody up there want to invite me to give a talk so I can call that a business trip? 8-)

Praise for The Honest Broker

March 24th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Three people who I have a lot of respect for have read my book and offered some kind (far too kind, actually) words:


Who is SAIC?

March 23rd, 2007

Posted by: admin

I’m guessing that most of you inside or slightly inside or have-been inside the DC circuit know about SAIC and what they do for the government, but even those who know about SAIC probably don’t know much. Vanity Fair has a long, detailed and fascinating piece up on SAIC and how they basically are the government. It’s well worth the time. My favorite line:

Whether SAIC actually possesses all the expertise that it sells is another story

Right. That is, I suppose, the essence of the contracting scene. You want somebody to pay you to figure out how to do something so you can sell it to the next person at a profit….

Who is talking national cat insurance now?

March 22nd, 2007

Posted by: admin

The Florida Senators, of course. The Palm Beach Post has a story up about a new bill package from Sens. Nelson and Martinez. The bills aren’t up yet in the Congressional tracking system so all we have is the PBP article, but there are some tantalizing clues in there:

But Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, said their main legislative vehicle would be a bill Nelson filed in January that would create an advisory commission to recommend a federal catastrophic insurance program.

Among the bills introduced Tuesday is a proposal to create a national catastrophic insurance fund financed through insurance premiums.

Such a fund would operate as a national reinsurance program to backstop commercial reinsurance plans and state catastrophic insurance funds in the event of a major disaster.


Al Gore’s appearance before Senate EPW

March 21st, 2007

Posted by: admin

Today’s climate change hearing at Senate EPW with Al Gore as sole witness just finished. A few thoughts.

The hearing had a format slightly altered from the usual, with Chair Boxer and Ranking Member Inhofe giving opening statements, Mr. Gore getting 30 minutes to talk, Inhofe getting 15 minutes to question him, then the rest of the Senators getting their chances.

Sen. Inhofe tried hard to clown the hearing into irrelevance but Boxer struggled successfully to keep him in line and Gore did a good job of battling back. By the end of the hearing it was pretty clear that Inhofe has been pushed out to the fringes. He already was, of course, but previously he has had caucus members either behind him or willing to read directly from his sheaf of talking points. This time when the dust settled he looked startlingly alone.

During his talk Mr. Gore pushed a bunch of ideas, some of which were new and worth highlighting.

• The biggest bombshell was his second proposal: eliminate employment/payroll taxes and replace the revenue with a new carbon/pollution tax. This is the first time I’ve heard Mr. Gore specifically endorse a carbon tax, which automatically gives it new life in the policy debate. But more startling is the proposed revenue offset by eliminating payroll taxes.


The state push to the federal push

March 21st, 2007

Posted by: admin

It seems pretty likely that we won’t see anything signed on carbon emission restrictions (tax or cap-and-trade) at the federal level before January 2009, so once again we have the somewhat familiar situation of states leading the federal government on sticky issues.

You probably know about RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative formed by the New England and upper Mid-Atlantic states that sets a cap-and-trade system to reduce CO2 from power plants. You might have heard that the Guvernator recently corralled four other western state governors (OR, WA, AZ and NM) to join in to form their own cap-and-trade program, this one targeting not just electricity generators, but economy-wide emissions. And as the dominoes keep falling so come the other high population states like Illinois (thanks Jim A), who wants to join the CCX.

The environmental policy buzz is how this regionalism will, as usual, force federal action as businesses put hard pressure down on their duly electeds to create one system that they have to comply with instead of a patchwork of systems. The pressure seems to be coming hard already. In January, Alcoa and nine other companies formed the US Climate Action Partnership and yesterday


Rep. McNerney in Wired

March 15th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Here’s a brief interview in the March issue of Wired with Rep. Jerry McNerney, the wind engineer who pulled off a huge upset over Dick “I hate endangered animals” Pombo in California’s 11th District. (My sister lives in that district and a good friend knows somebody on McNerney’s staff, so we’re tight.)

McNerney’s ascension to a nice little office in Cannon is noteworthy for us science policy and politics types because he becomes only the third Hill resident with a science Ph.D. (well, his is in math, but close enough), along with Rep. Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Ehlers (R-MI).

The interview is short, but the best part is this:

What’s the biggest difference between science and politics? Science is all about truth. You gather your evidence and logically prove your claims. Congress is all about people, relationships, and rules. There are a lot of rules.

[cough cough ahem] That’s what a lot of pure scientists want to think, anyway. The STS and SSS people find that … well … not really the way science works.

More to the pure politics:


Since nobody around here does the GMO thing….

March 14th, 2007

Posted by: admin

An article came across one of my inboxes and grabbed my attention: apparently a genetically modified maize strain developed by Monsanto has shown some concerning tendencies to cause liver and kidney toxicity in rats fed the GM’d corn. (Can’t get the study online yet but it was published in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.)

I guess this may be of concern because the maize has been approved for use and is being grown in seven countries and the EU? From what I can gather from the limited info available, to this point Monsanto has done all the safety studies on the strain, and despite some indications of problems (see here…warning, hard advocate site citing other hard advocate group, but you take what you can get) has declared its own product safe. The researchers of the new study say

“Our counter-evaluation show that there are signs of toxicity and that nobody can say scientifically and seriously that consumption of the transgenic maize MON863 is safe and good for health,” lead author of the study, Professor Gilles Eric Séralini told France’s TF1 television station.

You know what’s coming next, right? That’s right, Data Wars XXVI:

Monsanto France has rejected the concerns. Yann Fichet, Monsanto France’s director of external relations told TF1: “[MON863] has already been examined by competent authorities and scientific experts in more than 10 countries worldwide, including the European Union and France, and all the experts concluded unanimously that the maize in question is as safe as traditional maize.”

The problem for Monsanto is that the new study is published in a peer-reviewed journal, which gives it loads of legitimacy no matter what the author’s funding was (could be a national lab, could be Greenpeace, but I can’t read French so I don’t know). Further compounding their problem is the previous notice of a Monsanto study on this same strain, noting the liver and kidney issues (can you spell Vioxx?). However, I also get the feeling from a bit of googling on MON863 that the study author basically works for Greenpeace, so who knows where this is going to lead. Anybody who tracks the GMO policy game care to comment?

The future of coal

March 14th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Interesting stuff just released by a group at MIT on the outlook for coal in the US. Their main page is here and the executive summary is here.

They start with two realistic premises and take it from there:

Our first premise is that the risks of global warming are real and that the United States and other governments should and will take action to restrict the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Our second and equally important premise is that coal will continue to play a large and indispensable role in a greenhouse gas constrained world.

They also give a rather sobering factoid right off the bat:

If 60% of the CO2 produced from U.S. coal-based power generation were to be captured and compressed to a liquid for geologic sequestration, its volume would about equal the total U.S. oil consumption of 20 million barrels per day.

Perhaps because it is about as interdisciplinary as can be, with participants from political science to chemical engineering to economics, the report is refreshingly policy-prescriptive, urging specific government actions in dozens of ways, and even goes so far as


Point made: it’s the icon not the issue

March 13th, 2007

Posted by: admin

William Broad has an article out today in the NYT on Al Gore as climate change icon that quotes Roger and myself. I think Roger’s quote basically sums up the problem:

Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person, and become a referendum on Mr. Gore.

I am quoted thusly:

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”

The backlash thing, a.k.a. the ominous tension, comes from this post. The rest is a better way to sum up what I was trying to get across in that AGU post. In talking about overselling the science I was talking about overselling the future, not the past or present. I have no problem with the state of consensus on past and present climate and our imprint on it. I do have a problem with giving the non-technician public the impression that climate models give us some crystal ball into the future that warns with some degree of certainty about coming catastrophes. Risk, yes. Certainty, no. My message remains the same as it has been since my days in DC: deal with the risk but realize that it means acting on incomplete and imperfect information.