Roundup: Energy Legislation, California, and Trash-to-Cash

By Kennedy Maize

Partisan Correctness: Does Harry Reid Speak for Harry Reid?

Who’s speaking approximate truth here? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week in a press conference that he expects energy and climate legislation, which has narrowly passed the House, will get punted into next year. The reason, Reid said, is the protracted struggle over health care legislation.

At a press conference last Wednesday, Reid was asked whether he might split the energy and climate sections of the narrowly-passed House climate bill, and move them separately. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Reid replied that “we have to do this health care matter. We have, now, the president’s talking in the last few days about how important [financial] regulatory reform is. So, you know, we are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year. And, of course, nothing terminates at the end of this year. We still have next year to complete things if we have to.”

Reid was right about the way the Congress works. Each Congress runs for two years. So the work of the current Congress, including House passage of cap-and-trade legislation, carries over into next year if it doesn’t get passed this year.

But the politics are more pressing. If the climate legislation – which could be more controversial than health care – gets bumped into 2010, that’s an election year, with the full House and a third of the Senate up for election. Look out, advocates of climate legislation.

So, a few hours later, Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, appeared in Senate press gallery to serve up a quickly cooked waffle. He said Reid “still intends to take health care reform, [financial] regulatory reform, and cap-and-trade to the Senate floor by the end of the year.”

In my opinion, that’s horsefeathers. Manley was engaging in the lingua franca of Washington politics: partisan correctness. The Democrats are afraid to enrage the green left, which believes climate legislation is the most important cause since the Nuclear Winter scare of the 1980s (how’s that for a turnaround?). The GOP is so fearful of its blood-thirsty right that is unable to acknowledge that the acting-out Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is a petty liar.

The Wednesday (Sept. 16)  Washington Post had a long A-section article on the full legislative agenda that faces the administration and the Congress as the year comes to a close. Climate legislation got a bare mention, as the article focused on “funding the entire government for fiscal 2010, as well as dealing with the abolition next year of the estate tax and the expiration of the policy that guides money for maintaining highways.” That’s heavy political lifting.

ClimateWire quoted Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, “I think it’s increasingly difficult to have a climate change bill done before the end of the year.”


California Scheming

Here’s more on the ever-entertaining failure of environmental politics in California, courtesy of our own POWERnews. It seems that the California legislature wants to up the ante on the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 33% by 2020. The current RPS (20% by 2020 that excludes politically-incorrect hydro) is an apparent failure.

Nobody other than a besotted green or a frightened  legislator believes that 33% is attainable. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger clearly doesn’t believe the 33% goal is attainable. He’s called the legislative approaches “poorly drafted and overly complex.” So, his answer: an executive order to the California Air Resources Board to adopt a 33% RPS by regulation by next year.

Huh? Dope-slap to the head. There’s no way the CARB and adopt an RPS regulation and get it through the courts by next year. Maybe by five years, and that’s optimistic.

If you believe that what is not possible by legislation is easily possible by regulation, raise your hand. I don’t see any hands.

The California Public Utilities Commission is clearly skeptical. The CPUC said last year that a 33% target would require “an infrastructure build-out on a scale and timeline perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the world.” Nonetheless, the CPUC approved the goal. None of the CPUC members will be around when the goal kicks in, so they have no skin in the California renewables game.

California is a state that, facing bankruptcy earlier this year, was paying its bills with scrip, aka IOUs. No wonder the critics call it “LaLa land.” It’s not just a reference to Hollywood, but to Sacramento.

According to POWERnews, citing the California Energy Commission, 10.6% of the state’s total system power in 2008 came from renewables, defined in the Golden State as geothermal, wind, solar, small (insignificant?) hydro, and biomass. That’s down from 10.7% in 2007. That’s probably not statistically significant. It’s politically significant.

Is it any surprise that the gubernator’s political poll ratings have plunged further and faster than those of George W. Bush?

Is this an opportunity for Democrats in the upcoming elections, where Ahnold is not going to be on the ballot, thanks to the state’s two-year term limits for governor? Probably, but there is no indication that the Democrats are any more realistic than the Austrian strongman (five Mr. Universe titles) about renewable energy and the California economy.

Can Coke Bottles Make Sweet Crude?

Closer to home, a Montgomery County, Maryland, waste transfer station is going to host an allegedly commercial-scale technology to turn plastic household waste into light oil “for less than $10 per barrel.” Call me skeptical, as I’ve seen trash-to-cash pyrolysis projects fail repeatedly in the 1980s.

A Washington, D.C., firm led by South Koreans, with technology it developed in South Korea – Envion Inc. – is pushing the project. Envion says it uses a “closed loop, catalyst-free system to take plastic and convert it back into oil safely, efficiently and economically.” That’s the claim by Envion CEO Michael Han. It is an oxygen-free chemical process, also known as pyrolysis, using heat in the absence of O2 to break down organics into component chemicals.

While the claimed technology raises skepticism, at least the company is not suggesting that it can compete in world oil markets. The company asserts an unproven: that it can produce a light oil from recycled plastic at remarkably low cost. But it does not say it can produce volumes that could influence the market for oil. In a press release, the company says, “With full national deployment, the Envion oil generator could generate over 150,000,000 barrels of oil each year in the United States alone.”

Sounds like a lot? Not really. The U.S. current consumes about 16 million barrels a day of oil, according to the Energy Information Administration. And the notion that the Envion technology could reach “full national deployment,” whatever that means, is clearly, a reach.

Envion’s real business play is to reduce material flowing to U.S. landfills. Montgomery County, according to the Washington Post, is lending free space for a prototype plant, which Envion is financing on its own. The Post quoted the manager of the trash transfer station that the county in the Washington, D.C., suburbs “handles about 100 tons of recyclable material a day…and sells hundreds of tons of recycled plastic to bidders every month.” The county will reclaim the space in October, because it will need it for fall leaf recycling. Envion has no U.S. government funding, according to the newspaper, but is financed by the Han family and some outside capital.