Friday, December 29, 2006

My Problem with Eagles

Actually, my problem is not with the eagles but with the government. I own a piece of property, about 7 acres, in northern Minnesota, which has been in my family—and on which we have paid taxes—since the 1930s. Roughly half of the property is wetland and so cannot be developed because of government regulations to preserve wetlands. The remainder of the land is physically suitable for development, and I prepared a plan to plat five lots there. But government has prevented me from going through with the plan because of an eagle nest in the center of the property. The Endanger Species Act protects not only the eagles themselves but prohibits any habitat modification within 330 feet of an eagle nest. This encompasses all of the otherwise-buildable area of the proposed lots. Thus I am prohibited from using any of my property. I cannot cut firewood or plant corn or do anything whatever with the property. Still, I have to continue paying taxes on it.

In 1963 there were only 417 nesting pairs of eagles in continental U.S. Today there are well over 7,000. The population has been doubling every seven years since 1972, and there are now more than 1,400 nesting pairs in Minnesota alone. In 1999 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that the eagle had made such a comeback that it should be taken off the endangered list. Under the law, once that determination is made, the government must remove the species from the endangered list within one year or formally state why it still needs to be on that list. It would be very difficult for the government to maintain the bird needed to remain on the list when its own Fish & Wildlife Service said the opposite and when eagles were continuing to proliferate. In 1999 President Clinton got a lot of political mileage by appearing on the White House lawn with an eagle named Challenger, claiming it as a symbol of his administration's success with the Endangered Species Act, and announcing the eagle was being delisted from the ESA.

But the delisting never occurred. For six years the federal government continued to violate the Endangered Species Act by failing to do what it was required to do within one year of the F&W's report. Both the Clinton and then the Bush administration delayed in order to appease environmental groups that wanted to maintain the restrictions as a tool to stop development, rather than to protect a species that no longer needed it.

To stop the government from continuing to violate its own laws, I sought help from the Pacific Legal Foundation and brought suit against the government. In August we won the case in District Court in Minneapolis. The judge gave the government six months to comply, which its attorneys have said they will do by the February deadline. But they have stated that they intend to impose the same regulations under a different law that has been on the books for 65 years. So the battle is not over yet, and I can still do nothing with my property.

The government has been in violation of not only its own law but of the Constitution itself. Article V of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution states that private property shall not be taken for public use without payment of just compensation. If housing the eagles on my property is a public use, if their welfare is a public benefit appropriate for government action that precludes my use of my own property, then government should pay me just compensation. Yet the federal government, which is supposed to support and defend the Constitution, is denying me my Constitutional rights—and doing the same to thousands of other individuals similarly affected by the Endangered Species Act and other environmental regulations.

I am sometimes asked what will happen to the eagles on my property if it is subdivided and sold. My answer is, “Probably nothing.” According to the F&W Service, eagles typically have 3 to 5 nests in their territory and rotate among them every few years. So my proposed development would create no hardship for the local eagles, who would simply move to one of their other nests. They certainly aren't going to commit suicide by going down with the tree on my property if it were cut down.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Future Problems from Ethanol?

A previous posting (see Sept. 4, 2006) noted that ethanol has caused shocking, costly damage to boat motors. The ethanol blend common throughout the country can leach the resin out of the fiberglass gas tanks of as many as 15,000 boats. This results in a black goo that coats the engine's innards and hardens as the motor cools.

Remember MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether)? This was one of the two oxygenates that EPA required to be added to gasoline, allegedly to make it cleaner burning in order to comply with the Clean Air Act. In practice, it was the only choice for much of the country outside the Midwest, the major corn-producing region, because the other approved oxygenate, ethanol, cannot be transported by pipeline to other sections of the country. Ethanol attracts water, and small amounts of water vapor, which are always present in the pipelines, alter the fuel blend as the ethanol breaks down.

But MTBE was found to pollute groundwater, resulting from leaky gas tanks at filling stations. They had always leaked a certain amount of gasoline, but this had not been a significant problem. Ethanol, however, was found to penetrate much further and faster in the ground than regular gasoline, and it did not break down as regular gasoline does. By 2001, MTBE was found to have polluted the groundwater in 49 states. California alone had identified 10,000 sites of polluted groundwater, with some sites having 1,000 times the EPA limit for this chemical. New York identified 1,500 polluted sites, and 3 million people were exposed on Long Island alone, which was found to have 100 polluted municipal wells; and those people had no alternative source of water. And people even in Alaska were found to have MTBE in their blood. (See our blog of March 13, 2006)

Most shocking is that EPA knew about the problem ten years before passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act--which it favored--and made no attempt to warn Congress or the public. EPA quietly let the legislation pass—and then for 15 years did nothing to eliminate MTBE. Instead, it started requiring gas stations to replace their underground steel gas tanks with fiberglass ones.

Dr. Arthur Robinson is a former professor of chemistry at the University of California at San Diego and former president and research director of the Linus Pauling Institute. He is currently head of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and has written recently in his newsletter Access to Energy: “Presumably automobile owners have not yet noticed the epoxy resins in their engines, since the surface to volume ratio of service station tanks is much smaller, leading to a lower concentration of ethanol-dissolved epoxy resin in the fuel. What, however, will be the long-term consequences of gradually dissolving these government-mandated service station tanks?”

So far, so bad. The stage is set for the problem to get worse. Ethanol production is rapidly expanding far beyond any economic demand, due to incessant promotional propaganda and a plethora of taxpayer subsidies; and politicians are ever alert to buying more votes from corn growers and industry—which is also a heavy financial contributor to both major political parties. Now politicians have a new tactic for expanding ethanol production: legislating higher ethanol content in gasoline. Minnesota, I believe, is the first state to so, requiring a doubling of the ethanol content of gasoline by August 30, 2013. No doubt other states will follow, likely with earlier deadlines for compliance, as every state wants to be first in line for the next ethanol plant. It will be interesting to see if the dissolved epoxy resins become a problem in automobile engines when the ethanol content is increased, if not before.

For more on ethanol, see our blog postings of Feb. 2, 2006 and Aug. 10, 2005.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is Oil a Fossil Fuel?

The forthcoming issue (Dec. 8) of the scientific journal Nature will contain an article that abundant quantities of methane have been conclusively shown to exist on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. “We have determined that Titan's methane is not of biologic origin," reports Hasso Niemann of the Goddard Space Flight Center, a principal NASA investigator. Methane, a key hydrocarbon and the principal component of natural gas, actually has been found throughout the solar system. If methane can be produced by an abiotic (or abiogenic) process, so can more complex hydrocarbons. Once you have methane, “the rest is easy,” says Stanford Penner, Ph.D.

Dr. Penner, who is an authority on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, notes that Russian and Ukrainian scientists have produced an elegant proof that abiotic oil production (from intense pressure and high temperatures at least 100 kilometers below the earth's surface) is entirely consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but that no such proof has ever been put forth for the fossil fuel theory. In fact, he states that there is no “fossil fuel theory,” merely a hypothesis for which no proof has ever been set forth.

Furthermore, oil has been discovered in the earth's Archeozoic rock formations. These are the most ancient of rocks, which were formed before any plants or animals existed on earth. So petroleum here must have had an inorganic origin, rather than being produced from dead dinosaurs and ancient forests, as is commonly believed.

Finally, some older oil wells previously regarded as depleted have been known to be replenished from below. This is certainly evidence that oil is being produced at depths in the earth (where there are no fossil remains) and being pushed upward by intense pressure from below. The best example of this is Green Island in the Gulf of Mexico. When all the oil that could profitably be extracted had been pumped out, the wells there were closed and forgotten about. Then, twenty years later, those wells were found to contain more oil than before any had been removed! If petroleum is constantly produced by an inorganic process, we are never going to run out of oil.

All of which shows that political policies based on the idea that the world is running out of oil are based on a false theory. Just like claims about man-made global warming ruining the earth (see our new chart on global warming). Both ideas depend on “consensus,” a popular belief that prevails because of constant repetition rather than scientific proof.