Economics


People who have lived in Colorado their entire lives, such as myself, often take the water resources of this state for granted. We water our lawns at noon, run the tap while we’re waiting for the water to cool down or while we’re brushing our teeth, and generally take all the fresh water we use for granted (and I’m sure Coloradans aren’t the only ones).

Does it strike anyone else as wrong that we use potable water to flush our toilets? To water our lawns? I don’t mean to sound (too) patronizing, because I’m just as guilty of these things as nearly every other American, but we are all incredibly privileged and most of us don’t even realize it (myself included).

Why don’t we do something about this, like use gray water to water our lawns and flush our toilets? I suspect there are two reasons. First, we just don’t really think about it a lot of the time. It’s just how it is, and we take the status quo for granted. Second, it really would take an extraordinary amount of infrastructure (re)development to re-route gray water from your shower drain to your toilet. Right now, we just don’t have the infrastructure or the will to do it.

It will probably take a significant water crisis, maybe on an order of magnitude similar to the Dust Bowl, to convince us that it’s silly to keep wasting all this fresh water.

Speaking of the Dust Bowl, I live on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, which means I also live on the east side of the Continental Divide. In Colorado, 80% of our rain falls on the west side of the Continental Divide, and only 20% on the east side. So, a significant amount more water flows down the west side of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean than down the east side of the Rockies, to the Atlantic.

But eastern Colorado is where the vast majority of the farming in Colorado is done, because that’s where all those “fruited plains” are. In the early stages of Colorado’s settlement this wasn’t a problem, but during the Dust Bowl, farmers east of the Continental Divide (not just in Colorado) began to covet all that wonderful fresh water out west that they couldn’t use.

So began a little public works project called the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT). It was authorized in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and completed almost 20 years later. Upon completion, the project supplied fresh water to 33 cities, including Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley, Loveland, and Estes Park, as well as farming in 7 Colorado counties. It includes 10 reservoirs, 18 dams and dykes, six hydroelectric power plants, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel.

The technical skill and perseverance required to build the entire C-BT project, and the Alva B. Adams tunnel in particular, continues to astonish me (remember, this was 70 years ago). The tunnel is 13 miles long and goes all the way under the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park. It was built from 1940 to 1944, in the middle of a world war. Much of the impetus for its construction was the hardship suffered by Americans, farmers in particular, during the Dust Bowl.

If this astonishingly hot, dry summer (and a little report from the UN) are any indication, Climate Change is here to stay. Ignoring it will not make it go away, despite what certain politicians seem to believe. Colorado, as well as much of America’s farmland, has faced drought conditions every summer for the past several years, and we desperately need to save as much clean water as we can for its best possible uses. (I’ll give you a hint – it’s not to flush your toilet.)

We need another large-scale water project. This time not to build dams, reservoirs, and tunnels, but to make more efficient use of the water we have. The Federal government can’t even find the political will necessary to pass a budget without shutting down the government, let alone undertake the massive infrastructure investment that would be required to mitigate another Dust-Bowl-like drought. We need that kind of investment to do things like re-route gray water from our shower and sink drains to our toilet bowls and lawns.

I’m afraid we might end up waiting for another Dust Bowl before we do what’s necessary.

This post was inspired in part by my newly begun master’s studies in Agricultural and Resource Economics, where I recently took a tour of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) headquarters. The NCWCD is responsible for administering the water resources for northeastern Colorado, including the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. 

I just listened to my brother, Jens Lund Snee, interview Stanford Professor Michael Wara, a climate scientist-turned-legal scholar, for Standford’s Generation Anthropocene podcast. See below for Michael’s and Jens’ backgrounds, and for notable quotes from the interview.

Click the link below to listen to the full interview.

Michael Wara Interview

 

Contributor

Michael Wara
An expert on energy and environmental law, Michael Wara’s research focuses on climate and electricity policy. Professor Wara’s current scholarship lies at the intersection between environmental law, energy law, international relations, atmospheric science, and technology policy.  Professor Wara was formerly a geochemist and climate scientist and has published work on the history of the El Niño/La Niña system and its response to changing climates, especially those warmer than today. The results of his scientific research have been published in premier scientific journals, including Science and Nature.

 

Interviewer

Jens-Erik Lund Snee
Jens-Erik Lund Snee is a Masters student at Stanford University studying Geology and Environmental Sciences. He is interested in ways that scientific knowledge can better inform policy, particularly with regard to international natural resources issues. He spent 2011 on a Fulbright Fellowship studying geology and politics in New Zealand.

 

Quotes:

“The industries that were gonna be regulated played what I think is a disproportionately important roll in driving the design of the law” 

“I try to come at the problem from a sort-of fact-based, data-driven… approach, and that isn’t really how things play out in Washington.”

“You don’t see to many ideas that really die in the policy arena, unfortunately, even if there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they aren’t terribly effective.”

“That person ends up sitting – giving expert testimony to lawmakers – pretending as if – pretending that – this was their idea; that this has nothing to do with a financial arrangement that has been made behind the scenes and I find that – I think that, in particular, gives you some clue as to why ideas, good or bad, don’t die in the policy arena.” (apx 16:00)

“If there was one thing I wish we would try more of, it’s smaller-scale agreements, where we actually do things. Where we experiment with reducing emissions of a particular gas, from a particular industry, and then we learn about how well we can implement those kinds of programs; how much they actually cost, not how much industry and environmental groups say they’re going to cost. And we also learn about our partners in the international negotiation, how much we can trust them, how well they can actually implement agreements that they sign on to.” (18:00)

“I think that, if we could have more sort-of small-scale steps, we could actually get a lot further than we have been by trying to craft this giant kind of global, once-and-for-all agreement.” (20:00) 

“We see environmental problems being resolved by regulatory approaches that change behavior, change incentives, and we also see environmental problems being resolved by innovation; but sometimes the innovation is stimulated by the regulation.” (21:00) 

“Energy research and development investment in this country is pathetic… We need some basic innovation if we’re going to really change the picture on climate.” (22:00)

I admit I’m a little behind the curve on this one, but it was just too ridiculous to pass up.

 

Wind Turbine, Tower in a Corn Field

Image Credit: Sebastian Celis via Creative Commons

Last week, Governor Romney’s presidential campaign announced in Iowa that if he is elected president, he will allow the Production Tax Credit (referred to below as the “wind credit”) to expire.

According to The Des Moines Register,

Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for Romney’s Iowa campaign, told The Des Moines Register, “He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

It the Romney campaign actually wanted to get rid of all energy subsidies, I’d be 100 percent for it because energy subsidies create market distortions. But of course the Romney campaign continues to support oil subsidies; because of course they don’t create an uneven playing field.

Besides, if Romney wanted to do away with oil subsidies, you can bet the Koch brothers et. al. wouldn’t be bankrolling his campaign anymore.

That aside, Romney really needs to work on his swing-state strategy. Iowa has more wind energy jobs than any other state, and Iowa Republicans were quick to point out just how misguided his notion was.

As Republican Rep. Tom Latham pointed out, this proposal demonstrates “a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation.”

This isn’t just turning heads in Iowa, either. Green energy jobs are so important here in Colorado that only one Republican representative, Doug Lamborn, supported Romney’s notion. Even Birther lunatic Rep. Mike “Obama’s not an American” Coffman opposed Romney’s proposal. (This clown is my representative, sadly.)

Lest we forget, the wind energy tax credit was originally signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992 and renewed in 2005 by a Republican Congress and signed by George W. Bush.

The bottom line is Romney’s wacky proposal to do away with the PTC and the wind energy tax credit is so ridiculously off-the-wall that even his own party is disavowing his statements.

I seriously doubt Romney ever expected this to be good policy. He’s just doing the pandering he needs to do to appease the Tea Party and his oil billionaire donors.

He never needed Colorado and Iowa’s 15 electoral votes, anyway.

Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, has just released a new add claiming “this is the worst economic recovery America has ever had.”

I can think of at least one that was worse. This is cynical, even for him.

But I guess this is the sort of advertising you get when you allow unlimited, anonymous political contributions.

Here it is, if you can stomach it.

This morning, I had CNN’s Starting Point on in the background as I got ready for work. On it was an interview between CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and one of Mitt Romney’s top surrogates, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

I usually tune interviews like this out, because of the nuttiness that is increasingly common from those on the political right. But in this interview, Johnson said something so absurd that I couldn’t help but pay attention.

He said, “President Obama simply doesn’t understand that it’s the free enterprise systems, the private sector, the productive sector, not the government sector that creates long-term self-sustaining jobs. Take a look at the Soviet Union, Venezuela’s economic basket case, and is anybody moving to the island paradise of Cuba?”

O’Brien, visibly perturbed, asked Johnson if this was indeed what he meant. She asked, “You’re surely not suggesting that the idea and the concept behind Solyndra and other green energies like Solyndra is comparable to the Soviet Union and Cuba, right?”

Johnson replied, “No, I am suggesting that, because when you take taxpayer money and you invest that into business, that’s the taxpayer money put at risk. And let’s face it; the lesson of the Soviet Union and other socialist nations is that governments are very poor allocators of capital. It’s an economic model that doesn’t work.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I’m not even sure where to start. For example, one of the biggest problems we face is that private industry isn’t “creating long-term self-sustaining jobs.”

Those arguments aside, my real question for Senator Johnson is, if government subsidizing green energy companies is communist, what does that make government subsidies to fossil fuel companies? What about government subsidies the agriculture industry?

What about the LA Times article detailing evidence that Mitt Romney benefited from government subsidies while he was head of Bain Capital? Or when, as Governor of Massachusetts, he offered subsidies to attract businesses to his state? Does that make Romney a communist?

Of course it doesn’t. Government subsidies to green energy companies aren’t communist either. Subsidies are common practice at the federal and state level, and are given to companies in nearly every industry.

That Romney and his surrogates are making claims this absurd, not to mention categorically false, is evidence of how little they think of the American public.

Here’s the video:

Ron Paul at the Texas Republican Convention

Image Credit: Bob Daemmrich via texastribune.org

Recently, it’s been next to impossible to browse news sites without running across a story about the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform’s Orwellian opposition to the teaching of critical thinking in schools.

While peculiar, that’s far from the only interesting aspect of the Texas GOP platform. As I read through the platform, I was struck by how significant portions bear a striking resemblance to Ron Paul’s platform. When I say ‘striking,’ I don’t mean that they’re just similar; parts of the two platforms are almost identical.

The Texas GOP platform has this to say about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard:

We believe Congress should repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. In the interim, we call for a complete audit of the Federal Reserve System and an immediate report to the American people.

Our founding fathers warned us of the dangers of allowing central bankers to control our currency because inflation equals taxation without representation. We support the return to the time tested precious metal standard for the U.S. dollar.

According to Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign site, his stances on the Federal Reserve and the gold standard are quite similar to those of the Texas Republicans.

He served on the House Banking committee, where he was a strong advocate for sound monetary policy and an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve’s inflationary measures. He also was a key member of the Gold Commission, advocating a return to a gold standard for our currency…

Ultimately, he will lead the charge to end the dishonest, immoral, and unconstitutional Federal Reserve System, enabling America to take a giant step toward economic security, financial responsibility, and lasting prosperity.

On the topic of taxation, the GOP platform says:

We recommend repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with the goal of abolishing the I.R.S and replacing it with a national sales tax collected by the States. In the interim we urge the income tax be changed to a flatter, broader, lower tax with only minimal exemptions such as home mortgage interest deductions.

Ron Paul has this to say about taxation:

As President, Ron Paul will support a Liberty Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the income and death taxes.  And he will be proud to be the one who finally turns off the lights at the IRS for good.

(For a discussion of the potential economic consequences of these policies, I highly recommend reading “The Terrifying Texas GOP Platform” by John Harvey, a Professor of Economics at Texas Christian University.)

The similarities don’t end here, either. Ron Paul’s platform and the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform also bear a striking resemblance on education, health care, and immigration. Both call for the repeal of the Department of Education and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), as well as imposing more restrictive immigration regulations.

This is not to suggest that Ron Paul and the Texas Republicans agree on everything. There are several notable differences, including Paul’s stances on civil liberties and the drug war.

The question is how the similarities between the Texas GOP platform and Ron Paul’s platform arose. Are Ron Paul’s policies a reflection of Texas Republicanism, or is the Texas GOP platform a reflection of Paul’s newfound influence on the Texas Republican Party after his respectable showing at the Texas convention?

A look at the Texas Republican Party’s 2008 and 2010 platforms shows that the 2012 Texas GOP stances on the Federal Reserve and the gold standard are new. The 2008 platform makes no mention whatsoever of either of these issues, while the 2010 platform mentions the Federal Reserve but not the gold standard.

Both platforms do, however, recommend the abolition of the income tax and the I.R.S.  Both platforms also say, “The primary purpose of public schools is to teach critical thinking skills.”

Apparently the Texas Republican Party platform has changed a lot in just two short years.

It’s not a huge stretch to imagine that, as a Texas Republican Congressman, Ron Paul has been influenced by the Texas GOP platform. However, Paul has advocated the repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and return the gold standard since long before 2008. The introduction of these policies into the 2012 GOP platform suggests that Paul is having some success in his plan to influence the Republican Party platform, at least at the state level.

Of course, Paul’s success at getting his ideas onto the Texas GOP platform may not translate to success at a national level. It will be interesting to see if Paul has managed to acquire enough delegates to have a significant influence on the party platform at the Republican National Convention in August.

Next Page »