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More infrastructure snafu

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    More infrastructure snafu

    Just as I hit publish on my last post, the Wall Street Journal publishes a much better essay by Ted Nordhaus on the impossibility of building infrastructure in the US, even if it is green alternative energy climate-change infrastructure.

    In Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, local environmentalists and devotees of the Burning Man festival are using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to oppose a geothermal energy plant. Further south, the Sierra Club has joined with all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts to stop development of what would be the nation’s largest solar farm, which it says threatens endangered tortoises. ... proposals to develop wind energy in American coastal regions have also faced a constant barrage of NEPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits designed to stop them.

    The Nantucket wind farms are the classic example. Wind farms, yes, but not if it spoils the view of uber-wealthy greens. Sue! On whale-disturbance grounds. 

    ...In California, environmentalists have used a state law designed to protect fish eggs as a pretext to close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the state’s largest source of clean energy, while the California Environmental Quality Act has hobbled efforts to build both high-speed rail and high-voltage transmission lines that the state is counting on to meet its climate commitments.  ..over the last decade, the U.S. hasn’t constructed a single major new transmission line.

    High speed rail, billions over budget, the prize of the 2009 shovel-ready stimulus programs, has not laid a single mile of track. It will probably be ready at gold-plated cost, just as the last car and truck on I-5 is electric. 

    Electrification is big news. But the electricity has to come from somewhere, over power lines that have to be built. Where I live they just banned gas hookups. For now, we burn gas to make electricity, then send it over nonexistent power lines to turn the electricity into heat, at about half the efficiency of just burning it at home. I guess the idea is that after we've burned about twice as much gas as we need for a decade, eventually it will all come from those new solar panels that work at night. 

    (In related news, in New Jersey's similar plan to switch from gas to electricity which comes, for now, from gas, 

    The Department of Environmental Protection, which is mulling new regulations for boiler permits, said in a rule proposal unveiled in December that electric boilers would cost between 4.2% and 4.9% more to operate than their gas counterparts. But a correction issued by the agency Tuesday said running electric boilers would cost between 4.2 and 4.9 times more than their fossil fuel equivalents.


    Nuclear power remains a catastrophe: 

    In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission peremptorily rejected last month the application of the first advanced nuclear reactor developer to seek a license before the commission, to cheers from leading environmental groups.... 

     since its founding in 1975, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never licensed a new commercial nuclear reactor design that was subsequently built. 

    ...Merely completing an environmental-impact statement for infrastructure projects now takes almost five years on average. 

    The US is still capable of dumping trillions of dollars down ratholes,

    Though the Biden administration and Democrats currently propose to spend close to a trillion dollars on low-carbon infrastructure and technology, there is little reason to believe the U.S. is capable of building any of it in a timely or cost-effective way.

    And it's going to get worse (see previous post on how FHWA literally bans new infrastructure )  

    ...Democrats and environmentalists propose to add still more bureaucratic and regulatory requirements to the already Kafkaesque process of building any major energy or infrastructure project. President Biden’s landmark executive order on environmental justice, for example, has directed every federal agency to screen all new infrastructure and clean-energy spending for disparate racial impact while carving out 40% of all spending for marginalized communities. Congress, meanwhile, has produced complicated formulas to guide its proposed new clean-energy investments in order to encourage the use of union labor and to achieve various other wage and occupational outcomes.

    Nordhaus has some positive ideas on how to fix this mess: 

    start with an overhaul of the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act, under which you can sue to stop projects based on the tiniest environmental claim], the ESA [Endangered Species Act], the Jones Act [All shipping between US ports must be on US merchant marine ships. Also the send-it-by-truck act]  and a range of other regulations in order to make them more compatible with the need to dramatically cut emissions. Another priority should be to change the NRC’s mandate so that it balances public safety with the public’s interest in building nuclear power plants to produce clean and affordable energy.

    And a special nod to California 

    Federal taxpayers should not send billions of dollars to the states every year without a reasonable expectation that the funded infrastructure will be built in a timely and cost-effective way.

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