Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pelosi’s Capitol Hill composting program gets tossed in the dumpster

Another day, another green program fail. From Ben Pershing of WaPo:

Amid all the changes Pelosi helped institute when Democrats took over the chamber in 2007 -- including installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs and weaning the Capitol power plant off coal -- the one that might have sparked the most debate among House denizens, particularly during lunch hour, was the introduction of compostable utensils and takeout trays in House eateries. The program was designed to reduce waste, eliminating Styrofoam containers and plastic silverware that would clog landfills for eternity.

The problem, staffers from both parties have grumbled, is that the forks break, the spoons melt and the knives don't cut much more than a soft piece of bread. And the trash cans were replaced with a bewildering array of recycling bins that few have mastered.

That's not why Lungren ended the program, though. He concluded that, in addition to costing $475,000 per year, it "also increased the House's energy consumption through the use of additional electricity for the pulping process and the increased hauling distance to the composting facility." And according to the House Inspector General, the "the program has only achieved carbon reductions equivalent to removing one car from the road each year."

This is a perfect metaphor for green energy initiatives which fleece taxpayers and do real harm to the economy.  Ethanol may be the single worst example right now because of the sheer magnitude of this idiotic program, but I suspect that (in addition to growing consumer dissatisfaction with the CFL lightbulbspricey electric cars like the taxpayer subsidized Chevy Volt will also prove to be a failure with consumers.  Electricity costs are necessarily skyrocketing thanks in part to the administration’s War on Coal which potentially makes them even less attractive than their sticker price alone.  And then there are pesky issues like this:

  • First responders need to be aware that the Volt uses 360 volts and must be approached with caution. The 12 volt electrical system needs to be disabled before the EMTs can cut into the vehicle. There are also special precautions to take in case of fire.

Do these vehicles contain come with a warning label? And then there’s this:

  • A normal household outlet is 110 volt, 15 amps and can take about eight to 12 hours to recharge an electric car. The older the battery is, the longer it will take to recharge it.
  • If you want to replace the lithium-ion batteries with longer lasting (up to ten years) NiMH batteries, it will cost you about $20,000 - $30,000 but they will supposedly double the range of the car.

Equally troubling, while some junior mining operations like Molycorp are gearing up in the U.S., the bulk of rare earth minerals needed to manufacture green cars (and so many other green products!) are controlled by China. I don’t recall any mention of breaking this monopoly when Hu was feted last week at a State Dinner, but maybe I missed it.

How important are rare earth minerals? Let’s see what MIT’s Technology Review has to say:

…China now produces nearly all of the world's supply of rare earths, which are crucial for a wide range of technologies, including hard drives, solar panels, and motors for hybrid vehicles.

Rare earths are comprised of 17 elements, such as terbium, which is used to make green phosphors for flat-panel TVs, lasers, and high-efficiency fluorescent lamps. Neodymium is key to the permanent magnets used to make high-efficiency electric motors. Although well over 90 percent of the minerals are produced in China, they are found in many places around the world, and, in spite of their name, are actually abundant in the earth's crust (the name is a hold-over from a 19th-century convention). In recent years, low-cost Chinese production and environmental concerns have caused suppliers outside of China to shut down operations.

Oh well, as President Obama likes to say, “Don’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect”.

UPDATE (2/14):

Ed Morrissey links to an op ed in the Los Angeles Times on the end of Pelosi’s green utopia and comments:

Along with the program, the “didactic” signage, according to Charlotte Allen in the Los Angeles Times, has also disappeared.  Pelosi’s project installed all sorts of lecturing signs, assuring consumers at the cafeteria that the hamburger was “humanely raised,” and that eggs were “cage-free.”  The menu also featured “turkey escubeche,” which left eaters wondering exactly what the cafeteria served — and the prices seemed to increase along with the syllables of the menu items.

Eating has returned now to its previous purpose of feeding people rather than lecturing them on tastes and energy policy, and costs have returned to normal as well.  But the exercise did have its value.  It showed that far from looking to deliver cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy resources, the “green” movement instead exists to lecture people not just on energy consumption but on a wide range of lifestyle choices.  It is much more efficient at distributing condescension than actual energy, and hypocrisy over tangible results.

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