Posted tagged ‘environment’

Does Burning Money Increase MoCo’s Carbon Footprint?

28 April 2014


Council member Roger Berliner sponsored a set of environmental bills that made it through the council last week.  The worst one — which was passed, of course — requires the county to purchase 100% of its electricity from “clean fuels”.  The current requirement is 30%.

This initiative is all cost, and no benefits.

Based on the county’s fiscal impact statement, the law will increase the county’s energy expenditures in the range of $279,000 – $545,000 per year.  That gets over a million easily, in less than four years.Plaudits to Nancy Floreen, who argued for looking at this from a budgetary standpoint.  None of the other council members thought that was worthwhile.

And what do we get for those millions of dollars? Nothing.   The incremental change from this bill is so infinitesimally tiny that it adds up to nothing. No change in greenhouse gas emissions, no impact on climate change. Zero. Just a meaningless statement and bit of bluster.

So if the environment is not improved, who does benefit from those millions of taxpayer dollars? Well, council members like Berliner and George Leventhal get to crow about their wondrous accomplishment. (Leventhal excelled at playing the pompous windbag on this one.  He called it “the most urgent public policy challenge that we face.”   Really, George? More urgent than homelessness? Crime? Poverty? Educational failures for low-income neighborhoods?)

And certain energy producers, politically favored, get a more than tripling of the subsidy they currently receive. These producers are too expensive to compete, so they work through the political process to extract funds from MoCo taxpayers.

I can understand wanting to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.  I can understand reasonable policy proposals to do that.  But anyone with a lick of sense can also see what is purely symbolic, useless, and wasteful.This is a useless and expensive heap of corporate welfare, that allows the politicians to beat their chests, but accomplishes nothing. Nothing, that is, except take away funds from needs that really are urgent.



What To Do About the Bag Tax?

7 April 2013

What do do about the bag tax?  The County Council is currently considering the question, including options for expanding the tax, increasing it, reducing the types of retail locations which must charge it, and banning plastic bags completely.
MoCo reports that the county has taken in about $2 million from the bag tax, much more than had been expected.  This demonstrates that some combination of the following conclusions is true:

(a) shoppers find bags to be convenient, and are willing to pay for them

(b) grocery shoppers have learned that plastic bags are a more sanitary way of carrying food, and are seeking to avoid the bacterial diseases associated with reusable bags

(c) the bag tax, in the end, has just been a way to raise revenues for the cash-strapped county government.

The negative effects of the bag tax are beginning to pile up:

Retail thefts and shoplifting have surged in areas where bag taxes are put into place, as it becomes much easier for shoplifters to pilfer merchandise and slip it into the shopping bags they are already carrying.  This phenomenon seems to be found wherever bag taxes (or bans) have been put into effect.

Council member Craig Rice has noted a corollary to this problem.  As department stores have become suspicious of people walking around with roomy bags, racial profiling leads to more black men being stopped and interrogated by store security personnel.

– Theft of supermarket grocery baskets has increased. Apparently, people figure that they need a convenient way to carry their purchases, but don’t want to pay extra for bags.

– Most distressingly, researchers are finding evidence of illnesses associated with these bans.  This was predictable, as shoppers are carrying fresh meat, vegetables, and fast food fried chicken and hamburgers in these bags, over and over again.   Even beyond microbial contamination, reusable bags often have toxic materials, like lead, that leach into the food people carry. Senator Charles Schumer of New York has called for a federal investigation of this problem.

One-use bags are also more sanitary.  Since people tend not to wash their reusable bags, they increase the risk of food-borne illness.  Studies of San Francisco, which banned plastic bags in 2007, reported that after the bag ban there was a spike in the number of E. coli cases and increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses.  Another study found that 8 percent of all reusable bags contained E. coli and doubted how often shoppers actually wash their bag.

– Finally, the environmental impacts of the bag tax are at question.  There is anecdotal evidence of reduced bag litter in the county’s waterways, but increased litter from bottles and food packaging, which is harder to carry without a bag.  The bag tax, in effect, creates an incentive for increasing this kind of litter.  Not only that, but the tax increases total resource consumption.  People tended to reuse plastic grocery bags for dog waste, lining trash baskets, etc.  The National Black Chamber of Commerce notes that consumption of store-bought plastic bags increased by 400 percent in Ireland, after that country implemented a bag tax.

The bag tax is a classic example of unintended consequences of legislation.  (OK, that’s a generous term.  I’d say it is an example of a failure of policy analysis).  Unless bringing in more revenue for the county government was the main purpose,  the tax is doing much more harm than good.  Certainly expansion of the tax (or a ban) would be even more harmful.

Farms and the Bay

12 August 2008

President Bush has proposed cutting back on a $188 million Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction program. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program pays farmers to implement specific management practices designed to reduce the runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers into the bay. Such practices include planting grassy strips and other vegetation which would filter and limit runoff from farms, and construction of storage units for manure.

Bush has proposed holding off on $23 million of the funding, for budgetary reasons. Senator Ben Cardin is up in arms: [Bush] “is wrong on the science, wrong on our farmers’ needs…”

The state is also spending $25 million on this program (originally appropriating $50M, but then holding back on half for budgetary reasons. And the US Dept of Agriculture has already paid millions ($9M in Maryland alone) to farmers for these activities.

Maybe I’m missing something. We don’t pay manufacturers to install scrubbers on their smokestacks, we expect them to cover those costs themselves. We don’t pay chemical companies not to dump wastes into the Potomac. So here’s my question: Why should we pay farmers not to pollute?

Symbolic Politics of Global Warming

29 May 2008

Council member Roger Berliner is “committed to ensuring that Montgomery County is at the forefront of the fight against Global Warming.” As if anything Montgomery County did – compared to one or two new power plants in China – had any contribution at all to global warming.

At his behest, the council has passed legislation this month, committing the county to a passel of activities that, at best, will be harmless. Some of the features:

– Commits the county to developing a Climate Protection Plan, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in MoCo by 80%.

Does the council realize what that means? Or is it just pretty talk? An 80% reduction would mean that all roads in the county would become Lexus lanes – because only the wealthy would be able to afford to drive a car. Air conditioning would be a thing of the past, as the cost of electricity would skyrocket.

– Directs Montgomery County government to develop a “renewable energy action plan”. Part of the plan is examining the feasibility of creating a “Sustainable Energy Fund – “a non-profit organization which develops end-user markets for products and services relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Oh, good. It’s not dumb enough that the county is in the liquor business and the nightclub business and the music entertainment business and the summer camp business. Now the county is going into the electric utility business. I’m sure that will be a real productive exercise.

And for what? As a result of these edicts, the total greenhouse gases in the world – which is the only measurement that counts – would be virtually unaffected by the privations of one stupid county, directed by one thoughtless council member.

Best yet, this meaningless and damaging bill was declared an emergency, giving it expedited consideration and enforcement. “The Council declares that this legislation is necessary for the immediate protection of the public interest” (italics mine).

I don’t know which of those terms – “necessary”, “immediate”, or “protection” is more untrue. All together, though, they add up to one big farce.