Claims of global warming and allegations that the burning of fossil fuels sends carbon dioxide "pollution" into the atmosphere are morphing into a potential football of global proportions.
Certainly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has assumed the self-appointed role of carbon dioxide police, seems intent on banning the consumption of coal as a fuel for any purpose, while the Energy Department and the Interior Department are throttling back the use of the "evil" energy sources oil and natural gas (by bureaucratically delaying actions) and they lead the continuing headlong rush (with taxpayer money) toward the frenzied development of wind and solar sources. Major tax funding is being used to finance radical battery research to solve the obvious dilemma of what to do with fluctuating supply and demand factors, which plague both wind and solar sources. Government money also is committed to solve the glaring geographic disparity between where wind and solar energy can be generated and where customer demand presently exists. And there is a federal research effort under way seeking a method to strip carbon dioxide from exhaust gases emitted through coal-burning. These are not small matters.
Germany has decided to eliminate nuclear and coal energy sourcesperiod. The European Union has met fierce international opposition to its carbon tax application to international aircraft transiting continental Europe, although it might be that more pressing economic matters will force the EU to relent in its anti-carbon crusade, at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, cracks are appearing in the environmental monolith that intimidated politicians 35 years ago with near-hysterical forecasts of the consequences of global warming: imminent disaster to the planet. Scientists who had never before enjoyed so much spotlight assured us that "consensus" had validated the science. Economists collaborated with a diagnosis that a world carbon tax was indeed the only solution.
Skeptics were shouted down because the conclusions were reached using computer models; therefore, the results of all these extrapolations may not be questioned. The final and ultimate recognition occurred with the formation of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which gave the United Nations imprimatur to all the climate-change activists who had already bet their careers on this overwhelmingly popular trend.
Time has passed; the computerized forecasts are not matching the measured global warming that was predicted. Meanwhile, unforecast and unaided by any government program, the production of shale gas in the United States is showing the way toward gradual replacement of coal as a power-generating source. Natural gas also could supplant gasoline for trucks, buses and fleet vehicles. However, the Obama administration is still hellbent on wind and solar power so China doesnt "beat us out" in this area. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is trying to take back his words about the need for European gasoline prices. And the Keystone XL pipeline is only "deferred" until after Novembers elections. The EPA is struggling to capture the regulation of shale drilling from the states, and the states are all relishing the new economic activity at a time of agonizingly slow recovery from the financial meltdown. Meanwhile, General Motors Co.s Volt assembly plant is shutting down, the federal government having backed yet another loser with our tax dollars.
As election season approaches, it is apparent that $4-per-gallon gasoline has the potential to be a bothersome issueparticularly to the working poor. Although President Obama has asserted that he does not control gasoline prices, he does bear heavy responsibility for obstructing the United States drive for energy independence and security, which is clearly available to us if allowed to develop unimpeded by the federal government. This would clearly lower gasoline prices in the longer termsomething that bicycles and high-speed trains will never do.
But what is to be the fate of the coal-based steel industry? For some time, a bizarre scheme called "capture and sequestration" was the catchword of true believers who were confronted with this issue. It was an idea that was dead on arrival. It is probably too early to pass judgment on current research efforts to remove carbon dioxide from waste gases. But will the planet survive while we search for solutions?
THOMAS C. GRAHAM
Thomas C. Graham is a founding member of T.C. Graham Associates. He is a former chairman and chief executive officer of AK Steel Corp., president and chief executive officer of Armco Steel Co. LP, chairman and chief executive officer of Washington Steel Co., president of the U.S. Steel Group of USX Corp. and president and chief executive officer of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. His column appears monthly. He invites readers comments and can be contacted