Category Archives: pollution

exxon valdez oil

Oil Spill Du Jour

This week connects several events. The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the first anniversary of the Pegasus pipeline rupture in Mayflower Arkansas, and a brand spanking new oil spill in the Houston Shipping Channel of coastal Texas.

On March 24th, just after midnight the Exxon Valdez, loaded with over 50 million gallons of crude oil steamed out of Prince William Sound. Before the supertanker cleared the sound however, the ship collided with a reef which tore open the single walled hull releasing about 20 million gallons of crude oil. Twenty five years later oil can be found under rocks around the beach of the sound.

Exxon Valdez attempted cleanup

Exxon Valdez attempted cleanup

In a very short time hundreds of thousands of seabirds, thousands of sea otters, hundreds of sea lions and whales, and even 47 bald eagles were killed. A robust herring fishery has yet to recover. Damage to the local economy was devastating. Bankruptcies of both businesses and individuals shot up, and many families had to leave their ancestral communities for lack of jobs.

On March 29th an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured and began spewing crude oil into the yards and streets of Mayflower Arkansas. The estimated quarter of a million gallons of crude, actually a substance known as dilbit, came from the Tar Sands of Alberta Canada. It is a mixture of tarry crude oil known as bitumen and and a diluent of lighter hydrocarbons, hence the name dilbit. Over a score of homes were evacuated. The dibit ran down the streets and intimately into Lake Conway. The pipeline has been closed and my not be reopened due to it’s passage through sensitive areas such as the Lake Maumelle Watershed.

Mayflower, AR

Mayflower, AR

On March 22nd a barge tow was struck by another vessel, releasing just under a quarter million gallons of a material know as bunker fuel – essentially heavy crude oil. The material is so viscous that it requires heating to flow threw fuel lines to burn in ship’s engines. Because of the spill, one of the busiest shipping lanes in north America was closed. This shut down oil refineries that produce over ten per cent of the oil refined in the United States.

Oil covered Shore Bird

Oil covered Shore Bird

So what connects the events besides late March? Human error. Every one of these events were due to multiple errors. Double walled hulls on the Exxon Valdez, and better navigation could have prevented the disaster in Alaska. The closure of the Houston shipping channel could have been avoided by better management of shippers involved. The ship which collided with the barge was already under probation for other problems. Replacement of aging pipelines and more frequent inspections could have prevented the Mayflower spill.

There are over 20,000 oil spills reported annually to the EPA. Some are minor and some not so minor, but they point out just how common the events are. In aggregate the economic and personal losses are large and generally unaccounted for when we look at the price of fossil fuels. The level of collateral damage we are willing to accept to avoid changing our lifestyle is staggering.


What Price Clean Water?

The Cuyahoga River last caught on fire in 1969, but had burned uncontrolled on numerous occasions dating back to the latter half of the the nineteenth century. The river flows north through northern Ohio and Cleveland into Lake Erie. Numerous industries discharged wastes into the river to the extent that at times the river was coated with several inches of highly flammable sludge.

Cuyahoga on Fire

Cuyahoga on Fire

The 1969 fire along with a growing environmental movement resulted in the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. The waters of the nation have benefited from the laws, but problems still exist, especially when it comes to our demand for cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels and even cheaper food.

In one of the ironies of our time, a chemical used to clean coal means that the drinking water of Charleston, West Virginia is not so clean. In January 2014 several thousand gallons of an industrial chemical leaked from a Freedom Industries storage tank on the banks of the Elk river, just upstream of the drinking water intake for several hundred thousand people. To this day, some residents of the area refuse to drink the water as it still smells faintly of licorice.

In North Carolina, the Dan River has recently been contaminated by a pipe failure from a coal ash containment pond owned by Duke Energy. The river and even groundwater are now polluted with sludge that is highly contaminated with Arsenic, a heavy metal that is both toxic and carcinogenic. There are fears that the massive 40,000 ton spill is not over as another pipe may be leaking.

What these Clean Water Act violations have in common is that both were easily preventable. Had the responsible corporations taken care of business, the spills would never have happened. And had the responsible regulatory agencies done their job the problems that caused these spills would have been prevented. But no, businesses don’t want to spend extra money and taxpayers don’t want to properly fund the agencies that provide oversight.

A similar disaster is brewing in Arkansas. In our case it is not the result of industrial use of fossil fuels but the industrial wastes from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO.) The hog farm, the first of its type in the watershed of the crown jewel of Arkansas, the Buffalo National River, was permitted by a deeply flawed process. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality granted a general permit for the operation. It did not consider the sensitive location in the Buffalo watershed, nor consider the uniquely porous limestone geology of the Ozarks.



Thousands upon thousands of gallons of liquid wastes, urine and feces, are contained in two ponds. The permitted design required only enough free board to contain a 25 year rain event. When the dirt bank ponds are breached, they will likely fail catastrophically, releasing the wastes into Big Creek and a few miles downstream, the Buffalo River National Park. Even during times when the banks hold, the clay lined ponds are allowed to leak wastes through the soil. Because of the Karst topography, the wastes can make their way rapidly to pollute the nation’s fist national river. Its not a matter of if but when.

Why do we continue to set ourselves up for these kinds of disasters? Because of short sightedness. Because we just can’t seem to learn that proper regulation of industry takes careful oversight, and the funding to provide for it.

The Real Costs of Fossil Fuels

Arguments against sustainable energy sources always include the fact that they are taxpayer subsidized and so more costly than they appear. These kinds of claims have been expressed before, but it is always worth reviewing the subject. How about the subsidies for fossil fuels? The direct cost of a gallon of gas, the cost at the pump, is currently about three bucks a gallon. The indirect costs can add as much as another $10 or more to the real price of a gallon of gas, bringing the total to something like $15 a gallon.
The direct costs are easy to calculate and include the cost to find produce, transport, refine and distribute the gasoline. These costs will continue to rise as crude oil becomes more scarce. It is increasingly harder to find the oil. And what oil is found is in smaller fields, deeper in the ground, farther out to sea, or all of the above.
As an example of the extremes taken to find and produce crude oil, the BP oil spill in the Gulf occurred at a well in 5,000 feet of water,

BP oil spill

BP oil spill

which was to be drilled another 18,000 feet below ground for a total depth of about 23,000 thousand feet. That is more than 4 miles below the surface of the ocean. Existing leases in the Gulf will necessitate drilling in water twice that deep.
The real run-up on the price of a gallon of gasoline comes from the indirect costs which include, but are not limited to military, environmental and healthcare costs.
Military costs to secure access and transportation of foreign oil are difficult to calculate, but the Congressional Research Service estimated well over $100 billion per year. These cost estimates do not include the direct cost of two wars in the Persian Gulf region. Estimated addition to the cost of that gallon of gas: $4.
war for oil

war for oil

Indirect costs for healthcare come about from burning that gasoline. Much asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and heart disease can be attributed to air pollution from automobile exhaust. Additional healthcare costs in Los Angles due to air pollution are put at about $1,200 per person, per year. Nationwide, the estimate is $75 billion dollars per year. Estimated addition to the cost of that gallon of gas: $3.
What is hardest to calculate, but in the long term the most damaging is the cost to the environment.
Obvious costs include everything from lost profits and wages for tourism and fisheries in the gulf due to oil spills to various global phenomena. Some are quantifiable — others not. Insurance companies are at the forefront in trying to put a value on property losses due to climate instability.

global warming is triggering more severe storms

global warming is triggering more severe storms

Here is one example. The estimate to mitigate a one-meter sea level rise from global warming is about $250 billion. Increased droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes are all costly and the predicted result of global warming. This is admittedly a guess — but, estimated cost to that gallon of gas: several more dollars per gallon.
Finally there is the incalculable cost of environmental degradation – loss of habitat and biodiversity. What is the value in dollars to maintain a stable environment for our children’s future?


Global Warming Denial

I’m old enough to remember commercials such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” – obviously if doctors smoke it has to be healthy. Or “when temped with indulgence, reach for a Lucky Strike” as if a cigarette is a healthy alternative to candy. One might excuse this as due to ignorance, but the hazards of smoking were known long before these commercials were aired.

Even today the deception continues, albeit more surreptitiously. Instead of advertising directly or acting under their own masthead to defeat anti-smoking legislation, they employ any number of front groups with names that imply that the represent consumers, or even health groups.

Robert Proctor, a professor of the History of Science coined a term for this kind of deceit: Agnotology – the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly by the use of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

Similar agents are at work in the realm of climate change denial. Fossil fuel industries hire lobbyists to influence congress and front groups to influence consumers. Make no mistake, the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world recognize that the climate is changing and we are responsible.

The public is told all too often that there is no problem, or even if the climate is changing it’s not fault. Unscientific positive effects are trotted out as real. We are told that scientists disagree. No where is it made clear that these views are a product, bought and paid for by the extractive industries.

This PR is presented as if it is a scientifically relevant alternative and all too frequently goes unchallenged by the media. The information superhighway can deliver deception more easily than
reality. In fact, front groups have in effect Balkanized the web. Now everybody can go and find just the view that supports their relatively uninformed preconceptions, not those which are the most valid. A couple recent examples are illustrious.

A research vessel studying climate change becomes stuck in antarctic ice. Certain news outlets tout this as proof that global warming isn’t happening. HA-HA, the poor saps trying to prove that the ice is melting get trapped in ice. The reality is that the ice they were trapped in was old ice, part of a seventy five mile long ice berg that broke off the Antarctic ice shelf, most likely due to global warming.

The recent cold snap paralyzing much of the United States is due to the temporary displacement of the Polar Vortex. It is an uncommon but well know meteorological phenomenon. The cold air is displaced to the south so that it is colder in Little Rock, Arkansas than Anchorage, Alaska. The denialist PR industry however would have you believe that the temporarily cold south means that global warming isn’t happening.

One final confounding principle is that the general public doesn’t read scientific journals, at best they listen to the evening news. The well funded front groups have convinced the media of the need for “on the other hand” and therefore get their message presented as balance.

The public is being lied to by a massive, well funded, PR campaign to prop up the sales of fossil fuels, to the detriment of us all.

Environmental Stewardship

This time of year we tend to look back on the past year, resolve to do better next year, or at least think about what the future will bring. In terms of energy supplies, we have in past years continued our reliance on highly subsidized fossils fuels, the use of which endangers the environment and contributes to our spiraling health care costs. Will we in the future resolve to be less wasteful? Will we resolve to do better as stewards of the planet, for our children’s sake?

The twentieth century will be looked upon as the heyday of fossil fuels, first coal, then oil and now increasingly natural gas. The availability of these fuels produced in North America is increasing which is good for the economy, but bad because the increase utilization of fossil fuels. This is bad for the environment and our health. There are two broad alternative futures;

hard vs soft energy paths

hard vs soft energy paths

business as usual where we favor big solutions like increasing reliance on nuclear reactors and abundant coal reserves, or what Amory Lovins described as the “soft energy path”. In this alternate future energy will be supplied by sustainable, dispersed energy sources such as wind and solar.

The big solution is basically a supply side, large scale strategy which favors production to meet demand, rather than the management of demand to impact production. Nuclear power in one form or another is realistically the only long term solution in this pathway. Due to economy of scale issues, nuclear reactors are very large, when measured by energy output. And unlike the suggestions of the fifties, nuclear power is not and will never be “too cheap to meter.”

And of course there is the yet to be solved problem of high level nuclear waste. Because of these problems the industry is both highly regulated and highly subsidized. The nuclear industry of the future, if it has a future, will be regulated so that the consumer is protected somewhat from the economic and environmental vagaries of energy production, but that will result in a larger governmental role to oversee said industries. This is the classic big industry, big government system which has been the historical trend over several generations. And it has worked more or less in not only the energy industry specifically but the economy in general. OK, there is the problem with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, but that has also been the trend of late.

The soft energy path envisions power production to be greatly decentralized. When power is coming from wind turbines or solar panels economies of scale are not nearly as significant. Solar and wind will be done on a much smaller scale, as suggested by Kirkpatrick Sale in his book “Human Scale”. Power will be produced by individuals or local coops, with less need of big government oversight as the risks are considerably less. Production will be controlled by demand management through more emphasis on efficiency. In this strategy there is less need for big government, and less likelihood of extremes in wealth accumulation, at least in the energy sector.

So these are our possible energy futures as viewed through two extremes. I prefer the latter, but we will see what the future brings.

Energy Storage

The success of transitioning to sustainable energy supplies in the United States relies to a large degree on our ability to store energy produced by intermittent energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. We have plenty sunlight and wind to go around. Conversion of biomass to a liquid or gaseous fuel is a convenient method for storing energy, but photosynthesis is quite inefficient compared to other ways of capturing solar energy. Also any biomass to energy scheme will involve burning something which always has some negative health consequences.

The future could be powered by electricity from solar and wind exclusively but how will we store the electricity for use when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? Batteries are an obvious way of storing energy but are impractical for storing energy on the scale of an electric utility.

grid scale batteries

grid scale batteries

Batteries for powering transportation are in use now and will expand greatly in the future.

Most electric cars today use Lithium ion batteries. They have the best energy to volume and energy to weight ratios referred to as energy density. The problem is that even the best batteries pale in comparison to the energy density of gasoline. Liquid fossil fuels like diesel and gasoline are very energy dense and can produce 50 times as much energy as a Lithium ion battery of equal weight or volume. With current technology the Nissan Leaf, an all electric vehicle, has a range of under one hundred miles. Batteries being developed now can increase the energy density by five to ten fold, giving electric cars a range of several hundred miles.

Storing energy for the electrical grid can accommodate a wider range of methods. One of the simplest ways of storing energy is to pump water up a hill.

Pumped storage

Pumped storage

All you need are two reservoirs, one higher than the other. When energy is available it is used to pump the water to the upper reservoir. When energy is needed, the water is released, causing the turbines to reverse direction and generate rather than consume energy. The only limitation is space and geographic relief.

Another utility scale energy storage method being examined is compressed air. Just as pumping water up a hill stores energy, so does compressing a gas. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, several European cities used compressed air for energy storage. Rather than convert the energy in the compressed air to electricity, it was piped and metered to do mechanical work. Everything from motors for heavy industry to sewing machines ran on the compressed air. The major limitation of compressed air storage is the necessity of a large underground reservoir to hold the compressed air. Wind turbines in the midwest will in the future store energy with compressed air.

compressed air

compressed air

Flywheels are another method to store energy. An electric motor spins up the flywheel, later when energy is needed the motion is used to power a generator. The big advantage of flywheel storage is that it can be done anywhere. No need for a big hole in the ground or pairs of reservoirs at different altitudes.

One of the best methods to pair production and storage of energy is solar thermal. Simply heat a fluid with sunlight. When electrical energy is needed use the heat to power a generator. Power towers have a collection of mirrors pointed at the top of a tower. A fluid is circulated through the heated zone, then sent to a storage site for later extraction of energy.

All these techniques involve converting one form of energy to another, but can ultimately be used to generate electricity even when the wind isn’t blowing and sun isn’t shining.

Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River

Yet another fight to “save the Buffalo” is brewing near Mt Judea in Newton County. The first fight ended when the Corps’s of Engineers plans to build a dam near Gilbert Arkansas were abandoned. In 1972 Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt sought federal protection and the nation’s first national river was created.

The Buffalo National River is is a national park which consists of a narrow band of land surrounding about one hundred thirty five miles of the river from Boxley at the upper end to its confluence with the White River. The land within the park boundaries, about one hundred fifty square miles, is managed as a natural environment.

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo Rive

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo River

The problem is that the park is only eleven per cent of the watershed, some one thousand four hundred square miles. Both Air and water pollution in the watershed but outside the park can easily enter the park, so preserving the natural environment becomes a much greater challenge.

The most recent challenge now comes from a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). C and H Hog Farm has be granted a general permit to maintain a six thousand five hundred animal feeder pig operation near Mt Judea. Issuance of a General Permit as apposed to a Individual Permit, is easier as it doesn’t have stringent requirements for public notice, or environmental impact assessment. There is also no consideration of local geology or proximity to public places such as parks or schools.

The farm is operated for Cargill, the largest privately held company in the United States. The farm, really an industrial operation, consists of the hog houses, lagoons for temporary containment of the liquid wastes, and several hundred acres of spray fields where the raw urine and feces will be dispersed.

And there is a lot to be dispersed. Each hog produces over a gallon of manure per day. The factory farm produces close to ten thousand gallons of waste a day, several million gallons per year. To put that in perspective it is equivalent to two times as much waste that is produced by Atkins and Dover combined.

The farm and spray fields are near Mt Judea public schools, and in the watershed of Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Rainfall after application of the manure, or failure of the lagoons can cause bacterial contamination, including multiple drug resistant strains.

Exacerbating the risk of pollution reaching the Buffalo National Park is the local geology, referred to as Karst Topography. This limestone rich subsurface is laced with caves, sinkholes, and underground streams that could rapidly transport wastes to the river.

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Regardless of weather and geologic conditions the nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous will pollute the Buffalo, leading to increased algal growth.

Funding for the factory farm was aided by loan guarantees from the Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration. Four environmental groups are suing the United States Department of Agriculture which oversees the agencies that provided the loan guarantees. They are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. Earth Justice is the law firm representing the coalition of the four groups.

Sea Level Rise

Global warming is the result of somewhat complex atmospheric dynamics which can result in a warmer planet, stronger storms, both floods and droughts, political instability and elevated sea levels. Probably the simplest of these outcomes to understand is sea level rise. If it gets warmer ice melts to water and drains into the oceans, raising the global water level. Additionally as the oceans warm, the warmer water takes up more space and adds to sea level rise.

Those that deny the risks of global warming might say that melting icebergs or the melting of the north polar ice won’t change sea level and if that is all you consider, it is true. But there is much more ice trapped on land in the form of glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet and the vast Antarctic ice sheet. Enough in fact to raise the level of the seas eighty meters, or over two hundred and fifty feet.

A sea level rise of two hundred fifty feet would leave only Lady Liberty’s head above the New York Harbor. Only the tippy-tops of the skyscrapers in most coastal cities will be above water. The Atlantic coastal plain, South Florida, and the state of Louisiana will be fishing grounds.

This level of rising seas is the worst case scenario based on hundreds of years of unabated burning of fossil fuels, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So what about sea level rise in the near term, say within the twenty first century? There are people alive today who will see the turn of the next century. If the combustion of fossil fuels is not reined in, a modest projection is a two meter (over six feet) rise. If anything combustion of fossil fuels is accelerating due to advanced recovery techniques like horizontal drilling and fracturing.

The impact of a two meter rise in sea level varies from a minor nuisance to a catastrophe depending on location. Some islands in the South Pacific are already suffering from the one quarter of a meter rise over the past one hundred years or so.costal The combination of rising sea level and more severe storm surges due to global warming are causing coastal erosion. Increased salinity of the remaining soils which decreases agricultural productivity is as troublesome as the erosion.

The real catastrophe is the flooding of large coastal cities. Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa are three of those at greatest risk because most exist at sea level already, and are also sensitive to more flooding due to tropical storms and hurricanes. Estimates of fifty billion dollars per city per year may be necessary to prevent or mitigate damage due to flooding.

The most recent experience with severe coastal flooding was due to Hurricane Katrina. Economic losses to Louisiana and Mississippi are estimated to be over one hundred fifty billion dollars.
Our thrust for the cheapest energy up front may very well cost us a lot more when all the costs are accounted for. Solar, wind, and geothermal which don’t drive global warming are looking cheaper every day.

Global Warming, Fossil Fuels, Air Quality, and Health

Everybody wants to be healthy, and we go to considerable lengths to achieve the same. Preventive care, diet and exercise all contribute to good health. There are factors however which are beyond our individual capacity to control. Global warming is one of those things that we have to address collectively. It comes about due to the release of certain air pollutants. Reducing these pollutants will not only help mitigate the direct environmental damage but also improve our health.

Air pollution has been linked to several of the leading causes of death in the United States. Asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and stroke have all been shown to be linked in multiple peer reviewed articles in major medical journals. Even conditions as diverse as Type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s’ disease have shown correlations with air pollution levels.

Chronic exposure to gasses such as ozone and nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter

particulate matter

particulate matter

cause an inflammatory reaction in sensitive tissues and contribute to poor health. The source of the pollutants is a result of our quest for the cheapest possible energy sources to power our lives. There is a deal with the devil in cheap energy sources, mostly fossil fuels. Burning coal and oil and to a lesser extent natural gas result in the production of these unhealthy pollutants.

That good news is that the USEPA through the Clean Air Act regulates these pollutants and constantly reviews the scientific data supporting limitations of pollutant release. The act was passed in 1963 and has been significantly amended several times to tighten air quality standards. Enforcement of the act has led to considerable improvement of air quality, but currently something like one third of Americans live in counties which are out of containment.OzoneFormationDiagram

In 1990 Congress directed the EPA to conduct occasional scientific reviews as to the costs and benefits of air quality regulations. A 2009 study by the National Research Council finds that the cost for health care from one coal fired power plant is 156 million dollars per year. Collectively 62 billion dollars a year is spent as a result of burning coal to make electricity. This is due to the health effects of pollutants at currently allowed levels. Another study showed that over 20 years of clean air act regulations, one dollar spent on air quality protection resulted in a savings of 44 dollars in health care costs. The EPA estimates that the investment of 65 billion dollars in 2020 will save a total of 2 trillion dollars in health care.

One argument to revitalize the economy is to cut regulations, thus lowering the cost of doing business. Lowering air quality standards may save business and the consumer money on energy production but will greatly increase health care costs- out of proportion with the savings on energy costs. This is not the time to try to save money limiting the actions of the EPA, regardless of the budget cutting fervor in congress. We can pay a little for air quality but overall save a lot by supporting strict air quality standards, even if it means abandoning coal fired electricity production.

There is no question that somewhere in the future we will stop burning fossil fuels to produce energy, whether it is due to depletion of the resources or our recognition of the harmful effects to health and the environment. Any and all programs which get us away from fossil fuel consumption will benefit society. Ultimately we need clean sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar which release no air pollutants.

high speed rail

Trains, Here and There

Automobile use as measured by miles traveled per capita peaked in 2005 and has been falling since. It is had to explain by a single variable, gas prices have been both up and down, not continuously up. We went through the worst recession since the great depression, but the economy is now improving, albeit slowly. Vehicles are becoming smaller so less accommodating for passengers but more efficient thus cheaper to operate.

Regardless of the reason, we are moving around less; and, there has not been a concomitant increase in mass transit. Is it time for us here in the US to consider an emphasis on mass transit to the degree that is available in Europe or the far east? Travel by train there is easy and frequent. You want to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Bucharest, Romania, 1700 miles? There are trains for that, and daily I might add.

Not only can one travel long distances between large cities, but also short distances to small towns as well. There are nine different departure times daily from Chepstow, Wales to London, England (Chepstow is a town about the size of Clarksville, AR.) This would be equivalent to a train, nine times a day from Clarksville to Little Rock.

But we’re all about speed, right; and trains are too slow. Well they’re not so slow in Europe or the far East. Speeds between one and two hundred miles per hour are common.

European high speed rail

European high speed rail

And unlike the USA; Japan, Korea, and China are all investing in infrastructure which will allow for faster, more efficient trains.

China currently operates a fourteen hundred mile rail at over two hundred miles an hour, and is expanding rail service faster than highways or airlines. When a high speed rail became available in Taiwan most passengers switched from the comparable air route, and highway congestion decreased.

Technological advances in Japan involve a Maglev train. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation, where levitation of the train above the rails means a near frictionless and therefore faster, quieter and more efficient rail line. The train has been successfully tested on a short track at over three hundred miles an hour and expects to be in service by 2015.

What about American Exceptionalism? Is anything unique going on here? One bright spot is California which has proposed a high speed rail line between Los Angles and San Francisco. The voters in California have approved close to ten billion dollars to develop the line, which at two hundred miles an hour would complete the trip in two to three hours. Current driving time for the trip is seven or eight hours.

A real game changer has been proposed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who designed and sells the Tesla, a successful all-electric car. He wants to build a Hyperloop, basically an evacuated tube,



to transport people at eight hundred miles per hour. The technology is the same as that used to move money and checks from the remote teller to your car at the bank. The trip from Los Angles to San Francisco would be about a half an hour and if similar technology existed locally one could go from Little Rock to Dallas in about twenty minutes. Now that would be both exceptional and American.