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OpenMarket: Energy and Environment

  • BPA and Government-Funded Alarmism

    October 7, 2015 5:13 PM

    Steve Hentges has a great article on Science 2.0 clarifying some of the science related to the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). Coincidentally, CEI has just released my paper on the funding and politics behind many of the BPA related studies that consumer hear about in the news. Both Steve’s article and my paper underscore why consumers need to be wary of all the crazy headlines related to this chemical, and why Congress should consider eliminating BPA research funding.

    BPA is used to make hard clear plastics (polycarbonate plastics) and epoxy resins that are used in food packaging, such as for lining inside steel and aluminum cans, and other products. After more than five decades of use, there are no verified cases of anyone suffering ill effects from BPA exposure from consumer products. But activists focus on largely theoretical risks based on select research studies that find associations—which do not demonstrate cause and effect—between BPA and various health ailments and tests that show health effects in rodents dosed with massive amounts of BPA. However, scientific panels around the world have assessed the full body of research on BPA risks, and all find that human exposure is too low to pose a significant risk. See my paper for details.

    The activist campaigns against BPA have been fueled by taxpayer-funded research of questionable value, much of it supported by grants from a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NEISH). According to a tally compiled by Citizens against Government Waste (CAGW), between 2000 and 2014, NIH doled out $172.7 million for BPA research grants. My study details more about these grants and why it makes little sense for government to support this work.

  • Reasons for Global Warming Skepticism

    October 6, 2015 12:01 PM

    Democrats have developed a cottage industry in ridiculing and condemning Republicans as Luddites. How can any “reasonable” person deny that increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere pose a global threat? Certainly dramatic shifts in average global temperatures will have dramatic consequences within a century for many nations?

    But, of course, few skeptics base their arguments on science alone. Critics oppose policies that would restrict current fossil fuel use on a global basis, noting the positive link between energy use and growth and the drastic consequences restricting supplies would pose, especially to already energy-starved regions of the world. Critics suggest a risk/risk approach to the climate change issue: consider the consequences of restricting fossil fuels today versus the consequences of continuing current energy use (with its attendant growth and innovation gains), while relying on those wealth and knowledge gains to make possible adaptations, if needed, at lower costs and pain.

    I outlined that approach long ago (see “The Role of Opportunity Costs in the Global Warming Debate” from the 1997 book Costs of Kyoto). Rational analysis always faces those three options: act now to minimize the threat, act now to reduce the impacts of the threat, and delay while knowledge and wealth increase. Note that most of us delay employment while we acquire greater life skills—do Democrats critique that choice for young people?

    Republicans, noting how past “crises” have been botched by a rush to act, rather than thinking, view the putative risks of climate change as but one of the many risks. The uncertainties of science, economics, and politics—all relevant if a rational, effective policy is to exist—should suggest to critics (some of them running for president), that rather than damaging our economy, as is happening in Germany and other European nations, we should aggressively seek to remove the regulatory and tax distortions that are slowing entrepreneurial growth.

  • Are Tropical Storms Becoming More Destructive? Will They?

    October 2, 2015 6:11 PM

    Lin & Chan, 2015, a study published in Nature Communications, finds that the destructive potential of tropical cyclones (“typhoons”) in the most active and hazardous tropical cyclone basin on Earth, the Western North Pacific Main Development Region, decreased by 35% over the past decade.

    Lin and Chan use a metric called the Power Dissipation Index (PDI) to measure the destructive potential of Asia-Pacific typhoons. The PDI is a product of three factors: storm frequency, duration, and intensity. In the past decade, typhoon intensity increased due to increases in ocean heat content. However, typhoon frequency and duration decreased due to stronger vertical wind shear and lower vorticity in the storm genesis region. The declines in frequency and duration overpowered the increase in intensity, producing a net decrease in PDI of approximately 35%.

    Based on climate modeling studies, Lin and Chan project that global warming will induce an additional 15% decrease in the Asia-Pacific PDI. In their words, “Although both the intensity and duration increased under global warming, there was an even larger typhoon frequency reduction of 25.7%. As a result, the typhoon PDI decreased by 15.2%.”

  • VW Diesel Scandal Exposes Conflicting Regulatory Mandates

    October 2, 2015 6:10 PM

    The Environmental Protection Agency on 18th September charged that Volkswagen had sold approximately 480,000 diesel cars in the U. S. that contained “defeat devices” that allowed them to pass EPA’s emissions tests, while pollution levels increased by up to forty times in normal driving. VW quickly admitted they had cheated and had sold 11 million vehicles worldwide with the devices.  The company set aside $7.6 billion to pay for penalties, recalls, and liability judgments, but many analysts thought that the total costs would eventually be much higher.

    VW cheated because they are caught between regulations to reduce pollution and regulations to increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Meeting both these conflicting goals results in cars that few people want to buy.  Diesel engines are significantly more fuel efficient than gasoline engines, but they are also dirtier.  Making them cleaner results in lower performance and more fuel consumption. 

    Mercedes and other high-end diesel car producers have gotten around that by installing very expensive technology, which increases the costs of their vehicles.  Adding five or ten thousand dollars to the cost of a car can work for luxury cars that cost over $50,000 to begin with, but not for VWs and other cars in the $20-30,000 range.  It remains to be seen how the major automakers will continue to produce cars that people want to buy as the 54.5 miles per gallon CAFÉ standard begins to take effect.

  • Professor Who Advocates Criminalizing Global Warming Skepticism Has Taken $63 Million in Federal Grants

    October 2, 2015 6:09 PM

    In early September, twenty professors sent a letter President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House science adviser John Holdren that congratulates the President on his climate policies to raise energy prices and impoverish Americans and then urges that another tool be used to save the planet: criminalize opponents of global warming alarmism.  Here is the key request in the letter:

    “We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress.  One additional tool—recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI]—is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.  The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peer-reviewed academic research (Brulle 2013) and in recent books….”

    The lead signer was Professor Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.  Five other signers are also from GMU: Edward Maibach, Paul Dirmeyer, Barry Klinger, Paul Schopf, and David Straus.  Columbia University can proudly claim three signers: Michela Biasutti, Mark Cane, and Lisa Goddard.   

  • EPA Issues Job Killing Ozone Rule

    October 2, 2015 6:06 PM

    The Environmental Protection Agency released its final rule to reduce ozone levels on 1st October.  The current National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 75 parts per billion will be reduced to 70 parts per billion.

    The new 70 parts per billion limit will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in compliance costs, but major industry groups took some satisfaction in the fact that it wasn’t worse.  Then-EPA Administrator Richard Windsor (aka Lisa Jackson) in 2011 proposed 65 ppb.  The White House then decided to delay that rule until after the 2012 elections because the potential costs were so colossal that the issue could have threatened President Obama’s re-election.

    The final rule will undoubtedly be litigated by environmental pressure groups and by industry groups.  The environmental groups will have a strong case that the standard should be lowered to 65 ppb at the most.  That’s because the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee stated in a 26th June 2014 letter that: “[O]ur policy advice is to set the level of the standard lower than 70 ppb within a range down to 60 ppb, taking into account your judgement regarding the desired margin of safety to protect the public health, and taking into account that lower levels will provide incrementally greater margins of safety.”  As my CEI colleague William Yeatman noted, federal courts have been very deferential to the recommendations made by the EPA’s scientific advisory boards.

    On top of the EPA’s Clean Air Act rules for greenhouse gas emissions, mercury emissions, cross-state air pollution, and regional haze and its Clean Water Act wetlands rule, the ozone rule guarantees that the EPA has become the number one job-killing agency in the Obama Administration.  

  • Pope Francis Cools It on Climate Change Rhetoric

    September 24, 2015 12:17 PM

    Pope Francis in his speeches at the White House on Wednesday morning and to a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning toned down his rhetoric on climate change and modern industrial civilization. Way down.

    Here are the Pope’s key remarks on climate change at the White House:

    Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.

    I don’t think many people are going to get excited about the Pope’s tepid support of President Obama’s energy-rationing agenda.

  • Free Market Perspective on Pope Francis's Forthcoming Speech to Congress

    September 18, 2015 4:10 PM

    On Thursday of next week, Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will be the first Pope in history to do so.

    As reported in ClimateWire (subscription required), Thomas Reese, a commentator for National Catholic Reporter, opines that the Pope is coming as both pastor to American Catholics and as a prophet who seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Another commentator described the Pope’s mission as “speaking truth to power.”

    We won’t know what Francis has to say until he says it, but he is widely expected to reiterate themes from his recent Encyclical, which calls for “changes in lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat [global] warming,” and for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions based on the assessment that fossil-fueled economic growth is “unsustainable” and “can only precipitate catastrophes.”

    If so, then Francis also unwittingly comes to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, because few are as comfortable as the elites leading the international climate agenda, and few so afflicted as the billions of people in developing countries who lack access to affordable, reliable, carbon-based energy.

    Speaking truth to power is noble, but to actually do it one must know what the truth is. On climate and energy, there are many fundamentals Francis does not seem to grasp.

    One is simply that anthropogenic global warming is not per se a crisis or planetary emergency. What matters is how much warming there will be and with what impacts. Big, scary warming predictions come from climate models that increasingly overshoot observed warming.

  • Southern Ocean Carbon Sink Stronger than Previously Thought

    September 11, 2015 5:25 PM

    Two new studies, one published in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), the other in Science, find that the Southern Ocean carbon sink has become stronger rather than weaker, contrary to what some scientists previously thought.

    In climate parlance, a “carbon sink” is anything that absorbs more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than it releases, while a “source” is anything that emits more CO2 than it absorbs. Oceans, forests, and soils comprise the world’s major sinks. The balance between sinks and sources determines the “airborne fraction” – the annual percentage of CO2 emissions that accumulates in the atmosphere.

    The GRL paper, which focuses on the Drake Passage, the roughest and windiest part of the Southern Ocean, is based on more than one million observations made by ocean-going vessels during 2002-2015. The Science paper, which examines the entire Southern Ocean, incorporates the GRL study data plus other data going back almost three decades.

    As summarized by the American Geophysical Union, which publishes GRL, the studies “conclude that the Southern Ocean has increasingly taken up more carbon dioxide during the last 13 years.” That’s a big deal. Although covering only 26% of total ocean area, the Southern Ocean accounts for nearly 40% of all CO2 absorbed by the world’s oceans.

  • Ten Major Energy Companies Support Paris Accord, But 18 Don’t

    September 8, 2015 9:22 AM

    CDP—formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project—this week announced in a press release that: “Disclosures from thousands of the world’s largest listed companies reveal that many of the most significant producers of fossil fuels support an international deal that will limit warming to 2 degrees as an outcome of the upcoming UN climate conference, COP-21.” However, the list of the top 28 energy companies released by CDP reveals a mixed picture.

    CDP asked the following question: “Would your organization’s board of directors support an international agreement between governments on climate change, which seeks to limit global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels in line with IPCC scenarios such as RCP2.6?” By my count, ten energy corporations answered Yes.

    The ten top energy companies that support a strong Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are: Anglo American, BG Group, BHP Billiton, Eni SpA, Gazprom, Repsol, Royal Dutch Shell, Sasol, Statoil, and Total. None of these is an American company.

    But CDP listed the response from 18 other companies as either “No opinion,” “Blank,” or “Non public disclosure.” These companies are: Anadarko Petroleum, Apache, BP, Chevron, China Petroleum and Chemical, Conoco Phillips, Devon Energy, Ecopetrol Sa, Exxon Mobil, Glencore, Hess, Lukoil, Occidental Petroleum, Petrochina, Petrobras, Rio Tinto, RWE, and Suncor Energy. Eight of these companies are American.

    But CDP’s survey shows that many non-energy companies support the Paris Accord: “CDP data shows that companies that have formulated an opinion on a global climate deal are overwhelmingly in support: 805 companies answer yes, versus 111 that said no. A high number of companies (1,075) state that they have no opinion, and 331 did not answer the question.”


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