You are here

OpenMarket: Energy and Environment

  • Kudos to Rep. Tom McClintock for His Principled Stand

    June 24, 2015 3:21 PM

    Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of TSCA reform (H.R. 2576) by a roll call vote of 398 in favor, one opposed, and 34 members not voting. Yesterday, I lamented the fact that this bill was pushed through under suspension of the rules, which is supposed to be for low-cost, non-controversial bills, which is something that TSCA reform certainly is not.

    In any case, the issue is very complicated, and I am willing to bet money that many of those members who voted yea could offer few details about this legislation, what it does, or what the impact might be, which to some extent remains an enigma. 

    That said, one principled member who dared to vote against this legislation deserves some praise. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) apparently did his homework and had very good reasons for voting no. I contacted his office to inquire why he would be willing to vote nay, while 398 of his colleagues voted yea. His staff sent me the following statement, which outlines many of the reasons that I am also very skeptical that this legislation will do any good:

    This is a well-intentioned bill that accomplishes the opposite of what it is designed to do.  Its purpose is to expedite and standardize the evaluation of toxic chemicals.  Instead, it grants sweeping new powers to the EPA, removes the consideration of cost when conducting a risk evaluation, removes the “least burdensome regulation required” standard from current law, dedicates an unaccountable revolving fund in the Treasury for EPA evaluations, and still allows states to adopt more stringent standards.  Thus, it greatly increases the burdens on low-regulatory states without easing the burdens on high-regulatory states. 

    Wow, he says it all in a nutshell! In particular, the elimination of the requirement that EPA consider and apply the “least burdensome regulation” is critical. That standard holds regulators accountable and ensures that they don’t do more harm than good or impose more burdens than necessary, all while protecting public health. 

    Kudos to Tom McClintock (and his staff) for doing his homework and having the courage to take a tough, principled stand. He’s a rare breed among politicians.

  • Suspending Reason to Pass “TSCA Reform”

    June 23, 2015 4:00 PM

    The process of lawmaking is often compared to sausage making: an unpalatable job that produces a palatable result. It’s easy to agree with the first part of that analogy, but in politics, the result isn’t always pleasant.

    Today, U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to “suspend the rules” and pass its version of reform to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This cursory approach is another example of the suspension of reason that has plagued the entire TSCA debate, the result of which remains ambiguous at best.

  • Manufacturing Alarm: Dana Nuccitelli's Critique of John Christy's Climate Science Testimony

    June 4, 2015 11:45 AM

    Environmental scientist Dana Nuccittelli accuses University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) atmospheric scientist John Christy of “manufacturing doubt about the accuracy of climate models” at a May 13 hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee. Nuccitelli claims Christy’s testimony “played rather fast and loose with the facts.” Those allegations are incorrect.

    Christy offered a scientific perspective on the Obama administration’s “guidelines” (i.e. directive) for incorporating “climate change effects” in agency environmental reviews of proposed projects in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) proceedings.

    Christy’s testimony argues that the state-of-the-art models informing agency analyses of climate change “have a strong tendency to over-warm the atmosphere relative to actual observations.” To illustrate the point, Christy provides a chart comparing 102 climate model simulations of temperature change in the global mid-troposphere to observations from two independent satellite datasets and four independent weather balloon data sets.

    Christy reasonably concludes the models are not accurate enough to inform policymaking:

    On average the models warm the global atmosphere at a rate three times that of the real world. Using the scientific method we would conclude that the models do not accurately represent at least some of the important processes that impact the climate because they were unable to “predict” what has occurred. In other words, these models failed at the simple test of telling us “what” has already happened, and thus would not be in a position to give us a confident answer to “what” may happen in the future and “why.” As such they would be of highly questionable value in determining policy that should depend on a very confident understanding of how the climate system works.

  • Understanding the EPA’s Power Grab through the “Waters of the U.S. Rule”

    June 1, 2015 1:44 PM

    Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) promulgated the Waters of the U.S. Rule, a regulation that purports to clarify which waters of the United States are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

    Background

    The CWA regulates the discharge of pollution into navigable waters. Rather than limit the definition of “navigable waters” to mean waters that are interstate and “navigable in fact,” the Clean Water Act broadens the definition of “navigable waters” so as to include non-navigable waters, in order to afford federal regulators a greater degree of environmental oversight. Federal jurisdiction, therefore, extends beyond waters that are strictly “navigable.”

    However, the Clean Water Act fails to establish an exact limitation on federal jurisdiction over non-navigable waters. Thus, Congress has failed to define precisely the term “navigable waters.”

    The Supreme Court also has failed to define the boundaries of federal power under the Clean Water Act. In 2006, the Court reached a confused 4-4-1 ruling in Rapanos v. United States (2006)

    • Four left-leaning justices effectively ruled that there are no limits on federal jurisdiction.
    • Four right-leaning justices took a common-sense approach, and ruled that federal jurisdiction is limited to “relatively permanent, standing, or continuously flowing bodies of water forming geographic features.”
    • One justice (Kennedy) wrote that a water or wetland constitutes “navigable waters” under the Act if it possesses a “significant nexus” to waters that are navigable in fact or that could reasonably be so made.

    Since 2006, lower federal courts have made hash of Rapanos v. United States. This makes sense. Rapanos resulted in three different interpretations, and none carried a majority. As there was no agreement in the highest court in the land, there was no reason to expect agreement in America’s lower courts.

    Predictably, the EPA and USACE interpreted the Rapanos decision in the broadest possible fashion. These agencies seized on Kennedy’s impossibly ambiguous “significant nexus” test. In practice, a “nexus” (connection) between an alleged body of water and a navigable water is in the eye of the beholder. Simply put, the significant nexus test is broad enough to justify whatever jurisdiction the federal government chooses to seize. 

  • Pollinator "Strategy": Pork Barrel, Handouts, and Counterproductive Pesticide Policy

    May 20, 2015 5:18 PM

    The Obama administration has finally released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators. It’s the federal government’s answer to all the hype found in the news related to the health on the nation’s honeybee hives. While it’s not clear what it will achieve for the bees, we can be sure it comes with lots of pork-barrel spending, government handouts, and shortsighted pesticide polices that undermine food production.

    I have documented why much of the hype on this issue is misinformed and why solutions will only come from private collaboration between various parties—primarily beekeepers and farmers. The federal government is the last entity that will be able to “save” the honeybee.

    Nonetheless, the report outlines several goals for its program, some of which border on the ridiculous. For example one key goal is: “Reduce honey bee colony losses during winter (overwintering mortality) to no more than 15% within 10 years.” 

    Seriously? Federal officials are going to determine how many beehives should survive each year and what survival rate is sufficient? This is dumb and only sets the stage for news hype every year losses exceed this government set arbitrary number. In fact, many surveys of beekeepers have indicated that a much higher rate is acceptable, closer to 20 percent a year. Moreover, survival rates will ebb and flow based on myriad factors to which government, and even beekeepers, have no control, such as weather and emergence of new and old diseases.

    The federal government has also decided how many butterflies we should have. Among its goal is to increase the Monarch butterfly population to 225 million butterflies that live on 15 acres in Mexico over the winter, and they will achieve that through “international collaboration.” In addition, the feds also promise to improve 7 million acres of land to make it more pollinator friendly.

    The report lists out a host of action items to achieve these goals that include spending more than $80 million on education and habitat development for pollinators. Education will mean, more government posters and Smithsonian programs, all paid with your tax dollars. Some of it may contain good information, and some probably will amount to no more than anti-pesticide propaganda, and much of it may include just the right amount of alarmism to ensure bigger and bigger allocations of your tax dollars to address this “crisis.”  

  • CEI Shows Support for Sen. Capito's Greenhouse Gas Legislation

    May 13, 2015 12:59 PM

    Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) showed its support of a new legislative effort to pushback against the “Clean Power” Plan. Introduced by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the ARENA Act is new greenhouse gas legislation that will be addressed today at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

    Myron Ebell, CEI’s director of the Center for Energy and Environment said:

    CEI strongly supports Senator Capito's bipartisan legislation and other efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency's so-called ‘Clean Power’ Plan. The EPA's proposed regulations go far beyond the authority Congress delegated in the Clean Air Act. If fully implemented, the regulations will raise energy prices in States where electricity is still affordable into copies of California's failing economy.

    See more on CEI’s work on related topics here.

  • U.S. Pollinator Policy Should Focus on Facts Rather than Alarmism

    May 13, 2015 12:13 PM

    Today, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research is holding a hearing on “pollinator health” to discuss a national strategy designed to improve honeybee health. Hopefully, U.S. regulators and legislators will not move too quickly on a strategy that is governed by alarmism; rather, they should take a deliberative approach that is based on science and good information. They should avoid the rash approach taken by European policy makers, which is increasingly proving unwarranted and counterproductive.

    The issue erupted in Europe a few years ago, and European lawmakers jumped the gun by deciding to ban a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids that environmental activists claimed were wreaking havoc on honeybee populations. Supposedly, this ban would stop a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, in which most worker bees disappear often after winter hibernation, leaving behind a healthy queen, honey, and male honeybee drones in the hive. But even before the ban could take effect, research shows that honeybees in Europe are suffering fewer post-winter losses than originally believed or expected. And the most recent data indicate that honeybee health is improving, and survival is relatively high.

    The ban took effect December 2013, which means farmers had access to neonicotinoids for all growing seasons until the spring of 2014. So far, there have been two years of data collected measuring post-winter hive survival rates in Europe during 2012-2014. Bees from the hives covered in this survey foraged in the springs and summers of 2012 and 2013—all before the ban took effect in December 2014.

  • On Bee Enslavement and Other Nonsense

    May 7, 2015 5:07 PM

    I’ve seen many crazy headlines about the challenges facing honeybees, but this one takes the cake:

    “Bee collapse is the result of their enslavement in industrial monocultures.”

    So now, not only are humans “killing off” bees, we are “enslaving” them! According to this article, “industrial agriculture” is the problem and technological approaches won’t help things. However, the authors don’t offer much of any solution other than: Until local agriculture replaces global agriculture, there will always be another parasite, another virus, another mysterious collapse.”

    Although they don’t define “local agriculture,” their criticism on the use of pesticides and other methods for high-yield farming suggests they would like to go organic. Unfortunately, that approach is not only unlikely to help feed the world growing populations or create affordable food domestically, it would also be bad news for wildlife. 

    As research scholar Indur Goklany and others have pointed out, producing more food per acre—thanks to agro-technologies such as pesticides and genetic modification—means we have more land for wildlife. For example, Goklany’s research shows that if we did not have high-yield agriculture and we still farmed the way we did back in 1910, we’d have to plant more than three times the amount of land that we plant now to generate the same amount of food.

    In that case, there would be less space left for wildlife. A better approach involves the strategic use of technology along with private stewardship to provide habitat for species. We can leverage the tools we have and ensure minimal environmental impact along with taking concerted actions to protect nature’s creatures at the same time.

    But the authors of this article don’t offer any such balance and instead provide misleading information by suggesting that farming practices in remote areas of china prove that modern farming elsewhere is bad for the environment. Superficially they say:

    In fact, there are now parts of China where bees have already gone extinct, requiring apple orchards to employ between 20 and 25 people to pollinate a hundred trees - something wild pollinators or a couple of hives worth of bees would normally do.

    Despite impressions created in this article, hand pollination is not widespread, is often done for economic rather than environmental reasons, and bees there are not “extinct.” Entomologist Gwen Pearson, Ph.D., offers a balanced article on this topic in this in Wired. She explains that honeybees are not extinct in these areas of China (some people keep them for honey production and some are used for farming) and there are economic reasons that the people there chose to hand pollinate.

  • How to Improve the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill

    April 28, 2015 4:12 PM

    The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for FY 2016 passed by the House Appropriations Committee spends too much, but does move some funding from very bad programs to somewhat less bad programs. 

    The best thing in the bill is the set of riders that prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the proposed Waters of the United States rule. That rule if implemented would expand federal jurisdiction far beyond what was intended by Congress in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and far beyond the current definition or any reasonable definition of the navigable waters of the United States. The WOTUS rule also ignores and largely contradicts the Supreme Court’s decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos. 

    Here are a few suggestions for improving the Energy and Water Appropriations bill when it comes to the floor of the House this week:

    1. A rider prohibiting funding to use the Social Cost of Carbon guidance document in any rulemaking or any benefit-cost analyses by the DOE and FERC.
    2. The rider offered successfully for the past several years by Rep. Michael Burgess that prohibits funding to enforce the 2007 ban on standard incandescent bulbs.
    3. An amendment to reduce funding below FY 2015 levels. The bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee increases Energy and Water funding by over $1,200,000 above current levels.  The Department of Energy has been a mess for decades. Many, perhaps even most, DOE programs should be eliminated. If eliminating unnecessary and counter-productive programs is beyond what can be done this year, then the House should at least cut the total funding level to below the current level.
    4. A rider prohibiting any funds to be used to develop, propose, or implement new energy efficiency standards for all or some of the following: residential dishwashers, residential clothes washers, residential air conditioners and heat pumps, residential water heaters, portable air conditioners, residential gas furnaces, residential conventional cooking products, residential boilers, residential dehumidifiers, residential furnaces and boilers, central air conditioners and heat pumps, ceiling fans, and small electric motors and other electric motors. 
    5. A rider prohibiting funds to be used to develop, propose, or finalize new energy efficiency standards for some or all of the following: commercial heating, air conditioning and water heating equipment, commercial water heating equipment, manufactured housing, commercial and industrial pumps, fans and blowers, commercial warm air furnaces, and small, large, or very large commercial package air conditioning and heating equipment.
    6. A rider prohibiting funding for the Department of Energy to attend COP-21 in Paris in December or to participate in the negotiations on the forthcoming Paris Accord from October 1 onward. This would be an interesting test vote for other appropriations bills coming up.
  • Protecting the Earth Isn’t Just Government Work

    April 22, 2015 6:04 PM

    This April will mark the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Since 1970, countless people around the world have used the day to celebrate the beauty and majesty of the natural world and develop strategies for safeguarding those values.

    For a long time, environmental protection policies in the United States have tended overwhelmingly in the direction of greater government involvement—more rules and restrictions, larger budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency, and more land brought under federal control. As the mandate to control more and more of the nation’s forests, ranges, rivers, and lakes has expanded, the agencies responsible—and the taxpayers who foot the bill—have shown the strain.

    Since the early 20th century, practically no land under federal control has passed into private hands. We can see the real-world consequences in the federal forests. For decades, some environmental groups have successfully fought the adoption of sound forest management policies, often opposing the harvesting of any timber—even dead or diseased trees. As a result, those lands have been plagued by insect infestation, disease, and catastrophic wildfires. Because of political pressure, federal land managers ignored risks that private forest owners have always understood.

    Fortunately, we have other options for channeling the enthusiasm for environmental preservation we see at Earth Day celebrations each year. Increasing private stewardship of our natural resources is an excellent tool for addressing that challenge.

    As more people are coming to realize, we do not have to direct all our conservation goals through the political process, where we can only hope that the politicians we elect will make the right choices. Rather, we can join together with other like-minded individuals to accomplish the same goals. No campaign contributions required!

Pages

Subscribe to OpenMarket: Energy and Environment