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  • Joel Kotkin's Analysis of Pope Francis's Encyclical

    July 6, 2015 11:58 AM

    Joel Kotkin has written an outstanding analysis posted on the Daily Beast of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’. I would quibble with certain details. For example, I think Francis is more influenced by Liberation Theology than by Argentina’s Peronist economy. And Kotkin’s historical account of the “Middle Ages” is based on outdated scholarship. But he is absolutely correct that the encyclical allies the Pope with radical Greens who hate capitalism and favor de-industrialization.

    Here are several excerpts from Kotkin’s insightful article:

    What makes the Pope’s position so important—after all, the world is rejecting his views on such things as gay marriage and abortion—is how it jibes with the world view of some of the secular world’s best-funded, influential, and powerful forces. In contrast to both Socialist and capitalist thought, both the Pope and the greens are suspicious about economic growth itself, and seem to regard material progress as aggression against the health of the planet.

    Another flash point between papal concerns and those of their new best friends lies in addressing poverty. The Pope is correct in identifying inequality and poverty as major concerns, but it’s hard to say how green strategies—particularly when they make energy, housing, and industry far more expensive—actually alleviate the plight of the poor or the middle class. Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path.    

    Given the reluctance of still poor countries to further impoverish themselves, the burden of the Catholic-green alliance will necessarily fall on the middle and working classes. As we can already see in California (the state with the most draconian environment laws), long-term economic growth has been tepid, despite the occasional tech and property bubbles. At the same time, the state suffers not only among the highest unemployment rates in the country, but the highest level of poverty, when cost of living is addressed, and has become home to one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.

    This confluence of private interest, public power and the clerical class is suggestive of a new feudal epoch. Bankrolled by inherited money, including from the oil-rich Rockefellers as well as Silicon Valley, the green alliance has already shown remarkable marketing savvy and media power to promote its agenda. Now that their approach is officially also the ideology of the world’s largest and most important church, discussion of climate change has become both secular and religious dogma at the same time. 

  • Vatican Downplays Political Involvement in Climate Debate While Joining Forces with Radical Leftist Naomi Klein

    July 1, 2015 7:28 PM

    Kathryn Jean Lopez reports on NRO’s The Corner that Cardinal Peter Turkson downplayed the political intentions of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, when he spoke to a “high level discussion” in New York City Tuesday night (June 30).

    According to Lopez, Turkson said that the encyclical was, “Rather than a political or doomsday document, it’s a call to better stewardship.” Moreover: “He also insisted that Pope Francis is not against business and never puts them down in it or elsewhere but challenges business and technology to always be used to help the poor.”

    Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Vatican’s point man on climate action, was apparently speaking to a group of prominent Roman Catholics, many of whom were probably concerned about what they had read about the papal encyclical. And apparently the cardinal thought that he could get away with what he said because few in the audience had read the encyclical. 

    But earlier in the day, the cardinal addressed the United Nations’ High Level Meeting on Climate Change, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. To that very different audience, Cardinal Turkson had a very different message: “Overcoming poverty and reducing environmental degradation will require the human community seriously to review the dominant model of development, production, commerce and consumption…. Such a courageous review and reform will take place only if we heed ‘the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress’ (quoted from paragraph 16 of the encyclical). The political dimension needs to re-establish democratic control over the economy and finance, that is, over the basic choices made by human societies.”

    Much of what Cardinal Turkson said was in the political code used by leftist international bureaucrats. If anyone doubts that Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ is a political rant that advocates dismantling modern industrial civilization, then consider the climate conference that the Vatican is hosting this week. Cardinal Turkson invited Naomi Klein to co-chair the conference.

  • Are There Broader Implications of the Supreme Court's EPA Ruling?

    June 30, 2015 11:06 AM

    “In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury and air toxics standards, charging that the administration failed to adequately consider the estimated $10 billion it would cost utilities to dramatically cut power plant pollution to comply with the measure,” reported The Washington Times yesterday.

    While the question has been raised about the broader implications of the court’s decision on other EPA regulations, CEI’s William Yeatman, says there is not much broad impact.

    As Reuter’s Lawrence Hurley reported:

    "’The agency must consider cost - including, most importantly, cost of compliance - before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary,’ Scalia wrote.

    “The EPA says the rule, which went into effect in April, applies to about 1,400 electricity-generating units at 600 power plants. Many are already in compliance, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

    “The legal rationale adopted by the court is unlikely to have broader implications for other environmental regulations, including the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan that would cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, according to lawyers following the case.

    “William Yeatman, a fellow at the conservative-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the impact is ‘circumscribed’ due to the ‘narrowness and uniqueness’ of the legal provision the court was examining.”

    As Kate Sheppard points out at The Huffington Post, the lower court now has the opportunity to revisit the case, meaning the rule could still go forward even as the EPA adheres to the Supreme Court’s decision.

  • 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.

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