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OpenMarket: Energy and Environment

  • In Defending Clean Power Plan before the Supreme Court, EPA/DOJ Misrepresent Clean Air Act with Lame Editing Tricks

    February 9, 2016 2:44 PM

    Lawyers for the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are trying to pull a fast one on the Supreme Court. Through creative formatting, they are misrepresenting the text of the Clean Air Act such that it omits a major constraint on federal power.

    At issue is Clean Air Act §7411(d)(1), which is a regulatory program to control emissions from existing stationary sources. Section §7411(d)(1) allegedly authorizes Obama’s marquee climate policy (known as the Clean Power Plan). Below, I’ve reposted the text of the provision in full.

    §7411(d)(1) The Administrator shall prescribe regulations which shall establish a procedure similar to that provided by section 7410 of this title under which each State shall submit to the Administrator a plan which (A) establishes standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant (i) for which air quality criteria have not been issued or which is not included on a list published under section 7408(a) of this title or emitted from a source category which is regulated under section 7412 of this title but (ii) to which a standard of performance under this section would apply if such existing source were a new source, and (B) provides for the implementation and enforcement of such standards of performance.

    To help you unpack this provision, I’ve ordered it below in an outline format that comports with the express structural instructions in the provision’s text: 

    §7411(d)(1) The Administrator shall prescribe regulations which shall establish a procedure … under which each State shall submit to the Administrator a plan which

    (A) establishes standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant

    (i) for which air quality criteria have not been issued or which is not included on a list published under §7408(a) of this title or emitted from a source category which is regulated under §7412 of this title but

    (ii) to which a standard of performance under this section would apply if such existing source were a new source, and

    (B) provides for the implementation and enforcement of such standards of performance.

    For challengers of the rule, the crucial language is in subsection §7411(d)(1)(A)(i), which acts to limit the EPA’s authority under the provision. Opponents of the rule argue that this subsection, by its plain terms, sets forth three independent disqualifying factors that constrain EPA’s authority:

    1. EPA can’t issue §7411(d) regulations (i.e., the Clean Power Plan) for pollutants for which air quality criteria have been issued;
    2. EPA agency can’t issue §7411(d) regulations for pollutants on the §7408 list;
    3. EPA can’t issue §7411(d) regulations for sources subject to §7412.
  • Dr. Christy Rebuts Alarmist Spin on Satellite Data

    February 5, 2016 5:50 PM

    The divergence between satellite data and climate model warming predictions has long been too large for “consensus” scientists to ignore, and it keeps growing despite 2015 being anointed the “warmest year on record.”

    Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects try to discredit the satellite data, even to the point of suggesting that surface records, notwithstanding their well-known heterogeneity, gaps, and quality-control issues, are more reliable.

    In testimony earlier this week before the House Science Committee, University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) atmospheric scientist John Christy rebuts a Yale Climate Connections video featuring several heavyweights of the climate science establishment.

    The video claims satellites do not actually measure temperature, but infer it from microwaves emitted by oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. That is true but irrelevant. Christy explains: “In reality, the sensors on satellites measure temperature by emitted radiation—the same method that a physician uses to measure your body temperature to high precision using an ear probe. Atmospheric oxygen emits microwaves, the intensity of which is directly proportional to the temperature of the oxygen, and thus the atmosphere. . . . As an aside, most surface temperature measurements are indirect, using electronic resistance.”

  • President Obama Will Propose $10 a Barrel Tax on Oil To Pay For $32 Billion Green Transit Slush Fund

    February 5, 2016 5:48 PM

    The White House has begun to release details of President Barack Obama’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2017.  Most interesting so far is the announcement that the President will propose a new $10 fee on each barrel of oil.  With oil selling at roughly $30 a barrel, this would amount to a one-third increase in the cost of oil.

    The projected $32 billion a year in new revenue would be used to fund “green” transit: $20 billion for mass transit, including high-speed rail and magnetic levitation; $10 billion for streamlining local and state transit planning, a Climate Smart Fund to give bonuses to States that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and three new grant programs for “livable” cities, climate-resilient infrastructure, and regional-wide transit projects; and $2 billion for research into “clean” transportation.

    There is no chance that the 114th Congress will enact this new $32 billion tax plus green slush fund, so it’s not clear why the President doesn’t follow his tried and true practice and just impose it by executive order.  I doubt that many Democrats in Congress who are running for re-election in 2016 will support it. 

  • Don't Put Eco-Finance Measures in Energy Bill

    February 4, 2016 2:59 PM

    Cronyism and boondoggles in an energy bill is nothing new in the U.S. Congress. But this week, senators of both parties are taking the process to new lows in amendments they are offering to the pending S.2012—the Energy Policy Modernization Act.

    Not only are these politicos picking winners and losers through subsidies and mandates favoring selected “green” industries and technologies, they are roping in housing and finance agencies into their “environmentally correct” schemes. At best, this would divert the agencies away from their missions at a time of great economic volatility. At worst, it could cause a financial crisis of its own.

    First, there is an amendment from Sen Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a former real estate agent, which would loosen credit standards for “green” homes backed by taxpayers through the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA, created during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1934 to help low- and middle-income borrowers obtain housing, now benefits many affluent borrowers as well by insuring from default mortgages up to a limit of about $625,000.

    This greatly reduces a bank’s risk from making these loans, but can also create a substantial “moral hazard” because of the taxpayer backing. As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2007, “FHA-insured loans have also been at the center of some of the worst excesses of the housing boom, including mortgage fraud, loans made without income verification, and property ‘flipping’ with inflated appraisal.” The FHA received a $1.7 billion taxpayer bailout in 2013.

  • Zika Wake-Up Call

    February 4, 2016 11:29 AM

    The spread of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus should be yet another wake-up call for public officials around the world. As a relatively new threat, Zika has captured headlines in a world where many insect-transmitted diseases continue to wreak havoc on public health. Unfortunately, the ability to control all such vector-borne diseases is hindered by more than our limited scientific understanding. Disease control is limited by the lack of political will to use all tools in our arsenal, including politically incorrect pesticides.

    Zika has long been known to cause mild infections and rashes, but health officials are now investigating the possibility that it can cause birth defects when mothers are infected during pregnancy. The disease appeared in Brazil last spring and during 2015, the nation experienced a dramatic increase of babies born with neurodevelopmental problems associated with unusually small heads, a defect called microcephaly. Researchers are investigating whether the two phenomenon are connected. They are also investigating the possibility that Zika caused an increase of Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease.

    Regardless of what they find, we already know that mosquito borne diseases cause a wide range of health effects that include neurological problems as well as immediately deadly infections.  The impact in impoverished nations is devastating with diseases like Malaria and Dengue taking millions of lives every year.

  • Revisiting Gore’s Katrina Innuendo

    January 29, 2016 5:53 PM

    In An Inconvenient Truth (pp. 94-95), Al Gore blamed global warming for Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans. Not in so many words but through heavy-handed insinuation no movie goer could miss.

    It seemed plausible because Gore invoked an “emerging consensus linking global warming to the increasing destructive power of hurricanes . . . based in part on research showing a significant increase in the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes.”

    The research to which Gore alluded was Webster et al. (2005), a study which found a significant increase in the number and percentage of category 4 and 5 hurricanes during 1970-2004. The study was hotly debated at the time. For example, on the same day Science magazine published the Webster study, climatologist Patrick Michaels published a critique. Michaels showed that, in the Atlantic basin—the hurricane formation area with the best data over the longest period—the “trends” observed by Webster et al. disappeared once data going back to 1940 were included. Roughly the same number and percentage of intense hurricanes occurred during 1940-1970 as occurred during 1970-2004.

    This week’s edition of CO2Science.Org reviews “Extremely Intense Hurricanes: Revisiting Webster et al. (2005) after 10 Years,” a study by Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University and Christopher Landsea of NOAA/NWS/National Hurricane Center.

  • Twenty-Six States Appeal to Supreme Court To Stay EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rule for New Power Plants

    January 29, 2016 5:51 PM

    West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on 26th January filed on behalf of twenty-six States an appeal of the DC Circuit Court’s refusal to grant an immediate stay of the EPA’s final greenhouse gas rule for new power plants. The U. S. Chamber, National Association of Manufacturers, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, National Federation of Independent Business, and twelve other industry associations filed a similar appeal on 27th January. Murray Energy announced last week that they would also file an appeal.

    The AGs’ 63-page petition makes an impressive case that the so-called “Clean Power” Plan is so legally flawed that it will eventually be overturned in court, but that so much economic damage will be done before the litigation is completed that the rule must be suspended as soon as possible.

    The States’ petition begins by reminding the Justices what happened with the Utility Mercury Air Toxics Standards rule:

  • In FERC Ruling, Supreme Court Announces Dangerous New "No Man's Land" Principle

    January 28, 2016 1:07 PM

    On January 26, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government in a high profile case, FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association. Media reports have focused on how the Court’s ruling boosts federal efforts to advance a policy known as “demand-side management,” whereby grid operators “manage” ratepayer demand by paying retail consumers to not use electricity during periods of peak demand. In fact, demand-side management is a stupid idea because the alternative—lifting electric socialism and allowing the price mechanism to regulate demand—is so much more efficient.

    However, for this post, the policy implications of the Court’s decision are merely an unpleasant aside. Instead, the point of this blog is to explain how the Court’s troubling reasoning invites the federal government to expand its regulatory authority.

  • Doomsday Clockamamie

    January 28, 2016 12:50 PM

    “It is still three minutes to midnight,” proclaims The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in their latest “Doomsday Clock” report. The Atomic Scientists welcome the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement as “incremental moves” towards a more “sustainable” planet. Nonetheless, they warn, “the hands of the Doomsday Clock must remain at three minutes to midnight, the closest they've been to catastrophe since the early days of above-ground hydrogen bomb testing.”

    The notion that men in white lab coats can calculate the imminence or likelihood of global apocalypse is almost too ludicrous to entertain. Nonetheless, let us proceed as if the Atomic Scientists were engaged in legitimate research rather a propaganda exercise.

    Way back in 1953, citing the first H-bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union, the Atomic Scientists said the world was only two minutes to midnight—the fateful hour, at the end of the countdown, when, supposedly, all hell breaks loose. Today, they claim the world is three minutes from midnight. That’s loopy. How can the world be minutes from destruction for more than 60 years?

    Since 1949, the Doomsday Clock has never been more than 17 minutes from the Stroke of Doom. The driving factors in every case were nuclear testing, the arms race, and the success or failure of arms control negotiations.

    Clearly, the Atomic Scientists have been exaggerating the likelihood of nuclear conflagration for decades. Indeed, one could even argue that the very arms race they have decried for the past 67 years actually helped limit armed conflict by making a third world war unacceptably costly to the Soviet Union and Mao’s China.

    What’s novel about the latest iteration of the Doomsday Clock is that the Atomic Scientists now include climate change along with nuclear weapons as “humanity’s two most pressing existential threats.” But how can climate change be pushing us ever closer to the Eve of Destruction when the state of the world keeps improving?

  • War on Logging Claims another Casualty

    January 28, 2016 11:27 AM

    Sierra Pacific Industries is permanently closing its Arcata, California, sawmill, a third-generation family-owned forest products company and one of largest landowners in the United States. First built by Red Emmerson’s father in 1951, it was out on the Samoa Peninsula in Arcata, on the northern California coast.

    The main reason for the closing is that the company couldn’t harvest suitably sized logs from the forests—in addition to all the other growing regulatory burdens and the prolonged recession and slow housing market. Sierra Pacific tried to truck in logs from California’s interior and ship them from Washington State and British Columbia, but it proved way too expensive.

    Now Canadian firms are shipping in the logs and timber that American firms are prevented from harvesting and producing from our overgrown forests.

    This is similar to the situation in Oregon, where 75 percent of sawmills have closed. In Harney and Grant Counties, both sites of protests against federal land policies, all seven sawmills have closed in Harney and the feds are busy closing all the forest roads in Grant—in the middle of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in America. 

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