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OpenMarket: Energy and Environment

  • 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!

  • Is Earth Day on Lenin's Birthday a Coincidence?

    April 22, 2015 1:09 PM

    It may be sheer coincidence, but it’s all too fitting that the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, would occur on V.I. Lenin’s 100th birthday, given that most of the modern environmentalist movement grew out of the far left student movement of the 1960s. In that milieu, it wasn’t rare to see people brandishing and citing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book as a source of wisdom. And many in the anti-war movement accused the capitalist chemical companies of growing rich by producing napalm and Agent Orange to drop on the people and forests of Viet Nam.

    Another popular book of the time was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which claimed chemical companies were profiting by poisoning the entire planet with DDT. The new environmentalist movement had found its “Little Green Book.”

    And I was there.

    I would periodically drive down in my Volkswagen from New Jersey to D.C. for various gatherings and marches. There was always a small libertarian contingent with the black-and-gold anarcho-capitalist flags at most of the major anti-war marches.

    Most of the news I got on the student movement came from my friend the late Wilson A. Clark, Jr., a maverick Misesian, Randian, Schumacherite, small-is-beautiful libertarian and author of Energy for Survival and Energy, Vulnerability and War. Wilson later went to work for Gov. Jerry Brown as his alternative energy guru. He supported solar and wind power for libertarian reasons—so neither the state nor Con-Ed could pull the plug on you, and you could live free off the national grid (much like Karl Hess, Sr. and the recently retired Rep. Roscoe Bartlett). Unfortunately, Wilson died in an auto accident on January 30, 1983 at age 36, as he swerved to avoid a deer. 

    Wilson told me that the greatest coup was holding Earth Day on Lenin’s Birthday and that most of the environmental movement’s leaders still didn’t get it. You can find endless discussions on how April 22 was selected. It had to be in the spring. It had to be during spring break, when most college kids were free, and when there were no exams. On and on.

    While it is entirely possible, and indeed probable, that Gaylord Nelson and other establishment greens did not deliberately pick Lenin’s birthday to celebrate Earth Day, I believe the young anti-capitalist students knew precisely what they were doing in selecting April 22. Was it sheer coincidence they would select Lenin’s 100th birthday—out of 365 days in the year—to celebrate the first Earth Day? I find it hard to believe.

  • A Voluntary Approach to Helping the Honeybee

    April 8, 2015 3:12 PM

    Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute published my paper on the honeybee health issue and pesticide use. We have had several media outlets ask, why is CEI focused on the honeybee issue now? If you read this blog, you know that I have been writing about pesticides and their impact on public health and well-being for at least a decade and a half.

    CEI selects issues based on our goals to promote freedom and prosperity, using the market to advance public health and well-being. I focus on chemicals, which I believe are under appreciated and misunderstood market-generated technologies that advance human well-being.  My work on pesticides has focused on allowing strategic uses to control disease carrying vermin such as mosquitos and ticks as well as the benefits and importance of crop protection chemicals for producing a stable food supply. 

    But I have another agenda when it comes to honeybees. As long as I have owned a piece of land, I’ve poured my heart and soul into my wildlife garden. While other people complain and look for regulations and government intrusions, I’d rather be part of the solution. And when it comes to public policy, we won’t help pollinators unless we use science and reason rather than alarmism-driven, anti-technology agendas.

    That said, there are things that private parties can do to help honeybees, and other wildlife, without asking big brother to ban valuable technologies. Consider what I’ve done to my yard.

    When I first moved in, the grass grew up to the house, and I barely saw a bird or butterfly. With lots of digging and effort, my yard is now a destination for myriad butterflies, bumblebees, and bugs I can’t even name. It’s also a favorite destination for all kinds of birds, from hummingbirds to finches and mockingbirds to crows and mourning doves. I even periodically see a crazy beautiful moth called the clearwing hummingbird moth. This amazing little creature really does look like a hummingbird! The feeders in the backyard attract a wide array of birds as well.

    So, for those people who want to help the honeybee, consider growing some plants that will benefit them, whether it’s in your yard or simply in flower box. Habitat is critically important for these creatures. Here are some plants that do well in my Virginia garden. Why not try them in yours?

  • California Drought 2.0, or Is it 3.0?

    April 6, 2015 6:46 AM

    California’s water woes are back in the headlines after Gov. Jerry Brown commanded a 25 percent cut in consumption last week after extended drought.

    Pricing matters and we’ve not done the greatest job liberalizing infrastructure and matching resouces to market signals. California’s just the most extreme modern example, now pitting neighbor against neighbor. Pools in the desert are scorned, as are the lush desert golf courses, and thirsty agricultural interests.

    But water doesn’t cost much. It needs to cost what its worth, and part of the job of markets is to determine prices. But markets are not what water utilities are.

    After congressional testimony on western states water policy a year and a half ago, California’s water crisis resurfaced again. I wrote a column in Forbes then noting that California, western and national water resources and environmental amenities should be better integrated into the property-rights, wealth-creating sector. That’s an evolution derailed here as well as in other sectors such as in electromagnetic spectrum, electricity and transportation grids.

    Recommendations were these:

    First, better pricing of existing supplies can make shortages vanish. (I talked about the water/diamonds paradox; you can Google it.)

    Second, improving water infrastructure can reduce the leaks that now deplete some 17 percent of the annual supply, as noted in a Competitive Enterprise Institute report by Bonner Cohen.

    Third, better transport and infrastructure, including pipelines and canals, better reservoir storage, trucking, and crude oil carriers can secure supply and lessen artificial drought more cheaply than expensive politically pushed alternatives like desalination.

    Fourth, improved trades between cities, farmers and private conservation campaigns can be essential to pricing and value.

    All these can supplement direct sourcing alternatives including drilling, gray and wastewater treatment and reclamation; stormwater harvesting and surface storage and, OK, you got me: even desalination where it’s economically rational.

    The path taken politically is usually restrictions on usage rather than pricing and liberalization, so there’ll be plenty headlines to come. 

  • TSCA Reform Debate Is Not about Public Safety

    April 1, 2015 1:59 PM

    At recent hearings on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), senators, environmental activists, and local government officials claimed that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) law is not sufficient protect public health. As I have argued before, that’s certainly not the case.

    There may be an economic reason to reform this law—to preempt a growing patchwork of nonsensical state-level consumer product regulations—but there’s no legitimate “safety” reason for reform.

    Still, activists and some members of Congress at the hearing complained that TSCA’s risk standard has prevented the EPA from banning “a known human carcinogen,” i.e., asbestos. Cosponsor of S. 697 Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) exclaimed at the hearing, “I think we all agree: TSCA is fatally flawed. It has failed to ban even asbestos.”

    Activists and members of Congress point out that EPA failed to address asbestos in part because TSCA requires EPA to pick the “least burdensome” regulation to achieve its goals. 

    But how can that be a bad thing? Shouldn’t we want to achieve our goals at the lowest costs? It doesn’t say EPA should pick a regulation that is less safe; rather, it says that EPA should simply pick a less expensive means to meet the safety goal.

    That requirement is part of TSCA’s robust risk standard that holds regulators accountable and prevents them from passing rules that do more harm than good. Under TSCA, EPA may regulate when the agency finds that a chemical may pose an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” This standard requires weighing the risks of the chemical against the risks of the regulatory action.

    People who use the asbestos case to push TSCA reform are either grossly misinformed about the case or they are simply being disingenuous. It is true that the rule was thrown out by a federal court in part because EPA did not bother to find the “least burdensome” approach to meet its goals. In addition, the court pointed out that the rule might have produced more deaths than theoretical lives saved. Accordingly, this is not a TSCA failure, it’s a life-saving success!

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