Post image for Climate Policy Risk: Who’s In Denial?

Earlier this week, economist Roger Bezdek gave a presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building titled “Carbon Dioxide: Social Cost or Social Benefit?” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank covered the event and published a short review titled “The new climate denialism: More carbon dioxide is a good thing.”

Granted, it’s hard to develop an argument about a complex, technical subject in a 760-word column, but Milbank doesn’t even try. He takes cheap shots and spouts off without knowing whereof he speaks.

Milbank starts with a snarky putdown, asserting that “though Bezdek is an economist, not a scientist, he played one on Monday.” How so? Some of Bezdek’s slides show the fertilization effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on crop yields and plant growth. For example:

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That is not playing scientist, it is citing scientific research.

Another slide shows that, over the past 250 years, CO2 emissions closely correlate with population growth, life expectancy, and per capita GDP. [click to continue…]

Earlier today, I posted a primer on the EPA’s pending coal ash rule. In fact, the rule is almost assuredly going to be a far superior regulation than the shoddy version EPA originally drafted. And the means by which the rule improved in quality sheds much light on a little noticed yet supremely important component of the rulemaking process: White House regulatory review.

White House Regulatory Review: The Bare Bones Basics

White House regulatory review is conducted by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA (pronounced inside the beltway as “O-Eye-Ra”) was created by Congress with the enactment of the Paperwork Reduction Act in 1980. OIRA’s broad mandate is help alleviate the paperwork burdens imposed by the federal regulatory state on American businesses and private individuals.

Jimbo S

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan substantially increased OIRA’s authority with the promulgation of Executive Order 12291, which required that federal agencies submit their proposed and final regulations to OIRA for review. Thus, OIRA became a primary means by which the President could affect regulatory policy. President Clinton updated the terms of OIRA’s regulatory review in 1993 with the issuance of Executive Order 12866. The two Orders did not engender materially different procedures.

All “major” rules are subject to OIRA review, although rules promulgated by independent executive agencies are exempt from the process.

OIRA Review of EPA’s Coal Ash Rule: An Interagency Smack Down

In late 2009, EPA submitted its original draft to OIRA, which proceeded to lay the smack down. A summary of its brutal review is available here, and a redline version of OIRA edits is available here. The documents demonstrate that it was amateur hour at the EPA during the first months of the administration when it put together the proposal: [click to continue…]

Today marks a court-ordered deadline for EPA to promulgate a final coal combustion residual (CCR) rule pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. To be sure, the agency could ignore the deadline, as the courts have no means readily at hand to prod the agency into action today. That said, the agency is widely expected to promulgate the rule this afternoon. What follows is the shortest, most thorough primer of the rule on the web. [click to continue…]

Monday night marked the debut of Saving My Tomorrow, a new HBO documentary described thusly in promotional materials*:

From the children who will inherit the planet comes a collection of songs, activism and heartfelt tips for protecting the earth … A lyrical mix of science, animation and music, celebrates the wonders of the natural world and is a call from kids to kids to help take care of the planet.

The last sentence of this synopsis suggests the documentary is a “celebration,” but I can report that it’s anything but. I watched a recording of episode one this morning, and it’s less a party and more a dirge.

HBO's target demographic?

Target demographic?

To wit, there were four songs in the first half hour installment, and below I’ve excerpted lyrics from each:

  • Song 1: ♫ “Hey, farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now” ♫
  • Song 2: ♪“Bio-di-ver-sity…don’t let it fade away”♫
  • Song 3: ♫“Please don’t send your exploding trains through our city. We don’t think that people dying is pretty”♪
  • Song 4:♪“The state of the nations is poisoned from pollution, greed and war”♫

Uplifting stuff! The third *celebratory* song (titled, “Exploding Trains”) was particularly upbeat.

When it wasn’t scaremongering, the documentary seemed a bit complex for an audience of children. For example, here’s Liam Neeson warning about ocean acidification: [click to continue…]

On April 21st, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to “clarify” federal jurisdiction pursuant to the Clean Water Act. Logically, the purpose of a regulatory interpretation is to elucidate the rules of the game. EPA’s/USACE’s rule, alas, does the exact opposite. Instead of clearly defining the limits of federal authority, the proposal would establish a haphazard regime whereby a regulator would determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a given body of water possessed a “significant nexus” to navigable waters and were therefore subject to federal power. In practice, the test is so amorphous that every ditch, vernal pond, playa lake, mudflat, sandflat, and slough could easily fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction.

"waters of the U.S."

“waters of the U.S.”

Indeed, the rule is so expansive that it could claim storm water sewer systems as “waters of the United States”! This presents a cosmic irony, insofar as storm water sewer systems are themselves pollution control mechanisms. This regulatory closed loop–i.e., the regulation of a means of regulatory compliance–was aptly described by National Association of Counties’ Dusty Williams  in June testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. [click to continue…]

There’s a strong current of contemporary thought which posits that “doing something” about climate change is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s not just environmental lobbyists spouting off about “green jobs”; no less an eminence than Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has averred that,

Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.

Recent Japanese history presents a grand, albeit tragic, case study into whether greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth have indeed decoupled. In addition to being a humanitarian and ecological disaster, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis also spawned an energy crunch. A significant amount of supply, the equivalent of 9 average-sized American coal power plants, was lost in the disaster.

Before the Fukushima incident, Japan had been at the forefront of global climate change mitigation policy. As such, it is safe to presume that Japan in 2011 possessed a mindset to replace its lost nuclear capacity with low/no-carbon energy. Accordingly, in the immediate wake of the meltdown, Prime Minister Naoto Kan emphasized that solar and wind power would meet the country’s demand.

So, in mid 2011, we had a green-minded, developed country in need of energy overhaul. Thus, Japan’s post-Fukushima experience offers an opportunity to test Prof. Krugman’s thesis. If fighting climate change is cheap and easy, then Japan should’ve gone green. [click to continue…]

The New York Times last weekend took note of *skyrocketing* utility bills in New England. According to the paper of record,

For months, utility companies across New England have been warning customers to expect sharp price increases, for which the companies blame the continuing shortage of pipeline capacity to bring natural gas to the region. Now that the higher bills are starting to arrive, many stunned customers are finding the sticker shock much worse than they imagined.

New England ratepayers are suffering primarily due to the fact that the regional grid (known as the “ISO-NE”) has undergone tectonic shifts over the last decade, as the region’s fuel mix has shifted dramatically from coal and oil to natural gas. In 2000, coal, oil, and natural gas provided 18 percent, 22 percent, and 15 percent (respectively) of total electric production in ISO-NE; in 2013, coal, oil, and gas provided 6 percent, less than 1 percent, and 46 percent.

It’s not that over-reliance of natural gas, per se, has caused utility bills to blow up; after all, gas is plentiful in the region, thanks to the nearby Marcellus shale, where gas production is booming due to the “fracking” technological breakthrough. Rather, the problem is constraints in gas pipeline capacity. There’s too much demand for gas, and too little infrastructure to deliver the gas. The logistical shortfall is especially pronounced in the winter, when gas demand for power competes with demand for space heating.

In fact, such supply chain bottlenecks historically have been a difficulty commonly attendant to central planning, and, in this vein, environmental policy (at both the State and federal levels of government) has been a major impetus for the recent dramatic shift in fuel resources in New England. Simply put: In a fit to go green, the region went too fast, too soon.

The region thus offers a lesson for the nation as a whole, because EPA’s Clean Power Plan similarly would overhaul overnight the U.S. electricity business. This comparison—between what New England is enduring now and what America could expect given the Clean Power’s implementation—recently was made by FERC Commissioner Tony Clark in response to written questions posed by the Energy and Commerce Committee: [click to continue…]

Two weeks ago, the New York Times warned that humankind faces “extinction” unless the international community reached a diplomatic breakthrough at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima Peru. Despite these dire stakes, the Lima climate confab wrapped up this weekend  with yet another empty agreement—thereby dooming human civilization, if the Grey Lady is to be believed—and not a single Sunday network news talk show gave any airtime to COP-20. Indeed, nary a single powerhouse roundtable even mentioned climate change. Thus, it would seem that networks give as little priority to climate change as do American voters. This is why opposition to climate change mitigation policies is healthily bipartisan in the U.S. Congress.

Moving on to stories that actually made the news, the highlight of this Sunday’s (invaluable) Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless was an informative and wide-ranging interview with Platts Senior Editor Brian Scheid regarding new North Dakota regulations for the volatility (i.e., combustibility) of oil produced and transported in the State.


Finally, I’ll conclude by posting Youtube video (after the break) of Greenpeace activists damaging the Nazca lines, a cultural landmark in Peru, in an effort to promote green energy at COP-20. As reported by the New York Times, you can hear “their shoes crunching over the dry ground.” That is, you can hear them desecrating the site, which was designated a World Heritage monument by UNESCO. Peruvian authorities are outraged by the stunt, but the activists skipped town to avoid prosecution, according to the Times. [click to continue…]

Cooler Heads Digest 12 December 2014

From a citizen perspective, there are three main questions in climate change science: What happened? Who done it? How bad is it going to get? Those questions roughly correspond to the scientific issues of detection, attribution, and climate sensitivity.

All scientists, including skeptics, agree with the IPCC’s assessment that warming of the climate system since the 1950s is “unequivocal.” In contrast, IPCC climate sensitivity estimates are increasingly controversial due to the growing divergence between climate model projections and observed temperatures. The chart below by University of Alabama in Hunstville (UAH) atmospheric scientist Roy Spencer illustrates — and satirizes — the divergence:


Earlier this week, I reviewed a comment letter by Spencer’s colleague John Christy  on the scientific basis of EPA’s Clean Power Plan. To recap, EPA’s climate change endangerment analysis is largely based on IPCC climate models. Christy challenges not only the IPCC’s climate sensitivity estimates, but also the IPCC’s claim that most warming since 1951 is anthropogenic. That “attribution” assessment is the core of what IPCC-affiliated scientists and their allies call “the consensus.”

Today’s post offers an historical perspective on Christy’s critique of the consensus position. [click to continue…]