December 2011

Post image for Saving the Climate Change Circus

The Economist Magazine has historically been a supporter of climate-change interventions such as cap and trade and carbon-emission reductions. Yet, they reported on the UN climate change talks in Durban as being more about “saving the circus” than “saving the planet.” But, just what is the “circus;” who are the performers; and how did they get into the ring? And, was it ever about “saving the planet?”

My previous column postulated on China’s role in the climate change “circus.” I suggested that their apparent change of heart on the issue was really just a change of strategy.

Like The Economist, another leading European publication, The Financial Times (FT) has also been a believer in man-made climate change. FT carried extensive coverage of the 2011 UN climate change talks—even producing a twelve-page supplement: Climate Change Review, Durban 2011. Here in the US, the climate change talks in Durban were barely mentioned.

Within FT’s reporting they state that the European Union (EU) “is pushing hardest among developed countries for a new global deal” and is “the greenest voice among wealthy countries at the talks.” Is the EU uniquely insightful, or like China, is their role in the ring also more about economic strategy?

When it is widely known that any Kyoto-style deal will be costly to the countries’ involved and make energy more expensive for the countries’ citizens, why would the EU stand out as the staunchest supporter? Canada has dropped out of the Kyoto accord “in order to save billions of dollars in potential non-compliance fees.” The US never signed on. Developing industrial countries, such as China and India, have repeatedly refused to participate because “rapid development is lifting millions out of poverty.”

Perhaps, herein, lies “the circus”—with the EU as the star performer.

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In The True State of the Planet, Ronald Bailey and colleagues lay out a new environmentalism, one to replace the failed, top-down, government-centric environmentalism of the past. Through innovative and creative thinking, people can solve environmental problems, even ones we don’t know of yet, if they are free to do so.

The True State of the Planet was a project by CEI released in 1995

In 1970, the first Earth Day brought together more than 20 million Americans to launch the first wave of the modern environmental movement. Since then, public concern about the state of the planet has steadily grown. The membership rolls and budgets of leading environmental activist organizations have swollen by millions. The federal government has adopted thousands of pages of environmental regulations. Cities and industries are spending billions every year to clean up pollution…

The first wave has scored some major successes in its twenty-five-year history: in the Western developed world, air and water are much cleaner; automobiles are far cleaner to operate; belching smokestacks are far fewer and generally more efficient than ever before. Clearly developed societies can come together to clean up much of the pollution produced by industries and cities.

But the first wave has also turned out to be spectacularly wrong about certain things. The good news is that many of the looming threats predicted in the early days of the environmental movement turned out to be exaggerated. For example, the global famines expected to occur in the 1970s never happened. Fears that the United States and Europe would cut down all of their forests have been belied by increases in forest area. Global warming, despite so many continuing reports, does not appear to be a major problem. And it turns out that the damages to human health and the natural world by pesticides is far less than Rachel Carson feared it would be when she wrote the Silent Spring in 1962.

It is inevitable, perhaps, that the first wave would begin to run its course and give way to a new strategy… The greatest problem with the first wave has been its solutions, which involve top-down imposition of laws and regulations, some of which, in turn, impair the capacity of people to change their behavior on their own…. Malthus assumed that past behavior would continue into the future. And if behavior does not change on its own, it can be changed only by force—by direct orders from above, as, for example, with gasoline rationing. Americans were ordered to use less oil in the 1970s, and with disastrous results. People hoarded gas; they formed longer gas lines out of fear, and the energy “crisis” was thereby made worse.

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Post image for Issa Challenges Legality of California Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards

I keep coming back to this topic because fuel economy zealots are trashing our constitutional system of separated powers and democratic accountability. Only Congress can make them stop. Leading the counter-offensive is House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has been watch-dogging the Obama administration’s fuel economy agenda since 2009. [click to continue…]

Create Wealth, Not Jobs

by David Bier on December 20, 2011

in Blog

Iain Murray and I have an op-ed in The Washington Times this morning that argues that TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline exists not to create a few jobs from some people, but to create wealth for all Americans:

Spending on construction and infrastructure jobs is a perennial favorite of government stimulus boosters. “There’s no reason for Republicans inCongress to stand in the way of more construction projects,” PresidentObama told an Ohio crowd in September. “There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs.” However, the president now wants to block a massive private-sector construction project that would create the thousands of jobs he demands – the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Another Year of Incandescence

by Brian McGraw on December 20, 2011

in Blog

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Buried deep in 2012 budget legislation was a paragraph or two that prevents the federal government from spending any funds enforcing the 2007 light bulb efficiency standards/ traditional light bulb “ban” through the end of September 2012. While this isn’t a technical repeal of the ban/efficiency standards, it will allow traditional 100 watt incandescent bulbs to continue to be sold through most of 2012 by those companies who aren’t put off by the negative public relations (green groups may well go on the offensive if national retailers continue to sell them) or potential legal liabilities. It isn’t clear yet the extent to which 100 watt traditional incandescent bulbs will be available for consumer purchase in 2012.

The delay/temporary repeal of the ban has some on the left angry, as Tim Carney notes, though I suspect they’d be angrier if this budget rider had been swapped for delaying implementation of some of the more expensive 2011-2012 EPA regulations, which certainly seemed like a possibility.

An actual argument over the pros/cons of this legislation has been had numerous times and neither side has budged (nor have sides budged over whether or not its okay to label this legislation a ban), so any continuation of that seems sort of pointless. However, I’d like to look at the Politico article that attempted to ding Republicans because “big business” is really upset about this recent turn of events: [click to continue…]

Too Green To Be Transparent

by David Bier on December 19, 2011

in Blog

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On his third day in office, President Barack Obama proposed ways to make government more open. He told the press, “The way to make government accountable is to make it transparent, so people can known exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served.” Yet the Obama administration has attempted to hide from the public eye significant information about his environmental agenda.

Consider the negotiation of the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The New York Times reported, “There was a simple rule for negotiations between the White House and California on vehicle fuel economy: Put nothing in writing. Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, and Carol Browner, President Obama’s point person on energy and climate change… quietly orchestrated private discussions from the White House with auto industry officials.”

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Earlier this month, former-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich met with 63 conservative leaders. In an exchange with CEI’s Myron Ebell, Gingrich said that he “‘was in Congress when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire,’ and thus supports strong government programs to protect the environment.” In his excellent book The Really Inconvenient Truths, CEI’s Iain Murray shows how government intervention actually caused the infamous Cuyahoga fire.

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland “caught fire.” This fact is indispensible to central-planners and the enemies of industry. The “burning river” is one of the founding myths of big-government-environmentalism—particularly on the federal stage….

The real story is more complex, and a good portion of the blame lies on the shoulders of big government—specifically on the “progressive” abolition of property rights in favor of “common” ownership. In short, one key problem was that nobody had property rights over the river. It was nobody’s “doorstep,” and so everybody was spitting on it.

In early American history, this principle of private ownership supported by common law was the model for waterways. As settlers moved into the drier areas of the country this principle changed, with the “progressive” notion of common ownership replacing it. With water belonging not to individuals, but to the state, the way was opened for pollution. The principle of common ownership contributed to environmental degradation in a way that the tradition of private property did not.

This meant that industrial areas tended to treat their commonly owned rivers as common dumping grounds, hence the mayor’s description of the Cuyahoga as “an open sewer through the center of the city.” The industrialization of the city was viewed by city managers and residents alike as a desirable thing, and the side effects exhibited as the Cuyahoga changed color and odor were viewed as signs of progress. The city moved to take its domestic water from Lake Erie rather than clean up the river.

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This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on December 18, 2011

in Blog

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Congress Agrees to Delay Light Bulb Ban

House Republican leaders and Senate Democratic leaders finally agreed Thursday night on the conference report for the omnibus appropriations bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the 2012 fiscal year. The Congress is expected to send the bill to President Obama for his signature before midnight Friday, thereby averting a government shutdown.

There were a number of riders in the Interior and EPA appropriations bill passed by the House. Nearly all of the EPA riders were taken out by the House-Senate conference committee. The omnibus bill does cut EPA funding by $240 million below the FY 2011 level.

One Department of Energy rider that did survive will block implementation of the ban enacted in 2007 on standard incandescent light bulbs. That ban was scheduled to begin taking effect on January 1, 2012, when it would have become illegal to sell 100 watt bulbs. The rider only delays the ban from taking effect until the fiscal year ends on October 1, 2012. However, once adopted, most riders are routinely extended in succeeding appropriations bills. To take the rider out in future years, supporters of taking away consumer choice on light bulbs will have to mount a major effort.

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In his book, Contract with the Earth, former-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich writes, “The universality of the recycling phenomenon should be regarded as a turning point in our struggle to revitalize the earth, and one of the most successful mass environmental actions in human history.” Natural resource economist Julian Simon disagrees. In this excerpt from The Ultimate Resource II, Simon argues that recycling and conservation only make sense if they also make economic sense.

Ultimate Resource II was released in 1996

Should you conserve energy by turning off lights that are burning needlessly in your house? Of course you should – just as long as the money that you save by doing so is worth the effort of shutting off the light. That is, you should turn out a light if the money cost of the electrical energy is greater than the felt cost to you of taking a few steps to the light switch and flicking your wrist. But if you are ten miles away from home and you remember that you left a 100-watt light bulb on, should you rush back to turn it off? Obviously not; the cost of the gasoline spent would be far greater than the electricity saved, even if the light is on for many days. Even if you are on foot and not far away, the value to you of your time is surely greater than the cost of the electricity saved.

The appropriate rule in such cases is that you should conserve and not waste just so far as the benefits of conserving are greater than the costs if you do not conserve. That is, it is rational for us to avoid waste if the value to us of the resource saved is more than the cost to us of achieving the saving – a matter of pocketbook economics. And the community does not benefit if you do otherwise.

Ought you save old newspapers rather than throw them away? Sure you ought to – as long as the price that the recycling center pays you is greater than the value to you of your time and energy in saving and hauling them. But if you – or your community – must pay someone more to have paper taken away for recycling than as trash, there is no sound reason to recycle paper.

Recycling does not “save trees”. It may keep some particular trees from being cut down. But those trees never would have lived if there were no demand for new paper – no one would have bothered to plant them. And more new trees will be planted and grown in their place after they are cut. So unless the very act of a saw being applied to a tree makes you unhappy, there is no reason to recycle paper nowadays.

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In a recent blog, I explained how the Environmental Protection Agency is hybridizing disparate provisions of the Clean Air Act in order to engineer greater regulatory authority for itself. EPA is using these “Franken-regs” to trump the states’ rightful authority on visibility improvement policy and impose billions of dollars of emissions controls for benefits that are literally invisible.

Yesterday, for example, EPA relied on this hybrid authority to impose a federal regulatory plan on Oklahoma over the Sooner State’s objection. (A copy of the federal register notice is available here). In February, Oklahoma submitted a visibility improvement plan that would require fuel switching from coal to natural gas at six power plants by 2022, but EPA rejected this approach in March. In its stead, EPA proposed a federal plan that would require almost $2 billion in emissions controls, in addition to fuel switching. EPA’s proposed plan was finalized yesterday.

Although the Clean Air Act clearly gives states primacy over EPA in decision-making for visibility improvement, Oklahoma is one of three states subject to a federal plan. In August, EPA imposed a plan on New Mexico that costs $740 million more than the state’s plan. In September, EPA proposed a federal plan for North Dakota. All three states are challenging EPA in federal court.

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