March 2012

Post image for Antarctica: New Evidence Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age Were Global

Did the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA) occur only in Europe, or were they global in scope?

This is a hotly debated question, because it is harder to make the case that the warmth of recent decades is “unusual,” “extraordinary,” or “unprecedented” and therefore something to stress about if global climate oscillates naturally between warming and cooling periods. The catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) crowd tend to write off the MWP (~1000-1200 A.D.) and LIA (~1300-1850 A.D.) as regional phenomena, largely confined to Northern Europe. A new study finds evidence of the MWP and LIA in a region 10,000 miles south of Northern Europe: the Antarctic Peninsula. [click to continue…]

Here’s a headline from today’s Energy & Environment News PM (subscription required):

…and here’s a Wall Street Journal headline from 1978:

Today, solar power accounts for a small fraction of one percent of U.S. energy needs.

Post image for Supreme Court Allows Challenge to EPA Power Grab, Cites CEI Brief in Sackett v. EPA; But Property Rights Still In Jeopardy

In recent years, the EPA has sought to block land from being used by claiming that vast tracts of seemingly dry land are actually “wetlands.”  The Clean Water Act gives it the power to regulate “waters of the United States.”  The EPA has interpreted that expansively to effectively mean “moistures of the United States,” treating perfectly ordinarily land as a “wetland” simply because water happens to occasionally flow downhill from it into a ditch or creek.  The four liberal Supreme Court justices largely bought this argument in the 2006 Rapanos case, so the Supreme Court is just one vote away from accepting this interpretation, which would render much of America a restricted “wetland” and financially ruin countless families.  Thus, property rights in America are hanging by a thread.

But yesterday, the flickering flame of property rights temporarily grew brighter. Rejecting the Obama Administration’s arguments, the Supreme Court held that EPA “compliance orders” restricting land use can be challenged in court if they are arbitrary and capricious — for example, if they are based on an erroneous bureaucratic interpretation of what a “wetland” is, that results in dry land improperly being declared an unusable wetland. In his concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito explained why such judicial review is essential: the EPA uses vague, inconsistent standards when it declares seemingly-dry land to be a wetland. As Justice Alito pointed out, “far from providing clarity and predictabil­ity, the agency’s latest informal guidance advises property owners that many jurisdictional determinations concern­ing wetlands can only be made on a case-by-case basis by EPA field staff. See Brief for Competitive Enterprise Institute as Amicus Curiae 7–13.”  (Justice Alito was relying on an amicus brief submitted on behalf of a Washington think-tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), by environmental lawyer Theodore Garrett of Covington & Burling).

The E.P.A. has a practice of issuing “compliance orders” to property owners telling them to stop using their land and restore it to its prior condition, under penalty of $75,000 a day in fines, and declaring in such orders that such land is a federally protected wetland. It then waits months or years before actually suing the property owner to collect the fines, which accrue daily, potentially adding up to millions in fines. But in the meantime, it insists that the property owners can’t challenge its claim that their property is a non-usable wetland in court. If they want to take issue with its claim that their property is a “wetland,” they have to wait until the EPA sues them later on to collect the fines, after they’ve racked up potentially millions in fines under the compliance order.  The order doubles the fines that a judge can impose on the property owners when the EPA ultimately sues them, although if the judge later finds the land was not in fact a “wetland,” he can refuse to impose the fines. (In the absence of a “compliance order,” the maximum fine for developing a wetland is $37,500 a day; the compliance order adds another $37,500 per day, bringing the total to $75,000 per day.  Federal law has a broad and counterintuitive notion of what is a “wetland”: for example, in one court ruling, the government was allowed to declare a property to be a “wetland” even though it appeared dry, since water occasionally passed from it into a roadside ditch that in turn flowed into another ditch that flowed into a creek).

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Post image for Liberals Stand Up For Corporate Welfare

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to allow corporations to spend money on political activities has become a primary target for liberals in Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrote this year that “this spending will fundamentally distort our democracy, tilting the playing field to favor corporate interests, discouraging new candidates, chilling elected officials and shifting the overall policymaking debate even further in the direction of giant corporate interests and the super-wealthy.”

Sen. Sanders was seconded by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said, “At a time when the public’s fears about the influence of special interests were already high, the Court’s decision stacks the deck against the average American even more.” Liberals, you see, want to defend the average American from corporate interests. Liberals want to stop special interest deals that “distort our democracy.” Liberals want to stand up to the “giant corporate interests” and “level the playing field.”

This fiction sells copies, but after last week, the true story was made plain: Congressional liberals voted overwhelmingly to keep “tilting the playing field,” but rather than the playing field of democracy, it was the playing field of the market. These liberals might not like corporate political spending, but they certainly don’t have a problem giving them a reason to spend.

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Post image for PETA Loves Primates (Unless They’re People)

Liberals love to castigate conservatives as “anti-science.”  But when it comes to doing lasting harm to valuable, life-saving scientific research, no one can top the ultra-liberal People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Medical researchers have long relied on animal testing to advance their work, especially studies involving non-human primates.  In 2011, over 18,000 monkeys were shipped into the United States for research purposes, most of them from China.

But last year China Southern Airlines cancelled a shipment of macaques bound for Los Angeles after suffering a withering public pressure campaign from PETA.  “This was part of our larger campaign to disrupt the flow of primates to US labs,” boasted Justin Goodman, associate director of the laboratory investigations for PETA in Washington DC.  Other airlines are facing similar pressure, including Air France, the last major European line to carry research primates.

PETA says that imports are not as necessary as they used to be because Western labs already have large, breeding primate populations.  But as the prestigious scientific journal Nature reports:

Breeding the animals in the United States instead would be problematic: infrastructure and labour costs are much higher than they are in Asia, and colonies are much more likely to become the targets of animal activists. And moving the animals by sea is a non-starter because of the deleterious effects of the six-week trans-Pacific journey on the animals’ health.

Needless to say, PETA’s efforts to shut down primate importation has sent chills through the biomedical research community.  “It’s unfortunate that some airlines have chosen to capitulate to a small number of individuals with an agenda who aren’t truly representative of the general public,” says Matthew Bailey, vice-president of the National Association for Biomedical Research.

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Post image for General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt Sours on President Obama

Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, has gone sour on President Obama:

Back when he agreed to advise the Obama administration on economics, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt told friends that he thought it would be good for GE and good for the country. A life-long Republican, Immelt said he believed he could at the very least moderate the president’s distinctly anti-business instincts.

That was three years ago; these days Immelt is telling friends something quite different.

Sure, GE has managed to feast on federal subsidies, particularly the “green-energy” giveaways that are Obamanomics’ hallmark.

But Immelt doesn’t think he’s had anywhere near as much luck moderating the president’s fat-cat-bashing, left-leaning economic agenda of taxing businesses and entrepreneurs to pay for government bloat.

Friends describe Immelt as privately dismayed that, even after three years on the job, President Obama hasn’t moved to the center, but instead further left. The GE CEO, I’m told, is appalled by everything from the president’s class-warfare rhetoric to his continued belief that big government is the key to economic salvation.

This is rich. While I happen to agree with Immelt that increasing the size and scope of government is not in our nations best interests, GE/Immelt are an infamous symbol of crony capitalism, where big government and big business get together and rig the game to enrich themselves while the American taxpayers get the shaft. In General Electric’s case this consists of support for all sorts of tax credits and subsidies for wind energy production, support for the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, spending almost $40 million lobbying in 2010, and the list goes on. [click to continue…]
Post image for Dim Duo Done in by Dimock Data [updated 6:46PM with comment from Pennsylvania DEP]

Last Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency conceded that preliminary lab results from samples taken from wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania indicate that drinking water there has not been contaminating by hydraulic fracturing drilling.

The news is embarrassing to both agit-prop film director Josh Fox and EPA.

For the fabulist Fox, the Dimock lab results are yet another official rebuke of his terrible, fact-free, Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland. Already, Colorado state officials debunked Fox’s false claims that groundwater in Colorado had been poisoned by hydraulic fracturing. Now, a federal agency is suggesting that Fox again misidentified the cause of one of his fracking cause-célèbres—he has long accused the gas industry of contaminating well water in Dimock with toxic chemicals.

For EPA, the Dimock results are egg on the face. That’s because the Agency had decided to test the Dimock water over strong* objections from Pennsylvania officials. In early January, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer wrote a letter asking EPA not to second-guess the State’s handling of allegations that gas drilling had contaminated well water in Dimock. Secretary Krancer warned EPA that it would be acting despite the Agency’s possessing only “rudimentary” knowledge of the situation. In a critical response to the letter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson insinuated that Pennsylvania was failing to ensure the protection of its own citizens. EPA’s preliminary results suggest that Pennsylvania is capable of ensuring safe, responsible drilling, without the Agency’s oversight.

*[Updated 6:46 PM–I received a nice email from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection informing me that the situation is more complex than I had thought. While the DEP does feel EPA has overstepped its bounds, the Department is very much willing to work with EPA to ensure that Dimock water is safe to drink. I’ve crossed out the word “strong” in the second sentence of the paragraph above because it is too strong a modifier: They disagree, but it’s not combative. Here’s the official DEP press statement, which demonstrates the nuance of the matter.

DEP just received EPA’s voluminous package today and we are reviewing it. We will take more time to fully evaluate all the information and data that EPA has presented, which it says is behind the action it proposes taking and the requests it is making. Our review, so far, tells us that EPA does not seem to have presented any new data here. More than a year ago, DEP’s enforcement action addressed this issue and ensured funds were set aside to resolve the water quality issues for these homeowners. Funds were set aside for each homeowner to have a water treatment system installed. The system would address parameters EPA references here, including arsenic and manganese, and would provide water that meets and exceeds safe drinking water standards. We agree that additional sampling should be conducted in Dimock and we are actively working with EPA to conduct additional sampling at the affected homes and at 57 other residences.]

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My letter in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Cheap Gasoline and Human Rights

The notion of $2.50 gasoline would not only be a “veritable policy revolution” domestically (“Newt Is Right About Gas Prices” by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Business World, March 10), it would be a gutsy display of American exceptionalism for the rest of the world. This is not because Americans are divinely entitled to federally subsidized fuel (they’re not), but because they do have a right to gas prices that aren’t artificially jacked up by government drilling restrictions and taxes.

Americans aren’t the only ones. As booming car ownership in India and China demonstrates, automobility satisfies some pretty basic human needs and desires. Unfortunately for central planners around the world, there’s nothing worse than a technology that lets people go where they want to, when they want to. For an American leader of whatever party to take the lead in shedding gasoline’s sin-product status would be downright revolutionary.

In the early 1800s, as railroads spread across Britain, the Duke of Wellington supposedly sneered that trains would “only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.” Aristocrats could always move about; only when the rest of us were able to do so did this become a so-called problem. A decade ago our aristocrats looked down on SUVs; today they look down on affordable gas. Either way, their attitudes toward mobility are no different than the Duke’s views two centuries ago, and no less backward.

Sam Kazman
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Washington, D.C.

Post image for Who Are the Environmentalist Extremists?

Second of a three-part series of excerpts from Energy Freedom by Marita Noon

Originally published in the Washington Examiner

Part 1, “Big Green Wants To Repeal the Industrial Revolution,” is available here.

So who are all these evil-appearing “environmentalists?” Should all Birkenstock wearers be suspect? What about the lady at the grocery store with the canvas sack for her purchases?

There is a difference between those of us who care for the earth, want to use it wisely, and believe in recycling—and those who are in decision-making positions, setting policy and/or funding the programs. We are talking about something bigger, something organized, and something with plans greater than saving polar bears or spotted owls; something with plans to fundamentally transform the United States. There are hundreds of these groups influencing policy in America.

They want to move people into cities where they are easier to control and get rid of inefficient human patterns—which is what happens when people live in rural locations. Many of the ideas lauded by environmental groups only work in cities: electric cars, community gardens, and mass transit. Control is really the issue.

Columnist George Will states: “Today’s green left is the old red left revised. The left exists to enlarge the state’s supervision of life, narrowing individual choices in the name of collective good. Hence the left’s hostility to markets. And to automobiles—people going wherever they want whenever they want. … The green left understands that the direct route to government control of almost everything is to stigmatize, as a planetary menace, something involved in almost everything—carbon. Environmentalism is, as Lawson (author of An Appeal to Reason: a Cool Look at Global Warming) writes, an unlimited ‘license to intrude.’ ‘Eco-fundamentalism,’ which is ‘the quasi-religion of green alarmism’ promises ‘global salvationism.’”

For forty-plus years they have continued what, in the 70’s, was called “conducting this politics of consciousness.” They mostly do not hold political office. Without violence, they have attacked minds. They have transformed society—all while we were sleeping. The environmentalists dream of a new earth. They have visions of a utopia. They do not have any real plans as to how they will get there. But they are conducting politics of consciousness and have managed to transform much of society into believing with them.

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The title above was my boss’s (CEI President Fred Smith’s) funny reaction to the email solicitation below, for a conference call held by the biofuels lobby, on how the biofuels industry can help meet the Commander-in-Chief’s goal of powering the U.S. military with 25% renewables by 2025.