March 2013

Post image for Obama Administration Casts a Shadow on Sunshine Week

The newspaper industry has named this week Sunshine Week to focus attention on the importance of open government and public access to information.  The Obama Administration has gotten into the spirit of Sunshine Week with daily posts on the White House blog and the Department of Justice blog, which talk about the importance of transparency and trumpet the Administration’s achievements.  President Obama after all promised in the 2008 presidential campaign that his administration would be the most transparent in history.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  For example, CEI’s Chris Horner has filed multiple ongoing lawsuits to try to force the Administration to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests.  The Republican minority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have been having fun with daily posts that chronicle example after example of Obama Administration stonewalling and failures to comply with federal open government laws.

But it’s no longer just a partisan complaint.  Glenn Greenwald published a column in London’s Guardian this week headlined, “Obama’s secrecy fixation causing Sunshine Week implosion.”  The sub-headline reads, “Even the most loyal establishment Democrats are now harshly denouncing the president for his war on transparency.”

Post image for On Fracking, NY Gov. Spurns the Experts

The Associated Press last week reported that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was set to partially lift a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a gas drilling technology also known as fracking, but he was persuaded to hold off on doing so by his former brother-in-law Robert Kennedy, Jr., a famous environmentalist. According to the AP, Kennedy impressed on Gov. Cuomo the “health problems” associated with fracking. Contrary to what Kennedy told the Governor, there are no such “health problems.” The truth is that environmentalist agitators like Kennedy and documentarian Josh Fox don’t have any evidence to back up their claims. If I was an upstate New Yorker whose property lay above the Marcellus Shale, a gas rich geological formation underneath much of the State, I’d question why my Governor is listening to his former brother-in-law, instead of the New York state geologist, Dr. Taury Smith, a fracking supporter who dismisses environmentalist alarmism about the drilling technique as being the “worst kind of spin.”

Post image for House Republicans Introduce Anti-Carbon Tax Resolution

Representatives Steve Scalise (R-La.), Joe Barton (R-Tex.), and 103 other original co-sponsors introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would harm the U. S. economy.    Scalise is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee and Barton is former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  H. Con. Res. 24 would not forbid the House from passing a carbon tax bill in the future simply because Congress cannot bind itself in that way.

The purpose of the resolution rather is to build congressional and public opposition to a carbon tax.  Some observers have said this is unnecessary because neither the House nor the Senate would vote for a big new tax on energy use.  That is true.  Moreover, the White House has said repeatedly that they have not and will not propose a carbon tax.  That is also true.  However, the White House’s denials are carefully worded not to rule out supporting a carbon tax proposal that was part of a comprehensive and bipartisan budget or tax reform deal.  The White House really wants Republicans to propose a carbon tax.

The attraction for including a carbon tax in any big budget or tax deal is considerable for the big spenders in Congress because it’s the only thing on the table that would raise a lot of new revenue.  A tax of twenty dollars per ton of carbon dioxide emitted would raise over $100 billion in its first year.  By burying it in a package, no Member of Congress would have to take an up or down vote on a stand-alone carbon tax and could still protest in public that he was against the carbon tax but had to accept it in order to pass the whole package.  A further problem is that these big budget and tax deals are negotiated in secret by House and Senate leaders, chairmen and senior members of the relevant committees, and the White House.

As it happens, the day before Scalise and Barton introduced their resolution, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) released a discussion draft of “carbon-pricing” legislation. “Putting a price on carbon could help solve two of the nation’s biggest challenges at once:  preventing climate change and reducing the budget deficit,” Waxman said in a press release.

Post image for A Modest Proposal on Exports: Give Dow Chemical a Dose of its own Medicine

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris has been making waves of late with congressional testimony and a Wall Street Journal oped advocating restrictions on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

To oppose “unfettered,” “unlimited,” or “unchecked” LNG exports — in other words, to fetter, limit, and check the freedom of gas producers to sell their own products — Dow formed a business group called America’s Energy Advantage (AEA). Other members include Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor.

AEA’s rationale for restricting gas exports (to quote Liveris’s oral testimony) is that when gas is not exported but instead is used to manufacture products, it creates “eight times the value” across the entire economy. That claim derives from a Charles River Associates (CRA) study sponsored by — drum roll, please — Dow. According to CRA, using gas as a manufacturing input trounces gas exports in terms of job creation, GDP growth, and trade-deficit reduction. Therefore, AEA argues, Congress and/or the Department of Energy (DOE) should constrain LNG exports in the “public interest.” AEA also warns that higher gas prices from increased overseas demand could destroy tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and kill the U.S. manufacturing renaissance. AEA claims it is not opposed to all LNG exports, it just wants a “balanced” approach.

Economist Craig Pirrong (a.k.a. the “Streetwise Professor“) deftly pops this rhetorical balloon:

I am adding a new entry to my list of phrases that put me on guard that someone is trying to con me: “balanced approach.”. . . . In Obamaland, “balanced approaches” mean large tax increases now, and hazy promises of spending cuts in some distant future. In Liveris’s oped, “balanced” means imposing restrictions on exports of natural gas to lower the cost of his most important input. Funny, ain’t it, that things seem to tip the way of those advocating “balanced approaches”? In other words, if it helps me, it’s fair and balanced!

The whole thing is galling. Even if Liveris were correct and gas turned into chemicals generates “eight times” the economic value of gas sold abroad, such third-party assessments should have no bearing on how companies dispose of their own property. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry points out, AEA companies did not invest a dime to develop fracking and horizontal drilling technology, construct the wells, or hire the rig workers, yet they presume to decide what happens to the gas after it’s extracted from miles under the Earth. Not unlike the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, AEA’s implicit premise is that central planners have the right, nay the duty, to commandeer private property whenever the resource would add more value in someone else’s hands.

But do Liveris and AEA really believe the rationale they’re pushing, or only when it cuts in their favor? Here’s an easy way to tell. Dow, Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor primarily manufacture intermediate goods, not final goods. As natural gas is an input to them, so their products are inputs to still other companies. AEA-produced chemicals, plastics, electronic components, aluminum, and steel reach the consumer only after other manufacturers “add value” by turning those “feed stocks” into paints, cosmetics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, computers, cell phones, automobiles, and so on.

So by AEA’s logic, the government should restrict exports of chemicals, aluminum, and steel to hold down domestic prices and make U.S. manufacturers of final goods more competitive. The “public interest” demands it! I’ll bet my salary against Liveris’s that he will never, ever agree that sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. [click to continue…]

Back in 2007, EPA issued a regulation known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), requiring billions of gallons of corn ethanol to be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply. This mandate is a continuation of the U.S. biofuel policy, and has been celebrated by environmentalists and GW alarmists as a way of reducing greenhouse gases and lowering our dependence on supposedly dangerous foreign oil.

In October of 2011, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ActionAid USA petitioned EPA to review its position on the impact of its RFS mandates on world hunger. Since a large portion of available farmland is being used to grow corn for ethanol instead of for food, this lowers the food supplies drastically and in turn drives up prices. Our petition was based on the Data Quality Act, which enables anyone to seek correction of data that has been disseminated by a federal agency. The request argued that the information in EPA’s regulatory analysis and on the agency’s website incorrectly downplayed the impacts of the U.S. mandates on world hunger. To support this claim, CEI and ActionAid cited several studies showing that higher food prices from biofuel mandates have caused malnutrition in developing countries, resulting in nearly 192,000 excess deaths annually.

Not being in much of a hurry to examine if whether it might be partly responsible for such carnage, EPA exceeded its 90-day response deadline-three times. Fourteen months would pass before they finally, in December of 2012, denied the petition.

This delay is particularly ironic since the Obama administration and EPA frequently have complained about the slow pace of Congress, issuing executive orders and fuel economy regulations with the slogan “We Can’t Wait.” Apparently, when it comes to assessing whether their policies are killing people, they can.

EPA claimed that assessing deaths due to biofuel programs was beyond the scope of its analysis, which apparently only focused on the incremental effects of the U.S. biofuel mandate. CEI and ActionAid USA filed a request for reconsideration on March 11, providing new evidence of the policy’s devastating effects on food prices and global hunger. A copy of the request is appended to the end of this post. Given EPA’s alleged “global leadership” role and the fact that people in developing countries spend up to 80 percent of their income on food, the new request shows that the U.S. mandate alone has far-reaching negative implications that EPA should address.

The request was fittingly filed during the Government in the Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government. However, given EPA’s notorious lack of transparency on other matters, we wonder what effect our request will have on the agency whose motto is “protecting people and the environment.” We have an in-house joke that EPA ought to take that slogan and insert the phrase “but not in that order” to the end of it.

CEI and Action Aid – March 2013 Data Quality Reconsideration Request by Competitive Enterprise Institute

Post image for Maryland’s Off-Shore Wind Farm Would Be More Dangerous Than You Think

With the Maryland’s Senate passing the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, it looks as if the U.S. is likely to build its first off-shore wind farm east of the Ocean City. The initiative has been widely endorsed by environmentalist groups, such as the Coalition for Wind Works for Maryland. As the coalition states on its website:

“Bringing offshore wind power to Maryland will effectively stabilize electricity rates, create jobs, reduce pollution, and provide us with a local source of clean, renewable energy.”

According to current plans, any offshore windfarm built pursuant to the legislation would be approximately 10 nautical miles (11.5 miles) from the Atlantic coast and produce 200 megawatts – supposedly providing about 1 percent of the state’s electric needs.

As we’ve frequently pointed out, wind power plants are inefficient, costly and in need of heavy subsidization. But the cost may not only be measured in dollars–reports show that the turbines are in fact quite dangerous as well. For instance, two windmill accidents have been reported in Sweden in the few weeks alone.  In February, a blade fell down while a turbine was being repaired, crushing a parked car. This past Sunday, a windmill spun out of control after a safety mechanism failed, forcing the nearby residents to evacuate for 24 hours until two blades finally came off in the strong winds.

And not every accident leaves people unscathed. Last December, a German crane operator was killed when a blade fell on his cab during the installation of a windmill. A survey performed by RenewableUK, a wind power trade association, estimated that 1,500 accidents had occurred between 2006 and 2011 in the UK alone, including 300 injuries and 4 deaths. Focusing on wind farms, the Health and Safety Executive’s figures showed three fatal accidents between 2007 and 2010 and a total of 53 major or dangerous incidents during the same time frame.

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Here’s a preview of the kind of transparency we can expect from Gina McCarthy, who has been nominated to replace Lisa Jackson as head of the EPA. When combined with her history of misleading Congress , it is clear Gina McCarthy would fit right in with “the most open administration ever” :
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Post image for A Later Peak Cherry Blossom Date – Is DC’s Global Warming Indicator Broken?

There’s an ongoing quest to find signs of global warming in every aspect of everyday life. Over the last few years a rather unique kind of local indicator for GW has emerged, namely the predicted peak cherry blossom bloom of Washington DC’s Tidal Basin.

The peak cherry blossom bloom period has been used frequently as a GW indicator for the last three years. In line with GW claims, the predictions for peak blooms were moved ahead in both 2010 and 2011; in 2010, the revised predicted peak dates were April 1 to April 4; in 2011, they were even earlier– March 29 to April 3.  In 2012, the predictions of a peak between March 20 and March 23 were regarded as a first-class sign of GW, with DC’s cherry blossoms being called a “Global Warming Canary” by the Huffington Post. It seemed that the hugely popular cherry blossom festival was in danger of becoming a winter, rather than a spring, event.  As stated in a 2012 Washington Post article “Could cherry blossoms one day be blooming in winter?” there is a future possibility of “a blooming period in February instead of March, and a peak bloom in early March, instead of early April”.

So what are the predictions for this year’s cherry blossom? The National Park Service has announced that the peak bloom for Washington’s Global Warming Canary will be March 26 to March 30 — about one week later than last year. Although the actual bloom dates will be determined by the weather in the coming weeks, this year’s prediction of a later peak period does not fit into the alarming predictions of earlier years, or the notion that the shift towards earlier dates will continue.

Given the decades-long nature of climate trends, later peak blooms in a single year don’t prove anything either way about GW.  But that was just as true of the 2010 to 2012 cherry blossom seasons, and yet those dates triggered quite a bit of GW alarmist commentary.  This year’s prediction hasn’t.  Press coverage of GW “evidence” apparently omits incidents that run counter to alarmism.  Perhaps that’s not a surprise, but it’s not a healthy sign for public understanding.

And no matter when the blossoms appear this year, let’s all enjoy them—even the GW alarmists among us.

Post image for Exxon Mobil’s Carbon Tax Follies

It was a busy week for promoting and opposing a carbon tax.  Two studies on the economic effects of a carbon tax that draw opposite conclusions were released by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Brookings Institution.  Kevin Hassett, Ph.D., director of economic policy studies at the “pro-business” American Enterprise Institute, continued his advocacy of a carbon tax at a Resources for the Future forum.  And most interestingly, former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, said at a conference that, “The strongest advocate on our task force for a carbon tax was ExxonMobil.  I had previously thought that was a public relations thing — I didn’t think they were quite interested in it.”

The National Association of Manufacturers released a study by NERA Consulting on the Economic Outcomes of a Carbon Tax. The NAM study concludes that a tax starting at $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted and increasing by 4 percent per year would have a range of negative effects that would ripple through the economy.  In particular: “The negative impact of a carbon tax on total manufacturing output would be significant, with output from energy-intensive manufacturing sectors dropping as much as 15 percent and output from non-energy-intensive manufacturing sectors dropping as much as 7.7 percent.”

The NAM study also argues that: “A carbon tax would have a net negative effect on consumption, investment and jobs, resulting in lower federal revenues from taxes on capital and labor. Factoring in lost revenue from reduced economic activity, the net revenue from a carbon tax available for deficit/debt reduction and lower tax rates is relatively small.”

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The automatic reductions of $85 billion in federal spending, known as the Sequester, which were agreed to by President Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans when the Budget Control Act was passed and signed into law in 2011, started going into effect today, March 1.  As President Obama has warned over the past several weeks, the consequences of cutting federal spending by 2.2 percent already are calamitous.  Bloomberg News reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was going to have to discontinue its survey of green jobs.

Here’s what Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the ironically named Center for American Progress and the author of a book on green energy told Bloomberg: “It’s a huge loss.  This means the U.S. will be flying blind on the growth of a very, very important sector in the U.S. economy.”

It may be the White House agrees with my CEI colleague John Berlau, who told Bloomberg that he was glad to see the green jobs survey go.  That’s because President Obama promised in the 2008 campaign his policies would create 5 million new green jobs within a decade.  The White House later claimed $90 billion in stimulus funding had created 225,000 green jobs (at $400,000 per job).  So the president may be happy not to have be reminded by the BLS’s survey of how far he is from keeping his promise.