May 2013

Post image for Gina McCarthy’s Responses to Sen. Vitter’s Questions Part II: Fuel Economy*

Gina McCarthy — President Obama’s nominee to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator — is often described as “straight shooter” and “honest broker.” Is that reputation deserved?

Last week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) released a 123 page document containing McCarthy’s responses to hundreds of questions on a wide range of issues. Part 1 of this series examined McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources. The key points were:

  1. McCarthy and the Air Office over which she presides gave Congress and the electric power sector false assurances that the EPA would not require utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to “fuel switch” and build natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants instead.
  2. Such misinformation undercut the credibility of critics who warned that the EPA, if left to its own devices, would use greenhouse gas regulation to prohibit the construction of new coal electric generation.
  3. The EPA’s dissembling on fuel switching may have swayed votes against measures sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2010 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2011 to reclaim Congress’s authority to determine climate policy.

Agencies are not supposed to provide false or misleading information to influence how Members of Congress vote. Banning new coal generation — the inexorable effect of the EPA’s ‘Carbon Pollution’ Rule — is a policy Congress would reject if proposed as legislation.

Part 1 concluded that confirming McCarthy as Administrator would reward the EPA’s duplicitous pursuit of an agenda Congress has not authorized. Breaking news of the EPA’s grossly unequal treatment of groups seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — based on whether the groups support or oppose a bigger, more intrusive EPA — leaves no doubt that this out-of-control agency deserves a kick in the butt, not a pat on the back.

Even the Society of Environmental Journalists — hardly a hotbed of libertarians, conservative Republicans, or fossil-fuel industry lobbyists — recently complained that the Obama administration “has been anything but transparent in its dealings with reporters seeking information, interviews and clarification” on environmental, health, and public lands issues, and that, “The EPA is one of the most closed, opaque agencies to the press.”

Today’s post examines McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the administration’s motor vehicle mandates. As in Part 1, I begin with an overview of the issues and political back story. For more detailed analyses, see the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee report, A Dismissal of Safety, Choice, and Cost: The Obama Administration’s New Auto Regulations, and my article, EPA Regulation of Fuel Economy: Congressional Intent or Climate Coup? [click to continue…]

Executive branch overreach involving deliberate attempts to silence critics of the administration has become a pressing issue. Several revelations have come to light this week threatening to further cloud the Obama Administration’s claim of being “the most transparent administration in history.”  With the IRS facing allegations of deliberately targeting conservative groups, and the Department of Justice facing intense scrutiny for secretly monitoring the Associate Press, the executive branch is finding itself under siege from an onslaught of scandals. Now, something new can be added to the pile. According to CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner, EPA has, in a sign of political bias, denied FOIA Fee Request Waivers requested by conservative groups.

Horner has discovered a clear pattern of bias against conservatives at EPA. While left-wing organizations almost always receive Fee Request waivers, conservative groups have had no such fortune.

According to a CEI press release:

In a review of letters granting or denying fee waivers granted at the “initial determination” stage from January 2012 to this Spring, Horner found green groups, such as the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and EarthJustice, had their fees waived in 75 out of 82 cases. Meanwhile, EPA effectively or expressly denied Horner’s request for fee waivers in 14 of 15 FOIA requests over this same time.

The administration’s actions are, perhaps, best described in a quote from Horner in the Washington Examiner. “This is as clear an example of disparate treatment as the IRS’ hurdles selectively imposed upon groups with names ominously reflecting an interest in, say, a less intrusive or biased federal government.”

Below, I’ve posted EPA’s response to the FOIA. (N.B., there were some formatting issues, which rendered pages 2 and 3 inverted.)


EPA Responsive Records FY 2013 by Competitive Enterprise Institute

[click to continue…]

Post image for WSJ Op-Ed Explains Benefits of CO2

Harrison Schmitt and William Happer wrote an excellent op-ed last week in the Wall Street Journal titled, “In Defense of Carbon Dioxide.” In the op-ed, Schmitt and Happer build a solid case for the benefits, as opposed to costs, occurring from an increase in the much maligned carbon dioxide.  Schmitt, who is an Adjunct Professor of Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a distinguished reputation as an Apollo 17 astronaut and was formerly a US Senator from New Mexico. Happer is a Professor of Physics at Princeton University and was also the former director of the office of energy research at the Deparment of Energy.

According to Schmitt and Happer, rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have not led to the dramatic temperature increases some models have anticipated. In fact, the increase in carbon dioxide has been beneficial. Schmitt and Happer explain:

The current levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, approaching 400 parts per million, are low by the standards of geological and plant evolutionary history. Levels were 3,000 ppm, or more, until the Paleogene period (beginning about 65 million years ago). For most plants, and for the animals and humans that use them, more carbon dioxide, far from being a “pollutant” in need of reduction, would be a benefit. This is already widely recognized by operators of commercial greenhouses, who artificially increase the carbon dioxide levels to 1,000 ppm or more to improve the growth and quality of their plants.

Despite the strong argument both authors have made, several climate change alarmists have excoriated Schmitt and Happer.  In attempt to discredit the op-ed, these alarmists have resorted to using hackneyed arguments and insults to reaffirm their opposition to what they see as a flawed and misleading op-ed.  Gavin Schmidt called the op-ed, “idiotic”, and Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, in a reference to the discredited “Hockey Stick Graph” claims the op-ed ignores the graph’s depiction of rising temperatures.

Contrary to the claims of these detractors, Schmitt and Happer’s op-ed is well-supported. According to numerous peer-reviewed studies, increases in carbon dioxide will lead to a “greening of the planet” as plants absorb the carbon dioxide allowing them to flourish well-beyond their current state.

Therefore, as Schmitt and Happer so ably demonstrate, it is imprudent for policymakers to continue to classify CO2 under the category of harmful “pollutants”.  By implementing such policies, we are being steered towards a disastrous outcome for our economic future.

Post image for Gina McCarthy’s Responses to Sen. Vitter’s Questions Part I: Bait-and-Fuel-Switch*

Gina McCarthy — President Obama’s pick to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator — is often described as a “straight shooter” and “honest broker.” As my colleague Anthony Ward and I explain in Forbes, McCarthy has a history of misleading Congress about the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory agenda.

Specifically, McCarthy and the Air Office over which she presides gave Congress and the electric power sector false assurances that the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations would not require utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to “fuel switch” to natural gas. McCarthy also denied under oath that greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards are “related to” fuel economy standards, even though anyone with her expertise must know that the former implicitly and substantially regulate fuel economy.

McCarthy and the Air Office’s misleading statements about fuel switching discredited critics who claimed the EPA was waging a war on coal and would, if left to its own devices, ban new coal generation. The fiction that greenhouse gas emission standards are unrelated to fuel economy standards gave the EPA legal cover to gin up a regulatory nightmare for auto makers — the prospect of a market-balkanizing, state-by-state, fuel-economy “patchwork” — just so the White House, in hush-hush negotiations, could demand auto industry support for the administration’s motor vehicle mandates as the price for averting the dreaded patchwork. This is a complicated tale, which I will discuss in Part 2 of this series.

The bottom line is that if the EPA had not dissembled on fuel switching and not obfuscated on fuel economy, more Senators might have voted for legislative measures, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2010 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2011, to rein in the agency. In addition to their well-publicized transparency concerns about the EPA under the leadership of Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy, Senators should also have separation of powers concerns.

Earlier this week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, released a 123 page document containing McCarthy’s responses to hundreds of questions on a wide range of issues. In today’s post, I comment on McCarthy’s responses to Sen. Vitter’s questions about fuel switching. In Part 2 of this series, I will comment on McCarthy’s responses regarding the administration’s motor vehicle program. [click to continue…]

Post image for CO2 Litigation: Court and EPA Can’t Both Be Right — and Both May Be Wrong

Is the Clean Air Act so badly flawed that it will cripple environmental enforcement and economic development alike unless the EPA and its state counterparts defy clear statutory provisions or, alternatively, spend $21 billion annually to employ an additional 320,000 bureaucrats?

That is a central issue in a recent lawsuit by Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a host of lawmakers and several companies, who are petitioning the Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision upholding the EPA’s global warming regulations.

I discuss some of the legal issues today in a column on My conclusion: The Court’s reading of the Clean Air Act in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) and the EPA’s reading of the Act in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from “major” stationary sources cannot both be right — and both may be wrong!

Unless the Court is prepared to take ownership of the bizarre notion that the the Clean Air Act was wired from the start to self-destruct four decades later, it should either overturn the EPA’s regulation of stationary sources, revise its decision in Mass. v. EPA, or both.

Post image for EPA Doubles Down on E15 — Literally

The Soviet-style production quota for ethanol, pompously titled the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), is in trouble. The RFS requires more ethanol to be sold than can actually be blended into the nation’s motor fuel supply. This “blend wall” problem will get worse as RFS production quota and federal fuel economy standards ratchet up, forcing refiners to blend more and more ethanol into a shrinking motor fuel market.

Here’s the math. Total domestic U.S. motor fuel sales in 2011 stood at 134 billion gallons. Although the U.S. population is increasing, overall motor gasoline consumption is projected to decline by 14% as fuel economy standards tighten between now and 2025. Already, the 2013 blending target for “conventional” (corn-based) biofuel — 13.8 billion gallons — exceeds the 13.4 billion gallons that can be blended as E10 (a fuel mixture containing 10% ethanol).

By 2022, the RFS requires that 36 billion gallons of biofuel be sold in the domestic market, including 21 billion gallons of “advanced” (low-carbon) biofuel, of which 16 billion gallons are to be “cellulosic” (ethanol derived from non-edible plant material such as corn stover, wood chips, and prairie grasses). Because commercial-scale cellulosic plants still do not exist, the EPA repeatedly has had to dumb down the cellulosic blending targets.

Eventually, though, the EPA will have to mandate the sale of at least a few billion gallons of advanced biofuel, just to keep up the pretense that the RFS is something more than corporate welfare for corn farmers. In any event, by 2015, refiners will have to sell 15 billion gallons of corn-ethanol — roughly 1.6 billion gallons more than can be blended as E10.

A side effect of the blend wall is the recent “RINsanity” of skyrocketing biofuel credit prices. The EPA assigns a unique Renewable Identification Number (RIN) to every gallon of ethanol produced and a credit for each gallon sold as motor fuel. Refiners who cannot blend enough ethanol to meet their quota can use surplus credits accumulated during previous years or purchased from other refiners.

Because the blend wall makes the annually increasing quota more and more difficult to meet, RIN credits are suddenly in high demand. Credits that cost only 2-3 cents a gallon last year now sell for about 70 cents. Consumers ultimately pay the cost — an extra 7 cents for each gallon of E10 sold, or an additional $11.7 billion in motor fuel spending in 2013, according to commodity analysts Bill Lapp and Dave Juday. Ouch! Ethanol was supposed to reduce pain at the pump, not increase it.

The ethanol lobby offers two fixes for the blend wall. Neither is workable. The EPA thinks it has another card up its sleeve. [click to continue…]

Post image for Senate Schedules Vote for EPA Nominee

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for the morning of Thursday, 9th May. All the Democrats on the committee will vote for McCarthy. Since they hold a ten to eight majority over Republicans, it is certain that the committee will send the nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

What is less certain is whether Senator David Vitter (R-La), ranking Republican on the committee, will have the committee’s seven other Republicans with him in voting against McCarthy. If he does, then the next question is whether Vitter will lead an effort to block a floor vote.

It takes 60 votes to invoke cloture to end debate and move to a vote. So Vitter needs to round up 41 votes to block McCarthy’s confirmation. There are 45 Republicans in the Senate. If Vitter leads the effort against McCarthy, it is likely that he will have two or three Democrats with him. But there are also a number of Republicans who might defect. Several of them don’t like McCarthy, but believe that deference should be given to the President’s nominees unless they are manifestly unqualified or corrupt.

The argument for blocking McCarthy’s confirmation is simply that it is one of the very few shots that Senators will have during the 113th Congress to push back the EPA’s ongoing regulatory onslaught against affordable energy. McCarthy, as Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation for the past four years, has been in charge of writing and promulgating the several Clean Air Act regulations that are designed to close coal-fired power plants. In my view, those Senators who oppose the EPA’s agenda should not be voting to promote the point person for implementing that agenda. She also misled both the Congress and the public about the design and impact of two of the most expensive regulations—new fuel economy targets and the Carbon Pollution Standard. My colleagues Marlo Lewis and Anthony Ward explain her duplicity here.

Post image for Biofuels Policy Itself is Warning That It’s Near Breaking Point

[Below is a guest post by Bill Lapp & Dave Juday]

Millions of American motorists across all income levels could be impacted this year by an indirect fuel tax that could amount to as much as $11.5 billion, all due to failures of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — the nation’s flawed biofuels mandate.

Under the RFS, which was expanded under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), two broad categories of biofuels — conventional biofuel from corn, and so-called advanced biofuel from sources including Brazilian sugar ethanol and biodiesel made from vegetable oil and rendered animal fats — were to be steadily phased into the gasoline supply over 15 years.   Now, just five years into the schedule, the program is nearing its breaking point.  The barometer indicating the pressure under which the biofuels mandate operates is an arcane mini-cap-and-trade system for biofuel compliance credits known as renewable identification numbers (RINs).

Basically, the system works like this.  Each gallon of biofuel is assigned a 38-digit code known as a RIN, which effectively act as a serial number that tracks that gallon of biofuel through the supply chain, from production to the retail fuel market. RINs are detached from the biofuel once it is purchased or blended by a refiner, and eventually are turned into the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by refiners to demonstrate their compliance with the RFS.   Alternatively, refiners with excess RINs can sell them on a secondary market to other refiners who are short of their compliance obligations.

Consider, conventional ethanol RINs that sold at about four cents per gallon in December — and at about one cent a year ago — rose to a high of $1.06 in March.  Currently they are about 70 cents.  Likewise, advanced ethanol and biodiesel RINs are also now trading at 75 cents and 80 cents respectively.

With a 10 percent blend of biofuels mandated by the RFS and an average cost of RINs at more than 70 cents, the implicit cost could reach more than 7 cents per gallon for every retail gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel purchased. Across the whole fuel supply, this could equate to an annual hidden tax on motorists of more than $11.5 billion. And that could grow.  As Goldman Sachs has warned, “we believe that the risk to RIN prices is skewed to the upside over the near term.”

[click to continue…]

In a recent interview with CBC Radio, global warming alarmist and former NASA Climate Science director, James Hansen, compared conservatives to “Neanderthals”.

Hansen’s remarks were prompted in response to comments made by Joe Oliver who is a conservative politician and the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources.  Speaking at the Center for Strategic Studies last week, Oliver heaped opprobrium on the scientist. In his speech he declared, “”It does not advance the debate when people make exaggerated comments that are not rooted in the facts. And [Hansen] should know that.”

Instead of addressing these concerns, Hansen responded with insults.

Such vitriol from Hansen speaks volumes about the character, or absence of character, of some global warming alarmists.  Instead of discussing the issues themselves, this “distinguished” scientist resorts to stereotyping an entire group of people as the equivalents of slow-witted, unsophisticated cave men.