September 2013

The analysis below subjects EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standard to the D.C. Circuit Court’s rigorous standard of review under Clean Air Act Section 111. Previously, I explained how EPA’s proposed standard, whose purpose is to reduce greenhouse gases, is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions in practice.

William Yeatman – Legal Analysis of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard by Competitive Enterprise Institute

New studies are raising doubts about the reliability of climate model forecasts. As far back as the 1970s, most climate models have anticipated a decline in Antarctic sea ice. However, instead of declining, Antarctic sea ice in 2013 has approached record levels not seen since the 1970s. Scientists are scrambling to find explanations for this anomaly, but one thing is clear – model projections are facing a crisis of credibility.  If actual conditions diverge from the predicted, then how can we trust the predictions? It seems we are as likely to arrive to the truth about the Earth’s future climate using models as we are from reading tea leaves or performing an augury to pagan gods.

In order to salvage their credibility, scientists have sought a variable to explain away the errors of their models – increased polar winds. According to a new study, increased polar winds have offset the effect of rising temperatures. Adjusting for higher polar winds, models were able to account for 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic ice cover. The author of the study, Dr. Jinlun Zhang, an Oceanographer at the University of Washington, describes the results:

“The polar vortex that swirls around the South Pole is not just stronger than it was when satellite records began in the 1970s, it has more convergence, meaning it shoves the sea ice together to cause ridging. Stronger winds also drive ice faster, which leads to still more deformation and ridging. This creates thicker, longer-lasting ice, while exposing surrounding water and thin ice to the blistering cold winds that cause more ice growth

While higher winds could be driving the increase in polar ice, the remaining 20 percent of the increase remains unaccounted. This suggests some other factor, or combination of factors, might be driving the decrease. Moreover, scientists admit they are uncertain why the models did not anticipate the increase in polar wind. Thus, the explanation for the model error is based on the admission the models were wrong about polar wind speed. If the models were wrong about polar wind speed, then criticism about model reliability still stands.

Accepting this explanation, however, raises another problem. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Cover Data Center, previous studies suggest increases in polar wind speed lead to a faster rate of sea ice melt. How can the wind both increase and decrease the extent of ice?

It is clear that models must be taken with a grain of salt. Scientists are often uncertain about the exact cause of long-term changes in the Earth’s climate. Numerous variables should be considered. As Zhang notes in the study,

Still unknown is why the southern winds have been getting stronger. Some scientists have theorized that it could be related to global warming, or to the ozone depletion in the Southern Hemisphere, or just to natural cycles of variability.

Post image for Climate Models vs. Observations: Picture Worth a Thousand Words (thank you Bjorn Lomborg)

Bjorn Lomborg has an excellent column today on the forthcoming (extensively leaked) IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on climate science.

Especially valuable is Lomborg’s chart based on a commentary (“Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years“) published in the monthly journal Nature Climate Change.

Lomborg, Gaps between models and observations

Lomborg comments:

Compared to the actual temperature rise since 1980, the average of 32 top climate models (the so-called CIMP5) overestimates it by 71-159%. A new Nature Climate Change study shows that the prevailing climate models produced estimates that overshot the temperature rise of the last 15 years by more than 300%.


The Obama administration’s major new plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions appears to have a major flaw: It would increase carbon dioxide emissions.

Talk about an unintended consequence!

Last Friday, EPA proposed a regulation, known as the Carbon Pollution Standard, which would require partial carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at all new coal-fired power plants. In fact, it is highly debatable whether CCS can actually be achieved. Industry claims—and I agree—that the technology is not yet commercially viable, and therefore violates the Clean Air Act’s requirement that CCS be “adequately demonstrated” before it can be imposed as a regulatory requirement. EPA, on the other hand, claims that CCS is feasible.*

*For all the details: I’m currently working on a comprehensive review of the legality of EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard. It will be done soon and then I will post it here.

However, whether or not CCS technology is achievable may become a moot point, in light of the fact that the technology as envisioned by EPA would increase greenhouse gas emissions, thereby rendering the rule plainly absurd. Allow me to explain.

Due to the high cost of capturing, transporting, and sequestering carbon dioxide, EPA expects that any new coal fired power plants built in the foreseeable future will defray the costs of CCS by selling its carbon dioxide to oil companies, which can use the gas to help extract oil by displacing liquid fuels deep underground, in a process known as CO2 enhanced oil recovery (or CO2-EOR). In the proposed rule, EPA states that, “as a practical matter, we expect that new fossil fuel fired EGUs that install CCS will generally make the captured CO2 available for use in EOR operations (p 262).”

Moreover, EPA expects the CO2 supply created by the Carbon Pollution Standard will spur development of oil recovery. The agency claims,

“oil and gas fields now considered to be ‘depleted’ may resume operation because of increased availability and decreased cost of anthropogenic CO2, and developments in EOR technology, thereby increasing the demand for and accessibility of CO2 utilization for EOR (p 232).”

So…EPA expects that plants complying with the Carbon Pollution Standard will sell their captured CO2 to oil producers. And by increasing the supply of commercial CO2 on the market, EPA posits that the price of CO2 will decrease, leading to a boom in oil and gas production.

But there’s a HUGE problem with EPA’s proposal. It completely fails to take into account the expanded carbon footprint of the oil industry caused by its power plant rule. And, if my admittedly simplistic calculations are correct, EPA’s rule would result in an increase of carbon dioxide emissions.

I should note here that CO2-EOR is an engineering marvel, one that I would never pretend to comprehend. So I called someone who does. And I asked him whether there was a relationship between the amount of CO2 injected in an EOR well, and the amount of oil that comes out. He replied that there was, and that it is known in the industry as the “utilization ratio.” He explained that a utilization ratio is not a static figure. Evidently, the initial stages of drilling require much more CO2 than the later stages. After cautioning that the calculation of a utilization ratio is highly sensitive to assumptions, he said that a reasonably representative utilization ratio is 5,000 cubic feet of CO2 per barrel of oil. I then asked how much does a standard cubed foot of CO2 weigh, and he answered .05189 kilograms. Finally, I looked up online the weight of CO2 emissions from the combustion of a barrel of oil. The answer is 433 kilograms.

With this data, it is possible to calculate a rough approximation of how much CO2 will be created by each kilogram of CO2 captured from a CCS coal plant, and used to enhance oil recovery.

1 Kg CCS CO2*(1 cubed foot CO2/.05189 Kg)*(1 barrel oil/5,000 cubed feet)*(433 Kg CO2/1 barrel oil)

This works out to 1.66 Kg CO2 emitted for each 1 Kg CO2 captured and then used in EOR.

Assuming that a CCS project captures 600 lbs CO2/MWh and that the plant is running at 85% capacity, then a typical coal plant in compliance with EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard would result in the emission of 1.3 million more kilograms of CO2 than the plant would “save” per megawatt capacity annually. And that doesn’t include the emissions due to the energy input necessary to extract the oil.

Again, I’m no engineer. So if my math is wrong, please let me know (I can be reached at ). If I’m right, however, then this rule is toast.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on 17th September on the nomination of Ron Binz to be chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  It was not a pleasant day for Mr. Binz, but his week went downhill from there.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking Republican on the committee, asked Binz why he had told her in a private meeting that he wasn’t working with an outside PR firm to support his confirmation, when e-mails released soon after showed that he was working with the hard-left firm Venn Squared Communications plus two lobbyists who have many energy company clients.  In response, Binz said, “I apologize if I have left a different impression from what we now agree has happened.”

It didn’t work.  Senator Murkowski announced at the end of the hearing that she could not support Binz’s confirmation.  The next day Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that he would vote no.  Then Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who always has to worry about what his fellow Nevada Senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, can do to him, sent out a press release announcing that he would vote no.  By the end of the week, all the Republican Senators on the committee had come out against Binz.  If Manchin plus all the Republicans vote against him in committee mark-up, the nomination will fail on an 11 to 11 tie.

President Obama’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominee Ron Binz was caught in a tangle of contradictions during his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

For starters, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) suggested that Binz misled her during a previous face to face meeting. As reported by Politico’s Darius Dixon,

Murkowski suggested early in the hearing that Binz may have misled her last week when they discussed whom he has worked with to guide his confirmation.

“You’ve effectively got a team — a shadow team* — of lobbyists and PR experts that have been helping throughout,” she told Binz. She added, “But what I can’t reconcile is your statement to me that said the only ones that you were working were the FERC external team.” (full article here)

So that’s one instance of Binz seeming to bend the truth before the U.S. Senate.

Later, during the same hearing, Binz told another apparent whopper. According to our friend Todd Shepherd at Complete Colorado,

Mr. Binz attempted to defend his record on coal by telling Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Va.), “I approved the largest coal plant that was ever built in Colorado.”* Mr. Binz is referring to the Comanche-3 power plant. Only the Colorado Public Utilities Commission would have the authority to approve new coal plants.

The problem is the fact the decision by Colorado’s PUC to build the largest coal plant in the state’s history came in 2004, according to Xcel Energy’s website. Mr. Binz did not become a member of the PUC board until 2007.

Alas, there’s more.

Regarding a 2010 fuel switching plan that Binz implemented as Chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the FERC nominee told the junior Senator from West Virginia, “The legislation told us to approve a plan to comply with future EPA regulations.”

Binz clearly was intimating to Sen. Manchin, who represents a pro-coal state, that it was Colorado lawmakers (rather than Ron Binz) who were responsible for the plan that required fuel switching from coal to gas for almost 1,000 megawatts of power generation. But that’s not the whole story. As I explain in this report on Binz’s Colorado history, Binz helped write the fuel switching law! Here’s the relevant excerpt from the report (citations omitted):

Binz’s operating thesis is that “today’s regulation may not be up to the task” of “making over” the utility industry. Thus, Binz sought to expand his regulatory role at the Colorado PUC, in order to facilitate clean energy investment and energy efficiency. To this end, he actually participated in the drafting of legislation that mandated fuel switching from coal to gas for almost 1,000 megawatts of power generation. From a separation of powers perspective, it is unsettling that Binz helped write legislation whose implementation he oversaw. Due to this appearance of impropriety, seven Colorado state senators sent former Colorado governor Bill Ritter a letter demanding that Binz recuse himself from implementing the fuel switching law.

Binz’s seeming difficulty telling the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, was not without consequence. At the hearing, Sen. Murkowski announced her intention to oppose his nomination. And yesterday, Sen. Manchin announced his opposition, citing Binz’s Colorado history.

Assuming that no Republican breaks ranks with Ranking Member Sen. Murkowski and all the Committee Democrats (other than Sen. Manchin) vote for Binz, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee vote is 11 -11. This puts confirmation in doubt. According to National Journal, “since 1987 only five nominations that got a neutral reporting from a committee were brought to the floor, and only one was approved.”

A neutral committee report would be an extraordinary development coming from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is known for harmony. However, Binz is an extraordinary case. As I explain in the aforementioned study on his history in Colorado, Binz has a troubling record of pushing the boundaries of regulatory power in order to discriminate against fossil fuels and promote green energy.

*N.B. The existence of Binz’s “shadow team” was revealed earlier this week by the Washington Times’s Stephen Dinan. His report, in turn, was based on emails obtained by my colleague Chris Horner on behalf the Independence Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic.

Post image for Rep. Pompeo Questions EPA Administrator McCarthy on Obama Climate Plan

Today, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing on the administration’s climate policies. Although 13 agencies were invited to testify, the administration provided only two witnesses: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

A notable exchange occurred about two hours and sixteen minutes into the hearing between McCarthy and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.). You can watch the segment on Youtube.

Through persistent questioning, Pompeo spotlighted a key fact well-known to the climate cognoscenti but not to the general public. Even assuming climate change is as bad as the global warming movement says it is, the administration’s policies will have no discernible effect on climate change and produce no identifiable benefit to public health and welfare.

The real objective of the administration’s current and proposed greenhouse gas regulations is not to protect the public but to influence “the international community,” particularly China, India, and other developing nations. Developing country emissions are growing so rapidly that no combination of U.S. domestic actions — not even a magical carbon tax that eliminates all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions — would detectably affect global temperatures.

The administration’s underlying theory, apparently, is that if the U.S. sets a good example, others will follow suit. But that’s been the thinking behind international climate negotiations from day one, and so far it hasn’t panned out. China and India feel no obligation to limit their emissions (and, consequently, economic growth) just because Western nations are willing to shoot themselves in the foot.

My unofficial transcript of the exchange between Pompeo and McCarthy follows:

Pompeo: Ms. McCarthy I want to ask a couple of questions of you. So one of the objectives today is to identify the greenhouse gas regulations that already existed and those in the future — how they actually impact the climate change, right? So you’d agree we want to have a successful climate policy as a result of those sets of rules and regulations that you promulgate? Fair base line statement?

McCarthy: In the context of a larger international effort,  yes.

Pompeo: You bet. And on your Web site you have 26 indicators used for tracking climate change. They identify various impacts of climate change. So you would believe that the purpose of these rules is to impact those 26 indicators, right? So you put a good greenhouse gas regulation in place, you’ll get a good outcome on at least some or all of those 26 indicators.

McCarthy: I actually . . . I think that the better way to think about it, if I might, is that it is part of an overall strategy that is positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion. Because climate change requires a global effort. So this is one piece and it’s one step. But I think it’s a significant one to show the commitment of the United States.

Pompeo: Do you think it would be reasonable to take the regulations you promulgated and link them to those 26 indicators that you have on your Web site? That this is how they impacted us?

McCarthy: It is unlikely that any specific one step is going to be seen as having a visible impact on any of those impacts — a visible change in any of those impacts. What I’m suggesting is that climate change [policy] has to be a broader array of actions that the U.S. and other folks in the international community take that make significant effort towards reducing greenhouse gases and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Pompeo: But these are your indicators, Ms. McCarthy. So . . .

McCarthy: They are indicators of climate change, they are not directly applicable to performance impacts of any one action.

Pompeo: How about the cumulative impact of your actions? Certainly you’re acting in a way . . . you say these are indicators of climate change. Certainly it can’t be the case that your testimony today is that your cumulative impact of the current set of regulations and those you’re proposing isn’t going to have any impact at all on any of those indicators?

McCarthy: I think the President was very clear. What we’re attempting to do is put together a comprehensive climate plan, across the administration, that positions the U.S. for leadership on this issue and that will prompt and leverage international discussions and action. [click to continue…]

Post image for Study: Climate Change Is Real (OMG!)

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has published a study by 13 scientists that provides “clear evidence for a discernible human influence on the thermal structure of the atmosphere.”

The study, led by Benjamin Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, reports that, over the 34-year satellite temperature record, the troposphere (middle atmosphere) has warmed while the lower stratosphere (the atmospheric layer above the troposphere) has cooled. This is the vertical pattern or “fingerprint” predicted by greenhouse theory.*

Climate models run with only known internal climate variability (such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation ocean cycle) and natural “forcings” (such as changes in solar irradiance and volcanic aerosol emissions ) do not produce this pattern. Models produce the “fingerprint” only when they are also “forced” with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

In layman terms, human-caused global warming is real. OMG!

Why, you might wonder, is cooling of the lower stratosphere evidence of man-made global warming? Greenhouse gases warm the planet by blocking outgoing infrared radiation that would otherwise escape to outer space. As greenhouse gas concentrations increase in the troposphere, less outgoing heat energy reaches the lower stratosphere.

Is this a momentous discovery? No, it’s a yawn.

Back in the early 2000s, prominent climate “skeptic” Patrick Michaels explained to me that surface and tropospheric warming combined with stratospheric cooling were strong evidence of anthropogenic climate change. He said: “The Sun doesn’t only shine in Irkutsk” (i.e. in the high northern latitudes where most of the Earth’s surface warming has occurred).

His point? The Sun also shines on the stratosphere. If changes in solar irradiance were the primary cause of global warming, the stratosphere should be warming too. Instead, it’s cooling.

After savoring Pat’s Irkutsk quip for a few moments, I accepted the implication and moved on. Apparently, the Santer team and PNAS still consider it big news.

The PNAS paper is, I suspect, a desperate attempt to divert public attention from the crisis in “consensus” science due to the modeling fraternity’s failure to anticipate a 16-year pause in global warming. Publishing another study ‘proving’ the reality of climate change amounts to ignoring the elephant in the room.

Try as they might to change the subject, however, the elephant is conspicuous in their “clear evidence” that climate change is real.

Here is the vertical profile (“fingerprint”) of changes in atmospheric heat projected by the latest climate models:

Santer all model trend

Here is the observed pattern based on the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) dataset:

Santer RSS trend

Note what’s different: The tropical troposphere warms much faster in the models than in the observations. [click to continue…]

Yesterday on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, I submitted a comment letter to the Department of Energy in support of the Landmark Legal Foundation’s petition to rescind or redo DOE’s final rule establishing first-ever conservation standards for microwave ovens in off and standby mode.

Maybe you didn’t know your microwave oven is destroying the planet when you’re not even using it! The only permanent cure for this problem would be to ban microwave ovens — along with dish washers, automobiles, and other appurtenances of modern life. But since DOE can’t do that, it will do the next best thing — put your appliances on a diet.

The energy savings from the standards will be HUGE! According to DOE (p. 36356), the standards will save 0.72 quads (quadrillion Btus) of energy during 2016-2045. For perspective, the U.S. consumes more than 97 quads annually. So over 30 years, DOE’s rule will save a whopping 75 thousandths of the energy the U.S. consumes each year. Don’t you feel better now? I do. When it comes to saving the planet, our government will leave no flyspeck unturned.

Why bother petitioning to rescind such small potatoes? Why bother submitting a comment letter on the petition?

The microwave rule sets a mischievous precedent. DOE inserted into the final rule the government’s new, higher social cost of carbon (SCC) estimates, and did so without subjecting those estimates to proper notice and public comment.

My comment letter develops the following points:

  • Inserting the administration’s revised SCC estimates into the final microwave rule without subjecting them to public notice and comment during the rulemaking was improper. 
  • SCC analysis all-too-easily becomes a pretext or excuse for expanding regulatory activism and increasing regulatory stringency. Indeed, that is its primary purpose.
  • Carbon’s alleged social cost is highly subjective, deriving from assumptions about inherently speculative issues such as climate sensitivity, how global warming will affect weather patterns, how climate changes will affect economic activity, and how adaptive capabilities will develop as climate changes. Uncertainties multiply through each stage of the analysis, enabling modelers to get pretty much whatever results they want.
  • Contrary to the popular “worse than we thought” mantra, the state of the climate is better than we’ve been told. Catastrophic scenarios are implausible; climate models predict more warming than is actually observed; the science on the key variable – climate sensitivity – is increasingly unsettled; there has been no long-term trend in hurricanes, droughts, floods, or tornadoes, or in properly-adjusted weather-related damages; and since the 1920s, global deaths and death rates related to extreme weather have declined 93% and 98%, respectively. The government’s SCC estimates should be going down, not up. [click to continue…]

The New York Times ran a front page story Sunday  on a new outrage resulting from one of the biggest scams in America today, ethanol mandates, and how they have made American consumers poorer, while enriching Wall Street profiteers through ethanol credits.  The story is entitled “Wall St. Exploits Ethanol Credits, and Prices Spike,” and focuses on

the rapidly growing role of Wall Street banks in gaming the ethanol credits market. Ethanol credits (or RINs, as they’re called) were created by the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress as a way to assure the inclusion of ethanol in gasoline as an energy-saving measure. But gasoline producers who couldn’t or didn’t want to include ethanol could buy credits from those who did. . . In stepped the speculators, amassing millions of credits and making a killing on the wide spread between the bid and ask prices of the credits. Predictably, this drove the price through the roof: the credits, which cost 7 cents each in January, peaked at $1.43 in July and now are trading for 60 cents.

The net result is that consumers will pay at the pump, notes investment adviser David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors.  As he  observes, ethanol mandates are having very negative “geopolitical effects” as well.  He agrees that “Ethanol was a bad policy, primarily to buy and reward grain-state votes. It spurred grain planting to meet the mandate, but not fast enough, so prices called out for more. The poor were hurt overseas,” and unrest in the Middle East ensued.  As Kotok points out, ethanol is

a massive scam. Our national policy diverts 40% of the U.S. corn crop (14% of the global corn crop) in order to produce a fuel that requires almost as much energy to produce as it supplies. Our ethanol mandate has starved millions of people; I’ve watched it with my own eyes in many countries in my travels. A 2011 study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that, since 2007, the expanding U.S. biofuels subsidy has fueled 20%-40% of the increase the world has seen in the prices for agricultural commodities. In a country like Guatemala, that means that tortilla prices double and egg prices triple. (Source: [New York Times]).  Ethanol damages engines, too — ask any user; I’ve seen it myself throughout the US, and Popular Mechanics concurs [Link]. Corn ethanol has poisoned our planet while it has lined certain private and politically connected pockets with billions. It has succeeded in raising our costs, for minimal net energy gains. . . .Global urban dwellers at the low end suffered again. . . .The spike in prices this year was a reaction to the shortage in corn caused by the drought last year. Rather than pay high prices for corn, blenders bought stockpiled RINs. The real story of the market was the explosion from $0.02 per RIN, when nobody wanted them, to $0.07 in August 2012 when the short corn crop became clear. This surge attracted the Wall Street players. They benefited when corn prices spiked again in Jan-Feb on the perception that South America crops would not clear the market before US crops came in in August-September. . . .Please remember that this all starts in the corn-farmed, politically charged Iowa caucuses. Which means, it is our sick and rotten political system that produces these behaviors.  That will likely continue until we repeatedly and mercilessly pound the politicians who have sold our nation down a river of ethanol.

[click to continue…]