October 2013

Post image for Will the Bureau of Land Management Blow the Obama Administration’s Cover — and Openly Declare War on Coal?

“The Bureau of Land Management is scrapping its decision to lease more than 600 acres of land to Peabody Energy Corp,” reports Manuel Quiñones in today’s Greenwire (subscription required).  The article continues:

WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group active in fighting coal leases around the country, appealed BLM’s decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) in August.

But in a surprise move, instead of standing by its decision, based on an environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI), BLM this month agreed with the need for more study. And yesterday IBLA judges agreed with sending the case back to BLM.

So the BLM will have to redo the EA to address what WildEarth Guardians, in their petition, call the “potentially significant indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed lease.” What happens then?

My guess is the project will be approved. Team Obama is waging a war on coal but, for obvious political reasons, continues to deny it. BLM would totally blow the administration’s cover if, after revising the EA, it rejects the lease.

Clearly, WildEarth Guardians would like nothing better than for BLM to reject the lease on climate change grounds:

“We can’t possibly begin to tackle global warming by stripping more coal from the ground,” said WildEarth Guardians climate and energy chief Jeremy Nichols in response to the latest developments.

“With New Mexico bearing the brunt of climate change in the Southwest, including diminished rivers, extreme weather and soaring fire risks, every ton of coal kept in the ground is a ton of progress made toward safeguarding the people and places of the Southwest,” he said. [click to continue…]

On Monday, September 16, the Cooler Heads Coalition held a Congressional staff and media briefing, “Our Cooling Climate—an Update,” with David Archibald, author of The Past and Future of Climate: Why the World is Cooling and Why Carbon Dioxide Won’t Make a Detectable Difference. Video of the briefing is below.

Post image for EPA Meetings on Coal Regulations Exclude Those Living in Coal Producing Regions

Following EPA’s  proposal to implement regulations forcing coal power plants to reduce emissions, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced that her agency would be holding eleven public listening sessions around the country to discuss EPA’s plans and to receive feedback from the public (Atlanta, GA, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Denver, CO, Lenexa, KS, New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, Washington, DC). Coal power plant operators have repeatedly said these regulatory standards cannot be met without either adopting a technology (carbon capture ans sequestration) that doesn’t yet exist, or switching to another fuel. Notably, only one meeting is being held in a city located in a state ranked in the top ten coal producing state.

It would seem the administration has no intention of promoting legitimate debate as it excludes the very people who are affected most by these regulations.

Congress is outraged by the omission of impacted states from EPA’s listening tour destinations. Last Friday, 41 House representatives sent a letter to the EPA demanding to know why the proposed meeting sessions are not in the regions they affect.

These closed and existing power plants are not located in any of the areas you are holding these listening sessions. In all fairness, residents and businesses in rural areas deserve to be heard just as much.

There’s a simple reason EPA would prefer to not listen to people from coal-reliant regions: The agency’s regulations threaten jobs for no purpose, other than the placation of a special interest.

If the administration is sincere about addressing the concerns of the public, they should be holding these public listening sessions in cities located in states with the highest coal production such as Charleston, Cheyenne, Frankfort, Harrisburg, and Helena. These are the cities most accessible to people affected by the regulations and where people stand the greatest risk to lose their entire way of life.

Post image for Social Cost of Carbon: How to Repackage Uneconomic Renewables as a Bargain at any Price

As a pretext for expanding political control of the economy, redistributing wealth, and bilking consumers for the benefit of special interests, nothing beats the pseudo-science of social-cost-of-carbon estimation.

A new study by economists Laurie Johnson, Starla Yeh, and Chris Hope, The Social Cost of Carbon: Implications for Modernizing Our Electricity System, has the unintentional virtue of exposing what a menace SCC analysis has become.

Before examining the Johnson, Yeh, Hope (JYH) study, let’s review some preliminaries. [click to continue…]

The comically-named Center for American Progress celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding on 24th October with a daylong policy conference.  The glittering list of heavyweight speakers testifies to CAP’s influence within the political left and on the Obama Administration.  Not much attention was paid to the Democrats’ greatest achievement during the Obama years—enactment of the Affordable Care Act.  On the other hand, climate policies and the Keystone Pipeline got lots of attention.

The intellectual quality of what was said ranged from embarrassing to disgraceful.  I listened to it, so you don’t have to, but if you do want to listen, C-Span archived video of the entire conference here.

Former EPA Administrator and White House climate czar Carol Browner, former White House green jobs czar Van Jones, and billionaire anti-Keystone campaigner Thomas Steyer spoke on a climate panel moderated by CAP founder John Podesta.  Asked to grade the Obama Administration’s climate policies, Browner said that compared to the House of Representatives Obama gets an A-plus.  She said that the EPA was created by President Nixon because the States weren’t up to the job.

Browner was emphatic that some States are not regulating hydraulic fracturing adequately and that the EPA must take over.  She also predicted that President Obama would eventually decide to deny the permit to build the Keystone Pipeline.

Browner compared the Clinton Administration unfavorably with the Obama Administration on climate policy.  She said that when she was EPA Administrator in the Clinton Administration, if she wanted to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, she had to go to the White House and argue for it.  But Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy, Obama’s EPA chiefs, only have to argue about the level of regulation.

Steyer’s remarks were low-key and brief.  He said that we must stop the Keystone Pipeline and must demand that polluters pay for the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels.

Jones was by far the most engaging and provocative.  He began by saying that progressives suffer from low self esteem.  President Obama put $90 billion of stimulus funding into green energy; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 3.1 million green jobs; there are now 100,000 jobs in the wind industry compared to 80,000 coal miners; and yet progressives talk about Solyndra.  He didn’t compare the per capita energy output of wind and coal employees.

Jones went on to say that a majority of the “white community” voted for Mitt Romney for president even in California.  Thus: “So left to the white community by itself, we would have a horrible set of environmental policies in place.  We would be burning and drilling everywhere.”

Jones claimed that the U. S. military is “freaked out” by the national security risks of climate change, which is why they include it in all their planning and are investing heavily in renewable energy.  And he expressed dismay that in 2008 John McCain agreed that global warming was a threat and that we must pass cap-and-trade, whereas today the Republican Party has been taken over by lunatics and crazy people.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Canadian Climate Model’s “Epic Failure”

The “worse than we thought” crowd has got things backwards. The state of the climate is better than they told us. In stark contrast, the state of climate modeling is worse than even many of us skeptics thought!

John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) examined 73 IPCC climate model runs available as of June 1, 2013. He found that all overshoot the warming of the tropical mid-troposphere during the previous 34 years as measured by two independent satellite datasets and four independent balloon datasets.

Christy’s colleague Roy Spencer showed the diverging linear trends between models and observations in the figure below: marlo picIn a column titled “Epic Fail,” Spencer concluded by asking: “Now, in what universe do the above results not represent an epic failure for the models?”

As the above chart shows, although all models fail to replicate reality, some do much worse than others.

This week on WattsUpWithThat.Com, engineer Ken Gregory has a guest essay on the Canadian Climate model’s “epic failure.” For the 34-year satellite record (1979-2012), Gregory compares the Canadian model’s temperature projections to observations in several atmospheric layers and geographic areas. For example, in the global mid-troposphere, the model on average overshoots observed temperatures by 650%.

marlo pic 2

[click to continue…]

At EcoWatch, Megan Quinn Bachman advocates creating state-owned banks to fund “green electricity—and other sustainability projects.”  Unfortunately, government-owned banks have a sad history of subsidizing ecologically-destructive boondoggles.  Bachman points to one of the few examples of state banks that managed to turn a profit, the Bank of North Dakota.  But its funds have gone to fossil-fuel projects, not green energy, and effectively subsidized some fossil-fuel projects through below-market rates.

As bank-regulation expert Mark Calabria notes in the New York Times, advocates of state banks “might point to the Bank of North Dakota, currently the only state-run and state-owned American bank. Of course that ignores that in the 1800s there were a number of state-owned U.S. banks. They all failed miserably, and at great expense to the taxpayer. They were also magnets for corruption. But that’s history. Currently the Bank of North Dakota is generally a well-run institution. It is also a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. One need only look at its annual reports to see that the bulk of its below-market lending has been to the fossil fuel industry. It’s a case in point, illustrating that government-owned banks will tend to subsidize the powerful.”

Government ownership of other industries like agriculture also has had negative effects on the environment.  A classic example is in Soviet Central Asia, where the vast Aral Sea largely disappeared, leaving behind a vast ecologically-ruined wasteland after a massive government cotton project ravaged the regional environment.  As the London Daily Mail notes, “The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust  fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air.  The sea’s evaporation has left layers of  highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan,  and which plague local people with health troubles.”

Cunning politicians use green rhetoric to push policies that actually harm the environment and the economy, the classic example being ethanol mandates (which recently enriched Wall Street speculators, some with ties to the Obama Administration).  While in the Senate, Al Gore, working with fat-cat lobbyists, “saved the ethanol” industry by pushing through big taxpayer subsidies for ethanol.  (Years later, he belatedly admitted that ethanol subsidies were a “mistake,” a harmful policy partly designed to appeal to “farmers in the State of Iowa,” which holds the influential Iowa caucuses that can make or break a Presidential campaign).

For cynical political reasons, the Obama Administration clings to ethanol mandates, backing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations.”  [click to continue…]

Post image for Social Cost of Carbon: Do the Monetary Benefits of CO2 Emissions Outweigh the Costs?

Climate campaigners increasingly invoke the concept of the “social cost of carbon” to justify carbon taxes, mandatory production quota for renewable electricity, and other policies to suppress fossil-fuel consumption.

They argue that CO2 emissions impose a harm or cost on society not reflected in market prices for coal, gas, and oil, energy derived from those fuels, or products and services supported by fossil energy. The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an estimate of how much damage each incremental ton of CO2 emissions does to society.

As noted previously on this blog, the Obama administration’s May 2013 SCC estimates are roughly 60% higher than its 2010 SCC estimates — apparently in deference to the “worse than we thought” political mantra. If anything, those estimates should have declined, because the climate outlook is better than they told us. They did not anticipate a 16-year warming pause, a growing mismatch between models and observations, or a pile of papers indicating a lower climate sensitivity than the IPCC had assumed. Perhaps most important, even consensus climatology now eschews the doomsday scenarios that once made global warming look like mankind’s biggest problem.

In any case, carbon’s alleged social cost is highly subjective, inferred from speculative assessments of 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. Moreover, agency analysts injected a strong upward bias into their SCC estimates by flouting OMB-approved regulatory accounting practices.

Craig Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change provides a compelling new reason to take all SCC estimates with several handfuls of salt: Such estimates typically omit, or severely underrate, the benefits of CO2 fertilization on crop production, global food security, and public health.

In a new study, The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide, Idso estimates that rising CO2 concentrations boosted global crop production by $3.2 trillion during 1961-2011, and will increase output by another $9.8 trillion between now and 2050. Those huge benefits are absent from most — maybe all — SCC estimates. Moreover, since CO2 fertilization benefits are confirmed by literally thousands of laboratory and field experiments, they should carry more weight than negative externalities derived from multiple speculative assumptions.

From the study’s abstract:

Several analyses have been conducted to estimate potential monetary damages of the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. Few, however, have attempted to investigate its monetary benefits. Chief among such positive externalities is the economic value added to global crop production by several growth-enhancing properties of atmospheric CO2 enrichment. As literally thousands of laboratory and field studies have demonstrated, elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 have been conclusively shown to stimulate plant productivity and growth, as well as to foster certain water-conserving and stress-alleviating benefits. For a 300-ppm increase in the air’s CO2 content, for example, herbaceous plant biomass is typically enhanced by 25 to 55%, representing an important positive externality that is absent from today’s state-of-the-art social cost of carbon (SCC) calculations.

The present study addresses this deficiency by providing a quantitative estimate of the direct monetary benefits conferred by atmospheric CO2 enrichment on both historic and future global crop production. The results indicate that the annual total monetary value of this benefit grew from $18.5 billion in 1961 to over $140 billion by 2011, amounting to a total sum of $3.2 trillion over the 50-year period 1961-2011. Projecting the monetary value of this positive externality forward in time reveals it will likely bestow an additional $9.8 trillion on crop production between now and 2050. [click to continue…]

Post image for Supreme Court to Review EPA Greenhouse Rule: What If Petitioners Win — or Lose?

The Supreme Court yesterday announced it will review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals June 2012 decision in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, which upheld the agency’s four main greenhouse gas rulemakings.

In the new case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Court will limit its review to one question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” In other words, the Court will review the agency’s April 2010 Timing Rule.

How significant is this turn of events?

The Court’s grant of certiorari could simply mean that some of Justices want to put an end to litigation attempting to roll back or limit the regulatory consequences of Massachusetts v. EPA. It could also mean that some Justices have serious concerns about the legality of the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources. A mix of motivations may be in play.

Many skeptics and limited government advocates are disappointed that the Court will review neither the agency’s December 2009 Endangerment Rule, the fountainhead of all EPA greenhouse gas regulations, nor the Endangerment Rule’s immediate regulatory consequence, the May 2010 Tailpipe Rule, which established first-ever greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles.

However, the case may provide many teaching moments for constitutionalists, free marketers, and other friends of limited government. The Court in Mass. v. EPA essentially decided that the 1970 Clean Air Act is the statutory scheme Congress intended to regulate greenhouse gases. That opinion is preposterous. If the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations were introduced as legislation today, they would be dead on arrival. That’s after roughly 20 years of global warming advocacy. So how plausible is it that Congress authorized the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases in 1970, years before climate change emerged as a public policy issue, in a statute that does not even contain the terms “greenhouse gas” or “greenhouse effect”?

The simple point I want to make here is that Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA could be a big political and policy setback for the EPA. And even if the Court upholds the Timing Rule, the case could still help build public and policymaker support for legislative action to rein in the agency and contain the regulatory fallout from Mass. v. EPA. [click to continue…]

Post image for Odd Bedfellow Coalition Blasts “Havoc” Caused by Corn Ethanol Mandate

An odd-bedfellow coalition of agriculture, engine manufacturer, food retail, environment, hunger, taxpayer, and free-market public interest groups are asking the House Energy & Commerce Committee to ensure that any legislation proposed to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) address the “havoc that the corn ethanol mandate” has imposed on a “multitude of stakeholder interests.”

In their joint letter to the E&C Committee, the 44 signatories state in part:

While our reasons vary, all of us have long maintained that the RFS is a uniquely flawed policy. The mandate on corn-based ethanol in particular has had a devastating effect on the entire food economy from livestock and poultry producers facing record feed costs, to food retailers facing record food costs, to consumers here and abroad struggling to balance food budgets in tough economic times. Some signers of this letter also question the propriety of Congress establishing production quota and guaranteed market shares for any type of commercial business. Ethanol from corn also is concerning to many due to its global warming impact and the use of natural resources such as water and native grassland for producing fuel. The corn-based ethanol mandate is also having a devastating impact in communities throughout the world, where people living in poverty are facing increased food prices that threaten their food and land security.

The coalition advises that “any RFS proposal advanced by the Committee should include significant, meaningful and permanent decreases in the conventional biofuels (corn ethanol) mandate.”

Click here to read the joint letter in full.

Update (added 5:30 pm)

A Reuters article by Cezary Podkul underscores the timeliness of the odd bedfellows coalition letter. Podkul reports that House E&C “is weighing a proposal to cap the ethanol requirement at below 10 percent for two or three years, according to a person close to the committee. The proposal, which is not yet finalized, would give the industry time to study the use of higher ethanol blends . . . and then raise the target above 10 percent, according to this source.”

Although this sort of stop-gap measure would postpone the impending blend wall crisis, it falls short of the “significant, meaningful and permanent decreases” in the corn-ethanol mandate that the odd bedfellows coalition is advocating. [click to continue…]