December 2014

An inconvenient truth encountered by global warming alarmists is voter indifference. Poll after poll suggests that Americans lend ultra-low priority to climate change (rightly so). This is why candidate Obama ran to the right of Romney on energy/environment policy during the 2012 campaign.

Individual agency—antithesis of Prof. Proctor’s take on AGW

Individual agency—antithesis of Prof. Proctor’s take on AGW

Indeed, voter apathy in the face of climate change drives AGW activists batty with frustration, so much so that they refuse to acknowledge the phenomenon. Instead of accepting the truth at hand—that everyday Americans simply don’t care about global warming in a lifetime filled with more pressing matters—climate worry warts, especially those in academia, are given to grand conspiracy theories about how nefarious fossil fuel industries spend untold billions to manipulate the American polity into its current ambivalence regarding the imperative to “do something” about global warming.

Of course, this thesis is belied by a cursory Google News search of the term “climate change,” which reliably engenders a parade of horribles on the impending catastrophic impacts in store for civilization. To wit, here is a representative sampling of first-page headlines from just such a search, conducted this morning:

  • “Risk of dengue fever increases due to climate change” (Fox News);
  • “Climate change could cost US coasts $1 trillion by 2100” (Science Now);
  • “Another threat from climate change: bad-tasting shrimp” (LA Times);
  • “Will global climate change ground commercial airlines?” (Top Secret Writers).

As usual, there weren’t any “denier” headlines. Which raises an obvious question: How is climate messaging almost always alarming, if industry is pulling all the strings?  [click to continue…]

Post image for Is EPA’s Clean Power Plan Unlawful under the Very Provision that Supposedly Authorizes It?

EPA’s Clean Power Plan establishes carbon dioxide (CO2) performance standards for each state’s electric power sector. The standards are calibrated in lbs. CO2/MWh, which translate into statewide CO2 emission caps. On average, states will have to reduce their power-sector CO2 emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The CPP is unlawful for a multitude of reasons, but surely one of the most bizarre is that EPA’s alleged statutory authority, §111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), prohibits the agency from promulgating any such regulation.

Specifically, §111(d) bars the adoption of performance standards for existing facilities in source categories already regulated under §112. EPA has been regulating power plants under §112 since December 2011, when it finalized the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Rule.

On the day EPA published the CPP in the Federal Register (June 18, 2014), Murray Energy, the nation’s largest privately-owned coal company, petitioned the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop EPA from further work on the rulemaking. The petition argued that EPA’s §111(d) regulatory authority is limited to existing sources not already regulated under §112. Eight days later, nine states led by West Virginia filed an amicus brief in support of the petition. And last week, Murray Energy submitted a brief urging the Court to halt EPA’s “illegal” rulemaking and vacate the agency’s “erroneous legal opinion” that it may doubly regulate sources under §111(d) and §112.

EPA, of course, argues that the §112 exclusion in §111(d) does not apply to CO2 and does not preclude the agency from requiring states to adopt CO2 performance standards for existing power plants.

Today’s post will review the legal arguments, pro and con, on whether EPA may regulate existing power plants under both §111(d) and §112.

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Last Sunday’s (invaluable) Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless featured an enlightening interview with Platts Director of News John Kingston, in which the reporter rightly identified subsurface property rights as the key to the American energy renaissance.

Per Mr. Kingston,

It was the right of private people to own their own mineral rights which really has been one of the sources of the boom. It turns out that was the key to our energy policy.

Hear, hear! By allowing private parties to own subsurface mineral rights, and thereby profit off oil & gas production, the U.S. incented both output and innovation. Alas, a major reason technological breakthroughs in oil and gas production—collectively known as “fracking”—have not spread the world over is that in many countries, subsurface mineral rights are owned by the state. And because private parties in such countries don’t have “skin in the game,” they’ve every incentive to oppose drilling below their lands, as they’d bear the burden of drilling (i.e., proximity to an industrial practice) without any of the direct benefits.

The extent to which infelicitous property rights regimes have inhibited oil and gas production is the thesis of Guillermo M. Yeatts brilliant book, Subsurface Wealth: The Struggle for Privatization in Argentina.

Cooler Heads Digest 19 December 2014

Post image for Climate Policy Risk: Who’s In Denial?

Earlier this week, economist Roger Bezdek gave a presentation at the Ronald Reagan Building titled “Carbon Dioxide: Social Cost or Social Benefit?” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank covered the event and published a short review titled “The new climate denialism: More carbon dioxide is a good thing.”

Granted, it’s hard to develop an argument about a complex, technical subject in a 760-word column, but Milbank doesn’t even try. He takes cheap shots and spouts off without knowing whereof he speaks.

Milbank starts with a snarky putdown, asserting that “though Bezdek is an economist, not a scientist, he played one on Monday.” How so? Some of Bezdek’s slides show the fertilization effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on crop yields and plant growth. For example:

big marlo

That is not playing scientist, it is citing scientific research.

Another slide shows that, over the past 250 years, CO2 emissions closely correlate with population growth, life expectancy, and per capita GDP. [click to continue…]

Earlier today, I posted a primer on the EPA’s pending coal ash rule. In fact, the rule is almost assuredly going to be a far superior regulation than the shoddy version EPA originally drafted. And the means by which the rule improved in quality sheds much light on a little noticed yet supremely important component of the rulemaking process: White House regulatory review.

White House Regulatory Review: The Bare Bones Basics

White House regulatory review is conducted by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA (pronounced inside the beltway as “O-Eye-Ra”) was created by Congress with the enactment of the Paperwork Reduction Act in 1980. OIRA’s broad mandate is help alleviate the paperwork burdens imposed by the federal regulatory state on American businesses and private individuals.

Jimbo S

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan substantially increased OIRA’s authority with the promulgation of Executive Order 12291, which required that federal agencies submit their proposed and final regulations to OIRA for review. Thus, OIRA became a primary means by which the President could affect regulatory policy. President Clinton updated the terms of OIRA’s regulatory review in 1993 with the issuance of Executive Order 12866. The two Orders did not engender materially different procedures.

All “major” rules are subject to OIRA review, although rules promulgated by independent executive agencies are exempt from the process.

OIRA Review of EPA’s Coal Ash Rule: An Interagency Smack Down

In late 2009, EPA submitted its original draft to OIRA, which proceeded to lay the smack down. A summary of its brutal review is available here, and a redline version of OIRA edits is available here. The documents demonstrate that it was amateur hour at the EPA during the first months of the administration when it put together the proposal: [click to continue…]

Today marks a court-ordered deadline for EPA to promulgate a final coal combustion residual (CCR) rule pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. To be sure, the agency could ignore the deadline, as the courts have no means readily at hand to prod the agency into action today. That said, the agency is widely expected to promulgate the rule this afternoon. What follows is the shortest, most thorough primer of the rule on the web. [click to continue…]

Monday night marked the debut of Saving My Tomorrow, a new HBO documentary described thusly in promotional materials*:

From the children who will inherit the planet comes a collection of songs, activism and heartfelt tips for protecting the earth … A lyrical mix of science, animation and music, celebrates the wonders of the natural world and is a call from kids to kids to help take care of the planet.

The last sentence of the synopsis above suggests the documentary is a “celebration,” but I can report that it’s anything but. I watched a recording of episode one this morning, and it’s less a party and more a dirge.

HBO's target demographic?

Target demographic?

To wit, there were four songs in the first half hour installment, and below I’ve excerpted lyrics from each:

  • Song 1: ♫ “Hey, farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now” ♫
  • Song 2: ♪“Bio-di-ver-sity…don’t let it fade away”♫
  • Song 3: ♫“Please don’t send your exploding trains through our city. We don’t think that people dying is pretty”♪
  • Song 4:♪“The state of the nations is poisoned from pollution, greed and war”♫

Uplifting stuff! The third *celebratory* song (titled, “Exploding Trains”) was particularly upbeat.

When it wasn’t scaremongering, the documentary seemed a bit complex for an audience of children. For example, here’s Liam Neeson warning about ocean acidification: [click to continue…]

On April 21st, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to “clarify” federal jurisdiction pursuant to the Clean Water Act. Logically, the purpose of a regulatory interpretation is to elucidate the rules of the game. EPA’s/USACE’s rule, alas, does the exact opposite. Instead of clearly defining the limits of federal authority, the proposal would establish a haphazard regime whereby a regulator would determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a given body of water possessed a “significant nexus” to navigable waters and were therefore subject to federal power. In practice, the test is so amorphous that every ditch, vernal pond, playa lake, mudflat, sandflat, and slough could easily fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction.

"waters of the U.S."

“waters of the U.S.”

Indeed, the rule is so expansive that it could claim storm water sewer systems as “waters of the United States”! This presents a cosmic irony, insofar as storm water sewer systems are themselves pollution control mechanisms. This regulatory closed loop–i.e., the regulation of a means of regulatory compliance–was aptly described by National Association of Counties’ Dusty Williams  in June testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. [click to continue…]

There’s a strong current of contemporary thought which posits that “doing something” about climate change is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s not just environmental lobbyists spouting off about “green jobs”; no less an eminence than Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has averred that,

Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.

Recent Japanese history presents a grand, albeit tragic, case study into whether greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth have indeed decoupled. In addition to being a humanitarian and ecological disaster, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis also spawned an energy crunch. A significant amount of supply, the equivalent of 9 average-sized American coal power plants, was lost in the disaster.

Before the Fukushima incident, Japan had been at the forefront of global climate change mitigation policy. As such, it is safe to presume that Japan in 2011 possessed a mindset to replace its lost nuclear capacity with low/no-carbon energy. Accordingly, in the immediate wake of the meltdown, Prime Minister Naoto Kan emphasized that solar and wind power would meet the country’s demand.

So, in mid 2011, we had a green-minded, developed country in need of energy overhaul. Thus, Japan’s post-Fukushima experience offers an opportunity to test Prof. Krugman’s thesis. If fighting climate change is cheap and easy, then Japan should’ve gone green. [click to continue…]