January 2015

Cooler Heads Digest 30 January 2015

World Resources Institute (WRI) has published a report that is likely to put the food vs. fuel issue back in play as the 114th Congress considers options to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

In Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land, authors Tim Searchinger (Princeton University) and Ralph Heimlich argue that “any dedicated use of land for growing bioenergy inherently comes at the cost of not using that land for growing food or animal feed, or for storing carbon.”

From the report’s key findings:

Dedicating crops and/or land to generating bioenergy makes it harder to sustainably feed the planet.

  • The world needs to close a 70 percent “food gap” between crop calories available in 2006 and those needed in 2050. If crop-based biofuels were phased out by 2050, the food gap would shrink to 60 percent. But more ambitious biofuel targets—currently being pursued by large economies—could increase the gap to about 90 percent.
  • Wider bioenergy targets—such as a goal for bioenergy to meet 20 percent of the world’s total energy demand by 2050—would require humanity to at least double the world’s annual harvest of plant material in all its forms. Those increases would have to come on top of the already large increases needed to meet growing food and timber needs. Therefore, the quest for bioenergy at a meaningful scale is both unrealistic and unsustainable.

Figure 4 from the report makes the latter point — that biomass cannot supply more than a small fraction of global energy without courting disaster — stunningly clear:


 Another key finding explains why. [click to continue…]

typical FOIA production by 'most transparent admin. ever'

typical FOIA production from ‘most transparent admin. ever’

[Editor’s Note: Yesterday, the Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch reported that Republican lawmakers are demanding the Environmental Protection Agency fork over documents relating to text messages to and from the agency’s chief administrator that were allegedly deleted rather than preserved for federal records, or simply because as “correspondence” they are regularly the subject of Freedom of Information and oversight requests and therefore must be preserved. Their request stems from the work of my colleague Chris Horner, who literally wrote the book on the opacity of the Obama administration (The Liberal War on Transparency). Below, Horner discusses the latest developments in this burgeoning transparency scandal.]

We have gotten to this point in a far too long and winding way, requiring numerous FOIA requests, first for text messages, then phone bills, then metadata, more text messages once we learned the ones we had requested were destroyed, and now for emails discussing all of this.  Developments along this way include:

The most recent step pertains to emails sent between EPA’s Office of General Counsel and Ms. McCarthy which mention texting.  This request was followed by, what is even in my experience, an unprecedented series of delays; a cynic might suspect that this was intended to avoid these emails, described below, from emerging until a federal court in DC rules on our efforts to depose Ms. McCarthy, among others, about EPA destroying its senior advisors’ text correspondence.

Here is why.   [click to continue…]

Washington Examiner’s Zack Colman just tweeted that Sen. Al Franken spent at least a bathroom break’s worth of Senate time this morning to claim that the U.S. government birthed the technological advances in oil and gas drilling collectively known as “fracking.”


Sen. Franken is wrong. Here, Devon Energy chief Larry Nichols—who was present at the creation of “fracking”—explains that it was the private sector behind this breakthrough. And here, Platts Director of News John Kingston explains that subsurface property rights were the sine qua non of the American energy renaissance. Both of these insights were rendered on Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless, which is no longer on and is sorely missed.

Perhaps the hottest debate raging today in administrative law circles regards Article III court deference to federal agency interpretations of their own rules. Such deference is known as “Seminole Rock” or “Auer” deference (after Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand, Co., 325 U.S. 410 (1945) and Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997)).

In the smallest of nutshells, critics argue that Seminole Rock deference rests on shaky constitutional ground, because it allows administrative agencies both lawmaking (i.e., writing rules) and law exposition (i.e., interpreting rules) powers.* The other criticism is practical, and alleges that Seminole Rock deference incents arbitrary regulation. To be more precise, this second criticism suggests that agencies take advantage of Seminole Rock deference by writing vague implementing rules, and then issuing subsequent “interpretations” that impose policies outside the notice and comment requirements for administrative procedure.**

Seminole Rock/Auer deference is so hot right now because the Supreme Court is openly reconsidering it. Justice Scalia recently pilloried Seminole Rock/Auer, and, in the same decision, Chief Justice Roberts announced, “that there is some interest in reconsidering those cases.” Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, 133 S. Ct. 1326 (2013) at 1339

In this context, I would like for you, dear readers, to consider a recent EPA proposal to take over Regional Haze programs operated by Texas and Oklahoma, pursuant to the Clean Air Act. The rule is extraordinary for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s the latest from the most arbitrary regulatory regime at EPA during the Obama era—namely, the Regional Haze/§110(a)(2)(D)(i)(II) program. For another, it’s a massive power grab, one with big implications for other States. I will explain these and other flaws in subsequent posts; my purpose today is to draw your attention to page 74829 of the 79th Federal Register, in which EPA attempts to justify the rule’s long reach by notifying the public of the agency’s Seminole Rock/Auer rights! I’ve reposted the offending language after the break. [click to continue…]

“The Chicken McNuggets of Energy News”

  • My colleague Myron Ebell was on The Diane Rehms Show yesterday morning to discuss President Obama’s proposal to designate nearly 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the hydrocarbon rich 1002 area, as an off-limits “Wilderness Area.” It’s a lively interview; listen here.
  • On that note, the President’s policy has raised the ire of the Alaskan congressional delegation, according to a good piece in Monday’s Washington Examiner by Zack Colman. You should read it, for the rhetoric is bold. Rep. Young said that the administration has gone “wacko,” while even mild mannered Sen. Murkowski used war as an analogy. The senior Senator’s anger is especially notable, due to her possession of the Appropriations subcommittee gavel with jurisdiction over the Interior Department and EPA. She’s well-positioned for wrath.
  • Sticking to that note: The White House released its new Alaskan anti-energy policy via a sappy public service announcement, available here. The ad has the President waxing lyrical about Alaska’s beauty, to the tune of an acoustic guitar, with an overlay of slow motion video depicting Alaskan mountains, critters, and critters on mountains. I think that’s the first time that a policy has been announced by PSA. Another Obama breakthrough!
  • In what is the best evidence to date that Iowa’s first-primary-in-the-country is terrible for America, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last week announced the launch of a multi-million dollar campaign that will pressure presidential contenders to support the Renewable Fuel Standard. To be sure, the RFS is great for Iowa, because it grows a great deal of corn, the primary feedstock for ethanol. But it’s horrible for the rest of the world, causing the price of both food and fuel to increase. [click to continue…]
Post image for “Warmest Year” Blather – Distraction from Big Picture

“2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” President Obama proclaimed in his State of the Union speech. Obama cited the separate findings of two federal agencies, NASA and NOAA, which announced Jan. 16 that, “The Year 2014 ranks as the warmest since 1880.” To Obama, the record-breaking year is evidence Congress and the American people should rally round EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.

When will the spinning end?

In the first place, 2014 might not be the warmest year in the instrumental record. NASA and NOAA’s analyses are based on data from thousands of land- and sea-based weather stations.

As is well-known, surface station records have many gaps (both spatial and temporal) and many quality-control issues. Moreover, they do not measure temperature in the troposphere — a more reliable indicator of atmospheric heat content and the greenhouse effect.

According to NOAA, the 2014 temperature in the troposphere was the third highest in the 1979-2014 record, as analyzed by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) satellite program, and the sixth highest on record, as analyzed by the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) satellite program.

NASA NOAA Slide on UAH RSS Troposphere Temps







So why don’t the agencies’ press releases proclaim 2014 the third or sixth warmest year? Or just say that it was one of the warmest in the instrumental record? Perhaps because “warmest on record” feeds the sense of crisis, which helps feed agency budgets. Notice the self-promotional aspect of NASA’s press release: “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

[click to continue…]

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post’s fact checker pooh-poohed a study on regulatory costs by my colleague Wayne Crews. According to the Post’s ill-informed* analysis, my colleague’s excellent study is imbalanced, because it accounts only for the costs, and not the benefits, of regulation.

In this blog, I will briefly challenge an operating assumption held by the Washington Post’s fact-checker: Namely, the assumption that regulations necessarily benefit the public interest. In fact, regulation during the Obama age has been characterized by the political regulation—one whose purpose is to benefit a narrow special interest, rather than the public at large.

Consider, for example, President Obama’s EPA. In 2008 and 2012, green advocacy groups spent scores of millions of dollars to help elect Obama. In return, these special interests have been rewarded with the reins to the EPA. In this fashion, they can direct state power to persecute their political enemies. In practice, this quid pro quo relationship results in regulations whose public health justifications are highly dubious, and whose only discernible purpose is to target “dirty” fossil fuels. Mind you, these green groups have based fundraising and issue campaigns on moving “beyond coal” and “beyond gas”; as such, their institutional raison d’etre is inextricably intertwined with a fight against an abstraction of an industry.  Simply put, I’m saying that the basis of these rules is politics, instead of disinterested civil service. That is why I call them political regulations, in order to distinguish them from rules that are promulgated with the public interest at heart.

After the break, I demonstrate my point with DIRECT PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE!!! [click to continue…]

Recently, I unearthed the extraordinary EPA memo immediately below from a Freedom of Information Act request. The document is from the early days of the Obama administration, and it is, as someone who has seen it described to me, “their whole strategy laid bare…” That is, it helps place the administration’s campaign and spin in a more proper perspective.

EPA Strategy Memo FOIA Production

Precisely as Congress intended when it enacted the Freedom of Information Act, the American public can now see what bureaucrats and, in this case, ideological activists in government say among themselves and their pressure group allies, in order to help keep a proper perspective about what these same activists tell the public.

What the memo demonstrates is the recognition by EPA—at the outset of the Obama administration—that the agency needed to move its global warming campaign away from the failed shrill tactics of discredited Big Green pressure groups and their icons (such tactics are “an unpersuasive argument to make,” per the memo). In it we see the birth of the breathtakingly disingenuous “shift from making this about the polar caps [to] about our neighbor with respiratory illness…”. [click to continue…]

During last Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, President Obama said:

And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.  (Applause.)  

Yet when White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on four Sunday morning political talkies—on the first weekend since the State of the Union—all the hosts wanted to talk about was the Middle East (i.e., Yemen, ISIS, Netanyahu, etc.).

I endured them all

I miss Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless

Indeed, climate change never came up once during McDonough’s interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, nor in his conversation with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” nor in his discussion with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation. Ultimately, not one of these three shows even mentioned global warming, despite the fact that it “poses a greater threat to future generations” than any combination of current conflagrations abroad, according to the President.

However, it is true that McDonough came very close to mentioning climate change during his interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday: [click to continue…]