January 2015

Globalwarming.org today sped up its economic doomsday clock to three minutes until midnight, in response to last week’s launch of a green missive that calls to mind the terrifying extent to which the U.S. economy operates under the imminent threat of economic apocalypse engendered by enviro litigation.

doomsday-clock-110516The immediate impetus for alarm is a letter issued Thursday from 5 green groups. Its purpose is to remind EPA of a May deadline to render a decision whether GHGs from airplanes “endanger” public health & welfare. That sounds boring and innocuous, but in fact the letter portends the ominous consequences of the Obama administration’s 2010 decision to trigger Clean Air Act regulations for greenhouse gases. This fateful determination has provided environmental special interests the opportunity to seize the reins of the U.S. economy through litigation, as I explain briefly below.

The problem is that the Clean Air Act regulates like a chain reaction: one provision triggers another provision triggers another, and so on and so forth. So, for example, EPA’s first action—the push that got this regulatory snowball rolling down the hill—was to regulate GHGs from automobiles. Under longstanding EPA statutory interpretation, auto regulations set off Clean Air Act requirements for stationary sources. Henceforth, new major stationary sources must install “best available control technology” to limit GHGs. (Of course, the agency is working on a bundle of climate  regulations that would overhaul the electricity industry, but that’s a discretionary regime.)

First automobiles…then stationary sources…and the next non-discretionary duty brought about by EPA’s opening of a regulatory Pandora’s Box pertains to the airline industry. The statutory tripwire that activated the 2010 auto regulations—the rule that set off this whole mess—was a 2009 EPA determination that tailpipe GHG emissions “endangered” public health and welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, an identical threshold exists for the regulation of airline emissions. That is, if the agency finds that airline GHG emissions “endanger” the public, then it must regulate the sector.  [click to continue…]

Two characteristics of the Clean Air Act are relatively harmless in isolation, but together engender serious public policy concerns. They are:

  1. The fact that the act includes far more deadlines than the agency can meet; and,
  2. A provision of the act that empowers environmental special interests to sue to compel EPA to meet its overdue date-certain duties (known as the “citizen suit” provision).

In short, the Clean Air Act contains hundreds of date-certain duties, and EPA is out of compliance with virtually all of them. The agency’s inability to meet its statutory responsibilities wouldn’t be a problem but for the fact that the statute empowers green groups to sue to force EPA to meet its nondiscretionary responsibilities. Such “agency forcing citizen suits” lead to three public policy troubles:

In this post, I briefly walk through a topical example of the third type—a major rulemaking that has been rendered awful by an impossibly tight deadline pursuant to an “agency forcing” citizen suit regarding a missed deadline. [N.B.: I do so in only 500 more words (only 700 total)!]. The rule in question is the “industrial, commercial, and institutional hazardous air pollutants area sources rule.” [click to continue…]

Cooler Heads Digest 23 January 2015

Post image for ‘Lukewarmer’ Matt Ridley on How to Debate Climate Change

Award-winning science writer Matt Ridley this week published an essay full of uncommon common sense titled “My life as a climate lukewarmer.”

In general, I would describe a ‘lukewarmer’ as someone who:

As moral philosopher Alex Epstein recently put it, fossil energy companies did not take a safe climate and make it dangerous. They took a dangerous climate and made it vastly safer.

For too long many in the GOP have been hoodwinked by folks like Al Gore, Greenpeace, and the UN climate glitterati into believing the key issue is whether climate change is “real.” Gore et al. would have us believe that if we accept the reality of climate change, we must also agree that global warming “threatens the survival of civilization and the habitability of the Earth,” hence that our only moral choice is to embrace their agenda of coercive de-carbonization via centralized eco-energy planning.

Consequently, many GOP politicians and activists assume that to defend the economy and oppose regulatory excess, they must deny, or at least question whether, there is any evidence linking the long-term rise of greenhouse gas concentrations with the (moderate and non-alarming) increase in global temperatures since the 1880s.

That, alas, is exactly what the warming movement wants its opponents to say, not only because it makes them look “anti-science,” but also because it tacitly affirms the alarm narrative. As if all we have to do is assent to the virtual tautology that rising greenhouse gas concentrations have a greenhouse (warming) effect, and we are compelled to concede every important scientific, economic, and moral point in a very complex debate.

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Post image for SOTU on Energy and Climate: Disingenuous and Dumb

The State of the Union speech? Yeesh. The energy and climate stuff was disingenuous and dumb.

“The State of the Union is strong,” President Obama proclaimed. How so? Among other things, “we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.” Domestic production is “booming” and today “America is number one in oil and gas.” Obama implied his policies had something to do with those achievements. Ridiculous.

The fracking revolution took place almost entirely on state and private lands, over which federal agencies exercise scant control.

Shale Plays in Lower 48 (shows federal lands)







Tax a thing, and you get less of it. Rather than encourage oil and gas production, each year Obama sent Congress a budget proposal calling for tax hikes on the oil and gas sector. The President’s FY 2015 budget, for example, proposed to increase oil industry taxes by $44.838 billion. It also advocated repeal of LIFO (last-in, first-out) accounting rules — a policy change that would cost oil companies and other U.S. firms $82.708 billion.

The Obama administration’s signature oil policy was its moratorium and informal “permitorium” on offshore oil production following the April 2010 BP Macondo well explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. API estimated the moratorium depressed oil industry capital and operating expenditures by $18.3 billion during 2010-2012 and would cost the U.S. economy $28 billion in lost investment over the next several years. The official and de-facto moratoria cut Gulf of Mexico production by 77 million barrels in FY 2011 (13%) and 47 million barrels in FY 2012 (9%), according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Then there’s the President’s proposal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025. If there ever was a ‘solution’ in search of a problem, this is it. As Cato Institute scientists Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger point out, methane emissions from the sector fell by more than 10% since 2008, chiefly for economic reasons. Methane is a form of natural gas, so frackers have a financial incentive to plug leaks and capture fugitive emissions. 

Moreover, far from being ‘worse than we thought,’ atmospheric methane concentrations are increasing more slowly than previously predicted. Indeed, the IPCC has lowered its methane concentration prediction three times since 1990. Yet even the lower bound of its most recent (2007) prediction overshoots observations. The chart below is from the leaked second order draft of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5):








Using EPA’s own policy model, Michaels and Knappenberger calculate that the administration’s proposed methane cuts “will avert a whopping 0.002°C of global warming by century’s end.” Even if fracking-related methane emissions endangered public health and welfare (they don’t), Obama’s policy is all cost for no benefit.

Okay, on to the dumb stuff. Obama declared that “no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Time for a restatement of the obvious. [click to continue…]

Reports Greenwire’s Robin Bravender ($),

First lady Michelle Obama will host a sea-level rise researcher at the State of the Union address tomorrow, a signal that climate change will be a major component of the president’s speech.

Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a sea-level expert in southeast Florida, was one of nearly two dozen guests announced today by the White House. The first lady typically invites guests to the event who embody the themes the president plans to highlight in his speech.

If history serves as a guide, President Obama would sound garbled were he to address climate change in tonight’s State of the Union address. [click to continue…]

Gullible Grist Goofs Again

by William Yeatman on January 16, 2015

in Blog

Recently, I’ve made a practice of cataloging mistakes and other oddities at Grist, a website which fancies itself a source of “independent green journalism.” In this fact-checking vein, I’d like to bring your attention to a post published on Grist two days ago, whose inaccuracies are remarkable even by the site’s standards. [click to continue…]

In Tuesday’s Federal Register, EPA proposed to modify its federal implementation plan for Arizona, pursuant to the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program. The occasion affords us the opportunity to remind readers that the Obama Administration has executed more Clean Air Act regulatory takeovers of state programs than ten times the sum of the previous three administrations.

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Post image for Global Warming and Grain Yields: Eve of Destruction?

As discussed a few weeks ago on this blog, a recent study in Nature Climate Change concludes that global warming “is already slowing yield gains at a majority of wheat-growing locations,” and forecasts absolute reductions in yields (tons per hectare) under +2ºC and +4ºC warming scenarios. I noted that despite the overall warming trend of the past half century and more, global average wheat yield increased every decade and during the past five years.

Specifically, compared to the preceding decade, average yield increased by 33% in the 1970s, 27% in the 1980s, 20% in the 1990s, 9% in the 2000s, and 10% during 2010-2014. Average yield was 149% higher in 2010-2014 than in the 1960s (my calculation based on USDA data).

Wheat Global Yields by Decade 1960-2014



Another relevant source I should have consulted is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. An FAO analysis published in November forecast that world cereal production in 2014 would “surpass the record in 2013.” Two record-breaking years in a row. Clearly, we’re on the eve of destruction!

Cereal Production FAO November 2014









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“Sue and settle” refers to a phenomenon whereby environmental special interests leverage the legal process to dictate the EPA’s priorities.

GAO watchdogAt heart, sue and settle results from the Clean Air Act’s overabundance of deadlines. Simply put: Congress tasked EPA with far more date-certain duties than the agency can handle. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in a statutory vacuum, but the fact is that the Clean Air Act affords green groups the right to sue EPA to compel the agency to perform its non-discretionary responsibilities. As a result of these dynamics [i.e., EPA doesn’t meet any of its deadlines, and green groups can sue to force the agency to meet its missed deadlines], environmental litigation groups like the Sierra Club can use the courts to set the agency’s priorities.

Of course, priority-setting necessarily entails policymaking—after all, it’s a decision on the use of the agency’s limited resources. Opponents of “sue and settle” argue that EPA should make policy with elected officials in Congress or the States (the regulated entity), rather than through litigation or negotiation with special interests.

Factually speaking, there can be no doubt that greens are employing deadline suits to control the EPA’s regulatory reins. As I demonstrate here, EPA is out of compliance with virtually all its Clean Air Act deadlines, which number well into the hundreds, by an average of more than 5 years. And in this report, on which I collaborated, we list all the Clean Air Act rules and regulations that were galvanized by sue and settle lawsuits.

Nonetheless, despite the evident existence of sue and settle problems, House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the matter further. Yesterday, the GAO’s December report was finally released to the public. The document’s unfortunate tone is aptly imparted by its title: “Impact of Deadline Suits on EPA’s Rulemaking Is Limited.”

In this post, I’ll detail the GAO report’s flaws, and why its title is misleading. [click to continue…]