David Bier

In The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, Randal O’Toole (known as the Antiplanner over on his blog) defends the car against its environmental foes. He lists many benefits, most of which should go without saying unless you’re talking to an environmentalist, including mobility, increased incomes, lower transport costs, social freedom, and even health and safety. He concludes by defending the car against the accusation that it destroys the environment through urban sprawl.

Best Laid Plans was published in 2007

Automobiles are blamed for “wasting” land in the form of urban sprawl. Yet autos actually have produced significant land-use benefits. Consider first the land supposedly wasted by sprawl. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urban land increased from 15 million acres in 1945 (the earliest year for which data are available) to 60 million acres today. During this time, urban populations increased by 160 percent, so if densities had remained the same as in 1945, urban areas would occupy only 39 million acres today. Thus, some 21 million acres of urbanizations might be attributed to postwar automobile-oriented sprawl.

Of course, whether this is waste depends on your point of view. Low-density development brought the American dream of owning a home with a yard to far more people than ever before. Large yards do not destroy open space so much as they convert one form of open space—farms and forests—to another—backyards. From the point of view of watersheds and certain kinds of wildlife, backyards may even be better than intensely managed croplands.

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In Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, Randal O’Toole (known as the Antiplanner over on his blog) describes how government funds are wasted on public transportation projects built in the environment’s name.

Gridlock was published in 2009

Instead of efficiently serving the public by providing cost-effective transportation for those who cannot or do not want to drive, transit agencies have developed insatiable demands for more tax revenues. Is there an economic boom leading to higher ridership? Then transit agencies demand higher taxes to accommodate the new riders. Is there a recession reducing the tax revenues that support transit? Then transit agencies demand a larger share of taxes to make up the difference. Does a rise in gas prices lead to record ridership? Then transit agencies need more taxes because they too must pay higher fuel prices.

Transit systems that depend on taxes to cover three-fourths of their costs are not sustainable. Ironically, transit only seems to work at all because hardly anyone uses it. To operate transit systems carrying a much higher fraction of personal travel would bankrupt the nation.

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Post image for Why Is Rep. Markey Spurning American Manufacturing Jobs?

President Obama has vowed to double U.S. exports by 2014. Speaking last year about trade agreements last year, he said, “they’re powerful examples of how we can rebuild an economy that’s focused on what our country has always done best – making and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: ‘Made in America.’”

Yet some Democrats haven’t gotten the message. Thirty-three Democrats led by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are arguing certain American energy companies should be prohibited from selling abroad. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the coalition writes, “We write to urge the State Department, as part of its national interest determination for the Keystone XL pipeline, to ensure that any oil or refined petroleum products obtained from the pipeline remain available for sale within the United States.”

But—as normally goes without saying—American exports are good. Wealth created through sales to foreigners increases wages and jobs in the United States. Last year, for the first time ever, energy became America’s top export. In 2001, fuel wasn’t even in the top twenty-five U.S. exports, but new technologies created in the U.S. have revolutionized drilling, and new oil and gas fields discovered in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have helped shoot the industry to the top of the charts.

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In October last year, CEI’s Jackie Moreau blogged about victims of EPA’s wetland regulatory regime. “The once lovely face of Lady Liberty,” she wrote, “now wears the quintessential looks of the mean kid on the playground: class bully.” In this excerpt from Mugged by the State: Outrageous Government Assaults on Ordinary People and their Property, Randall Fitzgerald reinforces her point with some more outrageous examples of government environmentalism out-of-control.

Mugged by the State was released in 2003

As James Knott sat at his desk talking on the telephone on the morning of November 7, 1997, he noticed a police officer strolling across the lobby of Riverdale Mills, the wire-mesh manufacturing plant Knott owned in Northbridge, Massachusetts. Seconds later, twenty armed federal, state, and local law enforcement officers swarmed through the lobby and began entering employee’s offices.

Knott rushed out into the lobby and found himself confronted by a man wearing a dark jacket emblazoned with the lettering US AGENT. “We are here to seize some records,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officer announced. “I have a warrant from a United States federal judge.”

After reading over this warrant, the sixty-nine-year-old Knott gave his consent for the search, though he sternly warned the EPA agents, “I am sure someone has perjured themselves to obtain such a warrant from a judge.”

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Bier family members—Dan and Jerry—blogged notable responses to Obama’s State of the Union energy policy recommendations this week. Over at Speak With Authority, Jerry (my uncle) points out that while the president mentioned “renewable” and “clean” energy, the president was light on details like the Department of Energy’s proposed volcano energy project in Oregon. Jerry writes, “Of all the recent ideas for developing new sources of energy, this volcano project is the one that sounds most like some junior high school boys pouring all the chemicals in the science lab into one beaker just to ‘see what will happen.’”

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In Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy, Institute for Energy Research’s Robert Bradley points out that the global warming scare is really a response to long-forgotten scares of old. The Malthusian theory that mankind would exhaust their resources was debunked repeatedly, energy prices fell and production increased dramatically, outpacing all projections.  Those who demanded the U.S. leave fossil fuels behind needed a new argument, and they found it with the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

Capitalism at Work was released in 2009

Measurements in 1957/58 first documented the increasing concentration of (CO2) in the atmosphere, portending a warming of the Earth’s surface by an enhanced greenhouse effect. This was a theoretical concern only. The worry of the 1970s was anthropogenic global cooling, a phenomenon linked to increasing sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from coal and oil combustion. Mankind’s energy emissions were culpable in either direction.

The global cooling trend that had begun in the 1940s changed into a warming trend by the late 1970s. As early as 1979, the Carter administration debated whether its proposed synthetic fuels program would increase global warming. Synfuel production and combustion was estimated to emit 40 percent more CO2 than directly burning coal to generate the same energy. Gus Speth, acting chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, and soon-to-be co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), warned Carter personally about the “very important and perhaps historic” scientific development.

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Environmental regulation is inherently political. Politicians pass laws that give agencies broad authority to “protect the environment,” but leave “protect” and “environment” up to the agency to figure out. Often these agencies fail to protect the environment from pollution for political reasons, the chief executive wants to “stimulate the economy” or he knows the businesses involved. For this reason, environmental regulation ought to be, for the most part, carried out by the courts, as citizens sue to protect their health and property.   Elizabeth Brubaker from the Canadian think-tank Environment Probe gives many examples of how property rights rather than legislation were used to prevent pollution in her book Property Rights in the Defence of Nature.

Property Rights in the Defence of Nature was published in 1995

In 1768, Sir William Blackstone, an English judge, wrote

If one erects a smelting house for lead so near the land of another, that the vapour and smoke kills his corn and grass, and damages his cattle therein, this is held to be a nuisance. And by consequence it follows, that if one does any other act, in itself lawful, which yet being done in that place necessarily tends to the damage of another’s property, it is a nuisance: for it is incumbent on him to find some other place to do that act, where it will be less offensive.

Soon after Huron Steel Products installed an 800-tonne press at its Windsor, Ontario, stamping plant in 1979, Douglass Kenney complained to both the company and the Ministry of Environment. As president of the corporation that owned an apartment near the plant, he objected to noise and vibrations from the press’s operation, which were driving his tenants away.

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Iain Murray and I have a piece in the Washington Examiner today explaining how green energy policies benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

One thing we can expect in President Obama’s State of the Union speech is for him to echo his declaration from last month, “That’s the very simple choice that’s facing Congress right now. … Are you willing to fight as hard for middle-class families as you do for those who are most fortunate?” Yet when it comes to the environment, the president showers favors on the rich while punishing the poor….

Consider the Obama administration’s subsidies for electric vehicles. To start with, there is the $7,500 credit for the car itself. Add to that the recently expired $1,000 credit for installation of a 220-volt charger. And on top of these, the government has thrown more than $3 billion at the Chevrolet Volt alone — which totals out to $250,000 per vehicle. Not only do these credits go to corporate giants like General Motors, they subsidize cars for the wealthy.

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In this excerpt from Eco-nomics: What everyone should know about the environment, economist Richard Stroup explains why there’s always a cost to environmental regulations. This is because when people are faced with choices, they must always give up something to get something. Many environmentalists ignore this cost as Stroup explains.

Eco-nomics was published in 2003

The Forest Guardians, an advocacy group based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sued the federal government to stop logging on the national forest in New Mexico. The group thought that the forests should be preserved rather than cut down, and it pushed for such policies during the 1990s. In 2000, a fire began around Los Alamos, New Mexico, that eventually wiped out many of the forests that the Guardian wanted to preserve. When the fire was over, Rex Wahl, executive director of the Forest Guardians, reconsidered his position. “Judicious cutting of small trees is what’s needed,” he said.

This example illustrates one of the problems with environmental issues. Things are not always what they seem. The Forest Guardians thought that its goal should be to preserve trees. Yet by ignoring the need to thin the forest and remove dead and dying trees, they allowed the forest to become vulnerable to wildfire, and the ultimate destruction of the forests was much greater.

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In her new book Energy Freedom: The role of energy in your life & how environmentalists control its use, Marita Noon gives a down-to-earth explanation of energy and environmentalism. In this passage, she explains how energy makes our lives comfortable.

Energy Freedom was released in 2012

“Greed is good” was far more than a catch phrase made part of the vernacular through the popular late ‘80s movie Wall Street. As is often the case, art imitates life. “Greed is good” was more than a line from a movie; it was the mantra of the times. However, as Gordon Gecko, the famed character played by Michael Douglas, found out, too much greed was not good. His tactics sent him away for twenty years.

Today, in an age of simplicity and even austerity, “greed is good” sounds horribly outdated. Replacing it would be the slogan, “green is good.” Anything or anyone who can label one’s self as “green” has a perceived marketing advantage. Without fully understanding the implications of “green,” people support the “green” concept as generally being better for the environment. Without a specific universal definition of “green,” products as diverse as political candidates, diapers, and cars proudly sport the moniker. Though like Gordon Gecko learned, it is possible to have too much. Blind adoption of concepts labeled “green” may imprison America for the next twenty years or more. Resources, which America needs to move forward, are being locked up.

The resources I am referring to are energy, specifically oil, gas, coal, and uranium—the essential ingredients that fuel America. But other natural resources are also a part of what supplies our energy. We need copper for wires in transmission lines. Sulfur, lead, lithium, and rare earths are needed for batteries—and these resources, too, are being locked up. While most people think of gasoline and/or electricity when they think of energy, if they think about it at all, there is much more involved.

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