Marlo Lewis

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 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.”

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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…]

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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Post image for Some Free Market Talking Points on the Keystone XL Pipeline Amendments

On Monday, the Senate voted 63-32 to end a Democratic filibuster of S.1, The Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Today, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to negotiate a deal with Democratic leaders on a rule for offering amendments to the bill.

According to Greenwire ($), The Hill, The New York Times, and Politico, Democrats are expected to offer amendments to ban exports of petroleum products made from Keystone crude (Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts), mandate the use of American materials during construction (Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon), require oil sands producers to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington), require the creation of an equal or greater number of “clean energy” jobs for every job created by the pipeline (Sen. Charles Schumer of New York), and require Senators to declare whether they agree with 97% of climate scientists that man-made global warming is real and dangerous (Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vt.).

KXL proponents should welcome debate on those amendments and look forward to offer some of their own. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would offer an amendment to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

The amendment to ban Keystone-enabled petroleum product exports would violate U.S. treaty obligations under both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since the ban would not apply to petroleum imported from OPEC countries, the policy would, in effect, deny most favored nation status to Canada while retaining it for Saudi Arabia. And if preventing American products from competing in the global marketplace is a good way to lower prices and benefit consumers, why don’t we do it for all goods made in the U.S. of A? For more on this topic, see my Six Reasons Not to Ban Energy Exports. Sen. Markey, go put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner.

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Post image for Hurricanes: Worse than We Thought?

Is the impact of global warming on hurricanes “worse than we thought”? Look at the data and judge for yourself.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses a metric called accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) to measure the strength of individual tropical cyclones and entire tropical cyclone seasons. As explained by NOAA:

The ACE index is a wind energy index, defined as the sum of the squares of the maximum sustained surface wind speed (knots) measured every six hours for all named storms while they are at least tropical storm strength.

Dr. Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Models reports that, “In the pentad since 2006, Northern Hemisphere and global tropical cyclone ACE has decreased dramatically to the lowest levels since the late 1970s.” He also reports that “the frequency of tropical cyclones has reached a historical low.”

This chart shows global and northern hemisphere ACE during 1970-2014. What we see is “strikingly large” inter-annual and decadal variability but no long-term trend.

Hurricanes ACE 1970 - 2014 Ryan Maue Dec. 31, 2014

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Post image for Oil’s ‘Swoon’ Is Not an Argument for Carbon Taxes

It was inevitable. As soon as consumers and the economy start to enjoy significant relief from a decade of pain at the pump, the political class clamors for higher gas taxes and new carbon taxes.

The recent reduction in energy costs is remarkable. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports a 43% decline in the energy component of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index during 2014. According to EIA, the drop in fuel prices was not due to “strong underlying trends in global economic growth” but rather to “supply-side factors unique” to energy-related commodities.

Energy Price Declines Jan 2 to Dec 31 2014, EIA






Fuel prices are down because the revolution in unconventional hydrocarbon production increased crude oil and natural gas supplies, and Saudi Arabia has failed to persuade other OPEC members and Russia to behave like a cartel and cut output. Crude oil spot prices recently dipped below $54 per barrel.

As a result, regular gasoline is now selling for about $2.20 a gallon – roughly one-third less than in Jan. 2014.

Gas Prices January 5, 2015




Credible estimates of the direct and indirect consumer benefits vary, but they’re all substantial.

 AAA: Americans saved $14 billion on gasoline in 2014 compared to 2013, with many drivers saving $15-$30 every time they fill up, compared to a year ago. As of Dec. 31, 2014 gas prices declined a record-breaking 97 days in a row, with further decreases predicted “as retail prices catch up with the steep declines in the cost of crude oil.”

Bloomberg: “Plunging fuel prices will free up as much as $60 billion over the next year that the consumer can spend on a fall jacket, a movie ticket or just more groceries.” That was in October, when gas prices were still north of $3.00/gal.

WSJ: Falling gas prices will give consumers the equivalent of a $75 billion tax cut. The tax cut is progressive because low-income households pay a larger share of earnings on energy. “Households earning less than $50,000 annually spent around 21% of their after-tax income on energy in 2012, up from 12% in 2001, according to analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.”

NPR: If current gas prices continue, the typical household will have an extra $1,500 to save or spend in 2015. Already, “The average American is seeing a much bigger boost from falling gas prices than from pay raises. Cheap energy could finally put the U.S. economic recovery over the top.”

So naturally, ‘progressives’ now claim that, more than ever, a carbon tax is an idea whose time has come. Harvard economist Lawrence Summers, for example, argues in the Washington Post that “Oil’s swoon creates the opening for a carbon tax.” Does it? More importantly, should it?  [click to continue…]

Post image for Obama’s Greenhouse of Cards: Reflections for the New Year on Carbon Capture, the Clean Power Plan, and the COP 21 Climate Negotiations

The integrated carbon capture and storage (ICCS) project at the Boundary Dam Power Station has scooped up its first major award, even though it has been fully operational for less than three months.Estavan Lifestyles, Dec. 17, 2014

The economics only work at Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan for two reasons: a C$240 million government subsidy and a ready nearby customer for the carbon in Calgary-based Cenovus. . . .The CO2 is transported 66 kilometers (41 miles) to Cenovus Energy Inc. (CVE)’s oil fields where it is buried underground to coax additional crude from the reservoirs.Bloomberg News, Dec. 4, 2014

The news items above point to one of the Clean Power Plan’s (CPP) fatal legal flaws.

The CPP requires states to adopt CO2 performance standards for existing fossil fuel power plants. As such, the CPP is unlawful if its legal prerequisite — EPA’s proposed CO2 performance standards for new power plants, the so-called Carbon Pollution Standards (CPS) rule — is unlawful.

The CPS rule proposes a performance standard of 1,100 lbs. CO2/MWh for new coal power plants. Coal power plants can meet the standard only by installing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Under §111(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), performance standards are to reflect the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) that has been “adequately demonstrated,” taking “cost” into account. EPA claims CCS is the adequately demonstrated BSER for new coal power plants. Applesauce!

CAA §111(a) requires that performance standards be “achievable.” The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals interprets the term to mean achievable for the industry as a whole (National Lime Association v. EPA, 627 F. 2d 416 at 443). However, as Bloomberg points out, the Boundary Dam Power Station is the world’s only utility-scale CCS power plant in commercial operation, and the “economics only work” because of two favorable circumstances atypical for the industry as a whole: a generous subsidy and proximity to an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operation.

With the federal deficit still near half-a-trillion dollars, Congress is not about to pony up lavish subsidies for CCS power plants, especially when natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants easily meet a more stringent CO2 emission performance standard (79 FR 1486) at much less cost (EIA, Table 1, p. 6). EPA identifies only 12 states with significant EOR operations (79 FR 1474). Coal power plants not located near oil fields would not have a market for their captured CO2. Thus, on two separate counts, the proposed standard is not achievable.

CCS combined with EOR is not BSER for an even more fundamental reason, first noted by my colleague William Yeatman. On a lifecycle basis, CCS + EOR produces more CO2 emissions than a conventional coal power plant. Without EOR, CCS is too costly to qualify as “adequately demonstrated.” But with EOR, CCS cannot be a “best” system of emission reduction because it increases rather than reduces emissions.

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Post image for Will Global Warming Reduce Wheat Production?

Asseng et al. (2014), a study published this week in Nature Climate Change, concludes that global warming “is already slowing yield gains at a majority of wheat-growing locations,” and estimates that worldwide wheat production will “fall by 6% for each °C of further temperature increase.” The study’s basic physical argument is that higher temperatures accelerate plant maturation, allowing fewer days for biomass accumulation and, thus, reducing yields.

The researchers acknowledge that “improvements in technology and management have led to increasing yields around the world.” Nonetheless, they contend, “wheat model simulations over the main global wheat-producing regions can isolate the climate signal by holding inputs and management constant with the exception of climate information.” Their model ensemble indicates that “Simulated yields declined between 1981 and 2010 (Fig. 2a) at 20 of the 30 representative global locations . . . owing to positive temperature trends over the same period.”

Wheat Simulated Global Yield Change 1981-2010

If I get their meaning, Asseng et al. claim that although global yields increased during 1981-2010, yields at those 20 locations would have been larger absent global warming. They also appear to be saying that absolute yield declines would have occurred at all 30 locations under a +2ºC warming scenario with even steeper declines under a +4ºC warming scenario.

A few observations spring to mind. First, the paper does not discuss Asseng et al.’s method for isolating the climate signal from other factors affecting yields. Climate economist Richard Tol cautions that the “signal” of recent climate change is “faint” and “drowned out by all the other things that have changed.” He elaborates:

If one tries to study the impacts of climate change on crops, for example, one must factor in the impact of new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and a host of other confounding variables such as air pollution and atmospheric deposition of nutrients. If one is interested in commercial agriculture, one needs to consider subsidies and international trade.

Second, there has not been much surface warming of the planet in 18 years, so it may be many decades before global average surface temperatures increase by 2ºC or more. The more gradual the rise in global temperatures, the greater the likelihood that management and technology will improve enough to prevent yield loss.

Third, management and technology have, in fact, boosted yields significantly during the current warm period. The world warmed 0.12ºC per decade during 1951-2012, according to the IPCC (AR5 Summary for Policymakers, p. 5), which implies an overall warming of about 0.72ºC. USDA’s Wheat Data Yearbook contains a chart showing, among other data, crop yield (tons per hectare) and total production (millions metric tons) over the 54-year period from 1960 to 2014.

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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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