Marlo Lewis

Post image for Tom Steyer’s Windfall Profits Tax: Recyling Junk Policy

“Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer said Friday that he’s considering putting an oil-extraction tax on next year’s California ballot, increasing pressure on refiners amid a surge in gasoline prices and possibly raising the stakes on his climate change crusade,” reports The Sacramento Bee. The article continues:

Steyer, standing in front of a chart illustrating the recent price rise at the gas pump, said he may link a tax proposal with the requirement that oil companies disclose more information about their supplies and prices. . . . “There’s a huge human justice issue here about whether hardworking Californians are paying way too much for gasoline and the companies are being able to manipulate it . . . and triple their profits,” Steyer told reporters at the California Democratic Party convention in Anaheim, where he plans to meet with delegates and other officials to gather input. . . . California is one of 22 oil-producing states that don’t charge an oil-extraction tax. A 10 percent excise tax would raise about $2 billion annually.

Although conspiracy theories are typically worth less than squat, I must nonetheless comment briefly on the recent rise in gas prices, because Steyer has what it takes to get Democratic pols singing from the same sheet of music.

Nationally, the price of regular gasoline has rebounded from $2.06/gal. in January to $2.72/gal. today. Before concluding that dark forces must be at work, consider a few points:

  • Gas is still a dollar cheaper than it was in May 2014.
  • Gas prices tend to rise every year after January as refineries switch over from winter to summer gas, which is more costly to produce, and as demand increases with the onset of summer driving season.
  • “[R]obust U.S. gasoline consumption and exports, and increased demand for gasoline in Europe and Asia” are factors pushing up current prices, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  • The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t said a peep lately about unlawful market manipulation.

But here’s the thesis I would submit for your consideration. Steyer is a false foe of high gas prices. His proposed excise tax would squeeze the “hardworking Californians” about whom he professes to care.

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Post image for Ethanol Industry Ad Campaign: Fuels America or Fools America?


As the June 1 deadline approaches for EPA to propose Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates for 2014, 2015, and 2016, biofuel lobbyists are cranking up their political and PR efforts to sway EPA’s decision. In a television and digital ad campaign launched this week, Fuels America, a coalition of biofuel interests, accuses the “oil industry” of “refusing to fulfill its obligations” under the RFS.

Fuels America also claims EPA must choose either to support “rural economies,” “permanent jobs,” and “the world’s cleanest motor fuels,” or to “reward” the oil industry, which supposedly means “more imported oil from hostile foreign regions, more pollution and spills,” “fewer American jobs,” “protecting the oil monopoly on our fuel supply,” and “even higher gas prices.”

Fools America is a much better description of what these regulatory profiteers are trying to pull off. The RFS does not benefit “rural economies,” it benefits corn farmers at the expense of beef, poultry, and hog farmers. The RFS creates “permanent” jobs only in the sense that it creates special privileges in the form of government-guaranteed market shares for biofuel companies and the corn farmers who supply them. A “monopoly” is a market with a single supplier; a commodity such as a fuel type cannot be a monopoly. Gas prices and oil imports from hostile regions are at their lowest levels in a decade, thanks chiefly to the fracking revolution and U.S. oil companies, not RFS blending requirements.

As for the RFS producing the world’s “cleanest” fuels, the program has significant environmental downsides. It expands aquatic dead zones, accelerates wetlands conversion and habitat loss, may increase smog-forming VOC emissions, and likely increases net greenhouse gas emissions. The RFS program also inflates food and fuel costs and exacerbates world hungercontributing to political instability and violence in developing countries.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the controversy over the 2014-2016 ethanol mandates and Fools America’s campaign to influence EPA’s rulemaking.

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Post image for Is Ethanol a Green Fuel?


It’s common knowledge that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a textbook study in the law of unintended consequences. The program inflates food and fuel costs, exacerbates world hunger, contributes to political instability and violence in developing countries, expands aquatic dead zones, accelerates wetlands conversion and habitat loss, likely increases net greenhouse gas emissions, and ushers in a reign of regulatory uncertainty rather than the predictable marketplace its creators intended.

And this just in: NOAA and NASA scientists find that ethanol manufacturing releases five to 30 times more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than estimated in EPA’s 2011 National Emissions Inventory. VOCs are pollutants that form ozone-smog when they react with nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight.

From a news article by Amanda Peterka in today’s E&E PM ($):

Ethanol refineries may emit more air pollution than commonly thought, according to a new study led by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The NOAA team, which also included scientists from NASA and academic institutions, measured the air downwind from an ethanol plant in Illinois and found emissions of total volatile organic compounds (VOC) to be five times higher than 2011 federal data.

Emissions of ethanol in the air — considered a type of VOC — were up to 30 times higher than previously thought downwind from the plant, the team said. . . .

The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. NOAA and U.S. EPA provided funding for the measurements taken by the team.

Using a small NOAA airplane outfitted with special instruments, the team measured air quality at 9, 12 and 30 kilometers downwind from the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., in June and July 2013. . . .

According to the results, measured emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides compared well with the EPA data. But they found that the National Emissions Inventory underestimated emissions of volatile organic compounds — gases that are a main ingredient in ground-level ozone — generated by the refining process by factors of five to 30.


Post image for Independent Satellite Records Agree: Little to No Global Warming over Past 18 Years


Roy Spencer, John Christy, and William Braswell of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Earth System Science Center recently released Version 6 (V.6) of their global satellite temperature dataset. The scientists describe the upgrade, which took three years to complete, as “by far the most extensive revision of the procedures and computer code we have ever produced in over 25 years of global temperature monitoring.”

Compared to the previous UAH dataset (V5.6), the most important change is a reduction in the global average lower-troposphere temperature trend from +0.140°C/decade to +0.114°C/decade over the past 36 years (Dec. ’78 through Mar. ’15).

Christy V6-vs-v5_6-LT-1979-Mar2015









Figure explanation: Monthly global-average temperature anomalies for the lower troposphere from Jan. 1979 through March, 2015 for both the old and new versions of LT (top), and their difference (bottom).

The revision is noteworthy in several respects. First, as the scientists point out, the UAH dataset more closely matches the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) dataset, a separate satellite monitoring program, which shows no net warming since Dec. 1996. In the RSS record, the length of the warming pause is now 18 years five months.

Monckton No Warming 18 years five months






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Post image for Clean Power Plan Litigation: Thoughts on Ripeness and Standing


In Murray Energy Corporation v. EPA, petitioners seek an “extraordinary writ” from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to prohibit further action on EPA’s “ultra vires” (unlawful) Clean Power Plan (CPP) rulemaking. They also seek judicial review of EPA’s legal opinion that §111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) authorizes such regulation.

Previous posts discuss the merits of the case. To recap very briefly, petitioners contend the CPP is plainly unlawful under §111(d), the very provision supposedly authorizing it. CAA §111(d) prohibits EPA from requiring States to adopt performance standards for existing facilities in source categories already regulated under §112. Power plants have been so regulated since December 2011, when EPA finalized its Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule. According EPA and its allies, the so-called 112 exclusion is “ambiguous,” EPA’s proposed resolution of the ambiguity is a “reasonable construction” of the statute, and under said construction the CPP is lawful.

The Court heard oral argument on April 16. Most commentary I’ve seen does not expect the Court to rule on the merits but rather to dismiss the petition on “ripeness” and “standing” grounds. Here’s why. The CPP is still a proposed rule. Typically, courts allow the notice-and-comment rulemaking process to play out, limiting review to final agency actions. In addition, demonstrating a “concrete and particularized” injury from an agency action is hard when the final form of the action is undecided and (presumably) still unknown.

On ripeness, Judges Griffith and Kavanaugh asked whether EPA Administrator McCarthy’s cheerleading for the CPP indicates the public comment process won’t change anything and is therefore a “sham.” On standing, Judge Kavanaugh asked whether actions some States are already taking to comply with the CPP help petitioners demonstrate injury, even though States and industry often engage in preparatory action before rules are finalized.

Those questions don’t get to the heart of the matter. The case is ripe because EPA’s basic position on the 112 exclusion is for all practical purposes a final agency action. EPA must conclude that §111(d) does not prohibit performance standards for existing facilities regulated under §112 or else the whole rule collapses.

In theory, of course, EPA could pull an Emily Litella, conclude petitioners are correct about the 112 exclusion, and toss the CPP into the rubbish bin. But if EPA did that, the “centerpiece” of President Obama’s entire climate policy agenda would disappear. So would the core of Obama’s emission-reduction pledge — the administration’s Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) — in the COP 21 negotiations for a new international climate agreement. For Obama, the CPP and a new climate pact are legacy policies on a par with Obamacare. Moreover, were EPA to pull the plug on the CPP and, thus, wreck COP 21, the President’s environmentalist base would go berserk.

In short, there is no turning back. EPA is not going to change its legal position on the 112 exclusion (though it might of course modify its rationale for that position). [click to continue…]

Post image for Forgotten Document Sheds New Light on Legality of EPA Climate Rules


A little known document sheds new light on the now 17-year-long controversy over EPA’s Clean Air Act authority with respect to greenhouse gases. The document is a letter of January 26, 1990 from EPA Administrator William Reilly to U.S. Senators. Reilly sets forth the Bush I administration’s reasons for removing greenhouse gas (GHG) regulatory provisions from S. 1630, the Senate version of the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1990. Judging by the fact that the Senate later agreed to drop those provisions from the 1990 CAA as enacted, Reilly’s letter would appear to be a key piece of evidence for assessing legislative intent.

Would consideration of the document have altered the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007)? We will never know. What’s hard to fathom is why no party to the case cited the letter. Maybe it was already lost in the mists of time.

Reilly apprises Senators that the Bush I administration “strongly opposes” S. 1630’s “requirement for reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from auto tailpipes” — the same basic policy petitioners in Massachusetts would later sue EPA to adopt. Noting that the S. 1630 CO2 emission standards translate into motor vehicle mileage standards, Reilly highlights three reasons for striking the provision, two of which are germane to issues debated in Massachusetts:

First, it is premature to mandate specific controls to address global warming. International studies are underway. International negotiations on a framework convention on global climate change are scheduled for this year and should be completed prior to unilateral U.S. action. 

Second, fuel-economy requirements raise important non-environmental questions that need to be carefully considered, such as feasibility, cost and competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry with foreign manufacturers.

In addition, Reilly contends, the CO2 standards and provisions to regulate ozone-depleting substances based on global warming potential do not “appear to be a particularly effective approach to such a geographically vast problem.”

In Massachusetts, States and environmental groups challenged Bush II EPA’s rejection of a petition to establish motor vehicle emission standards for CO2 and other GHGs. EPA air chief Jeff Holmstead based the agency’s decision on both statutory and policy grounds (68 FR 52922-52933). The Court dismissed the latter arguments as “policy concerns,”  “policy judgments,” and “reasoning divorced from the statutory text.” However, some of Holmstead’s policy reasons for not regulating GHGs under the CAA reprise Reilly’s reasons for keeping GHG regulatory provisions out of the CAA. Specifically, according to Holmstead:

  • Double regulation of fuel economy under both the Energy Policy Conservation Act and CAA could adversely affect U.S. auto industry competitiveness.
  • Scientific uncertainties and lack of cost-effective technologies make GHG emission standards “inappropriate at this time.”
  • Setting GHG motor vehicle standards would “result in an inefficient, piecemeal approach to addressing the climate change issue.”

Far from being “divorced” from the statutory text, similar policy concerns shaped the text of the statute that the 101st Congress passed and President G.H.W. Bush signed.

Why is this old news important? The extent of EPA’s powers with respect to GHGs is the central issue in the controversy over EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Although the CPP would be unlawful on numerous grounds even if Massachusetts spoke the gospel truth, courts with a healthy skepticism about that decision are more likely to review the CPP without fear or favor.

Previous commentary on this blog and elsewhere (hereherehere, and here) examines the Massachusetts Court’s reasoning. The remainder of today’s post summarizes that commentary. [click to continue…]

Post image for Clean Power Plan: Revisiting EPA’s Bogus Climate Benefit Estimates

EPA claims the climate benefits of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) could exceed compliance costs by 4 to 1 or more. Specifically, EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) projects incremental compliance costs of $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030 (RIA ES-7) and a mid-range climate benefit estimate of $31 billion in the same year (RIA ES-23).

In a previous post, I raised the simple question of how the CPP could possibly deliver multi-billion dollar climate benefits in 2030 when, according to the agency’s own climate model, the CPP would avert less than 0.02ºC of warming by 2100. Such a vanishingly small temperature change would make no practical difference to farmers, coastal communities, or polar bears in 2100. The climate benefits in 2030 would be even more miniscule.

In testimony before the House Oversight Committee, economist Anne Smith of NERA Economic Consulting demolishes the RIA’s climate and air quality benefit estimates. The hearing took place almost two months ago but I somehow missed Smith’s testimony until yesterday. Here’s the main takeaway:

When correctly presented, USEPA’s estimates indicate the present value of CPP [compliance] spending through 2030 will exceed $180 billion while climate benefits are not expected to exceed that cost until about 100 to 125 years after the spending has been sunk.

Indeed, Smith’s unpacking of EPA’s numbers reveals that for the United States, CPP costs will exceed climate benefits all the way out to the year 2300. [click to continue…]

Post image for Would EPA’s Defeat in Clean Power Plan Case “Overthrow” the “Structure” of the Clean Air Act?

Would a victory for the State and industry petitioners who are challenging EPA’s Clean Power Plan “overthrow” the “structure” of the Clean Air Act and punch a “gaping hole” in public protections from dangerous air pollution?

That’s what EPA and environmental intervenors contend in Murray Energy v. EPA, a case on which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument (audio files 14-1146 & 14-1112) last Thursday. They are peddling nonsense, as will be shown presently.

Moreover, if EPA and its allies were serious about either safeguarding statutory structure or ‘saving the Planet,’ the centerpiece of their agenda would be a proposal to establish national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for greenhouse gases, not, as in the Clean Power Plan, carbon dioxide (CO2) performance standards for existing power plants. At EPA, politics trumps both law and climate “action.” [click to continue…]

Post image for House Science Panel Examines Obama UN Climate Pledge

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today held a hearing on The President’s UN Climate Pledge–Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans? In diplomatic lingo, the hearing focused on the administration’s “Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution” (INDC) for the December 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris. The administration is pledging to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Four experts testified:

  • Dr. Judith Curry, Professor Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Hon. Karen Harbert, President and CEO, Institute for 21st Century Energy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Mr. Jake Schmidt, Director International Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Dr. Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council on Capital Formation

All the testimonies have summaries, so there’s no need here for an overview. Certain facts and insights presented by the majority witnesses, though, are noteworthy.

Opponents often point out that EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the administration’s climate policies, is all pain for no gain, imposing multi-billion dollar costs while hypothetically averting less than 0.02°C of global warming and 0.1 inch of sea-level rise by 2100. Curry notes that all the emission reductions in the administration’s INDC would avert only 0.03ºC of warming by 2100, according to EPA’s MAGICC model. And “If climate models are indeed running too hot, then the amount of warming prevented would be even smaller.”

The stock rejoinder is that if America leads other nations will follow, and a truly global climate treaty will produce substantial warming mitigation. Curry counters that even if the treaty achieves the UN IPCC’s most aggressive emission-reduction scenario, called RCP2.6, and even assuming the accuracy of IPCC models that increasingly overshoot observed warming, “the impact on the climate would not be noticeable until the 2nd half of the 21st century.” Thus, “It is not clear exactly what the INDC commitments are expected to accomplish.” In the graph below, RCP8.5 is the ‘business-as-usual’ emissions scenario. The model-estimated range of warming projections in RCP8.5 significantly overlaps the range of warming projections in RCP2.6 from 2010 through 2050.

IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways




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Post image for Tree Hugger Alert: Carbon Pollution (Global Greening) Strikes Again!



Wish I had posted this on April 1st, but the good news just popped into my in-box last night.

Over at CO2Science.Org, Craig Idso reviews two extensive studies of the impacts of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations on trees in the Northern Hemisphere.

First, Idso reviews Soulé and Knapp (2015), a study of the growth and water-use efficiency of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees in the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Rockies region since 1850.

The two researchers “collected tree-ring data from 14 different locations, from which information they were able to determine yearly changes (from AD 1850 to the present) in basal area increment (BAI) and intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE), the latter of which parameters they derived from yearly stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) of the trees’ annual layers of new-wood production.” Note: BAI means the area of a tree-trunk cross section at ground level.

What did Soulé and Knapp find? Both species experienced “exponentially increasing iWUE rates during AD 1850-present, suggesting either increased net photosynthesis or decreased stomatal conductance [i.e. decreased moisture loss via the stomatal pores of needles and leaves], or both.” In addition, “both species experienced above-average BAI in the latter half of the 20th century despite no favorable changes in climate.” The increase in BAI was observed “at all sites, suggesting a pan-regional effect.” Idso helpfully provides a chart illustrating the gains in water-use efficiency and growth.









Ah, but surely in Europe, where enlightened statesman demand draconian cuts in CO2 to save the biosphere, things are different. Nope.

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