Myron Ebell

Post image for Gore Hijinks: Everyone’s Favorite Crazy Uncle Al Is On the Loose Again

Congress is in the middle of its August recess, so it was up to Al Gore to provide a little light relief in Washington this week.  He didn’t disappoint.  The Washington Post’s soft lefty blogger Ezra Klein asked the former Vice President some easy questions last week, and once again Mr. Gore made it clear why he’s seldom let out of his box without adult supervision. He claimed that “in quite a few countries in the world and some parts of the United States we’ve crossed that threshold” where electricity produced by windmills and solar panels is cheaper than from coal.  (Which is, I guess, why President Obama wants to make wind and solar tax subsidies permanent.)

Mr. Gore sees a number of signs and portents that the global warming debate is shifting in favor of the alarmists’ energy-rationing agenda.  For one thing, “The appearance of more extreme and more frequent weather events has had a very profound impact on public opinion in countries throughout the world.”

That may be true, but Mr. Gore doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to claim: “There has been a 100-fold increase in the number of extreme, high-temperature events around the world in the distribution curve.  And people have noticed for themselves — the rain storms are bigger, the droughts are deeper and the fires are more destructive…. Every night on the news, it’s like a nature hike through the book of revelations. Eleven states today are fighting 35 major fires!”

According to Mr. Gore, the “leading scientists” now agree that “every extreme weather event now has a component of global warming in it.”  Furthermore: “The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.”

Even the Union of Concerned Scientists saw that “adding a 6” to the hurricane scale was making the fantasy a little too specific and thus open to contradiction by a simple fact check.  So UCS’s Gretchen Goldman gently corrected the former Vice President’s little mis-statement, while adding that “the rest of the interview included accurate and important information and it’s unfortunate that this blip made its way in.”

For the record, rather than a “100-fold increase” there has been no upward trend in hurricanes or other extreme weather events. The increased number of catastrophic fires in the West is due almost entirely to criminally negligent federal mismanagement of our National Forests.  See my CEI colleague Marlo Lewis’s recent summary of current climate science to see how very far from reality are Mr. Gore’s claims.

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Greenwire reporter Emily Yehle this week broke the news that then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson intentionally used her private e-mail account to conduct official business, which is contrary to federal transparency and record-keeping laws.  In an e-mail to Alison Richards, a lobbyist for Siemens Corporation, Jackson wrote, “P.S. Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly? Tx, Lisa.”

This e-mail was made public as part of the latest tranche of “Richard Windsor” e-mails released by the EPA in response to federal court order enforcing a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute last year.  Chris Horner, my CEI colleague who filed the FOIA request, commented that the e-mail to the Siemens lobbyist is the smoking gun that proves Jackson was deliberately evading the rules in order to conceal some of her official business from public scrutiny.

In another FOIA lawsuit against the EPA, federal District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled on 14th August that the Landmark Legal Foundation can question top EPA officials about their use of private e-mail accounts to conduct official business.  Lamberth wrote that, “The possibility that unsearched personal email accounts may have been used for official business raises the possibility that leaders in the EPA may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA.”

As Chris Horner told the Washington Times, “FOIA works on an honor system, and those systems only work with people of honor. So you see the problem.”

And in related news, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent a letter to IRS official Lois Lerner asking her to turn over all e-mails from her private account in which official government business was conducted. Lerner is a central figure in the scandal over IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.  The committee’s investigation turned up evidence that Lerner was forwarding official IRS documents to her “Lois Home” account at msn.com.

The public fight that Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, picked with the Environmental Protection Agency last week looks like it will continue into the August recess. On 1st August, the committee voted on a party-line vote to authorize the chairman to subpoena the EPA for the data underlying several major epidemiological studies that are used to justify Clean Air Act regulations. Chairman Smith then executed the subpoena and sent it to new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who in September 2011 as Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation had promised the committee to turn over the data.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), the ranking Democrat on the Science Committee, sent Chairman Smith a letter on 30th July objecting in lengthy detail to the proposed subpoena. In her letter, Rep. Johnson attacked the credibility of Dr. James Enstrom, who was fired by UCLA after 36 years as a research scientist because his results have sometimes been politically incorrect.  In particular, he has questioned the EPA’s claims of hundreds of billions of dollars of health benefits from its Clean Air Act regulations.

Dr. Enstrom responded to Rep. Johnson’s attack in a letter to Chairman Smith in which he demands that Johnson “immediately withdraw her defamatory statements about me. Furthermore, I request that the Ranking Member identify the person(s) who originated these defamatory statements.” Since both the Chairman and the ranking Democrat are from Texas, the story has been picked up by the Texas media. Chairman Smith has also now replied to Rep. Johnson in an 8th August letter.

The House of Representatives on Friday, 2nd August, passed H. R. 367, the REINS Act, which would require House and Senate votes to approve proposed major regulations, by a vote of 232 to 183.  Six Democrats and 225 Republicans voted Yes, while all the No votes came from Democrats.  Eighteen Members did not vote.  The REINS Act isn’t going anywhere in the Senate.

Earlier in the day, the House voted on an amendment offered by Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.) that would require congressional approval before the executive branch could implement a tax on carbon dioxide emissions using regulatory authority.  That amendment was adopted by a vote of 237 to 176. Again, 225 Republicans voted Yes.  They were joined by twelve Democrats.  All 176 No votes came from Democratic Members.  Eighteen Members did not vote.

Rep. Scalise is chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, which has made a vote on a resolution opposing a carbon tax one of its top priorities.  The amendment is somewhat narrower than H. Con. Res. 24, but the vote does put Members on the record on a carbon tax.  The vote reveals that 176 Democratic Members of the House are not opposed to raising taxes.  That vote could play a role in some districts in the 2014 congressional elections.  A number of House Democrats lost their seats in 2010 because they had voted for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill.

The twelve Democrats who voted for the anti-carbon tax amendment are: Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, John Barrow and Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Henry Cuellar and Filemon Vela of Texas, William Enyart of Illinois, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia.

Whether the executive branch has authority to implement a carbon tax under the regulatory authority of the Clean Air Act or any other statute is highly dubious.  However, several environmental pressure groups have been pushing the idea, and the Obama Administration has proved that it has little regard for the law.

On 1st August, the House also passed the Energy Consumers Relief Act by a vote of 232 to 181.  Again, no Republicans voted against the bill.  Nine Democrats voted for it.  H. R. 1582 tries to set some limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to promulgate expensive new regulations.  Again, the bill is not going anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Post image for Department of Energy Claims Climate Change Threatens Energy Sector

The Department of Energy last week released a report on U. S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather. John Broder in the New York Times summarizes its findings:

“The blackouts and other energy disruptions of Hurricane Sandy were just a foretaste, the report says. Every corner of the country’s energy infrastructure — oil wells, hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants — will be stressed in coming years by more intense storms, rising seas, higher temperatures and more frequent droughts.”

Broder goes on to quote Jonathan Pershing, deputy assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology, who was in charge of producing the report: “We don’t have a robust energy system, and the costs are significant.  The cost today is measured in the billions.  Over the coming decades, it will be in the trillions.  You can’t just put your head in the sand anymore.”

Neither the Department of Energy’s report nor any of the news stories I’ve read consider the major reason why the energy sector is becoming less robust and resilient.  It’s largely because of all the regulations and mandates that require the energy sector to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in technologies that provide very little energy, which means that there is little capital available to invest in improving and enlarging the energy infrastructure.

In particular, the margin that provides electric reliability in times of stress to the system has been declining because electric utilities have been building lots of windmills and solar panels that provide small amounts of unreliable and expensive electricity while preparing to close conventional coal-fired power plants that produce large amounts of reliable and inexpensive electricity in order to comply with EPA regulations. It’s not climate change, but climate change policies that are harming the energy sector.

The lead article in the summer issue of Regulation magazine, the Cato Institute’s flagship publication, is titled “What is the right price for carbon emissions?”  The author is Bob Litterman, a Ph. D. economist who is currently a partner in a NYC-based hedge fund.

Here is Litterman’s conclusion: “It would be best to get started immediately by pricing carbon emissions no lower, and perhaps well above, a reasonable estimate of the present value of expected future damages, and allow the price to respond appropriately to new information as it becomes known.”

Litterman’s article is followed by four comments by Robert Pindyck, Daniel Sutter, Shi-Ling Hsu, and David R. Henderson.  Pindyck and Hsu are for a carbon tax; Sutter and Henderson are opposed.

These articles were described by someone at Cato as “exploring the case for a carbon tax from a free market perspective.”  But I don’t see anything resembling a free market case for a carbon tax being made in Litterman’s article or in the pro-carbon tax comments of Pindyck and Hsu.

Nor can I find anything in Litterman’s background or in the references in his article to suggest that he is a free market economist.  He was at Goldman Sachs in high positions for twenty-some years and is a member of the board of the World Wildlife Fund.  Goldman Sachs is one of the leading practitioners of crony capitalism.  The World Wildlife Fund supports a variety of command-and-control environmental and energy-rationing policies that help keep poor people poor around the world.

It appears that some people at Cato are warming to the idea of rule by experts.  Manipulating the tax code in order to remake society and force people to conform to some authoritarian agenda is really just another variant of central planning.  Rule by experts was criticized insightfully in a 1945 essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” by Friedrich A. Hayek, the Austrian economist for whom the Cato Institute’s auditorium is named.  Hayek argued that rule by experts threatens human freedom.  In my own view, the proper “free market perspective” on a carbon tax is: No way in hell.

Post image for Are House Republicans Going Green?

National Journal published an article in their 18th May issue titled, “The GOP Energy Tent Is Slowly Getting Bigger.”  Reporter Coral Davenport, who is a reliable promoter of environmentalist views, writes a puff piece on House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) efforts to add a green tinge to the House Republicans’ wardrobe.

In the last Congress, McCarthy, who is number three in the Republican leadership, started the House Energy Action Team (HEAT) in order to develop messaging points for the 2012 election.  Now, he is trying to broaden HEAT’s messaging to include support for subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.  That is no surprise: McCarthy is not a movement conservative, but he does have the country’s largest concentration of wind farms in his Bakersfield-area district.  McCarthy has received many major campaign contributions from the wind industry.

Davenport’s story includes a long quote praising McCarthy’s green turn: “‘I think it’s smart,’ Republican strategist John Feehery said of McCarthy’s new tactics. Republicans’ aggressive campaigning against Obama’s clean-energy agenda was ‘an overreaction,’ Feehery said. ‘It made us seem like enemies of the environment. The idea that government has absolutely no role, that the climate is absolutely not changing—it’s not smart,’ he said. ‘It’s also not smart if you’re talking about all the farmers in red states that make money off windmills. A lot of the base is there.’  Davenport does not mention that Feehery is a top lobbyist at Quinn Gillespie, who represents clients in the renewable energy industry and started a front group to lobby for the wind production tax credit and other subsidies called the Red State Renewables Alliance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that confirmation votes on several of President Obama’s nominees for top positions, including Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator, would be delayed until July.  Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters that he wasn’t sure that McCarthy and Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez had the sixty votes necessary to invoke cloture and proceed to a final vote.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Senator Durbin also speculated that, “Unless we start seeing a more co-operative atmosphere around here … there’s going to continue to be speculation about changing the rules.”  This refers to the so-called “nuclear option”—changing Senate rules so that confirmation votes cannot be blocked by a 41-vote minority.

Heritage Action for America has joined eleven other non-profit groups officially opposed to McCarthy’s confirmation.

Post image for Boxer and Whitehouse Blame Republicans for Oklahoma Tornado

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) were quick to use the giant tornado that obliterated Moore, Oklahoma to chastise Republican members of Congress for failing to get on board the global warming bandwagon.  Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) noted that he has seen a lot of tornadoes during his lifetime in Oklahoma and called the attempt to make tawdry political points out of the Moore tragedy “outrageous” and “immoral.”

For the record, the Digest noted two weeks ago that tornado activity in the past twelve months had been the lowest in 60 years.  If the tornado that hit Moore can be attributed to global warming, then so too must the low level of activity across the U. S. in the past year.  Anthony Watts compiles the facts here, while James Delingpole tees off on Boxer in his Telegraph blog.

Post image for CBO Kinda Likes Carbon Tax

The Congressional Budget Office this week released a study on the “Effects of a Carbon Tax on the Economy and the Environment.”  CBO admits that a carbon tax would raise the costs of producing goods and services and raise consumer prices.  On the other hand, some of the negative effects could be offset by using the revenues generated to lower the federal deficit and to lower marginal rates of other damaging taxes, such as corporate and individual income taxes.

In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the best the CBO can come up with is this: “Given the inherent uncertainty of predicting the effects of climate change, and the possibility that it could trigger catastrophic effects, lawmakers might view a carbon tax as a reflection of society’s willingness to pay to reduce the risk of potentially very expensive damage in the future.”

Professor Robert Murphy commented on the CBO study for the Institute for Energy Research here, and Dr. David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation posted his comment here.

Another contribution to the carbon tax debate from earlier in the month has just come to my attention.  On 2nd May, fifty-four trade groups sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee explaining why they are opposed to a carbon tax.  Attached to their letter is a study produced by NERA Consulting earlier this year for the National Association of Manufacturers that details the negative economic effects of a carbon tax.