Myron Ebell

Post image for COP-19 Starts in Warsaw on November 11

The nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, 11th November.  After the failure to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009, the 195 parties to the UNFCCC at COP-18 in Doha, Qatar last year extended Kyoto while a new treaty is negotiated.  COP-19 is supposed to be the beginning of those negotiations.  A complete draft is due to be released at COP-20 in Lima, Peru in 2014, and the final version is due to be signed at COP-21 in Paris in December 2015.  The UNFCCC aims to have the “Paris Protocol” ratified and in effect by 2020.

That’s the schedule that has been agreed upon, but so far there is little sign that much progress will be made in Warsaw over the next two weeks.  One obstacle to making substantive progress is an ongoing dispute over procedural issues.  The UNFCCC makes decisions by consensus of the 195 member countries, but Russia objected last year at COP-18 in Doha that the chairman had ruled that a consensus had been reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol even though Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus strongly objected.  At the annual meetings of the subsidiary bodies in Bonn last summer, Russia successfully blocked proceeding with the agenda until the issue of decision making was considered.

Now, Russia has sent a letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat asking that defining consensus be placed on the agenda for Warsaw. On the other side, Mexico and Papua New Guinea in 2011 proposed that when a consensus cannot be achieved, decisions can be agreed by a majority of at least three-quarters.  India and China strongly objected to that proposal.

Assuming that these procedural squabbles don’t take up the whole two weeks, three of the main issues that could be considered are flexibility, inclusivity, and payoffs.  The Kyoto Protocol is a set of mandatory emissions reductions targets and timetables that were initially applied to 37 developed countries.  The United States never ratified Kyoto, and Canada withdrew last year.  United States senior climate negotiator Todd Stern in a speech in London last month said that the successor to Kyoto must be much more flexible. This flexibility could go so far as to allow each country to devise its own plan to lower emissions.  The European Union, on the other hand, supports continuing with legally binding targets.

Inclusivity is a key issue because of the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions in China and India.  China is now the world’s largest emitter by a wide margin over the United States, and India’s emissions have also increased fairly rapidly.  Thus, most developed countries naturally think that China (and India and Brazil) should undertake economically-damaging emissions reductions just as they have.  India, in particular, strongly disagrees.  India argues that the West caused the problem and so must solve the problem.  India recognizes that their continuing economic progress depends on inexpensive fossil-fuel energy.

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The comically-named Center for American Progress celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding on 24th October with a daylong policy conference.  The glittering list of heavyweight speakers testifies to CAP’s influence within the political left and on the Obama Administration.  Not much attention was paid to the Democrats’ greatest achievement during the Obama years—enactment of the Affordable Care Act.  On the other hand, climate policies and the Keystone Pipeline got lots of attention.

The intellectual quality of what was said ranged from embarrassing to disgraceful.  I listened to it, so you don’t have to, but if you do want to listen, C-Span archived video of the entire conference here.

Former EPA Administrator and White House climate czar Carol Browner, former White House green jobs czar Van Jones, and billionaire anti-Keystone campaigner Thomas Steyer spoke on a climate panel moderated by CAP founder John Podesta.  Asked to grade the Obama Administration’s climate policies, Browner said that compared to the House of Representatives Obama gets an A-plus.  She said that the EPA was created by President Nixon because the States weren’t up to the job.

Browner was emphatic that some States are not regulating hydraulic fracturing adequately and that the EPA must take over.  She also predicted that President Obama would eventually decide to deny the permit to build the Keystone Pipeline.

Browner compared the Clinton Administration unfavorably with the Obama Administration on climate policy.  She said that when she was EPA Administrator in the Clinton Administration, if she wanted to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, she had to go to the White House and argue for it.  But Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy, Obama’s EPA chiefs, only have to argue about the level of regulation.

Steyer’s remarks were low-key and brief.  He said that we must stop the Keystone Pipeline and must demand that polluters pay for the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels.

Jones was by far the most engaging and provocative.  He began by saying that progressives suffer from low self esteem.  President Obama put $90 billion of stimulus funding into green energy; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 3.1 million green jobs; there are now 100,000 jobs in the wind industry compared to 80,000 coal miners; and yet progressives talk about Solyndra.  He didn’t compare the per capita energy output of wind and coal employees.

Jones went on to say that a majority of the “white community” voted for Mitt Romney for president even in California.  Thus: “So left to the white community by itself, we would have a horrible set of environmental policies in place.  We would be burning and drilling everywhere.”

Jones claimed that the U. S. military is “freaked out” by the national security risks of climate change, which is why they include it in all their planning and are investing heavily in renewable energy.  And he expressed dismay that in 2008 John McCain agreed that global warming was a threat and that we must pass cap-and-trade, whereas today the Republican Party has been taken over by lunatics and crazy people.

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The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on 17th September on the nomination of Ron Binz to be chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  It was not a pleasant day for Mr. Binz, but his week went downhill from there.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking Republican on the committee, asked Binz why he had told her in a private meeting that he wasn’t working with an outside PR firm to support his confirmation, when e-mails released soon after showed that he was working with the hard-left firm Venn Squared Communications plus two lobbyists who have many energy company clients.  In response, Binz said, “I apologize if I have left a different impression from what we now agree has happened.”

It didn’t work.  Senator Murkowski announced at the end of the hearing that she could not support Binz’s confirmation.  The next day Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that he would vote no.  Then Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who always has to worry about what his fellow Nevada Senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, can do to him, sent out a press release announcing that he would vote no.  By the end of the week, all the Republican Senators on the committee had come out against Binz.  If Manchin plus all the Republicans vote against him in committee mark-up, the nomination will fail on an 11 to 11 tie.

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

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.