Myron Ebell

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.

Post image for Senate Schedules Vote for EPA Nominee

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for the morning of Thursday, 9th May. All the Democrats on the committee will vote for McCarthy. Since they hold a ten to eight majority over Republicans, it is certain that the committee will send the nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

What is less certain is whether Senator David Vitter (R-La), ranking Republican on the committee, will have the committee’s seven other Republicans with him in voting against McCarthy. If he does, then the next question is whether Vitter will lead an effort to block a floor vote.

It takes 60 votes to invoke cloture to end debate and move to a vote. So Vitter needs to round up 41 votes to block McCarthy’s confirmation. There are 45 Republicans in the Senate. If Vitter leads the effort against McCarthy, it is likely that he will have two or three Democrats with him. But there are also a number of Republicans who might defect. Several of them don’t like McCarthy, but believe that deference should be given to the President’s nominees unless they are manifestly unqualified or corrupt.

The argument for blocking McCarthy’s confirmation is simply that it is one of the very few shots that Senators will have during the 113th Congress to push back the EPA’s ongoing regulatory onslaught against affordable energy. McCarthy, as Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation for the past four years, has been in charge of writing and promulgating the several Clean Air Act regulations that are designed to close coal-fired power plants. In my view, those Senators who oppose the EPA’s agenda should not be voting to promote the point person for implementing that agenda. She also misled both the Congress and the public about the design and impact of two of the most expensive regulations—new fuel economy targets and the Carbon Pollution Standard. My colleagues Marlo Lewis and Anthony Ward explain her duplicity here.

Post image for President Obama’s Budget Proposes to Make Wind and Solar Subsidies Permanent

President Barack Obama submitted his proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget to Congress on 10th April, 66 days after the legal deadline.  The law does not subject the President to any penalties for missing the 4th February deadline, but no previous President has submitted his proposed budget more than a few days late.  The budget proposes to increase federal spending by nearly five percent over the current fiscal year.

Subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency total $23 billion over ten years.  Astonishingly, the President proposes to make wind, solar, and geothermal subsidies permanent.  According to a White House fact sheet: “To provide a strong, consistent incentive to encourage investments in renewable energy technologies and to help meet our goal to double generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources by 2020, the Budget would make permanent the tax credit for the production of renewable electricity.  The Budget makes the Production Tax Credit refundable so new, growing firms can benefit and provide renewable electricity generation.”

For decades, the leaders in the wind and solar industries have told Congress that they just need a few more years of subsidies before they become competitive with energy produced from conventional sources.  Last December, during the debate over whether to extend the wind subsidy for another year, the American Wind Energy Association came forward with a plan to phase out the subsidy over six years. The Obama Administration has concluded that wind and solar will never become competitive with coal and natural gas.

Senator David Vitter (R-La.), ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter on 16th April to Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency, that re-iterates five requests for information that the agency has withheld from the committee or commitments to increase transparency in the future. The letter, which was signed by all eight Republican members of the committee, in effect sets down a marker for McCarthy’s confirmation as EPA Administrator by the Senate.  If McCarthy fails to satisfy the five requests, then the Republicans on the committee will have good reason to vote against her confirmation.

Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said this week that the committee could vote as early next week on McCarthy’s nomination.  That now seems unlikely.  It’s more likely that the committee will vote soon after the Senate returns from a week-long recess on 6th May.

The letter states, “…[W]hile you acknowledged serious problems with EPA’s transparency record, acknowledgement does not equal action.  We want to hold you to your word and ensure that EPA will be fully transparent on the science, economics, and negotiations related to EPA decisions and rulemaking.  For too long, EPA has failed to deliver on the promises of transparency espoused by President Barack Obama, former Administrator Lisa Jackson, and by you.”

The first request is that McCarthy commits the EPA to issue new guidance requiring that all official business be conducted through official e-mail accounts.  The second is that McCarthy turn over to the committee unredacted private e-mails that were used to conduct official business.  These two requests arise out of the “Richard Windsor” scandal.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Wall Street Journal’s Crony Capitalist Conference Turns Sour

Times have changed since the Wall Street Journal held its first “ECO:nomics—Creating Environmental Capital” conference at the super-swanky Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara.  I was there in 2008 (but, alas, stayed at the Best Western in downtown Santa Barbara) when several hundred investors and corporate CEOs listened to leading crony capitalists, including Jeff Immelt of GE, James Rogers of Duke Energy, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, and John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers (where Al Gore was also a partner), smugly explain how they were going to strike it rich off the backs of consumers and taxpayers with green energy subsidies and mandates, federal loan guarantees, and the higher energy prices that would make renewable energy competitive with coal, oil, and natural gas once cap-and-trade was enacted.

This year’s sixth annual conference, which I didn’t attend, was also held at the Bacara Resort, but the mood was apparently different.  Yesterday, the Journal ran a six-page supplement that summarized the conference’s highlights.  The lead article by John Bussey was headlined: “Green Investing: So Much Promise, So Little Return: At The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference, the talk was about all the innovations taking place in renewable energy—and about all the investors who are losing interest.”

Bussey writes: “Given all the interest in protecting the environment from mankind’s rapid advance, you’d think this might be the best time ever to invest in renewable energy and the Next Big Green Thing.  Guess again.  Large parts of green-tech investment look like the torched and salted fields left behind by Roman conquerors: barren, lifeless—and bereft of a return on capital. Put another way: In some areas, if you aren’t already investor road kill, you’re likely the hedgehog in the headlights about to join your maker.”

On page two, an article on a talk by John Dears, chief investment officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (or Calpers), reveals that their “fund devoted to clean energy and technology which started in 2007 with $460 million has an annualized return of minus 9.7% to date.”  Dears is quoted as telling the conference: “We have almost $900 million in investment expressly aimed at clean tech.  We’re all familiar with the J-curve in private equity.  Well, for Calpers, clean-tech investing has got an L-curve for “lose.”  Our experience is that this has been a noble way to lose money.”

Yes, con artists gaming the system to raise energy prices, impoverish consumers, destroy jobs, and fleece taxpayers can still take comfort that theirs is “a noble way to lose money.”  Long may it remain so.  The entire 2013 ECO:nomics program may be found here. Read it and gloat now—it may be the last one.

Editor’s note: For more on CalPERS history of gross financial mismanagement, see this excellent post by my colleague Ivan Osorio.


Post image for Bipartisan Senate Majority Votes To Oppose a Carbon Tax

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seldom lets Senators vote on amendments to bills, but last week he agreed to a “vote-a-rama” on the budget bill.  Hundreds of amendments on all sorts of issues were offered and many of them are being voted on.  Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered an amendment (#261) to put the Senate on record against any tax or fees on carbon dioxide emissions.  The Senate voted on this anti-carbon tax amendment on Friday, 22nd March.  Fifty-three Senators voted in favor, with 46 opposed. Sixty votes were required for passage under Senate rules.

All the no votes were from Democratic members.  The 45 Republican Senators were joined by eight Democrats in voting for Blunt’s amendment.  The Democrats were: Max Baucus of Montana, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Post image for Obama Administration Casts a Shadow on Sunshine Week

The newspaper industry has named this week Sunshine Week to focus attention on the importance of open government and public access to information.  The Obama Administration has gotten into the spirit of Sunshine Week with daily posts on the White House blog and the Department of Justice blog, which talk about the importance of transparency and trumpet the Administration’s achievements.  President Obama after all promised in the 2008 presidential campaign that his administration would be the most transparent in history.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  For example, CEI’s Chris Horner has filed multiple ongoing lawsuits to try to force the Administration to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests.  The Republican minority staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have been having fun with daily posts that chronicle example after example of Obama Administration stonewalling and failures to comply with federal open government laws.

But it’s no longer just a partisan complaint.  Glenn Greenwald published a column in London’s Guardian this week headlined, “Obama’s secrecy fixation causing Sunshine Week implosion.”  The sub-headline reads, “Even the most loyal establishment Democrats are now harshly denouncing the president for his war on transparency.”

Post image for House Republicans Introduce Anti-Carbon Tax Resolution

Representatives Steve Scalise (R-La.), Joe Barton (R-Tex.), and 103 other original co-sponsors introduced a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that a tax on carbon dioxide emissions would harm the U. S. economy.    Scalise is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee and Barton is former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  H. Con. Res. 24 would not forbid the House from passing a carbon tax bill in the future simply because Congress cannot bind itself in that way.

The purpose of the resolution rather is to build congressional and public opposition to a carbon tax.  Some observers have said this is unnecessary because neither the House nor the Senate would vote for a big new tax on energy use.  That is true.  Moreover, the White House has said repeatedly that they have not and will not propose a carbon tax.  That is also true.  However, the White House’s denials are carefully worded not to rule out supporting a carbon tax proposal that was part of a comprehensive and bipartisan budget or tax reform deal.  The White House really wants Republicans to propose a carbon tax.

The attraction for including a carbon tax in any big budget or tax deal is considerable for the big spenders in Congress because it’s the only thing on the table that would raise a lot of new revenue.  A tax of twenty dollars per ton of carbon dioxide emitted would raise over $100 billion in its first year.  By burying it in a package, no Member of Congress would have to take an up or down vote on a stand-alone carbon tax and could still protest in public that he was against the carbon tax but had to accept it in order to pass the whole package.  A further problem is that these big budget and tax deals are negotiated in secret by House and Senate leaders, chairmen and senior members of the relevant committees, and the White House.

As it happens, the day before Scalise and Barton introduced their resolution, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) released a discussion draft of “carbon-pricing” legislation. “Putting a price on carbon could help solve two of the nation’s biggest challenges at once:  preventing climate change and reducing the budget deficit,” Waxman said in a press release.