Myron Ebell

Post image for Exxon Mobil’s Carbon Tax Follies

It was a busy week for promoting and opposing a carbon tax.  Two studies on the economic effects of a carbon tax that draw opposite conclusions were released by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Brookings Institution.  Kevin Hassett, Ph.D., director of economic policy studies at the “pro-business” American Enterprise Institute, continued his advocacy of a carbon tax at a Resources for the Future forum.  And most interestingly, former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, said at a conference that, “The strongest advocate on our task force for a carbon tax was ExxonMobil.  I had previously thought that was a public relations thing — I didn’t think they were quite interested in it.”

The National Association of Manufacturers released a study by NERA Consulting on the Economic Outcomes of a Carbon Tax. The NAM study concludes that a tax starting at $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted and increasing by 4 percent per year would have a range of negative effects that would ripple through the economy.  In particular: “The negative impact of a carbon tax on total manufacturing output would be significant, with output from energy-intensive manufacturing sectors dropping as much as 15 percent and output from non-energy-intensive manufacturing sectors dropping as much as 7.7 percent.”

The NAM study also argues that: “A carbon tax would have a net negative effect on consumption, investment and jobs, resulting in lower federal revenues from taxes on capital and labor. Factoring in lost revenue from reduced economic activity, the net revenue from a carbon tax available for deficit/debt reduction and lower tax rates is relatively small.”

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The automatic reductions of $85 billion in federal spending, known as the Sequester, which were agreed to by President Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans when the Budget Control Act was passed and signed into law in 2011, started going into effect today, March 1.  As President Obama has warned over the past several weeks, the consequences of cutting federal spending by 2.2 percent already are calamitous.  Bloomberg News reported that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was going to have to discontinue its survey of green jobs.

Here’s what Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the ironically named Center for American Progress and the author of a book on green energy told Bloomberg: “It’s a huge loss.  This means the U.S. will be flying blind on the growth of a very, very important sector in the U.S. economy.”

It may be the White House agrees with my CEI colleague John Berlau, who told Bloomberg that he was glad to see the green jobs survey go.  That’s because President Obama promised in the 2008 campaign his policies would create 5 million new green jobs within a decade.  The White House later claimed $90 billion in stimulus funding had created 225,000 green jobs (at $400,000 per job).  So the president may be happy not to have be reminded by the BLS’s survey of how far he is from keeping his promise.

Post image for Richard Windsor Makes Her Appearance in Second Batch of EPA E-mails

The Environmental Protection Agency released to Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute late in the evening on Friday, 15th February, part of the second of four batches of e-mails that respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.  EPA was forced to turn over the approximately 12,000 e-mails only after CEI filed suit in federal court.  On 20th February, the EPA released some more e-mails in order to get close to the 3,000 they promised the court they would release each month for four months.  All the e-mails have been posted on the web by the EPA and may be seen here.

Since EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently left office, the EPA no longer needs to guard her Richard Windsor alias e-mail address.  Thus Richard Windsor now appears as the recipient or sender of the e-mails.

Many of the e-mails are heavily redacted.  The reason claimed by EPA for most of the redactions is that they are part of the pre-decisional deliberative process and therefore exempt from FOIA.  CEI will be going back to court to challenge many of these redactions as improper and some as laughably so.  The judge will have a lot of fun reading to do.

Two e-mails that were not redacted concern the Coal Ash Rule.  The first e-mail, dated 15th December 2009, is from Allyn Brooks-LaSure in the Administrator’s office and is addressed to Jackson and several other EPA officials.  It can be found as numbered document 476 in Part B of the second release.   Brooks-LaSure writes:

Administrator, you have your own Christmas carols…

And then copies a December 15, 2009 blog post by Rob Perks, Director of the Center for Advocacy Campaigns at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

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Post image for State of the Union Raises Hope for America

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress on 12th February gives me new hope for America’s economic prospects.  The fact that a president who is so thoroughly misinformed and misguided has not been able to totally wreck our economy is evidence of the resilience of America’s institutions and of the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens.  This does not mean that I expect our current robust one percent economic growth will continue; on the contrary, I expect a colossal recession in the next few years as a result of the disastrous policies being pursued by the Obama Administration and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The President spent more time talking about energy and climate than any other issues.  He noted that greenhouse gas emissions (which he called “dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet”) have declined in the past four years, but did not mention that economic stagnation is one of the major causes.  Nor did he mention that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase rapidly because of robust economic growth in China and other industrializing countries.

He went on to say: “But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”

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Post image for Sen. Vitter Hits the Ground Running

Senator David Vitter (R-La.) has hit the ground running as the new ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  Last week Vitter and Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to James Martin, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8, asking whether Martin had used a secret, private e-mail account to conduct official business.

As Vitter and Issa note in their letter, “The use of personal, non-official e-mail accounts raises concerns that you could be attempting to insulate this and other e-mail correspondence from a Freedom of Information Act request. Moreover, your actions may also constitute violation of the Federal Records Act.”  It may also be used to evade congressional oversight of federal agencies.

Several of Martin’s private e-mails were released by the EPA as a result of a lawsuit by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  The efforts of CEI’s Chris also revealed that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was using an alias official EPA account in the name of Richard Windsor.

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Big Oil is coming out of the closet.  Exxon Mobil confirmed earlier this month in a Bloomberg Businessweek article that they support a carbon tax. Shell and BP have signed a Climate Price Communiqué that was distributed on 29th November at the eighteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is meeting in Doha, Qatar, this week and next.

The most obvious reason why big oil and gas companies would support a huge new tax on their own products is that it would kill coal first.  Burning coal emits roughly twice as much carbon dioxide as producing the same amount of energy by burning natural gas.  A $20 a ton of CO2 tax would roughly double the current price of coal used for producing electricity.  That would provide a huge incentive for utilities to switch to natural gas.  Exxon Mobil owns the world’s largest privately-owned reserves of natural gas.  Shell and BP also own huge gas reserves.

The Climate Price Communiqué states that, “Putting a clear, transparent and unambiguous price on carbon emissions must be a core policy objective.”  They mean a global price, but a U. S. domestic carbon tax could fit comfortably into their plans.

The communiqué was organized by the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and is managed by the University of Cambridge’s Programme for Sustainability Leadership.  One-hundred forty companies have signed on, but Shell and BP are among just a handful of major corporations.

Amusingly, an article posted on the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress web site claimed that the signers were “leading global companies.”   Here’s the list of North American companies:  Actio, Aimia, Bullfrog Power, Business Council for Sustainable Energy, Climate Wedge, Delphi Group, Eco-kraft, EOS Climate, Horizon Capitol Holdings, Events Outside the Box, Mountain Equipment Co-Op, Offsetters, Pacific GPS, Westport, and Wildlife Works.

Post image for Sen. Inhofe Releases Report on EPA’s 2013 Regulatory Agenda

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee last week released a report that details all the EPA regulations that have been delayed until after the election or won’t take effect until after the election.  A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013 lists thirteen major regulations that “will strangle economic growth, destroy millions of jobs, and dramatically raise the price of goods, the cost of electricity, and the price of gas.”  Those are on top of the new regulations already implemented that are constricting energy supplies and raising energy prices.

“President Obama has spent the past year punting on a slew of job-killing EPA regulations that will destroy millions of American jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket even more.  From greenhouse gas regulations to water guidance to the tightening of the ozone standard, the Obama-EPA has delayed the implementation of rule after rule because they don’t want all those pink slips and price spikes to hit until after the election. But President Obama’s former climate czar Carol Browner was very clear about what’s in store for next year: she told several green groups not to worry because President Obama has a big green ‘to-do’ list for 2013….” Inhofe said in introducing the report.

Senator Inhofe told Caroline May of the Daily Caller that, “In all these [presidential] debates, the thing they overlook and don’t talk about that is just as important as servicing another $5 trillion of indebtedness, is all these rules and regulations.”  Read more here.

Post image for House Conservatives Draw a Line on Wind Tax Credit

Forty-seven Republican Members of the House of Representatives sent a joint letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week announcing that they oppose including a provision to renew the wind production tax credit for another year in any broader legislation.  The letter concludes, “We believe that the Solyndra scandal has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to stop picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace.  Twenty years of subsidizing wind is more than enough.  Our nation can simply no longer afford to pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace.  The PTC should expire at the end of the year under current law.”

Wind installations completed before the credit expires at the end of this year will still receive the 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour subsidy for ten years.  The one-year extension voted out by the Senate Finance Committee in early August would actually expand the program by allowing wind investors to claim an immediate 30% investment credit instead of having to wait ten years for a full payout and by allowing projects started (but not finished) next year to qualify.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate version will cost $12 billion over ten years.

The joint letter was organized by freshman Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Ks.), who has led the effort against all energy subsidies and mandates in this Congress, including the T. Boone Pickens Payoff Plan to subsidize natural gas trucks and filling stations.  Crony capitalists have hit back with numerous ads attacking him in his Wichita-centered district.

Support for the wind and solar tax credits is pretty uniform among Democratic Members of Congress.  Among Republicans, it tends to split along State lines.  Republican Members representing the 29 States with renewable portfolio standards (RPS) for electric utilities tend to support the tax credits because the subsidies lower the cost of renewable electricity.  Republican Members representing States without renewable requirements generally oppose the credits because taxpayers from their States are subsidizing the use of renewable energy in other States.  Here’s a map that shows the various state renewable requirements.

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Sixty-four non-profit groups sent a joint letter to the Hill this week that urges Representatives and Senators “to let the wasteful wind PTC expire as planned at the end of the year.”  The battle lines are now fully drawn between Big Wind and supporters of free markets and affordable energy. The letter was organized by Americans for Prosperity.

On the side of continuing massive tax subsidies to crony capitalist investors in wind farms are President Barack Obama, nearly all Democratic members of Congress, and a sizable number of Republican members from States that have enacted renewable portfolio standards for electric utilities.

The opponents of renewing the wind production tax credit include Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the leadership (but not all the members) of the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 9 to 15 in early August against an amendment that would reduce by 20% the 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour subsidy that wind farms currently receive for ten years.  The Senate’s business tax extenders bill would renew (and actually expand and make more generous) the current credit for one year until 31st December 2013.  The CBO estimated that the cost of the extension would be approximately $12 billion over ten years.

It is unlikely that the business tax extenders bill or any other bill that includes extending the wind production tax credit will see any floor action in either the House or Senate before the election.  On the other hand, it is almost certain that there will be a big push in a lame duck session in November.

Supporters of a carbon tax were very visible in Washington this week.  Ben Geman of the Hill newspaper reported that former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) has launched an “Energy and Enterprise Initiative” to promote global warming alarmism and a carbon tax among political conservatives.  His operations are being sponsored by George Mason University, a Virginia state university in Fairfax, an outer suburb of Washington, DC.

Inglis has taken on an odd project.  He was defeated for re-election in 2010 in the Republican primary by a Tea Party-backed candidate, Trey Gowdy.  One of the main issues that contributed to Gowdy’s 71 to 29% margin of victory was Inglis’s continual attacks on fellow House Republicans for not getting on board the global warming bandwagon.  Inglis was never a conservative while serving as a Republican Member of the House and has no credibility within the conservative movement.

The American Enterprise Institute, on the other hand, has earned a lot of credibility over many decades within the conservative movement for its principled and intellectual defense of free enterprise and business.  Thus it came as a surprise when Greenwire reported on 11th July that AEI was that day hosting the fifth meeting of a group plotting to enact a carbon tax.

I was sent a copy of the group’s agenda the same morning that Greenwire reporter Jean Chemnick was sent a copy.  The one-page agenda is headlined “Price Carbon Campaign / Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform.”  The 12:45-6:00 meeting included presentations and discussions on “Congressional Republicans, Romney, and Business Leaders: Detoxifying climate policy for conservatives,” “Framing and selling a carbon pollution tax,” and “Building bipartisan support and navigating Ways and Means.”  The full agenda was attached to an article by Sean Higgins for the Washington Examiner.

A list of attendees at the AEI meeting has not been released, but the discussants include leading environmental and leftwing political operatives.  For example, Alden Meyer, strategy and policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists (a far-left pressure group) who previously served as executive director of the League of Conservation Voters; Kevin Curtis, program director of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project; and Tom Downey, prominent DC lobbyist, former Member of the House (D-NY), and since 2007 husband of Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator for eight years in the Clinton Administration and for two years as President Obama’s White House global warming and energy czar.

AEI’s participant in this ongoing effort to enact a carbon tax is Dr. Kevin Hassett, director of economic studies at AEI.  An indication that his position is not popular at AEI was provided by Dr. Kenneth Green, an environmental scientist at AEI who specializes in climate policy and energy issues.  Energy Wire (a sister publication of Greenwire) published an article on 13th July on another senior establishment Republican coming forward to support a carbon tax—George Shultz, secretary of State in the Reagan Administration.  Here are Green’s comments to Energy Wire:

“There seems to be an eruption of conservatives—very moderate-seeming conservatives, non-tea party, old country club-style conservatives—who are suddenly enamored of carbon tax,” said Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“I think this is mostly vanity and egotism on the part of these people who are coming forward, to try and reassert the Republican establishment over the tea party revolution,” he added.