Myron Ebell

Eighteen freshmen Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter last week to House Republican leaders urging them to “take up an extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy as soon as possible.”  Sixteen of the eighteen signers are Republicans. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also recently announced his support for extending the wind PTC, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

The signers of the letter were: Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD), Rick Berg (R-ND), Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), David Rivera (R-Fla.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Robert Dold (R- Ill.), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Penna.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Charles Bass (R-NH), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Jon Runyan (R-NJ), John Carney (D-Del.), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), David Ciciline (D-RI), and Mark Amodei (R-Nev.).

House Republicans have made a great show of voting to reduce federal spending and of attacking programs that benefit crony capitalists.  The letter, which Rep. Noem circulated for signatures, shows how quickly Members of Congress can park their avowed principles at the door when the pork-barrel spending benefits their districts or an industry that provides significant campaign contributions.

This is especially true of the eight Republican signers who are members of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative Republicans that focuses on reducing federal spending and balancing the budget.  The RSC members signing the letter are Noem, Berg, Buerkle, Crawford, Griffin, Gardner, Rivera, and Tipton.

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Post image for Inhofe Sets a Date for Senate Vote to Block All Pain and No Gain Utility MACT

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced this week that he will bring his resolution to block the Utility MACT Rule to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday, 20th June. Senate Joint Resolution 37 is a privileged motion under the Congressional Review Act, which means that it requires only a majority of those voting to pass.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Utility MACT (for Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Rule requires steep reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. A new study by my CEI colleagues Marlo Lewis, William Yeatman, and David Bier shows that the rule will have miniscule health benefits and enormous costs. Electric utilities will be forced to close many coal-fired plants, which will raise electric rates for consumers and manufacturers and threaten electric reliability in major areas of the country. Op-eds by Lewis and Bier summarize key findings of their study.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have announced that they plan to introduce a bill to extend the time utilities have to comply with the rule from four years to six years. Their bill has no chance of passing because sixty votes would be required. It is meant to provide cover for several Democrats engaged in tight re-election races. They can vote against the resolution of disapproval (which could pass with fifty votes), but then explain to voters that they support another measure to make the rule less onerous.

Alexander and Pryor’s mischief means that Inhofe’s resolution is likely to be defeated. Note that Alexander, a Republican, is helping Democrats get re-elected.

Post image for Sen. Inhofe Seeks to Rein in EPA’s All Pain and No Gain Utility MACT

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) has announced that he will bring a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval of the EPA’s Utility MACT (for Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Rule to the Senate floor for a vote on or before Monday, 18th May.  Since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is trying to hold as few votes on tough issues as possible before the November elections, this could be the most important vote on an energy or regulatory issue that the Senate takes this year.

Under the Congressional Review Act, the resolution of disapproval, S. J. Res. 37, is a privileged motion.  A vote cannot be blocked by the Majority Leader or filibustered and requires only a simple majority to pass.

The Utility MACT Rule would regulate mercury and some other emissions from coal-fired power plants.  The proposed limits are so stringent that utilities will be forced to close many coal-fired power plants.  This will raise electric rates and threaten electric reliability in many States.

CEI this week published a paper by Marlo Lewis, William Yeatman, and David Bier titled, All Pain and No Gain: the Illusory Benefits of the Utility MACT.  It shows that the health benefits claimed by the EPA are non-existent, while the costs to consumers and manufacturers are huge.

The vote on the resolution is likely to be very close.  Right now, it looks like it will lose narrowly.  Senator Inhofe appears to have the support of forty fellow Republicans and four Democrats.  The Democrats are Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Five Republicans oppose the resolution or are leaning no.  They are Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (whose opposition has been outspoken), Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Susan Collins of Maine, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.  A number of Democrats are not publicly committed.  They include: Jon Tester of Montana, Max Baucus of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jim Webb of Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is still recovering from a stroke, so is not expected to vote.  That means that if all other Senators vote, the resolution will need fifty votes to pass.  As I see it, Senator Inhofe needs to gain the support of at least two more Republicans and then focus on getting three Democrats who are in tough re-election races in States that mine or use a lot of coal.

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Senate Committee Checks Obama’s Push To Green the Military

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of two amendments this week to block key parts of the Obama Administration’s program to green the military.  Politico Pro reported that all Republican members of the committee were joined by two Democrats to pass the amendments by one-vote margins, 13-12.

An amendment offered by Senator John McCain (R-Az.) would prohibit the Department of Defense from building biofuel refineries unless authorized by Congress.  If enacted, this would halt the Navy’s plan to build a $170 million biofuel facility.  Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and James Webb of Virginia joined the committee’s eleven Republicans in voting for the amendment.

Another amendment offered by Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) would prohibit expenditures for alternative fuels “…if the cost of producing or purchasing the alternative fuel exceeds the cost of producing or purchasing a traditional fossil fuel that would be used for the same purpose….” Democratic Senators Manchin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri joined the Republicans to pass this amendment.  A similar provision was passed in the House of Representatives last week.

Post image for Buffett’s Support Signals Movement on Keystone Pipeline

The House and Senate conference committee on re-authorizing the highway bill met for the first time on Tuesday, 8th May.  One of the most contentious issues is House language that would require permitting of the 1700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf refineries. Initial reactions were that the Keystone provision has little chance of being included in the final conference report.  However, there are signs that the ground is shifting.

Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last Thursday that he thought the Keystone provision was making great progress toward being included in the final bill. Mica noted that eleven Democratic Senators and 69 Democratic House members (out of 190) have recently voted for permitting the pipeline.

Perhaps more importantly, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told Fox Business News last week that he supports building the Keystone XL Pipeline. Buffett is a close supporter of President Barack Obama.  It has been speculated that Buffett was one of those advising Obama to deny the Keystone permit last fall out of self interest.  Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which because of the lack of pipeline capacity has become a major shipper of crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana to refineries.  The Keystone XL would transport oil from the Bakken Formation as well as from Alberta’s oil sands.

Buffett may well have been offering his own opinion without consulting the White House first.  On the other hand, his comments may be a sign that the White House is maneuvering to save face and let the Keystone permit go through.  President Obama’s political advisers clearly understand that the President is on the wrong side of public opinion on Keystone.  Letting the Congress overrule the President this summer would largely take away a campaign issue in the fall.

Post image for Fossil Fuel Shill Sierra Club Bites the Hand That Fed It

National Journal’s Amy Harder reported last week that the Sierra Club is re-branding its anti-natural gas efforts as “Beyond Natural Gas.”  Beyond Natural Gas joins the Sierra Club’s other two anti-energy campaigns, Beyond Coal and Beyond Oil (Beyond Nuclear is a separate organization founded in 2007 and headquartered in Takoma Park, Maryland, which has been an official nuclear-free zone since 1983).

Here’s how the Sierra Club introduces its Beyond Natural Gas web page: “The natural gas industry is dirty, dangerous, and running amok. Government loopholes exempt natural gas drillers from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act — and at the same time, don’t require them to disclose the frequently toxic chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the violent process they employ to dislodge gas deposits from shalerock formations. The closer we look at natural gas, the dirtier it appears; and the less of it we burn, the better off we will be.”

The Sierra Club’s timing, whether intentionally or not, kicks Aubrey McClendon, their former patron, when he is down.  Time Magazine reported earlier this year that McClendon gave the Sierra Club $26 million between 2007 and 2010 for their Beyond Coal campaign.  This week McClendon was relieved of his duties as chairman of one of the U. S.’s largest natural gas producers, Chesapeake Energy, although he remains CEO.  It also became public knowledge last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation into McClendon and Chesapeake.

The SEC investigation and the decision by Chesapeake’s board to replace McClendon as chairman are the result of revelations by Reuters on 18th April that McClendon, the founder of Chesapeake, had a sweetheart deal with the company to borrow over $1 billion and use it to buy personal shares in Chesapeake gas wells.

Post image for White House Press Secretary Makes Bizarre, Jingoistic Comments about Keystone XL

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this week for a bill, H. R. 4348, to extend the highway bill for another ninety days after the current extension expires at the end of June.  The final vote was 293 to 127, with 69 Democrats voting for passage.  The extension includes three energy and environmental riders, including Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) provision to require permitting the Keystone XL pipeline.  Also included are Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) amendment to prevent EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste and Rep. Reid Ribble’s (R-Wisc.) amendment that would expedite environmental reviews of highway construction projects.

The House bill will now be conferenced with the highway bill passed earlier by the Senate.  White House press secretary Jay Carney made some extraordinary statements about the Keystone provision on Friday. According to the Hill, Carney said that permitting the 1700-mile pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf coast would be “preemptively sacrificing American sovereignty” and that it would be “a foreign pipeline built by a foreign company emanating from foreign territory to cross U. S. borders.”

Carney also said that Rep. Terry’s amendment had been added to the highway bill in a “highly politicized, highly partisan way.” That is odd, considering that increasing numbers of Democrats in the House support overriding President Obama’s opposition to permitting the pipeline.  One supporter is Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic Whip.  The Senate narrowly defeated an amendment to permit the pipeline last month on a 56 to 42 vote (with 60 required for passage).  Eleven Democrats voted for the amendment.  That’s about as bi-partisan as the Senate gets these days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reacted to the House vote by saying that the Senate had clearly rejected permitting the Keystone pipeline and would not agree to the House language in conference committee.  But the New York Times noticed in a news article that Democratic support for President Obama’s obstructionism was clearly crumbling in the face of public support for the pipeline and the November elections.

This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on April 1, 2012

in Blog

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Senate Again Votes Against Renewing Wind Subsidies

The Senate voted this week not to invoke cloture and proceed to a final vote on Senator Robert Menendez’s bill, S. 2204, that would repeal tax subsidies (of around $4 billion per year) and standard business deductions (of around $20 billion a year) for the five biggest oil companies and extend tax subsidies for a variety of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency technologies, including the production tax credit for wind power.

The vote was 51 to 47, with 60 votes required to invoke cloture. Forty-nine Democrats and two Republicans—Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.)—voted for cloture. Forty-five Republicans and four Democrats—Senators James Webb (D-Va.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)—voted against cloture.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, 27th March, released proposed New Source Performance Standards (or NSPS) to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal and gas fired power plants. The rule will effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they include carbon capture and storage technology that is not commercially available and has poor prospects of ever becoming economically feasible.  This is one of several rules EPA is writing in order to implement their 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The proposed new rule does not apply to existing power plants fueled by coal or natural gas or to plants that are under construction or have been permitted.  However, the Clean Air Act’s section 111d requires that existing sources be regulated as well as new sources.

When asked during a press teleconference on Tuesday when rules for existing power plants might be issued, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson replied, “We have no plans to address existing plants….”  What she should have been asked by reporters was how her agency would respond when environmental pressure groups file suit in federal court to compel the agency to issue NSPS rules for existing power plants.  A good follow-up question would be to ask whether anyone in her agency is talking to environmental pressure groups about filing a friendly suit that EPA could then settle in a friendly way.

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) immediately announced that he would do everything he could to block or overturn the rule. The most likely route is to introduce a resolution of disapproval using the Congressional Review Act.  However, that cannot be done until the rule becomes final, which is not likely to happen until next year.

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Obama’s Malaise

by Myron Ebell on March 26, 2012

in Features

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There was a point in the latter half of President Jimmy Carter’s one term in office when he had become so ineffectual and clueless that I found it painfully embarrassing to watch him on television.  Luckily, I lived in England for most of the Carter presidency and didn’t own a television, so I didn’t have to cringe that often during the last year or so he was in office.

I remembered these feelings of embarrassment for our President and our country when I watched clips of President Barack Obama’s speech on energy policy in Cushing Oklahoma on Thursday, 22nd March, and saw the AP photos of the President walking and speaking in front of a large stack of what look to be three-foot diameter pipes used for building oil pipelines.  It seems to me that our President is on the verge of becoming ridiculous and irrelevant in much the same way that Jimmy Carter did in 1979 and 1980.

President Obama keeps repeating the same misleading and inadequate defenses of his energy policies.  The only difference this week compared to the weekly speeches he gave over the past four weeks is that he gave four in one week this week—in Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Ohio.  He continues to insist that he has approved new pipelines everywhere.  This is simply false. Those decisions have been made without any involvement by the President.

President Obama also said that the strong bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate that have voted to permit the 1700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Texas and Louisiana “…decided that this might be a fun political issue, decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision.”  This is truly pathetic.  The President decided to make it a political issue when he over-rode the recommendations of the State Department and the EPA (after reviewing the application for three years) to permit the pipeline in order to placate his environmental pressure group allies.

The President also discussed in his speech at TransCanada’s pipe yard in Cushing, Oklahoma, TransCanada’s plan to go ahead and build the 485-mile section of the Keystone XL Pipeline from the hub at Cushing to the Gulf.  He then claimed: “And today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”

The reason that TransCanada has gone ahead with this southern section of the pipeline is because it doesn’t cross an international boundary and therefore doesn’t require approval by the President.  Any red tape and bureaucratic hurdles that may exist within the federal government to building the southern section of the pipeline have been created by the Obama Administration.

President Obama has thus blamed someone else for his decision to block the Keystone XL permit and taken credit for approving a short section of it within the U. S. that is being built without his approval. His words have lost all relation to his deeds.