William Yeatman

William Pentland has a very interesting post over at Forbes Energy in which he notes that average nationwide retail electricity prices increased from 2013-2015, and also that the Energy Information Administration expects rates to continue to rise in 2016. If the EIA is correct, then electric rates in 2016 would have increased about 4.5 percent over the 2013 average. As Pentland explains, this trend doesn’t make much sense at first impression, in light of historically low natural gas prices and plummeting oil prices.

According to Pentland, increasing demand is unlikely to be the cause of rising electricity rates, due to the simple fact that “many if not most utilities are selling less—not more—electricity than they used to sell.” And he also rightly suggests that wholesale electricity rates are unlikely to blame, because these wholesale markets are largely dictated by the price of natural gas, which, again, has been stuck at historical lows. While Pentland identifies recent regional price spikes (due primarily to logistical clogs) as one possible culprit, he expresses uncertainty whether such localized impacts could explain a nationwide trend.

In this fashion, Pentland does not posit a definite explanation for the phenomenon he demonstrates. Rather, he ends his post with a question: What is causing electricity rates to increase, despite unusually low fuel costs and generally declining energy costs?

My guess is that the cause is EPA’s war on coal. [click to continue…]

Below, I’ve posted three planks of a presidential platform for EPA policy. I’ve even taken the time to formulate catchy slogans that capture the essence of my positive policy proposals.

Slogan #1: DO YOUR JOB!

In creating the EPA, Congress subjected the agency to thousands of deadlines, across virtually every regulatory regime it administers. As I explained in this 2013 article, statutory date-certain deadlines were a novel legislative feature in the early 1970s, when Congress endowed EPA with virtually of all of its current authority by passing various enabling statutes. These deadlines represent the Congress’s express directive for the agency to perform certain jobs.

The agency, however, has done a pitiful job achieving these congressional commands. Consider the Clean Air Act, which is undoubtedly the most important of the agency’s sources of power. From 1994 to 2013, the agency was subject to 200 deadlines for three core Clean Air Act programs (NAAQS, NSPS, and HAP Residual Risk Review). The agency missed 98% of these date certain duties, by an average of 5.5 years.

There are consequences to the agency’s failure to do its job. For starters, it creates the phenomenon known as “sue and settle,” whereby unelected environmental special interests seize the agency’s priority-making process.

[click to continue…]

Have We Finally Reached Peak Lie on the Clean Power Plan?

EPA has marketed its Clean Power Plan on a number of untruths, including (but not limited to):

However, on October 7th, EPA told its biggest 111(d) whopper to date. On that day, during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, EPA Office of Air and Radiation chief Janet McCabe said, “The Clean Power Plan does not set in place a cap-and-trade program.” This is a bald face lie. In fact, the administration has proposed to impose a cap-and-trade on any state that refuses to comply with the rule. Moreover, top EPA officials, including Administrator Gina McCarthy, have urged States to comply by participating in a cap-and-trade. For my part, I can understand why McCabe was reduced to such naked duplicity. The Congress has considered and ultimately demurred on a number of cap-and-trade schemes. Now, EPA is trying to impose one, without a legislative mandate. McCabe was before Congress, the institution that has been screwed thusly. So she lied. Heckuva Job, Janet!

Dem Climate Debate Demonstrates Emptiness of Dem Climate Debate

Last Tuesday’s debate featured extensive discussions about climate change policy, a first for a presidential candidate debate of any stripe. The resulting interaction among candidates was heavy on empty exaggeration and obvious fibs. [click to continue…]

Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the nationwide limit for ground level ozone, known officially as a National Ambient Air Quality Standard, from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.

It will be a painful regulation to implement. Ozone pollution is notoriously expensive to mitigate. These costs, moreover, would be completely incommensurate with the putative benefits. However, as I explain below, the Obama administration had little discretion on the matter, and, within its limited room to maneuver, the EPA chose the least among harms. Moreover, if courts remain consistent (which is by no means a certainty), there’s a good chance this rule will be rejected for being insufficiently stringent. By contrast, there is little chance that the rule would be struck down for being too onerous.

So this is the first absurd environmental regulation issued since January 2009 for which the Obama administration isn’t to blame. Rather, fault for this rule lies with primarily with the legislative and judicial branches of government. The Congress established an inapt regulatory regime for setting the ozone standard. And subsequent court rulings made this ill-suited program even worse. As a result, the ozone NAAQS is a monster, over which the president has little control. [click to continue…]

Here’s the headline from an August 25th article by the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Michelle Boorstein:

“For Pope Francis’s D.C. Visit, Environmental Rally of up to 200k Planned”

And here’s the headline from a Think Progress post today by Natasha Geiling:

“Pope’s Visit to D.C. Inspires Hundreds To Rally for Climate Justice”

[click to continue…]

[Editor’s noteThis is the latest in a semi-regular series whose purpose is to correct the record whenever New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes a story about climate change politics or policy]

Earlier this month, Jonathan Chait penned a cover story for New York Magazine on climate change, which he has since described thusly:

My story in the magazine describes how political pressure and technological innovation are feeding into each other, producing a virtuous cycle of affordable green energy and stronger willpower to reduce emissions.

As always, Chait’s climate change story is peppered with factual inaccuracies. For example, writes Chait:

[I]n 2010, President Obama, temporarily enjoying swollen Democratic majorities in both houses, tried to pass a cap-and-trade law that would bring the U.S. into compliance with the reductions it had pledged in Copenhagen. A handful of Democrats from fossil-fuel states joined with nearly every Republican to filibuster it.

For starters, President Obama did not “try to pass a cap-and-trade law.” In fact, the “cap-and-trade” in question never made it out of the democrat party caucus in the Senate. More to the point, the President effectively killed the effort by punting on a meeting about the measure with Senate democrat leadership. Also, while it’s true that opposition to the bill was bipartisan, there was never a filibuster. Again, the bill never made it out of the democrat Senate caucus, due to intra-party opposition. Republicans didn’t have to lift a finger. So Chait’s history is totally wrong (again).

Of course, there are more mistakes in the piece, but the two most prominent errors undercut his thesis altogether. Chait’s argument is that we should be optimistic because green energy is taking off, and also because China is fervently doing everything it can to reduce emissions. As fate would have it, both of Chait’s primary talking points were refuted by events in only the 17 days since he published his ill-destined article. [click to continue…]

In response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Congress in 1975 passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which directs the President “to promulgate a rule prohibiting the export of crude oil” produced in the United States. Congress’s oil export restrictions, like virtually all limits on international trade, are bad policy. Nonetheless, in this instance, the Congress at least was heeding the prevailing political winds (if not reason): the OPEC embargo caused public panic, and banning oil exports was a knee-jerk response to the political mood at hand.

As time passed from this initial panic, legislative prohibitions on oil trade made decreasing sense. And during the past five or so years, a time when American production has boomed thanks to a technological revolution colloquially known as “fracking,” the export ban has become downright stupid. It is, therefore, a welcome development that House of Representatives leadership today in Houston is expected to announce a strategy to advance H.R. 702, legislation that would forbid federal officials from imposing or enforcing restrictions on the export of oil. This *common sense* bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and enjoys healthy bipartisan support.

During a briefing yesterday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked whether the Obama administration has a position on H.R. 702, and his response says a great deal about the sorry state of energy policy in the age of Obama. I’ve reposted his answer below:

MR. EARNEST:  [W]e’ve got a position on this, which is that this is a policy decision that is made over at the Commerce Department.  And for that reason, we wouldn’t support legislation like the one that’s been put forward by Republicans.  And so this is — so for an update on our position, if one is necessary, you can consult with the Commerce Department.

The one thing that I would note is that this policy announcement is being made by Leader McCarthy in front of an organization in Houston that is largely funded by four or five of the biggest oil companies in the United States.  So it is pretty clear, once again, where Republicans in Congress and their political benefactors stand when it comes to their energy policy priorities.  

[Editor’s note: Here, Earnest is referencing how House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is expected to announce leadership’s support for H.R. 702 today at an oil and gas trade association in Houston.]

The fact is I think Leader McCarthy has an opportunity to demonstrate some true political courage where he could go and stand before that organization and actually offer up something bold but also common-sense, which is to end the billions in subsidies that oil and gas companies in the United States already enjoy, and actually use that money to ensure the long-term success of our economy and the energy sector in this country by making important investments in things like wind energy and solar energy — investments that even some of those oil companies themselves have bragged about making.

Earnest’s extraordinary response has two components that warrant exploration.

First, he states that the administration will oppose H.R. 702, because the purpose of the legislation—ending export restrictions—is “a policy decision that is made over at the Commerce Department.” Let’s unpack this a bit, because it says a lot about this administration’s tendency to accrue power.

As I explain above, Congress in 1975 passed a law (EPCA) whose purpose is to restrict the export of oil produced in the U.S. Today, congressional leadership wants to pass a law that would lift such restrictions. Congress passes a law; Congress rescinds the law. That makes sense to me, but not to the President. According to the Obama administration, it’s not Congress’s place to amend its prior laws. Instead, any such alterations are properly “a policy decision that is made over at the Commerce Department.” That is, these decisions are best left to the Executive Branch. Of course, the administration’s “position” is totally impermissible from a constitutional perspective (separation of powers and all that). Nevertheless, Earnest’s response speaks volumes about Obama’s approach to governance. This administration thinks policy should originate in a second term president, by phone or pen, rather than Congress. [click to continue…]

International climate diplomacy is necessarily a joke.

Here’s the cold, hard set-up to the joke: The international system of world states is defined by self-help. This is because there is no global policeman to enforce lofty international goals set by high minded cosmopolitans. Nations of the world may one day by reason bind together and achieve perpetual peace and harmony, but we’re nowhere near there yet. And until then, nation states will conduct their relations with one another based on their selfish interests alone.

UNFCCC: Bigger carbon footprint than even the Pope

UNFCCC: Bigger carbon footprint than even the Pope

With this maxim in mind, now consider the scope of the climate diplomat’s task. According to the International Energy Agency, it would cost $45 trillion to control the world’s thermostat. And this is likely a lowball. Remember, 90% of the world’s energy production is derivative of combusting fossil fuels, the “cause” of supposedly terrifying global warming. Energy, in turn, is a necessary component of all acts of economic production. Therefore, in order to “do something” about climate change, the entire global economy would have to be reordered in accordance with the commands of some centralized entity. Global communism is not an inapt parallel for climate change mitigation policy.

Given the cold, hard truth set forth above, and accounting as well for the hugeness of the undertaking that is seeking to set planet’s temperature, and you are left with an inescapable conclusion: Not Gonna Happen. There is simply no precedent for interstate burden sharing on the order of $45 trillion, short of world war. While wrongway Jon Chait deems AGW to be a threat as big if not bigger than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, his ridiculous viewpoint is shared by no one save for environmental zealots, and perhaps climate diplomats.

What, for example, does Jon Chait and his ilk think could happen this December in Paris, which is hosting the latest UN-sponsored conference to “save the plant”? The U.S. position is set. President Obama can pledge emissions cuts commensurate with the regulations his administration imposed. Nor does the President have an independent kitty of cash he can put on the table. Similarly, the European Union position is set. They’ve committed to 40% reductions through 2030; that’s not going to change. Japan and Canada blew through their Kyoto Protocol targets, and have since embraced coal use and unconventional oil production, respectively.

So, what’s going to change? What could Paris accomplish? Will the developed countries, with their unmovable goals and priorities, browbeat rapidly developing countries like China and India into submitting to the west’s green demands?

Fat chance!

[As an aside, I’m here reminded of President Obama’s most humiliating moment abroad. In December 2009, at the last UN-climate confab to “save the planet,” President Obama made a dramatic and unexpected visit, the lowlight of which was his banging on the door of a meeting with Chinese and Indian delegations and demanding entrance, having to sneak in, and then being ignored in front of a gaggle of reporters.]

When the world is seen through the realist lens, climate diplomacy is rightfully identified as absurd theatre. There is no possible endpoint, so jet setting climate diplomats must get busy pretending to make progress. And because there’s only a limited number of ways to make believe diplomatic progress, these pretensions soon become hilarious. [click to continue…]

Amid much fanfare, the Obama administration on August 4th unveiled the “final” Clean Power Plan in a rollout that took place at the White House, before a crowd of environmentalists. To be sure, the rule is popular with the green set; however, it is also hugely controversial, due to the fact that it would subject the entire U.S. electricity *system* to EPA control, whereas before electricity markets were the exclusive preserve of States and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

States thus are faced with a usurpation of their authority, and, accordingly, they are champing at the bit to challenge the rule in court. Moreover, bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress are opposed to the EPA’s broad grant of power to itself, and GOP leadership appears to be keen on challenging the regulation using the Congressional Review Act, which allows simple majorities in the House and Senate to pass a legislative check on major agency regulations.

Here’s the thing: States can’t sue, and Congress can’t pass a legislative veto, until the Clean Power Plan is published in the Federal Register.

When the rule was announced, EPA said that the rule would be published in normal course. According to Politico:

“We’ll be publishing as soon as practicable,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in an email, explaining, “Typically publication can take anywhere from two weeks to a month. The bigger the print job, often times, the longer the time between signature and publication.” While EPA wouldn’t give an exact date, it has said it will not delay in publishing the rule, as some had previously speculated.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy seconded this notion, saying that the rule’s publication in the Federal Register would “follow a standard process,” as reported by InsideEPA.

So…in early August, concomitant with the announcement of the pre-publication version of the Clean Power Plan, EPA officials publicly stated that the rule would be published in normal course (“anywhere from two weeks to a month”).

But when late August came around—right about the time EPA said the rule would be published and become final—the agency started singing a new tune. On August 31, the Department of Justice filed a court document, on behalf the EPA, regarding an ongoing effort by 15 States and a coal company to arrest the Clean Power Plan before it goes final. In fact, that controversy hinges on when the Clean Power Plan is published in the Federal Register. And Justice’s August 31 memo spoke to this dispositive matter by claiming that

“Consistent with the Agency’s customary practice, EPA is in the process of conducting a final review [of the rule]…prior to transmitting the rule to the Office of the Federal Register… EPA intends to complete this final review process and transmit the rule to the Federal Register no later than September 4…EPA expects, based on past experience with other large rules, that the final rule will be published in the Federal Register by late October.”

Obviously, Justice’s submission gels poorly with EPA’s prior statements. For starters, EPA claimed the rule would be published around late August. Then, when late August came, EPA claimed the rule would be published in late October—three months after the rule was announced at a White House ceremony, and two months after the agency initially said it would be published. EPA states that the cause of the delay is the agency’s “customary practice” of reviewing a final rule after it has been signed by the administrator, but why weren’t EPA’s top officials aware of this “customary practice” when they said the rule would be ready in a month? Also, doesn’t this customary practice raise the spectre of post hoc rationalizations? [click to continue…]

This blog repeatedly has stressed the phoniness of President Obama’s climate agenda.To wit:

  • During his 2012 reelection campaign, he conspicuously skirted mention of climate change. Now he calls global warming the most urgent threat in the world today, on par with war and terrorism.
  • During the 2012 debates, candidate Obama tried to outflank Romney’s right on energy policy. That Obama—the one who was trying to get elected—took credit for booming American oil and gas production. Last week, by contrast, 2nd term Obama claimed that Big Oil was conspiring with the Koch brothers to undermine his green goals.

In short, the President cares about climate change only insofar as he desires a legacy for which he has to pay no electoral price. o-tap

That’s the context for the President’s current itinerary. You might be forgiven for thinking the President is still on vacation (see below), but in fact, he’s in the midst of a “two-week global warming messaging sprint,” as described by Politico.; The Washington Examiner calls it a “climate change tour.”

It started in Las Vegas on the 24th of August, with an evening speech to extol a supposed green energy revolution. Then it moved to New Orleans, where the President talked up his administration’s efforts to render the country more resilient in the face of runaway AGW. The final leg of the trip is now unfolding in Alaska, where yesterday he “stare[d] down a melting glacier,” according to the AP, in a scene that evokes Reagan at the Brandenberg Gates (in bizarro world).

But did the President’s staring contest with a giant block of ice inspire Americans to drop everything and fight climate change? After all, that’s the idea behind his trip—to draw attention to the urgency of solving the climate “crisis.” My limited purpose with this post is merely to demonstrate empirically that the President’s PR tour has changed few to zero hearts, due to the simple fact that no one seems to be paying any attention. [click to continue…]