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Post image for Obama’s Alaska Trip: Do We Have a Climate Change Problem or a Russia Problem?

 

 

Is the glass half empty or half full? If you listen to climate activists, melting polar ice can only mean trouble, with competition for previously inaccessible resources setting the stage for great power conflict, a return to Cold War tensions, or worse.

Yet, as noted in a previous post, activists also warn that climate change will promote conflict by making resources scarcer. The Arctic contains 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. If Arctic ice melt leads to greater global energy supply, opens the fabled Northwest Passage, and facilitates trade, it could also foster cooperation and peace.

Here’s my two cents. Whatever happens to the polar ice cap in coming decades, nations are more likely to cooperate and resolve disputes peacefully if the United States possesses the capability and will to deter aggression. As factors determining national security risk, potential adversaries’ longstanding geopolitical ambitions and evolving capabilities are likely to matter more than climate change.

The Obama administration, it seems, is worried about Russia’s expanding presence in the Arctic, but wants the public to think we have a climate change problem rather than a Russia problem.

Today is the second day of the President’s three-day trip to Alaska “to shine a spotlight on the impacts of climate change.” As reported in the New York Times by Julie Herschfeld Davis, Obama will “propose speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers that can operate year-round in the nation’s polar regions, part of an effort to close the gap between the United States and other nations, especially Russia, in a global competition to gain a foothold in the rapidly changing Arctic.” 

Russia is far ahead of us in ice breakers, and the “gap” is growing:

The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.  

Russia is also building military bases. Davis quotes Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who traveled with the President on Air Force One yesterday:

“It’s the biggest buildup of the Russian military since the Cold War,” Mr. Walker said, noting Alaska’s proximity to Russia. “They’re reopening 10 bases and building four more, and they’re all in the Arctic, so here we are in the middle of the pond, feeling a little bit uncomfortable.”

The map below, from an Aug. 31 NYT article by Stephen Lee Meyers, shows the Arctic areas with a >50% chance of large undiscovered oil and gas reserves, each country’s exclusive economic zone, and international waters (“high seas”).

Arctic Exclusive Economic Zones

 

 

 

 

 

Portions of the region are still in dispute, Wikipedia reports:

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States all regard parts of the Arctic seas as national waters (territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles (22 km)) or internal waters. There also are disputes regarding what passages constitute international seaways and rights to passage along them.

Russia, for example, views the Northern Sea Route (NSR) stretching from the Bering Sea to the North Atlantic “as internal waters, and thus subject to transit fees, while the international community views the NSR as an international passage,” note Heather Conley and Carolyn Rohloff of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Meyers of the NYT paints a vivid picture of “Russia’s scramble for the Arctic.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Clean Energy Incentive Program: New Unlawful Element in EPA’s Power Plant Rule?

 

 

EPA’s recently finalized Clean Power Plan (CPP) contains a key policy initiative not discussed or even mentioned in the proposed rule: the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). Through the CEIP, EPA will award extra emission allowances and emission rate credits to states that “act early” to increase generation from wind and solar power and/or reduce electricity demand via energy-efficiency measures. By “early,” EPA means before the 2022-2030 CPP compliance period.

You might suppose EPA would explain the legal authority for a substantive policy change affecting potentially hundreds of regulated entities, but there appears to be no discussion of the CEIP’s statutory basis in either the final rule, the CEIP fact sheet, or EPA’s proposed “backstop” Federal Plan.

What accounts for this curious omission? Does EPA not explain the legal basis for the CEIP because it can’t?

In the climate policy debates of the late 1990s and early 2000s, “credit for early action” was an issue of recurring controversy. What most policymakers, interest groups, and activists eventually acknowledged is that current law does not authorize any federal agency to award regulatory credits for “early” or “voluntary” reductions of greenhouse gases. Ironically, some of today’s most aggressive CPP advocates helped forge the ‘consensus’ that federal agencies lack statutory authority to implement an early action credit program. [click to continue…]

imagine damage agency could do to grid

imagine the damage EPA could do to the electric grid

The irony with the Gold King Mine spill may be thicker than the toxic waste.  The same EPA, that apparently didn’t know what happens when you blow a hole in a dam, claims clairvoyance when it comes to predicting the future climate.  Three centuries into the future. And not just big-picture stuff.  For instance they have calculated the dollar impact your current microwave oven’s digital display will have on climate for every year until 2300 (this is not a joke).

However bad will be the impact of the Gold King Mine spill on the Colorado watershed, and on those who live near and depend on that water, the overall impact of the spill will be small compared to the damage that will be done by EPA’s affordable-energy-killing CO2 rule finalized recently.

Acting on their pretend knowledge of the future, the EPA issued the final version of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The plan targets CO2 emissions but its supporters do a lot of hand waving to make people think CO2 is dirty.  It isn’t.  Carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless, and non-toxic.  Without CO2 there would be no green plants.  That’s right, Simba, without CO2 there would be no circle of life.  CO2 is also a necessary byproduct of getting energy from hydrocarbon fuels like natural gas, coal, and petroleum.

Natural gas and coal provide two-thirds of the electric power generated in the U.S. (petroleum is a non-player in power generation, accounting for about 1 percent of generation).  And there’s the rub.  In the U.S we have centuries of coal and gas reserves, but the CPP forces us to turn away from these most abundant, affordable, and reliable sources of electric power.  Taking a fuel like coal off the menu will only drive up the price of electricity and generate economic ripple effects that will cut income and destroy jobs.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Keystone XL Review Five Times Longer than Average — AP

 

“The federal review of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas has dragged on for nearly seven years, more than five times the average for such applications,” Josh Lederman of the Associated Press reports.

“The White House insists it’s simply following a standard and well-established process,” but AP’s analysis of data from the Federal Register, State Department records, congressional correspondence, Congressional Research Service reports, and pipeline owners suggests otherwise:

Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, oil pipelines crossing U.S. borders require a presidential permit, setting off a government-wide review coordinated by the State Department.

An Associated Press examination of every cross-border pipeline application since 2004, when Bush revised the process, shows that the Keystone review has been anything but ordinary.

Since April 2004, when Bush signed his order, the government has taken an average of 478 days — less than a year and a half — to approve or reject all other applications. TransCanada has waited nearly seven years for a ruling.

Moreover, former Bush White House officials who worked on the executive order say the State Department-coordinated process was intended to expedite approval of cross-border pipelines, not delay it:

Approving a pipeline permit “was seen as the most routine, boring thing in the world,” [said] Robert McNally, who was an energy adviser to Bush.

Here’s how the process is supposed to work:

Under Bush’s executive order, the State Department receives permit applications and circulates them to agencies such as the Commerce Department, Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The agencies have 90 days to offer opinions. If the State Department decides to grant approval, it notifies other agencies, which have 15 days to object before a permit is issued.

Yet:

More than 16 months have passed since the State Department’s 30-day public comment period ended. The State Department has not disclosed whether any agencies have objected to the pipeline. The department has said it is continuing to review the application “in a rigorous, transparent, and objective manner.” [click to continue…]

On Tuesday, August 11, the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, will present a talk entitled “The Promise of the Clean Power Plan” at a Resources for the Future Policy Leadership Forum at 12:15 pm at the RFF auditorium at 1616 P Street, NW, Washington, DC.  Regarding the talk, former EPA official Alan Carlin has prepared the following handout on behalf of  the Cooler Heads Coalition:

You are unlikely to hear today why the EPA so-called “Clean Power Plan” (CPP) needs to be rescinded, so this is an alternative view for your consideration concerning the Plan:  [click to continue…]

Post image for Gasoline or Ethanol: Which Is More Polluting?

 

 

Adding ethanol to gasoline makes it cleaner and reduces air pollution, right? So biofuel lobbyists would have us believe. However, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) comes to the opposite conclusion.

Lead author Jason Hill of the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystem Engineering summarized key findings of the study at a recent House Science Committee hearing. To determine which is cleaner, gasoline or ethanol, researchers must “compare these fuels over their full life cycle.” Hill explains:

That is, we need to consider the damage caused by producing them in addition to using them. For gasoline, the life cycle includes extracting and refining crude oil, and distributing and combusting the gasoline itself. The life cycle of corn ethanol includes growing and fermenting grain, and distilling, distributing, and combusting the ethanol itself.

Although combustion emissions from ethanol are lower than those of gasoline, production emissions from ethanol are higher. So much so that on a life-cycle basis, ethanol is the larger source of five different air pollutants: primary fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), amonia (NH3), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulfur oxides (SOx).

Ethanol vs Gasoline, Jason Hill, House Science, July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those results are an additional reason EPA should resist pressure from biofuel lobbyists to increase Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) blending targets for 2014-2016. As Hill cautions: [click to continue…]

President Barack Obama on 3rd August announced the EPA’s final rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants.  In doing so, the President has finally fulfilled a pledge he made when running for president in 2008.  Then-Senator Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle in January 2008 that, “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

o as leviathanThe Existing Source Performance Standards (or ESPS) being applied under section 111d of the Clean Air Act to coal- and gas-fired power plants already in operation are called by the EPA the “Clean Power” Plan. Don’t buy it.  More accurate names would be the Costly Power Plan or the Skyrocketing Rates Power Plan (h/t Alan Carlin) or the Obama Power Grab (h/t Senator McConnell’s office) or the National Energy Tax (h/t Speaker Boehner’s office).

The final ESPS is 1560 pages.  The final rule is significantly different from the proposed rule released in June 2014.  In fact, it is so different that the legal case has already been made that it is a brand new rule and therefore EPA must start the rulemaking process all over again.

Here are some of the major changes from the proposed to the final rule.  EPA has extended the deadlines by two years, but has also increased the emissions reductions that must be achieved by 2030 from 30% to 32% below the 2005 baseline.  The proposed rule contained four “building blocks” by which States can meet their individual targets.

The final rule lowers its estimates of reductions that can be made from building block one—efficiency improvements in generating plants—from 6% to 2-4%.  Reliance on building block two—replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas-fired plants—has been reduced, while reliance on replacing coal with renewable energy sources (building block three), such as windmills and solar panels, has been increased.  And EPA has dropped gains in energy efficiency (building block four) entirely, although States can still count any emissions reductions that result from efficiency gains.

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Post image for EPA’s Power Sector Carbon Rules: Are They Legal?

 

EPA’s final “Carbon Pollution Standards” rule, released today, requires new coal-fired power plants to meet a standard of 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (1,400 lbs. CO2/MWh) – less stringent than the 1,100 lbs. CO2/MWh standard in the agency’s Jan. 2014 proposed rule.

Under §111 of the Clean Air Act, performance standards are to reflect the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) that has been “adequately demonstrated,” taking “cost” into account.

EPA says the final standard “better represents the requirement that the BSER be implementable at reasonable cost.” That’s a face-saving way of saying the agency’s original proposal would not have survived judicial review.

Although not as blatantly unreasonable, the rule remains fatally flawed. [click to continue…]

President Obama has not yet unveiled EPA’s final “Clean Power Plan” rule, but EPA has posted six so-called fact sheets. A few whoppers and rhetorical tricks in the preview “fact sheet” jump out at me.

Much of it is devoted to preaching the message that climate change endangers public health and welfare:

2014 was the hottest year in recorded history, and 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century. Recorded temperatures in the first half of 2015 were also warmer than normal. 

Not so fast. If 2014 was the warmest year, it was so by 0.02ºC – one-fifth of the 0.1ºC margin of error in surface temperature records. Accordingly, NOAA assigned 2014 a 48% probability of being the warmest year; NASA, a 38% probability.

NOAA-NASA-2014-Warmest-Year-Probability-300x224

Based on more reliable satellite data, 2014 was the 3rd or 6th warmest year in the record.

NASA NOAA Slide on UAH RSS Troposphere Temps

Besides, what really matters in assessing climate change risk is how fast the planet is warming compared to the forecasts on which scary-sounding climate impact scenarios are based. Here’s the big picture you won’t see in EPA’s “fact sheets”:

Christy Models vs Observations 1979 - Mar. 2015, Figure 1

 

 

 

 

 

In the latest (UAH V.6) version of the University of Alabama in Huntsville satellite record, the lower atmosphere warming rate of the past 36 years is 0.114ºC/decade — about the same rate the IPCC projects in its most aggressive emission-reduction scenario (RCP2.6). Is this a great atmosphere, or what?*

Christy UAH V. 6 Figure 3

 

 

 

[click to continue…]

Post image for Hearing Shines Light on Social Cost of Carbon Sophistry

 

 

Four witnesses testified on “the Obama administration’s Social Cost of Carbon” at a House Resources Committee hearing last week. Today’s post highlights key points from the testimonies of Cato Institute scientist Patrick Michaels and Heritage Foundation economist Kevin Dayaratna.

SCC Basics

First some background. The social cost of carbon (SCC) is the present discounted value of cumulative damages allegedly inflicted on society by an incremental metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over a period of decades to centuries.

Discernible in neither meteorological nor economic data, carbon’s social cost exists in the virtual world of “integrated assessment models” (IAMs) — computer programs that combine speculative climatology with speculative economics. By fidding with non-validated climate parameters, made-up damage functions, and below-market discount rates, SCC analysts can get almost any result they desire.

What they typically desire is to make fossil fuels look unaffordable no matter how cheap, and renewables look like a bargain at any price. However curious as an academic exercise, when used to make or influence public policy, SCC analysis is computer-aided sophistry.

The Obama administration’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) on the social cost of carbon uses three IAMs — DICEFUND, and PAGE — to estimate SCC values. EPA and the Department of Energy routinely incorporate SCC estimates into the cost-benefit analyses they use to justify their regulatory proposals. The White House now requires all federal agencies to incorporate SCC estimates in environmental impact reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Agencies have an incentive to periodically increase SCC estimates to make their regulations look more beneficial. For example, the IWG’s 2013 technical support document (TSD) increased the SCC values of the group’s 2010 TSD by roughly 60%.

In other words, in just four short years, climate change somehow got 60% worse and CO2 reductions 60% more valuable. Yet during that period, climate models increasingly overestimated global warming, and multiple datasets still showed no clear link between climate change and the frequency and strength of storms, droughts, and floods. Your tax dollars at work!

Earlier this month, the IWG published its response to comments (RTC) on the 2013 TSD. The IWG made minor technical corrections in how it runs the DICE and PAGE models but did not accept any of the substantive corrections recommended in 150 significant comment letters.

With that as context, let’s turn to the testimonies. [click to continue…]