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By Jennifer Montazzoli

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified for over two hours at a House Science Committee hearing June 22 on Ensuring Sound Science at EPA. Not much has changed since the last hearing on this topic in July 2015.  The committee revisited the scientific unreliability of the EPA’s views of climate change, while McCarthy stuttered in response to the committee members’ demonstration of the facts.

Several members of the committee offered convincing evidence against the EPA’s claims, which often left Administrator McCarthy looking as foolish as the EPA’s scientifically unsupportable proposals. Throughout the intense questioning about climate change issues, the “Clean Power” Plan, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, McCarthy repeatedly stressed the importance of protecting the health of American children and the wellbeing of future generations.

After being questioned by Representative Ami Bera (D-Calif.) on the effects of climate on human health, McCarthy claimed that the EPA saves children from asthma and that EPA programs have reduced air pollution by 70%. Nevertheless, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) explained that while ozone levels may contribute to the occurrence of asthma, there are other factors that cause asthma including dust, mold, eggs, preservatives in foods, and pollen. He also noted that while ozone levels have gone down, asthma has continued to go up. Mr. Abraham cast serious doubt on McCarthy’s theory that reducing ozone levels will decrease childhood asthma. He finally asked McCarthy to be honest to families through accurately reporting what will cause and prevent asthma. Perhaps the EPA should do some scientific research before assuming their regulations will guarantee health improvement.

In response to McCarthy’s assertion that EPA regulations do not kill jobs, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) showed a video in which several coal-mining families told their stories of what they suffered when the Obama administration’s war on coal destroyed their jobs. Losing your job poses major health risks for families.  Mr. Palmer also explained that higher utility bills as a result of the EPA’s rules means that “households are forced to make choices that carry serious health risks” such as foregoing medical and dental care.

Speaking to a much friendlier audience at the annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, DC the next day, Administrator McCarthy returned to her claim that EPA rules do not cost jobs or harm the economy.  She said, “If someone’s making that old, tired argument that what’s good for the environment is bad for the economy, can you remind them that that’s so yesterday?”  Environment and Energy News PM reported that the audience reacted with laughter to her sarcastic question.

Post image for EPA’s PM2.5 Co-Benefits PR Trick Exposed

Summary

  • If we consider just the hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) targeted by EPA’s Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, costs exceed quantifiable benefits by 1,600 times to 2,400 times–a potential PR disaster for the agency.
  • To sell the rule to Congress and the public, EPA touted the “co-benefits” of the rule’s coincidental reductions in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.
  • In fact, EPA attributes more than 99 percent of the rule’s monetized health benefits to collateral reductions in PM2.5-related emissions.
  • But about 99 percent of those co-benefits occur in areas projected to be in attainment with the National Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5.
  • To calculate the MATS rule’s PM2.5-related health benefits, EPA ascribes equal value to PM2.5 reductions in areas below and above the NAAQS.
  • That is inconsistent with the basic concept of the NAAQS program, which is to set concentration standards at a level “requisite to protect public health . . . allowing an adequate margin of safety.”
  • Once we factor in the lower probability of PM2.5 health effects in areas where exposures are already below the NAAQS, the value of the MATS rule’s co-benefits falls nearly to zero.
  • The lion’s share of EPA-estimated Clean Power Plan health benefits also disappears.
  • Unless EPA makes its impact assessments consistent with its NAAQS determinations, the agency’s benefit estimates will become increasingly overstated and less credible over time.

MATS Back in the News

EPA’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which established maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from power plants, is again in the news. The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition by Michigan and 26 other states to freeze the rule.

Petitioners complained that EPA continued to implement MATS even though the Court last year deemed the rule to be unlawful. The Court held that EPA “strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating [HAP emissions from] power plants.”

Although EPA did not compare costs and benefits when deciding whether to regulate power plant HAP emissions, it did compare costs and benefits when promoting the rule to Congress and the public. EPA boasted that although MATS would cost utilities $9.6 billion to implement in 2016, it would generate $37 billion to $90 billion in health benefits in the same year (77 FR 9306).

However, EPA attributed more than 99 percent of the quantified benefits to coincidental reductions in fine particulate matter (PM2.5)–a pollutant not directly targeted by the rule and not classified as a HAP in the Clean Air Act. Specifically, EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis (p. 5-93) claimed that reductions in PM2.5-related emissions would avert 4,200 to 11,000 premature deaths in 2016–annual “co-benefits” valued by the agency at $36 billion to $89 billion.

A study by economist Anne Smith of NERA Economic Consulting finds that even if we accept the epidemiological literature supporting an association between mortality and PM2.5 at today’s historically-low levels (skepticism is justified), the MATS rule’s co-benefit estimates are flimflam. [click to continue…]

Post image for More Good News on Climate

Worse than we thought? Not lately. Consider some recent studies and data on hurricanes, rainfall trends, climate sensitivity, Atlantic Ocean circulation, and Antarctic temperature trends.

Major Hurricane Drought Continues

Not since Hurricane Wilma struck the Florida near Everglades City in October 2005 has a major (category 3 and larger) hurricane made landfall in the United States.

Hall and Hereid (2015), a study published last year in Geophysical Research Letters, reported that the nine-year “drought” in major U.S. hurricane landfalls from 2006 to the end of the 2014 hurricane season was “unprecedented” in the historical record, which extends back to 1851. The two scientists estimated that nine-year periods with no major U.S. hurricane strikes happen, on average, only once every 177 years.

There were also no major U.S. hurricane landfalls in 2015, extending the drought to a full ten years. “According to NASA, a stretch like this is only likely to happen once in 270 years,” CNN reports.

To be sure, our string of good luck is bound to run out eventually. The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season officially opens today, and NOAA says 1 to 4 major hurricanes are possible this year. Nonetheless, a 10-year hiatus in major U.S. hurricane landfalls with a probability of once every 270 years was not what Al Gore told us to expect in An Inconvenient Truth.

No Large Change in Rainfall during Past 150 Years

The most comprehensive study of global rainfall trends ever, based on 1000 weather stations in 114 countries, with each station having at least 100 years of observations, finds that “most trends over a century or longer are consistent with little precipitation change.”

Contrary to popular climate fears, over periods of a century or longer, dry areas are not becoming drier, wet areas are not becoming wetter, and deserts/jungles are not expanding or shrinking due to changes in precipitation patterns. The study, published in the Journal of Hydrology, concludes that “some caution is warranted about claiming that large changes in global precipitation have occurred during the last 150 years.” [click to continue…]

Post image for House Panel Asks McCarthy: How Is EPA’s Continuing Implementation of the Clean Power Plan Legal under the Stay?

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Penn.) today sent an oversight letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy questioning the legality of EPA’s ongoing implementation of the so-called Clean Power Plan despite the Supreme Court’s stay of the rule.

The congressmen note that the Court’s order “expressly and categorically stays the promulgated rule” and was intended to “save states and other stakeholders from taking actions, expending resources and incurring costs in response to a rule that may not be legal.” Yet in the ensuing weeks and months, “EPA has been taking steps to circumvent the Court’s stay and potentially undermine the relief provided by the stay in the first place.”

For example, on April 27, EPA sent a detailed proposal for the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), a component of the Power Plan, to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. “This new rulemaking proposal arises directly from the Clean Power Plan and, but for this rule, the new proposal would have no basis.”

“In addition,” the congressmen write, “the agency has confirmed it is moving forward with its proposed ‘Model Trading Rules’ and other regulatory guidance for implementing the Clean Power Plan. These rules and guidance similarly have no basis independent of the Clean Power Plan. To the extent EPA proceeds with any such actions to implement the stayed rule, it deprives states and other stakeholders the benefits of the stay by compelling participation in regulatory processes that inappropriately assume the validity of a rule that may ultimately be struck down.”*

Of particular concern, “EPA officials have also stated that certain compliance deadlines in the Clean Power Plan may not be tolled [delayed] should the stay be lifted—the thrust of which is that states and other stakeholders would be prudent to begin voluntarily preparing now for rule implementation in case its legality is upheld. This ‘take action or else’ messaging underscores indications that EPA, despite the stay, is seeking to coerce additional action to lock in compliance with the mandates of its rule—even if the rule is found to be unlawful.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds

“Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds.” Says who? Some ‘denier’ group? Nope. The NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

From the agency’s Web site:

From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.

An international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries led the effort, which involved using satellite data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments to help determine the leaf area index, or amount of leaf cover, over the planet’s vegetated regions. The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.

That last sentence bears repeating. Satellite records show an increase in leafy vegetation equal to twice the area of the continental United States. The scientists, Zhu et al. (2016), estimate that about 70% of the increase is due to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. You know, the same emissions climate activists call “carbon pollution.”

Check out NASA’s composite image of changes in “leaf area index” (LAI) based on three long-term satellite records:

change_in_leaf_area

 

 

 

 

 

The new study may be the most accurate of its kind to date, but previous studies reveal the same big picture: a planet becoming greener, chiefly due to CO2 emissions.

Yet the Obama administration purports to estimate the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) — the alleged net damage of an incremental ton of CO2 emissions – using three computer models of which two, known as DICE and PAGE, have no significant CO2 fertilization benefit.

[click to continue…]

Post image for What Every Conservative in Congress Needs to Know about the Paris Agreement

Today, at least 155 governments are expected to sign the Paris Agreement at U.N. headquarters in New York. A visitor to a prominent skeptic blog posted the following comment:

“But Obama’s negotiators in Paris negotiated with the leader of the summit, another socialist, for a non binding deal. Essentially making the whole thing meaningless in order for him to attempt to bypass congress.”

That dismissive comment expresses an opinion held by many conservatives and skeptics. It is incorrect.

Beguiled by Obama’s claims that the agreement is “non-binding,” “unenforceable,” hence “not a treaty,” many conservatives assume it’s harmless, a global feel-good exercise they can safely ignore. Not so.

Bypassing Congress is not meaningless. It undermines and, unless forthrightly opposed, can destroy constitutional checks and balances.

Moreover, the agreement is inherently dangerous to America’s economic future and capacity for self-government. Here’s why.

The guts of the agreement are a detailed collection of reporting, monitoring, and verification requirements which, flagged by the word “shall,” are understood to be legally binding. Those procedural “commitments” are the framework for a global, multi-decadal campaign of political pressure. It’s chief function is to overcome U.S. political resistance to climate alarm, EPA’s power plant rules, cap-and-trade, wealth transfers from the poor in rich countries to the rich in poor countries (a.k.a. “climate finance”), and “keep it in the ground” restrictions on domestic energy production.

Granted, our specific emission reduction and climate finance commitments are non-binding in the sense of self-chosen rather than specified by the agreement itself, but for the United States, that is a distinction without a difference. Americans expect their leaders to keep all solemn promises, whether or not there are legal penalties for breaking them. As a GEICO ad might put it, “When you’re the United States, you keep your promises; it’s what you do.” The way nations honor their non-binding promises under the Paris Agreement is to turn them into legally binding appropriations and regulations.

Some conservatives assume that if President Obama can make America a party to the agreement with the stroke of a pen, a Republican president could withdraw from it just as easily. That too is incorrect.

The agreement “enters into force” when at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratify it (an outcome expected soon). After the agreement enters into force, a party may not notify its intent to withdraw until three years later, and withdrawal does not become effective until one year after notification.

So by the terms of the agreement, a Republican administration would be bound for four years to participate in the annual climate summits and endless rounds of specialized committee meetings, providing countless media opportunities for foreign leaders, U.N. officials, and green pressure groups to “name and shame” U.S. officials who question climate orthodoxy, fail to pony up billions in climate finance, or oppose EPA’s power plant rules and other greenhouse gas regulations that would be dead on arrival if proposed as legislation in Congress.

Congressional leaders can foil this scheme, but only if they challenge rather than repeat Obama’s core premise that the Paris Agreement is not a treaty, hence does not require Senate approval to enter into force with respect to the United States.

The good news is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) completely get it and today issued a statement challenging the constitutional bona fides of Obama’s climate diplomacy. [click to continue…]

Post image for Paris Climate Agreement: What Should a Republican President Do?

What political costs would a Republican president incur should he attempt to “withdraw” the United States from the Paris Agreement? That is a question to which President Obama has given much thought and GOP leaders little.

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, environmental reporters Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin argue that President Obama’s “rapid move to join the Paris climate agreement could tie up the next president.”  They reason as follows.

The Paris Agreement “enters into force” as soon as 55 countries representing 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions join the agreement (Article 21). A party may not withdraw until three years after the agreement enters into force, and withdrawal does not “take effect” until “expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal” (Article 28). Thus if, as expected, the Obama administration signs the agreement on Earth Day (April 22) and deposits the U.S. article of acceptance or approval before Obama leaves office, America will be a party to the agreement for at least the next four years — “the length of a presidential term.”

Yet as Mooney and Eilperin acknowledge, the administration “has said that the Paris agreement is not, in its eyes, a formal, legally binding treaty, which means that it doesn’t have to be ratified by the Senate.” That raises an obvious question. If the agreement is not a formal treaty, if it’s not legally binding, how exactly does it “enter into force” with respect to the United States? How can it bind us to remain a party until 2020 even if the American people elect a president and Congress opposed to the agreement?

Mooney and Eilperin fail to flag the rhetorical sleight of hand by which Obama seeks to have his cake and eat it. Obama wants an agreement that, like a real climate treaty, controls domestic energy policy for decades to come, regardless of domestic politics and the policy preferences of future U.S. leaders.  Yet he also wants an agreement that is somehow not a treaty, so he can adopt it unilaterally, with the stroke of a pen, without engaging the Senate, where the agreement would be dead on arrival.

This game plan should be too clever by half. I say “should be,” because most GOP leaders have not shown they have the wits and courage to unmask and defeat it.

The first step in foiling Obama’s end-run around the Constitution is simply to call the Paris Agreement by its proper name: a treaty. [click to continue…]

Post image for Carbon Capture and Storage: Adequately Demonstrated?

EPA claims carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the “adequately demonstrated” best system of emission reduction (BSER) for new coal-fired power plants. Is it?

“Adequately demonstrated” roughly means commercially viable. In its so-called Carbon Pollution Standards rule for new fossil-fuel power plants, finalized last October, EPA repeatedly sites SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 project in Saskatchewan as evidence CCS technology is ready for prime time.

However, the New York Times reports this week, Boundary Dam 3 “has been plagued by multiple shutdowns, has fallen way short of its emissions targets, and faces an unresolved problem with its core technology. The costs, too, have soared, requiring tens of millions of dollars in new equipment and repairs.”

Superficially, Boundary Dam 3 looks like an ideal candidate for CCS technology. “Hundreds of years of coal reserves are buried under the ground nearby, virtually eliminating transportation costs.” The project “received a major Canadian subsidy.” It has a 10-year contract to sell captured CO2 to Cenovus Energy, which injects the gas underground to extract “tertiary” oil from older wells — a process known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

Yet recently released confidential internal documents show that instead of capturing 90% of the plant’s CO2 as intended, the system is working at “only 45 percent of capacity.” One document “cited eight major problem areas. Fixing them, it said, could take a year and a half, and the memo warned that it was not immediately apparent how to resolve some problems.”

Worse:

A chart covering the first year of operation showed that the system often didn’t work at all. When it was turned back on after shutdowns for adjustments and repairs, the amount of carbon captured sometimes even dropped.

One shutdown last year cost the company C$17 million, and repeated shutdowns have forced SaskPower to miss CO2 deliveries to Cenovus. The penalties totaled C$7 million, canceling out most of the C$9 million in sales.

A more permanent challenge is the energy penalty inherent in CCS technology:

On top of that, the carbon system is a voracious consumer of the electricity generated by Boundary Dam, which has 150 megawatts of capacity. [SaskPower CEO] Mr. [Mike] Marsh testified that about 30 megawatts of capacity were consumed by the system, and an additional 15 to 16 megawatts were needed to compress the carbon dioxide.

Tim Boersma, the acting director of the energy security and climate initiative at the Brookings Institution, said that extensive power loss is a significant factor keeping other utilities from following SaskPower’s lead.

“That is exactly the reason this is not going to fly,” Mr. Boersma said. “The plant’s efficiency goes down so dramatically.”

So much for the gory details. Let’s consider the big picture. [click to continue…]

Post image for Renewable Fuel Standard: Fact Checking RFA Chief Bob Dinneen

E&E news reporter Monica Trauzzi yesterday interviewed Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). They discussed the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Today’s post will examine one of Dinneen’s answers that is dense with misinformation. Before examining it, though, some basic background may be helpful.

Background

The RFS is a central planning scheme requiring specified volumes of biofuels to be sold in the nation’s motor fuel supply over a 17-year period. As incorporated into the Clean Air Act by the so-called Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the quota for total renewable fuels increase from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 36 billion gallons in 2022.

The RFS, however, also authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to make annual adjustments to the quota (known as Renewable Volume Obligations or RVOs) if the administrator determines there is an “inadequate domestic supply.”

Renewable fuel lobbyists have been castigating EPA ever since November 2013 when the agency, for the first time, proposed to reduce the statutory targets based on the “blend wall” — a set of market constraints limiting the supply of biofuels that can actually be sold to consumers.  Although the final RVOs adopted by EPA in November 2015 restored much of the cutbacks proposed in 2013, Dinneen and other renewable fuel lobbyists continue to cry foul and demand that EPA force refiners to buy ethanol at the statutory volumes.

Contrary to popular misconception, the RFS does not expire after 2022. Rather, the Clean Air Act leaves it up to EPA to decide post-2022 targets based on the agency’s assessment of various factors such as the impacts of biofuel production and use on the environment, energy security, and job creation.

Bumper Crop of Misinformation

Monica Trauzzi: So you need the RFS post-2022?

Bob Dinneen: Again, until there is a truly free marketplace. You know, ethanol is not subsidized today. The only liquid transportation fuel that receives a subsidy from the taxpayer is, oh, oil. You know, we’re paying refiners to drill deeper in the Gulf of Mexico and to frack in North Dakota and Texas. We aren’t subsidized. I want to see the renewable fuels industry continue to evolve. I want to see new technologies. I want to see new feedstocks. I want to see us get beyond the 10 percent blend wall. All of that happens if the EPA grows a backbone and implements this program in the way that it was intended to be implemented so that refiners have to invest in the infrastructure to allow E85, to enable E15 to be sold. It’s not that hard.

Dinneen has made those points before, so he’s not speaking off the cuff but presenting a settled position. Time for a fact check. [click to continue…]

Post image for Climate Bullies: Dems Ask S.E.C. to Target Shell

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) are at it again. In October, they asked Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White to “investigate ExxonMobil’s past filings to determine whether security laws were violated by failing to disclose material risks related to climate change.” This week they asked her to investigate Shell Oil’s filings to determine if the company “similarly violated securities laws by not properly disclosing climate-related risks.”

Lieu et al. claim the oil companies have known for decades about the seriousness of climate change risks, yet hid those risks from the public by funding ‘denier’ groups. As evidence, they cite an L.A. Times article titled “Big oil braced for global warming while it fought regulations.” The Times reporters claim both companies made significant investments to protect their facilities from sea-level rise, hence must have known how dangerous climate change is. Let’s see if there is anything to that line of argument. [click to continue…]