Post image for Some Free Market Talking Points on the Keystone XL Pipeline Amendments

On Monday, the Senate voted 63-32 to end a Democratic filibuster of S.1, The Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Today, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to negotiate a deal with Democratic leaders on a rule for offering amendments to the bill.

According to Greenwire ($), The Hill, The New York Times, and Politico, Democrats are expected to offer amendments to ban exports of petroleum products made from Keystone crude (Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts), mandate the use of American materials during construction (Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon), require oil sands producers to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington), require the creation of an equal or greater number of “clean energy” jobs for every job created by the pipeline (Sen. Charles Schumer of New York), and require Senators to declare whether they agree with 97% of climate scientists that man-made global warming is real and dangerous (Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vt.).

KXL proponents should welcome debate on those amendments and look forward to offer some of their own. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would offer an amendment to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

The amendment to ban Keystone-enabled petroleum product exports would violate U.S. treaty obligations under both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since the ban would not apply to petroleum imported from OPEC countries, the policy would, in effect, deny most favored nation status to Canada while retaining it for Saudi Arabia. And if preventing American products from competing in the global marketplace is a good way to lower prices and benefit consumers, why don’t we do it for all goods made in the U.S. of A? For more on this topic, see my Six Reasons Not to Ban Energy Exports. Sen. Markey, go put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner.

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Post image for Will Global Warming Reduce Wheat Production?

Asseng et al. (2014), a study published this week in Nature Climate Change, concludes that global warming “is already slowing yield gains at a majority of wheat-growing locations,” and estimates that worldwide wheat production will “fall by 6% for each °C of further temperature increase.” The study’s basic physical argument is that higher temperatures accelerate plant maturation, allowing fewer days for biomass accumulation and, thus, reducing yields.

The researchers acknowledge that “improvements in technology and management have led to increasing yields around the world.” Nonetheless, they contend, “wheat model simulations over the main global wheat-producing regions can isolate the climate signal by holding inputs and management constant with the exception of climate information.” Their model ensemble indicates that “Simulated yields declined between 1981 and 2010 (Fig. 2a) at 20 of the 30 representative global locations . . . owing to positive temperature trends over the same period.”

Wheat Simulated Global Yield Change 1981-2010

If I get their meaning, Asseng et al. claim that although global yields increased during 1981-2010, yields at those 20 locations would have been larger absent global warming. They also appear to be saying that absolute yield declines would have occurred at all 30 locations under a +2ºC warming scenario with even steeper declines under a +4ºC warming scenario.

A few observations spring to mind. First, the paper does not discuss Asseng et al.’s method for isolating the climate signal from other factors affecting yields. Climate economist Richard Tol cautions that the “signal” of recent climate change is “faint” and “drowned out by all the other things that have changed.” He elaborates:

If one tries to study the impacts of climate change on crops, for example, one must factor in the impact of new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and a host of other confounding variables such as air pollution and atmospheric deposition of nutrients. If one is interested in commercial agriculture, one needs to consider subsidies and international trade.

Second, there has not been much surface warming of the planet in 18 years, so it may be many decades before global average surface temperatures increase by 2ºC or more. The more gradual the rise in global temperatures, the greater the likelihood that management and technology will improve enough to prevent yield loss.

Third, management and technology have, in fact, boosted yields significantly during the current warm period. The world warmed 0.12ºC per decade during 1951-2012, according to the IPCC (AR5 Summary for Policymakers, p. 5), which implies an overall warming of about 0.72ºC. USDA’s Wheat Data Yearbook contains a chart showing, among other data, crop yield (tons per hectare) and total production (millions metric tons) over the 54-year period from 1960 to 2014.

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An inconvenient truth encountered by global warming alarmists is voter indifference. Poll after poll suggests that Americans lend ultra-low priority to climate change (rightly so). This is why candidate Obama ran to the right of Romney on energy/environment policy during the 2012 campaign.

Individual agency—antithesis of Prof. Proctor’s take on AGW

Individual agency—antithesis of Prof. Proctor’s take on AGW

Indeed, voter apathy in the face of climate change drives AGW activists batty with frustration, so much so that they refuse to acknowledge the phenomenon. Instead of accepting the truth at hand—that everyday Americans simply don’t care about global warming in a lifetime filled with more pressing matters—climate worry warts, especially those in academia, are given to grand conspiracy theories about how nefarious fossil fuel industries spend untold billions to manipulate the American polity into its current ambivalence regarding the imperative to “do something” about global warming.

Of course, this thesis is belied by a cursory Google News search of the term “climate change,” which reliably engenders a parade of horribles on the impending catastrophic impacts in store for civilization. To wit, here is a representative sampling of first-page headlines from just such a search, conducted this morning:

  • “Risk of dengue fever increases due to climate change” (Fox News);
  • “Climate change could cost US coasts $1 trillion by 2100” (Science Now);
  • “Another threat from climate change: bad-tasting shrimp” (LA Times);
  • “Will global climate change ground commercial airlines?” (Top Secret Writers).

As usual, there weren’t any “denier” headlines. Which raises an obvious question: How is climate messaging almost always alarming, if industry is pulling all the strings?  [click to continue…]

RenewableEnergyWorld.com (“The World’s #1 Renewable Energy Website”) on Monday reported that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System was named the 2014 Renewable Energy Project of the Year at the PennWell Annual Awards Gala.

I greet this news with a query: Are you serious!?!

Southern California-based Ivanpah, which uses 350,000 heliostat mirrors that focus sunlight on several centralized power towers in order to power steam turbines, was completed in April, and has since suffered a spate of awful news. For starters, the project is exorbitantly expensive. And upon becoming operational, certain unintended consequences came to light, including the project’s propensity for incinerating birds midflight and also blinding pilots. The final insult is that the power plant is on pace to generate only 40 percent of its year-one goal.

Simply put: Ivanpah is an expensive, bird-frying, under-performing mess…and also the “2014 Renewable Energy Project of the Year.”  If this is the best that renewable energy had to offer in 2014, then the industry is in deep doo-doo.

On November 24th, EPA Region 6 issued a pre-publication version of a proposed federal implementation plan that would seize Regional Haze programs run by Texas and Oklahoma pursuant to the Clean Air Act. A final proposal will be published in the Federal register any day now.

I’ve only started acquainting myself with the document, but media reports indicate that the costs of these FIPs would be $2 billion. When I’m up to speed on the rule, I’ll post a summary. Given EPA’s history of Regional Haze FIPs, about which I wrote a study, there’s a high probability that this rule would achieve literally invisible “benefits” in exchange for the billions it would cost.

Globalwarming.org has been keeping a running tally of Obama-era Clean Air Act FIPs (below). The president is up to 54, which is almost 11 times the sum of his three predecessor administrations!


Post image for EPA Climate Rule’s Hypothetical Impact: Too Small to Detect

Dan Simmons of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) today posts a stinging rebuke to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s attack on the American Legislative Exchange Council and the “Reliable, Safe and Affordable Power (RASP) Act.”

Quick background: RASP is a model bill for state lawmakers. It is likely to be considered this week at ALEC’s annual Washington, D.C. meeting. ALEC is the non-partisan association of state lawmakers dedicated to limited government, free markets, and federalism.

RASP instructs state agencies (1) not to prepare to implement EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) until the rule’s legality has been fully resolved in courts, and (2) not to expend funds to execute a CPP implementation plan until committees of jurisdiction in the state legislature approve the plan.

The first of those restrictions is protection against government waste. The CPP is a legal mess, so it makes no sense for states to develop implementation plans until the judicial system resolves the many predictable legal controversies. The second restriction safeguards democracy by ensuring that state elected officials, not bureaucrats, have the final say in how the state implements the CPP in the unlikely event courts uphold the rule.

Yesterday, NRDC hosted a press conference call in which spokespersons for the group asserted that RASP would “paint states into a corner” and make it harder for them to shape their own policies, according to E&E News. NRDC’s point seems to be that if a state refuses to submit its own implementation plan, EPA will impose a federal plan without input from state officials.

That threat is an empty suit. Unlike all previous EPA rules requiring states to adopt emission performance standards for “existing” stationary sources under §111(d) of the Clean Air Act, CPP performance standards cannot be achieved by requiring installation of specific control technologies at “designated facilities” — a power clearly within EPA’s jurisdiction.

Rather, the standards can be achieved only by enacting or amending state electricity laws and regulations. Only state lawmakers and agencies acting pursuant to state statutes have such authority. If states ‘just say no,’ EPA is out of luck. EPA cannot impose its own plan, because the agency has no authority to enact or amend state renewable energy requirements, generation fleet dispatch policies, or demand-reduction incentives like rebates for programmable thermostats.

What’s more, as attorney Peter Glaser points out, EPA can’t even threaten to punish the state with loss of highway funding, because the Clean Air Act does not authorize sanctions for failure to comply with §111(d).

Wonderful news, though it’s not the main point of this post. Simmons provides new evidence (new to me, anyway) that the CPP’s hypothetical climate impact is too tiny measure or verify.

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Post image for How the Clean Power Plan Harms Public Health by Sucking up EPA’s Time & Energy

Earlier today, I posted CEI’s comments on EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Ours were but a drop in a sea of arguments. According to NRDC, there are 8 million submissions in support of the rule. Many millions more have been submitted in opposition to what the agency is trying to do (including ours).

For EPA, now comes the hard part. In order to render a reasoned (and, therefore, a permissible) final regulation, the agency must sift through each of these comments and respond to all unique and salient arguments. Of course, millions of these comments are “form emails,” circulated by advocacy groups. These won’t take much time at all to process. However, millions of comments will be of the detailed and technical sort that my colleague Marlo Lewis and I submitted last evening. These comments amount to scores of millions of pages—perhaps hundreds of millions—and each one is filled with complex language. Reviewing this mountain of information will require hundreds of thousands of hours of labor. This is a major reason why EPA made its regulatory regime for climate change mitigation its top budget priority.

Thus, the Clean Power Plan will dominate EPA’s attention for the foreseeable future. In the words of EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, this is an “all hands on deck” effort.

In this context, it is notable that this is a discretionary rule. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy is to issue §111(d) standards (i.e., the provision that authorizes the Clean Power Plan) only when doing so is appropriate. As such, there is no statutory requirement to issue this rule. There are, however, hundreds of non-discretionary duties that the Congress required EPA to perform. Regrettably, the agency has done a terrible job of meeting its non-discretionary obligations. Since 1994, for example, EPA missed 98 percent of its date-certain deadlines (196 of 200) in three core Clean Air Act programs, by an average of more than 5 years. For all administrator McCarthy’s talk about the need to protect children from asthma, she has done a poor job of walking the walk. In fact, the agency has shown little interest in timely meeting its responsibilities to control conventional pollutants.

In light of the fact that EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has conceded that the agency’s climate change mitigation rules won’t actually mitigate climate change (because the preponderance of emissions originate outside U.S. borders), EPA’s Clean Power Plan poses a distinct threat to public health, by sucking up all the agency’s time and energy that could be spent addressing conventional pollutants.

Post image for No Brainer: Senate Should Approve Keystone XL

On Friday, the House passed H.R. 5682, Louisiana Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy’s bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, by 252-161. On Tuesday, the Senate takes up North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven’s identical legislation, S. 2280. As of Friday, 59 senators had publicly committed to support the bill — one vote shy of the 60 required to send the measure to the President’s desk.

The President should have approved the KXL long ago. The Keystone controversy is completely artificial — a fabrication of green politics

The State Department is the lead agency in determining whether to grant the TransCanada Corporation permission to construct the pipeline for one reason only — the project crosses the U.S.-Canada boundary line, making it technically an issue of international relations. State’s job is to determine, on behalf of the President, whether the project would serve the U.S. national interest.

TransCanada filed its first application for a cross-border permit in September 2008. It has taken State more than six years not to render a decision. Yet the issue is a no-brainer.

  • Do modern commerce and transport chiefly run on petroleum-based products? Yes.
  • Are pipelines the most economical and safe way to transport large volumes of petroleum? Yes.
  • Is Canada our staunch ally and biggest trading partner? Yes.
  • Is Canada already the largest single source of U.S. petroleum imports? Yes.
  • Would the KXL enhance the efficiency of oil transport from Canada to U.S. markets? Yes.
  • Would the KXL support tens of thousands of American jobs and add billions to the GDP during the construction period? Yes.
  • Would all the financing be private and not cost taxpayers a dime? Yes.

So how could building the KXL not be in the national interest?

According to anti-Keystone protest leader Bill McKibben, “If this thing gets built, it’s game over for the planet.” In reality, the KXL is climatologically irrelevant. As Cato Institute scientist Chip Knappenberger shows, using EPA climate sensitivity estimates, even under the unrealistic assumption that all 830,000 bpd of Canadian crude coming through the pipeline is additional oil in the global supply that would otherwise remain in the ground, the warming contribution works out to about 1/100th of a degree Celsius by century’s end. “So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL’s impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable.” [click to continue…]

Headlines tout that the “U.S. and China have announced a landmark agreement to curb carbon emissions,” with the U.S. promising (to China) that it would emit 26% to 28% less carbon dioxide in ten years hence than it did ten years ago.  Naturally, under our system, for any such promise to be meaningful it requires Senate ratification under the Constitution’s Art. II, Sec. 2.  Therefore, some explanation is in order.

This promise — to China, recall — is not binding, is not intended to be binding, and will not be part of a binding promise to the rest of the world for the December 2015 Paris climate treaty talks.

This is the latest example of a new species of promise described as “politically binding”, a turn of phrase introduced in this context during the Bush years, in recognition of the fact that two-thirds of the US Senate will never agree to Kyoto-style constraints.  Shifting to “politically binding” promises also is an effort to circumvent that same reality by effectively introducing treaty commitments to the country without declaring them at customs.

Specifically, the Obama administration’s rhetorical vow is part of the shift in strategy recognizing that the successor to the 1997 Kyoto treaty must culminate with a series of “soft” commitments (those who doubt this might compare the rhetoric by pressure groups embracing Beijing with their insistence during the Bush era that nothing less than a binding pact would do).

In very short, the idea is to embed the Obama EPA’s proposed GHG rules in a series of promises to the world, mindful of “customary international law.”  Under that often gauzy notion, once commitments, however informal, rise to a certain level of recognition, a nation is bound to not violate their “object and purpose.”  So, post-Paris, options could include (according told draft pleadings produced under open records laws) activist state attorneys general turning to the court system to add law to otherwise non-binding commitments.  That would similarly afford an opening to compliant regulatory agencies enamored of the practice known as sue-and-settle.

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In a recent post, I explained how the EPA and environmental special interests entered into a collusive consent decree that would effectively require States to use air quality models to demonstrate compliance with national ambient air quality standards. Thus, unelected bureaucrats and green special interests rendered policy, in a process known as “sue and settle.”

The underlying suit, Sierra Club, et al. v. McCarthy, was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in Oakland. This is notable insofar as the court condoned a great deal of suspect behavior.

  • For example, in the course of the lawsuit, EPA and the environmental plaintiffs (Sierra Club & NRDC) litigated to oppose intervention in the legal proceedings by the States, even though the States are responsible for implementing the regulation in question. The Bay area court sided with EPA & the greens.
  • Moreover, EPA, Sierra Club, and NRDC pointedly refused to allow States to participate in settlement discussions. Despite this seeming affront to the Clean Air Act’s cooperative federalism structure, the Bay area court accepted the consent decree.
  • Finally, Clean Air Act “agency forcing” consent decrees are supposed to be limited solely to the establishment of agency deadlines,* as I explain in this article. The Sierra Club, et al. v. McCarthy consent decree, on the other hand, was naked policy: It mandated the use of a regulation that the agency has only proposed. In the face of this apparent procedural abuse, the Bay area court gave its imprimatur to the consent decree.

All of this brings me to the point of this post: I wonder how many courts would’ve objected to consent decree, either due to its non-participatory formulation or because of its inappropriate content?

After all, federal district court judges aren’t chosen based on merit; rather, they are nominated by the President, with consideration given to the recommendation by Senators from the State whose judicial district is at issue. They are political creatures. And, given California politics, it stands to reason that the Bay area court is one of the most “progressive” in the country.

So it makes sense that environmental special interests would want to get in this court. Alas, their primary legal tactic—the Clean Air Act deadline citizen suit (whence “sue and settle”)—allows green groups to file “agency forcing” suits in any federal district court in the country (42 U.S. Code §7604(a)). As a result, the opportunity presents itself for forum shopping, and that’s exactly what environmental litigants have done.

Recently, I crunched the numbers:

…[O]f all settlements pursuant to agency-forcing citizen suits from 1997 to 2013 affecting more than three states, 26 percent ( 12 of 46) were filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern California District, based in the Bay Area.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a wider sampling of “sue and settle” cases, found a similar bias towards the plaintiffs filing in this Bay area court:

sue and settle chart

This is something to which the Congress might direct its attention. For final EPA regulations, the Clean Air Act limits jurisdiction for judicial review to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. There is, however, no such requirement for deadline citizen suits. As a result, green groups are piling into arguably the most progressive court in the country, where they are operating with EPA to push the boundaries of executive power. This is suboptimal, from a policy perspective.

*This “sue and settle” process affects policy, but it does so in an indirect fashion, by giving priority to the EPA’s limited resources.