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Post image for Bipartisanship Alive and Well in Opposition to O’s Anti-Energy Policies

We are bombarded daily with stories bemoaning the societal ills engendered by the hyper-partisanship of our present political discourse. It is, therefore, notable that both Republicans and Democrats can find common ground in opposing the worst excesses of this administration’s anti-energy policies.

Last week, for example, eleven Democratic Senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to stop dragging his feet over the Keystone Pipeline. Specifically, the letter demanded that the President make a final decision on whether to permit the pipeline by the end of May.  The signatories were Senators Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Begich (AK), Mark Pryor (AR), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN), Claire McCaskill (MO), Mark Warner (VA), Jon Tester (MT), John Walsh (MT), and Kay Hagan (NC). To repeat:  twenty percent of the Senate Democratic caucus is goading the Democratic President on a Republican Party talking point. Bipartisanship lives!

Of course, the Senate is historically the more friendly of the two Chambers of Congress. The House is now widely perceived as being far more partisan, and therefore far more dysfunctional, relative to the Upper Chamber.

And yet, contrary to this perception, 15% of Democrats on the powerful House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee last week sided with ($) a unanimous Republican committee vote, and passed H.R. 524, legislation that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from vetoing Clean Water Act permits that have already been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The bill is a direct response to EPA’s January 2011 revocation of a Clean Water Act permit that had already been granted to a surface coal mining project in Logan County, West Virginia. (For much more, see here, here, and here). This was the first time EPA had claimed the authority to issue a retroactive veto; before, permits had been thought to have been akin to a property right (for their duration). EPA justified the veto as being necessary to protect an insect that isn’t an endangered species.

Evidently, EPA’s power grab was too much, even for members of the President’s own party. The bipartisan fear galvanizing H.R. 524 is that EPA now claims the authority to effectively end any business reliant on Clean Water Act permits, at any time, based on the flimsiest of justifications.

Thus, it was a banner week for bipartisanship. Not that you read or heard about it. To be sure, the media normally loves to trumpet whatever both parties can agree on, in this hyper-partisan age. In last week’s cases, however, the common ends (a decision on Keystone; checking the EPA) are uncomfortable for the opinion makers. I’ve noted previously media’s reluctance to acknowledge that opposition to climate change mitigation policies is also healthily bipartisan. (See here and here).

Yesterday morning, This Week with George Stephanopoulos’s humbly titled “Powerhouse Roundtable” was debating the resignation of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, when Matthew Dowd, a prominent political consultant, said this:

This is what’s wrong with our system of government…We have a cabinet that no longer operates like you would normally want in a state or in a company, so that people are given delegation and accountability is held. Today, all the power is held by the White House…and the cabinet is given very little. It’s all photo [opportunities].

I respectfully disagree. The Environmental Protection Agency, a cabinet-level federal agency with which American business is all too familiar, is doing much, much more harm than could be accomplished with mere “photo ops.” Indeed, the EPA is waging an ideological war on an entire industrial sector of the economy. Worst of all, the agency is doing so on behalf its captors—environmental special interests–rather than U.S. voters. To be precise, green groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC have “captured” EPA, in the same way that industry was thought to have done to regulators in the 1960s. These environmental organizations spend significant resources on getting their preferred candidates elected. In return, they enjoy political spoils. The most conspicuous manifestation of this capture is the continuously revolving door between the non-profit, public (i.e., EPA), and private “green” sectors of the economy. Another is “sue and settle,” by which environmental lawyers at these green special interests have seized the regulatory initiative at the agency. Thus empowered at the EPA, these organizations use the Federal State to advance their political agendas against heavy industry in general, and fossil fuels in particular.

Matthew Dowd says the cabinet is impotent, because the White House is hoarding all the control. Contrary to this assertion, EPA, in fact, is running amok, performing the policy whims of green special interests outside the Presidency.

Video of the segment is re-posted below.


ABC US News | ABC Business News

Post image for Will Cherry Blossoms Get Sucked into the Polar Vortex?

DC’s cherry trees hit their official peak blossom date last Thursday, April 10th.  That’s the latest in the year that the Capital has experienced peak blossoming in over two decades.  (For you botanical historians, the last time that peak blossoming occurred this late or later was in 1993, when the event fell on April 11.)

In 2013 the blossoms were almost as late, hitting their peak on April 9.  That was a pretty dramatic change from 2012, when the date fell on March 20. This change was most disconcerting to two groups: tourists trying to plan their trips to DC in advance, and global warming alarmists who trumpeted every earlier-than-expected cherry blossom as yet further proof of global warming.  In fact, in a sizzling multi-part blog post series last year, followed by dozens of readers, we charted peak blossom dates against global warming data.  We even had graphs.  (See Adam Sandberg, Peak Bloom Is Here – DC’s Global Warming Canary Lands with Frost on its Feet, April 15, 2013.)

The past two years of unusually late blooms largely resulted from unusually cold weather.  But unusually cold weather, in the view of White House Science Advisor John Holdren, is actually yet another sign of global warming.  Holdren explained this to a freezing yet grateful nation in a two-minute video last January entitled The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes.

We suspect that Holdren’s agency, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), may now have a second video in the works in this Blame-Everything-On-Global-Warming series.  Perhaps they’ll call it Delayed Peak Blossoming Explained in 2 Minutes.

Regardless, we think Holdren’s first video is scientifically bogus, and so today we’re filing a formal Information Quality Act Correction Request with OSTP on that very issue.  Who knows—we may yet nip this video series in the bud.

Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless: American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan gave illuminating answers in an interview with Bill Loveless on Platts Energy Week. At the 2:40 mark of the video below, Mr. Kiernan explains that the wind energy industry would go “bust,” if the U.S. Congress fails to extend a subsidy that gives wind energy generators a tax credit worth $23 per megawatt electricity produced.

Mr. Kiernan’s dire warning was backed up by a report earlier this week from Energy & Environment News’s Nick Juliano, whose independent estimate that the wind energy industry would lose 30,000 jobs, virtually overnight, absent this one subsidy.

Keep in mind that thirty States have enacted Soviet style production quotas for green energy, and that wind energy meets the overwhelming preponderance of these mandates. Thus, the wind energy industry enjoys a government-guarantee for consumer demand. Few and lucky are the politically connected industries that receive such a state-sponsored perk.

And yet, despite these green energy production quotas, the industry faces imminent collapse, according to its own top lobbyists, if a single, albeit egregious, tax handout is allowed to expire.

Which brings me to my final point. In the interview, Mr. Kiernan innocently claims that the wind industry merits the $23 per megawatt tax credit, because it wants a “level playing field” with conventional energy. While I readily advocate for the elimination of all subsidies, I question whether Mr. Kiernan is sincere. Absent mandates and subsidies for all energy sources, and unless fossil fuels are regulated out of existence, wind energy would die a swift death at the hands of conventional energy on even a relatively free market. When competition matters, intermittent and expensive (i.e., renewable energy sources) simply are no substitutes for cheap and reliable (fossil fuels, that is).

The McLaughlin Group: Four months ago, I noted how John McLaughlin skewered global warming alarmists on his wonderful show, The McLaughlin Group. It was late December, and the show was having its annual awards broadcast. What prompted my attention was McLaughlin’s awarding of the “2013 Enough Already Award,” to “the theory that now masquerades under the pseudonym of climate change.” He then continued, “Even its most honest supporters now admit that there has been no increase in the earth’s surface temperatures for 15 years. It’s time to admit the theory is flawed.”

Great stuff. And it leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the issue. On this week’s show, we got more of the same. Near the end of the show, McLaughlin introduced a segment about global warming, titled “Apocalypse Now?” The question mark is operative. The topic of the segment was the recent release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Before the start of the roundtable debate, there was a long video lead-in to the segment, featuring one scary IPCC prediction after another. See for yourself (it starts at the 21:55 mark): [click to continue…]

Post image for WaPo Wonkblog Makes Case that EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard Is Illegal

On Friday, Washington Post Wonkblog published a notable article about “clean coal,” defined by reporter Max Ehrenfreund as “[t]he suite of technologies that the industry hopes could one day remove carbon dioxide from exhaust at coal-fired power.”

The most mature of these “clean coal” technologies is known as carbon capture and sequestration (“CCS”), although it has never been outfitted on a coal-fired power plant of even moderate size. The purpose of the Washington Post article was to throw cold water on recent media reports regarding the promise of clean coal. According to Mr. Ehrenfreund, the case for CCS in the U.S. is “weak,” because the technology is “exorbitantly expensive.”

Somewhat bizarrely, the Wonkblog reporter failed to mention that the Environmental Protection Agency in February proposed the Carbon Pollution Standard, a requirement for CCS on all new coal-fired power plants. Due to a unique provision of the Clean Air Act, the regulation goes into effect upon proposal. As a result, all new coal-fired power plants require “clean coal” technology—the very technology that is the subject of the Washington Post Wonkblog article. You’d think that this would qualify as “news.”

Whatever the reason for this rather conspicuous omission, I want to draw attention to the reporter’s use of language, which offers an important legal lesson. Mr. Ehrenfreund wrote that CCS is “exorbitantly” costly. This modifier is supremely apt; it is the exact word chosen by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals* to describe an impermissible requirement pursuant to the provision of the Clean Air Act that authorizes the aforementioned Carbon Pollution Standard. See Essex Chemical Corp. v. Ruckelshaus, 486 F. 2d 427 at 433 (D.C. Cir. 1973). As such, if the costs of carbon capture and sequestration are in fact “exorbitant,” then the regulation is illegal.

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Post image for Senators Sessions and Inhofe Come Out Swinging against EPA

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) announced at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing this week on the nomination of Janet McCabe to be assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for air and radiation that he couldn’t vote to confirm McCabe if she insists on denying the conclusion of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there is no historic trend in the incidence and severity of tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons).  Here’s the video clip.

Climate Progress, an especially deranged outpost of the ironically-named Center for American Progress’s Think Progress web site, immediately accused Sen. Sessions of opposing McCabe “because she accepts climate science.”

At the same hearing, Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), former chairman of the committee, announced that he will start offering resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act for every new EPA air regulation until the agency starts doing ongoing economic and employment assessments for all Clean Air Act regulations on an economy-wide basis.  Such assessments seem to be required by Section 321 (a) of the Clean Air Act, but the EPA has always (during previous Republican and Democratic administrations as well as the current administration) limited its analyses to the economic effects of only the facilities directly regulated.

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Post image for Ivanpah: Dead Technology Propped Up by California Ratepayers

In February, the New York Times ran a stunning article, “A Huge Solar Plant Opens, Facing Doubt about the Future,” concerning the start of the Ivanpah project, the world’s largest concentrated solar thermal power plant. Situated in California’s Mohave Desert, Ivanpah generates up to 393 megawatts of solar power with 350,000 mirrors arrayed over five square miles, which redirect and focus the sun’s rays in the service of boiling water to drive conventional steam turbines. According to the New York Times report, industry analysts believe that the technology behind Ivanpah is no longer viable on the energy market, even though the project is brand new. It was “stunning,” to me, insofar as negative takes on green energy infrequently appear within The Grey Lady.

Yet the news also must have come as a shock to California ratepayers, who will be responsible for propping up this dead technology for the next two decades. In a recent interview on the invaluable Platts Energy Week with Bill Loveless, BrightSource Energy (the Ivanpah developer) senior vice president Joseph Desmond described the long-term purchasing power agreements his company signed with Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison as being akin to “building a hotel and having 100% occupancy guaranteed for twenty years the day you open.” Sounds like a great deal—for BrightSource.

 

It’s not as if Ivanpah’s power will be cheap. The exact terms of these long term contracts, known as purchasing power agreements, are not publicly available. However, we do know that the raw project costs were $2.2 billion, and that the peak power output is 393 megawatts. Because the sun only shines half the day, we can safely give the plant an effective capacity of 200 or so megawatts, although even this energy isn’t dispatchable. So that works out roughly to $2.2 billion for 200 megawatts of unreliable capacity, or $11,000/kilowatt. By comparison, the most recently constructed coal-fired power plant I can think of off the top of my head, Xcel Energy’s 760 megawatt Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo, Colorado, which was outfitted with the latest, most expensive environmental controls, cost $1,700/kilowatt.*

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Post image for Must Read: Walton Francis on the Social Cost of Carbon

Walton Francis, formerly director of regulatory analysis at the Department of Health and Human Services, submitted a sharply critical comment letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon (SCC) estimates.

Yes, I realize, this isn’t breaking news, but the SCC debate will be with us for years, and, as explained previously on this site, SCC analysis has become a menace to society.

SCC analysis is computer-aided sophistry. By “sophistry,” I mean what Socrates meant by it in Plato’s dialogues. Sophistry is sham wisdom raised to the level of a τέχνη (technê), the Greek word for art, craft, or trade.

The leading rap against the sophists in classical literature is that they “make the weaker argument [defeat/appear to be] the stronger.” That is, sophists use specious arguments to win in courts and public assemblies regardless of the merits of the case or issue in dispute. Turning common sense upside down, they make wrong look right and base look noble.

SCC analysis, similarly, uses sophisticated modeling to make renewable energy look like a bargain at any price and carbon energy look unaffordable no matter how cheap. OMB Circular A-4 on cost-benefit analysis admonishes agencies that “you cannot conduct a good regulatory analysis according to a formula.” SCC analysis is a license to regulate by formula. Grant the premise that carbon has a social cost, and presto, climate activists conclude that taxing and regulating away reliable, plentiful, affordable energy will make the economy more “efficient.” For further discussion, see the free market organizations’ comment letter to OMB on the social cost of carbon.

For those unfamiliar with this debate, the administration’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) has put out two technical support documents on the social cost of carbon (2010 TSD, 2013 TSD). The documents define the social cost of carbon as “an estimate of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions in a given year.” Implicit in that definition is another one: The SCC “is the carbon tax that would be imposed by a benevolent social planner.”

The IWG’s 2013 SCC estimates stirred up controversy because they were roughly 60% higher than the 2010 estimates, yet nothing had happened either to the climate system or in climate science to warrant the revision. What did happen is the warming “pause” continued for another three years, the divergence between climate model projections and observed temperatures increased, and scientific research further discredited Al Gore’s doomsday scenarios.

With that as background, let’s review Francis’s comment letter.

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Post image for True Conspiracy Theory: The Green Assault on Civil Liberties

There exists an environmentalist strain of armchair psychology that dismisses the input of free-marketers on the issue of global warming, due their supposed affinity for conspiracy theories about runaway government. According to this line of reasoning, some “conservatives” are “individualists,” who innately reject global warming alarmism, because of an unfounded fear that mitigating climate change would endanger their civil liberties.

I’ve long dismissed this reasoning as self-serving propaganda. After all, what better way to de-legitimize your opponents than to call them kooks? It seemed to me like a cheap debate trick. Now, however, I’m not so sure. It’s not that I’ve joined the black helicopter crowd. Rather, evidence is mounting that environmentalists both prominent and plebeian are all-too willing to forsake my civil liberties in order to mitigate climate change, the supposed #1, end-all problem now facing mankind.

To wit, a group of Senators in January formed an ad hoc caucus of global warming alarmists and their first task was to pressure Sunday news programs on global warming coverage. To this end, nine Senators sent a letter to Fox News chief Roger Ailes, CBS News President David Rhodes, ABC News President Ben Sherwood and NBC News President Deborah Turness, deploring the paucity of coverage given to climate catastrophes. They concluded,

“We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet.”

Not coincidentally, each network that received this letter ran a major climate change segment on its Sunday show within weeks.

Alas, these news nannies aren’t yet done. This week, one of the group, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, took to the floor of the floor of the world’s greatest deliberative body so as to bemoan the absence of coverage of the recent UN climate report by the cable news networks. No doubt, a strongly-worded letter “urging” the networks to “correct this oversight” is in the works.

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In which region of the world are plants most productive in photosynthesizing water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates? If you guessed the tropical rain forest, you’d be wrong. The region with the highest gross primary production (GPP) from photosynthesis is the U.S. corn belt.

That is the finding of a new study (Guanter et al. 2014) published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The team of 20 researchers used satellite-based spectroscopy to monitor sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF), an electromagnetic signal emitted as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

marlo post

Global map of maximum monthly sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF) per 0.5° grid box for 2009.

The results of the study really shouldn’t be surprising. The U.S. leads the world in combined private-public R&D spending on agriculture and is the world’s top corn producer and agricultural exporter. Nonetheless — and this too is not surprising — the corn belt GPP reflected in satellite SIF data substantially exceeds the GPP estimated in carbon cycle models. The researchers report:

Our SIF-based crop GPP estimates are 50–75% higher than results from state-of-the-art carbon cycle models over, for example, the US Corn Belt and the Indo-Gangetic Plain, implying that current models severely underestimate the role of management.

Perhaps to appease the political-correctness guardians at PNAS, the study begins with a warning that “past advances” in agriculture are “threatened by climate change,” and the authors say their research is significant because it provides benchmark data for “more reliable projections of climate impact on crop yields.”

Clearly, though, the finding is also significant for another reason. It doesn’t fit into the fear narrative promoted by the recently-released IPCC Working Group II (WG2) report on climate impacts. Current models “severely underestimate the role of management.” That suggests current models underestimate farmers’ ability to adapt to climate change. [click to continue…]