Politics

At EcoWatch, Megan Quinn Bachman advocates creating state-owned banks to fund “green electricity—and other sustainability projects.”  Unfortunately, government-owned banks have a sad history of subsidizing ecologically-destructive boondoggles.  Bachman points to one of the few examples of state banks that managed to turn a profit, the Bank of North Dakota.  But its funds have gone to fossil-fuel projects, not green energy, and effectively subsidized some fossil-fuel projects through below-market rates.

As bank-regulation expert Mark Calabria notes in the New York Times, advocates of state banks “might point to the Bank of North Dakota, currently the only state-run and state-owned American bank. Of course that ignores that in the 1800s there were a number of state-owned U.S. banks. They all failed miserably, and at great expense to the taxpayer. They were also magnets for corruption. But that’s history. Currently the Bank of North Dakota is generally a well-run institution. It is also a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. One need only look at its annual reports to see that the bulk of its below-market lending has been to the fossil fuel industry. It’s a case in point, illustrating that government-owned banks will tend to subsidize the powerful.”

Government ownership of other industries like agriculture also has had negative effects on the environment.  A classic example is in Soviet Central Asia, where the vast Aral Sea largely disappeared, leaving behind a vast ecologically-ruined wasteland after a massive government cotton project ravaged the regional environment.  As the London Daily Mail notes, “The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust  fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air.  The sea’s evaporation has left layers of  highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan,  and which plague local people with health troubles.”

Cunning politicians use green rhetoric to push policies that actually harm the environment and the economy, the classic example being ethanol mandates (which recently enriched Wall Street speculators, some with ties to the Obama Administration).  While in the Senate, Al Gore, working with fat-cat lobbyists, “saved the ethanol” industry by pushing through big taxpayer subsidies for ethanol.  (Years later, he belatedly admitted that ethanol subsidies were a “mistake,” a harmful policy partly designed to appeal to “farmers in the State of Iowa,” which holds the influential Iowa caucuses that can make or break a Presidential campaign).

For cynical political reasons, the Obama Administration clings to ethanol mandates, backing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations.”  [click to continue…]

The New York Times ran a front page story Sunday  on a new outrage resulting from one of the biggest scams in America today, ethanol mandates, and how they have made American consumers poorer, while enriching Wall Street profiteers through ethanol credits.  The story is entitled “Wall St. Exploits Ethanol Credits, and Prices Spike,” and focuses on

the rapidly growing role of Wall Street banks in gaming the ethanol credits market. Ethanol credits (or RINs, as they’re called) were created by the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress as a way to assure the inclusion of ethanol in gasoline as an energy-saving measure. But gasoline producers who couldn’t or didn’t want to include ethanol could buy credits from those who did. . . In stepped the speculators, amassing millions of credits and making a killing on the wide spread between the bid and ask prices of the credits. Predictably, this drove the price through the roof: the credits, which cost 7 cents each in January, peaked at $1.43 in July and now are trading for 60 cents.

The net result is that consumers will pay at the pump, notes investment adviser David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors.  As he  observes, ethanol mandates are having very negative “geopolitical effects” as well.  He agrees that “Ethanol was a bad policy, primarily to buy and reward grain-state votes. It spurred grain planting to meet the mandate, but not fast enough, so prices called out for more. The poor were hurt overseas,” and unrest in the Middle East ensued.  As Kotok points out, ethanol is

a massive scam. Our national policy diverts 40% of the U.S. corn crop (14% of the global corn crop) in order to produce a fuel that requires almost as much energy to produce as it supplies. Our ethanol mandate has starved millions of people; I’ve watched it with my own eyes in many countries in my travels. A 2011 study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that, since 2007, the expanding U.S. biofuels subsidy has fueled 20%-40% of the increase the world has seen in the prices for agricultural commodities. In a country like Guatemala, that means that tortilla prices double and egg prices triple. (Source: [New York Times]).  Ethanol damages engines, too — ask any user; I’ve seen it myself throughout the US, and Popular Mechanics concurs [Link]. Corn ethanol has poisoned our planet while it has lined certain private and politically connected pockets with billions. It has succeeded in raising our costs, for minimal net energy gains. . . .Global urban dwellers at the low end suffered again. . . .The spike in prices this year was a reaction to the shortage in corn caused by the drought last year. Rather than pay high prices for corn, blenders bought stockpiled RINs. The real story of the market was the explosion from $0.02 per RIN, when nobody wanted them, to $0.07 in August 2012 when the short corn crop became clear. This surge attracted the Wall Street players. They benefited when corn prices spiked again in Jan-Feb on the perception that South America crops would not clear the market before US crops came in in August-September. . . .Please remember that this all starts in the corn-farmed, politically charged Iowa caucuses. Which means, it is our sick and rotten political system that produces these behaviors.  That will likely continue until we repeatedly and mercilessly pound the politicians who have sold our nation down a river of ethanol.

[click to continue…]

People who are unfamiliar with science — like President Obama — have erroneously blamed hurricanes on greenhouse gas emissions, even though they do not trigger more hurricanes.

Ironically, hurricanes may actually diminish due to greenhouse gases and aerosols, as the Washington Post and Daily Caller note. As the Washington Post points out, research suggests that “by the end of the 21st century, greenhouse gases will reduce tropical storm frequency.”  Right now, other emissions — aerosols — are already reducing the frequency of tropical storms such as hurricanes, notes the the Daily Caller:

Stricter pollution controls may lead to an increase in tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, according to an article published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The article, written by scientists from the Met Office Hadley Center in the United Kingdom, suggested that environmental protection laws will lead to more hurricanes for at least 20 years, reports the New Scientist.

Nick Dunstone of the Hadley Center explained that man-made aerosols lead to longer low-level clouds over the ocean. The clouds keep the water temperature cooler and therefore less likely to birth hurricanes.

Dunstone specifically said that pollution controls that reduce aerosols will produce ”record numbers of tropical storms for the next decade or two.”

There also appears to be a direct correlation between the economy and hurricanes. During economic boom times, there is more pollution in the atmosphere due to industrialization, leading to lower numbers of hurricanes. Recession periods mean less aerosols and therefore more hurricanes.

This pattern has been seen with fewer hurricanes in the 1960s to the mid-1990s, versus higher numbers during 1930s through 1950s. The number drastically increased however in 1995 when aerosol bans went into effect. There were 28 hurricanes reported in 2008 and 19 every year since then.

[click to continue…]

The lead article in the summer issue of Regulation magazine, the Cato Institute’s flagship publication, is titled “What is the right price for carbon emissions?”  The author is Bob Litterman, a Ph. D. economist who is currently a partner in a NYC-based hedge fund.

Here is Litterman’s conclusion: “It would be best to get started immediately by pricing carbon emissions no lower, and perhaps well above, a reasonable estimate of the present value of expected future damages, and allow the price to respond appropriately to new information as it becomes known.”

Litterman’s article is followed by four comments by Robert Pindyck, Daniel Sutter, Shi-Ling Hsu, and David R. Henderson.  Pindyck and Hsu are for a carbon tax; Sutter and Henderson are opposed.

These articles were described by someone at Cato as “exploring the case for a carbon tax from a free market perspective.”  But I don’t see anything resembling a free market case for a carbon tax being made in Litterman’s article or in the pro-carbon tax comments of Pindyck and Hsu.

Nor can I find anything in Litterman’s background or in the references in his article to suggest that he is a free market economist.  He was at Goldman Sachs in high positions for twenty-some years and is a member of the board of the World Wildlife Fund.  Goldman Sachs is one of the leading practitioners of crony capitalism.  The World Wildlife Fund supports a variety of command-and-control environmental and energy-rationing policies that help keep poor people poor around the world.

It appears that some people at Cato are warming to the idea of rule by experts.  Manipulating the tax code in order to remake society and force people to conform to some authoritarian agenda is really just another variant of central planning.  Rule by experts was criticized insightfully in a 1945 essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” by Friedrich A. Hayek, the Austrian economist for whom the Cato Institute’s auditorium is named.  Hayek argued that rule by experts threatens human freedom.  In my own view, the proper “free market perspective” on a carbon tax is: No way in hell.

If you restrict the supply of something, the price will go up.  It’s one of the laws of supply and demand.  Thus, cap-and-trade energy rationing schemes drive the price of energy up, by capping the supply.  President Obama has conceded that in his unguarded moments.  In a January 17, 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Obama said that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his cap-and-trade plan to fight global warming.  He also said that under his plan, “if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

But journalists are not economists, and often have difficulty understanding the most basic principles of economics.  (Some cannot even do basic math).  What is clear to any economist or any college graduate who has taken Econ 101 seems disputed or unclear to many journalists, who are more familiar with trendy fads in college English Departments, and left-wing critical race theory, than they are with basic economic truths.

So it is that PolitiFact Virginia erroneously rated as “mostly false” the claim that cap-and-trade would naturally lead to “higher” energy bills for Virginia households.  It admitted that “analyses of two measures that have been before in Congress in recent years concluded that cap-and-trade carries a cost for most consumers,” but then claimed that such costs could somehow be offset, even while capping energy use, and result in “an average lower cost for consumers.”  While their effects on the environment may be disputed, it is clear that they raise energy costs for consumers by reducing the supply of energy.  (As a CBS analyst once noted, a Treasury Department analysis pegged the cost of the Obama Administration’s cap-and-trade plan at $1761 per year per American household).

Whatever their theoretical merits, cap-and-trade schemes tend to become vehicles for vast amounts of corporate welfare and special-interest pork by the politicians who craft them, like the Congressional cap-and-trade energy bill backed by the Obama Administration.  That Obama-backed bill contained so many special-interest giveaways that it would have fleeced American consumers without helping the environment, as I explained earlier (it contained environmentally-harmful ethanol subsidies and could have driven industry overseas to countries with less environmental protections).

As Professor Glenn Reynolds notes, if you want to cut carbon emissions, you should eliminate regulatory obstacles to fracking, since fracking cuts carbon emissions far more than costly cap-and-trade regulations do.  By expanding access to clean natural gas, fracking is helping reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. As Walter Russell Mead notes at The American Interest, “fracking is doing more to control carbon emissions than all the efforts of all the greens in the world. And by promoting American (and Chinese!) domestic energy production, it is doing more to lay the foundations of world peace than all the peace activists and disarmament campaigners in the world.” Fracking has “driven a natural gas boom in this country and dramatically cut the cost of the cleanest hydrocarbon energy source of them all,” contributing to cleaner air, not just lower greenhouse gas emissions.  It is also expected to greatly reduce our dependence on foreign energy.

As CNN notes, “U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling” thanks to things like fracking. “Europe, by contrast, has seen its energy-sector carbon emissions remain basically flat,” even though Europe operates under a costly “cap-and-trade scheme where emissions are capped at a certain level,” and “Europe has significantly higher taxes on energy.”  Countries like Germany have blocked fracking to produce clean energy, even as they cling to a failed cap-and-trade scheme that imposes huge costs while failing to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has tightened restrictions on fracking, which is permitted under state law in many states.  But it has not been nearly as hostile to fracking as many liberal state governors and legislators, like North Carolina’s Bev Perdue.  By contrast, conservative governors and legislators have supported fracking, which has the potential to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Environmental Luddites oppose fracking, preferring draconian and utopian energy rationing schemes instead.  They hype non-existent or exaggerated risks associated with it, ignoring the complete lack of any evidence to date that it would harm the environment.

Environmental groups like the NRDC prefer rigid government restrictions on carbon emissions by factories, farms, and vehicles, even though such restrictions could cripple the economy.  If they can’t obtain that (through EPA regulations), then they’ll take a cap-and-trade limit on emissions.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Supreme Court Allows Challenge to EPA Power Grab, Cites CEI Brief in Sackett v. EPA; But Property Rights Still In Jeopardy

In recent years, the EPA has sought to block land from being used by claiming that vast tracts of seemingly dry land are actually “wetlands.”  The Clean Water Act gives it the power to regulate “waters of the United States.”  The EPA has interpreted that expansively to effectively mean “moistures of the United States,” treating perfectly ordinarily land as a “wetland” simply because water happens to occasionally flow downhill from it into a ditch or creek.  The four liberal Supreme Court justices largely bought this argument in the 2006 Rapanos case, so the Supreme Court is just one vote away from accepting this interpretation, which would render much of America a restricted “wetland” and financially ruin countless families.  Thus, property rights in America are hanging by a thread.

But yesterday, the flickering flame of property rights temporarily grew brighter. Rejecting the Obama Administration’s arguments, the Supreme Court held that EPA “compliance orders” restricting land use can be challenged in court if they are arbitrary and capricious — for example, if they are based on an erroneous bureaucratic interpretation of what a “wetland” is, that results in dry land improperly being declared an unusable wetland. In his concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito explained why such judicial review is essential: the EPA uses vague, inconsistent standards when it declares seemingly-dry land to be a wetland. As Justice Alito pointed out, “far from providing clarity and predictabil­ity, the agency’s latest informal guidance advises property owners that many jurisdictional determinations concern­ing wetlands can only be made on a case-by-case basis by EPA field staff. See Brief for Competitive Enterprise Institute as Amicus Curiae 7–13.”  (Justice Alito was relying on an amicus brief submitted on behalf of a Washington think-tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), by environmental lawyer Theodore Garrett of Covington & Burling).

The E.P.A. has a practice of issuing “compliance orders” to property owners telling them to stop using their land and restore it to its prior condition, under penalty of $75,000 a day in fines, and declaring in such orders that such land is a federally protected wetland. It then waits months or years before actually suing the property owner to collect the fines, which accrue daily, potentially adding up to millions in fines. But in the meantime, it insists that the property owners can’t challenge its claim that their property is a non-usable wetland in court. If they want to take issue with its claim that their property is a “wetland,” they have to wait until the EPA sues them later on to collect the fines, after they’ve racked up potentially millions in fines under the compliance order.  The order doubles the fines that a judge can impose on the property owners when the EPA ultimately sues them, although if the judge later finds the land was not in fact a “wetland,” he can refuse to impose the fines. (In the absence of a “compliance order,” the maximum fine for developing a wetland is $37,500 a day; the compliance order adds another $37,500 per day, bringing the total to $75,000 per day.  Federal law has a broad and counterintuitive notion of what is a “wetland”: for example, in one court ruling, the government was allowed to declare a property to be a “wetland” even though it appeared dry, since water occasionally passed from it into a roadside ditch that in turn flowed into another ditch that flowed into a creek).

[click to continue…]

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in the Solyndra scandal, Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave himself “an A-” when he “testified before Congress after a series of bankruptcies from companies floated by green-tech stimulus loans” and was asked what “grade he would give himself as a steward of public funds.”  But it turns out that Chu’s Energy Department was much more reckless in its lending decisions than the private lenders that the Obama Administration has blamed for the financial crisis (even as the Administration has expanded the role of the government-sponsored mortgage giants and federal affordable-housing mandates that helped spawn the housing crisis), manifested in “an 85 percent failure rate on its process check.”  As Ed Morrissey notes, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO)

looked at the handling of $30 billion outstanding in loan guarantees and future commitments and discovered that the DOE rarely follows its own written procedures for vetting and auditing applications.  In fact, in many cases, the Loan Guarantee Program (LGP) couldn’t even find the data managers needed to administer the loans properly . .

In the case of Solyndra, the Obama administration ended up overriding the expressed concerns of DOE auditors to grant the solar-tech firm $535 million in taxpayer guarantees, all of which disappeared in the company’s collapse.  In almost every case study investigated by the GAO, important steps got skipped in the reviews that determined whether loan applications would be granted.  In other cases, the documentation was so poor that the GAO couldn’t figure out what the LGP did . . . the process had at least an 85 percent failure rate on its process check.  . .

With $30 billion in taxpayer money at risk, the DOE under Steven Chu didn’t bother to conduct the reviews it claimed it would on applications for loan guarantees, didn’t keep records of what reviews they did accomplish, and signed off on loans with incomplete documentation and inadequate oversight of the risk.  The result — perhaps $6.5 billion immediately at risk, according to CBS, and possibly most of the $30 billion. . . Political connections existed with Solyndra specifically, but the DOE may have felt political pressure to sign off on loans quickly in order to get Obama’s stimulus started. . . the DOE under Chu has been anything but a careful steward of taxpayer money.

As Morrissey notes, Obama has also fostered financial irresponsibility by expanding federal bailouts “to include the real-estate speculators that helped inflate the housing bubble.”  (The speculator bailouts are being done partly with taxpayer money, and partly at the expense of innocent mortgage investors who have never been accused of any wrongdoing). The Administration has also forced some banks to make risky loans to borrowers of certain races, potentially contributing to future bank failures and bailouts.

As The Washington Post noted earlier, energy programs have been “infused with politics at every level” during the Obama administration. It hastily approved subsidies for Solyndra, whose executives are now pleading the 5th Amendment, despite obvious danger signs and warnings about the company’s likely collapse. (Later, federal officials successfully pressured Solyndra to delay its announcement about upcoming layoffs until just after the 2010 election, to avoid embarrassing the Obama administration.)  CBS News reported that there were 11 more Solyndras in the Obama Administration’s green-energy programs.

The Obama Administration has used green-jobs money from the stimulus package to outsource American jobs to countries like China: “Despite all the talk of green jobs, the overwhelming majority of stimulus money spent on wind power has gone to foreign companies, according to a new report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C.” As the Investigative Reporting Workshop noted, “79 percent” of all green-jobs funding “went to companies based overseas . . . In fact, the largest grant made under the program so far, a $178 million payment on Dec. 29, went to Babcock & Brown, a bankrupt Australian company.” This just one of many ways in which the Obama administration has used taxpayer money to outsource American jobs to foreign countries.

Ironically, in his State of the Union Address tonight, President Obama railed against “outsourcing.”  That was funny, because he has spent billions of tax dollars on subsidizing the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries.

“79 percent” of all green-jobs funding in Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package went to foreign companies, with the largest payment going to a bankrupt Australian company.  For example, the Obama Administration spent $1.6 billion on Chinese and other foreign wind power. The practical effect of those subsidies was to outsource American jobs.  ABC News reported on the subsidies for Chinese wind turbines contained in the stimulus package:

[click to continue…]

In his upcoming State of the Union Address, President Obama will push for more green-jobs subsidies at taxpayer expense in the name of job creation: “With a Solyndra-scandal-be-damned attitude, President Obama is expected to revive his push for new green fuel sources in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, claiming that they will boost jobs.”  But these impractical proposals are haunted by the utter failure of Obama’s existing green-energy programs to produce economically-viable jobs or fuel.

There are only 140,000 jobs in the whole renewable-energy sector, which illustrates the absurdity of Obama’s unrealistic 2008 promise “to create 5 million new green jobs.” Most of America’s existing green jobs predate the Obama Administration, which did not create them: “from 2003-2010, the rate of growth for clean jobs was 3.4 percent.”  By contrast, Obama wiped out 20,000 jobs recently just by blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline, and recent EPA rules will wipe out at least 800,000 more.

More job losses are yet to come: in 2008, President Obama admitted that under his greenhouse gas regulations, people’s utility bills would “skyrocket,” and coal-fired power plants would go “bankrupt.”  That will wipe out vast numbers of jobs in the energy sector.

[click to continue…]