Cooler Heads Digest 1 August 2014

Post image for IMF Calls for $1.60/Gal. Hike in Motor Fuel Taxes

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has just published a 277-page report advocating carbon taxes. Titled Getting Energy Prices Right: From Principle to Practice, the report is described by IMF officials as “an effort to push countries into action well ahead of new treaty negotiations,” according to Climatewire ($).

I have ordered a copy from Amazon.Com, but it won’t arrive until Monday. In the meantime, let’s review some of the arguments put forward by IMF spokespersons in media coverage of the report.

My overall impression is that the report doesn’t offer any new rationales for carbon taxes that I haven’t already rebutted in previous posts (here, here, and here).

For starters, IMF assumes that, despite “many controversies and uncertainties,” the social cost of carbon (SCC) is a knowable quantity, enabling benevolent central planners to ‘get energy prices right’ and, therefore, improve overall economic efficiency. To quote IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, setting corrective taxes to make businesses and consumers pay for environmental damage is “not rocket science” and “straightforward in principle.”

In reality, the SCC exists only in the eye of the beholder. It is a guesstimate derived from non-validated climate parameters, made-up damage functions, and (usually) below-market discount rates. Worse, SCC analysis is computer-aided sophistry designed to make uneconomic renewables look like a bargain at any price and make fossil energy look unaffordable no matter how cheap.

For the U.S., ‘getting energy prices right’ reportedly means hiking motor fuel taxes by an additional $1.60/gal. That implies an SCC of nearly $180/metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).* Yet the U.S. Interagency Working Group, on whom IMF relied last year for SCC estimates (and probably still does today), proposes a central estimate of $33/ton.

Ms. Lagarde says the costs to be “corrected” include not only local pollution and CO2 but also traffic accidents and congestion. Accidents and congestion are real costs but they have nothing to do with the carbon content of gasoline or motor-fuel emissions. If every car on the road today were replaced with an all-electric vehicle, there would still be accidents and congestion. [click to continue…]

Two Wednesdays ago, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on EPA’s illegitimate Clean Power Plan, about which I reported in last week’s Cooler Heads Digest. For the details, check out the Digest; for this post, my purpose is only to draw attention to the brilliant opening statement made by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). He took aim at the role special interests played in crafting the rule. Below, I’ve provided a partial transcript:

On July 6th of this year, the NYT wrote a piece about the outsized role that the Natural Resources Defense Council had in developing the EPA’s new regulations to curb power plant emissions…The article says it was a remarkable victory for the NRDC. Now, for those outside the beltway, NRDC is a $120 million a year lobbying machine, backed by Hollywood elites. It is absolutely shameful to me that the EPA, under the direction of this administrator, would allow a team of lawyers and lobbyists to draft their regulations…

…EPA has decided to push a rule that was drafted behind closed doors by powerful, wealthy Washington lawyers and lobbyists at the NRDC. Let’s be clear, NRDC is a wealthy, elite, powerful lobbying machine with more influence over decision making in Washington than any ordinary U.S. citizen. They have millions which gives them access. The EPA has turned a deaf ear on those that don’t.

…If I’m wrong, then NRDC and the EPA and its Administrator can and should provide all records and documents that are requested by Members of this Committee and my House colleagues on how these new regulations for coal-fired power plants were crafted. Because right now, it sure looks like a trio of high powered Washington lobbyists write their regulations for them.

If what the [New York] Times is reporting is what the EPA Administrator has called “preposterous,” then the EPA must comply with any committee and FOIA requests for these docs. Comply [with these requests], so we can know the truth. If the answer is no, that you will not comply, or that there are more record keeping mishaps, broken hard drives, or lost files, then we’ll know the truth as well.

Sen. Barrasso’s challenge is a welcome development. I wish his staff good luck and Godspeed in its efforts to uncover the extent to which special interests were given the run of the mill at EPA after having helped get the President elected. Alas, the staff’s task will prove a slog, something we know from experience.

[click to continue…]

Christopher Monckton of Brenchley yesterday posted an excellent commentary about the warming “pause” on Watts Up With That. In previous posts on this topic, Monckton has tracked the pause in the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSS) satellite dataset. For example, in June, he reported that the global warming trend of the previous 17 years 9 months — September 1996 through May 2014 – was “zero.”

Monckton No Warming 17 Years 9 Months

In yesterday’s post, Monckton plots the average of five datasets: the RSS and UAH (University of Alabama in Huntsville) satellite datasets and the GISS (NASA), HadCRUT4 (UK Climate Research Unit), and NCDC (NOAA) surface station datasets. The averaged datasets show a period of 13 years 4 months with no net warming.

Monckton No Warming in Combined Datasets 13 Years 4 Months

This all flies in the face of the ‘worse than we thought’ school. Nearly a quarter of all fossil-fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the dawn of the industrial revolution occurred during 2001-2010 (see chart below). Yet in the past 13-plus years, not only has there been no acceleration in warming, there has been no warming trend.

global_fossil_carbon_emissions_google_chart

Source: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center

Now to the heart of the matter. Monckton compares the observed warming in the five datasets with the projected warming in IPCC reports. [click to continue…]

[EPA's Clean Power Plan] has the potential to comprehensively reorder the jurisdictional relationship between the federal government and states as it relates to the regulation of public utilities and energy development. . . . .[States] will have entered a comprehensive “mother-may-I?” relationship with the EPA that has never before existed. – FERC Commissioner Tony Clark

Five Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) testified today on EPA’s Clean Power Plan before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

FERC's Tony Clark

FERC’s Tony Clark

EPA’s Clean Power Plan establishes carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets for the electric power sectors of 49 states. The Plan outlines four “building block” strategies states are likely use to meet their respective targets: (1) improve the efficiency of coal power plants, (2) shift base load generation from coal to natural gas, (3) shift electric generation from fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear, and (4) reduce electricity consumption through demand-side management (DSM) programs.

In his briefing memo, Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) asserts that EPA’s proposed rule “would require significant changes to the way electricity is generated, transmitted, and consumed in States across the country.” Two witnesses spoke directly to that point.

FERC Commissioner Philip D. Moeller described the fundamental change contemplated by the Clean Power Plan as a switch from “economic dispatch” to “environmental dispatch”:

For decades we have relied on the concept of “economic dispatch” of electric generation. Simply put, the power plants with the lowest operating cost are called first to generate electricity — with various reliability requirements and other factors as part of the decision, depending on the structure of various markets. By moving to what is essentially “environmental dispatch,” units will be called to generate primarily based upon the emission profile of the unit.

It is hard to imagine how giving low-carbon generation priority over low-cost generation would not increase electric rates. It is also not hard to imagine how pushing renewables higher in the “merit order of dispatch” could complicate the task of balancing loads and ensuring grid reliability.

Commissioner Tony Clark views the basic change in political terms. The Clean Power Plan replaces cooperative federalism with a hegemonic system in which EPA has final say on how states generate, transmit, and consume electricity: [click to continue…]

Yesterday, CEI published a new study by me, on EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In a nutshell, I argue that the EPA’s rule lacks an electoral mandate, contravenes congressional intent, and was crafted by special interests. In a word, the regulation is illegitimate.

William Yeatman – EPA Climate Rule – FINAL

Yesterday I participated on a Heritage Foundation panel on ‘Extremism at the EPA: A Discussion on Federal Overreach, Regulation Costs, and Climate Realities.’ Fellow panelists were Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) and Heritage’s David Kreutzer. The event was hosted by Heritage Fellow Nicolas Loris. I’ve reposted the video below.

Rep. Kelly started things off with a rousing speech in defense of affordable energy. Kreutzer then debunked the so-called “social cost of carbon,” the dubious statistic on which EPA relies in order to justify its climate regulations. Finally, I discussed the illegitimacy of EPA’s recently proposed Clean Air Act regulations for greenhouse gases from existing power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. Kreutzer starts at the 44th minute; I start at the 58th minute. Over at the Daily Signal, Natalie Johnson wrote a story on the panel.

Post image for Wasted in Margarita Island: Hugo Chavez as Climate Action Hero (Some People Say There’s a Capitalist to Blame)

The top story in international climate news this week is the Margarita Declaration issued in the name of 130 ‘social’ (non-governmental) organizations participating in the July 15-18 Social Pre-COP meeting on Margarita Island, Venezuela. The groups don’t sign the document, so we don’t know which (or how many) of them actually endorse it. Basically it’s a rant demanding that ‘social’ organizations have more clout in climate treaty negotiations. Participants seek in particular to influence the UN-sponsored COP 20 negotiations in December, in Lima, Peru.

The Margarita Declaration is attracting media attention because it (1) blames the climate ‘crisis’ of the “current capitalist hegemonic system” (par. 46), and (2) rejects solutions “whereby wealthy industrialized countries and corporations ultimately seek to use climate change as a source of profit” (par. 19). The latter include such ‘green economy’ policies as carbon trading and restrictions on deforestation in developing countries.

Some commentaries have pounced on the Declaration as smoking-gun proof that climate activists are watermelons — green on the outside, red on the inside. The environmental movement has no lack of collectivist impulses. Consider the obsession with “consensus” (groupthink), the popularity of social cost of carbon analysis (a pseudo science reminiscent of Marx’s labor theory of value), the zeal for green energy mandates (Soviet-style production quota), and the relentless lobbying for political-pricing of energy (cap-and-trade, carbon taxes) to correct alleged “market failures.”

Nonetheless, there are important differences. [click to continue…]

Cooler Heads Digest 25 July 2014

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.