The Wall St. Journal’s Sept. 20 essay, “Climate Science Is Not Settled”, caused quite a stir, in part because it was authored by physicist Steven Koonin, Dept. of Energy Undersecretary of Science during the first Obama administration.  Yesterday’s edition (Oct. 2) carries a letter criticizing Dr. Koonin’s essay on several grounds, and ends on a patronizing note:

“We welcome the constructive collaboration of the physics community in improving our understanding of … climate.  Many climate scientists are trained physicists…. We invite Dr. Koonin to join their ranks.” 

The letter is co-signed by Dr. Ben Santer, widely known for his work on the climate impact of human activity.

But Santer is also known, to some of us, for a 2009 letter to a colleague complaining about CEI’s petition to EPA to reconsider its Endangerment Finding.  The letter was part of the Climategate document leak, and says this about dissenting climate scientist Patrick Michaels, who was then at U. Va. and who now heads Cato’s Center for the Study of Science:

“Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I’ll be tempted to beat the crap out of him.  Very tempted.”

So if Dr. Koonin is planning to accept Santer’s invitation to join in some scientific collaboration, maybe he ought to show up wearing a hockey helmet.

According to an excellent article by Sean Murphy of the Associated Press in Oklahoma, wind farms are becoming politically controversial in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. In the past decade, wind energy in Oklahoma has increased from 113 windmills in three projects to 1,700 windmills in 30 projects.

Murphy writes: “A decade ago, states offered wind-energy developers an open-armed embrace, envisioning a bright future for an industry that would offer cheap electricity, new jobs and steady income for large landowners, especially in rural areas with few other economic prospects.  To ensure the opportunity didn’t slip away, lawmakers promised little or no regulation and generous tax breaks.”

However: “But now that wind turbines stand tall across many parts of the nation’s windy heartland, some leaders in Oklahoma and other states fear their efforts succeeded too well, attracting an industry that gobbles up huge subsidies, draws frequent complaints and uses its powerful lobby to resist any reforms…. Opposition is also mounting about the loss of scenic views, the noise from spinning blades, the flashing lights that dot the horizon at night and a lack of public notice about where the turbines will be erected.”

While “the growing cost of the subsidies could decimate state funding for schools, highways and prisons,” the political establishment in Oklahoma is just starting to wake up to the problems that result from creating a new special interest funded by government largesse.  “With the rapid expansion came political clout. The industry now has nearly a dozen registered lobbyists working to stop new regulations and preserve generous subsidies that are expected to top $40 million this year.”

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Today is the close of briefing in our appeal of Michael Mann’s defamation suit against the Competitive Enterprise Insitute, CEI adjunct Rand Simberg, National Review and Mark Steyn. Some background information and the court filings can be found here.

We’re appealing a lower court’s refusal to dismiss this case under the District of Columbia’s anti-SLAPP statute, which protects participants in public debate from being silenced by meritless lawsuits. Groups ranging from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU to the Cato Institute and the Electronic Frontier Foundation view Mann’s suit as being exactly that—meritless—and they make this clear in the amicus briefs they filed in our support.

One of Mann’s arguments is that his work has been “exonerated” by a number of investigations, including that of EPA. As our reply brief shows, that is simply untrue. But one thing that EPA did examine was Mann’s own claim that the work of certain opposing scientists was a “fraud”. In EPA’s view, “fraud” is an “entirely acceptable and appropriate” term in scientific debate. (CEI Reply Brief at p.11.)

In short, EPA didn’t exonerate Mann, but it may well have exonerated the defendants.

Post image for OMB Should Uphold Proposed Rollback of 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Targets

What follows is my prepared statement for a media conference call I participated in today along with Kristin Sundell,  Director of Policy and Campaigns, Action Aid; fmr. Sen. Wayne Allard, VP for Government Relations, American Motorcycle Association; Nicole Wood, Program Manager, Government Affairs, Boat U.S.; Ben Schreiber, Climate and Energy Program Director, Friends of the Earth; Emily Cassidy, Biofuels Research Analyst, Environmental Working Group; and Nan Swift, Federal Government Affairs Manager, National Taxpayers Union.

Ever since EPA, in November 2013, proposed to cut back the 2014 RFS blending target from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons, the agency has come under relentless pressure from the corn-ethanol lobby to withdraw the proposal. 

Hints from EPA officials indicate the agency is in retreat. That is unfortunate. The existing 18.15 billion gallon target would compel refiners to buy billions of gallons more ethanol than can actually be sold as E10 (the highest blend compatible with today’s fueling infrastructure, manufacturer liability and warranty policies, and consumer acceptance).  

Refiners would either have to buy what they can’t sell or pay heavy fines and exorbitant prices for blender credits (RINs). Most of those costs would be passed on to consumers at the gas pump. 

The political pressure on EPA to breach the blend wall – and the consequent peril to consumers – will only increase over time as RFS statutory targets ratchet up to 36 billion gallons in 2022.  [click to continue…]

Post image for Senate Finance Committee Hears Testimony on Energy Tax Reform

The experience of the 1970s and 1980s taught us that if a technology is commercially viable, then government support is not needed and if a technology is not commercially viable, no amount of government support will make it so.

Thus concluded MIT scholars Thomas Lee, Ben Ball, Jr. and Richard Tabors in their 1990 book Energy Aftermath, a retrospective on energy policy “blunders” of the 1970s and ’80s. How much mischief might have been averted in recent decades had House and Senate rules required a recitation of those words at the start of every debate on energy policy?

The same pithy, big-picture clarity came through yesterday at the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on “Reforming America’s Outdated Energy Tax Code.” I commend in particular the testimonies of Heritage Foundation economist David Kreutzer and former Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma. Below are some excerpts from Sen. Nickles’s testimony. (Subtitles are mine.)

Best Energy Tax Reform Is Pro-Growth, Non-Discriminatory, General Tax Reform

My primary message at that hearing two years ago was that, if you do tax reform correctly, there would be no reason to hold another “energy” tax hearing, because a reformed tax code should treat energy companies and the products they produce just like everybody else. No subsidies, and no penalties. If the tax code you devise encourages investment, lowers the corporate rate, and embraces a simplified territorial system, U.S. energy companies will flourish along with all other companies. [click to continue…]

Post image for EPA to Regulate CO2 Emissions from Aircraft

EPA plans to propose and finalize regulations establishing first-ever carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards for jet aircraft. The agency recently submitted an Information Paper to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) setting out a regulatory timeline. Once again, the Obama administration reads the Clean Air Act (CAA) to require a climate policy never intended or approved by Congress, and undertakes to negotiate an international agreement that likely would not survive a Senate vote on ratification.

A product of creeping Kyotoism, the yet-to-be-proposed rule has been gestating since 2007. From EPA’s Information Paper:

The U.S./EPA is initiating the rulemaking process in response to a petition the U.S./EPA received in December 2007, which requested that U.S./EPA make an endangerment finding for aircraft GHGs [greenhouse gases] and regulate these emissions under §231 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Petitioner filed a lawsuit in 2010 on this matter, and the D.C. District Court in 2012 ruled that the CAA required U.S./EPA to make a final determination on whether aircraft GHG emissions cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. U.S./EPA is now moving forward to make a determination regarding aircraft GHG emissions.

CAA §231 requires EPA to establish emission standards for aircraft if the agency determines that “emission of any air pollutant from any aircraft . . . causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” That EPA will make a positive finding of endangerment is a foregone conclusion.

As the Information Paper notes, EPA already determined in December 2009 that greenhouse gas-related “air pollution” from new motor vehicles endangers public health and welfare. Through that action, EPA empowered itself to set de facto fuel economy standards* under CAA §202, poaching regulatory authority delegated by Congress to another agency (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) under a separate statute (the Energy Policy and Conservation Act). So EPA will undoubtedly determine that “air pollution” from aircraft GHG emissions warrants a further expansion of the agency’s regulatory power.

The main difference this time round is that EPA will be setting quasi-fuel economy standards for aircraft, even though no existing statute authorizes any agency to prescribe such standards.

The scientific case for endangerment is weaker today than it was five years ago (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). However, courts are deferential to agency expertise and typically decline to adjudicate scientific controversies.

Courts may, however, be more open to scientific pushback if they question the coherence of EPA’s basic reasoning. What follows is a rumination on EPA’s attempt to define “carbon pollution” in its seminal December 2009 endangerment determination. EPA’s definition, in my view, is a conceptual muddle. [click to continue…]

Post image for Secretary of State John Kerry Explains the Greenhouse Effect

One of the disturbing aspects of the global warming debate is that so many of the leading public officials who espouse alarmism know so little about the basics of climate science.  I have seen many instances of ignorance over the years and have largely gotten used to it, but I recently happened on an example from Secretary of State John Kerry that astounded me.

Reporters and commentators noted that in his major speech on climate change given in Jakarta on 16th February, Secretary Kerry claimed that “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”  But reporters and commentators (including me) overlooked an even more remarkable passage in that long speech in which Secretary Kerry explains some “simple” climate science.  According to the State Department’s web site, here is what Secretary Kerry said about the greenhouse effect in Jakarta on 16th February:

In fact, this is not really a complicated equation. I know sometimes I can remember from when I was in high school and college, some aspects of science or physics can be tough – chemistry. But this is not tough. This is simple. Kids at the earliest age can understand this.

Try and picture a very thin layer of gases – a quarter-inch, half an inch, somewhere in that vicinity – that’s how thick it is. It’s in our atmosphere. It’s way up there at the edge of the atmosphere. And for millions of years – literally millions of years – we know that layer has acted like a thermal blanket for the planet – trapping the sun’s heat and warming the surface of the Earth to the ideal, life-sustaining temperature. Average temperature of the Earth has been about 57 degrees Fahrenheit, which keeps life going. Life itself on Earth exists because of the so-called greenhouse effect. But in modern times, as human beings have emitted gases into the air that come from all the things we do, that blanket has grown thicker and it traps more and more heat beneath it, raising the temperature of the planet. It’s called the greenhouse effect because it works exactly like a greenhouse in which you grow a lot of the fruit that you eat here.

This is what’s causing climate change. It’s a huge irony that the very same layer of gases that has made life possible on Earth from the beginning now makes possible the greatest threat that the planet has ever seen.

For those who followed former-Senator Kerry at committee hearings over the past three decades, his belief that greenhouse gases are “a very thin layer of gases – a quarter-inch, half an inch, somewhere in that vicinity –….way up there at the edge of the atmosphere” is perhaps not surprising.  Nonetheless, it is remarkable that Kerry’s explanation, which sets a new standard for utter imbecility, got by the highly-educated State Department officials in charge of vetting the Secretary’s prepared remarks.

Later in his speech, Secretary Kerry made the usual sneering remarks about people who don’t think that global warming is a crisis: “President… Obama and I believe very deeply that we do not have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.”  I suspect that were Secretary Kerry to find the time to attend a meeting of the Flat Earth Society, his presence might lower the level of discourse.

Post image for Rising CO2 Concentrations: No Measureable Impact on Floods, Droughts, and Storms

Climate campaigners and their media allies routinely attribute extreme weather to anthropogenic global warming. Some more cautiously assert that a particular flood, drought, or storm is “consistent” with what global warming “looks like,” insinuating that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel combustion must be to blame.

In Extreme Weather Events: Are They Influenced by Rising CO2 Concentrations?, Craig Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change tests such claims against the empirical evidence contained in literally hundreds of studies of floods, droughts, and storms.

Idso looks at studies of extreme weather in numerous countries on several continents during the ~70-year period from the end of WWII to the present, when three-fourths of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations above pre-industrial levels occurred. He also reviews paleo-climatological studies enabling researchers to compare current weather patterns with those occurring centuries and even millennia before the present.

The evidence Idso compiles is overwhelming. Here are the conclusions from the 79-page report’s three main sections: [click to continue…]

A new MIT study implicitly confirms the obvious: EPA’s “carbon pollution rule” — the agency’s proposed carbon dioxide (CO2) emission standards for new fossil-fuel power plants — is a fuel-switching mandate. Whether through miscalulation or design, the rule does not promote investment in new coal generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Rather, the rule effectively bans investment in new coal power plants.

The study, “CO2 emission standards and investment in carbon capture,” puts the point more delicately:

First, the impact of the U.S. EPA’s proposed emission standard of 1100 lbs CO2/MWh is most likely to be an acceleration of the ongoing shift of generation from coal to natural gas. An emission standard of this level is unlikely to incentivize investment in coal with CCS, regardless of any stated intentions.

Why does the “carbon pollution” rule block investment in new coal generation? Coal power plants can meet the standard only by installing CCS technology. CCS adds significantly to the cost of coal generation, natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants already comply with EPA’s rule without additional technology or investment, and “even in the absence of the standard, low natural gas prices would favor natural gas-fired generation over coal fired generation.” Thus, “fuel switching, rather than investment in emissions control (i.e., CCS), is the lowest cost compliance strategy.”

The charts below show the cost penalties incurred by installing CCS technology. Both variable O&M costs and overnight capital costs (the full cost of building the plant if paid upfront) increase as the percentage of CO2 capture increases. [click to continue…]

In a new study published in the journal Environometrics, economists Ross McKitrick and Timothy Vogelsang compare climate models and observations over a 55-year span (1958-2012). Observations are from three sets of weather balloon measurements of tropical troposphere temperatures. Those are compared with 57 runs each of 23 CMIP3 models used by the IPCC in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).

In a lengthy post on the Drudge Report Climate Audit, McKitrick explains that the study focuses on the tropical troposphere because “that is where most solar energy enters the climate system, where there is a high concentration of water vapour, and where the strongest feedbacks operate.” The two economists used AR4 climate models because they began the study years ago before a “library” of CMIP5 models used in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was available. (Note: McKitrick plans to update the study using the CMIP5 library.)

The graphic below shows how model projections compare with balloon data in the lower- and mid-troposphere over the observation period.

McKitrick and Vogelsang 2, July 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McKitrick and Vogelsang’s paper is 20 pages long and heavy on the math. Here is the bottom line as McKitrick presents it on Drudge Climate Audit: [click to continue…]