Lisa Jackson

Post image for Gina McCarthy’s Responses to Sen. Vitter’s Questions Part II: Fuel Economy*

Gina McCarthy — President Obama’s nominee to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator — is often described as “straight shooter” and “honest broker.” Is that reputation deserved?

Last week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) released a 123 page document containing McCarthy’s responses to hundreds of questions on a wide range of issues. Part 1 of this series examined McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources. The key points were:

  1. McCarthy and the Air Office over which she presides gave Congress and the electric power sector false assurances that the EPA would not require utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to “fuel switch” and build natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants instead.
  2. Such misinformation undercut the credibility of critics who warned that the EPA, if left to its own devices, would use greenhouse gas regulation to prohibit the construction of new coal electric generation.
  3. The EPA’s dissembling on fuel switching may have swayed votes against measures sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2010 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2011 to reclaim Congress’s authority to determine climate policy.

Agencies are not supposed to provide false or misleading information to influence how Members of Congress vote. Banning new coal generation — the inexorable effect of the EPA’s ‘Carbon Pollution’ Rule — is a policy Congress would reject if proposed as legislation.

Part 1 concluded that confirming McCarthy as Administrator would reward the EPA’s duplicitous pursuit of an agenda Congress has not authorized. Breaking news of the EPA’s grossly unequal treatment of groups seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — based on whether the groups support or oppose a bigger, more intrusive EPA — leaves no doubt that this out-of-control agency deserves a kick in the butt, not a pat on the back.

Even the Society of Environmental Journalists — hardly a hotbed of libertarians, conservative Republicans, or fossil-fuel industry lobbyists — recently complained that the Obama administration “has been anything but transparent in its dealings with reporters seeking information, interviews and clarification” on environmental, health, and public lands issues, and that, “The EPA is one of the most closed, opaque agencies to the press.”

Today’s post examines McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the administration’s motor vehicle mandates. As in Part 1, I begin with an overview of the issues and political back story. For more detailed analyses, see the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee report, A Dismissal of Safety, Choice, and Cost: The Obama Administration’s New Auto Regulations, and my article, EPA Regulation of Fuel Economy: Congressional Intent or Climate Coup? [click to continue…]

Post image for Ethanol Mandate Waiver: Decks Stacked Against Petitioners

The Governors of Georgia, Texas, Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, and North Carolina have petitioned EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to waive the mandatory ethanol blending requirements established by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The petitioners hope thereby to lower and stabilize corn prices, which recently hit record highs as the worst drought in 50 years destroyed one-sixth of the U.S. corn crop. Corn is the principal feedstock used in ethanol production.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Bebe’s letter to Administrator Jackson concisely makes the case for regulatory relief:

Virtually all of Arkansas is suffering from severe, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions. The declining outlook for this year’s corn crop and accelerating prices for corn and other grains are having a severe economic impact on the State, particularly on our poultry and cattle sectors. While the drought may have triggered the price spike in corn, an underlying cause is the federal policy mandating ever-increasing amounts corn for fuel. Because of this policy, ethanol production now consumes approximately 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop, and the cost of corn for use in food production has increased by 193 percent since 2005 [the year before the RFS took effect]. Put simply, ethanol policies have created significantly higher corn prices, tighter supplies, and increased volatility.

Agriculture is the backbone of Arkansas’s economy, accounting for nearly one-quarter of our economic activity. Broilers, turkeys, and cattle — sectors particularly vulnerable to this corn crisis — represent nearly half of Arkansas’s farm marketing receipts. Arkansas poultry operators are trying to cope with grain cost increases and cattle familes are struggling to feed their herds.

Section 211(o)(7) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) authorizes the EPA to waive all or part of the RFS blending targets for one year if the Administrator determines, after public notice and an opportunity for public comment, that implementation of those requirements would “severely harm” the economy of a State, a region, or the United States. Only once before has a governor requested an RFS waiver. When corn prices soared in 2008, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas requested that the EPA waive 50% of the mandate for the production of corn ethanol. Perry, writing in April 2008, noted that corn prices were up 138% globally since 2005. He estimated that rising corn prices had imposed a net loss on the State’s economy of $1.17 billion in 2007 and potentially could impose a net loss of $3.59 billion in 2008. At particular risk were the family ranches that made up two-thirds of State’s 149,000 cattle producers. Bush EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson rejected Perry’s petition in August 2008.

In the EPA’s Request for Comment on the 2012 waiver petitions, the agency indicates it will use the same “analytical approach” and “legal interpretation” on the basis of which Johnson denied Perry’s request in 2008. This means the regulatory decks are stacked against the petitioners. As the EPA reads the statute, CAA Section 211(o)(7) establishes a burden of proof that is nearly impossible for petitioners to meet. No matter how high corn prices get, or how serious the associated economic harm, the EPA will have ready-made excuses not to waive the corn-ethanol blending requirements. [click to continue…]

Post image for Inside the Sausage Factory: The Obama Administration’s Auto Regulations

Earlier this month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a staff report on the Obama Administration’s fuel economy/greenhouse gas (GHG) regulatory program. The report, A Dismissal of Safety, Choice, and Cost, is the product of a “multi-year Committee investigation” that includes three hearings, a transcribed interview of EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, and a review of more than 15,000 documents obtained by the Committee from the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and 15 automobile manufacturers.

Some key findings:

  • The Administration performed an end-run around the law and ran a White House-based political negotiation, led by “czars” who marginalized NHTSA, the federal agency charged in statute with setting fuel economy standards.
  • Contrary to the statutory scheme Congress created, the EPA became the lead agency in fuel economy regulation and NHTSA was sidelined. Contrary to Congress’s preemption of State laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy, CARB became a “major player” and an “aggressive participant in the process,” allowing unelected state regulators in Sacramento to set national policy outside the federal rulemaking process.
  • The Administration violated the spirit – and possibly the letter – of the Administrative Procedure Act, Presidential Records Act, and Federal Advisory Committee Act by negotiating agreements on both the Model Year (MY) 2012-2016 and MY 2017-2025 standards behind closed doors with only a select group of stakeholders.
  • The new fuel-economy/GHG standards will add thousands of dollars to the cost of new vehicles. Consumers are likely to incur net financial losses unless annual gasoline prices reach $5-$6 per gallon.
  • Compliance with the new standards will require mass reductions that will, in turn, compromise vehicle safety. EPA and CARB officials mocked and belittled safety concerns raised by NHTSA.

In a law journal article and regulatory comment letter, I also make the case that the administration’s fuel-economy agenda trashes the separation of powers and administrative procedures. But the Committee’s report provides the first, detailed behind-the-scenes chronology of Team Obama’s fuel economy machinations, confirming what other critics suspected but could not document.

Some secrets of the sausage factory, though, may never come to light: “Despite multiple requests, the Executive Office of the President refused to provide any information on its involvement in developing the fuel economy and GHG emissions standards.”

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Post image for Pressure Grows on EPA to Suspend Ethanol Mandate

The worst drought in 50 years has destroyed one-sixth of the U.S. corn crop. The USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WSDE) report, released Friday, projects the smallest corn crop in six years and the lowest corn yields per acre since 1995.

As acreage, production, and yields declined, corn prices spiked. Last week, corn futures hit a record high of $8.29-3/4 per bushel.

If corn prices remain  high through 2013, livestock producers who use corn as a feedstock will incur billions of dollars in added costs. “These additional costs will either be passed on to consumers through increased food prices, or poultry farmers will be forced out of business,” warn the National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation.

Even before the drought hit, corn prices were high. Prices increased from $2.00 a bushel in 2005/2006 to $6.00 a bushel in 2011/2012, notes FarmEcon LLC. A key inflationary factor is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), commonly known as the ethanol mandate. Since 2005, the RFS has required more and more billions of bushels to be used to fuel cars rather than feed livestock and people.

Suspension of the mandate would allow meat, poultry, and dairy producers to compete on a level playing field with ethanol producers for what remains of the drought-ravaged crop. That would reduce corn prices, benefiting livestock producers and consumers alike.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has authority under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) to waive the RFS blending targets, in whole or in part, if she determines that those requirements “would severely harm the economy or environment of a State, a region, or the United States.” The pressure on her to do so is mounting. [click to continue…]

The Big Mercury Lie

by William Yeatman on January 4, 2012

Post image for The Big Mercury Lie

There’s a big lie making the rounds that EPA’s ultra-expensive new mercury regulation is worth the cost ($10 billion annually) because it will protect fetuses from developmental disorders.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is the most prominent perpetrator of the mercury lie. Recently, she gave a pep talk to a group of collegian environmental activists trying to shut down campus coal fired power plants, during which she said:

“It’s so important that your voices be heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power.  It’s simply not fair.”

Over at Think Progress Green, Brad Johnson does his part to spread mercury disinformation, by pooh-poohing Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) for having claimed (correctly) that the mercury rule won’t have any benefit for babies and pregnant women. According to Johnson,

“The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.”

Naturally, environmentalist special interests are the worst propagators of this mercury mendacity. The day that EPA Administrator announced the final mercury rule, Sierra Club launched a television advertisement depicting a little girl learning to ride a bike, while a voiceover states:

“When this little girl grows up her world will have significantly less mercury pollution because President Obama and the EPA stood up against polluters and established the first-ever clean air standards. This action means that our air, water, and food will be safer from mercury pollution and heavy metals generated by coal-fired power plants. Like you, President Obama understands that reducing toxic mercury pollution increases the possibilities to dream big.”

Global atmospheric mercury might or might not be a problem—I don’t know. But I do know that mercury emissions from U.S. coal fired plants pose a negligible danger to fetuses. And I know this because EPA told me so.

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Post image for Mercury Emissions and Exposure

Mercury is making the rounds in the news, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, a Lisa Jackson appearance on The Daily Show (and part two), and a bunch of angry blogs. From the angry blogger:

Famed science deniers Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, both of whom have worked for groups that accept cash from Exxon Mobil to pretend global warming isn’t happening, have a new crusade: Mercury denial!

That’s right: They have an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal claiming that breathing toxic mercury isn’t bad for you.

Willie Soon, astronomer. And Paul Driessen, lobbyist with a degree in geology. Expertise in public health? Limited. Willingness to take cash from the coal polluters that pump tons of mercury into our air every year? Extensive.

What’s that? You want to know what actual medical researchers have to say about the subject? Fine, have it your way:

Note that the post begins with a personal attacks on the individuals (as well as their funding), and ignores the number of valid arguments brought up in the piece. It also ignores the similarly esteemed medical researchers have noted that the U.S. accounts for less than 1% of global mercury emissions, so eliminating our mercury emissions (which comes at a cost, despite Lisa Jackson’s assertion that it will create jobs for those who install mercury scrubbers) won’t have a significant effect on atmospheric mercury content, and thus the alleged negative health effects. This paper estimates that man-made mercury emissions account for approximately 30% of total annual emissions, with 70% coming from natural sources. As the WSJ piece notes, this helps to put the ‘coal plants are killing your babies’ into perspective:

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Post image for Fuel Economy Mandates and Dumb Public Surveys

Last week the Consumer Federation of America issued another of those consumer “surveys” supposedly showing that the public solidly supports higher energy efficiency standards.  The previous one in this series was a Federation survey in March of alleged consumer demand for more stringent home appliance standards.  Even though affordable top-loading washers have pretty much been ruined by existing federal regulations, the March survey “found” that consumers wanted even tougher regs. The Federation’s trick: just ask pie-in-the-sky questions that portray these mandates as win-win situations.  Never suggest that the mandates mess up appliance performance, even when the evidence is staring you in the face.

The topic of last week’s survey was autos and fuel economy standards.  The Federation dressed its report up in the usual language of “ending our addiction to oil”.  But if you think oil is addictive, are you really fighting that addiction by squeezing more miles out of every gallon? Doesn’t that make oil even more addictive?

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Post image for EPA’s Utility MACT Overreach Threatens To Turn out the Lights

Three of the Congress’s most influential energy policymakers this week “urged” the Environmental Protection Agency to delay an ultra-costly regulation targeted at coal-fired power plants, the source of 50 percent of America’s electricity generation.  For the sake of keeping the lights on, all Americans should hope the Obama administration heeds these Congressmen’s request.

Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), and House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) yesterday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson demanding a longer comment period for a proposed regulation known as the Utility HAP MACT

[The HAP stands for “Hazardous Air Pollutant,” and the MACT stands for “Maximum Achievable Control Technology”; to learn what these terms entail, read this summary of the regulation, Primer: EPA’s Power Plant MACT for Hazardous Air Pollutants.]

The EPA issued the Utility HAP MACT in mid-March, and it gave the public 60 days to comment. The Congressmen “urge the agency [to] extend the comment period to a minimum of 120 days to allow adequate time for stakeholders to assess and comment on the proposal.”

The extended comment period is well warranted. For starters, the EPA included a number of “pollutants” in the proposed regulation that shouldn’t be there. The EPA’s authority to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants is derivative of a study on the public health effect of mercury emissions. The EPA’s proposed regulation, however, would regulate acid gases, non-mercury metals, and organic air toxins, in addition to mercury. Yet the EPA’s evidence only pertains to mercury. The EPA’s authority to regulate these non-mercury emissions, despite their not having been a part of the aforementioned study, will be challenged, and the DC Circuit Court ultimately will decide.

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Post image for This Week in the Congress

On Thursday, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee held a hearing on “Environmental Protection Agency Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachia.” Video and written testimony are available here. For detailed descriptions of the EPA’s outrageous war on Appalachian coal production, click here, here, or here. Suffice it to say, EPA has subverted the Administrative Procedures Act to enact a de facto moratorium on mining. It engineered a new Clean Water Act “pollutant,” saline effluent, which the EPA claims degrades water quality downstream from mines by harming a short lived insect that isn’t an endangered species. The hearing yesterday was part 1; next Wednesday, the subcommittee is scheduled to hear from EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

It was a bipartisan bashing. The only Democrat to show up was Ranking Member Rep. Nick Rahall (WV), whose opposition to the EPA exceeds that of Republicans, due to the fact that his State is the largest coal producer in Appalachia, and is, therefore, harmed most.

For the “Part 1” hearing on Thursday, the primary topic was the EPA’s procedural shenanigans. For part two next week, with Administrator Lisa Jackson, I very much hope they address the EPA’s shoddy science on the ecological impact of mountaintop mining.

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Post image for H.R. 910: Seizing the Moral High Ground (How to Foil Opponents’ Rhetorical Tricks)

Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, as amended, by 34-19. The bill would stop EPA from ‘legislating’ climate policy through the Clean Air Act. All 31 Republicans and three Democrats (Mike Ross of Arkansas, Jim Matheson of Utah, and John Barrow of Georgia) voted for the bill.

Opponents introduced several amendments, all of which were defeated.

Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) offered an amendment stating that Congress accepts EPA’s finding that “climate change is unequivocal.” Rep. Diana DeGett (D-Colo.) offered an amendment stating that Congress accepts as “compelling” the scientific evidence that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the “root cause” of climate change. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) offered an amendment stating that Congress accepts EPA’s finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) offered an amendment limiting H.R. 910’s applicability until the Secretary of Defense certifies that climate change does not threaten U.S. national security interests. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) offered an amendment allowing EPA to issue greenhouse gas regulations that reduce U.S. oil consumption. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) offered an amendment limiting H.R. 910’s applicability until the Centers for Disease Control certify that climate change is not a public health threat. Rep.  Inslee also offered an amendment limiting H.R. 910’s applicability until the National Academy of Sciences certifies the bill would not increase the incidence of asthma in children.

These amendments had no chance of passing, but that was not their purpose. The objective, rather, was to enable opponents to claim later, when the full House debates the bill, that a vote for H.R. 910 is a vote against science, public health, national security, energy security, and children with asthma. This is arrant nonsense, as I will explain below. [click to continue…]