National Journal

Post image for PTC: Costly Climate Policy Dud

The wind energy production tax credit (PTC) expires at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31, unless Congress votes to renew the tax break. A one-year extension would add an estimated $12.1 billion to deficit spending over 10 years. A six-year extension, advocated by the wind industry, could add $50 billion.

The fiscal cliff looms and the national debt already exceeds GDP, but if Congress cared more about the general interest of taxpayers than about the special interests of campaign contributors, the nation would not be sliding towards insolvency.

Whether Congress should renew the PTC or let it expire is the topic of this week’s National Journal Energy Experts Blog. Twenty wonks weigh in, including your humble servant. I heartily recommend the contributions by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), Craig Rucker, Phil Kerpin, Benjamin Zycher, Thomas Pyle, James Valvo, and David Banks.

My contribution addresses the environmental side of the debate, in particular the claim that recent extreme weather events demonstrate “just how badly our nation needs to take advantage of our vast wind energy potential,” as one contributor put it.

Below is a lightly edited version of my comment.

* * *

Of all the lame arguments used to sell Americans on the proposition that wind power, an industry propped up by Soviet-style production quota in 29 states and numerous other policy privileges, deserves another renewal of the 20-year-old production tax credit (PTC), the lamest is the claim that the PTC helps protect us from extreme weather.

PTC advocates talk as if Hurricane Sandy and the Midwest drought were obvious consequences of anthropogenic global warming, and that subsidizing wind energy is a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change.

They are wrong on both counts.

Neither economic analyses nor meteorological investigations validate the asserted link between recent extreme weather events and global warming. When weather-related damages are adjusted (“normalized”) to account for changes in population, per capita income, and the consumer price index, there is no long-term trend such as might indicate an increase in the frequency or severity of extreme weather related to global climate change.

A 2012 study in the journal Climate Change  examined 370 years of tropical cyclone data from the Lesser Antilles, the eastern Caribbean island chain bisecting the main development region for landfalling U.S. hurricanes. The study found no long-term trend in either the power or frequency of tropical cyclones from 1638 to 2009. It did however find a 50- to 70-year wave pattern associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, a mode of natural climate variability. [click to continue…]

Post image for Why the GOP Will not Support Carbon Taxes (if it wants to survive)

Last week on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, 16 wonks addressed the question: ”Is Washington Ready for a Carbon Tax?” Your humble servant argued that Washington is not ready — unless Republicans are willing to commit political suicide. That’s no reason for complacency, because spendaholics have on occasion gulled the Dumb Party into providing bi-partisan cover for unpopular tax hikes. President G.H.W. Bush’s disastrous repudiation of his ‘read-my-lips, no-new-taxes’ campaign pledge is the best known example.

To help avoid such debacles in the future, I will recap the main points of my National Journal blog commentary. Later this week, I’ll excerpt insightful comments by other contributors.

Nearly all Republicans in Congress have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise not to increase the net tax burden on their constituents. Although a “revenue neutral” carbon tax is theoretically possible, the sudden interest in carbon taxes is due to their obvious potential to feed Washington’s spending addiction. If even one dollar of the revenues from a carbon tax is used for anything except cutting other taxes, the scheme is a net tax increase and a Pledge violation. Wholesale promise-breaking by GOP leaders would outrage party’s activist base. 

Even if the Taxpayer Protection Pledge did not exist, the GOP is currently the anti-tax, pro-energy alternative to a Democratic leadership that is aggressively anti-energy and pro-tax. Endorsing a massive new energy tax would damage the product differentiation that gives people a reason to vote Republican. Recognizing these realities, House GOP leaders recently signed a ‘no climate tax’ pledge.

That’s good news. But this is a season of fiscal panic and I was there (in 1990) when the strength of Republicans failed. Perhaps the best time to kick carbon taxes is when they are down. So let’s review additional reasons to oppose a carbon tax. [click to continue…]

Post image for What Should Drive Fuel Efficiency?

What should drive fuel efficiency? Select the answer you think is correct: 

(a) Government;

(b) Markets; or

(c) Please pass the sweet and sour shrimp.

If you chose (a), then go straight to www.allsp.com (Season 10) and watch my favorite South Park episode, “Smug Alert.”

If you chose (c), then you’re on your way to a promising career as a diplomat.

Today, on National Journal’s energy blog, I explain why the correct answer is (b).

Post image for Can Electric Vehicles Change the Game?

“Can electric vehicles change the game?” That’s the question Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn poses this week on National Journal’s energy blog.  

I answer in the negative, pointing out, for example, that even if electric vehicle battery prices drop by 65%, the five-year fuel savings would not offset the additional up-front purchase price unless oil hits $280 a barrel (according to Boston Consulting Group).  You can read my response and those of other wonks and activists at NationalJournal.Com.

Here, I would like to share (with permission) the reaction of an industry expert who read the National Journal blog posts: [click to continue…]

Over the weekend, Atlantic/MSNBC pundit Ronald Brownstein wrote an atrocious column on energy policy for National Journal. It was so bad that he usurped Thomas Friedman at the top of my shit list for awful commentary on energy.

In instances such as Brownstein’s A Mayday Manifesto for Clean Energy, wherein every sentence is either dross or wrong, there is only one way to set the record straight: Brownstein must be Fisked*.

* Fisk [fisk]

an Internet argument tactic involving a reprinting of an article or blog post, interlarded with rebuttals and refutations, often intended to show the original is a sandpile of flawed facts, unfounded assertions, and logical fallacies. Named for English journalist Robert Fisk (b.1946), Middle East correspondent for the “Independent,” whose writing often criticizes America and Israel and is somewhat noted for looseness with details. Related: Fisked ; fisking .

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Mr. Brownstein is Fisked in the footnotes to each paragraph of his piece.

Ronald Brownstein, A Mayday Manifesto for Clean Energy
National Journal, 12 May 2010

The horrific oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico is an especially grim monument to America’s failure to forge a sustainable energy strategy for the 21st century1.

1 By the same token, hospitals and schools are especially cheerful monuments to America’s conventional energy strategy of the 19th and 20th century. Yes, the Gulf spill is horrific, but so is a life of immobility. Let us remember, oil is good.

But it is not the only one.

Another telling marker came in a jarring juxtaposition this week. On June 10, a group of technology-focused business leaders — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr1, and the current or former chief executives of General Electric2, DuPont3, Lockheed Martin, and Xerox — issued a mayday manifesto urging a massive public-private effort to accelerate research into clean-energy innovations. Without such a commitment, they warned, the United States will remain vulnerable to energy price shocks4; continue to “enrich hostile regimes” that supply much of the United States’ oil5; and cede to other nations dominance of “vast new markets for clean-energy technologies6.” At precisely the moment these executives were scheduled to unveil their American Energy Innovation Council report, the Senate was to begin debating a resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global climate change.

1 According to USA Today, Doerr’s firm placed “big bets” on green technology, so it’s not terribly shocking that he would endorse public policies that force consumers to use green energy.
2GE is a world leader in the manufacture of green energy technology, and spends millions of dollars every year lobbying for government policies to force consumers to use green energy.
3Due to business as usual decisions on manufacturing processes, DuPont stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars in “early action” carbon credits under a cap-and-trade energy rationing system.
4Green energy is more expensive than conventional energy! By forcing consumers to use expensive energy, government imposes a green energy price shock.
5I hate this jingoistic blather, but if Brownstein wants to play this game, then the obvious solution to “energy dependence” is “drill, baby, drill.
6Of all the pseudo-facts proffered by green energy advocates, the idea that we are losing a global, mercantilist race for green energy supremacy is the stupidest. There is only one source of demand for green energy technologies–first world governments–and inefficient, statist markets are never the subject of global great games.

However the Senate vote turned out (after this column went to press)1, the disapproval resolution has virtually no chance of becoming law because it is unlikely to pass the House2 and would be vetoed by President Obama if it ever reached him. But the substantial support that Murkowski’s proposal attracted highlights the political obstacles looming in front of any policy that aims to seriously advance alternatives to the carbon-intensive fossil fuels that now dominate the United States’ energy mix. Her resolution collided with the Innovation Council report like a Hummer rear-ending a hybrid.

1The resolution failed, 47 to 53, with 6 Democrats joining the entire Senate Republican Caucus in support.
2Not true; a companion disapproval resolution offered in the House by powerful Reps. Colin Peterson (MN) and Ike Skelton (MO) already has been cosponsored by 23 other Democratic Representatives. If the Senate had passed the Murkowski Resolution, all the tea leaves point (Blue Dog support, an upcoming election year, the need for many Reps. To atone for last summer’s “aye” vote on cap-and-tax) to a close House vote.

It’s reasonable to argue that Congress, not EPA, should decide how to regulate carbon1. But most of those senators who endorsed Murkowski’s resolution also oppose the most plausible remaining vehicle for legislating carbon limits: the comprehensive energy plan that Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., recently released2. Together, those twin positions effectively amount to a vote for the energy status quo in which the United States moves only modestly to unshackle itself from oil, coal, and other fossil fuels.

1 Yes, it is. After the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v EPA (2007) that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who authored the Act, said that, “This [regulating greenhouse gases] is not what was intended by the Congress.” Moreover, the Congress considered but ultimately removed emissions requirements from a 1990 Clean Air Act update. Despite the absence of a Congressional mandate, Obama’s EPA is pressing ahead with greenhouse gas regulations. For many Senators-including 6 Democrats-this is an unacceptable power grab by the executive branch.
2Doesn’t this stand to reason? Cap-and-trade repeatedly has failed to pass through the Congress-why would legislators vote down a policy and then stand pat while unelected bureaucrats enact that policy?

The Innovation Council proposes a more ambitious course. (The Bipartisan Policy Center, the centrist think tank where my wife works, provided staff support for the group.) The council frames the need for a new energy direction as being as much of an economic imperative as an environmental one. It calls for a national energy strategy centered on a $16 billion annual federal investment in energy research — as much, the group pointedly notes, as the United States spends on imported oil every 16 days1.

1Blah-we’ve already wasted billions of dollars on government-funded energy research. Sad to say, but $16 billion is but a drop in the bucket.

Equally important, the group urges that government catalyze the development of energy alternatives by sending “a strong market signal” through such mechanisms as mandates on utilities to produce more renewable energy or “a price or a cap” on carbon emissions1. Such a cap is precisely what the Senate resolution sought to block. But the business leaders said that it is one of the policies that could “create a large, sustained market for new energy technology.”

1ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!?? Renewable energy mandates (a.k.a. soviet style productions quotas) and “a cap” on carbon emissions (a.k.a. Soviet style energy rationing) ARE NOT “market signals”!!!! They are tools with which the government picks and chooses winners in the enrgy industry.

One of the council’s key insights was to recognize that expanded energy research and limits on carbon (or other mandates to promote renewable power) are not alternative but complementary policies: One increases the supply of new energy sources; the other increases demand for them1. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Information Technology & Innovation Foundation echoed this conclusion in a report warning that the United States is already faltering in the race for new markets. With the world readying to spend $600 billion annually on clean-energy technology by 20202, the group noted, the United States is now running a trade deficit in these products and facing “declining export market shares” virtually everywhere.

1Indeed, all statist market machinations are complimentary.
2 Again, this supposed $600 billion demand is wholly derivative of first world governments. Absent government supports and mandates, the renewable energy industry is not viable.

Other nations are seizing these opportunities faster. In China, stiff mandates to deploy renewable sources domestically are nurturing local companies capable of capturing international markets1. It’s revealing that even as venerable an American firm as California-based Applied Materials, which produces the sophisticated machinery used to manufacture solar panels, opened a research center last fall in Xian, China. “If the U.S. becomes a bigger market for us, definitely we’d have to readjust our strategy,” general manager Gang Zou recently told visiting journalists. “But today, our customer market is in Asia.” Like the devastation in the Gulf, that stark assessment underscores the price that the United States is paying for the debilitating energy stalemate symbolized by this week’s Senate showdown2.

1 This is hogwash. China is building 3 coal fired power plants every two weeks, and the government is aggressively locking up oil and gas reserves in other countries.
2
Brownstein finally gets it right-Americans will pay a steep price for last week’s Senate vote. The EPA is trying to dictate its own regulatory pace, but it doesn’t have a choice. According to the text of the Clean Air Act, the feds must regulate all sources larger than a mansion. That would include YOUR small business, YOUR apartment, or YOUR office. Naturally, the EPA wants to avoid such an onerous regulatory regime, and it has devised a legal strategy to that end. The courts, however, have little leeway when it comes to interpreting the statutory text of the law. As a result, the EPA will be forced to regulate virtually the entire economy. The Senate could have stopped a runaway regulatory nightmare by voting for the Murkowski resolution, but Senate leadership is beholden to environmentalists, so it engineered an 11th hour defeat of the legislation. Now there’s nothing standing between you and the green police.