NERA Economic Consulting

Post image for Ethanol Mandate: Proud Milestone in the Glorious History of Central Planning

Today on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, I post a comment celebrating the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a triumph of centralized economic planning. You think I’m joking? Far from it. The RFS is working at least as well as other central planning schemes!

Well, okay, the RFS would be funny if it weren’t so destructive. A new report by NERA Economic Consulting warns that the RFS is heading for a “death spiral” — a vicious circle in which rising fuel costs, declining sales, and dwindling biofuel credits make compliance increasingly “infeasible.”

In one scenario analyzed by NERA, the death spiral produces a 30% increase in gasoline prices and a 300% increase in the cost of diesel fuel in 2015. Potential adverse macroeconomic impacts include a “$770 billion decline in GDP and a corresponding reduction in consumption per household of $2,700.” Ludwig von Mises coined a term for such debacles: “Planned Chaos.” [click to continue…]

Post image for A Modest Proposal on Exports: Give Dow Chemical a Dose of its own Medicine

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris has been making waves of late with congressional testimony and a Wall Street Journal oped advocating restrictions on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

To oppose “unfettered,” “unlimited,” or “unchecked” LNG exports — in other words, to fetter, limit, and check the freedom of gas producers to sell their own products — Dow formed a business group called America’s Energy Advantage (AEA). Other members include Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor.

AEA’s rationale for restricting gas exports (to quote Liveris’s oral testimony) is that when gas is not exported but instead is used to manufacture products, it creates “eight times the value” across the entire economy. That claim derives from a Charles River Associates (CRA) study sponsored by — drum roll, please — Dow. According to CRA, using gas as a manufacturing input trounces gas exports in terms of job creation, GDP growth, and trade-deficit reduction. Therefore, AEA argues, Congress and/or the Department of Energy (DOE) should constrain LNG exports in the “public interest.” AEA also warns that higher gas prices from increased overseas demand could destroy tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and kill the U.S. manufacturing renaissance. AEA claims it is not opposed to all LNG exports, it just wants a “balanced” approach.

Economist Craig Pirrong (a.k.a. the “Streetwise Professor“) deftly pops this rhetorical balloon:

I am adding a new entry to my list of phrases that put me on guard that someone is trying to con me: “balanced approach.”. . . . In Obamaland, “balanced approaches” mean large tax increases now, and hazy promises of spending cuts in some distant future. In Liveris’s oped, “balanced” means imposing restrictions on exports of natural gas to lower the cost of his most important input. Funny, ain’t it, that things seem to tip the way of those advocating “balanced approaches”? In other words, if it helps me, it’s fair and balanced!

The whole thing is galling. Even if Liveris were correct and gas turned into chemicals generates “eight times” the economic value of gas sold abroad, such third-party assessments should have no bearing on how companies dispose of their own property. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry points out, AEA companies did not invest a dime to develop fracking and horizontal drilling technology, construct the wells, or hire the rig workers, yet they presume to decide what happens to the gas after it’s extracted from miles under the Earth. Not unlike the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, AEA’s implicit premise is that central planners have the right, nay the duty, to commandeer private property whenever the resource would add more value in someone else’s hands.

But do Liveris and AEA really believe the rationale they’re pushing, or only when it cuts in their favor? Here’s an easy way to tell. Dow, Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor primarily manufacture intermediate goods, not final goods. As natural gas is an input to them, so their products are inputs to still other companies. AEA-produced chemicals, plastics, electronic components, aluminum, and steel reach the consumer only after other manufacturers “add value” by turning those “feed stocks” into paints, cosmetics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, computers, cell phones, automobiles, and so on.

So by AEA’s logic, the government should restrict exports of chemicals, aluminum, and steel to hold down domestic prices and make U.S. manufacturers of final goods more competitive. The “public interest” demands it! I’ll bet my salary against Liveris’s that he will never, ever agree that sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. [click to continue…]

House Passes TRAIN Act

by Marlo Lewis on September 25, 2011

Post image for House Passes TRAIN Act

On Friday (September 23, 2011), the House passed a bill that would block two of the administration’s flagship Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations targeting coal-fired power plants. It would also establish a new Cabinet-level committee to examine the “cumulative and incremental impacts” of a dozen EPA actions affecting the electric power sector. The bill, known as the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act (H.R. 2401), sponsored by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), passed by a vote of 233-180.

The TRAIN Act declares that two EPA regulations “shall be of no force and effect”: the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), finalized in August, and maximum available control technology standards regulations for hazardous air pollutants from electric generating units (Utility MACT Rule), finalized in May. EPA would be prohibited from promulgating a new cross state air pollution rule until three years after the multi-agency committee submits its regulatory impacts report to Congress (due August 1, 2012). EPA would also be prohibited from promulgating new hazardous air pollutant regulations for electric generating units until one year after the committee submits its report. [click to continue…]

Post image for NERA Economic Consulting Releases Study on Combined Impacts of EPA Utility MACT Rule and Clean Air Transport Rule

File this one under regulatory trainwreck. NERA Economic Consulting has just published a study on the combined economic impacts of EPA’s Clean Air Transport (CATR) Rule and Utility Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) Rule.

NERA estimates the rules will impose $184 billion in cumulative costs on the electricity sector, increase average U.S. electricity prices in 2016 by 12%, and reduce net U.S. employment by 1.4 million jobsduring 2013-2020.

“It is important to note that this report only covers CATR and Utility MACT,” comments Brandon Plank of the Republic Policy Committee. “It does not include the costs of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, New Source Performance Standards for refineries and utilities, ozone and particulate matter standards, reclassification of coal ash, etc.” (See chart below.)

Here is the NERA study’s summary of key results: [click to continue…]