President Obama

Post image for Obama Punts on Keystone Pipeline: Political Cynicism in the Guise of Energy Policy

For President Obama, approving the Keystone XL Pipeline should have been a no-brainer. All the State Department had to do was conclude the obvious — the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.

What other reasonable conclusion is possible? Building the 1,700-mile, shovel-ready project would create thousands of construction jobs, stimulate tens of billions of dollars in business spending, and generate billions of dollars in tax revenues. Once operational, the pipeline would enhance U.S. energy security, displacing oil imported from unsavory regimes with up to 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil from friendly, stable, environmentally fastidious, democratic Canada. Canada already ships us more oil than all Persian Gulf states combined, and Keystone would significantly expand our self-reliance on North American energy.

Obama had only two policy choices. He could either disapprove the pipeline on the grounds that environmental concerns over incremental greenhouse gas emissions and oil spill risk outweigh the substantial economic, fiscal, and energy security benefits of the pipeline. Or he could approve the pipeline on the grounds that its benefits outweigh potential environmental impacts.

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Post image for How Many Hybrid Cars Were Sold Last Year in that Awakening Green Giant, China?

‘Clean-tech’ advocates depict China as a model for U.S. policymakers, because Beijing subsidizes the manufacture of wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles.

In February, China announced plans to manufacture 1 million electric vehicles by 2015. To make green cars affordable, Beijing would pay automakers to cut the price of a battery car by $8,785 and a plug-in hybrid by $7,320. Of course, the announcement did not mention that millions of Chinese people who are still too poor to own cars would be taxed for the benefit of their wealthier brethren.

Not to be outdone by this visionary plan, President Obama, in his State of the Union Address, also called for incentives to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Neither prognostication is likely to come true.

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Post image for Update: EPA’s War on Appalachian Coal

I’ve been an outspoken opponent of the EPA’s war on Appalachian coal production. See here, here, here, and here.

In particular, I’ve sought to shine a spotlight on the EPA’s outrageous crackdown on saline effluent from surface coal mines. The EPA argues that this salty discharge is an illegal violation of the Clean Water Act, because it harms an order of short-lived insects known as the mayfly. The science suggests that the total number of insect species doesn’t decrease downstream of surface mines, as hardier insects readily assume the niche vacated by the mayfly. Nonetheless, the EPA alleges that the loss of the mayfly alone is sufficient to violate the Clean Water Act’s narrative (qualitative) water quality standards. The mayfly is not an endangered species.

A year ago, the EPA issued guidance for quantitative salinity water quality standards, effective immediately. According to one mining engineer, they set the bar so low that you couldn’t wash a parking lot without violating the Clean Water Act. Remember, the President had campaigned on a promise to “bankrupt” coal; this was the fruition of that promise. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson conceded that new surface coal mine permits in Appalachia were unlikely under the terms of the April guidance.

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Post image for Obama Decries Gimmicks and Slogans with “Win the Future” in Background

Let’s acknowledge the irony here. From a copy of Obama’s prepared remarks today at Georgetown University discussing his administration’s energy plan:


But here’s the thing – we’ve been down this road before.  Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon.  Working folks haven’t forgotten that.  It hit a lot of people pretty hard.  But it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas – when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem.  Imagine that in Washington.

The truth is, of course, was that all these gimmicks didn’t make a bit of difference.  When gas prices finally fell, it was mostly because the global recession led to less demand for oil.  Now that the economy is recovering, demand is back up.  Add the turmoil in the Middle East, and it’s not surprising oil prices are higher.  And every time the price of a barrel of oil on the world market rises by $10, a gallon of gas goes up by about 25 cents.

President Obama is decrying gimmicks and slogans (as he should be), noting their inability to achieve anything, with his newest slogan “Win the Future” in the background.

“WTF” indeed.

Update on the States

by William Yeatman on March 14, 2011

in Blog

Post image for Update on the States


In 2007, then-Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) championed and ultimately signed the Next Generation Act, which effectively imposed a moratorium on coal-fired power plants in the State. Evidently, the legislature is having second thoughts about a future without coal, because last week both the House and the Senate moved legislation that would overturn the coal ban. By a 15 to 6 vote, the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committee passed H.F. 72, “A bill for an act relating to energy; removing ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions by utilities.” The Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications passed a companion bill, by a 9 to 3 vote.

West Virginia

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a section 404 Clean Water Act permit to a Massey Coal subsidiary for the Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The permit was originally issued in 2007, but it became ensnared in the Obama Administration’s war on Appalachian coal (click here or here for more information on that subject). In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended against granting the permit, so there is a good chance that the EPA will veto this permit. In January, the EPA exercised this authority for the first time in the history of the Clean Water Act in order to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine, which is also in Logan County. Notably, the EPA objects to these mines because they allegedly harm an insect that isn’t an endangered species. But before the EPA could act, environmentalist lawyers won an injunction in a West Virginia federal court.

Post image for The “Fill Rule” Controversy Explained

Elsewhere, I’ve described two fronts the Obama administration is waging against coal production in Appalachia (see here and here).

Since the President took office, environmentalists have been urging the administration to open a third front against Appalachian coal. This one pertains to the so-called “fill rule.” Here’s how the Sierra Club describes it: “In 2002, the Bush administration changed a key Clean Water Act rule to allow mining companies to dump their waste into waterways. Known as the “Fill Rule,” it allows mountaintop removal coal mine operators to bury Appalachian streams with their waste.”

As I demonstrate below, virtually the whole of the Sierra Club’s characterization of the “fill rule” is incorrect, starting with the fact that the rule originated with the Clinton administration, not the Bush administration. In fact, the “fill rule” is a relatively innocuous regulation that acts primarily to allow the EPA’s long held definition of “fill material” to trump that of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The “Fill Rule”: A Tortuous History

The Clean Water Act prohibits all pollution discharges into navigable waters, unless the “polluter” obtains a permit. Generally speaking, there are two such variances: (1) Section 402 permits, for “point source” discharges (like a pipe), which are issued by the EPA or by a state agency whose guidelines are EPA-approved and (2) 404 permits, for “dredge and fill” projects (such as filling a swamp to create a new housing development), which are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in accordance with guidelines set by the EPA.

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