Monday, March 17, 2014
EPA Bureaucrats Paint the Town Red with Federal Charge Cards
There appears to be a flourishing culture of financial misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This culture has been perpetuated by a lack of administrative oversight leading to millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted. At a time when D.C.’s fiscal climate is characterized by a national debt that is spiraling out of control, there is no excuse for any government organization to be lacking financial accountability.
A report released this month by the EPA Inspector General (IG) found EPA employees improperly used federal charge cards to purchase everything from gym memberships to gift cards. The report indicated over 90 percent of the sampled transactions were for prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases, all paid for by American taxpayers. Ironically, Senate Democrats this week carried on an all-night filibuster in hopes of generating even more power and funding for the EPA.
In compiling the report, the IG’s office obtained a spreadsheet of 67,000 EPA transactions from Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, and randomly selected 69 transactions. They also selected 11 transactions that seemed inappropriate because of the merchant involved. For instance, some transactions were with merchants listed as dance halls, child care organizations, music venues and theatres. Of the 80 transactions sampled, 75 were for prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases.
The IG’s report outlined nine specific internal control oversight issues, ranging from the approval of prohibited transactions to the outright failure to maintain transaction records. Some specific instances of misconduct were so egregious they are worth mentioning. In three instances, cardholders purchased gym memberships totaling $2,867. Two of those purchases were not even for EPA employees but for family members. According to the report, cardholders further violated EPA guidelines regarding inappropriate food purchases:
“Although light refreshments are defined as those that do not include portions of food typical of a meal, in one of our samples, light refreshments included all elements of a meal for an awards ceremony. Four different appetizers, chicken tenderloin, fresh fruit, pasta salad, large cookies, soft drinks and punch were purchased at a cost of $2,900. Meals are not an allowable expense for an awards recognition ceremony.”
The report also found the purchase of gift cards by EPA cardholders was a problem in seven transactions. For example, in one transaction 20 American Express gift cards were purchased totaling $1,588. Additionally, the report highlighted instances where EPA employees violated records keeping requirements:
“Two transactions totaling $26,152 could not be located despite instructions to maintain supporting documentation. The EPA’s policy requires the retention of documentation for 3 years on a fiscal year basis. Cardholders were not attentive to this basic requirement. In two cases, the cardholders left their positions and no arrangements were made to retain the records. In another transaction the cardholder stated that records were not kept because of privacy concerns. This lack of documentation increases the risk that purchases could be fraudulent, improper or abusive.”
It must be noted the report focused on only 80 transactions out of 67,000. Over 90 percent of those transactions were prohibited or improper. For FY 2012, the EPA had 1,370 cardholders that transacted more than $29 million in purchases. The EPA also had 309 convenience check writers who wrote more than 1,000 checks totaling over $500,000. It’s likely the 80 transactions sampled are the tip of an iceberg characterized by improper and wasteful spending of federal funds.
The ultimate irony is a similar report conducted in 2008 found the exact same internal control weaknesses as those from the most recent report. The IG’s report isn’t the only example of EPA administrative failures, lest we forget the saga of John Beale that played out from the early 90’s to 2012.
Beale was a former EPA employee whose fraud cost taxpayers almost a million dollars. Beale was one of the highest paid EPA employees, due in part to his receipt of a fraudulent retention bonus. A 2014 report by the Institute for Energy Research (IER) titled “Dirty Business at the EPA” also found that from 2000-2012 Beale was absent from work over 600 days, often citing the outlandish excuse he was conducting CIA missions.
The kicker is that at the height of Beale’s fraud from 2009-2012, his direct supervisor was then OAR Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy. IER’s report found in just three years under McCarthy, Beale committed fraud totaling $373,799, almost as high as the amount of his three previous supervisors combined.
One would predict that after Beale’s decade long fraud heads would have rolled at the EPA. Instead, Gina McCarthy is now the Administrator of the EPA. To quote directly from the IER’s report, “if McCarthy’s oversight of employees is so lax that someone can get paid without showing up for work for over a year then how can the American people trust the other pronouncements from McCarthy’s EPA?”
The IG’s recent report evidences an ongoing culture of financial misconduct at the EPA. It’s doubtful this culture will change given the current EPA Administrator failed to notice the greatest fraud in EPA history was being committed on her watch. Thus in years to come, Americans could again find themselves footing the bill for EPA employees’ gym memberships and fictitious CIA missions.
The EPA is charging $75,000/day over a private citizen’s pond, but don’t you worry about their revisions to the Clean Water Act
Earlier this week, I mentioned an NYT article detailing the concerns of a large group of farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, builders, and etcetera over the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent undertaking to personally revise the parameters of the Clean Water Act. The Act was originally meant to give the EPA the authority to regulate waters connecting to the “navigable waterways” of the United States, but as the EPA has steadily and aggressively tried to expand their jurisdiction over the years, they have had to deal with far too many bothersome lawsuits challenging their authority. Ergo, they decided to rewrite the rules to more clearly define exactly what bodies of water are within their regulatory power — and a bunch of lawmakers, lobbies, businesses, and private citizens are worried that the end result is going to be yet another massive EPA power grab that will make big government an even more pervasive and retarding for in commercial activity and on private property.
The EPA, of course, is scornfully dismissing these concerns and would really like for everyone to just calm down. After all, these bureaucrats are just trying to do their munificent “green” jobs, and as one lawyer in the aforementioned NYT article impatiently noted of the draft regulations leaked late last year, “The draft guidance is clear that irrigation ditches, drainage ponds and even groundwater are not considered waters of the U.S. Nor are gullies, rills, swales and other erosional features. This has been explained over and over again.”
Yes, I simply can’t imagine why any of these concerned groups think they have a reason to worry. Via Fox News:
"All Andy Johnson wanted to do was build a stock pond on his sprawling eight-acre Wyoming farm. He and his wife Katie spent hours constructing it, filling it with crystal-clear water, and bringing in brook and brown trout, ducks and geese. It was a place where his horses could drink and graze, and a private playground for his three children.
But instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, the Wyoming welder says he was harangued by the federal government, stuck in what he calls a petty power play by the Environmental Protection Agency. He claims the agency is now threatening him with civil and criminal penalties – including the threat of a $75,000-a-day fine.
The government says he violated the Clean Water Act by building a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the EPA claims that material from his pond is being discharged into other waterways. Johnson says he built a stock pond — a man-made pond meant to attract wildlife — which is exempt from Clean Water Act regulations.
The property owner says he followed the state rules for a stock pond when he built it in 2012 and has an April 4-dated letter from the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office to prove it. …
But the EPA isn’t backing down and argues they have final say over the issue. They also say Johnson needs to restore the land or face the fines."
But those Clean Water Act revisions they say they have no intention of abusing? You should definitely just take their word for it.
Ecofascist Professor Wants Climate Change “Deniers” Thrown in Jail
An assistant philosophy professor at Rochester Institute of Technology has proposed a bold plan to settle the debate on Global Warming. Lawrence Torcello wrote an essay suggesting that scientists who fail to fall in line with global warming alarmists should be charged with criminal negligence, and possibly even be thrown in jail. Nothing screams academic freedom like a little intellectual Fascism. Right?
When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on.
Well, Larry (can we call him Larry?), it might surprise you – an assistant professor of philosophy – to learn that science is not a democratic study. Skepticism, opposition, and deviation from the adopted narrative are more responsible for scientific discovery than blind allegiance to any prevailing theory. And, quite frankly, the theory of anthropogenic global warming has been delegitimized by some of its greatest proponents… Most scientists would agree that it becomes increasingly difficult to believe in a theory that has routinely failed to produce any moderately accurate models or predictions. But, of course it gets better:
With such high stakes, an organized campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.
Laughably, Larry is not talking about East Anglia, Al Gore, or the UN Climate Change Scandal (where a number of scientists were quoted out of context to give the impression of a consensus view on climate change). In fact, while Larry alleges that “deniers” (apparently the word “skeptic” doesn’t have the right amount of stigma attached to it) are engaged in a misinformation campaign, he never once defends the propagandistic efforts of the global-warming-faithful.
Governments, activist groups, well connected CEOs, and elite billionaire Liberals have pushed trillions of dollars into the propagation of global warming fears. And yet, strangely, this assistant philosophy professor seems incapable unwilling to see the irony of his allegations. But, wait… He soon goes for the jugular:
We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.
Ah… So scientists who dare to question the provably wrong predictions of melted ice caps, winterless years, and raising sea levels should be charged with negligence for “undermining the public’s understanding of scientific consensus”? Well, here’s some scientific consensus for you, Larry:
The world has not seen a measurable increase in temperatures for over 15 years. Arctic ice has increased in mass since 2013. The “Polar Vortex” is part of a broader, and predictable, weather shift that has been happening for thousands of years. “Climate Change” has been occurring, without man-made forces, for every single one of the billions of years this rock has been spinning around the sun.
But, let’s be honest: Larry isn’t really worried about the science (even though I’m sure his studies in philosophy have yielded him great insights into climatology, atmospheric science, and meteorological changes throughout history). He’s worried about opposition to his beliefs. He even acknowledges some of the pushback that his idea might receive:
"My argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech."
Misguided? The Left’s intolerance, it seems, has no bounds. A student from Harvard recently argued against academic freedom. Not wanting to be outdone, this assistant professor is now suggesting that political opponents (or for that matter, scientists who don’t tow his ideological ideals) be criminally charged. It is almost stunning how easily the Left will adopt the notion of censorship and intellectual fascism to limit their opposition.
For being an assistant professor of philosophy, Torcello seems stunningly married to an egocentric world view. People who disagree with him, in his mind, are not merely “wrong”… They’re crossing the threshold into criminality. This is a point of view that is growing among the Left. Opponents to the President are racist. Opponents of Nancy Pelosi are sexist. Advocates for traditional marriage are bigots. And, apparently, opponents to the theory of anthropogenic global warming are worthy of a little jail time. This doesn’t seem like positions that lend themselves to any degree of philosophical integrity.
If Larry really wants to help fight global warming, he should keep his totalitarian mouth shut… Currently, he’s spewing too much hot air into the atmosphere.
The Withering of Wind Power; or Obama's Not a Smart Investor
We learned something really surprising about the wind energy industry from President Obama's FY2015 budget proposal. He doesn't believe that the industry will ever be capable of economically sustaining itself.
Here's how we know. Tucked away within the proposal, President Obama is proposing making the wind energy production tax credit permanent.
"Mr. Obama’s budget would permanently extend the production tax credit for wind electricity, which expired last year after Congress failed to pass a bill renewing it. Over the next 10 years, the tax credit would cost $19.2 billion, according to the budget plan.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) has indicated he wants to pass a bill extending this tax credit and other temporary ones. But it’s unclear whether he has enough support to pass it in the full Senate, and the House seems even less likely to support such a proposal."
Originally established in 1992, the wind energy production tax credit has had a lot to do with fueling the growth of the nation's wind energy generating capacity since its inception. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports just how much the installed capacity for wind has grown in the years from 2000 through 2012, much of which has been enabled by the wind energy production tax credit subsidy:
So with that kind of "success", why does the wind energy industry need a permanent tax credit? After all, the purpose of the tax credit was to greatly accelerate the growth of the nation's installed capacity for wind energy - not to permanently sustain it.
That's why the U.S. Congress is willing to do away with the wind energy industry's tax credit:
"This sweetheart deal looks to be on its way out, in part because it succeeded in what it set out to do. Over the past five years, wind has accounted for 36 percent of all new electricity generation installed in the U.S., second only to new natural gas installations. Wind now supplies more than 4 percent of the country’s electricity. At about 60,000 megawatts, there’s enough wind energy capacity to power 15.2 million U.S. homes, a more than twentyfold increase since 2000. It’s still tiny compared to fossil fuel: Combined, coal and natural gas supply roughly two-thirds of U.S. electricity. But wind produces about six times more electricity than solar. That’s led Congress to take steps to do away with tax incentives first established in 1992 to help the fledgling industry take root. In December lawmakers allowed the credit to expire."
The problem though is that for all its apparent success, wind energy is far from being as reliable as the fans of renewable energy would make it seem:
"In Texas, the wind tends to blow the hardest in the middle of the night. That’s also when most people are asleep and electricity prices drop, which would be a big problem for the companies that own the state’s 7,690 wind turbines if not for a 20-year-old federal subsidy that effectively pays them a flat rate for making clean energy no matter what time it is. Wind farms, whether privately owned or part of a public utility, receive a $23 tax credit for every megawatt-hour of electricity they generate. (A megawatt-hour is enough juice to power about 1,000 homes for one hour.) This credit, which was worth about $2 billion for all U.S. wind projects in 2013, has helped lower the price of electricity in parts of the country where wind power is prevalent, since wind producers can charge less and still turn a profit. In Texas, the biggest wind-producing state in the U.S., wind farms have occasionally sold electricity for less than zero—that is, they’ve paid to provide power to the grid to undercut the state’s nuclear or coal energy providers."
To find out how reliable wind energy is for utility consumers, we've taken the NREL's data and calculated the average production for the nation's installed wind capacity
For our calculation of Average Wind Energy Produced, we divided the total electricity generated by wind by 8,760, which is the number of hours in a year. The result gives us a good indication of how much of the claimed "Installed Capacity" for wind energy was actually realized, for which we've also calculated the percentage.
That math assumes that the wind power generating equipment that has been installed would be running 24 hours a day, which is far from the case, as the strength of the wind varies throughout the course of a day, and also for more mundane reasons, such as the need to perform periodic maintenance, during which the wind turbines are shut down from operating. As such, it does not give an indication of the efficiency at which electricity is generated while the wind turbines are running.
What it does do however is give us a good sense of how reliable wind energy is in generating electricity for utility consumers. From 2000 through 2012, what we find is that wind energy delivered anywhere from 18% to 29% of its installed capacity, demonstrating a considerable degree of unreliability for utility consumers compared to other methods of generating power. Going by the wind energy industry's own claims, instead of powering the equivalent of 15 million American homes, it's actually only powering enough power for somewhere between 2.7 and 4.35 million of them.
Put another way, for utility consumers, wind energy is only capable of delivering somewhere between one-fifth to less than one-third of its promise. And even then, it doesn't deliver what it produces when it's really needed.
That's why the wind energy industry badly needs its production tax credit to be made permanent:
"That the green energy lobby is now working to make the wind energy tax credit a permanent burden upon U.S. taxpayers, even as the industry supporters claim the industry's "success", really means that the entire industry's business model is fatally flawed. In calling to make the tax credit permanent at their behest, President Obama is really communicating on their behalf that the wind energy industry will never be able to sustain itself without it.
A smart investor would recognize these things and cut their losses so they could move on to greener opportunities. Allowing the wind energy industry's tax credit to permanently expire rather than be made a permanent burden for American taxpayers would make that possible."
Alas, President Obama is not a smart investor. Especially where green energy is involved.
World’s next shale boom taking shape
Top on the list of potential venues for the next shale boom are China, Russia and Argentina, but the world’s next shale revolution likely will be in Australia, which appears to be the most attractive place for companies to pursue tight oil and gas, according to a Lux Research analysis released recently.
While companies have eyed shale development in China, lured by the prospect of huge reserves and easy financing, Australia is said to have the know-how, experience and infrastructure to be a more attractive place to drill into shale plays.
It also beats out Argentina, which has expansive shale reserves, but has experienced political instability despite attractive government incentives, according to the Lux report, written by research associate Daniel Choi.
Australia also emerged as the third top investment destinations in 2014 after US and Brazil, according to a recent research report published by DNV GL, the leading technical advisor to the oil and gas industry.
“Australia does not have the seemingly bottomless development capital of China, or the powerful government incentives of Argentina,” the Lux report said. “However, Australia more than makes up for this by having the characteristics conducive to successful commercial production, which other front-runners like Argentina, China, U.K., and Poland lack.”
“This includes existing infrastructure, low population density in key shale plays, and citizens who welcome resource extraction through its long mining legacy,” the report said.
Massive projects being constructed in Australia to produce and export natural gas to Asia make the country more attractive for shale exploration.
Chevron is leading the development of two massive LNG projects in Australia, at a cost of around $81 billion. The projects will liquefy and ship natural gas to energy hungry Asian nations.
Certainly, investors are eyeing the massive projects going up in Australia to produce and export natural gas to Asia, where it will fetch high prices.
Shale boom in the United States
The massive glut in shale oil and gas resources has brought about drastic changes in the country, with calls now being made for restrictions on crude oil and liquefied natural gas to be lifted.
Australia: Conservatives claim victory in Tasmanian state election
A nasty one for the Greenies, whose work of destroying Tasmanian forest industries will now be halted. Most of Tasmania's vast forests have been locked up by deals with the Greenies, leading to high levels of unemployment. Some of those deals will now be unwound
Winning Liberal [party] leader Will Hodgman claimed an emphatic mandate for change in the Tasmanian election after his party was swept to majority government.
Mr Hodgman appeared to have taken up to 14 seats in the 25 seat House of Assembly as Labor and Green votes fell away, according to election analysts.
"We will be decisive and we will not, we will not, adopt a business as usual approach," Mr Hodgman told cheering supporters in the Hobart tally room on Saturday night.
"Tasmanians have voted for change and that is what they will get."
Both outgoing Labor premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim implored Mr Hodgman in their speeches not to re-ignite the state's protracted forests conflict.
"I say tonight to Will Hodgman, don't take us back to war," Mr McKim said. "Protect those forests and protect our people from another four years of bitter conflict."
But Mr Hodgman went to the election promising to tear up a peace deal drawn up by industry and environmental groups.
"We intend to deliver on all those things we have committed to Tasmanians," he said. "That includes in our forest industry, and supporting those regional towns who have voted resoundingly for a change for a better state."
Ms Giddings was returned to parliament, but her potential successor David O'Byrne looked to have been squeezed out by the size of the swing to the Liberals, potentially leaving the ALP with as few as six seats.
In the cut-up of preferences, the Greens were clinging to four seats, with the final make-up of the House of Assembly was unlikely to be known for weeks.
"After 16 years Tasmanians have voted for change and I congratulate Will Hodgman," Ms Giddings said. "I'm proud to be part of this Labor government and all we've done."
She admitted that it had been difficult to sell the message of Labor achievements after so long in power, but her campaign was dogged by dissent inside the party.
Backbencher Brenton Best, repeatedly voiced his disapproval of the party leader, and said Labor should have broken an alliance with the Greens.
As he trailed in his own seat, Mr Best repeated his demands. "I had suggested she should have stood aside and if she had we might have had a different result tonight," he said.
Despite a prominent campaign by billionaire party leader Clive Palmer, the Palmer United Party's vote fell away from the 2013 federal result that brought in senator-elect Jacquie Lambie in Tasmania.
"I think they would have done better to pack up and go home a fortnight ago," said Greens MP Tim Morris. "They would have had a better result."
Morris admitted he was hanging on to his own seat by his fingernails.
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Posted by JR at 12:58 PM