Monday, July 06, 2015

Red Tape on Steroids — the Obama War on Consumers

Consumers and businesses won big at the Supreme Court on Monday.

The justices struck down an Environmental Protection Agency regulation on coal-plant emissions on the grounds that the EPA failed to consider whether the costs outweighed the benefits. Not the cost to government, mind you. The cost to us, as consumers and business owners, to comply.

The Court's 5-4 decision in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency is a setback for the Obama administration, but an important protection for the rest of us.

Federal over-regulation - of everything from automobiles to fast food and power plants - makes it more expensive for employers to hire workers and more expensive for consumers to buy everyday products. Amazingly, 29 percent of what the average household spends is due to regulations jacking up prices.

We could all afford a lot more if there were fewer regulations.

Some are needed to protect our health and safety, of course. But Washington, DC, overdoes it.

Monday's court ruling is a red flag to regulators to measure the costs and benefits to society before deciding to pile on another regulation.

The lawsuit against the EPA was brought by the coal industry and 21 states reliant on coal plants. Though the regulation, limiting emissions of mercury and other metals, only went into effect this April, dozens of coal plants already had closed to avoid the cost of complying, estimated at a whopping $10 billion nationwide.

The court's ruling will not undo those plant closings. They are casualties in Obama's war on coal.

In Monday's ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia raked the EPA over the coals, saying it "refused to consider whether the costs of its decision outweighed the benefits. The Agency gave cost no thought at all, because it considered cost irrelevant to its initial decision to regulate."

Congress opposes the president's crusade against coal, so the EPA found a provision in a law already on the books - the Clean Air Act of 1970 - to justify regulating metallic emissions from coal plants where "appropriate and necessary."

Scalia raged that it's not "even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,' to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health and environmental benefits."

Requiring cost-benefit analysis originated with Ronald Reagan in 1981. But it's only part of the remedy, since regulators will play fast and loose with the numbers to justify their regulations.

The problem, explained Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion, is that Congress gives agencies too much leeway to decide when to regulate. It's inevitable they'll overdo it - regulation is their business. The undemocratic result is regulation without representation.

Obama's regulatory strategy can best be described as red tape on steroids. Regulations imposing more than $100 million in yearly compliance costs are up 41 percent over what the George W. Bush administration imposed, even though Bush over-regulated as well.

These proliferating regulations take money out of your pocket - for example, adding $44 to the cost of a dishwasher, $83 to the price of a refrigerator and $1,357 to a new car (which will soar to $3,157 in 2017), according to economists at the American Action Forum.

And then there's the cost to our democracy. Obama's EPA is also rolling out another scheme - the Clean Power Plan - against the will of Congress. It'll force states to close coal plants and make greater use of alternative-energy sources while cutting their use of fossil fuels.

Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe is urging his old student, Barack Obama, to obey the Constitution.

"Frustration with congressional inaction cannot justify throwing the Constitution overboard," he warned recently.

Twelve states are now suing the EPA to halt this scheme as well. Obama's EPA lost in the Supreme Court on Monday.

But the president, ruling with a pen and phone and without Congress, bullies on.


Will High Court ruling save Britain's most glorious coastline from wind farms invasion?

Plans to erect thousands of wind turbines across some of Britain’s most picturesque vistas have been thrown into disarray by a landmark High Court ruling.

Cornwall County Council has been forced to accept it acted unlawfully when it gave the go-ahead for a 250ft eyesore near a beautiful stretch of coastline – throwing doubt on about 4,000 other turbines it wants to erect.

The ruling followed damning claims of a cosy relationship between a ‘green’ energy company and a planning officer who misled elected councillors about the scale of protest.

He failed to properly consult locals – at one stage using just a postcard pinned to a parish noticeboard to alert them of the planned blot on their landscape – failed to pass on objections from English Heritage and the National Trust; and relied on dubious figures about how much energy the turbine would generate.

Retired police officer Peter Waller brought the judicial review as part of his fight against a planned turbine 400 yards from his cottage near Newquay. In it, he complained of the relationship between Clean Earth Energy and planning officer Ellis Crompton-Brown, who has recommended that other of the company’s wind projects go ahead.

Campaigners claim the case demonstrates the danger of a national policy of allowing developers to pay a council to have the planning officer of their choice.

Mr Waller said: ‘If this turbine had gone ahead, life here would have been miserable. I should be happy that I have won, but I really want those responsible for this to be held to account. Mr Crompton-Brown and head of planning Phil Mason should be made to apologise for what they have done and disciplined.’

He also questioned the value of the guidance given by planning offers who he claims ‘are expected to promote such projects’ in line with the council policy.

Emails between Mr Crompton-Brown and Clean Earth showed the firm assumed it could press ahead with work even before a final planning meeting had been held.

Mr Crompton-Brown failed to include a detailed objection from English Heritage in a report to the planning committee. Key among its fears was the impact on views from Trerice, a Grade I listed Elizabethan manor house, and other beauty spots. A landscape architect with the National Trust, which owns Trerice, also wrote to Mr Crompton-Brown about his concerns, but this, too, was withheld from the committee. Meanwhile Clean Earth claimed the turbines would be 30 per cent efficient, well above the usual 23 per cent.

Following the ruling, several previous applications involving Mr Crompton-Brown and Clean Earth are to be scrutinised. Mr Waller’s lawyers say this is ‘far from an isolated case’.

Danny Mageean, of anti-turbine pressure group Cornwall Protect, said: ‘Far too much power is delegated to planning officers, who are sometimes not immune to the will of their political masters.’

He also said turbines would affect Cornwall’s vital tourist trade, saying they have replaced church towers as the dominant structures in the landscape

Planning chief Mr Mason said that, of the 9,200 planning and enforcement decisions the council makes each year, fewer than five are typically challenged by judicial review, less than half of which succeed. He added that he has ‘full confidence’ in Mr Crompton-Brown, who declined to comment.

Clean Earth Energy said it was ‘unfortunate’ that the council did not defend itself in the judicial review and added: ‘We work in a transparent manner.’


Fracking hell: the green war on progress

A UK council’s refusal to allow shale-gas exploration is very bad news

In the US, the ‘shale-gas revolution’ has brought down energy prices substantially and enabled a switch from burning coal to gas, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The ‘dash for gas’, based on North Sea gas, was a major reason the UK managed to reduce emissions in the past. So when large deposits of shale gas were found in Lancashire, it was good news, right? At a time when supplies of gas from the North Sea are dwindling, Britain potentially had a new supply of energy that was cheap(ish) and relatively clean.

Prime minister David Cameron renewed his support for shale gas in January this year: ‘I want to see unconventional gas properly exploited in our country… I think there are good reasons for doing this. We want to have greater energy security, we want to keep prices down, we also want to tackle climate change. The most important thing that needs to happen is for some exploratory wells to be dug and all would see local communities are benefiting from [fracking].’

The decision by Lancashire County Council to reject two applications for exploratory drilling is, therefore, hugely disappointing. The decision was surrounded by a veritable circus of green groups spreading scare stories about fracking. So Frack Free Lancashire could claim: ‘We know that fracking carries serious risks to local people, to our health, our water, our wildlife, and contributes to climate change.’ This flies in the face of a report by Public Health England, revised in 2014: ‘PHE has reviewed the literature on the potential public-health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale-gas extraction. We conclude that the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health in the vicinity of shale-gas extraction sites will be low if shale-gas extraction is properly run and regulated.’

The Cuadrilla proposals were rejected on the grounds of visual impact and increased traffic on rural roads, not the safety of fracking itself, which has been pored over at great length. But a decision on the basis of visual impact and heavy traffic seems to condemn industrialisation in general. How can there possibly be economic development without traffic or some changes to the skyline? It also seems to suggest a preference for one kind of development over another. Windfarms clearly have a massive visual impact on rural areas and, unless they were installed by magic pixies, wind turbines are carried to their sites on large road vehicles. But wind is good, gas is bad, it seems.

In truth, green groups simply don’t want fossil fuels to be used at all, despite their enormous benefits for society. Indeed, many greens are really arguing for a society based on zero economic growth. Of course, such an attitude is not exactly popular among people who want jobs and decent living standards rather than an existence based on nut roast, crochet and folk singing. So instead of an honest debate about how we move society forward, we get scare stories about poisoned water tables or the safety risks of heavy-goods vehicles on rural roads. In that context, and with little support for development beyond that from the companies involved, local residents prefer to play safe.

If we want to generate wealth and, in the process, make our lives more comfortable and open up new possibilities for humanity, we need industrialisation in general and more energy production in particular. Shale gas is just the canary in the coal mine of a wider rejection of economic growth. The poisonous arguments of environmentalists need to be taken on. The problem, as Daniel Ben-Ami has frequently argued, is that this scepticism about growth runs right to the top of society. In the absence of a counterweight to the arguments about growth, sustainability and precaution, we will all end up worse off.


British green subsidies in the budget firing line

George Osborne to abolish coalition's green tax target as customers face paying £1.5billion more through their bills to subsidise wind farms, solar panels and biomas plants

The cost of subsidising new wind farms is spiralling out of control, government sources have privately warned.

Officials admitted that so-called “green” energy schemes will require a staggering £9 billion a year in subsidies - paid for by customers - by 2020. This is £1.5 billion more than the maximum limit the coalition had originally planned.

The mounting costs will mean every household in the country is forced to pay an estimated £170 a year by the end of the decade to support the renewable electricity schemes that were promoted by the coalition.

Tory ministers are said to be "angry" at the scale of the over-running costs. They are blaming the Liberal Democrats who ran the Department for Energy and Climate Change for the past five years for the spectacular failure to control renewable energy programmes.

The huge excess spending is thought to be a result of higher-than-expected numbers of rooftop solar panels being fitted on houses, falling wholesale energy prices, and offshore wind farms proving more productive than anticipated.

The Chancellor believes the figures demonstrate the need to rein in the cost of policies to tackle climate change.

As a first step, he will use this week’s summer Budget to announce that he is abandoning targets set under the coalition to increase the level of environmental taxes in a move he hopes will save customers and businesses billions of pounds.

This Budget will be Mr Osborne’s first opportunity to exercise complete control over setting environmental tax rates, and subsidies for wind and solar power, without being constrained by Liberal Democrats.

Under the coalition, ministers decided that investment in new renewable energy developments, such as wind turbines, solar panels and biomass schemes, would be paid for by energy companies, rather than through taxation.

Energy firms were allowed to recover the cost of these subsidies from their customers by adding it to household bills.

In order to limit the impact of the green schemes on customers, ministers set a strict cap on the total amount that could be spent in these consumer-funded subsidies for renewable energy.

By 2020, the maximum amount to be spent through these subsidies was set at £7.6 billion a year. But new projections from DECC show this cap will be exceeded by a massive 20 per cent, or another £1.5 billion.

Official figures showed that environmental levies added £68 to the average household bill last year. By 2020 this had been expected to rise to £141. But the latest DECC figures suggest the true figure will be closer to £170 as costs continue to mount.

One million people are living in homes with solar panels on the roof

Government sources say there is little that Mr Osborne can do because the subsidies have already been agreed under long-term contracts signed by DECC while Liberal Democrat ministers were in charge.

However, the Chancellor will review the system to see whether further steps can be taken to cut the cost of climate change schemes such as the subsidies, sources said.

In previous years the Chancellor has tried to help businesses cope with punitive environment policies in Britain and across Europe by providing tax relief. He has warned that forcing steel mills and aluminium smelters to shut down and relocate outside Britain will not help “save the planet”.

However, in coalition, DECC was run for five years by Liberal Democrat ministers, firstly Chris Huhne, and then Ed Davey, while Nick Clegg, the party leader was passionately committed to protecting the environment.

In Wednesday’s Budget Mr Osborne will abandon the coalition’s target to increase the proportion of taxation raised from key environmental taxes, such as the Carbon Price Floor, charged on fossil fuels, and the Climate Change Levy, which businesses pay on their energy use.


Republican Governors Signal Their Intent to Thwart Obama’s Climate Rules

As President Obama prepares to complete sweeping regulations aimed at tackling climate change, at least five Republican governors, including two presidential hopefuls, say they may refuse to carry out the rules in their states.

The resistance threatens to ignite a fierce clash between federal and state authorities, miring the climate rules in red tape for years. The fight could also undermine Mr. Obama’s efforts to urge other nations to enact similar plans this year as part of a major United Nations climate change accord.

Republican strategists say that rejection of Mr. Obama’s climate policy at the state level could emerge as a conservative litmus test in the 2016 election. Two of the governors who have said that they might defy the regulations — Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — are among at least four Republican governors who are expected to vie for the presidential nomination.

Other governors who have issued threats over the rules include Greg Abbott of Texas, Mike Pence of Indiana and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.

The governors’ actions have come after the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, opened a campaign earlier this year urging all governors to refuse to carry out the climate change rules.

Mr. McConnell sent a letter to every governor in March, and he has continued his push in meetings and phone calls. In addition, his staff has been working closely with regulators and environmental officials in many state governments, helping them shape legal strategies to block the rules.

“As governors begin to seriously look at what these plans will look like, we expect more and more governors will follow Senator McConnell’s lead,” said Robert Steurer, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell.

The fate of Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda, which he hopes will be a cornerstone of a major environmental legacy, depends heavily on the compliance of state governments.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a draft regulation that stands at the heart of the president’s efforts to fight global warming. The proposed rule assigns each state a level by which it must reduce its planet-warming carbon emissions from electric power plants. Under the rule, which the administration expects to release in its final form in August, every state will have one year to draft a customized plan detailing how it will comply.

States, for example, could submit plans to shut down heavily polluting coal plants, replacing them with natural gas plants and wind, solar and nuclear power generators, and to improve energy efficiency in buildings. They could also enact taxes on carbon pollution, or join regional “cap and trade” programs, which require companies to pay for government-issued pollution permits.

The White House envisions the plan as a trigger that will prompt a transformation of the American electricity system, shifting it from dependence on fossil fuels to a reliance on renewable and low-carbon energy sources.

But some governors call the proposal a federal intrusion on their authority.

“The E.P.A.’s latest attempt at imposing burdensome regulations represents an unprecedented meddling with Texas in order to push the Obama administration’s liberal climate change agenda,” said Mr. Abbott, the Texas governor, who has met with Mr. McConnell about his effort to ensure that states do not submit climate change plans, and has announced that he will support the push.

Michael Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Jindal, said in an email: “The president’s Clean Power Plan undermines the role of states in the federal Clean Air Act in an effort to realize a radical, liberal agenda that will lead to increased energy costs. While we believe the proposed rule should be immediately withdrawn, we are considering all options to mitigate the damage if it becomes final, including not submitting a plan.”

In a letter to Mr. Obama, Governor Walker wrote that he feared the “staggering costs it would inflict on Wisconsin’s homes and businesses,” and added that absent major changes to the plan, “it is difficult to envision how Wisconsin can responsibly construct a state plan.”

Given the volatile politics, the Obama administration is preparing for some states to reject the proposal. The E.P.A. is drafting a model state-level plan to have at the ready if states refuse to submit their own plans.

Administration officials say it is in states’ interest to design their own plans, which would be customized to meet the needs of their local and regional economies.

“E.P.A. has an obligation under the Clean Air Act to develop a model federal plan, something that many states have asked E.P.A. to do so it can provide an example for states developing their own plans,” said Thomas Reynolds, a spokesman for the agency. “E.P.A.’s strong preference is to approve state plans, but we know that setting out a federal plan is an important step to ensure that our Clean Air Act requirements are fulfilled.”

Environmental policy experts say that the federal government could ultimately force a policy created in Washington on the economies of each state. But that could mean the process would be extended for years.

“If the federal government has to enforce this program if the state is unwilling or unable to comply, it will drag out the process, exacerbate the challenges, and make implementation that much more difficult,” said William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

But for presidential candidates promoting their conservative credentials, highlighting the difficulties of federal regulation may be precisely the point.

Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist and political strategist, has advised governors to reject the plan.

“When this rule is final, people are going to have to say whether they’re in favor of it or against it, and political activists, voters in Republican primaries, are going to look at it,” he said. “It’s going to be on the test.”


Historic Climate Court Decision in the Netherlands

And Americans complain about SCOTUS over-reach!

Big news from the Netherlands, where a court just decided that the government was not doing enough to combat climate change. Yep. You read that right.

“The state must do more to reverse the imminent danger caused by climate change, given also its duty to protect and improve the environment,” the court said in its ruling.

The court’s decision is being seen as not only a victory for environmentalists, but also for human rights advocates worldwide. This is the first attempt by European citizens to hold the state accountable for potentially devastating inaction on climate change. It’s also the first case in the world in which human rights are used as a legal basis to protect citizens against climate change, according to the Urgenda Foundation.

“This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction,” said Marjan Minnesma, a Dutch citizen and one of the plaintiffs in the case. “States are meant to protect their citizens, and if politicians will not do this of their own accord, then the courts are there to help.”

The logic behind the court case was, actually, quite simple. As Minnesma stated above, governments have an obligation to protect us, its citizens, from dangers. And few dangers have as widespread, potentially devastating impacts as climate change. Attempts to both plan for, and mitigate, emissions require incredible coordination between governments, businesses and citizens.

You would think the Netherlands would get it. Of all the countries in Europe, it is one of the most vulnerable. It is a very low-lying nation, with significant land-area below sea level, leaving it highly susceptible to even a small sea-level rise. Moreover, one of its national symbols is the windmill, showing its place as an early-adopter and developer of wind-technology.

Yet, the Netherlands is lagging behind its neighbors in installing clean energy, and in cutting carbon emissions. The decision, which can be appealed, would force the country to cut its emissions



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