Friday, December 23, 2016

Liberals rage as Trump eyes killing UN green scheme

Liberals are seething after President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team asked a simple question.  How much taxpayer money are we spending on international “global warming” programs?  The answer will have you seething, too.

Though the United States Senate never ratified the United Nations’ Paris climate treaty, the Obama administration has been following its dictates and funneling billions of taxpayer dollars into the required U.N. programs. But no one knows exactly how much taxpayer money is being shipped overseas.

So members of Trump’s transition team did what any fiscally responsible citizen would do.  They asked.

“As part of a list of questions posed last week to the department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, the Trump landing team asked, ‘How much does the Department of State contribute annually to international environmental organizations in which the department participates?,’” The Washington Post reports.

And liberals are freaking out. Why?  The dirty secret of “clean” energy is it requires hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

“According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, federal spending on climate change initiatives between fiscal year 2008 and 2013 totaled roughly $77 billion. Two-thirds of those funds went to developing carbon-free technology and deploying those advances, and most of that work was undertaken by the Energy Department rather than State,” the Post reports.

Under the terms of the U.N. climate treaty, the U.S. would pay $3 billion over four years. The payments started a year ago, when the State Department shipped the U.N. $500 million, taken out of a program to stop the spread of the Zika virus.

The Obama administration and liberal media then attacked Republicans over the sudden lack of funds to fight Zika.

Trump has told supporters he will cut off such payments to the U.N.  “(Trump’s) campaign released a policy statement (Nov. 1) suggesting that he would ‘cancel all wasteful climate change spending,’ which would include the elimination of all of the federal government’s international and domestic climate programs as well as a rollback in regulations aimed at cutting carbon emissions,” the Post reports.

“The campaign estimated that these moves would save $100 billion over eight years,” the Post reports.

Trump wants to spend that money on U.S.-based environmental programs, telling supporters he will “use that money to support America’s vital environmental infrastructure and natural resources.”


British High Court Green Lights Fracking

Back in May, a local council awarded the UK's first fracking permit since 2011, but greens concerned about the controversial drilling practice challenged that decision in court. Today, that challenge was dismissed, giving a green light for Britain to finally start plumbing its estimated 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of shale gas. Reuters reports:

Britain's High Court ruled on Tuesday that a fracking permit awarded by a local council to developer Third Energy was legal, after it was challenged by environmental campaigners, opening the way to shale gas extraction in the UK.

Substantial amounts of shale gas are estimated to be trapped in underground rocks and the British government wants to exploit it to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output, create some 64,000 jobs and help economic growth.

The contested permit in Yorkshire, in the north of England, was the first approval for shale gas fracking since a moratorium was lifted in 2012. "The substantive claim for judicial review is dismissed," Justice Lang said in her written verdict on the case, ruling that the permit remains valid.

The UK's experience with shale has been a long and tortured one. Public support has ebbed and flowed, and despite strong top-down support for fracking, local opposition (of the NIMBY variety) has stymied all comers over the past five years. It's possible that companies will finally begin to start tapping the UK's considerable reserves of shale gas, but don't expect the protests to stop.

NIMBY opposition has been much stronger in the UK than here in the U.S. for two reasons. First, the population density of the parts of America that contain our most productive shale formations is relatively low (see these maps for proof). Having fewer stakeholders to appease makes it demonstrably easier to negotiate with local communities.

But there's another key to America's shale success: mineral rights. Landowners here in the U.S. also own what's underneath their properties, and are therefore compensated directly by companies seeking to tap shale oil and gas reserves. In the UK, the government owns those resources, which removes the financial incentive for property owners to welcome fracking operations into their communities.

The British government has worked to ameliorate this, setting up a slush fund to pay out to these communities, but this tacked-on mechanism is neither as simple or straightforward as America's system of mineral rights.

Britain's shale experience has been halting, characterized by fits and starts, but this latest court approval could be the regulatory nudge that our allies across the pond need to start their own shale boom.


Obama rushes out 11th-hour regulations targeting beleaguered coal industry

At the eleventh hour, the Obama administration on Monday rolled out regulations to crack down on coal mining across the country, a parting shot against the beleaguered industry as the president leaves office.

The regulations, designed to protect America's streams and waterways from pollution produced during mining operations, will add significant costs to coal mining companies, many of which are struggling to operate.

The Interior Department estimates that it will cost the coal industry about $81 million each year to comply with the rule. The agency stressed that figure is just 0.1 percent of the coal industry's "aggregate annual revenues."

"We traveled the country, visited many mines and met with many of the people who work and live in coal country to make sure we wrote the best rule possible - one that is both economically achievable and protective," said Janice Schneider, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

But critics, including leaders in the energy sector and Republicans on Capitol Hill, have said the proposal will be much more expensive and surely will lead to even more layoffs in the industry, which has been losing jobs each year during the Obama administration.

Top Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, said Monday that they intend to work with the incoming Trump administration and scrap the rule early next year.

"The Obama administration is fighting its war on coal to the bitter end. This one rule could have crushing consequences for coal miners, their families and many communities," Mr. Ryan said in a statement. "If we are going to get America back on track, job-crushing regulations like this must stop. Our unified Republican government will act to provide coal country with relief."

The Interior Department's Stream Protection Rule will go into effect 30 days after its official release and publication in the Federal Register, meaning it likely will be implemented Jan. 19, one day before Mr. Trump takes office.

Congressional Republicans will have the power to reverse the rules with a simple majority vote.

Under the Congressional Review Act, enacted in the 1990s, Congress can reverse regulations proposed within the previous 60 legislative days. That means any regulations put forth since June 13 could be reversed with a majority vote, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In addition to the Stream Protection Rule, federal rules limiting fracking on public lands and other environmental regulations also will be in Republican crosshairs in January.

Republicans seem to have at least a few allies across the aisle. Some coal-state Democrats also bashed the Interior Department's latest proposal, arguing that it's duplicative and essentially useless. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said he will work with Republicans to pass a bill to, at the very least, weaken the proposal.

"While we all must carefully review this 1,648 page final rule, I want to reiterate that the proposed rule was very alarming in its scope and potential impacts. I believe that the manner in which this rule making was executed was flawed and lacked transparency, and I will pursue legislation to ensure it does not harm our coal mining communities and economies," he said in a statement.

The broad rules require coal companies "to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk and threaten forests."

More important, companies will be required to test and monitor the conditions of all streams that could be affected by their mining "before, during and after their operations," the Interior Department said. The testing is meant to provide baseline data that would help government agencies determine whether any pollution was caused by coal mining.

"The responsible rule released today represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation's energy needs," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. "Regulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future."

Coal industry leaders said the administration clearly is trying to deal another blow to the coal industry on its way out the door.

"The decision to promulgate this duplicative rule at this stage is postelection midnight regulation and therefore obstructionism at its worst," said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.


Obsolete Climate Science on CO2

The incoming Trump administration has promised dramatic transformations on many vital domestic issues. The best gauge of this development is the fierce level of opposition his policies have generated from Democratic stalwarts. One representative screed is a New York Times Op-Ed by Professors Michael Greenstone and Cass Sunstein, who lecture the incoming president on climate change: “Donald Trump Should Know: This is What Climate Change Costs Us.”

Greenstone and Sunstein have a large stake in the game: During their years in the first Obama administration, they convened an interagency working group (IWG) drawn from various federal agencies that determined that the social cost of carbon (SCC)—or the marginal cost of the release of a ton of carbon into the atmosphere—should be estimated at about $36 per ton (as of 2015). Choose that number and there is much justification for taking major policy steps to curb the emission of carbon dioxide. Greenstone and Sunstein hoped that the working group process would draw on the “latest research in science and economics,” and establish the claimed costs by “accounting for the destruction of property from storms and floods, declining agricultural and labor productivity, elevated mortality rates and more.”

Their effort should be dismissed as a rousing failure, and as an affront to the scientific method that they purport to adopt in their studies. The first error is one of approach. The worst way to get a full exchange of views on the complex matter of global warming is to pack the IWG entirely with members from the Obama administration, all surely preselected in part because they share the president’s exaggerated concerns with the problem of global warming. The only way to get a full and accurate picture of the situation is to listen to dissenters on global warming as well as advocates, which was never done. After all, who should listen to a “denier”?

This dismissive attitude is fatal to independent inquiry. No matter how many times the president claims the science is rock-solid, the wealth of recent evidence gives rise to a very different picture that undercuts the inordinate pessimism about climate change that was in vogue about 10 years ago. The group convened in the Obama administration never examined, let alone refuted, the accumulation of evidence on the other side. Indeed, virtually all of its reports are remarkable for the refusal to address any of the data at all. Instead, the common theme is to refer to models developed by others as the solid foundation for the group’s own work, without questioning a word of what those models say.

The second major mistake in the government studies is the way in which they frame the social costs of carbon. As all champions of cost/benefit analysis understand, it is a mistake to look at costs in isolation from benefits, or benefits apart from costs. Yet that appears to be the approach taken in these reports. In dealing with various objections to its reports, the IWG noted in its July 2015 response that “some commenters felt that the SCC estimates should include the value to society of the goods and services whose production is associated with CO2 emissions.” Their evasive response has to be quoted in full to be believed: "Rigorous evaluation of benefits and costs is a core tenet of the rulemaking process. The IWG agrees that these are important issues that may be relevant to assessing the impacts of policies that reduce CO2 emissions. However, these issues are not relevant to the SCC itself. The SCC is an estimate of the net economic damages resulting from CO2 emissions, and therefore is used to estimate the benefit of reducing those emissions."

In essence, the benefits from present or future CO2 emissions are not part of the story. Yet a truly neutral account of the problem must be prepared to come to the conclusion that increased levels of CO2 emissions could be, as the Carbon Dioxide Coalition has argued, a net benefit to society when a more comprehensive investigation is made. The entire process of expanding EPA regulations and other Obama administration actions feeds off this incorrect base assumption. The most striking admission of the folly of the entire EPA project comes from EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, who has stated that she would regard a decrease of one one-hundredth of a degree as enormously beneficial, notwithstanding its major cost, because its symbolism would “trigger global action.” No cost/benefit analysis would justify wasted expenditures solely on symbolic grounds. After all, human progress on global warming will only suffer if other nations follow our false siren on CO2 emissions, while ignoring the huge pollution that envelops major population centers like Delhi and Beijing.

Unfortunately, support for regulating CO2 emissions relies unduly on a Regulatory Impact Analysis that is worth no more than the faulty assumptions built into the model. These include the EPA’s hugely complicated Clean Power Plan, temporarily enjoined by the United States Supreme Court, that relies once again on the flawed social costs of carbon estimates.

The weakness of the EPA approach is shown by the data that Greenstone and Sunstein cite to support the contention that global warming has reached dangerous levels. They refer, for example, to a Geophysical Research Letter of 2014 that notes the retreat of ice in the West Antarctic between 1992 and 2011. But that one finding has to be set in context, as is done in the 2016 State of the Climate Report  prepared by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and sent to the U.N. Climate Conference in Morocco. This more complete account notes that the mass gain in East Antarctica has been at 200 billion tons per year on average, compared to the 65 billion tons, which was offset by substantial gains in ice in West Antarctica, generating a net gain of roughly 82 billion tons per year in Antarctic ice between 2003 and 2008. The upshot: “The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away.” Overall, the temperature over the Antarctic has been constant for the past 35 years.

No analysis that looks at the minuses can afford to ignore the larger pluses and maintain its credibility. Indeed, for what it is worth, the CFACT report notes that the ice mass in the Arctic is now about 22 percent greater than it was at its low point in 2012. This fact helps explain why there has been no recent change in the rise of sea levels, and certainly none that can be attributed to the relatively modest level of temperature increases in the past 100 years. Recent trends suggest the rate of increase in ocean levels has been decelerating over the last 18 years, during which time there has been a substantial increase in carbon dioxide levels. Yet the 102 different models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are all high in their estimates, by roughly four-fold. As documented in the 2016 CFACT report, there has been substantially no change in overall global temperature over the past 18 years, and the record highs reported are by tiny fractions of degrees that are smaller than the margin of measurement error. Yet the government’s methodology is to look at the models and ignore the data.

Just that was done by the now anachronistic 2009 EPA Endangerment Findings for Greenhouse Gases, which reported on the overall shrinkage of Arctic ice and claimed that the “elevated CO2 levels” were expected to result “in small beneficial effect[s] on crop yields.” The good news on this point seems to be that the increase in CO2 has led to about a 14 percent increase in green vegetation on earth over the past 30 years, as Matt Ridley reported in a 2016 lecture. It is the best of all possible CO2 worlds if the level of arable land increases with minor temperature changes and there are no appreciable changes in ocean levels. Put these numbers together and a revision of the SCC must be made, as it now appears that the net costs of carbon are negative. Further, the revised projections have only strengthened the lower estimates of global warming from elevated CO2 levels.

This basic conclusion is reinforced by other data, easily accessible, that addresses other concerns raised in the Greenstone and Sunstein article. For starters, there has been no recent increase in the level of storms and floods, or the damage that is said to result from them. To the contrary, the trend line has been unambiguously favorable, as the number of extreme events like floods and storms has declined steadily over the past 100 years. Indeed, the last major event in the United States was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, followed by eleven years of relative tranquility in the United States and around the world. This point is critical because one of the constant claims on global climate change is that the system-wide instability has increased these extreme events, even if overall temperature levels have remained constant.

The overall picture with respect to the SCC, then, is the exact opposite of that described by Greenstone and Sunstein, and that change in direction has a serious effect on the success of various legal challenges. Greenstone and Sunstein note that a legal decision in 2008 held that ignoring the SCC makes an administrative rule “arbitrary and capricious” and thus requires its reformulation by the applicable agency. They also reference another 2016 decision that upheld an administrative decision of the Department of Energy that explicitly took into account the SCC. But these judicial decisions have a surreal aura about them. The key statute for these cases was the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), which was passed in the aftermath of the 1973 Mideast Oil Embargo that followed in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The EPCA’s chief finding was that “the fundamental reality is that this nation has entered a new era in which energy resources previously abundant will remain in short supply, retarding our economic growth and necessitating an alteration in our life’s habits and expectations.”

It was on the strength of this 41-year-old statute that the Court in 2008 required the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reissue its rules for the average fuel economy standards for light trucks because they failed to take into account the SCC. The ruling is wholly anachronistic today because the revolution in energy technology has obviated the entire factual premise on which the so-called CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) rules rest. Given fracking, energy is abundant. Thus, the SCC has to be reevaluated in light of evidence collected outside the EPA, and summarized above, none of which was taken into account when working within the closed universe of the current set of environmental and energy laws. At this time, it appears that virtually all the EPA rules rest on outdated science.

Greenstone and Sunstein are not alone in their refusal to deal with evidence that undermines their claims. But if the SCC looks to be negative, the Trump administration should act to eliminate the current endangerment finding for carbon dioxide, and dismantle the regulatory apparatus that rests upon its highly questionable estimation of the positive value of SCC. The sorry truth is that the EPA and the regulatory process in the Obama administration show no respect for the scientific method they claim to rely on.


Forced "Greenhouse" emission reductions entrench high electricity prices in Australia

Significant economic conse­quences are foreshadowed by several ­reports into the electricity industry that were presented to this month’s meeting of ­federal, state and territory energy ministers. Two of those reports addressed issues stemming from Australia’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

One of these, The Future ­Security of the National Electricity Market, was from a group chaired by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. The other, The Integration of Energy and Emissions Reduction Policy, was prepared by the Australian Energy Market Commission.

The key feature of the Paris Agreement was the pledge by Australia and other developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2030.

Developing countries, which account for a growing 65 per cent of global emissions, have no effective restraints.

Australia ratified the Paris Agreement on the day after Donald Trump’s election victory. The president-elect has pledged to walk away from the agreement, an outcome that would transform it from largely ineffective to totally ­ineffective.

Malcolm Turnbull, however, wishes to push ahead in forcing emission reductions.

But his plans hit a road bump with the release of the draft report from the Finkel committee, which recommended controls over ­future emissions by using a form of carbon tax. When, under media questioning, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg ­acknowledged this, a backbench revolt required Turnbull to ­remove it as a ­policy option.

The same form of carbon tax was canvassed by the AEMC as a means to achieving the planned reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The AEMC costed the measure at $55.4 billion. If, instead, the emission reductions were to be achieved by using a variation of the renewable energy target, these costs would increase to $66.6bn.

Either way, especially in view of the US position, the emission reduction policy is up there in profligacy with two other government spending follies: the National Broadband Network and the submarines.

More immediate energy-­related issues concern the ambitions of Victoria and Queensland to follow South Australia down the renewable path.

Electricity from renewable ­energy costs three times as much to produce as electricity from coal and gas. For this year, the AEMC estimates the cost of existing federal and state renewable energy programs for the average household’s electricity bills at $191 in Queensland (7 per cent of the bill), $109 in NSW, $91 in Victoria and $155 in South Australia.

But these are only the direct costs. The indirect costs, in ­addition to renewable energy’s ­innate unreliability, are greater.

In the first place, this is because electricity market rules mean wind and solar will always run when they are able to do so. This forces other suppliers into stop-start operations, which coal and gas baseload power stations cannot easily accommodate. Those stations are being forced to close and each such closure ramps up the wholesale electricity price.

The AEMC estimates that next year the closure of Hazelwood in Victoria will cause a cost increase of $200 for each household in the state, with lesser cost increases in other jurisdictions.

Second, wind generators ­require increased network spending. The electricity market operator has put a $2.2bn cost on new transmission lines to link Victoria’s proposed wind generators to the grid. This stems from the wind generators wanting to locate in areas where there is weak transmission capacity.

Originally the national electricity market rules required new generators to pay for any addi­tional transmission costs their ­location entailed.

But those sensible rules have gone by the board, hence the costs will be charged to consumers. They amount to about $50 a household a year (and much more than that for businesses).

Third, the AEMC has foreshadowed additional costs, which it is unable to quantify, because of a new back-up power fund to provide system stability to cover wind and solar power’s intrinsic ­inability to offer the same flexibility as the fossil-fuel generators they displace.

Compounding these problems are the measures introduced in NSW and Victoria (and prospectively under a future South Australian Liberal government) to ban or restrict the search for gas.

Households and industry are paying a high price for political meddling reacting to vociferous environmentalists’ pressures and the patronage of renewable ­energy businesses.

Australia has gone much further than any other country with green energy cost impositions.

At the turn of the century, competition reform and privatisations had brought us the world’s cheapest electricity. This has been undone. American and French consumers now pay little more than half our average price and even Japanese households, in a country with negligible domestic energy resources, have electricity cheaper than Australians.

Australia’s low prices were also the attraction for energy-intensive industries, and the news foreshadowing the departure of the Portland Alcoa smelter makes that facility the latest casualty of the nation’s politically induced loss of industry competitiveness.

Sadly, none of the reports before ministers offers a ­return to the low prices households once enjoyed.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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