Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pruitt Refocuses the EPA on Environmental Cleanup

Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt recently announced a plan to reform the Superfund program, which was established in 1980 to clean up hazardous waste sites. The EPA currently numbers 1,336 sites on its Superfund list, and Pruitt aims to prioritize and accelerate the EPA’s efforts in cleaning up these waste sites — an issue for which action is long overdue.

Many of the efforts to engage in the actual cleaning up of these sites has been stymied by a combination of the inefficacy of government bureaucracy and legal disputes. An example of this inefficient and costly government bureaucracy is seen in Portland Harbor, Oregon, where the EPA listed a Superfund site in 2000. The agency spent millions of dollars and years researching a plan to clean up the site only to eventually throw out the plan and research it again. It was just this past January, right before Donald Trump took office, when Barack Obama’s EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, finally settled on a plan for cleaning up the site. This is only one of many instances where the agency tasked with protecting the nation’s environment has wasted time and money, primarily due to bureaucratic distractions.

Pruitt has directed a task force to review the Superfund program’s business and management practices. Part of the reform plan will be to centralize leadership on decisions for projects costing over $50 million, with the aim of removing unnecessary obstacles in order to provide greater efficiency in implementing cleanup plans. This move would also help to cut costs, an important issue for Trump as he has called for a 30% cut to the EPA’s projected budget over the next fiscal year.

If it has to exist at all, it’s about time the EPA got back to its original purpose in doing real environmental protection work rather than spending so much time and funding on promoting the Marxist propaganda of climate change.


What Congress and the Trump Administration Need to Do to Fix the EPA's Broken Budget

Next Thursday, June 15th, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will testify about President Trump’s budget plan for the agency before the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

As I wrote here, the EPA’s budget is a total mess. For years, the agency has submitted to Congress a 1,000 page budget justification that makes no sense. For starters, the agency’s budget is organized in an incomprehensible programmatic and sectorial matrix that bears no relationship to EPA’s structure or enabling statutes. Worse, the qualitative descriptions in the budget omit mention of who spends what and how they do it. All told, the document is more than 1,000 pages of gobbledygook.

The obfuscation is intentional: By making it impossible to understand, the EPA precludes congressional oversight. During the Obama administration, the agency wholesale failed to meet its non-discretionary statutory responsibilities—i.e., the things that Congress ordered them to do. Instead, the agency poured money into discretionary activities—i.e., things that the EPA choose on its own accord. On reading the budget, it is impossible to know how little the agency is spending on its statutory duties as against how much the agency spends on self-chosen activities. This state of confusion is exactly how the EPA likes it. After all, Congress can’t exercise its power of the purse if it has no idea how the money is spent.

Although the Trump administration’s heart is in the right place when it proposes a 31 percent budget cut at the EPA in its FY 2018 budget, the agency continued to employ the impossibly convoluted organizational matrix used in previous years. As in the past, the document is incomprehensible; in fact, the only difference from past practice is that the FY 2018 budget cuts the numbers by about a third, across the board.

I fear the administration is shooting itself in the foot. After studying the agency budget for weeks, my gut tells me that the agency is spending ~40% on discretionary activity. Were it to organize the EPA budget in a logical fashion, the Trump administration could demonstrate that the agency has been shortchanging Congress. In fact, a logically organized budget—one that clearly demonstrates how much money is spent on non-discretionary vs. discretionary policies—is likely to justify even greater budget cuts, because it will bring to light how much money the agency has been frittering away on non-core activity.

Congress should care, too. Oversight is only possible if the budget makes sense.

The next steps are as follows:

    First, Congress should demand that EPA submit a budget that is capable of being understood by lawmakers. Authorizing committees, budget committees, and appropriations committees in both chambers should make this a priority.

    Second, President Trump needs to appoint someone capable to lead the EPA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which is responsible for putting together the agency’s budget. This political appointee should be given instructions to produce an intelligible budget.

    Third, Mick Mulvaney, who heads the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for presidential management of the budget, needs to issue a circular requiring that the OMB and EPA work towards improving the budget.

It should be noted that improving the budget would improve the environment, in addition to saving the taxpayer money. The statutory responsibilities that the agency has chosen to ignore are the nuts and bolts of environmental improvement. By contrast, the preponderance of discretionary spending has been given to climate policies that in no way influence the climate.



President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord on the grounds that it puts the energy reserves of the United States, including coal, “under lock and key” while allowing other nations to develop their coal resources and coal jobs. The Paris deal is therefore “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.” The Paris Climate Accord is hardly the first international deal to attempt such top-down redistribution. Recall the “North-South Economic Dialogue,” promoted by the United Nations.

As Paul Johnson noted in Modern Times, 11 of the “South” states, including Mexico, Venezuela and Pakistan, were north of the equator, and one, Saudi Arabia, had the world’s highest per-capita income. Australia, the only continent entirely in the southern hemisphere, was considered “North.” The entire Soviet Bloc, entirely in the northern hemisphere, was omitted altogether. “The concept was meaningless, except for purposes of political abuse,” Johnson wrote, and “inevitably, America was presented as the primary villain in the North-South melodrama.” The same is true of the Paris Accord, masquerading as a climate measure based on science.

California Governor Jerry Brown, at this writing on a tour of China, claims the science is all settled, which was also said of Newtonian physics. Climate alarmism is an orthodoxy, not a matter of facts and inquiry, and those who question it become heretics and criminals to be vilified. True to form, The Nation called withdrawal from the Paris Accord “a crime against humanity,” charging “this is murder, even if Trump’s willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it as such.”

Such hysteria recalls Squealer, apologist of the ruling pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. When head pig Napoleon steals the milk and windfall apples, Squealer explains that this is not an act of selfishness and privilege but absolutely necessary for the welfare of the wise “brainworkers.” As Squealer contends, “this has been proved by Science, comrades.”


Dem aims to block Trump properties from receiving federally subsidized flood insurance

Legislation introduced in the House on Monday would prevent President Trump from receiving federally subsidized flood insurance, amid warnings that the effects of climate change could cause parts of his Mar-a-Lago resort and other south Florida properties to be underwater in coming years.

The bill from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) — titled the Prohibiting Aid for Recipients Ignoring Science (PARIS) Act — would ensure properties owned by a president or a president's family members can’t have access to subsidized insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program.

An analysis by Coastal Risk Consulting found that the Mar-a-Lago grounds in Palm Beach, Fla., could be under at least a foot of water for 210 days a year because of tidal flooding.

And it’s not just Mar-a-Lago, where Trump spent many weekends this past winter after taking office in January, that might be affected by rising sea levels resulting from climate change.
Trump’s oceanfront condos in Miami and his Doral golf course would also be threatened, according to projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the South Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.

Blumenauer wants to make Trump feel the potential effects of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, which made the U.S. one of only three countries in the world to abstain and drew anger from key longstanding allies.

The Trump administration also refused to sign onto parts of a Group of Seven declaration regarding climate change in light of the decision to leave the Paris pact.

“The American people should not be responsible for bailing out leaders who ignore science to gain political points, while subjecting the United States — and the rest of the world — to the catastrophic effects of climate change,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Trump may choose to reject science, but he can’t ignore the impacts — especially as they happen in his own backyard.”

Trump has said climate change is a “hoax” created by the Chinese, though his aides have largely avoided answering questions in recent weeks as to whether the president believes climate change is real.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union” earlier this month that Trump “believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation.”

"Just because the U.S. got out of a club doesn't mean we aren't going to care about the environment," Haley said.


Hard questions being asked within the government about Australia's nonsensical climate policy

They are all agreed that the electricity supply must be reliable but can't figure out how you do that amid a switch to renewables.  And not all are agreed that there is any point to renewables

The great call worldwide to the effect that renewable targets must be enshrined because businesses need certainty is utter nonsense. Businesses can easily be given certainty by an assurance that arrangements they enter into now will be "grandfathered" in the event of future policy changes

The great call worldwide to the effect that renewable targets must be enshrined because businesses need certainty is utter nonsense. Businesses can easily be given certainty by an assurance that arrangements they enter into now will be "grandfathered" in the event of future policy changes

Always up for a brawl on climate change, Liberals and Nationals MPs have thrown themselves into an internal row that tells Australians to look elsewhere for leadership.

In public, MPs assure voters they have a way to keep power bills down. In private they rip each other to shreds because they do not know what to do.

The policy divide at the Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday night came with real personal bitterness.

Tony Abbott interjected so often throughout the meeting that Craig Laundy, a frontbench ally of Malcolm Turnbull, called the former prime minister out and asked that he show respect to those who wanted to speak.

Russell Broadbent, once a strong supporter of Turnbull, warned so strongly about the risk of higher electricity prices that he got a rebuke from Paul Fletcher, another frontbencher very loyal to the Prime Minister. "It was quite ugly,” says one witness.

There can be no long-term solution on energy from a group that will fracture so easily on policies it agreed to less than two years ago, such as a renewable energy target and a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Coalition party room meeting heard MPs who questioned the government’s stated plan to generate about 23.5 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020 and to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030.

Abbott wants to scrap the RET even though the nation’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, says this would harm investor confidence. The chair of the Coalition’s backbench committee, Craig Kelly told the meeting the emission reductions should be slowed in the near term to "back end” the cuts in later years. Queensland MP George Christensen told colleagues he regretted agreeing to the emissions targets two years ago.

Consider what this tells energy investors, let alone voters. Even if Turnbull can find a way through this chaos to decide a new energy policy, who can be sure how long that policy would last?

Even if the Coalition holds power at the next election, can investors be confident that the rules set in 2017 will still be in place in 2019 when their new wind farms or gas-fired power stations are meant to be built?

Some Coalition MPs dream of attracting investors to build a new coal power station to last four decades, but their promises of certainty ring hollow. Think of the size of the government guarantee needed to shield an investor from the prospect of a change in policy or a change in government. The Coalition’s internal disputes only add to the risk premium.

Observers should be wary of seeing the dispute as a revolt or backlash. While some MPs described the debate in those terms, others disagreed.

MPs who hate the Finkel proposal for a clean energy target certainly mobilised faster than others, so the story of the revolt was the first story told. Even so, Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg were careful to use the meeting to listen to concerns rather than advance a policy.

That meant the MPs turned their sights on the Finkel report rather than on Turnbull and Frydenberg.

"Nobody from government is proposing anything yet so it can’t be described as a backlash or a revolt,” says Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald, one of those who warned against the clean energy target.

Yet the message was clear and it means Turnbull will steer clear of the clean energy target in the form modelled in Finkel’s report, which assumed an emissions intensity threshold that would knock coal power stations out of the scheme.

The unspoken warning to Turnbull is that he puts his leadership in danger if he goes too far on energy and climate policy, just like he did in 2009 when Abbott replaced him.

Nobody in the party room meeting advanced an alternative to the Finkel plan. Many agreed that doing nothing was not an option — Frydenberg’s key message. While a clean energy target looks almost impossible, some form of energy mechanism is still on the table.

The clean energy target could be structured to offer help to coal as well as wind and solar but it will not be worth the "clean” brand.

Anything that satisfies Abbott is likely to be too generous to coal and therefore rejected by Labor and the Greens. Even if it scrapes through the Senate crossbench, it offers no policy certainty for the long-term.



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   main.html or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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