Thursday, June 28, 2018

EPA’s Pruitt Wants to Limit His Own Agency’s Authority

The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to limit one of the agency’s most powerful tools to manage or block mining, real-estate and other developments by removing the effective veto power it has over permits to dump waste into waterways.

The move, described in a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, would limit the agency’s power to pre-emptively or retroactively block U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval of the waste dumping, hindering or potentially killing large development projects.

It is the latest attempt at a regulatory rollback from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has pledged to ease environmental restrictions on businesses. He wrote in the memo to some senior staff, including regional administrators, that the powers he intends to curb have a chilling effect on economic development.

“I am concerned that the mere potential of EPA’s use of its… authority before or after the permitting process could influence investment decisions and chill economic growth by short-circuiting the permitting process,” he wrote in a four-page memo he signed Tuesday.

Mr. Pruitt is ordering EPA’s Office of Water to relinquish authority the agency has had for about 40 years under the Clean Water Act of 1972 to prohibit some approvals by the Corps even before a developer formally applies for them, or to throw them out years after they were granted—even after a project is complete and operational.

The Corps has permitting authority when developers want to dump excavated land and waste into waterways, most commonly sought for mines and real-estate development, experts said. But Congress granted EPA the review authority over that permitting and power to reject permits approved by the Corps. While advocates see it as a fail-safe the agency can leverage to encourage developers into more environmentally friendly practices, Mr. Pruitt thinks the power is so broad it is vulnerable to abuse, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

The agency has used that authority to block or restrict development only 13 times in its history, according to the memo, so shedding the authority would be broadly less influential than Mr. Pruitt’s headline initiatives like rollbacks on power-plant pollution rules, vehicle-emissions limits, and EPA’s power over streams and lakes.

But while few projects have been subject to that authority, it is one of the most extensive the agency has, with its potential to halt a project at preliminary stages in the permitting process or long after it has come to fruition, according to several policy experts.

The developers of Pebble Mine—an estimated $5 billion project in southwest Alaska—blame President Barack Obama’s administration for putting their project in regulatory limbo by using these powers against it in 2014. Mr. Pruitt refers to that decision specifically in the memo, which could erase the threat that the EPA could halt the project again after Pebble makes another effort to get federal permits, Tom Collier, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership, said in a phone interview from his Anchorage office.

Shares of the partnership’s parent company, Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. , have lost about 60% since that decision and closed Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange at C$0.68. Northern Dynasty has also had trouble recruiting investors since then. Last month it said First Quantum Minerals Ltd. backed out of a deal announced in December to pay $150 million for an option to buy half of the project for $1.5 billion.

Pebble executives have urged Congress and officials in President Donald Trump’s administration to shed this authority, Mr. Collier said.

“It’s hugely helpful for us,” he added. “I think it sends a clear signal that making decisions about vetoing a project before you have had an application filed… is just not the right policy.”

Dropping the policy would eliminate a useful tool the EPA has to encourage developers to look harder for solutions that are friendly to the environment, said Bob Perciasepe, deputy EPA administrator under Mr. Obama and chief of the EPA’s air and water divisions during the Clinton administration.

The EPA’s rare use of the authority shows it has been reserved for special situations and not prone to abuse, he said.

It “could be self-defeating over time” for EPA to drop it, he said.

“If there isn’t a consequence to filling a wetland and destroying a habitat, then people will do it,” he said.

Mr. Pruitt’s memo directs EPA staff to send a draft policy to the White House for review within six months. The new policy would need to go through a public comment period before it is finalized, according to a person familiar with the process.


What Warming? Blooming Date For Trees In Beijing The Same As 1741-1795 AD

China is a big place so what happens there is significant

The day of the year that a plant first blooms is widely considered to be “an important natural indicator of climate change” when observed over the course of decades to centuries.

A new study (Liu et al., 2018) reveals that a flowering plant in Beijing, the Amygdalus davidiana, has not been blooming any earlier in recent decades than it did during the second half of the 18th century.

The scientific literature is teeming with temperature reconstructions that depict a glaring lack of unprecedented, remarkable, or even detectable warming at sites all across the globe.  Hundreds of non-warming/non-hockey stick graphs have been published just since 2017 alone.

And when it comes to temperature reconstructions, one geographical region has seemed to receive more attention than any other: China.

Reconstructions of regional China temperatures consistently do not support the position that the modern period falls outside the range of natural variability.

In fact, in the first half of 2018 alone, there have already been 17 scientific papers published documenting a lack of conspicuous modern warming for regional China.

Unlike other temperature proxies used to reconstruct past temperatures, the day of the year a plant or tree blooms can be directly connected to the regional temperature.

Cooler temperatures translate to delayed bloom dates, and warmer temperatures indicate earlier bloom dates.

Compiled over decades to centuries, records of blooming dates can clearly depict long-term climate trends, as demonstrated in Liu and Fang (2017):

In a new study, Liu et al. (2018) obtained records of blooming dates for flowering trees in Beijing during the 260 years between 1741 and 2000.  Consistent with many other recent paleoclimate reconstructions for the region,

Liu et al. (2018) did not assess any significant differences between the first blooming dates in the second half of the 18th century (1741-1795) compared to the late 20th century (1963-2000).

In fact, even when including the delayed blooming dates (shown above) during the 1796-1832 period (attributed to that colder period’s higher volcanic activity and lower solar irradiance), the average day-of-year first blooming dates during the 90 years between 1741-1832 were effectively identical to the day-of-year first blooming dates for 1963-2000 (85.2 vs. 84.4).

As mentioned above, an abundance of proxy reconstructions from the region also show the modern period is no warmer — and even several degrees colder — than it has been for the last several centuries to millennia.

Therefore, it appears to be widely accepted in the scientific literature that China has not been impacted by dangerous or unprecedented “global” warming since the 18th century, or since CO2 concentrations began rising precipitously.


Cooler Heads Need To Prevail On Texas Climate Predictions

For ll its positive attributes, the great state of Texas has one major failing: the inability of its mainstream media to rationally discuss climate change.

Unfortunately, Texas media are being used to implement the shock doctrine approach to environmental policy.

Back in 2014, one of us (S.R.) discussed this topic specifically in the context of the severe drought that was underway in North Texas. Readers may remember that at the time, Wichita Falls was ground zero for the drought, and its municipal drinking water reservoirs were being drawn down.  Residents were understandably concerned.

However, what emerged during this drought was some potentially problematic policy advice from the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.  As S.R. wrote in response at the time:

"The point of all this data is that we need to be cautious with precipitation and drought statistics in Texas.  Anecdotal writing is more popular in the media today than ever.  Sometimes this writing style can be useful, but very often it distorts reality by over-generalizing from an isolated case, in shock doctrine style[.] …

The worst drought conditions in the state from a couple years ago are easing. Although east Texas is almost out of drought, everywhere else is still in a significant drought – but if trends continue, the pressure may lift over the next couple years.  Now simply isn’t the time to create comprehensive and far-reaching water policy in shock doctrine style.

Following the advice of Rahm Emanuel to “never let a good crisis go to waste” will not lead Texas in the direction it needs to go, particularly when I see statements by the George W. Bush Institute such as “the trick is finding the right balance between planning and property rights.”

Discussions over property rights are never best conducted when a crisis is at hand.  Wait until the drought crisis settles down – which it undoubtedly will – and then begin examining proposals over this very contentious topic (especially in Texas, where property rights issues are taken more seriously than almost anywhere else)[.] …

Patience is needed in the Lone Star State on water policy.  Avoid the shock doctrine".

And sure enough, our recommendation for patience paid off. Within one year of our article being published, the reservoirs in Wichita Falls were already back up to effectively 100% of capacity, a point they have maintained ever since.

This brings us to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News predicting that “[c]limate change [is] to bring North Texas longer droughts, heavy rains, 120-degree temps within 25 years.”  And in this report, we find the following claims:

“Climate change is not just about polar bears,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University with an impressive YouTube following.  “It will affect North Texas profoundly.”

Between 2041 and 2050, Dallas-Fort Worth may see August temperatures rise from a mean of 86 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the 20th century to 94 degrees, with extremes rising above 120, reports one study by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington"

That’s a bold prediction.  Our concern with it is that there appears to be no evidence that extreme maximum temperatures in the Dallas-Fort Worth region for August will rise above 120 degrees by the 2041-2050 period.

Using historical data from NOAA going back to 1899 for the area, there is only a very weak time trend in the data, as can be seen in this graph.  In fact, the highest all-time August maximum temperatures occurred in 1909 and 1936 at 112 degrees.

Since this latter date, the region has hit 110 degrees only twice (in 1943 and 2011), and the average maximum high over the past three decades (104.0 degrees) is essentially the same as the average maximum high for the entire period since records began in 1899 (103.3 degrees).

Consequently, Dallas-Fort Worth “may see” extreme August temperatures in the 120-plus range by the 2040s, but if the 120 years of data for the region is any indication, this appears unlikely and not a rational basis for funding public policy.

Similarly, the prediction that August temperatures may rise from a mean of 86 degrees in the late 1990s up to 94 degrees by 2040 appears unlikely if historical trends since the 19th century are any indication.

There is a modest increasing trend in August temperatures for Dallas-Fort Worth since the late 19th century, but nowhere near dramatic enough to suggest that a rapid increase of 8 degrees will take place during the next 25 or so years.

For example, over the 120 years between 1899 and 2018, the average August temperature in this region of North Texas rose just 2 degrees from 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the historical trend continues, perhaps an increase to 87 degrees by 2050 will occur, or if the upper 95% confidence interval of the historical trend is extrapolated out to mid-century, maybe 88 degrees.

These slightly higher values are very different from a prediction that residents of Dallas-Fort Worth should prepare for an average August temperature of 94 degrees during the 2040s.

Drought is always an issue that ranchers are concerned about in North Texas, but more caution is warranted when considering the following predictions:

Along with heat will come stronger drought, which “has profound economic impacts,” said Hayhoe.

The prediction that North Texas will have longer and more severe droughts is based on multiple factors, including the relationship between high temperatures and soil dryness and the presence of more frequent and longer lasting high-pressure systems in summer that suppress rainfall and deflect storms away from our area.

Hayhoe points to Texas’ 2010-2013 drought as a probable sign of things to come.

Quite the contrary.  In none of the four climate divisions that make up the northern half of Texas have there been any statistically significant trends toward increasing drought since records began in 1895 (see graphs for climate divisions 1, 2, 3, and 4; positive values [green bars] represent increasingly wet conditions, while negative values [yellow bars] indicate increasing drought).

In fact, in divisions 2, 3, and 4 (the north-central and north-east regions of Texas), on the balance of probabilities, historical trends suggest less drought in the future, not more.

Climate predictions are hard, and the record in Texas has not been promising of late.

In a time of scarce public resources and more pressing, and demonstrably real, national security concerns – such as the border crisis – policy-makers in Texas need to consider a more balanced examination of climate change impacts on the state and avoid deploying limited funds and enacting unwise policies in an attempt to ward off projections that hold a significant chance of not coming true.

One way of decreasing pressure on Texas’s water resources would be to halt and reduce the massive influx of illegal immigrants into the state, whose “official” numbers increased by an order of magnitude to nearly 5 million between 1970 and 2014.

The actual number of illegal aliens in Texas is likely much higher and increasing more rapidly than official statistics suggest.  Curbing this population increase alone would go a long way to dealing with many of the issues raised in the Dallas Morning News article.


Judge throws out SF and Oakland climate suits against big oil

A federal judge Monday tossed out two groundbreaking lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland that sought to hold some of the world’s largest oil companies liable for climate change.

In an exhaustive, 16-page ruling that touched on such scientific matters as the ice age and early observations of carbon dioxide, U.S. District Judge William Alsup acknowledged the problem of a warming planet but said it is just too big for the courts to solve.

The cities are trying to get five oil and gas giants, including Bay Area-based Chevron, to help cover the costs of dealing with sea-level rise, like picking up the tab for seawalls. However, Alsup, noting that Congress and the White House, not the judiciary, are responsible for addressing the fallout from fossil fuels, granted the industry’s request to dismiss the suits.

“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” he wrote.

"The two cases are among the first of many nationwide that have recently attempted to force the oil industry to pay for what might amount to hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change. While the other municipalities, including a handful in California as well as New York City and Kings County, Wash., are closely following what happens in the Bay Area, Monday’s decision does not affect the cases in other courts."

The cities and counties all claim that oil companies have long known that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are warming the planet. Yet, according to the suits, the industry did nothing to prevent problems and even sought to cover up its ties to the climate, akin to how big tobacco tried to deceive the public about the health impacts of cigarettes decades ago.

The lawsuits argue that like tobacco companies, the oil firms create a public nuisance and should be held accountable. San Francisco alone estimates that rising seas at the hands of climate change has put $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private land at risk.

But Alsup, who works in the court’s Northern District of California, opined that the world has undoubtedly benefited from fossil fuels, from the industrial revolution to today’s modern conveniences. The bench, he determined, was not in a position to weigh the industry’s positives against the negative.

“Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?” he wrote. “Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?”

Alsup tried to grapple with such questions at a first-of-its-kind climate “tutorial” in March. He invited experts from both sides of the case to weigh in on the science of climate change. The hearing was so popular that it had to be live-streamed to an additional courtroom.

In the end, Alsup determined that the nation’s environmental agencies should be tapped for their expertise on the subject and that the legislative and executive branches of government should have final say.

Attorneys for San Francisco and Oakland are reviewing their options and are not yet ready to concede defeat.

“Our belief remains that these companies are liable for the harm they’ve caused,” said John Coté, spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. “This is obviously not the ruling we wanted, but this doesn’t mean the case is over.”

Besides Chevron, the targets of the lawsuits were BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents the interests of the oil industry, praised Alsup’s action.

“From the moment these baseless lawsuits were filed, we have argued that the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge,” said the association’s president and CEO, Jay Timmons.

Attorneys for the oil companies have long maintained that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are regulated under the Clean Air Act and remain the purview of lawmakers and the president.

While the San Francisco and Oakland cases are the first of the recent climate suits to get a decision, the others are in different courts, both at the state and federal level, and could elicit different judgments.

San Mateo and Marin counties are both trying to get climate suits heard in California court, where public nuisance cases are generally easier to make.

San Francisco and Oakland had initially tried to make their cases in state court, but Alsup determined that because of the scope of the matter, the issue belonged to the federal judiciary.


'It's less efficient than regular unleaded': Australian motorists are being forced to use E10 fuel despite growing doubts about cost savings and environmental benefits

Motorists are being forced to use ethanol petrol despite industry doubts about its environmental benefits and cost savings.

Service stations in New South Wales and Queensland are being required to stock E10 petrol, which contains up to 10 per cent ethanol, and are hit with hefty fines if they fail to convert their tanks.

This lower octane unleaded blend, containing fermented sugarcane or grain, typically sells for $1.50 a litre in Sydney, compared with $1.75 a litre for premium unleaded.

Over a year, this equates to an extra $663 a year to fill up a small Mazda3 hatchback if motorists want to buy the superior premium unleaded petrol as lower octane, regular unleaded is replaced with E10 at service stations.

E10 is also three per cent less efficient per kilometre than regular unleaded petrol, with industry experts questioning its touted environmental benefits.

Independent petrol monitoring group Fueltrac said lobbying from ethanol producer Manildra and Queensland's sugarcane growers was forcing motorists in two states to pay significantly more for petrol if they didn't want to fill up with E10.

'There would be zero benefit in terms of environmental benefit and you've got the higher cost of the fuel,' the group's manager director Geoff Trotter told Daily Mail Australia today.

'The stuff only has 70 per cent thermal efficiency of a standard unleaded so you've got to use three per cent more to go the same distance.'

Mr Trotter, a former Shell executive, said the NSW government was threatening service stations with $500,000 fines if they didn't stock E10.

'When the motorists didn't respond to the mandate in the first tranche, they then threatened retailers with these huge fines,' he said.

'Unfortunately, what that's done is it's forced people to have to buy premium unleaded fuel which is between 15 and 20 cents a litre more than the previous standard unleaded. 'They haven't delivered any savings benefits for the poor old motorist.'




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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