Wednesday, April 03, 2019

This Veteran, Who Supplied Water to Firefighters, Went to Prison for Digging Ponds

An elderly veteran who ran a business supplying water to fight forest fires was prosecuted by the federal government and sent to prison for digging ponds on his own property, one of his lawyers says.

Joe Robertson, a Navy veteran from Montana, was 78 when he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $130,000 in restitution through deductions from his Social Security checks.

His crime?

Robertson, whose business supplied water trucks to Montana firefighters, dug a series of small ponds close to his home in 2013 and 2014. The site was a wooded area near a channel, a foot wide and a foot deep, with two to three garden hoses’ worth of flow, according to court documents.

The U.S. government prosecuted Robertson for digging in proximity to “navigable waters” without a permit, a violation of the Clean Water Act administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tony Francois, a senior attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, public interest law firm specializing in property rights, described the events leading up to Robertson’s prosecution during a panel discussion Monday at The Heritage Foundation.

Also on the panel was Kevin Pierce, vice president of Hawkes Co., a Minnesota-based family business that harvests peat for golf course greens. Daren Bakst, Heritage’s senior research fellow for agriculture policy, was moderator of the event, called “Horror Stories of EPA and Corps Overreach under the Clean Water Act.”

Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition on behalf of Robertson, asking the Supreme Court to review his case, which turns on the definition of “navigable waters.”

The Navy veteran argued that he didn’t violate the Clean Water Act because
digging the ponds did not discharge any soil to navigable waters, since the trickle in the channel didn’t constitute navigable waters.

The largest navigable body of water anywhere near the Robertson home is more than 40 miles away, Francois said.

Because Robertson lived in a wooded area that is “increasingly fire prone,” he was “concerned about the safety and vulnerability of his property,” Francois said. He built the ponds “with a view toward being well-prepared should a fire strike.”

The Supreme Court is expected to decide in April whether it will hear Robertson’s appeal.

Robertson, sentenced in 2016, completed his 18 months behind bars in late 2017. He was still on parole for the next 20 months when he died March 18 at age 80 of natural causes, according to his widow.

Pacific Legal Foundation filed papers this week to substitute Robertson’s widow, Carri Robertson, as the petitioner in the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Another case Francois cited concerns a proposed road in Marquette County, Michigan. The project, known as CR-595, would shorten the travel time between a nickel mine and a refinery 22 miles away.

The only route now available to the mine, called Eagle Mine, is three times as long, Francois said. The nickel mine, currently the only one in the U.S., is expected to bring about $4 billion in economic activity to the county, according to Pacific Legal Foundation.

The Marquette County Road Commission’s CR-595 proposal called for  a direct road from the mine to a refinery.

“The new route would bypass the city of Marquette altogether, eliminate nearly 30 miles of travel per trip, a million and a half miles annually, as well as save 500,000 gallons of fuel per year,” Francois said.

Since the proposed route goes through wetlands, however, the road commission sought a wetlands permit under the Clean Water Act. The state approved the permit, but the EPA rejected it.

“The final version [of the commission’s planned route] proposed to protect 63 acres of wetlands for every acre the road project would disturb,” Francois said. “But the EPA continued to object to CR 595 because in their view the commission still had not provided adequate plans to minimize impacts, and that its 63-1 mitigation ratio was not a comprehensive mitigation plan that would sufficiently compensate for unavoidable impacts.”

The EPA vetoed the commission’s plan and the Supreme Court declined a petition from Pacific Legal Foundation to review that decision.

Pacific Legal Foundation also represented Hawkes Co. in a 2016 case before the high court. In a 8-0 decision, the justices ruled that landowners have a right to challenge wetland determinations made by federal agencies.

Pierce, the Hawkes Co. official, described a difficult and arduous process to prevail over opposition from the Army Corps of Engineers to secure a permit allowing the company to expand on a 200-acre peat mining site. The company began the application process in 2006.

“I really don’t like how it worked. No. 1, there was a lot of fabrication from the Corps people, Pierce said at the Heritage event, adding:

They actually went to the landowner that we had the option to buy the land with. They sent two people up from St. Paul to his house for two and half hours for a meeting to try to convince him to sell the real estate to someone else, while we got $200,000 already invested in a permit application.

And they gave names and numbers of people who would buy it for preservation to sell it out from under us. Well knowing that we had options to buy and contracts with that landowner, which then forced us to have to buy the land seven years before we got our permit and had to follow through on it.

When I confronted them about it, they literally lied to me and said, ‘We didn’t know you had a permit or an option to buy.’ But then later in the conversation, they say, ‘Well, we thought it ran out.’

Congress initially passed the Clean Water Act in 1948, but lawmakers greatly altered and expanded it into the current form with amendments in 1972.

The law “establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters,” according to the EPA’s website.

Under the 1972 amendments, it is illegal to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without a permit from the EPA. The Corps oversees the permitting process and shares enforcement authority with the EPA.

In 2015, the Obama administration implemented its Clean Water Rule, widely known as the Waters of the United States rule or WOTUS rule, which expanded the regulatory reach of the EPA and the Corps over bodies of water throughout the country.

The Trump administration has taken steps to withdraw the Obama administration’s rule and replace it with a new one that limits the regulatory reach of federal agencies.

Although Heritage’s Bakst said he approves of the Trump administration’s efforts, he has argued that it ultimately falls to Congress to clarify what waterways are subject to EPA regulations.

The Daily Signal sought comment for this report from both the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We cannot comment on ongoing litigation even as it pertains to actions of the previous administration,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in an email. “However, EPA is moving forward with a replacement WOTUS rule to ensure farmers and ranchers have more certainty when it comes to federal jurisdiction over waters.”

A Corps spokesman said in an email that it would not comment on the Robertson case since it is still active and has nothing to add to the Hawkes case beyond what is already “a matter of public record.”


Green New Deal presents opportunities for Republicans to protect jobs from disastrous economic suicide pact

New York Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (GND) scheme, which includes phasing out coal, oil, natural gas, most vehicles, and cows, failed miserably when put to a vote in the U.S. Senate. Incredibly, not even one of the twelve Democrat Senate sponsors of the GND resolution voted to advance it. Perhaps that is because not only is the GND bad policy, but it is also bad politics. Now, Republicans should capitalize on this ridiculous proposal.

The GND would be both costly and disruptive. It is estimated that the GND would cost over $90 trillion, and its supporters have not suggested any real plan to pay for it other than to print more money. In addition to quadrupling the national debt, the GND would displace millions of workers as it killed off entire industries. To switch careers many of these people would need to be retrained. Undoubtedly, some number of displaced workers would be unable to find suitable work in their area forcing them to either move or live at taxpayers’ expense.

Of course, once they are aware of the problems that the GND would create, many voters are likely to reject it. To get a glimpse of just how disruptive the GND would be in key states, consider the following. In Florida, a swing state, where President Trump won by fewer than 113,000 votes:

Over 280,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
The cattle industry and its associated industries support over 110,000

In Iowa, a swing state, where Trump won by a little over 147,000 votes:

Over 60,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
The beef industry supports over 30,000
In Michigan, where Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes:

Over 180,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
Over 170,000 people work in the automotive industry.
Over 20,000 people work in the dairy industry.
In Minnesota, where Hillary Clinton won by fewer than 45,000 votes:

Over 120,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
The beef industry is responsible for over 40,000
Over 20,000 people work in the dairy industry.
In Ohio, a swing state, where Trump won by over 446,000 votes:

Over 250,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
Over 90,000 people work in the automotive industry.
Over 30,000 people work in the dairy industry.
In Pennsylvania, where Trump won by a little over 44,000 votes:

Over 190,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
Over 40,000 people work in the dairy industry.
In Wisconsin, where Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes:

Over 100,000 jobs are supported by the oil and gas industry.
Over 40,000 people work in the dairy industry.

The beef industry provides over 30,000

Of course, the real number of people who would suffer under the GND is unclear, but it would probably stretch far beyond the ranks of workers in targeted industries. Depending upon displaced workers’ ability to procure sufficient income, their families, friends, and neighbors could also be negatively impacted. While the GND called for paying people who do not wish to work, it is unclear what they would be paid; and it is likely that government checks would be for significantly less than what many skilled workers in the energy and manufacturing industries earn.

Far-left Democrats have foolishly given Republicans an opportunity to win over new voters, and Republicans should make the most of it. In fact, it would be political malpractice if they did not warn workers that their jobs — and the jobs of their friends and family — may disappear if Democrats are able to seize full control of the government.


Yes, Babies Are a Better Solution to Climate Change Than the Green New Deal

Sen. Mike Lee

One doesn’t bring posters of tauntauns, Aquaman, and President Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor while firing a submachine gun to the Senate floor without expecting a little bit of controversy.

If you are going to poke fun at the prevailing pieties of progressivism on a national stage, a little pushback should be expected.

But what was surprising about the reaction to my speech on the Green New Deal is which chart garnered the most vehement anger. It wasn’t Reagan riding a dinosaur or Utah Gov. Gary Herbert battling tornado-propelled sharks or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserting that the resolution’s own supporters don’t know what’s in it.

No, the most controversial poster of the 14-minute speech turned out to be a simple image of six smiling babies.

Why such an aggrieved reaction to such a heart-warming image? I’ll let Emily, a 28-year-old woman who talked to FiveThirtyEight from Spokane, Washington, explain.

"We have physical proof that we cause a lot of harm to the planet, and I think the statistics show an imperative to reduce the footprint of our population, which has grown so fast. I think that having children can be immoral for a lot of reasons"

Emily is not alone in suggesting that having children is immoral. An author of the Green New Deal [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.] recently said on Instagram, “Our planet is going to hit disaster if we don’t turn this ship around, and so it’s basically like, there’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know, ‘Is it OK to still have children?’”

Emily and the authors of the Green New Deal are not the first people to believe that bringing children into this world is a morally questionable act. Quite the opposite. The belief that the human population must be limited and controlled by government is a founding principle of the environmental movement.

As far back as 1798, when scholar Thomas Malthus published “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” utopian-seeking elites have made the case that human population growth must be controlled in order to ensure a sustainable society. These well-intentioned beliefs led to policy changes like the Corn Laws, which raised taxes on grain imports to the United Kingdom.

Opposed by classical economists like David Ricardo, who warned that such laws would make food more expensive, the Corn Laws were eventually repealed after they worsened the Great Famine in Ireland, when over 1 million people died of hunger.

Fast forward to 1968 when American biologist Paul Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” a book arguing that the government must take urgent action to limit population growth or humanity would face imminent ecological disaster. Ehrlich’s gloom-and-doom prophecies were quite popular with a segment of the American public as the book went on to be a best-seller.

But many economists pushed back—including University of Maryland professor Julian Simon who believed that humanity, if left free to innovate, could find new ways to make limited resources provide for an ever-expanding world population.

Simon and Ehrlich even made a bet testing their beliefs in 1980, picking five commodities to track over a 10-year period. In 1990, Ehrlich was forced to admit he lost, mailing a check to Simon in the amount that the commodities had fallen in price over that 10-year span.

Since that time, the earth has added billions more people, all while global poverty continues to fall.

What Malthus, Ehrlich, Emily, and the authors of the Green New Deal keep failing to understand is that human consumption and production patterns are not static.

Since the beginning of our species, humans have constantly been innovating and changing the world around them. In fact, it is our ability to function as a collective learning brain that sets us apart from every other animal on earth.

And, as Harvard University Department of Human Evolutionary Biology Chairman Joseph Henrich explains in his book “The Secret of Our Success,” the size of our population does matter:

The most obvious way the size of a group can matter is that more minds can generate more lucky errors, novel recombinations, chance insights, and intentional improvements. … So, bigger groups have the potential for more rapid cumulative cultural evolution.

Now the size of a population is not the only thing that matters. A society must also have in place institutions, cultural norms, and a legal framework that encourages experimentation, innovation, and creativity.

And here is where the failure of the Green New Deal as a serious response to climate change is the clearest. Instead of fostering an open-ended approach to addressing climate change, it demands top-down policy programs that forbid certain avenues of exploration, like nuclear energy, while also tacking on irrelevant policy goals, like universal health care, that have nothing to do with the issue the authors of the plan claim is so urgent.

Climates change. It’s what they do. There is even evidence that humans have been affecting the climate since at least the Neolithic era. And these changes to the climate have always presented a challenge to humanity. Today is no different.

We have always survived, and even thrived, in new environments. Just look at California. Left in its natural state, the Los Angeles river basin can support maybe 100,000 people. Today, thanks to a creative web of dams, aqueducts, canals, and pipelines, there is enough water for over 10 million people to live there.

This is the creative, practical, life-affirming path that will help us solve the climate change challenge. Instead of looking to limit and even shrink humanity’s footprint on the world, we should be looking to improve and expand it.

And yes, this means more babies.


Fisherman’s Group Suing Over Climate Change Refuses Questions On Its Greenness

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA), which is currently suing dozens of energy producers for damages resulting from climate change, has refused to answer multiple inquiries from the Washington Free Beacon about the number of fishing boats in the association that have gone green or to detail other “green” changes members of the group may have made.

The majority of the nuisance lawsuits currently being brought against major oil companies have been from governments—usually coastal, but not always—like Rhode Island, Baltimore, and California cities like San Francisco and Oakland.

That is one of the main reasons the announcement by the PCFFA last November of the suit was seen as breaking new ground.

“The fishermen’s lawsuit appears to be the first time food producers have sued the fossil fuel industry for allegedly harming the environment,” a contemporary report from NPR noted.

At the same time, however, several academic and media reports over the last decade illustrate the interdependency of the fishing industry and fossil fuel usage.

During price spikes for gas and diesel fuels in 2013, a report from the U.K. Daily Mail drove home that point, saying, “The cost of fish and chips could rise by up to 50 percent because of rising fuel costs, a government body warned today.”

“The Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish) said rises in the price of diesel used to power fishing vessels would have a ‘significant effect’ on the cost of fish over the next 12 to 18 months as trawlermen struggle to break even,” the article added.

An academic investigation into seafood production by British and Canadian researchers in January of 2014 noted in an online summary that, “similar to most contemporary food systems, many fisheries and aquaculture resource supply chains are heavily dependent on fossil fuels.”

Elements of the complaint filed by PCFFA seem to clearly indicate that climate change has two components: the production of fossil fuels, and then the secondary consumption.

“The mechanism by which human activity causes the oceans to warm is well established: ocean warming, like atmospheric warming, is overwhelmingly caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions,” part of the complaint reads.

“As human reliance on fossil fuels for industrial and mechanical processes has increased, so too have greenhouse gas emissions, especially of CO2,” another section reads.

The Free Beacon asked the PCFFA “how many fishing operations may have retrofitted their fleet in direct response to the threats of climate change” and to detail any other efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by their members. Although provided with several days to respond, no comment was returned.

Noah Oppenheim, executive director of PCFFA, is formerly a staffer for Democrat Representative Jared Huffman, who has asked the California attorney general to investigate Exxon “for their longstanding, and potentially illegal, cover-up of the dangers of climate change.”


Australian Left looks to Norway to drive electric car sales

Bill Shorten wants Australia to match the electric vehicle penetration of Norway, where taxpayers fork out a $3400 annual subsidy for every EV on the road, but has refused to say when Labor would introduce tough new ­vehicle standards to drive his transport revolution.

The Opposition Leader, who has set a target of 50 per cent of new car sales to be electric by 2030, yesterday declared Labor would transform the nation’s car market to drive the uptake of more fuel-­efficient vehicles in the same way the market for rooftop solar had changed over the past decade.

Delivering on the pledge will mean pushing electric car sales from the current 2500 a year to about 600,000 within a decade.

Mr Shorten unveiled a $100 million commitment towards the rollout of 200 fast-charging stations across the country, a 50 per cent electric target for government vehicle purchases, and new tax incentives for fleet buyers to purchase EVs rather than internal combustion engines.

“What we’re going to do is create a market, a market for vehicles which are more fuel efficient, which are more friendly to the ­environment,” Mr Shorten said. “It’ll take time. But remember back in 2007, only about 7000 households had solar rooftop.”

Mr Shorten has promised a new vehicle emissions standard of 105gCO2 per kilometre to help meet his promised 45 per cent carbon emissions cut, but Labor is putting off providing further details until after the election.

Four of the five top-selling vehicles in Australia last year — the Toyota Hilux (186-277gCO2/km), Ford Ranger (169-265gCO2/km), Mazda 3 (129-153gCO2/km) and Hyundai i30 (119-176gCO2/km) — all produce emissions well above Labor’s threshold. Only the Toyota Corolla (96-159gCO2/km) comes close to Labor’s 105gCO2/km limit.

The Australian Automobile Association, which represents eight million drivers through state motoring organisations, said voters deserved more detail on the plan before they cast their ballots.

“A poorly designed standard will drive up the cost of cars, the cost of petrol, and significantly curtail the availability of popular vehicle makes and classes, which is why the AAA expects both sides of politics to clearly articulate their vehicle emissions targets and timelines ahead of the election,” AAA chief executive Michael Bradley said.

Carmakers also warned car buyers would be hit hard if the new standard was rushed in too soon. “The 105g/km target would be extremely difficult by 2030,” Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries CEO Tony Weber said. “If you push too hard, you are unlikely to get there without restricting consumer choice.”

The Labor policy points to Norway — where EVs already make up half of new car sales — as an example for Australia to follow, citing a PwC study showing “if Australia achieved an EV take-up rate similar to that of Norway by 2030 it would inject $2.9 billion into the economy and lift net ­employment by 13,400”.

However, Labor has stopped well short of providing Norway-like incentives to encourage EV sales.

The same PwC study, undertaken for the Electric Vehicle Council, sets out the subsidies offered by Norwegian taxpayers to boost EV uptake, noting “indirect incentives are estimated at approximately $3400 per year for a battery electric vehicle owner”.

Scott Morrison, who has pledged an EV strategy under a re-elected Coalition government, demanded to know how Labor would meet its ambitious target and said EV drivers already enjoyed a significant benefit by avoiding the 41c-a-litre fuel excise.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

"Yes, Babies Are a Better Solution to Climate Change Than the Green New Deal"

Undoubtedly true. But then, a full bore, live munitions reenactment of the whole of WWII, complete with the dropping of atom bombs, would do less damage to the environment than the Green New Deal.