Friday, June 19, 2020

Failing Cities and States use Climate Change Lawsuits as Fiscal Escape Hatch

Cities and states are suing energy companies in a desperate attempt to erase their poor spending choices. Local officials argue oil and gas companies contribute to climate change and must be held accountable, but beneath this fa├žade, leftist politicians are trying to win the lawsuit lottery to stave off fiscal insolvency.

 Government officials keep pursuing these suits because they can’t figure out how to fix the budget deficits they have created. Suing big corporations in friendly jurisdictions is an escape hatch to avoid the repercussions of decades of wasteful spending. Unfortunately, these efforts hurt the wallets of everyday Americans who have money invested in energy companies, and if successful, energy costs would likely rise across America.

 Analyzing the legal actions taken by various localities show they are trying to make a quick buck. Over and over, states and cities make unprovable and exaggerated claims contradicting Supreme Court precedent. Sometimes the mask slips and officials even admit that the suits are really about generating revenue.

 Local officials claim climate change will soon devastate their cities in legal filings, but argue the opposite when money is on the line.  Horace Cooper, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, describes this hypocrisy. 

 "It seems the left hand isn't watching what the far-left hand is up to. San Mateo County, California, for example, claims in its lawsuit against the energy industry that there's a 93% risk

of a devastating climate-change-related flood by 2050. Yet its municipal bond offering to potential investors dismissively notes that it's ‘unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur.’”

 San Francisco city officials made similarly apocalyptic arguments in their lawsuit, only to claim climate science was uncertain when trying to win over investors. City leaders were either lying about the devastating impacts of climate change or tricking investors into buying property that would soon be underwater. Thankfully, a federal judge threw out the San Francisco’s case writing, "The court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches."

 The Supreme Court reached an identical conclusion in 2011, finding 8-0 that the judiciary doesn’t have the authority to regulate emissions because the Clean Air Act gave regulatory powers to Congress and the EPA. Congress can change the law to make energy companies' activity illegal, but the courts can't.

 So why are localities filing dishonest suits attempting to penalize legal activity? Because local officials have spent years running up deficits on pet projects and now need to generate revenue before they go belly up.

 Public records reveal the leaders of Rhode Island view lawsuits against energy companies, as a way to prevent spending cuts. Janet Coit, director of the Department of Environmental Management, says suing oil and gas companies is meant to generate a "sustainable funding stream." Coit's comments show the real purpose of climate change suits, to bail out politicians who have made unwise choices for years and are now feeling the heat.

 Rhode Island is a prime example of spending run amok, as state officials have accumulated a structural deficit projected at $4.1 million for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Instead of addressing government excess, Rhode Island's governor ignored the deficit in her January State of State address.

 A similar cycle is playing out in other jurisdictions, all governed by irresponsible leftist leaders. New York was facing an annual deficit between six and eight billion before COVID-19 hit because of an unwise minimum wage increase coupled with Medicaid expansion. State officials tried to fill this gap by suing Exxon Mobil but were humiliated in court. New York City leaders are picking up where the state left off by suing several energy companies for the alleged impacts of climate change.

Oakland's finance director was particularly blunt about why the city was running a deficit, "We believe expenditures are growing faster than revenues. We do believe this continues to have a lot of pressures on our core city services." The city's politicians racked up deficits of over $100 million, and now the same politicians are suing energy companies to make up for their poor choices. The same process is occurring in Baltimore and Boulder  where cash-strapped cities, run into the ground over generations of leftwing governance, are hoping to win the judicial jackpot.

 Cities and states that have racked up debt because of profligate spending are trying to avoid spending cuts. Local officials are playing the lawsuit lottery by filing exaggerated and meritless claims against energy companies in hopes of finding a sympathetic judge. Instead of dragging energy companies to court and threatening to punish the consumer for city officials’ irresponsibility, these bureaucrats need to focus on repairing their fiscal health. 


Nuclear Power Is Crucial To Our National Security

The world is facing a time of great uncertainty. Amidst a pandemic, a global recession, and immense civil unrest, we are seeing global democracy also come under attack. China is using the current state of the world as an opportunity to continue their imperialist prospects by cracking down on the formerly autonomous city of Hong Kong and creeping into India.

The EU has been reluctant to condemn China for its actions in Hong Kong and its role in allowing COVID-19 spread. This leaves the United States with great responsibility, standing as the lone maverick against despotism. The question now becomes: what can we do and how do we protect ourselves? A huge part of the answer is energy independence, particularly a stable nuclear power supply.

Nuclear power is all around an incredible energy source. For one, it is very scalable, accounting for about 20% of the nation’s energy supply. This is due to the immense power produced each time a plant is fired up. One single uranium fuel pellet is capable of providing as much power as one metric ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. This also makes nuclear the perfect energy source when disaster strikes and the grid needs more power. Furthermore, nuclear power emits zero CO2 to produce, making it the largest clean energy source in the country. In addition to these baseline benefits, we need a stable supply for our navy operations.

The Navy currently operates 101 nuclear reactors that power our aircraft carriers and submarines. Due to the concentration of fuel in each uranium pellet, ships can operate for 20 years without refueling. This gives us an unprecedented advantage on the seas. This advantage helps keep America, and much of the world, safe from the perils of oppressive regimes and bad actors.

Unfortunately, this key advantage is at risk of being lost. The pandemic and recession have only weakened our commercial nuclear energy suppliers and many will be on the brink of shutting down soon. The breakdown of the commercial nuclear energy industry threatens our Navy’s access to research, development, and uranium fuel. This is occurring while China and Russia are in the process of ramping up their nuclear energy industries. To make matters worse, our uranium supply chain is deeply problematic.

Most of the uranium fuel supply for nuclear reactors in the US came from domestic sources in the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s. Since then, however, the amount of domestically sourced uranium has been on the sharp decline and today it accounts for only a fraction of our supply. Though much of our uranium fuel comes from stable democracies like Australia and Canada, there is still a good portion coming from Russia and China.

It is clear that we must reinvigorate the commercial nuclear energy sector and rethink the way we obtain uranium. For starters, we can remove the archaic and overbearing regulatory barriers that are currently in place that don’t provide a net societal benefit. For example, regulations should be based on calculated risk and safety rather than arbitrary numbers like they are based on today. No nuclear project should take over a decade to approve.

Additionally, the Department of Energy should fulfill their contracts dating back to the 1990s with energy companies and begin collecting nuclear waste in a national repository. Because the DOE failed to do so, temporary storage of nuclear waste costs the taxpayers $2 million per day, making the national repository the most economical action for both energy companies and the taxpayer. The government should also embrace public-private partnerships to carry out important advanced nuclear research in order to meet the needs of both the public and private sectors.

Lastly, we need to obtain our uranium more responsibly and establish a national uranium stockpile. By authorizing more domestic uranium development and obtaining the rest from allies like Canada and Australia, we will shrink the global influence of countries like Russia while also ensuring our national security interests are addressed.

Nuclear power is crucial to our national security interests. Without it, we lose military strength and weaken American energy dominance. Scaling back regulations, reestablishing the national nuclear repository, and obtaining responsibly sourced uranium will translate to renewed investor confidence in nuclear power. Investments in nuclear power in the private sector will revitalize our commercial nuclear energy industry and, in turn, allow our Navy to retain their major advantage.

The United States is exceptional. We need to protect it for generations to come by embracing nuclear power again.


Coronavirus: Inflated pandemic estimates weaken climate forecasts

Australia: Tony Abbott’s suspicion that climate change modelling was “absolute crap” soon will resonate more broadly — so spectacularly bad was expert modelling of the spread and lethality of the coronavirus, faith in all modelling must surely suffer.

Why trust the experts to forecast the climate decades into the future when they were so wrong about a disease related to the common cold?

Official coronavirus and climate change modelling share catastrophic predictions. Unfortunately for virus modellers, reality dawned a lot sooner and it has delivered an F for fail.

The pandemic has damaged the credibility of “experts” and highlighted the limits of “the science” and the misplaced hubris of the political class.

On whatever measure you choose — deaths, infections, rate of transmission — the epidemiological models that convinced governments to take a sledgehammer to their economies, now mired in unrest, have proved scandalously pessimistic and out by orders of magnitude.

We were told the virus’s spread would be “exponential”. It wasn’t; transmission was falling before mandatory lockdowns scared the daylights out of people.

The infection fatality rate, we were told, would be about 1 per cent; it’s closer to 0.2 per cent, akin to a severe flu.

Apparently, lifting lockdowns early would see cases surge; they haven’t. And we were all vulnerable — but most weren’t; the median age of death is well over 80. Driving is more dangerous. At least half of deaths globally have been in aged-care homes, which were already locked down. We understood you could catch COVID-19 again — also wrong. We closed schools and wore masks, but the evidence we needed to do so is scant.

The raw numbers speak for themselves. The death toll globally is on track to be smaller than the flu pandemics of the 1950s and 60s, when the world’s population was less than half that today.

Indeed, if you put the number of global deaths last year, this year, and next year (about 60 million each year) on a simple column chart you’ll struggle to see the ­impact of COVID-19.

Future historians will be shocked at the disproportionate response. At least they will chuckle at SAGE, the acronym for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the expert panel advising the British government, which has presided over the worst performance of any country.

But it wasn’t only the British. Experts in Sweden warned 100,000 would die by June if it didn’t lock down as the rest of Europe had, yet fewer than 5000 were lost. Experts said 420,000 might die in Japan without a hard lockdown. Fewer than 950 did.

Our own experts at the Doherty Institute said 5000 intensive care unit beds would be required, even with strict isolation and social distancing; fewer than 50 were needed. For anyone here who is worried about a second wave of COVID-19, we’re still waiting on the first one.

Climate modelling was struggling even before the pandemic, given the planet has warmed about half as much as forecast by the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in back 1990.

“Almost the entire alarm about global warming is based on model predictions. If you just look at the last 30 to 40 years of data, nothing spectacular has happened, there’s no sign temperature increase is accelerating,” says Benny Peiser, founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London.

It’s remarkable we put so much faith in expert models, given their history of failure. The Club of Rome in 1972 notoriously forecast that growth would collapse as the world’s resources ran out, ignoring human ingenuity and the shale revolution.

Financial models failed to account for — indeed they probably facilitated — the global financial crisis. And as almost every utterance by a central bank governor since has reminded us, economists struggle to know what happened last month, let alone forecast the impact of a policy change tomorrow.

“In the late 1990s, models suggested the entire Great Barrier Reef would bleach every year by 2020, but in the last 15 years parts of the reef have bleached on only three occasions, with each event affecting only one-third of the reef,” says physicist Peter Ridd, a former professor of James Cook University.

It’s remarkable we put so much faith in climate modelling, given it is a far more complex task. “Climate sensitivity” — the size and speed of the response of global temperatures to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — is harder to predict than a spreading virus. Even if we knew it, drawing implications about future economic growth is even more heroic.

“The big mistake that’s clearly been made is the failure to systematically appraise the models that underpin policy with actual data,” notes Gordon Hughes, a former professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, speaking on a panel about the pitfalls of mathematical modelling last month.

By April, we knew the coronavirus was not as dangerous as feared yet modellers and governments doubled down on the catastrophe narrative. It’s almost July and people in our capitals are wearing masks in their own cars.

How can we avoid the hysteria next time? It won’t be easy. All the incentives are stacked in favour of dodgy doomsday modelling; apocalyptic scenarios allow politicians to increase their power and appear caring. Public health experts enjoy more prestige. And some of the media naturally prefer models with horrifying forecasts to draw eyeballs.

Humans have a natural tendency to focus on extremes — what psychologists call a “negativity bias”. Models are almost cartoons, highly simplified versions of reality. History has proved a better guide to the future. It’s a pity we’re wasting res­ources on a royal commission into the bushfires. How and why authorities have overreacted so much, and how we can avoid doing so again, would be a better line of inquiry.


Australian Left prepared to streamline environmental approvals for major projects

A pleasant surprise.  The conservatives are stressing this too

Labor is willing to fast-track approvals for major projects including mines and infrastructure in a new sign the Morrison government could reach a deal in Parliament to streamline environmental safeguards.

Labor environment spokeswoman Terri Butler backed the case for speedier decisions on big investments, declaring "every delayed decision is a delayed job" when projects deserved to go ahead.

The stance raises the prospect of an agreement between Labor and the Coalition on changes to environmental law after Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week said he would fix the regime in the name of creating jobs.

But Ms Butler blamed the government for allowing delays to blow out since the Coalition took power at the 2013 election with a pledge to cut red tape.

"They've been in government for seven years. Every delayed decision is a delayed job, a delay in getting a project kicked off and in getting jobs created," she said.

"Where an approval can be given to a project, where the project meets the environmental tests, where the environment can be protected, then that's not something that should be delayed."

Mr Morrison has opened negotiations with state and territory leaders to reach bilateral agreements that cut some of the duplication between the levels of government, potentially leaving more power with the states.

The idea has triggered warnings from environmental groups but the government is promising not to weaken safeguards and is not proposing detailed changes until it receives a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act next month.

Ms Butler said Labor wanted faster decisions where it was safe to do so, where environmental protections were upheld and where decisions were made well.

"What we don't want is reducing decision-making times through having shoddier, under-resourced decisions," she said.

"If you rush a decision and you stuff it up, then that exposes you to litigation."

Ms Butler said Labor would support bilateral agreements between federal and state governments to reach the Prime Minister's ambition of "single-touch" approvals but said this could not sacrifice federal responsibility.

"The starting point has got to be that for matters of national environmental significance there always has to be a role for the commonwealth," she said.

Labor calculates that 86 per cent of project decisions were made on time under the EPBC Act in 2012 but this fell to 60 per cent in 2019.

The Gillard government attempted a single regime but dropped the idea after intense criticism from environmental groups and concerns that it could not achieve uniform rules for all states and territories. The Abbott government also sought to create a "one stop shop" for decisions.

Mr Morrison has revived those ambitions in national cabinet in the name of creating jobs during the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, but he is yet to receive the EPBC review by former competition regulator Graeme Samuel.

Labor is open to the idea of bilateral agreements on approvals to achieve faster decisions but Ms Butler said this would depend on the details, which would have to be made public.

Ms Butler also said Labor was open to the idea of amending the EPBC Act itself but only if it improved environmental protections when the country faced an "extinction crisis".

"Some wags, who don't like any form of regulation, will try to oppose this as a contest between jobs and the environment but of course that's ridiculous, because so many of our jobs depend on the environment," she said.

"Yes, I will be very interested to see what Graeme Samuel says about improving the EPBC Act, but it's got to have the twin focus of jobs and protecting the environment."



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