Myron Ebell

Post image for Supreme Court Overwhelmingly Votes to Uphold Rights of Private Property Owners

The Supreme Court has decided an important property rights case in favor of the private property owners and against the claim of the federal government by an eight-to-one majority. Surprisingly, the Court’s liberal Justices, with the exception of Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, signed Chief Justice John Roberts’s March 10 decision. In reversing the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court ruled, in Brandt Revocable Trust et al. v. United States, that a right of way granted to a railroad in 1908 did not revert to the federal government when the railroad abandoned the tracks in 2004.

The original right of way was over federal land, but 83 acres of that land were patented in 1976 in a land swap with the U. S. Forest Service. The Department of Justice argued that even though those 83 acres had been turned over to private owners, the right of way over that now-private land had reverted to the federal government when the railroad stopped running. Arguing for the Brandts, Steven J. Lechner of Mountain States Legal Foundation stated that the right of way was an easement granted for a particular use, and therefore had expired when its intended use, operation of a railroad, had ended.

The Chief Justice’s opinion relies heavily on the 1942 Supreme Court decision, Great Northern Railway Company v. United States (315 U. S. 262), in which the Court agreed with the federal government’s argument that the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 only conveyed easements. The majority opinion stated:

More than 70 years ago, the Government argued before this Court that a right of way granted under the 1875 Act was a simple easement. The Court was persuaded, and so ruled. Now the Government argues that such a right of way is tantamount to a limited fee with an implied reversionary interest. We decline to endorse such a stark change in position….

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MoveOn.org yesterday sent me an appeal asking for $5 to help fund a $250,000 social media campaign supporting ObamaCare targeted to reach young adults. Here’s why they need my five bucks:

 [R]ight-wing groups have launched a multi-million-dollar campaign to torpedo Obamacare before it even gets started. Their plan: Mislead young people about how the law works so they get scared and don’t enroll. The problem is that it really could work because if younger, healthier people don’t participate, then costs will skyrocket and Obamacare will fail. [Emphasis in original]

MoveOn.org footnotes a Washington Post article, which explains that last sentence. From the Post Wonkblog article by Sarah Kliff: “Young adults tend to have lower medical bills, which would hold down premiums for the entire insurance market. If only the sick and elderly sign up, health costs would skyrocket.”

So, as MoveOn itself acknowledges, ObamaCare is based on using insurance premiums from younger, healthier people to subsidize health care for older, sicker people. Yet, that is exactly the correct information free market and conservative groups opposed to ObamaCare are trying to get to young folks, so that they understand the racket they are being cajoled to join.

So then what does the “multi-million dollar right-wing misinformation campaign” aimed at young adults entail? It seems that the purpose of MoveOn.org’s social media campaign is to keep the wool pulled over young people’s eyes to protect them from the painful reality that ObamaCare is a con game designed to fleece them. Otherwise, why would they sign up for it?

Post image for Malcolm Wallop, Stand-Up Guy, R.I.P.

Former Senator Malcolm Wallop died on Wednesday, September 14, after a debilitating illness that had confined him to his home near Big Horn, Wyoming, for several years. He is survived by his wife, Isabel, and four children and their families.

Malcolm was a hero of mine long before I knew him, and so it was a great privilege to work for him after he retired from the Senate in 1995 and to become his friend. After I worked for Malcolm and got to know him, I admired him even more. I loved working for him, as I expect all of his Senate staffers did. He was unfailingly polite and considerate, intellectually engaging, and entirely positive. Malcolm had a healthy sense of his own worth, but entirely lacked the swollen head that afflicts many Senators.

When Malcolm defeated a Democratic incumbent in 1976 (not a good year for Republicans), he came to Washington as an uncompromising Cold Warrior, but as somewhat moderate on many domestic issues. While many conservatives tend to drift toward the center after a few years in Washington (which is variously described as growing in office or selling out), he was so appalled by how Washington works that he rapidly became a hardcore conservative across the board. He joined an extraordinary group of mostly Western conservatives in the Senate, a group which included Bill Armstrong, Steve Symms, Paul Laxalt, Phil Gramm, and Jesse Helms.

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Post image for Boehner and House Republicans Improve Their Debt Ceiling Bill

House Republicans have improved their debt ceiling bill so that it now meets the most important yardstick demanded by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in his futile negotiations with President Barack Obama. After the Congressional Budget Office scored the original bill, it turned out that the cuts in federal spending were not as large as originally predicted and therefore were not larger than the increase in the debt ceiling authorized in the bill.

The CBO has now scored the revised bill, and it meets Boehner’s test. The bill will raise the debt ceiling by $900 billion and cut spending by $917 billion.

As Speaker Boehner and others in the House Republican leadership have made clear, these cuts do not solve the federal government’s fiscal crisis. Huge, additional cuts in federal spending are going to be necessary in the years ahead. This bill takes a big step, but only a first step.

The bad news is that so far President Obama seems unwilling to take any step at all to get spending under control. He talks about cuts, but he has not demanded any level of spending cuts. Instead, his only demand is that taxes must be increased. Given the anemic state of the economy, any tax increases at this point will further depress the economy and throw more people out of work.  President Obama is leading the nation — straight off the cliff.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears clueless, but then he always appears clueless and then often surprises by somehow getting something really bad through the Senate. If the House sends a debt ceiling bill with substantial real spending cuts to the Senate, then it will be up to the American people to provide some therapy for Reid and his Democratic colleagues.

Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House and Senate Republican leadership are working hard to pull America back from the brink of insolvency. They are going to need at least a little help from President Obama and the Senate Democrats, but it’s not clear whether the president and Senator Reid have yet realized that phony deals using smoke and mirrors to fool the American people aren’t going to work any more.

Post image for An Alaskan Mining Project: One Example of How Environmental Regulations are Strangling the U.S. Economy

Rick Manning of Americans for Limited Government notes here that one of the reasons the American economy is stuck in neutral is that investors in new projects are being stymied by environmental regulations. The example he gives is a huge proposed new copper and gold mine in Alaska called the Pebble Project that is being studied to death.

The co-owners of the Pebble Project are a British and a Canadian company. They want to invest billions of dollars in a mine that would probably create close to a thousand high-paying jobs for at least fifty years. It would also add tens of billions of dollars to the American economy and pay billions of dollars in royalties to the State of Alaska, which owns the land and subsurface rights.

The Pebble Project’s owners have reportedly already spent $125 million on the environmental research reports required to open the mine. But opponents have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to deny a Clean Water Act permit for the mine before the owners have even applied for an operating permit. Incredibly, the EPA is seriously considering this outrageous petition. And even more outrageously, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this spring attended and spoke at a reception for opponents of the mine, which was hosted in the Supreme Court by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor!

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Breaking news: At a meeting of the Liberal Party’s Members of Parliament today, Malcolm Turnbull was turned out as Leader and replaced by Tony Abbott on a 42 to 41 vote.  Abbott then immediately called for a vote of his colleagues on the Labour Government’s cap-and-trade bill to ration energy and raise energy prices.  The vote was 54 to 29 against.

A number of Liberal Members have risked their careers to stop cap-and-trade, including Cory Bernardi and Nick Minchin as well as Tony Abbott.  They should all be honored for their courageous stand.

Toppling Turnbull was a necessary step, but it isn’t the end of the story.   It is likely that the Senate will now defeat the cap-and-trade bill for the second time.  However, a few disgruntled Turnbullite Liberal Senators could provide the votes needed to pass it.  If it is defeated, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could then call a general election of both the House and Senate.  So the fight is still to be won or lost.

The Socialist International’s Commission for a Sustainable World Society has sent an interesting account of their recent meeting and release of their report, “From a high carbon economy to a low carbon society.” As revealed by Steve Milloy earlier this year, Carol Browner, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration and now President Barack Obama’s “climate czar,” is a long-time member of Socialist International . Here’s what Socialist International said about their meeting held at the UN in September:

“Holding its second yearly meeting in conjunction with the opening of the general debate of the General Assembly at the United Nations, the Presidium of the Socialist International, together with a number of Heads of State and Government, Heads of international institutions, and the members of the SI Commission for a Sustainable World Society and the SI Commission on Global Financial Issues, met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 23 to address two of the major issues on the international agenda today: Climate Change and The Global Financial Crisis.

“Amongst the Heads of State or Government and Ministers joining Presidium members at the meeting were Tarja Halonen, President of Finland; Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq; Toomas H. Ilves, President of Estonia; Alvaro Colom, President of Guatemala; Boris Tadic, President of Serbia; Navim Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of Mauritius; Laurent Gbagbo, President of Cote d’Ivoire; Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Home Affairs Minister of South Africa, Mohamed El Yazghi, Minister of State from Morocco; Maged George, Environment Minister of Egypt; Marco Hausiku, Foreign Minister of Namibia and Abdelwaheb Abdallah, Foreign Minister of Tunisia.

“Also taking part, as guests, were Juan Somavía, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO); Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and Alicia Bárcena, Director of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)….

“…[The] Report was introduced by Commission Co-Chair Ricardo Lagos, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change and former President of Chile. Commission members Sergei Mironov, Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation and Chair of the Just Russia Party; Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister; Beatriz Paredes, President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico, and Mohamed El Yazghi, Moroccan Minister of State, added to the presentation of the Report….”

I guess Browner was too busy implementing many of the report’s recommendations to make it to the meeting.

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) published a curious op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times titled, “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Legislation).”  The bill that they claim to support and that can pass the Senate is not the 821-page draft bill that Senators Kerry and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released two weeks ago.  It is a fantasy designed to get the support of Senator Graham and other fuzzy-minded Senators with visions of lots of new nuclear plants, billions for technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, less dependence on imported oil, and tariffs to protect American manufacturing jobs in energy-intensive industries.  We can have it all with a few waves of the federal government’s magic wand.

But even a glance at their article shows how little substance there is to any of these promises.   No new nuclear power plants will be built unless there is somewhere to store the waste.  Here’s what Kerry and Graham say about that: “We must also do more to encourage serious investment in research and development to find solutions to our nuclear waste problem.”  In other words, not finish the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada that the federal government has already spent billions on, but which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama oppose.  Carbon capture and storage technology is more than a decade away from being commercially available.  Even if it works and is affordable, environmental pressure groups will sue to block permits for the pipelines and underground storage sites necessary to transport and store the pressurized carbon dioxide.  Here’s what Kerry and Graham say: “…we need to provide new financial incentives for companies to develop carbon capture and sequestration technology. “  Not a word about limiting lawsuits that would block projects.

Kerry and Graham support a border tax to protect American jobs from products produced in countries that don’t commit to reducing their emissions.  That is an admission that energy prices are going to go up and so are the prices of goods and services that are produced with or use energy.  Consumers will be poorer as a result and hence will be able to afford fewer goods and services.  Bye-bye manufacturing jobs.  They also claim that their as-yet-to-be-written bill will reduce our imports of foreign oil.  That’s plausible, but not exactly correct.  As our economy declines, we will need less oil.  But it will reduce U. S. and Canadian production first because the production costs are much higher here than in Saudi Arabia.


President Barack Obama’s speech on global warming to the United Nations today is based on fantasy.  Here are some quotes from the speech followed by the reality.

“…[T]he threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.”  Reality: global mean temperatures increased slightly from 1977 to 2000.  Temperatures have been flat since then.

“Rising sea levels threaten every coastline.”  Reality: sea levels have been rising on and off since the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago.  The rate of sea level rise has not increased in recent decades over the nineteenth and twentieth century average.

“More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.”  Reality: there is no upward global trend in storms or floods.

“More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive.”  Reality: there is no upward global trend in major droughts.  Reversals in large-scale cycles have meant that the southward march of the Sahara Desert into the Sahel has been reversed in recent years and the Sahara is now shrinking.

“On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.”  Reality: some Pacific islanders may want to emigrate to New Zealand or Australia and are claiming that their islands are disappearing as the reason, but shrinkage has been minimal in recent decades because sea level rise has been minimal.

President Obama’s policy prescriptions are energy rationing and energy poverty disguised as growth and prosperity.  The emissions reductions that he promises the United States will make through cap-and-trade legislation are dead in the water in the U. S. Senate and would not survive a second vote in the U. S. House.  If enacted, cap-and-trade would consign the economy to perpetual stagnation and make the U. S. into a second-rate economic power.

His policy prescription for poor countries is to promise them massive “financial and technical assistance”.  The track record of paying off poor countries is that it has lined the pockets of corrupt leaders and bureaucracies with billions and tens of billions of dollars, but has done nothing to help those countries become prosperous.  What these countries need is free markets and abolishing barriers to trade.  The global warming policies advocated by the Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress would raise trade barriers and foster energy poverty throughout the world.  Energy rationing is not the way forward and is not a message of hope for the poorest people in the world, who lack access to electricity and modern transportation.

The Washington Post has discovered that poor people in poor countries need access to modern energy.  In an excellent article on today’s front page, Emily Wax details the energy poverty of Africa, India, and Pakistan.  And she draws the obvious conclusion that has evaded most of the establishment media for years: that’s why India and other developing countries aren’t going to sign on to any UN treaty that mandates reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions.  They don’t need an energy diet; they need thousands of coal-fired power plants.

Wax writes: “Just one in four Africans has access to grid electricity, according to the World Bank. More than 500 million Indians, roughly half the population, have no official access to electricity, and those who do are experiencing rolling brownouts as India’s Power Ministry tries to make up for a 25 percent shortfall in electricity generation. The developing world’s dearth of power hinders prosperity and adds another layer of difficulty to daily life.

“In much of Africa, families depend on generators, candles, kerosene lamps and firewood. Blackouts force shops to close early, schools to cancel classes and hospitals to turn away patients. Foreign investors become wary of parking their money in Africa, experts say.  ‘Big companies in Africa seem to get most of their electricity from generators, or they build their own power plants,’ said Thomas Pearmain, an Africa energy analyst for IHS Global Insight.”

Of course, environmental pressure groups say that poor countries need to avoid “our mistakes” and build a new energy economy using renewable sources and new technologies.  The problem is that most of these new sources provide a lot more sanctimonious self-satisfaction than energy.  I recently drove through upstate New York on a mild summer day.  I saw over seventy windmills in several groups along the way.  Not a single one was turning.  That’s because the wind doesn’t blow much in the summer (when demand is highest because of air conditioning).  In sub-tropical countries like India there isn’t much wind at any time of year.