William Yeatman

Post image for Kicking off Human Achievement Hour 2014

Annually since 2009, my colleague Michelle Minton has organized a celebration of economic liberty for one hour at the end of March, known as Human Achievement Hour. (See here, here, here, and here.) This year, the holiday falls on Saturday, March 29, from between 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. in your respective time zone.

Observing Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that have allowed people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people.

To be precise, Human Achievement Hour is a cheerful response to the depressing alarmism of modern environmentalism. The gloomy greens propagate a message that virtually all economic development  is evil, because it necessarily despoils pristine ecology. We give ascendancy to mankind, and readily recognize that the surest path to both human and environmental well-being is wealth creation. The latter, in turn, is most efficiently engendered by markets unfettered by political meddling.

Is this materialistic? Y-E-S!

The editors at Ad Busters and Mother Jones may experience self-loathing whenever they buy a pair of sneakers, but not me. And I sleep well at night and have no problem looking in the mirror, because I know that material preoccupations are inherent to a vibrant market economy, which, again, is the essential mechanism of human development. Put simply, I am an unabashed materialist, insofar as schools and hospitals are filled with materials.

Throughout this week, in order to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Human Achievement Hour, other CEI colleagues will post blogs on OpenMarket, paying homage to various human achievements, including 3-D printing, driverless cars, and bionic eyes. Cool, cool stuff.

How can you celebrate?

  • In fact, Human Achievement Hour isn’t the only holiday observed on Saturday March 29, from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Contemporaneously, the World Wide Fund for Nature sponsors “Earth Hour,” which is an event where participants symbolically renounce the environmental impacts of modern technology by turning off their lights for an hour. While Earth Hour supporters may suggest rolling brown-outs in India are desirable, we respectfully disagree, and view reliable electricity as one human achievement people can celebrate. To this end, you can take part in Human Achievement Hour by keeping your lights on for one hour.
  • You can also celebrate by chatting with friends or family on your telephone or computer, watching the news on TV, listening to music, or even taking a shower thanks to indoor plumbing.
  • Share how you are celebrating by tweeting about the human achievement that makes your life easier @ceidotorg and use #HAH2014.

About Human Achievement Hour (HAH): Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that allow people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. Human Achievement Hour is the counter argument to Earth Hour, and promotes looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems instead of reverting to the “dark ages,” by symbolically refusing to use electricity for an hour.

On January 13, the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the issuance of a Clean Water Act permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Mingo Logan Coal Company for the Spruce No 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. This is the first time EPA has used this authority.

We’re in the midst of a difficult economy, and EPA’s unprecedented action will result in the loss of 250 jobs, paying on average $62,000, so you would think the EPA has compelling case against the Spruce No 1 Mine. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

I audited the EPA’s veto, titled “Final Determination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pursuant to 404(c) of the Clean Water Act Concerning the Spruce No. 1 Mine, Logan County, West Virginia (“Final Determination”), and what I found was troubling.

The document is pure environmental hyperbole. It is riddled with mistakes, incorrect citations, and false certainty. Indeed, virtually all of the EPA’s definitive claims about the “unacceptable adverse impacts” to non-insect wildlife are unsupported by the literature it cites. Among the lowlights:

  • The EPA’s claim that “6.6 miles of high quality stream” will be buried conveniently omits the fact that 99.6% of the streams are intermittent or ephemeral, that they scored “below average” on a habitat assessment, and that they fall well short of meeting West Virginia’s definition of “high quality” streams.
  • The EPA asserts that five species of fish would be buried, despite the fact that no fish were found at the site.
  • The EPA commits numerous referencing mistakes, including direct two misquotes. Throughout the document, the EPA draws incorrect conclusions from the literature it cites.
  • The EPA has a serious language problem. Science writing is performed in the conditional. EPA, however, almost uniformly uses the declarative case. As its veto is based on a literature review, the EPA repeatedly infers certainty where there is none.

See for yourself.  In Chapter 5, titled “Basis for Determination,” the EPA explains the “unacceptable adverse effects” that justify its decision. Below is table of contents for the EPA’s “Basis for Determination.” For all the sections within which the EPA makes dubious claims, I’ve created a link to my review. Each link contains the EPA’s thesis (or theses) for that section, taken directly from the text of the document, and then a rebuttal in italics.

V. Basis for Determination

A. Section 404(c) Standards

B. Evaluation of Impacts

C. Unacceptable Adverse Impacts on Wildlife within the Spruce No. 1 Mine Project Area

1. Macroinvertebrates

2. Salamanders & Other Herpetofauna

3. Fish

4. Water-Dependent Birds

*A Note on the Legality of the EPA’s Use of “Direct” Impacts To Justify Its Veto

D. Unacceptable Adverse Impacts on Wildlife Downstream of the Discharge of Dredged or Fill Material from the Spruce No. 1 Mine

1. Increases in Pollutants Harmful to Wildlife

a. Selenium

b. Total Dissolved Solids

2. Macroinvertebrates

a. Impacts Due to Changes in Water Chemistry

b. Food Web Effects of Altered Macroinvertebrate Communities

3. Salamanders & Other Herpetofauna

4. Fish

a. Potential To Promote the Growth of Golden Algae

b. Increased Exposure to Selenium

5. Water-dependent Birds

In summary, the EPA has evidence that certain genera of pollution-sensitive insects would be harmed downstream of the Spruce No 1 Mine, due to increases in salinity discharge from the project. Everything else (i.e., all of the EPA’s claims about amphibians, fish, and birds) is either scientifically unfounded or legally irrelevant.

The EPA’s Ad Hoc “Science”

When the EPA first objected to the permit, it was much more honest about the underlying science. In a letter dated September 3, 2009, in which the EPA first expressed its Clean Water Act concerns about the Spruce No 1 Mine to the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it said that

“Since the issuance of the permit in January 2007, new information and circumstances have arisen which justify reconsideration of the permit. Based upon prior research and confirmed in 2008 by research conducted by EPA, we are concerned data were available and was not evaluated…In particular, we are concerned about the project’s potential to degrade downstream water quality, and to cause or contribute to potential excursions of West Virginia’s narrative water quality standards”

The 2008 study cited by the EPA in the letter provided evidence that saline effluent from mountaintop mining operations in Appalachia harmed certain pollution sensitive insects. According to the EPA, this “new information” engendered concerns about “the project’s potential to degrade downstream water quality.” In the Final Determination, however, the EPA states that its “conclusion that the Spruce 1 Mine as authorized would cause unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife is not dependent on a conclusion that West Virginia’s water quality standards will be violated at or downstream of the site (Final Determination p 51).”

Between the September 2009 letter and the January 2011 Final Determination, the EPA changed its justification. In the EPA’s initial objection to the Spruce No 1 Mine permit, it stated that its concern was the degradation of downstream water quality. And by “degradation,” EPA was referring to the extirpation of certain pollution-sensitive insects. But in its Final Determination, the EPA claims that degraded water quality is not its concern. Instead, it broadened its objections to include “unacceptable adverse impacts” to wildlife caused by the Spruce No 1 Mine.  What happened?

It appears as if the EPA believed that its initial objection to the Spruce No 1 Mine-that it would harm pollution-sensitive insects-wasn’t meaty enough to justify an action that would prevent the creation of 250 well-paying jobs. After all, few Americans would rally around an administration that is willing to trade jobs for bugs. So the EPA tried to expand its case against the mine, in order to incorporate “adverse impacts” on birds, amphibians, and fish. This sort of ad hoc “science” would explain why the EPA’s Final Determination is shoddy when it addresses adverse impacts to non-insect wildlife.

Who Governs: EPA or Elected Officials?

So, the EPA is guilty of environmental hyperbole. In its Final Determination, the EPA alleges “unacceptable adverse impacts” to amphibians, fish, and birds, but after you strip away all the pseudoscience, the EPA’s veto is based on the project’s adverse impacts to insects that aren’t even endangered species.

To the average environmental scientist, the extirpation of pollution-sensitive insects alone is enough to justify the shutdown of all surface coal mining in Appalachia. In July 2010, I attended a public peer review of the EPA’s “The Effects of Mountaintop Mines and Valley Fills on Aquatic Ecosystems of the Central Appalachian Coalfields,” and almost every scientist present (there were fourteen) was genuinely shocked-SHOCKED!-at the loss of entire orders (genera) of pollution sensitive insects downstream of surface mines.

I bet 9 out of 10 environmental scientists would oppose mountaintop mining, based solely on its adverse impact to insects. But I also bet that 9 out of 10 American non-scientists (and 10 out of 10 West Virginians) would oppose a plan to forsake 250 well paying jobs in order to protect bugs. Therein lies the rub: Elected officials, not scientists, establish priorities in this country. Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

In West Virginia, the people have spoken through their elected officials, and their support of the Spruce No 1 Mine is unequivocal and adamant.

In 2010, by a unanimous vote, the West Virginia State Legislature resolved that its definition of “water quality” are satisfied when “the aquatic community is composed of benthic invertebrate assemblages sufficient to perform the biological functions necessary to support fish communities…” In effect, the Legislature was saying that the State of West Virginia is concerned about insects only insofar as they support fish. It was a direct response to the EPA.

Shortly after the EPA’s veto, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin led a rally to protest the decision. According to the Governor, “We must stand up and show federal regulators that we will not retreat from their unfair actions. We will continue the fight not just for the Spruce Number One mine but for every coal miner, coal company and for our way of life.”

The State’s entire Congressional delegation also is on record with strong denunciations of the EPA’s veto. Here’s a roundup of statements from their press releases on the matter:

A unanimous legislature, the governor, the entire Congressional delegation…every single statewide elected official in West Virginia gives priority to job growth over insect-protections. This sentiment extends to the local level, too:

The people of West Virginia, through their public officials, have expressed their belief that jobs are more important than insects. The EPA is wrong to reverse these priorities.

Kyrgyz Daze

by William Yeatman on April 9, 2010

in Odds & Ends

The Kyrgyz Republic is again in turmoil. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled on Wednesday after violence claimed scores of lives. Like the “Tulip” revolution that toppled President Askar Akeyev in 2005, this one started in Talas, the northwestern most state, and then spread to Bishkek, the country capitol. In 2005, Akeyev avoided the mob by a hair. It seems as if a similar thing happened to Bakiyev.

For an American, I share a rare intimacy with the Kyrgyz Republic. From September 2004 to November 2006, I was one 7 of foreigners (and three Americans) living in Talas City, the capitol of Talas, where I worked as a PeaceCorps volunteer. I socialized with all the politically active young people–they helped forge my love for cheap vodka in 50 gram increments–so there’s a high probability I know many of the primary participants. According to news reports, many members of the “opposition” in Talas City were detained. I pray for my friends. People get boiled in that part of the world.

I use quotation marks around “opposition” because a singular grouping is misleading. Talas, where these revolutions started, and Bishkek, where they finished, are like apples and oranges. The people of Talas are stereotyped as prideful. We say, “don’t mess with Texas”; the Kyrgyz say, “never fight a guy from Talas.” They are also stereotyped as backwards, because Talas is largely rural and isolated by steep mountains on all sides. Bishkek , on the other hand, is just like every other capitol mega-city in the developing world: bloated with immigration from the countryside, and riddled with crime.

The distinction is important because these revolutions easily change for the worse as they cross the mountains from Talas to the capitol. Shortly after the February 2005 parliamentary elections, the men of Talas started gathering in front of the local executive office building, and they waited. I could see them from my bedroom window. They were non violent. Many of them were my friends. It was an altogether different vibe in Bishkek. There, the proceedings were organized by regional crime bosses. They bussed in thousands.  A lot of alcohol was consumed, and looting was widespread, although there were few casualties. I hope the impetus wasn’t similarly corrupted this time around, but I suspect it was.

In any case, the prognosis is bleak. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the state is just one more player in the black market, so it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. Everyone knows it: There is even a saying, to the effect of “corruption is a way of life.” One of my most enduring memories, unfortunately, is the languid flip of the wrist with which cops beckoned motorists to the side of the road for a bribe. What struck me was the sense of routine. You slipped your money into your passport, handed it over, received the passport, and drove on. Rinse, wash, repeat.

When it isn’t outright extortion, it’s the soft corruption of nepotism and prejudice. Generally speaking, the magnitude of the abuse increases in lockstep with the legal power accorded to the perpetrator by the state.

If only the Brits had won the Great Game! In India, the British Empire left democracy. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the Soviet Union left a corruptocracy.

Earlier this week the House Appropriations Committee passed a $27 billion budget for the Department of Energy. You might think that the DOE already has enough trouble trying to spend the $39 billion it received in the federal stimulus act enacted earlier this year (that’s almost twice the DOE’s entire budget for 2007), but you’d be wrong-when it comes to taxpayer dollars, the money pit otherwise known as the DOE can’t get enough.

There are many problems with the DOE’s bloated budget, but I’m only going to address the most egregious: The Congress’s support for no-strings-attached “clean energy” loans.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, in 2005, the Congress created a Loan Guarantee Program for “innovative” energy production that reduces greenhouse gas emissions responsible for so-called “global warming” (it hasn’t warmed in a decade, but that’s a different story). With the LGP, the federal government promises to cover the loan in case of default, which makes credit cheaper for borrowers.

The Congress put the DOE in charge of the LGP, despite the fact that the Department has no expertise disbursing loans and its woeful history of picking energy technologies to support. The decision to put the DOE in charge is all the more suspect given that these are risky loans to unproven technologies (according to federal estimates, the default rate is expected to be 50%).

At the time, the Congress seemed to protect the American taxpayer from bad loans by stipulating that the borrower pay a “credit subsidy cost,” a fee equivalent to the value of the risk that the government takes by facilitating cheap credit, unless funds are otherwise appropriated. To date, the Appropriations Committee has yet to allocate funds to pay for the credit subsidy cost, although in the stimulus act passed earlier this year, “Hollywood” Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), inserted language appropriating $6 billion to subsidize the credit subsidy cost for a subset of ultra-green projects.

Assuming that the credit subsidy cost is 10% of the loan, the $6 billion LGP subsidy in the stimulus act puts the taxpayer fully on the hook for $60 billion. But that’s not enough for the Obama administration, which asked for more than $900 million in 2009 and $3.5 billion in 2010 to cover the credit subsidy cost (page 436 of the White House’s proposed budget).

Last month, the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee seemed to balk at the President’s request. The Sub-Committee report stated,

“This Subcommittee has long pushed the Department of Energy on management and cost issues. The bill before us today continues to stress that point to the new Administration and directs the Department to continue to work with the Government Accountability Office (the GAO) to implement its recommendations. The Department continues its 18 year membership in the GAO’s annual list of programs that are at high-risk for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. While the Department has made progress, recent history has shown that there is substantial room for improvements.”

Clearly, the Sub Committee recognizes that the DOE has problems spending taxpayer money. Yet the Sub Committee only recommended a decrease of the President’s proposed subsidy (-$465 million in 2009 and -$1.5 billion in 2010), rather than an outright rejection, and the full Committee agreed.

So the Appropriations Committee believes that the DOE is a “high-risk for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” but then it chose to remove a major taxpayer protection from “fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement” by allocating more than $2 billion to cover the credit subsidy cost of risky green energy loans. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two entirely opposite thoughts in one’s head at the same time. By this reasoning, Members of the Appropriations Committee are a bunch of whiz kids.

President Barack Obama rode into the White House promising open and honest government. So why did his administration bully a career official at the Environmental Protection Agency into silence?

Last week, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a 98 page report written by Alan Carlin, a 38 year veteran of the EPA, on the shaky science employed by global warming alarmists. Mr. Carlin had submitted the report to his superiors for the EPA to consider as it deliberated whether or not carbon dioxide “endangers” human health and welfare. As noted by my colleague Marlo Lewis, an “endangerment” finding isn’t mere bureaucratese. Instead, it’s a legal tripwire that would spark an economically ruinous regulatory chain reaction under the Clean Air Act (to read more, click here).

But the EPA would not consider Carlin’s report. In a series of incriminating emails, Carlin’s boss bluntly informed him that his report would remain secret for political reasons.

Late Thursday night, CEI went ahead and posted a draft version of the document, which you can read here.

In a not-so-subtle dig at the supposed scientific backwardness of his predecessor four months ago, President Obama said that science is “about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.” Now we learn that his administration has done just that by silencing Mr. Carlin’s voice at the EPA. Is this the change we were promised?

Members of Congress are suitably outraged. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), cited the report on the floor of the House of Representatives last Friday. Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) told FoxNews that he intends to investigate the matter further.

The story has made waves in the media. For accounts, click on the following links: New York Times, San Francisco Examiner, Michelle Malkin, Dow Jones (Subscription Req’d), American Spectator, and National Review.

There are only seven months until the global community plans to adopt a successor climate treaty to the failed Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen, but  negotiators are far apart on the most important issues-binding emissions cuts and paying for a global green energy revolution. Here’s a quick run down of the stakeholders bargaining positions.

On binding emissions reductions:

  • Developing countries refuse to reduce emissions. They want developed countries to commit to 40% cuts by 2020.
  • The European Union wants developed countries to commit to 30% cuts by 2020.
  • The Obama administration proposes 18% cuts by 2020, but it wants significant participation from rapidly growing developing countries such as India and China.
  • In the United States Congress, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-California) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) have proposed a draft of a legislation calling for the United States to reduce emissions 20% by 2020, although they are meeting heavy resistance from both within their own party and Republicans.

On financing a global green energy revolution:

  • Developing countries demand.5%-2% of developed nations’ aggregate GDP, annually, to facilitate climate change mitigation.
  • The European Union believes that developed nations need to raise and distribute $230 billion a year through 2020, but it refuses to discuss burden sharing until the U.S. submits a proposal.
  • The Obama administration has yet to address climate change mitigation aid to developing countries.
  • The Waxman-Markey draft bill does not address climate aid, but it is highly unlikely that the Congress would agree to pay scores of billions of dollars every year for clean energy in China.

It is my strongest hope that this deadlock  persists, so that we all may be spared the burden of an ill-conceived, economically ruinous climate change mitigation treaty.

Yesterday DeSmogBlog added 7 more entries to its Global Warming Denier Database, which is touted as “an extensive database of individuals involved in the global warming denial industry.”

I took a look at the Database, and I am outraged. Why I am I not on the list!!??

Not only am I an unabashed global warming denier*, I personally contribute almost as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as mega-emitter Al Gore, alarmist hypocrite.

I understand that I might be too small a fish to warrant entry onto the list. After all, I am a lowly policy analyst. That said, the author of the Global Warming Denier Database, Kevin Grandia, lists “event planning” as an area of expertise, and I’ve been a caterer, so perhaps I am suitably qualified.

In any case, if you are reading this, please contact DeSmogBlog (here) and demand that I, William Yeatman, join the list of global warming deniers.

* It hasn’t warmed in 7 years. Al Gore says that “there is one relationship that is more powerful than all the others and it is this: When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer.” Well, emissions keep going up, yet temperatures stay the same. Where’s the warming?

Over at the Center for American Progress, Brad Johnson, my sometimes interlocutor, takes issue with a recent Gallup poll for giving a “false choice between environmental protection and economic growth.” The subject of Johnson’s analysis is a report on the Gallup website that says,

“For the first time in Gallup’s 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority”

Mr. Johnson asserts that the Gallup’s poll is flawed because the question is inaccurate. According to Mr. Johnson, there is no trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. We can have our cake and eat it, too, implies Mr. Johnson, and he cites two studies to prove his point.

His evidence, however, is far from convincing.

He first notes a UC-Berkeley study that claims “California’s Green Policies Have Created 1.5 Million Jobs and Added $45 Billion to The Economy.”

Yet the results of this study have been contested by many knowledgeable sources, among them the Pacific Research Institute’s Tom Tanton, who formerly served on the California Energy Commission, as well as Dr. David Kreutzer, an economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Tanton and Kreutzer are colleagues and friends of CEI, so some readers might mistakenly fault their excellent work on account of the ideological affinities of the organizations for which they work.

But if you are inclined to discount these studies, then you must also discard Mr. Johnson’s second piece of evidence, “A National Green Economy Creates Millions of New Jobs,” which was authored by Greenpeace International.

In any case, the most damning indictment of the UC-Berkeley study is the fact that its author, Professor David Roland-Holst, ran one of the two models used in an analysis commissioned by the California Air Resources Board to measure the economic impact of AB 32, California’s 2006 global warming law. The CARB study concluded that reducing greenhouse gas emissions about 20% by 2020 would increase economic growth in the Golden State. A non-partisan peer-review promptly ripped the study to pieces for being wrong and politically motivated.

Fighting the supposed problem of “global warming” might or might not be a good idea. After all, it hasn’t warmed in almost a decade, despite a steady increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. The much-vaunted “scientific consensus” failed to predict steady global temperatures, and they can’t explain it, either.

So it seems there is some uncertainty on global warming. What is certain, however, is that reducing emissions also reduces economic growth, by making energy more expensive.

A month ago, I coined the term “envoy of disappointment” to described Todd Stern, who had been chosen to become the State Department’s roving ambassador on climate change, a new position created by the Obama administration. The label reflected the reality that the U.S. will remain unwilling to put its economy at a competitive disadvantage by signing an international treaty to fight the supposed threat of climate change*, no matter what kind of “hope” and “change” Obama brings to Washington.

Recent evidence suggests I was right.

Obama is a scant 5 weeks into his Presidency, and already the backtracking on climate change has begun. According to Russel Gold at the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital,

Mr. Stern said the road map of greenhouse-gas emission reductions laid out at a 2007 summit in Bali was simply too ambitious. “We need to be very mindful of what the dictates of science are, and of the art of the possible,” he said. The Bali targets – a 25% to 40% cut by industrialized nations by 2020 – were simply too ambitious. “It’s not possible to get that kind of number. It’s not going to happen,” he said.

*It hasn’t warmed in 7 years. Al Gore, hypocrite alarmist, says that “there is one relationship that is more powerful than all the others and it is this: When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer.” Well, emissions keep going up, yet temperatures stay the same. Where’s the warming, Al?

Why is the Chicago Tribune again allowing its editorial page to shill for T Boone Pickens? For the second time in 5 months, the Tribune has published a self-serving opinion piece by Mr. Pickens (Our Energy Future, 16 November 2008; Solving Our Nation’s Energy Predicament, 24 February 2009).

Remove the rhetoric, and T Boone’s plan is quite simple. He wants the government to (1) force taxpayers to subsidize his wind power; (2) force taxpayers to pay for the transmission lines to deliver his wind power; (3) force consumers to buy his wind power; (4) force consumers to buy T Boone’s natural gas “saved” by using  his wind power to power their cars.

America gets expensive energy and T Boone Pickens gets rich. As CEI’s Marlo Lewis artfully put it: “This T Boone-doggle Pickens your pocket.”