Marlo Lewis examines a State Department report finding that Keystone serves the national interest and finds opposing arguments wanting.
Yes, the recent ruling in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency (D.D.C. No. 12-1617) is good news for the EPA, but the lawsuit still produced some pretty valuable results for both CEI and the public at large.
This case involved then-Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of her “Richard Windsor” email alias. As the court noted, the fact that administrator Jackson and other EPA officials used alternative email addresses “raised questions about the agency’s compliance with federal record-keeping laws as well as the completeness of its responses to certain FOIA requests.” In the court’s words, this was a matter of “appropriate… concern,” and not just for us.
The court ruling has some entertaining references to CEI’s so-called “conspiracy theory.” We didn’t use that phrase in our pleadings, but we did argue that EPA’s filings and declarations shouldn’t get the usually automatic presumption of good faith. After all, as recently as last August, another court found the agency had handled a Landmark Legal Foundation FOIA request in “bad faith,” and six months before that, EPA’s Region 8 Administrator resigned after having apparently misrepresented his use of a private email account for official business. In short, we believe the court erred in how it applied the good faith presumption, because we weren’t exactly suing Snow White here.
Our FOIA request to EPA on this issue produced more than 10,000 records in response, all of which were given to CEI after the lawsuit was filed. The judge also ruled that EPA must disclose the White House email address used by top advisor Carol Browner to communicate with EPA. (Ms. Browner, according to The New York Times, was a key partner in the “we put nothing in writing, ever” strategy used by top White House and California environmental officials several years ago. Not that we’re calling it a conspiracy, mind you.)
Ms. Browner’s White House email account is probably inactive now, so we’ll have to find another way to send her our best wishes.
We had zero documents before filing this case. We now have more than 10,000, and of those, more than 5,000 were produced in full. We also know quite a bit more about the continued use of personal email accounts by agency officials than we did before.
The ruling on the partial and full withholdings wasn’t all that kind to us, but we’ll survive. And, thankfully, so will the documents we received.
Since the Federalist Papers, America has debated “Energy in the Executive.” But President Obama’s 2014 agenda framed by his State of the Union address heralds a class warfare agenda, one fusing an “income inequality” theme with federal industrial policy.
“When I can act on my own without Congress, I’m going to do so,” Obama promises. This spend-and-transfer fixation makes Americans poorer and dependent except for the lucky few running things.
Others have argued for federal budget rationality as essential to a true anti-poverty agenda. This series proposes a greater prosperity enhancing opportunity, streamlining the nearly $2 trillion hyper-regulatory state and ending the uncertainty, wealth destruction and job loss it creates.
The basis of regulation is the belief, in my view discredited, that government actors are non-self-interested and that political markets are fairer than private markets. Regulations, as currently construed, often don’t work. One instance is expressed by John Tamny in Forbes:
The banking crackup from 2008 is the latest evidence that regulations are much more than worthless. We implicitly ask the charitably average people who migrate toward regulatory jobs to see the future, but if they could, they wouldn’t be regulators. Regulations on their very best day severely distract the productive while inhibiting the profit motive, and then on their worst they lead to tragedies of the Bernie Madoff variety for creating a false impression that qualified people are minding the store.
Mother Jones’ profile of Elon Musk and Tesla Motors trots out a familiar story about industrial policy’s role in the success of infant industries. It also blasts Musk’s Silicon Valley cohorts for their ingratitude in the face of government assistance. But when we look a little more closely, the Mother Jones narrative about Musk’s success breaks down.
The relevant program in Tesla Motors’ case is the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program, a $25 billion fund established by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The ATVM putatively offers loans to automotive companies to help them meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goal of 35 mpg by 2020. Boosters tout the ATVM as a program to help companies through the so-called startup “Valley of Death” during which companies transition from product release to full-scale production, a period so-named because companies are particularly vulnerable.
A closer look at the ATVM shows that we should in fact be grateful if the program disappeared altogether. Tesla has been the ATVM’s most public success after re-paying its $465 million loan nine years early. But Tesla likely succeeded not so much because of its ATVM loan, but because it has a fundamentally sound business strategy and a product capturing the imagination of consumers. While buyers of Tesla’s Model S benefit from a $7,500 federal tax credit for plug-in electric vehicles, in addition to benefits like access to HOV lanes and free charging infrastructure, these subsidies benefit the EV industry as a whole and cannot explain Tesla’s success relative to its peers.
And according to the DOE’s own data, 81 percent of the $8.4 billion spent so far by the ATVM program went to Ford and Nissan Motors—neither of which is a start-up navigating the Valley of Death. These firms could almost certainly purchase loans on the private market—are they really the vulnerable companies that defenders of the ATVM want to benefit?
This is not the ATVM’s only shortcoming. A February 2011 GAO report concluded that the ATVM lacked the expertise to properly monitor loan recipients, and lacked the crucial ability to measure how much the loans contribute to successfully meeting the stricter 2020 CAFE standards. Supporting a program whose success we can’t measure is unwise at best and defending corporate welfare at worst. The ATVM has had some very measurable failures, most notably its $500 million bet on Fisker Automotive that turned south. Despite having received nearly $200 million in taxpayer dollars, Fisker nonetheless announced this May it preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing. Public embarrassment from Fisker’s failure put the ATVM on hold, despite having loaned out barely a third of its allocated funds.
The ATVM has since re-opened and is now accepting applications for loans, but the question remains whether we will see more successes like Tesla or blunders like Fisker. The incentives and track record of subsidized loan programs suggest that it would be wise for the ATVM to quit while it’s ahead.
I had the privilege of meeting with Charlie Drevna, President of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers this week. He had some extremely interesting things to say about the way mounting environmental regulations are threatening jobs in the refining sector that he represents.
A particularly compelling insight he provided was that many of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations actually contradict each other. For instance, CAFE regulations require higher fuel efficiency from automobiles. Yet the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the use of less efficient ethanol, reduces fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, the Tier III rules from EPA contradict the rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions: refineries need to do more processing to reduce sulfur in gasoline, which increases emissions at a refinery by up to 2.3 percent, while at the same time they are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Two more examples: to reduce ozone in the atmosphere under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) requires more energy. More energy requires more greenhouse gas emissions, so there is another clear contradiction. Finally, state sulfur regulations contradict federal greenhouse gas regulations — if you use energy to reduce the sulfur in heating oil, you will increase your greenhouse gas emissions.
Ron Binz is President Obama’s choice to head FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. William Yeatman, in a new report, shows why Binz’s disregard for reliable, low-priced electricity, along with several ethical and ideological red flags, make him less than an ideal nominee.
The left seems to have decided the only way to win at global warming politics at this point is by smearing critics of climate change alarmism as being “anti-science” or equivalent to being a “flat earther.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer aptly describes this M.O. as “shockingly arrogant and anti-scientific” — the notion that questioning “settled science” or bringing new evidence to bear is wrong or disallowed. Our friends at Frontiers of Freedom posted the transcript and video clip.