Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Anti-EPA Fervor Hits Hilarious Boiling Point

Dan Berman over at Politico does a completely un-Politico thing and steps up off the sideline to belt a Daily Caller gaffe out of the Beltway ballpark.  The Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson's joke of a news website that, in its less than two years on the scene, has developed a solid reputation for what can only be described as anti-environmental alarmism.  Never missing a chance to toe the industry line, the website often runs attacks on environmental policy and, in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency.  Well, it looks like this time the Caller may have gone a little too far:
It’s a story too good to be true for the anti-Obama and anti-regulation crowd: The hated Environmental Protection Agency is looking to spend $21 billion per year to hire an additional 230,000 people to enforce greenhouse gas regulations. 

One problem: It’s not true. 

Patient zero for this story is The Daily Caller, which on Monday wrote that the EPA is “asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden of up to 230,000 new bureaucrats — at a cost of $21 billion — to attempt to implement the rules.” 

To put that to scale: EPA currently has 17,000 employees at an annual budget of $8.7 billion.
 Kudos to the EPA for this brilliant response:
"Much of what is said or written about EPA these days is entirely inaccurate — but The Daily Caller's report is comically wrong,” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan told POLITICO. “At least one job clearly needs to be created: They're clearly in the market for a fact-checker."
Of course, the "comically wrong" story was too much to pass up for several agenda-driven outlets.  Perhaps the most amusing part about the whole story is the Daily Caller's response.  Rather than admit any error, the Caller said it stood by its story and took the opportunity to take more swipes at the EPA.  Did Lisa Jackson run over Tucker Carlson's dog or something?

Go check out the whole Politico story for a complete breakdown of how the Caller got its numbers and why it's completely wrong.  Politico is really not known for this type of "calling out" so when it happens you know the offense was fairly egregious.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Obama Can Do Right Now

The next issue of Rolling Stone, which is very underrated in its political coverage, will feature this article on ten things President Obama can do right now to help the environment. The article is a quick but great read. Go check it out. Some highlights:
ONE: Stop the Pipeline
Is it in our national interest to overheat the planet? That's the question Obama faces in deciding whether to approve Keystone XL, a 2,000-mile-long pipeline that will bring 500,000 barrels of tar-sand oil from Canada to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Greenlighting the $7 billion pipeline would help feed America's addiction to oil – but it would also send a clear signal that Obama ranks cheap gas as a higher priority than a stable climate. Activist and writer Bill McKibben, who organized protests at the White House to stop the pipeline, calls the decision "a defining moment of the Obama years."
THREE: Crack Down on Carbon
NASA climate scientist James Hansen has called coal, the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels, "the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet." But Obama has failed to curb carbon pollution from coal plants. He didn't manage to push a program to cap and trade carbon emissions through Congress when he had the chance, and there's no way he can win approval for a straight-up carbon tax. But now he has a chance to do it the old-fashioned way: by wielding the power of the executive branch.

Following a 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court, the EPA has the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. The agency is working on new rules that would cut carbon pollution from power plants – the country's single biggest source of planet-warming emissions. The question is: How tough will they be? To make Big Coal really clean up its act, the standards need to be set at roughly the same pollution levels produced by natural gas – about 1,100 pounds of pollution per megawatt hour of electricity. "That would essentially end the construction of conventional coal plants in America," says Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. "But if the standards are significantly looser, they could have the perverse effect of actually encouraging the construction of a new generation of plants." The ultimate outcome – no more coal plants, or far too many – is entirely in Obama's hands.
TEN: Use the Bully Pulpit
Ever notice how often the phrase "climate change" pops up in Obama's speeches? Not much – only 20 times in the past year, and fewer than half as many as the year before. The president has failed to make a big issue-defining speech on global warming, failed to defend the climate scientists being attacked by Big Oil, and failed to blast congressional climate deniers like Sen. James Inhofe, who shamelessly and stupidly dismiss global warming as a "hoax."

In fact, Obama's refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president. "He has been silent on the defining issue of our time, letting Big Oil and the deniers define the debate," says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. "In some sense, he has been a bigger failure than Bush – because Obama knows better. He knows exactly what is at stake."

Insiders insist the president is running a "stealth campaign" on climate change, quietly going after coal and oil by tightening air-pollution and fuel-efficiency standards. But Obama alone has the power to elevate global warming to the forefront of the international agenda, where it belongs. He must use his remarkable rhetorical skill to explain to the world that the fossil-fuel era is coming to an end – and inspire us all to take action, no matter what the cost. "Obama needs to make a decision," Romm says. "Does he want to be remembered as the president who had the best chance of taking action on climate – but who failed to stop the catastrophe?"
Some of the suggestions, such as using the bully pulpit or making conservation patriotic (something I've urged for a long time), are just about good ol' fashioned leadership. But some of the others, such as regulating greenhouse gases under EPA's current Clean Air Act authority, require a little more boldness. Many have said that greenhouse gas regulation under the current rules would be impracticable. But that's entirely the point. If the President were to make such a move, it would put the ball in Congress's court to come up with a better solution. Until he does that, Congress has no reason to disrupt the statuts quo, and no progress will be made. And that's exactly how Obama can defend the move from critics. The President has utilized heated rhetoric in attacking Congress, including Democrats, on several occasions. With its low approval rating, it's not hard to see why. Taking the offensive on the environment would be yet another front in this fight.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Jonathan Zasloff over at Legal Planet points us to an interesting immigration case just decided by the Ninth Circuit:
This one is too good not to blog.  Strictly speaking, it’s an immigration case, but it has interesting implications for all statutes and especially environmental ones. 

Jawid Habibi is a lawful resident alien, but not someone you’d want to hang around with.  He was convicted of domestic misdemeanor battery in California, and then received a 365-day sentence pursuant to state law.  Then ICE wanted to deport him under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F), which allows deportation for someone who commits an aggravated felony, and defines an aggravated felony as a “crime of violence . . . for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year.” 

So what’s the problem?  Habibi was sentenced to serve in 2000, and 2000 was a leap year.  So if he served 365 days, he didn’t serve a year!  He argued that thus, he was ineligible for deportation under the federal statute. 

The Ninth Circuit quite properly rejected that argument in Habibi v. Holder handed down just yesterday.
Zasloff goes on to examine the implications on Chevron and, more generally, textualism. Go check it out. Though not strictly environmental in nature, I find the case interesting for two personal reasons. First, my first legal job was at an immigration firm. And second, I just happened to be born on leap year!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

NYC Continues Urban Agriculture Push

The Big Apple has made moves to broaden it's menu. The City Council has passed bills to encourage rooftop greenhouses and to increase the land available for urban farming. Here are some particulars:

Int. No. 338-A amends § 27-306 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York and BC 504.3 of the New York City Building Code. The amendments add greenhouses to a list of structures which do not count against height restrictions, so long as the aggregate area of structures does not exceed one-third of the roof area in size. This same section's exclusion for solar thermal and solar electric collectors offers a tantalizing synergy of sustainability: rooftop greenhouses heated and powered by solar collectors.

Int. No. 452-A adds a new section, 6-130, to chapter one of title six of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. The new section encourages agencies to make best efforts to purchase New York state food by mandating the development and incorporation of procurement guidelines into food-purchase and food-related service contracts.

Additionally, in Resolution No. 507 the City Council called upon the state legislature to extend the Green Roof Tax Abatement, section 499-aaa of the New York State Real Property Tax Law, to owners who produce live food-producing plants. Were the New York legislature to heed the City's call, rooftop farmers could see tax abatements of up to $100,000.

These may seem to be small changes, but actions like this by a city as large as New York City can have a large effect. The new procurement policy brings the substantial buying power of the New York City institutions into the local food movement, bringing a degree of certainty to the market and making the investment risks a bit more palatable. The rooftop greenhouse makes productive use of New York City's vast quantity of rooftop space. Combined with a solar collector system and greywater or stormwater recovery system, the rooftop gardens could be even more of a boon to the urban environment. Were the Green Roof Tax Abatement to be expanded to live food-producing plants, more landlords may be enticed to feature rooftop garden space for their tenants, providing urban dwellers a connection to the environment as well as fresh nutritious produce. Landlords and tenants would be able to realize the insulation benefits of green roofs while the City realizes the benefits of reduced energy demand and less stormwater. As New York City reaps the benefits of urban agriculture, we may see other East Coast municipalities take a more active role in promoting urban agriculture.

By permitting urban beekeeping and now urban agriculture more broadly, Bloomberg and the City Council are allowing urban agriculture in the Big Apple to blossom.

via NYTimes

(NYTimes mentioned that the City is taking an inventory of properties it owned or leased for the purpose of identifying space useable for urban agriculture, however I was unable to find the source of this and unsuccessful at getting in contact with the author. I will update this post if I verify this.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Obama Announces Halt to New Ozone Standards

Manu Raju of Politico tweets:
In move that will infuriate enviros, Obama calls on EPA to withdraw draft ozone standards to reduce "regulatory uncertainty"
The move comes just a month and a half after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the current Bush-era smog rules legally indefensible:
The standards chosen by the George W. Bush administration to protect people from smog probably wouldn't hold up in court, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says in a new letter to a key congressional ally, giving the best indication yet that the agency is planning to set stricter pollution limits this summer. 

Jackson is close to deciding whether to change the national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. After a series of delays, the agency sent a final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday.
EPA was originally scheduled to finalize the rules last summer, but it asked a federal court for three extensions, fueling speculation that the agency might be harboring doubts about rules that critics say will hurt the economy.
And the kicker:
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said the new letter sends a strong message about where the agency is heading.

"Unless there is some eleventh-hour political meddling by the White House, it seems clear that ... Jackson intends to follow the advice of the agency's science advisers," he said in an email.
As Raju predicted, the move is already enraging environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters has issued a brief statement:
The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe. This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.
It seems clear that this move is driven by administration concerns over the struggling economy, but the President is likely to face more backlash, particularly considering Jackson's heated rhetoric from earlier this summer. Environmental groups are sure to claim that "the law is the law" and that the new rules cannot be set aside for economic or, perhaps more appropriately, political concerns. Jackson's comments certainly set the stage for lawsuits challenging the current rules.

More from Politico here.

Update: CPRBlog has added its disapproval.

Update II: The New York Times' Paul Krugman weighs in with a Keynesian explanation of why the new regs may have helped the economy:
And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment. 
More broadly, if you’re going to do environmental investments — things that are worth doing even in flush times — it’s hard to think of a better time to do them than when the resources needed to make those investments would otherwise have been idle.
This is an argument that seems to get lost in the discussion on environmental regulations. Too often, regulations are characterized as artificial increases in costs that will merely be passed directly on to consumers. But regulations such as the new ozone standards often result in new hires and spending on the development of new technology, which itself can often result in long-term savings. Add to that the savings to "public health," and it's easy to see why many studies have suggested that Clean Air Act regulations were a net benefit to the U.S. economy over the long-term. Krugman's argument is that, even in the short-term, given our current economic situation, the costs of such regulations are probably overstated.

Update III: The always great Kate Sheppard over at Mother Jones provides the numbers:
According to the American Lung Association, the weaker standard means that as many as 186 million Americans are currently breathing in unhealthy levels of smog. The EPA's own figures are even more shocking. If the Obama administration set the lower standard of 60 parts per billion, it would prevent 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths a year by 2020. Even the higher standard of 70 parts per billion would save between 1,500 and 4,300 lives per year. Improved air quality would bring down the number of deaths and hospitalizations every year due to asthma, bronchitis, and other heart and lung conditions. 

The EPA also noted that while compliance with the new rule would cost polluters between $19 billion and $90 billion a year by 2020, the benefits to human health will be worth between $13 billion and $100 billion every year.
She also confirms that the Obama administration will face at least one suit over the move:
The American Lung Association filed suit against the EPA following the weak Bush standards, but dropped it after the Obama administration said it was going to reconsider it. The group issued a statement on Friday signaling that it will revive the suit now that the Obama administration has signaled that it is not going to improve the standard, which is a violation of the Clean Air Act, the group says.