Opinion

An Arrogant, Ragingly Partisan EPA

REUTERS

Alan Daley Writer, American Consumer Institute

The EPA claims that both science and economics support its global campaign to force U.S. states into halting carbon dioxide emissions. EPA’s Administrator Gina McCarthy says the EPA’s Clean Power Plan authority calls for an end to debate on climate change and emissions control: “people overwhelmingly consider climate change to be a problem — and they want action, not more debate or discussion.” Unfortunately, McCarthy’s policies are at odds with economics, law, and science. All that remains solid is the arrogance of the “my way or the highway” attitude shared with the White House.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one primary scientific authority that the EPA has relied on for climate change analysis. With far less conviction than the EPA needs, the IPCC avoids offering solid evidence of climate change causing weather and economic extremes that could justify an end to the debate on EPA policies. While there is some increase in sea levels in some areas, droughts and floods cannot be confidently attributed to climate change.

Although Administrator McCarthy may be “tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate,” many are rightly concerned that so-called global warming lost its integrity in 1998 and now chills us with heavy snows.  Admittedly that’s obvious and anecdotal, but it tracks the IPCC’s assessment of climate change’s questionable results.

For example the IPPC concludes that “since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced a trend to more intense and longer droughts … but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America.”

As to the IPCC’s view on climate change and flooding, “there is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales … Furthermore, there is low agreement in this evidence, and thus overall low confidence at the global scale regarding even the sign of these changes.” That bureaucratic-speak means it’s unclear whether climate change causes more floods or less floods.

The EPA’s unshakable confidence in its cause and the legality of its regulations collides with law in some courts and the EPA is losing. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “that the EPA unreasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act when it decided to set limits on the emissions of toxic pollutants from power plants without first considering the costs on the industry to do so.” Asserting that “for over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70 percent and the economy has more than tripled,” does not prove that cleaner air causes increased income, but such pontification may reassure those already convinced.

It’s easy to prattle about the economics of emissions if you skip a competent analysis using fair data. One of the fat thumbs that EPA uses on the economic analysis scale is the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC). SCC is not the market price of carbon; rather it’s the squishy composite of morbidity, mortality and infrastructure damages associated with a ton of carbon emissions. The Office of Management and Budget estimates SCC at $36 per ton.

In a precursor to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a federal project called the Weatherization Assistance Program, environmental adjustments were made to 30,000 homes in which the government’s engineering models estimated handsome consumer savings. After the project was underway, Berkeley and MIT engineers found several disturbing things: the actual savings were much smaller than hoped and represented a 9.5 percent per annum loss on the investment, and the implicit price for the SCC in the pre-project estimates was $330 per ton – 9 times higher than the EPA uses publicly. It would not take many $330 tons to make the project look successful, but that sham appearance would be based on false data. For every EPA regulation or management project, a thorough and very public airing of the supporting economic analysis should be published for public comment long before the rule goes into effect.

In 2011, the EPA seized on the spectacle of two flammable water wells west of Fort Worth to claim that the problem was a result of drilling for gas. After careful research, Texas regulators proved that water wells were getting gas through a shallow water aquifer where gas was migrating up from a rock formation directly underneath. EPA refused to back down on its story, causing some to conclude the EPA has a built-in bias against the fossil fuel energy industry.

The EPA does not limit its pretensions of omniscience to issues of energy. A federal judge in North Dakota issued a temporary restraining order to block the EPA’s jurisdiction over “some smaller waterways” that the EPA planned to regulate and demand permits for their use. These small water ways are frequently small ditches or irrigation furrows that farmers use to provide crops with water. They are wet for a while then dry for a longer period. The EPA’s requirement for permits would increase the cost and inconvenience of using water on farmers’ own land — without perceptible benefit.

The EPA’s own behavior at King Mine should disqualify its authority for managing anything damp. Under EPA management, “3 million gallons of water containing heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury were released into a tributary to the Animas River.” The noxious yellow pollution will evidently settle into the streambed eventually to be stirred up like a time-bomb in later years.

Some of the poorest Americans rely on rivers contaminated by the EPA at King Mine. They and their grazing flocks used to drink the Animas River water. While the EPA’s Inspector General promises to “look into it,” that is nowhere near the immediate remedy needed.

When Gina McCarthy mentions the word “global,” it has shallow roots. The absence of like-sized clean air commitments by China, Korea, Russia, India and Brazil are a glaring hole in the EPA’s plan. The EPA is imposing costs on U.S. industry that those major trading partners are exempt from. That provides those traders a competitive advantage over American worker.  Our commitment should be at least for conditions on big polluters following suit.

The EPA has a meaningful role in protecting our environment, but it behaves less like an honest broker and more like a raging partisan. The EPA desperately needs an attitude adjustment to ratchet down the arrogance.

Alan Daley writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research institute.  For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org or follow us on Twitter — @consumerpal.