Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Value, and Forbes.com.
How to Stop The EPA's Jihad Against Carbon
A few years ago, Congress narrowly defeated passage of legislation to implement a "cap and trade" program that would have made fossil fuels more expensive. Cap and trade would have been the mother of all excise taxes, transferring large sums of money from users of electricity (i.e., all of us) to Uncle Sam. Penalizing consumption of CO2 would have been a body blow to America's energy-based economy.
The EPA now proposes to do what Congress didn't do. It has proposed mandating a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2050. In doing so, it is supported by a Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are to be defined as "pollutants" under the Clean Air Act. Given President Obama's stated desire to bypass Congress with unilateral executive action, it is no surprise that the EPA has acted at this time.
What terrible timing! The economy's growth rate is negative; furthermore, the case for taking costly action to address the alleged threat of anthropogenic global warming is even weaker now than it was five years ago.
The supposed scientific case for the AGW theory has collapsed. Attorney Francis J. Menton, Jr., in a brilliant letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, wrote
. . . the most recent IPCC report completely undermines any basis for determining climate sensitivity with the following statement: "No best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity can now be given because of a lack of agreement on values across assessed lines of evidence and studies." This means that the IPCC admits that it does not have a credible mean, mode, or median value of the equilibrium climate sensitivity parameter. In the mathematics of Decision Theory, this situation is called Complete Ignorance Uncertainty.
Menton then states that the EPA's "Endangerment Finding" of 2009 (which purports to demonstrate the dangers of CO2) "has been invalidated by the failure of real-world data to support each of the three 'lines of evidence' on which EPA purported to rely in reaching its Finding." Indeed, the data completely demolish and refute the finding.
Yet, some of the more zealous proponents of carbon regulation have taken to manipulating numbers (shades of "Climategate"). It turns out that the claim that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity is likely responsible for the earth getting warmer is fiction. Joseph Bast and Roy Spencer, writing in The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, found the actual figure to be closer to 1 percent of the papers used to conjure up the 97 percent claim.
What is particularly ironic about the EPA continuing to press on with its anti-carbon jihad is that even some of the scientists who have advocated stringent anti-carbon rules essentially exploded their own case several years ago when they began to tell us that the earth is likely to cool for a few decades before entering a prolonged period of rapid warming. For years, alarmists insisted that CO2 warms the planet. Then they began to assert that rising levels of CO2 won't warm the earth for 30 or 40 years, but will do so later on. Come again? Does CO2 warm the earth or doesn't it? Alarmists are finally conceding the main argument of global warming skeptics: Other forces - particularly solar variations - overwhelm the greenhouse effect.
The unfathomable irrationality of the EPA's new edict is seen in this: The IPCC's own figures - problematical as they are - project a reduction of a minuscule 0.08C by the year 2050 if the U.S. were to eliminate all CO2 emissions. Presumably, reducing such emissions by the proposed smaller amount - 30 percent - would make even less of a difference. It shouldn't be too hard to frame the issue to the public in terms of whether, if they believe that humans are responsible for global warming, they are willing to pay much higher prices for electricity and suffer a more sluggish economy in exchange for temperatures several decades hence being a few hundredths of a degree lower.
Why do President Obama and the progressives pursue their anti-carbon jihad so relentlessly? It certainly isn't for the well-being of the American people. I can only surmise that it has something to do with the usual preoccupations of politicians, i.e., money and power (and, in the case of President Obama, ideology).
Money? Perhaps people like Sen. Reid see how Al Gore became a very rich man by investing in the very global warming alarmism that he helped to spawn while working in government.
Power? Perhaps the jihad against CO2 has something to do with keeping those campaign contributions from wealthy green groups flowing. Or maybe the "Curley effect" (make Americans poorer and more dependent on government) is a factor. And since progressives, like socialists, prefer to control "the commanding heights" of the economy, it's only natural that, after doing much to increase government control of health care, finance, and education, Obama now craves increased control over energy.
Ideologically, the president is simply opening another front in his war against the middle class and proving once again that he is a "mean green."
So, what is to be done to free us from the counterproductive war against carbon-based energy? Alas, as long as Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and Barack Obama is in the White House, we're stuck, but here is what I propose:
First, Congress should undo the damage done by the Supreme Court and curb the EPA's bureaucratic overreach by passing legislation that states simply: For purposes of U.S. law, greenhouse gases are not to be defined or categorized as "pollutants."
Second, no member of Congress, his or her staff, or any of their relations may ever invest in any enterprise pertaining to green energy or climate change.
Some day we will look back at global warming alarmism and be amazed that so many people were enthralled by such phantasmagoria. At present, though, the threat is painfully real.
America's Losing Battle Against Poor Governance and the Whac-a-Mole
Under President Obama's leadership, a veritable flood of contentious issues has convulsed our body politic. Republicans and Conservatives are aghast at what they perceive as Team Obama's disastrous governance. They cite scandals (Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, the VA), fiascoes (Obamacare), and bureaucracies running amok (EPA, NLRB, FCC, BLM, et al.). Democrats and progressives counter that there are no real scandals, fiascoes, or abuses, and charge that allegations to the contrary are nothing more than partisan fabrications designed to obstruct and undermine the agenda of the man who has won the last two presidential elections.
I fall into the former camp. What I find ironic and frustrating is that the sheer volume of incidents of poor governance appears to work to Team Obama's advantage. Just when the Republicans look like they might get their hooks into one major problematical policy, several additional such instances arise, each taking its turn in the media spotlight and diverting the public's attention from earlier scandals, fiascoes, or abuses. Instances of poor governance have proliferated at such a dizzying pace that Congress has been unable to gain traction on any individual problem. Instead of providing needed damage control against executive branch malfeasance, the legislative branch futilely spins its wheels as the federal leviathan grows out of control.
Let's slow down for a moment here to take a closer look at just one of this year's disturbing federal flare-ups - the confrontation that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. There are four aspects of that episode that bear important lessons for us.
The first lesson is the considerable power of the media to frame the public debate. There were multiple important issues in the Bundy/BLM case - property rights, federalism, proper or admissible conduct by federal employees, etc. All of a sudden, though, when Cliven Bundy made some artless, dumb, warped statements, the media turned a serious story involving issues of vital concern into a circus about the question of whether Bundy is a racist. It seems clear that there is little chance that any major government malfeasance or malpractice will be investigated thoroughly unless the major media keep the story alive.
The second aspect of the Bundy/BLM case that merits further attention is the conduct of BLM personnel and other federal employees. In her column, "Liberate The Federally Occupied Western States," former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McGaughey reported that when BLM personnel moved in on Bundy, they seized his cattle at calving time, separating cows from their less-than-week-old calves, thereby inflicting trauma, suffering and, in some cases, death on those vulnerable creatures.
Such conduct was inexcusable; it showed a premeditated meanness. The raid was a naked power play, timed to inflict maximum damage on an American citizen's livelihood and (I believe) intended to convey an unspoken but unmistakable message to the American people: Uncle Sam is the boss, and if you ever stand up for your rights against his agencies, they will smack you down. (And by the way, what did the cattle do to deserve suffering and death?) The BLM exhibited the same spirit that the president manifested when he sought to impose maximum pain and discomfort on innocent Americans back during the budget sequestration talks. The BLM's heavy-handed tactics in Nevada were reminiscent of the brutal tactics employed by Communists to subdue those who dared to resist them. One vivid example: During the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, the Stalinist president, Haile Mariam Mengistu, drafted young men off the farms and into his army just before harvest time so that the crops would be lost. It seems that the BLM, like Mengistu, figured that the most effective way of subduing people is to deprive them of their means of sustenance.
Another troubling aspect of the BLM's tactics against Bundy is that employees of the BLM and other federal agencies came after Bundy with SWAT teams, snipers, and overwhelming firepower. Aside from that ridiculous degree of overkill to be brought to bear against a rancher who, according even to his opponents, is a deadbeat squatter, not a rapist or murderer, there is something horribly unsettling about federal bureaucracies taking up arms against American citizens. Yes, by all means, in necessary cases deploy the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. But in the last year or so, there have been too many reports of non-law enforcement agencies obtaining weapons - everything from the Social Security Administration ordering large stockpiles of hollow-tipped bullets to the Department of Agriculture's equipment order for submachine guns.
The third point we need to reassess is the role of the BLM. This federal agency currently controls one-eighth of the surface landmass of the United States plus subsurface mineral rights that are almost three times as large. (All federal agencies combined "own" 28 percent of U.S. land.) Thus, the BLM is larger than many countries in the world. Its current director is 35-year-old Neil Kornze, who previously worked for Senator Harry Reid.
Since the Bundy flap, I have been on the lookout for BLM news. It turns out that young Mr. Kornze is doing his part to help President Obama bypass Congress and set national policy in at least two major ways - namely, assisting Team Obama's green energy plans and weakening the policing of our border with Mexico. In regard to the former, BLM is promoting the green energy agenda by authorizing a corridor for green energy transmission lines through the Defense Department's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This would benefit the private investors of a company named SunZia while compromising national security, according to New Mexico's Governor, Susana Martinez, and Congressman Steve Pearce. Question: Since when did Congress delegate authority to the BLM to pick winners and losers in the energy industry? The BLM is also acting to undermine law enforcement agencies' ability to intercept illegal immigrants across from the notorious Ciudad Juarez by designating 600,000 acres of land the "Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument." Existing wilderness designations mean that border control patrols cannot ride on the protected land, making it much easier for illegals to elude detection.
This brings us to the fourth aspect of the BLM's 2014 activities that merits further thought: Where is Congress? Why haven't congressmen called BLM on the carpet for its role in usurping Congress' prerogative to legislate the rules that help to determine what energy companies will thrive and what our country's immigration policy should be? In fact, why hasn't Congress begun to dismantle the BLM by privatizing its vast land holdings? Government control over real estate was the first of 10 points in Marx's platform for socializing an economy. Why do we tolerate our government "owning" so much land? Other than keeping the land it needs to support national defense and house the offices of other federal departments, the federal government has no business keeping such vast and valuable resources out of the hands of the productive private sector.
As much as I wish Congress would rein in the BLM and reform it radically, I don't see it happening. This isn't because those members of Congress who see Team Obama's executive branch overreach as unconstitutional and pernicious are lazy or irresponsible. Rather, there simply isn't enough time for them to conduct thorough investigations of most of the abuses. A sensible wish list for those who want to return to sound government would be to extricate us from the suffocating tentacles of Obamacare, get to the bottom of the Benghazi scandal, restrain the IRS, untangle the VA mess, rein in the rogue EPA (and FCC and NLRB and...), etc. Obviously, this ain't gonna happen.
Like a supercharged version of the arcade game Whac-A-Mole, new executive branch problems and abuses keep popping up faster than Congress' ability to address existing ones. We are seeing the scary reality of Obama's bold promise to bypass Congress and implement his policies unilaterally through executive branch agencies, bureaus, and departments. Obama has demolished the traditional system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches. Through sheer volume of rule by regulatory fiat, Team Obama has neutered Congress.
To be fair, executive power has been eclipsing congressional power for decades already. I'm sure many of you reading this have seen the photo: The reams of paper stacked in the cabinet are the regulations - rules we all have to obey - promulgated by federal bureaucracies last year. Did you notice the small stack of papers on top of the cabinet? Those are the laws duly passed by our elected representatives in Congress last year. This shows graphically how dominant the unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch of the federal government have become. And if you want to put a dollar figure on the cost of this usurpation of the legislative function by the unelected bureaucrats of the executive branch, economists John Dawson and John Seater calculated that the 2011 GDP of $15.1 trillion could have been $53.9 trillion - three-and-a-half times greater - if federal regulations had remained at their 1949 level.
It's hard to have hope that we will somehow be able to cast off the massive, tangled network of bureaucracy that has steadily and stealthily accumulated so much power over us. Given the current composition of Congress and the administration in the White House, it's going to get worse before it gets better (if, indeed, it ever actually gets better). We're not about to win the battle against the regulatory Whac-A-Mole state.
What I'd settle for now, what I implore our Congress to do, is this: Could we at least have a congressional hearing about whether federal bureaucrats should be amassing fearsome weapons and becoming armed in their official capacity as "civil servants"? And please, Congress, don't single out just BLM, the Social Security Administration, the EPA, or the Department of Agriculture, or any other single bureaucracy. Just have one detailed public hearing on the question of whether federal agencies that aren't explicitly and specifically dedicated to law enforcement should be armed. What do you say, Congress? Are there any takers out there? *