Saving Us From Nothing

“What are you doing, Dave?”

        —Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

I suppose nothing should surprise me anymore.

I read last week that the Department of Homeland Security is getting into the business of fighting “climate change.”  Not EPA. Not NOAA.  Homeland Security.  You know, the federal agency created in response to terrorism that has all the guns and armored vehicles, and whose stated “vital mission” is “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.”

Under the guise of ensuring “disaster resiliency,” DHS has started conducting studies on the resilience of infrastructure such as roads and the electrical grid, and how to protect against what it claims are rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion.  Apparently, all of this stems from a heightened awareness in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as though Sandy was in fact caused by “climate change.”  I can only assume from that chain of logic that there were no major hurricanes prior to the 1930s when evil mankind started to bake the planet.

Tell that to the 8,000 or so people killed by the Category 4 hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900 (Sandy, by contrast, was a Category 2 storm when it made landfall in the northeastern U.S.).

I’ll get to the “climate change” thing in a bit.  Let’s first just think for a minute about this.  DHS is worrying about polar ice caps and sea levels at a time when the border is so porous that investigative reporter James O’Keefe—the guy who brought down the ACORN scam—was able to wade across from Mexico, unmolested, while dressed as Osama bin Laden.  And if you think that’s not a significant issue, consider that the government is in the process of putting up a massive residence hall to house thousands of illegals on a 50 acre tract outside of San Antonio.  Or if strain on infrastructure is a concern, how about the 85,000 students speaking 85 languages other than English now crowding Las Vegas schools?  Or the fact that in Nashville—not exactly right on the border—the school population is now 20% Hispanic.  And because we’re not deporting the few people who do get caught and some 70% of them don’t show up for their immigration hearing, 40,000+ people a year are disappearing into this country even after DHS had them in custody. That, of course, is on top of the nearly a million a year we don’t catch.

The fact is that the immigrant population, legal and illegal, is at an all-time high, and DHS is doing essentially nothing to control it.  And before you start on me with the predictably ridiculous cry of racism, or the we’re a nation of immigrants tripe, I’m not against immigration or immigrants. What I’m against is uncontrolled immigration.  We have no idea who is coming into this country.  300,000 people in the last 3 years have come here from predominantly Muslim countries.  If even 10% of them accept some or all of the violent tendencies of the militant Islamists and sharia law—and as I’ve demonstrated before, that percentage has the potential, if not likelihood, to be considerably higher—we’re talking a group roughly the same size as the entire ISIS fighting force that’s sympathetic to a worldview that wants to impose sharia law and kill—literally—everyone who disagrees, and they’re already here inside the U.S.

And DHS does nothing, choosing instead to play around with barometers and weathervanes.

Not only is DHS essentially ignoring its most basic security function, but it’s diverting its attention and resources to a man-made climate change fantasy that is so politicized and bogus that even the founder of Greenpeace had to resign and distance himself from it.  Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan does an excellent deconstruction of the data (to get all his slides and then some, look here), and it is interesting because he focuses less on cause/effect and the fraud and conflicts of interest (although he gets into those), and more on the magnitude of the observations in a historical context, even if you accept the alarmists’ data at face value (for detail on why you shouldn’t, watch here).  Among his points are these nuggets:

  1. Recent CO2 increases are insignificant, and not necessarily bad.

The “climate change” panic focuses on CO2 emissions.  Why?  Because if CO2 emissions are endangering the planet, then Government can regulate and tax all human activity, including breathing.  Rutan points out, however, that if you take a longer view of history than the 100 – 200 years typical of alarmists’ “analysis,” we are in fact in a period of relatively low CO2 levels.  During the age of dinosaurs, atmospheric CO2 levels were 6 – 8 times what they are today, and not only was the planet not catastrophically overheating, but it was immensely more fertile and covered in foliage than it is now.  Higher CO2 is better for plant growth and life in general.

Furthermore, the levels that have the alarmists all in a tizzy are miniscule.  The CO2 limit for confined spaces according to OSHA is 0.5%.  The average CO2 level over the time life has evolved on this planet has been about 0.3%. The level of increase the alarmists want you to be afraid of is something like 0.04%.

And because it’s only man-made CO2 that we can control, it’s worth noting that greenhouse gases make up only 2% of the atmosphere, and only 3.6% of that 2%  is CO2; 96.4% of greenhouse gases are something other than CO2 (mostly water vapor—you know, the stuff that turns into rain).  Of that 3.6% that is CO2, only 3.4% is caused by humans.  So man-made CO2 comprises a grand total of 0.12% of all greenhouse gas; 99.88% of all greenhouse gas is something other than human-emitted CO2, despite Al Gore’s mansions, private jet, and SUV.

  1. Any recent warming is neither unusual, nor a significant threat.

Rutan takes a similar tack when he looks at the data for temperature.  Alarmists focus on the last 100 – 200 years to argue that there’s a sudden and dangerous spike over the last century after what they suggest was an otherwise stable global thermometer since the dawn of time.  But as Rutan points out, even if you accept the alarmists’ data, that claim needs some broader context.

First, consider that the seasonal temperature fluctuation on earth (hottest summer day vs. coldest winter night) is about 200 degrees.  The average U.S. city experiences temperature changes of over 100 degrees over the course of a given year, and 25 – 30 degrees or more on any given day. In other words, the temperature changes fairly dramatically all the time.  The alarmists are all worried over temperatures that they “project” will rise about 3 degrees globally over the next 100 years.

Even if we assume that’s going to happen, this is not unusual behavior for the planet, and it long predates Man, much less planes, trains, and automobiles.  The fact is we are in a temperature trough relative to the last 2 million years.  But even focusing just on that trough over the last half-million years, according to Rutan we find that every 85,000 years or so we get a temperature spike; the rest of that time was ice age.  Over the last 11,000 years—pre-dating civilization, so you can’t blame it on Man—the earth has been in one of those ice age recoveries, but it is the longest, most stable, and coolest of those non-ice age periods.  And even within that “spike,” we are nowhere near the hottest time in history, the history of Man, or even in recorded history.  The earth was significantly hotter during the time of Moses, the time of the Egyptians, and the time of the Romans than it is today.  Yet it, and we, are still here.

This is what your Department of Homeland Security is spending its time and your money on.  It’s not securing the border, and it’s not deporting people who cross it illegally, even as ISIS is actively saying it plans to initiate attacks within the U.S.  Instead, it’s chasing rainbows in an attempt to protect you against nothing.

So I have two questions for you to ask yourself:

One, what do you think they’re really doing?

Two, do you feel safe?

**************************************

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 250th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  In my wildest dreams I never thought we’d get this far.  Thank you so much to all of you who have stuck with me and given me so much encouragement.

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The Coming Enviro-Nazi Revolution

You don’t need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows

          —Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

 

Before I get into today’s material, let’s refresh our recollection on a couple of pertinent provisions of the Constitution (you know, that silly little document that’s only the supreme law of the land).

Article I, Section 1:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States[.]

Article II, Section 2:

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur[.]

Pretty straightforward.  Congress and Congress alone has the power to make laws.  And any treaty—an international agreement or compact, according to Black’s Law Dictionary—requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

Those are the rules by which we’re supposed to be playing in this country.

With those in mind let’s look at today’s catalyst.  Fox News reports that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is launching a new initiative to expand its role in driving a global “green” agenda.  Albeit couched in vague and often sweepingly meaningless language, the purported scope of this initiative is vast, and the level of hubris (ignorance?) it displays is mind-boggling.  Witness this example from its statement of objective on disasters and conflicts:

“11.8  Disasters and conflicts.  As a part of United Nations system-wide strategies for natural and man-made disaster risk reduction and preparedness, crisis response and recovery, UNEP will build national capacity to use sustainable natural resource and environmental management to: (a) reduce the risk of natural and man-made disasters[.]”

Really?  The U.N. is going to reduce the risk of natural disasters?  You mean somewhere amidst the champagne, caviar, and hookers they figured out how to stop earthquakes?

Glory be.

More seriously (because I don’t normally take the U.N. all that seriously (can’t think why)), I want to focus on a specific piece of the UNEP initiative that I find particularly disturbing.  One of the explicit objectives is to expand the U.N.’s role in pushing its view of the “green” agenda via the legal process.  In other words, the U.N. wants a say in the creation and enforcement of law at the national level.  Consider the following “Indicators of achievement” regarding UNEP’s program of “Environmental Governance”:

“Increase in the number of legal and institutional measures taken by countries to enforce the rule of law and improve implementation of internationally agreed environmental objectives and goals, with the assistance of UNEP.”

“Increase in the number of countries that undertake a review of, and adopt recommendations for, enhanced compliance with, and enforcement of, international environmental obligations[.]”

“Increase in the number of initiatives and partnerships of major groups and stakeholders in support of the development and implementation of national and international environmental law, with the assistance of UNEP.”

UNEP wants to work to increase the number of (a) legal measures countries take to enforce the rule of law, (b) countries that adopt UNEP’s recommendations for compliance and enforcement of international environmental rules, and (c) initiatives in support of the development and implementation of national environmental law.  And all this flows directly from UNEP’s express strategy “to support coherent international decision-making processes on the environment, support development and implementation of environmental law, norms, and standards[.]”

In the U.S., as I have discussed at least here, here, here, here, and here,  we already have a serious problem with an arguably unconstitutional and undeniably unaccountable EPA running out of control.  But think about the implications of an unholy marriage of EPA and the U.N. in light of UNEP’s stated strategy.  And if you think it can’t happen, I have to tell you that we are in fact already heading down that path.

In 2011, EPA entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding” with UNEP reciting their intent to cooperate on matters of environmental policies.  Although it includes disclaimers that it is not intended to create law and does not constitute a binding agreement, this document smacks of an international treaty, yet as far as I know the Senate has never passed on it as required under our Constitution.

But it gets worse.

Among the areas where EPA has agreed to cooperate with UNEP is “the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws.”  EPA itself wasn’t supposed to be developing any laws in the first place; that is a power delegated to the Congress.  Yet under the guise of “regulations”—which get enforced, including criminal penalties, just the same as “laws” in the form of statutes passed by Congress—EPA has in practical fact been legislating for decades.  Now we have EPA agreeing to cooperate with UNEP in that practice, thus inviting U.N. participation in the creation of U.S. law, entirely bypassing Congress in the process.

If you thought taxation without representation was bad, try legislation—read: governance—without representation.

Possibly more sinister, buried in the details of this “cooperation” in the development of environmental law is a little thing called the “Global Judges Program.”  Uh oh.  This program under UNEP’s Division of Environmental Law and Conventions is explicitly aimed at conscripting the international judiciary to advance the “green” agenda on behalf of the U.N.:

“The goal of this programme of work is for DELC to carry out, on a cohesive, structured and sustained basis, national activities . . . for strengthening the role of the judiciary in securing environmental governance, adherence to the rule of law and the effective implementation of national environmental policies, laws and regulations including the national level implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.”  (emphasis mine)

The problem, of course, is that the international community in general, and the U.N. in particular, have a verrrry different view of the proper role of the judiciary and what “rule of law” means than has traditionally been the view in the U.S.  Outside of radical Progressive circles, the proper function of a judge in the U.S. at least used to be seen as being to apply the law as written by the appropriate legislative body.  That’s it.  And by “rule of law” we meant that the judge is to discharge this function dispassionately and objectively without regard for who the parties before the bar are, or what the “desired” outcome might be—the law is what it is, and the outcome it generates also is what it is.

For Progressives in the U.N. and EPA, however, the role of judges is to advance agendas by creating policy and law via judicial decree.  “Rule of law” is whatever a given judge says it is at any given time.  Now the U.N. wants an active role in pushing U.S. federal judges to serve in exactly this manner, creating and enforcing law in accordance with the U.N.’s “green” worldview, and EPA has agreed to cooperate in helping them achieve this.

This is a serious issue.  You don’t elect anyone at the U.N., and it operates outside the limitations of the U.S. Constitution.  Ditto EPA.  You don’t even elect federal judges.  Yet this combination of unelected and almost completely unaccountable powers is moving to create laws binding on you, and that will affect you and your very livelihood.

The U.N. was never intended as a government (at least not out loud).  It was intended as a forum for discussion and resolution of disputes without resort to world war.  But it is increasingly assuming the powers of a global government under the guise of environmental protection, and this is what’s really at the heart of the bullcrap global cooling/global warming/climate change/climate disruption hoax.  “Protection of the environment” can then be used as a justification for inserting government and law into any aspect of existence, and with the U.N. already controlling most of the “scientific” message on environmental issues, any resistance can conveniently be labeled “deniers” of “settled science”—an oxymoron in itself—and brushed aside like yesterday’s newspaper.

If we cede that sort of sovereignty, it’s over.

Putting The Cart Before The Horse

“Medical evaluation:  fail.  Physical evaluation:  fail.  Psychological evaluation:  ‘Alcohol and substance addiction indicated.’  Oof!  ‘Pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved childhood trauma.  Subject is not approved for field duty and immediate suspension for service advised.’  What is this, if not betrayal?  She sent you off to me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you’ll likely die.  Mommy was very bad.”

      —Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in Skyfall

 

Think about this the next time it’s 95 degrees in Concord, California or Dallas, Texas, and you’re sitting in your air-conditioned living room.  Think about this the next time it’s 5 degrees in Akron, Ohio, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and you’re dozing off in your cozy bedroom heated via an electric furnace.

Back in August 2011, EPA issued cross-state rules aimed at curbing sulfur dioxide emissions in areas where upwind states might be impairing the ability of downwind states to meet air quality requirements.  In Texas, the rule would have required a 47% reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions by 2012.   As an aside, Texas was included in the requirement despite having already reduced its emissions by 33% since 2000, because EPA’s computer model showed emissions from Texas contributing to alleged noncompliance at a single monitoring station in Madison County, Illinois, some 700+ miles and three states away.  

Texas’ largest electricity generator responded to the rule by announcing it would reduce its generating capacity by 1200 megawatts, close three lignite coal mines, and lay off 500 employees.  Ironically, this response to an action by an agency within the Executive Branch came at the same time the White House was announcing President Obama “will not rest” until everyone that wanted a job had one.  The shutdowns and layoffs were only avoided by a last minute injunction—an injunction that will now be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bigger impact, however, may have been on Texas’ power grid.  Had the rule gone into effect, the reduction in generating capacity would have resulted in rolling blackouts in Texas.  That would be a huge problem during the summer, when even with full power capacity we see dozens of heat-related deaths every year.  EPA’s rule would surely increase that number.

This problem of green-zealotry edicts conflicting with power grid reality is not confined to Texas, either.  EPA has been issuing carbon regulations that have or will result in the closure of hundreds of coal-fired power plants in 33 states and effectively end the construction of any new ones, with nothing in place to replace that generating capacity.  It is inconceivable that this will not have a negative impact on the power grid in areas serviced by those plants that close or are never built.

The L.A. Times reports that even in the uber-green People’s State of California, public officials are having to confront the very real possibility that, having already forced the almost complete reliance upon “green” energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal, they now may not be able to provide power reliably.  Whereas coal and natural gas will always burn, the greenies are shocked to discover that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, and when that happens the solar cells and turbines don’t generate electricity at all.  Nor does the capacity exist—and it is unclear that it ever will, or that if it does it will be economically viable—to store excess electricity generated during more productive times in order to make up for the lulls and protect the grid from overload.  And the electrical infrastructure originally designed to transport electricity generated at traditionally-fueled power plants does not yet extend to areas with the best solar/wind/geothermal generating potential.

Clearly this rush to green energy isn’t ready for prime time, yet we continue to plow ahead, oblivious to the obvious.  Sound familiar?

This illustrates the fundamental problem with Progressives in general, and the green zealots in particular: they either think they know everything about everything, or they’re so blinded by their ideological religion that they just don’t care.  If only they want it bad enough—whether it’s universal socialized medicine, or thousands of jobs in a vibrant solar panel marketplace, or an electric car in every garage, or 100% reliance on green energy—then it will be so.  The practicalities of what happens when the rubber meets the road simply don’t matter.  You want a totally fossil fuel-free power grid, well how will that work?  Somehow.  Where will the electricity come from?  Somewhere.  Never mind that the technology isn’t ready and the infrastructure doesn’t exist.  Never mind that there’s no market for the product, or that it can’t be sold for as much as it costs to produce.  If the Progressives want it, we’re going to do it, feasibility or consequences be damned.

It’s not that I oppose green energy—I don’t, and in fact I advocate an all-means-available approach that would include renewables, fossil fuels, and nuclear.  I don’t care if my truck burns gasoline, corn juice, or algae urine, as long as it runs.   But those of us who live in the real world understand that things like feasibility and consequences do matter.  We know what the Progressive Green Left can’t seem to grasp: that the electricity that heats the espresso machine at Starbucks, and lights the screen showing the Indie flicks down at the Bijou, and drives the amps at your local grunge fest doesn’t just magically appear (even though that’s the way it’s always appeared at Mommy & Daddy’s house); it has to be generated by someone with the means to do so and the wherewithal to get it where it needs to be.  But if you insist on forcibly cutting off the existing reliable energy stream before the alternatives are in fact ready to take up the slack, there will be nothing to fill the void.  When there’s nothing to fill the void, there’s, well, nothing.  No light.  No A/C.  No heat.  And that’s really going to suck when it’s July in Florida, or January in Illinois.

It didn’t have to be like this.  Emissions requirements for coal-fired facilities could have waited until functional alternative power generation facilities and infrastructure were in fact ready to replace them.  Renewable energy mandates could have waited until the technology and transmission lines were in fact in place to carry the load.  They weren’t, and they’re not, yet the Greenies forge ahead anyway, because they know best.

And so Solyndra sits idle, with no market for its Progressive Government-subsidized solar panels.  Fisker sits essentially idle, with Progressive Government-subsidized electric cars that still spontaneously combust and no one will buy.  The West is littered with Progressive Government-subsidized wind farms that have nowhere to send their power, yet continue to spin and chop up the occasional unsuspecting eagle.  And pretty soon, rolling blackouts will come to your town, courtesy of the naïve and unprepared Progressive Left.

I wonder if you’ll appreciate how much cleaner the air in your last breath was as you freeze to death. 

The Unbearable Heaviness Of Bureaucracy

 

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight

Carry that weight a long time

            —The Beatles, Carry That Weight

 

Meet John Pozsgai.  

Mr. Pozsgai was a felon.  He did time in a federal penitentiary for acts he readily admitted he committed, but went to his grave refusing to acknowledge as wrong. 

But let’s back up.

John Pozsgai emigrated to the United States in 1956 as a refugee from the communist regime in Hungary.  He learned a trade as a mechanic, and eventually became self-employed.  He didn’t exactly become John Rockefeller, but Mr. Pozsgai was a living embodiment of The American Dream.

In the 1980s, Mr. Pozsgai was living in Morristown, Pennsylvania, across the street from an illegal car dump.  But he saw the potential some hard work could bring, so in 1987 he bought the 14 acre lot in hopes of cleaning up the site and developing it for use in expanding his truck repair business.  And with the blessing of local officials, he proceeded to do just that, removing thousands of old tires and tons of rusting hulks from the property.  He then brought in clean fill and topsoil in preparation for developing the site.

There was just one problem.

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Pozsgai’s work cleaning up his private property at his own expense caught the attention of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, who were more than a little put out that they hadn’t been consulted.  And they began making all sorts of enforcement demands under the Clean Water Act that he stop bringing in fill and that he “restore” the site—yes, by turning it back into a dump. 

Now, you might be asking yourself what cleaning up an old dump has to do with the Clean Water Act, and you’d be right to do so.  In order to squeeze the regulation within its power under the Commerce Clause, Congress had to tie EPA’s authority to “navigable waters,” the idea being that waterways useable for commercial traffic have potential effect on interstate commerce.  But through judicial creep, the idea of “navigable waters” has been expanded to include “wetlands,” which basically means anything EPA says it does.  In Mr. Pozsgai’s case, even that idea was stretched to the impossibly thin.

Mr. Pozsgai’s lot bordered on a drainage ditch that, when there was anything in it, fed a stream that was a tributary to the Pennsylvania Canal, which fed into the Delaware River and back in the 19th Century had been used for commercial traffic.  What does that have to do with the property?  It seems that some of the tires on the lot had blocked the drainage ditch, which would occasionally cause the ditch to back up and artificially flood Mr. Pozsgai’s property.  Of course, once he removed the tires, the flooding stopped, but no matter;  EPA cried WETLANDS!, and thus the entire property was subject to federal bureaucratic control.

EPA ordered Mr. Pozsgai to stop “discharging pollutants”—read: putting clean topsoil on the surface of his private property—onto the “wetlands,” and to put the tires back.  They put him under video and air surveillance.  When he did not comply, they arrested him, and searched his home for weapons.  They charged him with criminal violations under the CAA, and he was eventually sentenced to three years in prison and fined over $200,000.  At the time that was the most severe criminal punishment ever imposed under the CAA.  The sentence was later upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  United States v. Pozsgai, 897 F.2d 524 (3d Cir. 1990). 

Mr. Pozsgai came to this country to flee the oppression of a communist regime.  He made himself productive, and built a life.  Then the United States federal government, through the abusive overreach of an unelected bureaucracy, branded him a felon and put him in prison.  He spent a year-and-a-half in jail, another year-and-a-half in a halfway house, and five years on probation.  As a result, he could never legally possess a gun in the United States, and for a time he was forbidden from voting.  He was bankrupted, lost his home, and even his ability to earn a living was forever impaired.

All because he cleaned up a dump and put clean topsoil on his own private property.

And his experience is not unique or a relic of the 1980s.  Mike and Chantelle Sackett bought a 0.62 acre lot in Priest Lake, Idaho, where they planned to build a house.  When they began bringing in clean fill material, they received a cease-and-desist order from EPA—a precursor to an enforcement action—without a hearing.  The Supreme Court recently overturned a Ninth Circuit ruling and held that the Sacketts did not have to wait for EPA to arrest them before they could challenge EPA’s jurisdiction.  Sackett v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 566 U.S. ___ (2012).  Meanwhile, their private property remains a hostage of the system.

These are not the industrial polluters or environmentally-sensitive navigable waterways to which the CAA was directed.  Did we really need to spend the resources to prosecute a couple all the way to the Supreme Court because they wanted to build a home?  Did we really need to send a man to jail because he cleaned up an illegal dump?

But this is what happens when Congress abdicates and turns over control to an unelected bureaucracy.  No one is holding the reins, and there’s no one to pull back and tell them they’ve overstepped their mandate, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.  Like Audrey II, they’ve metastasized out of control into an all-consuming beast with an insatiable appetite for power.

And it’s the liberty of individual citizens that ultimately suffers.

Fantasy Island

“What’s bullsh*t, Mr. Quaid?  That you’re having a paranoid episode triggered by acute neuro-chemical trauma?  Or that you’re really an invincible secret agent from Mars who’s the victim of an interplanetary conspiracy to make him think he’s a lowly construction worker?  Stop punishing yourself, Doug.  You’re a fine, upstanding man.  You have a beautiful wife who loves you.  Your whole life is ahead of you.  But you’ve got to want to return to reality.”

            —Roy Brocksmith as Dr. Edgemar in Total Recall

 

What is with the government and its fascination for phantom markets?

I have a number of times in this space covered the Obama administration’s “green energy” fetish, in particular its use of taxpayer money as venture capital for startup businesses to produce things like solar panels and electric car batteries for which there is no market.  Unfortunately, you can’t run a business on a build-it-and-the-market-will-come basis, and the green energy venture capital program has had predictably disastrous results.  A123, Abound Solar, Solar Trust of America, Ener1, Beacon Power, Evergreen Solar, Solyndra, and Spectrawatt have all gone bankrupt.  Nevada Geothermal and Sunpower are insolvent.  Several firms have either instituted significant layoffs, and/or been taken over by foreign parent companies (most recently A123 taken over by the Chinese).  There remains no real market for these products, and virtually no jobs have been “created.”  Meanwhile hundreds of billions in taxpayer money has been flushed down the toilet.

We have also on many occasions discussed Obamacare, which is in essence a government program to compel consumer participation in a market that exists, but whose product the consumer may or may not wish to purchase.  Commerce clause limitations be damned, you no longer have a say in it (unless you’re too poor for the individual mandate to apply to you): you’re going to buy that product or the government is going to fine you.  Like the green energy loans fiasco, this is also beginning to yield the predictable results of layoffs, work hours reductions (another form of layoffs), closures, and increasingly we’re learning that more and more will in fact still be left without insurance or will be forced into the joy that is Medicaid.  Over a trillion more in taxpayer money spent.  Gone.

So what we’ve seen here is your government interfering with both the supply and demand sides of the economic equation to push for trade in products nobody wants to buy; in other words, insisting on (or creating by force) commerce where no market exists.  But if you think those exercises in governmental fantasy are funny, wait until you see what’s next.

We now have the EPA issuing regulations requiring gasoline refiners to purchase minimum quantities of what’s called “cellulosic biofuel”—ethanol made from grass, cornstalks, and other non-food items.  This is an extension of the decade-old “renewable fuels” mandate that requires refiners to purchase minimum quantities of ethanol—for 2013 that requirement is 16.55 billion gallons, up from 15.2 billion in 2012.  The generic mandate has problems in itself in that ethanol isn’t competitive as a fuel additive, and depends on heavy government subsidies in order to make it economically viable.  So you’re already talking about a product that essentially can’t be sold without government compulsion of the buyers, and government contribution to the purchase price.

But the generic ethanol mandate also encountered criticism for diverting corn food stocks to ethanol production, thus raising food prices and prompting ethical questions about using food for fuel.  Thus EPA came up with the cellulosic biofuel requirement, which meant that of the minimum amount of ethanol refiners were required to purchase, a certain minimum percentage had to be sourced from non-food base stock.  For 2012 that quota was 8.65 million gallons.  There’s just one tiny little catch:  for all of 2012, according to EPA itself, there were only a grand total of 20,069 gallons of cellulosic biofuel available for purchase; that’s 0.2% of the amount EPA required.  And every bit of that was produced in April.

That’s right, kids.  EPA issued a regulation requiring gasoline refiners to purchase a product that the refiners not only did not want, but that for all intents and purposes did not even exist.

So we’ve gone from the government trying to subsidize the production of products for a non-existent market, to compelling consumers to purchase a product that exists but that they do not want, to compelling the purchase of a non-existent product.  One supposes that next they’ll make us engage in this artificial commerce in non-existent things that we don’t want to buy using imaginary money (oh, wait, we already do that).  Of course, you’ll be shocked to learn that on the cellulosic biofuel front, your alternative as a refiner, since the product the government ordered you to buy didn’t exist, was to purchase “credits” (read: pay a fine) from EPA at the rate of $0.78 per gallon in order to be in compliance.

Recognizing the patent stupidity of this arrangement, a federal appeals court—in an increasingly rare display of sanity—last week told EPA that its mandate scheme was unenforceable.  You’d think that would be the end of that, right?

You’d be wrong.

Here’s just how lawless and out of control your government—particularly the unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy—has become.  Having just had its mandate stricken down by a federal appeals court, EPA didn’t withdraw the mandate or even at least revise it downward to reflect the reality that the product simply isn’t there.  Instead, on Thursday EPA released a new mandate for 2013 that increased the requirement for the purchase of this non-existent product from 8.65 million gallons to 14 million gallons.  Thus, a court told EPA its biofuel mandate was unreasonable, and EPA’s response was almost literally to double down on it.

Yes, I know the finger, Goose.

Predictably, the ethanol lobby organization Renewable Fuels Association swears that new production is coming on line and they expect 2013 to be a “breakthrough year.”  But let’s be clear: to make enough cellulosic biofuel to meet the 2013 EPA requirement, the ethanol industry would have to increase production by nearly 700% over what it put out in 2012.  With the ethanol group Fuels America making the more circumspect prediction that “millions” (they didn’t say how many) of gallons would be coming on line “in the next two years,” one seriously has to question whether the product will exist in sufficient quantities to allow refiners to comply with the law this year.  Meanwhile, gasoline refiners are stuck with a regulation with which it is literally impossible to comply, and face fines when they fail to do so.

Nothing matters to these people on the Left but their agenda.  Certainly reality doesn’t seem to enter into it.  The fact that the market doesn’t exist or that the product doesn’t exist is no obstacle to them compelling trade anyway.  And it doesn’t matter what the policy of forcing involuntary commerce in a non-existent market or non-existent product costs, whether in terms of wasted taxpayer money, needlessly increased gasoline prices, or lost alternative opportunities.  Nor do the legitimate checks-and-balances structure of government or the rule of law matter.  The Left is happy to use the courts to rewrite the law when they can’t do it at the ballot box, but they ignore the courts when it doesn’t go their way (witness the Obama administration doing precisely that in response to a federal court ruling that his NLRB appointments while the Senate was in session were unconstitutional).

With what are we left if neither reality nor law matter?  If reality is irrelevant, then we live in a fantasy world where anything and everything comes to be for nothing more than the price of wishing it so; never mind that it doesn’t work.  And if law is irrelevant, then we live in state of anarchy where only the ruling thug-of-the-day’s vision of that fantasy world matters.

The Artificial Ethanol Market

“Gee, the lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here, uh . . . staggers me . . . Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here?  Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun . . . I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it!”

            —Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

 

In the course of filling your car up over the last few years, at some point you’ve no doubt  noticed a sticker on the pump advising you that the fuel contains some percentage of ethanol.

Did you ever wonder how that came to be?  I mean, I didn’t ask for ethanol in my gasoline. I’ll bet you didn’t ask for it.  And it’s doubtful you know anyone who did.  So why is it there, when no purchaser of gasoline was asking to buy it?

The answer, in short, is the federal government, at the behest of special interest lobbies, decided to require it.

Environmental legislation and regulation in the 1990s required refiners to add “oxygenates” to gasoline in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in car exhaust.  Ethanol is one such oxygenate, but it was not economically competitive with other alternatives.  To make up its economic disadvantage, Congress enacted a $0.45 per gallon tax credit—a dollar-for-dollar subsidy—for blenders to use ethanol.  But even then, refiners often chose other additives because of issues with ethanol’s regional availability (ethanol has to be shipped by truck or rail, and thus was only practically available to refineries located relatively close to ethanol plants, which not surprisingly are concentrated in the corn-producing states of the Midwest) and effectiveness.  The Congressional response was to enact renewable fuel mandates starting in 2005 to require refiners to use minimum quantities of ethanol.

So here’s what we have with ethanol.  We have a product consumers did not want to buy; there was no popular clamor to put ethanol in gasoline, and had there been the demand would have supported prices that did not require a federal subsidy.  We have a product that as late as the late 1990s auto makers were warning consumers not to use at all (ethanol was corrosive to engine seals and other components at the time), and even today they are warning against the use of high concentration 85% ethanol blends (“E85”) for the same reason.  And we have a product that manufacturers did not want to sell.  There was literally no market for fuel ethanol until the government created one by force, requiring sellers to sell it and requiring buyers to buy it.

This is what the market of the future is increasingly going to look like.  It will matter less and less whether you can create a good that people want, or whether you can innovate a way to produce an existing good more efficiently so that it is cheaper to make and thus cheaper for the consumer to buy.  That is how the free market works, but it’s going to be ever less important to make a better mousetrap and more important to buy, goad, or guilt enough people in government to force people to buy your product whether they want to or not.

Of course, it always helps if you can ally yourself with the environmental zealots, which is what the ethanol lobby has done so successfully.  No one wants your product?  No problem.  Just talk to the Sierra Club and convince them that there’s an impending environmental catastrophe that only your product can avert.  The comic irony with ethanol is that in the final analysis—a place the environmental extremists never manage to visit—ethanol may prove to have been counter-productive from an environmental standpoint.  It’s easy to sell it to the uninformed—read:  both Bushes—as magic corn juice; a panacea you just have to squeeze from the cob.  In truth, the distillation of fuel ethanol requires an expensive chemical process that consumes enormous amounts of water, and results in a fuel substitute that arguably provides less energy than it took to produce it.  And growing the corn feedstock on that kind of industrial scale results in a vast increase in artificial fertilizer runoff, yet more water consumption, and over time depletes farmland.  Then, of course, there’s the sticky ethical issue of diverting corn and the resources used to grow it from producing food.

But rather than accomplishing its environmental objectives by stating an emissions standard and then letting the market and manufacturers find the most efficient allocation of resources to achieve that standard, government elected to dictate a recipe and thus create a market where one did not exist.  All at the behest of the ethanol lobby, in cahoots with its new enviro-Nazi buddies.

Here’s where it gets funny.

Having succeeded in enlisting the government to create a market for their product by force, it seems the ethanol industry is now shocked to discover that there are other interested concerns seeking to avail themselves of that market.  The major producer of ethanol other than the U.S. is Brazil.  Well, the Renewable Fuels Association—the U.S.’s largest ethanol lobby—is now whining that the Brazilians are trying to hone in on their business.  In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the RFA complains that:

“The impacts of Brazil’s trade-distorting policies are becoming ever more harmful as U.S. ethanol producers endure devastatingly bad economics exacerbated by a lack of markets.”

Wow.  “Trade-distorting.”  “Lack of markets.”  Sounds bad.  So what was Brazil’s crime?

Reducing its required percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 25% to 18%.

Yup, the heinous economic action coming out of Sao Paolo is that the Brazilian government is force-feeding less ethanol to its citizens, thus freeing additional supply to be exported to the U.S.  Apparently it wasn’t enough for the U.S. ethanol industry for the U.S. government to make U.S. citizens buy their product, they believe they’re entitled to have foreign governments do likewise.  Worse, they not only want the government to create an artificial market for their product, they then want to be protected against competition in that market.

This kind of perverted economic thinking is dangerous.  If allowed to function, the free market will allow voluntary transactions to determine the most efficient allocation of capital; good ideas survive, bad ideas don’t, and everyone benefits in the long run.  Yes, survival requires work and actually competing in the marketplace.  But the real “trade-distorting” policies are those that create markets out of thin air by force.  Manipulation always has consequences, and they’re not always what the manipulator intends.  Artificial markets do not reward those who create “good,” but those who wield influence.  And when the balance tips such that it is more profitable to cultivate political pull than it is to win in the marketplace by making a better mousetrap, we all lose.

Holding People Accountable

“Knox, for the ninth time, there is no bat.  If there were, we would find him, we would arrest him.”

            —Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon in Batman

 

I’m going to make a bit of a strange connection, but stick with me here.  It’s all about accountability.  Just ask Obama.

Speculation and accusations continue to swirl around the White House over Benghazigate, as the President’s position that he didn’t know anything and couldn’t do anything and never lied about anything becomes increasingly untenable.  Perhaps the most fundamental problem Obama faces is that even in his world, he can’t blame this one on Bush, since the Libyan Spring took place on his watch and with his overt support; under Bush we had no consulate in Libya for terrorists to attack.

Having painted himself into a corner, Obama has now been forced to acknowledge that the Benghazi incident reflects some potentially serious problems.  Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday, Obama said that “[I]f we find out that there was a big breakdown and somebody didn’t do their job, then they’ll be held responsible.”

This somebody will be held responsible line sounded like something I’d heard from this administration before.  So I did a little digging, and shockingly, this isn’t the first time Obama has said something about holding people accountable.  Indeed, he’s said it many times, in many different contexts.  Here’s what I could find without too much work:

On the banking industry:

And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible[.]”  February 24, 2009 address to joint session of Congress;

On burning Korans:

We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible.”  February 23, 2012 letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai

On the economy:

One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable.”  February 2, 2009 on NBC’s Today

On Operation Fast & Furious:

There may be a situation here which a serious mistake was made, and if that’s the case then we’ll find out, and we’ll hold somebody accountable” (eerily similar to the Benghazi statement).  March 22, 2012 interview on Univision

On security leaks:

[S]ince I have been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks[.]”  Obama during June 8, 2012 press conference; Senior Adviser David Plouffe “[O]bviously people need to be held accountable if they did something wrong.”  June 17, 2012 interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley.

Perhaps the most interesting to me, however, is President Obama’s statement about accountability in his discussion of the Stimulus during his February 24, 2009 address to a joint session of Congress:

“That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort—because nobody messes with Joe.  I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend.”

Every member of his Cabinet will be held accountable for every dollar they spend, huh?  Well, that got me wondering again how that whole Department of Energy green energy stimulus giveaway program was going.  So in the interest of accountability, I thought it might be time for an update of the green energy subsidy casualty list I published back in February.

UPDATE: A123 Systems—Bankrupt, October, 2012

A123 began in 2001 from a research lab at MIT on $100,000 in federal seed money.  In 2009 it received $249 million in DOE loan money to develop electric car batteries for the Fisker Karma (which later proved to have serious defects resulting in the recall of all 239 Karmas produced).  This, despite public admissions in their SEC filings that they had “never been profitable.”  A123 is $144 million in debt and filed for bankruptcy on October 16.

UPDATE: Abound Solar—Bankrupt, July 2012

Abound was a Colorado-based manufacturer of thin-film solar panels.  In December 2010, it received $400 million in DOE loan guarantees, about $70 million of which it cashed in.  Unable to compete, and unable to find a buyer for itself as a going concern, Abound filed for bankruptcy liquidation on July 2.

UPDATE:  Solar Trust of America—Bankrupt, April 2012

This one didn’t get much press.  Oakland-based Solar Trust of America holds the development rights for the Blythe Solar Power Project in Southern California.  It received $2.1 billion in DOE loan guarantees in April 2011, but ran short of cash when its 70% majority owner—German company Solar Millennium AG—filed for bankruptcy in Germany in December.  Solar trust filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. April 2.

Ener1—Bankrupt, January 2012

Ener1 was a New York-based parent company of a firm that received $118 million in federal “stimulus” grants to produce electric car batteries in part for the Fisker Karma (see below), a deal that ultimately fell through in favor of A123 (see above).  Ener1 filed for bankruptcy in January.

Beacon Power—Bankrupt, October 2011

Beacon received $43 million in DOE loans.  Beacon declared bankruptcy in October 2011, and began selling off its assets in December.

Evergreen Solar—Bankrupt, August 2011

Evergreen was a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of solar panels.  It received government grants including an estimated $5.3 million in federal “stimulus” money.  Evergreen went bankrupt in August 2011, and in November sold its assets to a Chinese firm.

Solyndra—Bankrupt, August 2011

You all know the Solyndra story.  Solydra netted a $535 million loan over the objections of financial analysts, and the debt was later restructured to move taxpayers behind Obama bundler George Kaiser in the creditor queue.  Solyndra declared bankruptcy in August 2011, and later sold its assets for pennies on the dollar to a new outfit also partly owned by Kaiser.

Spectrawatt—Bankrupt, August 2011

Spectrawatt was a New York-based manufacturer of silicon cells used in solar panels.  It received $500,000 in “stimulus” grants in June 2009.  Spectrawatt filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, and was bought by a Canadian firm.

Nevada Geothermal—Insolvent, October 2011; UPDATE: Auditors Doubt Viability, July 2012

Nevada Geothermal is a Nevada-based geothermal energy company that received $66 million in federal grants, and another $79 million in DOE loans; loans it immediately used to pay off or renegotiate other loans that were or were about to be in default.  A July 4, 2012 report said internal auditors were questioning the firm’s viability going forward: “[M]aterial uncertainties case significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going-concern.”

Amonix—Layoffs, January 2012; UPDATE: Closed Main Plant, July 2012

Amonix was a California-based solar systems manufacturer with a plant in Nevada, partly owned by Obama mega-bundlers John Doerr, Daniel Weiss, and Steve Westly.  Amonix received $5.9 million in federal “stimulus” grants in 2010.  It laid off two-thirds of its workforce in January, and closed its main plant in July.

Sunpower—Insolvency/Layoffs, November 2011

Sunpower, yet another California-based solar firm, received a $1.2 billion DOE loan in September 2011.  Barely a month later, it announced hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and that it was “reorganizing” and cutting jobs.  It is now owned by the French oil giant Total, without whose backing it would be bankrupt.

Fisker Automotive—Layoffs, February 2012

Fisker Automotive is a California-based manufacturer of luxury electric cars.  It received a $529 million DOE loan to produce its $102,000 Karma, which it manufactures in Finland.  After producing—then recalling—a grand total of 239 units, Fisker announced in February that it was laying off employees in its Delaware and California locations.

Hundreds of billions of your tax dollars at risk or gone, on a program that’s seen eight bankruptcies and counting, at least two insolvencies, and three sets of layoffs and plant closures.  That’s in addition to jobs being sent overseas (Fisker) or entities being taken over by foreign ownership.  All to “create”—giving the administration the most charitable benefit of the doubt—a few hundred jobs.

Yet neither Secretary Stephen Chu or anyone else has been fired or even taken to task by the administration.  Come to think of it, I don’t recall anyone getting fired over banking failures, burning Korans, the economy, or security leaks, and only one low-level scapegoat firing in Fast & Furious.  And my bet is as long as Obama is in office, no one gets fired over Benghazi.

Maybe “holding people accountable” doesn’t mean what the Obama administration thinks it does.

Random Musings II

“Let me explain.  No.  There is too much.  Let me sum up.”

            —Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

I’m having a hard time picking out a topic and focusing today.  So let me hit a number of things briefly, in no particular order.

1.         Amateur Hour continues

I have harped long and hard on the naïvete and sophomorishness this administration continues to exhibit on foreign policy issues, particularly in the Middle East.  But it’s getting downright embarrassing.

On Tuesday, fanatical rioters stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo and set a consulate in Libya on fire, tearing down American flags and replacing them with banners to Allah.  Apparently someone somewhere made a film that, in their judgment, disrespected Mohammed.

Oh, the horror.

Obama’s reaction?  Does he send in Marines to defend the flag and what is supposed to be sovereign U.S. territory?  Nope.  His State Department issues a statement condemning the film as an inappropriate exercise of the “universal right of free speech.”  Essentially the administration is once again falling all over itself to apologize to these people for something the U.S. as a nation didn’t even do.

Meanwhile, in a related note, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in the U.S. for three days later this month to address the U.N.  Obama is also addressing the U.N., albeit on a different day.  Bibi asked to meet with Obama while he was here, and offered to fly to D.C. to do it.  Obama’s response?

No.  Too busy (which begs the question “doing what?” but I digress).  There’s no word on whether Obama gave him the finger while he was at it.

This comes right on the heels of the DNC “inadvertently omitting” provisions relating to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel from its party platform, then reinstating them in a fraudulent voice vote met with choruses of boos.  I fail to understand how this administration cannot grasp the magnitude of the danger it is creating through its posture in the Middle East.  On the one hand, they bend over apologizing and negotiating with people who don’t want and won’t accept an apology, and who aren’t interested in negotiating anything other than our destruction.  On the other hand, when the head of state of our only friend and the only stable regime in the region—a regime that has no one but us to turn to when surrounded by enemies bent on erasing it from the map—begs practically with hat in hand and on bended knee to meet to discuss the single most pressing foreign policy issue maybe of our time, Obama tells him talk to the hand.

How this man will get a single Jewish vote in November is beyond me.

2.         The Beast gets bigger

Regular readers of this space know that I frequently discuss the continuing expansion of the federal government.  Usually we talk about it in terms of dollars.  But today I want to show it in a little bit different light.

The Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR,” in lawyer-speak) is where the vast federal bureaucracy stashes the gazillions of rules it promulgates governing this, that, and the other thing.  EPA rules on gasoline formulation, FCC rules on the use of Ham radios, OSHA rules on the rise and run of your staircase, FDA rules on what temperature your meat has to be cooked to—this is where you’ll find them.

As of the end of 2011, the CFR totaled 169,301 pages.  That’s up 11,327 pages since Obama took office.  And not one word of it is subject to Congressional oversight, yet every bit of it is as binding as a statute passed by both Houses and signed by the President.  You want to know what’s choking American business?  Start with the CFR.

3.         Michelle Obama’s school lunch Gestapo

It seems that Michelle Obama is back at it, trumpeting new school lunch changes dictated by the federal government under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.  Recall we previously discussed separate incidents where federal inspectors were interfering with children’s home-made school lunches, replacing what their mothers had packed for them with federally-mandated “healthy” choices like chicken nuggets (undoubtedly supplied primarily by some big Obama donor).  Particularly telling was this comment from Mrs. Obama at the signing of the HHFKA:

When our kids spend so much of their time each day in school, and when many children get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well.

We can’t just leave it up to the parents.

Read that again.  We—translated:  the federal government—have a responsibility with respect to what school children eat that cannot be left to the parents.  In other words, the federal government cannot allow parents to decide what their own children eat.

This is the way the Obamas think: government, not parents, is the answer for our children.  Where, exactly, are the limits to the federal government’s reach?

4.         The great Volt ripoff

You’re being ripped off.

You already suspected that, but let me bring it into focus for you.  You are of course aware that GM took $50 billion of your money in bailout funds, about half of which it has yet to pay back.  And that stock it issued us when the government took it over is worth barely half what it was at the time we issued it.  In short, GM is deep in hock to you.

So what’s it been doing?

Apparently it spent some $1.2 billion in R&D costs on the Volt fiasco, meaning that to date every Chevy Volt costs GM over $45,000 more to produce than it brings in.  So while it still owes you billions, it’s been flushing billions down the toilet on an economically-losing Quixotic Greenie crusade.  And despite all that money in development, GM still can’t quite solve pesky issues like the Volt’s tendency to electrocute emergency personnel, or the fact that it can’t get much past the driveway without running on gasoline.

No wonder sales have been so bad they’ve twice had to shut down production.

To make matters worse, not only does GM owe you a bunch of jack, but you’ve been chipping in on the purchase of what few of these pieces of crap GM has managed to sell.  The federal government gives $7500 more of your money to subsidize each private purchase.  And it’s using  hundreds of thousands more of your dollars to purchase hundreds of Volts outright for the military and other federal agencies.  So if and when GM ever pays you back, it will to no small degree be doing so with money it took from you (via the government) in the first place.

GM, of course, disputes the per-vehicle loss figure, saying it’s unfair to amortize the R&D over just the 21,000 or so units sold to date.  The trouble is, assuming GM nets $4000 per car—a 10% margin—it would take 300,000 units just to recoup the cost of development, even spreading over that entire volume.  At its current sales pace, it will take GM about 22 years before it will break even on the Volt.

That, friends, is what you get when government intervenes in markets.

EPA: Born To Be Wild

Peck:            I want to know more about what you do here.  Frankly there’s been a lot of wild stories in the media and we want to assess any possibility of dangerous, and possibly hazardous waste chemicals in your basement.  Now you either show me what’s down there, or I come back with a court order.

Venkman:   You go get a court order, and I’ll sue your ass for wrongful prosecution.

Peck:            You can have it *your* way, Mr. Venkman.

            —William Atherton as EPA’s Walter Peck, and Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters

This is how out of control the Beast is.  And I’ll bet you didn’t even know it.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 at the insistence of President Richard Nixon.  It is charged with enforcing, and creating regulations under, statutes enacted by Congress such as the Clean Air Act.  The agency has quasi-criminal law enforcement powers, including the ability to levy fines and impose sanctions.  It currently has over 17,000 employees (not including contractors), and an annual budget over $8.6 billion dollars.

This would be bad enough in itself.  As we’ve discussed many times, Article I of the Constitution vests the legislative power—the ability to enact laws—exclusively in the Congress.  Article III vests the judicial power with the Supreme Court and other courts created by Congress.  EPA operates outside that constitutional structure, exercising what amounts to both legislative power abdicated by Congress, and judicial power inappropriately usurped from the courts.

Worse, EPA’s actions aren’t subject to Congressional oversight, review, or approval.  Nor do they sunset.  While the Administrator is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the agency itself is populated almost entirely by Greenie career bureaucrats.  They have no term limits, and they never face election.  They are accountable to no one.

This arrangement of an unaccountable agency, filled with ideological zealots effectively invested with the powers of legislature, judge, jury, and executioner, is a recipe for heavy-handed abuse, to say the least.  Recall the comments of disgraced former EPA Administrator Al Armendariz, who described his philosophy of environmental enforcement in a speech to subordinates in 2010:

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean.  They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere.  They’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.  Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

True, Armendariz was ultimately forced to resign over these comments.  But what he made the mistake of saying out loud simply articulated what is undoubtedly the prevailing culture at EPA: due process, guilt, or facts be damned.  The edict was to make examples so that everyone is afraid of the agency.

Exercising its rulemaking authority, EPA has enacted a sea of regulations, each of which has the force of law, even though it was never passed by Congress or signed by the President.  Now, normally these regulations are created through a negotiation process known as “Reg-Neg.”  The agency proposes a rule, and interested stakeholders on all sides of the issue are afforded an opportunity to comment.  Those interested in advancing the environmental concern at issue can present the case for why the regulation is needed.  Those burdened with compliance can present the case for why it’s technically infeasible, practically too expensive, or how a less burdensome alternative might be a better solution.  In theory, this process injects a certain amount of objectivity and balance, although in practice we’ve seen with things like gasoline additives MTBE and ethanol it’s often just lip service that will inevitably yield to the Greenie agenda.

The trouble, from EPA’s perspective, is that the Reg-Neg process is more or less public, and it takes too long.  Sometimes when you have an ideological agenda to push, you just can’t wait.    But in the immortal words of Francisco Scaramanga, “That’s no problem.

You see, there’s a little quirk built into many environmental laws like the Clean Air Act.  In addition to agency enforcement actions, private groups like the Sierra Club are authorized to bring citizen suits either against violators or against EPA itself to act as kind of private attorneys’ general in order to enforce the act.  And because they can recover their attorneys’ fees, there is considerable financial as well as ideological incentive for them to do so.

But there’s something very sinister going on here, and it stems from this mechanism of private environmental groups bringing enforcement suits “against” the EPA.  In an op-ed piece in last Sunday’s Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt discussed his investigation of what has become EPA’s “sue and settle” strategy.  What apparently is happening is groups like the Sierra Club are filing these citizen suits against EPA, resulting in settlements between EPA and the plaintiff organization that take the form of a “consent decree”; a judicial declaration that is as binding as a regulation or legislation, without the scrutiny of either.  But the all-too-cozy relationship between EPA and its Sierra Club ideological kinsmen—I note that Armendariz skipped testifying before Congress to meet with the Sierra Club in what now appears to have been an interview for his current job with the organization—begs for a closer examination of what they’re really doing.

It seems that many of these settlements—which, not coincidentally, result in EPA funneling millions in taxpayer dollars to the Sierra Club for “attorneys’ fees—are being entered into almost immediately, sometimes the same day suit is filed.  This is interesting, because consent decrees normally take considerable time to negotiate and draft, which suggests that EPA almost certainly knew about these suits and was in discussions with the Sierra Club about them, possibly even drafting the consent decrees themselves, before the lawsuits were filed.  Moreover, according to AG Pruitt, this is most often happening when the issue relates to the fossil fuel industries to which the Obama administration has been so overtly hostile.  And compounding the nefariousness, many of these consent decrees apparently involve rules that failed to pass as legislation in Congress.

So what it looks like we have here is a situation where the administration couldn’t get rules passed by Congress, and didn’t want to go through the time, publicity, and potential opposition of the Reg-Neg process.  So instead they have EPA get together with its buddies at the Sierra Club to file a sham lawsuit against EPA that EPA can then “settle” by entering into a consent decree containing the rules they couldn’t get through the normal channels.

Ow, you’re twisting my arm.

What is supposed to be an adversarial arm’s length judicial process instead becomes a vehicle for collusion to enact indirectly what could not be enacted directly.  And it happens without any input from those impacted by the new rules embodied in the consent decrees, or from the states responsible for the expense of implementing them.  In one instance, the Mercury Air Toxics Standards, AG Pruitt estimates the “sue and settle” tactic will cost Oklahoma energy producers millions, and may jack up local utility bills by as much as 20%.  Yet there’s been no hearing, no analysis, and no vote.  More importantly, it all takes place under the radar, where 99.9% of the population has no idea what’s happening.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one knows what you’re doing.

Real And Present Danger

 
K:        We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public! 
J:         Man, we ain’t got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don’t know whether or not you’ve forgotten, but there’s an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that’s about to . . .
K:        There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do . . . not . . . KNOW ABOUT IT! 
           —Tommy Lee Jones as K, and Will Smith as J in Men In Black
 
This is going to shock some of you who are regular readers of this space, but I feel I must speak out on a matter of critical environmental concern.  While I am not normally a rabid Greenie, I do care for the Earth, and I fear that organizations like EPA and the Sierra Club have allowed themselves to become distracted with political issues to the point that they’re missing one of the gravest dangers of our time.  And we are all at risk.
For years now, those at the vanguard of the environmental movement have been crusading against greenhouse gases, among them CO2.  That’s carbon dioxide: you know, the stuff you exhale when you breathe, and that green plants use in photosynthesis (a critical byproduct of which is oxygen).  Never mind that the planet was under an endless cycle of warming and cooling for billions of years before humans arrived on the scene, that there are serious issues with fraudulent data, or that a significant number of scientists dissent from the Leftist party line that the planet is catastrophically warming and it’s all our fault.  Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, we’re talking about a threat that’s relatively abstract and long term.  I’m concerned with an immediate and concrete threat we face right now:
This dangerous compound is colorless and odorless.  It is 100% volatile, yet not biodegradable, meaning once present in the environment it exists forever in an endless cycle of evaporation into the atmosphere and condensation onto the surface.  This compound is widespread, and multi-faceted in the dangers it presents.  Among its evils:
—          Over 1.2 million people, mostly children, die each year from accidental inhalation;
—          Exposure to certain forms of the compound causes severe tissue damage, in some cases leading to infection, limb loss, and even death;
—          Contact under certain conditions can cause severe burns;
—          It has been known to be found in biopsies of cancerous lesions;
—          Can lead to hypothermia in some environments;
—          Ingestion in excessive quantities leads to unpleasant physical side effects, including bloating, weight gain, and increased urination;
—          Physical dependency can make withdrawal fatal within a matter of days;
—          Identified as a major contributing factor to certain forms of erosion;
—          Extremely corrosive, and can lead to mechanical and electrical failures;
—          Suspected by many scientists to be a key factor in violent weather phenomena such as hurricanes, and also a contributor to El Nino;
—          Responsible for millions in property damage annually.
Worse, this compound has become so widely used in our modern society that it is almost ubiquitous.  You have almost certainly been exposed to it at one time or another, and some studies have indicated that in the United States and other industrial nations it may be present in as much as 100% of the population.  It is used as an industrial solvent and coolant, in the development of weapons of mass destruction, and as a fire retardant.  It was an essential component in the Nazi death camps.  It is found in pesticides, known carcinogens like ethyl alcohol, and in caustic and explosive compounds such as sulfuric acid and nitroglycerine.  It is a major constituent of acid rain.  As I type, some scientists and prominent activists are already warning of dangerous, potentially catastrophic increases in levels of this compound in coastal areas.  
Why are we wasting time on what CO2 might do at some undefined point in the future, when dihydrogen monoxide is killing and harming so many and costing so much right now?  We must do what we can to get the engines of government focused on this urgent and life-threatening issue.  Please contact your congressman today and urge them to pressure EPA to quit spinning its wheels on CO2 and Big Oil, and start taking seriously the imminent dangers of dihydrogen monoxide before it’s too late.
For more information, go to DHMO.org.