Obama Skins the Cat
Much of White House policy is driven by pathological fear of global warming and the unreasonable compulsion to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a non-toxic natural constituent of the atmosphere and an absolute necessity for the survival of plants, animals, and humans. Never mind that there's no significant evidence that any recent warming has been caused by CO2 increases -- or indeed, that any such warming would endanger human health and welfare. In addition, it should be quite obvious that any attempt by the U.S. to reduce its emissions unilaterally is an exercise in futility and self-delusion: it would have little measurable impact on the ongoing rise of global atmospheric CO2 and would certainly not affect climate in any way.
But evidently, ideology trumps science, economics, and logic. Even common-sense considerations have not stopped President Obama from listening to his science adviser, Dr. John Holdren, one of the chief apostles of the global warming religion. Holdren is a former collaborator and associate of Stanford Prof. Paul Ehrlich, whose seminal book The Population Bomb, published some 40 years ago, preaches population control to achieve zero growth.
In this Malthusian spirit, we will shortly be "celebrating" the 40th anniversary of the publication of Limits to Growth, a book sponsored by the so-called Club of Rome, which -- like Ehrlich's -- predicted all kinds of imminent disasters for the world's population: famines, resource depletion, dying oceans, etc. In spite of complete failure to use sound science and economics, there are still many "believers" happily ensconced in the present administration. It is interesting to note that Limits to Growth did not concern itself in any way with global warming; climate disasters came along only since 1992, courtesy of the infamous Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, which also produced U.N. Agenda 21.
But one must give the Obama administration credit for trying hard to mandate CO2 limits to "save the climate." Its high point came in mid-2009, when the House barely passed the Waxman-Markey "cap & trade" bill -- also known as the "tax & spend" bill. It was so bad that even the Democrat-controlled Senate refused to touch it. Then, by the end of 2009, the Climategate e-mails revealed evidence of U.N.-IPCC skullduggery -- followed by the utter collapse of U.N. negotiations in Copenhagen. But in spite of all this, the EPA has been moving ahead and issued an "Endangerment Finding" (EF) that claims CO2 as an atmospheric pollutant, subject to regulation by the Clean Air Act.
Full disclosure: We (SEPP) are part of the plaintiff group that has sued the EPA for not using sound science in arriving at its EF. Oral arguments are scheduled for late February 2012. And we are hoping the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will rule in our favor and toss out the EF. On further appeal, it might even lead the Supreme Court to rectify its 2007 decision declaring CO2 a pollutant subject to regulation -- but with this all-important proviso: EPA must first demonstrate that CO2 "endangers human health and welfare."
Once it had become clear to Obama that there was no chance to pass legislation to force CO2 control, he vowed to find other ways to "skin the cat" (his words). Three of these subterfuges are underway, disguised in various ways to hide their true purpose.
1. Doubling mileage standards for automobiles by 2025 -- meant to reduce smog and other urban pollution, as well as the need for imported oil -- thereby improving national security. But the EPA, which has already drastically tightened existing standards, is quite open about the real purpose -- to reduce CO2 emissions. In essence, EPA has preempted the role of the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), which has the statutory responsibility for setting CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. However, there is little chance that auto companies can produce reasonably priced cars that people will want to buy and -- note the irony -- are safe to drive. (Oh, Ralph Nader, where are you when we need you?)
2. In its December 2011 rule of 1,117 pages, EPA sets unrealistic limits on the emission of mercury from coal-fired power stations; it is part of their scheme to get rid of coal as a fuel, even though coal is the cheapest domestic energy source and requires no imports. The U.S. is blessed with abundant coal resources; over 50% of electric power was generated from coal, though the percentage has now dropped to 45%. The Chicago Tribune foresees a rise of 40%-60% in Midwest electricity rates; nationwide, the respected national economic consulting firm NERA predicts an 11% rise and a loss of 144,000 jobs by 2020.
The lame excuse the EPA is using is "to protect the children," but again, the science is lacking. In any case, most of the mercury emitted into the atmosphere comes from natural sources. Human sources, like coal-burning power plants, are located mostly in China or other regions outside the U.S. and outside EPA jurisdiction. In other words, mercury pollution is a global problem, much like CO2; U.S. power plants contribute only 0.5% of all emissions.
The Bush administration had already promulgated plans to reduce U.S. emissions; any further tightening by the EPA will produce little marginal benefits but huge additional costs -- all for the sake of some reduction in CO2 emissions. As usual, the EPA greatly underestimates costs by a large factor and hugely inflates benefits, claiming prevention of 11,000 premature deaths a year. In addition, EPA double-counts benefits; only 0.1% can be assigned to the reduction of mercury emissions.
3. Finally, we have the much-discussed Keystone XL pipeline, which is supposed to bring oil from Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf coast. Obama has decided to stop this pipeline in order to ingratiate himself with extreme environmentalists, who oppose the project -- as just revealed in the San Francisco Chronicle of Feb 16. Their weak excuse is that an oil leak in Nebraska might produce pollution to the underlying aquifer. Of course, there is no reason why oil should leak over Nebraska -- and in any case, some 20,000 miles of various pipelines already cross the state. The real reason: production of oil from tar sands requires large amounts of heat and thus emissions of CO2.
Opposition to this capricious action by the White House is non- partisan. It involves labor unions, who see "shovel-ready jobs" disappearing; it involves national security concerns; and it involves the general public, who want cheaper and more secure oil from nearby sources -- not from overseas producers in the Persian Gulf, brought here by tankers.
In his 2008 election campaign, Obama promised to make electricity prices "skyrocket." He seems to be succeeding beyond all expectations, as a combination of White House policies is raising fuel prices. But as the cost of essential energy jumps upward, households are sliding into poverty; they can no longer afford to buy treats for the children; it's more important to keep them from starving and freezing to death. "Skinning the cat" may be a neat way of getting around the express wishes of the Congress and the public, but it is sure to backfire against the Obama White House in the November elections.
S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and director of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, specializing in climate science and energy policy. An expert in remote sensing and satellites, he served as the founding director of the US Weather Satellite Service and, more recently, as vice chair of the US National Advisory Committee on Oceans & Atmosphere. He is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute and of the Independent Institute. In 2007, he founded and chaired NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change). For recent writings see http://www.americanthinker.com/s_fred_singer/ and Google Scholar.