Category: Federal Government

National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone response

Submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone.

The Case for Lifting the Crude Oil Export Ban

The United States is running out of room in its crude oil storage facilities and the question is ― where does the crude go now? As domestic crude oil production continues to rise, it has no place to go due to an obsolete ban on the exportation of crude oil in the U.S.

The International Energy Agency said in its monthly oil market report that U.S. supply shows no signs of slowing down, an assessment that pushed the price of crude below $57 a barrel and lowered gas prices at the pump. Low gas prices led to record amounts of driving in 2014, culminating in a record-breaking December, new federal data shows.

With the U.S. now producing more oil and natural gas than Russian and Saudi Arabia, over 11 million barrels a day (55 percent increase from five years ago), lifting the U.S. oil export ban would:

  • Add over $1 trillion in government revenues by 2030.
  • Create 300,000 more jobs a year.
  • Increase current U.S. production from 8.2 million B/D currently to 11.2 million B/D.
  • Cut the U.S. oil import bill by an average of $67 billion per year.
  • Lower gasoline prices by an annual average of 8 cents per gallon.
  • Save U.S. motorists $265 billion for during the 2016-2030 period.

Despite the fact that oil imports are at the lowest level since 1985, the U.S. still imports 33 percent of its oil from foreign sources. A broad view by the public is that U.S. oil should stay at home will test export proponents. A majority of voters, 53 percent, opposed exporting oil. At present, the current policy is discouraging additional crude oil supplies from being brought to market, which actually makes gasoline prices higher than they otherwise would be. The increased economic activity resulting from the rise in crude production would support an average of 394,000 additional U.S. jobs over the 2016-2030 period, with a peak of 964,000 jobs in 2018.

Doing away with exports restrictions would also generate added benefits to U.S. household income, gross domestic product (GDP) and government revenues. The average disposable income per household would increase by an additional $391 in 2018 as benefits from increased investment.

The current hydraulic fracturing and American energy boom is reducing oil imports by 22 percent next year. Lifting the crude oil export ban would increase the energy boom. This boom could also reduce the oil imports of European countries. The United States could replace Russia title as “Europe’s gas station” and provide all of Europe’s energy needs.

Wyoming Congresswoman to Wrangle Federal Overreach

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming and the new chair of the Interior Subcommittee of the House Oversight Reform Committee, says she is determined to provide strict oversight of President Barack Obama’s energy and environment policies and scale back what she believes is federal overreach.

With oversight of the EPA, the Interior Department, the Energy Department, and the Agricultural Department, amid an increasing number of executive actions and accusations of departmental mismanagement and misconduct, Lummis has plenty of work ahead.

Wyoming Water

Lummis argues the administration went too far in attempting to control water use under the Clean Water Act. In response, she co-sponsored H.R.5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, a bill intended to limit the EPA’s reach under the Clean Water Act. Regarding this bill, Loomis said in a press statement,

In Wyoming, water is our single most precious natural resource, which we guard jealously and without which our communities and economies could not survive. The agency is stretching the law to the point of breaking it, claiming jurisdiction over every pond, ditch, and stream in Wyoming no matter how small or isolated.… This legislation gives state and local governments a long overdue seat at the table and ensures Congress has final say over what water is and is not subject to the Clean Water Act.

The Democrat-controlled Senate did not vote on the bill in 2014. With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate in 2015, the bill is likely to pass this year. Whether President Obama would sign the bill or veto it is an open question.

Advocating Spending Cuts

Lummis has also set her sights on reining in government spending. She drafted a bill requiring federal workforce downsizing through attrition, to save an estimated $35 billion over five years. “We’ve racked up over $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” Lummis said. Her bill, the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act, would limit hiring of new employees as older ones retire, reducing the number of federal employees without forcing anyone one out of a job.

She also plans investigations into alleged corruption, bullying of whistleblowers, and general impropriety in the Chemical Safety Board and EPA.

Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says Lummis’s oversight could be just the breath of fresh air federal agencies need. “The Obama administration has been bypassing Congress and imposing far-reaching regulations, with Capitol Hill either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Rep. Lummis will now have a friendly Senate to work with to rein in the administrative regulatory state,” he said.

If members of Congress, as well as state and local governments, want to avoid being relegated to being little more than decorative potted plants, they should follow the example set by Rep. Lummis and aggressively oppose further usurpation of their power by Washington bureaucrats.

NASA and EPA Causing More Political Trouble

NASA released a new study that warns about severe weather, such as “megadroughts” that will plague the Southwest and Central Plains of the United States from 2050 to 2099. The study says that greenhouse gas emissions can increase the likelihood of this severe weather.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase along current trajectories throughout the 21st century, there is an 80 percent likelihood of a decades-long megadrought in the Southwest and Central Plains between the years 2050 and 2099.

At the same time, the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules for mercury emissions from power plants (specifically targeting coal power plants) is going to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The mercury emissions rules would help close down every coal power plant that provides close to 40 percent of the electricity in the United States. As the Supreme Court reviews these rules, the court should consider that:

  • There is more mercury in the air from natural sources ― such as volcanoes ― than from all human activity.
  • Mercury emitted from both volcanoes and coal-fired smokestacks resides for months in the air, usually until it is precipitated out by some rainstorm. In addition, a large amount of the mercury that falls in North America originated in highly polluted China.
  • All U.S. emissions are 2 percent of the global total.
  • U.S. power plants emit only half of that ― about 0.5 percent of the total ― and by 2016 will emit even less than that.

The climate is changing, always has and will continue to do so. However, the human impact to that change, especially in the United States, is minimal. Making this issue so politically incendiary distracts our leaders from doing their job, hurts our economy and weakens the U.S. position in the world.

How Gas-related Taxes have Created Unfunded Liabilities in Construction

As any responsible steward of income can probably state that any reduction in income must be met with a reduction in spending and likewise any increase in spending must be validated by an increase in available income, lest the reality of debt or re-appropriation of disposable funds becomes your only choice. The gas tax debacle that looms over our heads is an example of how this simple yet universal lesson in finance is often lost upon the government.

Due to its lack of popularity among both citizens and politicians alike, the federal gas tax which was progressively rising throughout the 20th century finally hit a wall in 1993 at $0.18, from which it hasn’t moved since. Curiously, the 1993 increase in the gas tax was not even fully utilized to improve the highway systems as 2.5 cents per gallon were dedicated towards paying down federal debt…  As we’ll see later, states were not behind this trend of cross-funding. When coupled with inflation, this stagnation of the federal-gas tax and a simultaneous reduction in the amount of gas spent per mile — with the introduction of more fuel efficient cars — has effectively minimized revenues upon which the government was dependent to fully fund the Highway Trust Fund. However this simple lack of resources is not the only reason Congress is supporting bailing out the fund.

Spending priorities are determined more by politicians appeasing special interests than local needs or consumer choices. And the federal regulatory burden delays projects and smothers state and private-sector innovation.

― Emily J. Goff, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation

While the simple reality that solutions offered by the federal government will rarely not have an adverse effect on some Americans, what Goff describes is only the tip of the iceberg:

The beneficiaries of these local activities take from, but do not contribute to, the Highway Trust Fund. Better for New York and New Jersey to fund their subways, Oregon its bike paths and Maryland its trails.

What is the validity behind these assertions? Here are some numbers and figures for your consideration:

  • New Jersey is currently allocating 95% ($516 million) of its gas tax revenue towards paying off the $1 billion it has in interest on debt
  • New York currently uses 70% ($1.4 billion) of this revenue to pay off debt on past construction projects
  • Oregon will have to spend over 35% of its gas tax revenue ($200 million) per year to fulfill interest payments on bonds purchased
  • The state of Washington allocates 11.18 cents of tax revenue per gallon towards paying down its own debt payments
  • There are even states like Texas, where 25% of the total state tax funds go towards funding completely unrelated endeavors, such as education

Given the magnitude of the fund’s present day debt, it becomes clear that these are not simply isolated incidents and hence, this not necessarily a problem that is unique to the federal government. The gas tax represents a failure of policymakers, not only the simple failure of neglecting to index taxes to inflation but the failure to create a non-regressive tax while exercising responsible stewardship over its revenues.

-Santiago Bello is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis

Suspicious Excessive Administrative Leave at the EPA

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report Federal Paid Administrative Leave: Additional Guidance Needed to Improve OPM Data, issues last October, provided data on administrative leave at the EPA and 23 other federal agencies. Out of 69 EPA employees using paid administrative leave for fiscal years 2011 through 2013:

  • 50 employees used between one and three month of administrative leave,
  • Two employees used more than a year of administrative leave,
  • Total days of administrative leave was 4,711, and
  • The estimated amount of taxpayer dollars spent on administrative leave totaled $17,550,100.

Apparently, at least 8 of the 69 EPA employees that used administrative leave during that time did so because they were involved in “cases of alleged serious misconduct,” according to a memorandum sent from EPA’s acting assistant administrator to the EPA’s inspector general.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General issued an Early Warning Report about the GAO report which made no recommendations and requested no action from the EPA.

Over the past three years, administrative leave at the EPA has cost taxpayers over $17 million, much of which went to fund employees involved in “cases of alleged serious misconduct.” These findings come at a critical time for the EPA, which is aggressively pushing increased regulations on controversial topics like emissions standards.

Solar Energy Company Requests a Bailout to Pay Federal Loan

Typical of Obama administration supported renewable energy projects, yet another one is failing. Back in 2010, President Obama said that Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System would put 1,000 people to work and power up to 140,000 homes. However since last February, Ivanpah has been only producing one-fourth the amount of energy that was predicted. The excuse for this is that there have been fewer sunny days than were predicted.

Some basic facts about Ivanpah Solar System:

  • Owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy.
  • Used a $1.6 billion federal loan to help build the solar plant.
  • Now is requesting a $539 million federal grant to help pay off part of the federal loan.
  • Federal grant would help pay to pay off federal loan of a failing business.

The Obama administration pushed numerous renewable energy projects with high risk and at the cost of the American taxpayers.

Evergreen Solar ($25 million)  SpectraWatt ($500,000)   Solyndra ($535 million)   Beacon Power ($43 million)   Nevada Geothermal ($98.5 million)   SunPower ($1.2 billion)   First Solar ($1.46 billion)   Babcock and Brown ($178 million)   EnerDel’s subsidiary Ener1 ($118.5 million)   Amonix ($5.9 million)   Fisker Automotive ($529 million)   Abound Solar ($400 million)   A123 Systems ($279 million)   Willard and Kelsey Solar Group ($700,981)    Johnson Controls ($299 million)   Schneider Electric ($86 million)   Brightsource ($1.6 billion)   ECOtality ($126.2 million)   Raser Technologies ($33 million)   Energy Conversion Devices ($13.3 million)   Mountain Plaza, Inc. ($2 million)   Olsen’s Crop Service and Olsen’s Mills Acquisition Company ($10 million)   Range Fuels ($80 million)   Thompson River Power ($6.5 million)   Stirling Energy Systems ($7 million)   Azure Dynamics ($5.4 million)   GreenVolts ($500,000)   Vestas ($50 million)   LG Chem’s subsidiary Compact Power ($151 million)   Nordic Windpower ($16 million)   Navistar ($39 million)   Satcon ($3 million)   Konarka Technologies Inc. ($20 million)   Mascoma Corp. ($100 million)

Reckless investments such as these should be reserved for individual/private investors. Taxpayers cannot afford to throw any more money away.

2014 Election and the Future of Energy Legislation

Election Day is officially behind us. The votes are in, the campaign ads are over, and the traffic in front of the grocery store, local high schools and other polling places should go back to normal. The Republicans kept the House and took the Senate. Now the big question is: what does it all mean?

The Republicans taking the Senate could signal big changes in U.S. energy policy. This past session, Republicans and Democrats battled over the expansion of domestic energy production, GMOs and EPA regulations.

With majorities in both the House and the Senate, Republicans now have an opportunity to make some big changes in the environment and energy conversations. Yet as pointed out over at the NCPA Health Blog, running straight for the controversial topics will only lead to partisan bickering, not effective change. Rather than targeting the extreme topics, Republicans would do well to target their legislation at topics with broad, bipartisan support.

Over the course of the 113th Congress, 76 bills made it past the House, but have yet to make it past the Senate. For those that don’t make it through this session, the topics that already a) have enough clout to make it through the House and b) have enough bipartisan support to get through both houses without a huge expenditure of political capital.

Energy Bills Passed by the House

Looking back at these bills, there are a few topics that stand out in both of these terms. Among them are:

Cutting Burdensome Regulations. Two bills, H.R. 2279, or the “Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013” and H.R. 935, the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2014,” both focused on cutting unnecessary regulations instituted under the banner of environmental protection. Curbing the growth of government regulations is rarely a bad idea, especially if you can do it in a bipartisan way. H.R. 935 passed with 62 percent of the vote, 8.6 percent of which came from the Democrats. While not a wide margin, it’s definitely a topic to consider as Republicans move forward into the next session.

Promoting Efficiency. No one likes inefficiency — not even Congress. H.R. 2126, the “Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014,” passed the House with a whopping 87 percent of the vote. Energy efficiency, as well as procedural efficiency, could be a good focus for energy enthusiasts as we head into next session.

Increasing Domestic Energy Production. Increasing domestic energy production has the power to create jobs, boost the economy and protect national security. While definitely a more polarizing topic — the average number of Democratic supporters ranges from 7-20 for many of the bills that made it through the House, it could be a good strategy for a nation looking for an answer to Putin’s misbehavior. H.R. 6, the “Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act,” actually passed with 62 percent of the vote. Exporting our natural gas reserves could be a huge help to the parts of Europe dependent on Russia, and the jobs and money it would bring in here at home aren’t a bad tradeoff.

As this next session gets under way, Republicans should keep in mind the lessons learned from Obamacare: Focusing all of your political capital on a partisan agenda right at the beginning can be disastrous. Focusing on smaller, bipartisan measures can have just as big an impact and hopefully with less of a mess.

EPA’s Climate Change Adaption Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency has released their plans to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. The EPA Sustainability Plan and Climate Change Adaptation Plan coincides with President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, which set aggressive energy, climate and environmental targets for agencies, and detail how.

In the Climate Change Adaptation Plan, the EPA identifies priority actions the agency will take to incorporate considerations of climate change into its programs, policies, rules and operations to ensure they are effective under future climatic conditions. This includes:

  • Incorporating climate adaptation criteria in the Brownfields grants process to ensure cleanup actions taken by communities are effective as the climate changes.
  • Integrating considerations of climate change into the Clean Water State Revolving Funds process and continue working with states to ensure investments in water infrastructure are resilient to changes in climate.

For example, a stormwater calculator and climate adaptation tool empowers community planners to estimate the amount of stormwater runoff.

Up to this point, the aggressive regulations of the EPA have:

  • Reduced the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent since 2008.
  • Exceeded the 24 percent energy intensity reduction from its 2003 baseline.
  • Reduced 2013 energy intensity by 25.6 percent from 2003.
  • Reduced fleet petroleum use by 38.9 percent compared to the 2005 baseline.

Federal regulations, in general, and specifically by the EPA may have good intentions, but inevitability do much more harm than good. Many examples of how these types of regulations do great harm are already well published. We can only assume that further action by the federal/state/local governments will only do more damage.

The Gas Tax

The American Petroleum Institute’s Gasoline Tax interactive map allows users to check out each state and the United States average state excise tax, other state taxes/fees, total state taxes/fees and total state and federal taxes.

Some of the states with the highest federal and state gasoline tax include:

  • New York — 68.90 cents
  • California — 68.18 cents
  • Connecticut — 67.70 cents
  • Hawaii — 66.85 cents

Some of the states with the lowest federal and state gasoline tax include:

  • New Jersey — 32.90 cents
  • South Carolina — 35.15 cents
  • Oklahoma — 35.40 cents
  • Virginia — 35.68 cents
  • Missouri — 35.70 cents

The federal government adds 18.40 cents per gallon in each state. That federal tax is higher than the total state taxes for the states of New Jersey, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri.

High gasoline taxes from the states and federal government have a huge impact on gas prices at the pump. This is a heavy burden that the consumers are having to bear the brunt. The federal government and many states feel that the increased revenue from the gas tax is beneficial and that it will encourage less gasoline consumption and more alternative fuels/transportation. However, these excessive and usually unnecessary taxes directly hurt American consumers and damage the United States economy. This tax should be a really low flat tax across the nation creating a fairer and less burdensome tax, while still generating revenue for the states and/or federal government.