Environmental Protectionism Run Amok

 

The House Natural Resources Committee is conducting an ongoing examination of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). President Richard Nixon signed NEPA, often hailed as the Magna Carta of environmental law, to great fanfare in 1970. The legislation contains two key provisions. Section 101 sets out in broad terms Congress’s “continuing policy” to require federal, state, and local governments “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony” for the benefit of “present and future generations.” The law envisions the government acting as a “trustee of the environment,” charged with ensuring that the environment is used “without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.”

Next, section 102 specifies a set of procedures by which all government agencies must prepare statements to accompany “proposals for legislation or other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” These statements must include a general assessment of the project’s environmental effect, coupled with an analysis of “adverse environmental impacts which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented.” NEPA contains no substantive requirements, but it does force government agencies to ensure that the proposed project meets the substantive standards of statutes such as the Clean Water Act. The agency must, therefore, point out any “irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources” on program implementation, with a view to examining alternative plans that meet these standards.

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Now that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has pulled back on a plan to double the entry fees to America’s national parks, how will Washington address the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure backlog facing the National Park Service? Terry Anderson, the Hoover Institution’s John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow and a proponent of “free market environmentalism,” discusses how to modernize the park system while preserving its natural splendor.

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“Making America toxic again,” as one publication suggested, or a public servant dedicated to paring honest science and environmental stewardship? Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, stops by to explain how the Trump Administration has reoriented the EPA, its highlights and priorities, and how a former college baseball player deals with political hardball in the nation’s capital.

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The latest FEMA “strategic plan” mentions “risking natural hazard risk” but not a peep about global warming, rising sea levels or devastating weather. Alice Hill, a Hoover Institution research fellow focusing on building resilience to catastrophic events, discusses the Trump Administration’s reluctance to utter the phrase “climate change” and where scientific debate stands in 2018.

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America have whiplash from all the media hyperbole in the wake of Andrew McCabe getting fired, almost all of it from people who have never read the inspector general’s report. They also hammer President Trump for gloating about McCabe’s ouster and McCabe for suggesting his firing was a political hit job from Trump when multiple DOJ officials recommended it. They also applaud the media for finally noticing a series of bombings in Austin, Texas, which have killed or injured several people in a story reminiscent of the Unabomber. And they have some fun with D.C. city council member Trayon White alleging that the Rothschilds control the weather to bring calamity to American cities and then swoop in to pay for the cleanup and take control of the cities.

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Though it’s a relatively small expanse (just one-and-a-half times the size of the US), the Arctic Ocean is fraught with global strategic concerns. David Slayton, a Hoover research fellow and co-chair of Hoover’s Arctic Security Initiative, explains the Trump Administration’s options on “the top of the world” regarding military expansion, resource development and maritime passage.

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Nature’s Course

 

When the children were small, one of their favorite outings was to the Frog Pond.

Don’t bother to conjure an image of a pristine body of water surrounded by verdant meadows with maybe a cow or two mooing nearby. Such places exist in Maine, but for reasons I can no longer recall, our family got into the habit of visiting what amounted to a glorified puddle alongside Route 90.

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Welcome to the Harvard Lunch Club Political podcast number 161 it’s the Devin Nunes, Man of Steele edition of the show with your humble hosts, radio guy Todd Feinburg and nanophysicist Mike Stopa. In this week’s edition we dissect, trisect, septasect the Nunes memo, the Steele dossier (yichh!) and the FBI cabal that is working night and day to take Trump down.

This is a serious discussion. Of course the legacy media on the left (did I repeat myself?) are doing nothin but “debunking.” They call it fact checking but they set out with the clear and unvarnished objective to cut the Nunes memo down to size. Newsweek’s treatment is particularly egregious in its one-sidedness. But is the right a bit unhinged as well? Stopa thinks so, Todd is unconvinced. Is there really a conspiracy in the FBI? or is it simply partisanship that has gotten excessive? We will discuss.

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Need a break from the memo frenzy? Have some martinis with us! Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America get a kick out of seeing the Democratic National Committee with less than half a million dollars on hand heading into the midterms while Republicans have $40 million ready to go. They also shake their heads as Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan wants to opt out of the Trump’s administration’s plans for offshore energy exploration, a move made much easier by government already granting an exemption for Florida. And they bang their heads against the desk as PolitiFact hired unhinged former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson to be part of their team, only to reverse course after liberals and conservatives howled in protest. Jim and Greg also share their unvarnished thoughts on Groundhog Day and offer their Superbowl predictions.

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Is Global Warming a Public Nuisance?

 

New York City and a number of California municipalities, including San Francisco and Oakland, have filed law suits against five major oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—for contributing to the increased risk of global warming. These complaints cite recent scientific reports that project that sea levels will rise from 0.2 meters to 2.0 meters (or 0.66 to 6.6 feet) by 2100, with a major loss of land surface area and serious climate disruptions. They further allege that the “Defendants had full knowledge that the fossil fuels would cause catastrophic harm.” The complaints rely chiefly upon public nuisance law, which prohibits unreasonably interfering with public rights in air and water through discharges of dangerous substances—in this instance, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These cities are demanding that each oil company named in the complaint contribute to an abatement fund to counteract the perceived future threats to the environment from global warming.

In this essay, I confine my attention to the soundness of the public nuisance theory offered by San Francisco and New York in order to explain why private lawsuits are the wrong instrument for dealing with the global warming threat. In full disclosure, in this essay, I provide my own independent legal analysis of these complaints, which I prepared for the Manufacturer’s Accountability Project, an organization that focuses on the impact of litigation on the manufacturing industry.

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy learning that the Democratic National Committee is still mired in chaos and that the liberal establishment and the Bernie Sanders supporters are still feuding more than a year after the 2016 campaign and just months before the midterm elections. They also groan as the threat of a government shutdown looms and some Republicans think they can win the public relations battle, even though the media always pin the blame on Republicans, regardless of the circumstances. And they shred CNN for co-opting the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to advance progressive environmental policies and for suggesting King was a socialist “before it was cool.”

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Earth. In the Balance.

 

Anyone who’s taken a middle-school science course knows that plants depend on carbon dioxide in much same way that we animals need oxygen to keep on living.

But what happens when the carbon dioxide levels start to rise? How does that affect the vegetation on the planet?

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America cheer House and Senate passage of tax cuts and tax reform, noting the vast majority of Americans will see bigger paychecks while the Obamacare individual mandate gets repealed and energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is given the green light. They also recoil at reports that Senate Republican leaders may have agreed to Obamacare bailouts and taxpayer-funded abortions in exchange for Sen. Susan Collins voting for the tax bill. And they discuss Rosie O’Donnell offering two million dollars apiece for Collins and Sen. Jeff Flake to vote against the tax legislation.

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California’s Single-Family Home Gridlock

 

In his excellent article, “The Great American Single-Family Home Problem,” Conor Dougherty, an economics reporter for the New York Times, offers a riveting account of a heated land-use dispute in Berkeley, California. In 2014, a real estate developer purchased a dilapidated home at 1310 Haskell Street in an estate sale. But his plan to rip that structure down to put three modern single-family homes on the lot met with intense local resistance. The neighbors claimed that the new homes would reduce street parking, block sunlight, and change the character of the neighborhood for the worse. Lawsuits delayed construction for several years even though that project complied with all local zoning ordinances. The story illustrates the fatal pathologies that grip land-use regulation in the United States.

In the short run, such regulations produce notable local victories. They slow down the projects and raise the costs of new construction, dulling the ardor of the hardiest developer. But these local victories can become regional disasters, as an acute housing shortage raises the prices of existing units to unaffordable levels, leading first to long commutes over clogged highways and then to outmigration by small businesses and individuals who cannot tolerate the grind. In response to this impasse in California, Governor Jerry Brown has backed a set of administrative reforms designed to prod wayward local governments to expedite issuing building permits. But it is highly unlikely that piecemeal reforms of this nature will make the slightest dent in the current housing crisis, partly because they are often packaged, as Dougherty notes, with proposals to subsidize affordable housing and demands that construction workers be paid prevailing (i.e. union) wages.

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Yes, Trump Has the Power to Shrink National Monuments

 

President Trump announced Monday that he will shrink the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, declared only a year ago by President Obama, by 1 million acres (an 85 percent reduction). He also declared that he would shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument by 800,000 acres (a 46 percent reduction).

Trump told a rally in Salt Lake City that he came to “reverse federal overreach” and took dramatic action “because some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong.”

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Why the US Will Become the “Undisputed Global Oil and Gas leader for Decades”

 

This new analysis and forecast from the Energy Information Agency, reflected in the above chart, is amazing:

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Junk Obama’s Clean Power Plan

 

In 2015, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Clean Power Plan (CPP) that prescribed detailed regulations for the control of carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-powered power plants as part of its effort to control climate change. Earlier this month, the Trump EPA under Scott Pruitt issued its own proposed rule to undo the Obama administration’s guidelines without a commitment to replace them with a substitute set of rules dedicated to the same end. In response to Pruitt’s major shift in policy direction, states like Massachusetts and New York are suing to prevent the new legal regime from going into effect.

Pruitt’s reversal in environmental policy raises two issues—one scientific and one legal. The scientific issue revolves around the 2009 endangerment findings from an Obama administration study, which determined that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant whose emissions levels must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) because “greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” Other chemicals on the list of six designated pollutants—like methane and nitrous oxide, with known toxicities—surely deserve that designation, but the Obama report overstates the risks of carbon dioxide to the environment.

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