On the Blog

It’s Not “Global Warming.” It’s “Springtime.”

Somewhat Reasonable - March 21, 2015, 9:27 AM

After decades of environmental claims that “global warming” would plunge the planet into catastrophic harm to its human and other inhabitants—at the same time blaming humans for causing it—the sheer arrogance and ignorance of these claims always ignores the real power that is represented by the Earth itself and the beginning of Spring should be proof enough for anyone paying any attention.

 This year, Spring begins in the northern hemisphere on Friday, March 20 at 6:45 PM EDT. In the southern hemisphere it marks the beginning of Autumn.

 Spring manifests itself in ways we take for granted yet it is a combination of many events that should make us marvel if we gave them any thought. For example, where does all the snow go? The U.S. and the rest of the world set records of snowfall levels throughout Winter.

 As noted by the U.S. Geological Service, “in the world-wide scheme of the water cycle, runoff from snowmelt is a major component of the global movement of water.”

 “Mountain snow fields act as natural reservoirs for many western United States water-supply systems, storing precipitation from the cool season, when most precipitation falls and forms snowpacks…As much as 75 percent of water supplies in the western states are derived from snowmelt.”  Snowmelt ensures sufficient water for all of us and for the Earth that depends upon it for the growth of all vegetation. 

 How do the flowers know it is Spring? In a 2011 article for the Inside Science News Service, Katherine Gammon noted that “Just in time for the birds and bees to start buzzing, the flowers and the trees somehow know when to open their buds to start flowering. But the exact way that plants get their wake-up call has been something of a mystery.”  A molecular biologist at the University of Texas, Sibum Sung, has been trying to solve that mystery and has discovered “a special molecule in plants that gives them the remarkable ability to recall Winter and to bloom on schedule in the Spring.”

 Nothing on Earth happens by accident. It is a remarkable inter-related system to which we give little thought. The sheer power of all those blooming flowers and trees should tell us something about the power of Nature that dwarfs all the claims that humans have any influence whatever on the events of Spring or any other time of the year.

 Then think about the role of the animals with whom we share the planet. In the Spring many come out of hibernation in their dens, while others such as birds make lengthy migrations from the warmer climes to those in the north. The huge migration of Monarch Butterflies should leave us speechless. Spring is a time when many animals give birth to their young.

 A sign of the Spring that leaves us breathless is the way it is the season for the aurora borealis. Dr. Tony Phillips of NASA notes that “For reasons not fully understood by scientists, the weeks around the vernal equinox are prone to Northern Lights. From Canada to Scandinavia they provide a great show.

 “Such outbursts are called auroral substorms and they have long puzzled physicists,” says UCLA space physicist Vassilis Angelopoulos. They represent “a potent geomagnetic storm.” The equinox in Spring and Autumn is a time when magnetic connections between the Sun and Earth are most favorable.

 One book, “Silent Spring”, by Rachel Carson, first published in September 1962, started the environmental campaign against pesticide use for any reason, leading most famously to the ban on DDT in the U.S. What Carson neglected to tell readers was how they were supposed to cope with the trillions of insects that come with the advent of warm weather.

 No pesticide use does not mean less mosquitoes, less termites, less flies, less ants, or less of any other insect species and the diseases they spread, property damage, and the damage they cause to crops of all descriptions. And, of course, the much of the pollination of crops and other vegetation depends on insect species.

 Carson’s claims of a silent spring bereft of bird species was a blatant lie. Rich Kozlovich, an authority on pest management, noted that “Bird populations were never so high in North America” despite the use of DDT and other pesticides. “Carson’s claim about how the poor robin was going to disappear was not only wrong, she was deliberately lying.”

 “Carson was a science writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and absolutely had to know that in 1960 there were 12 times more robins, 21 times more cowbirds, 38 times more blackbirds, 131 times more grackles, etc., compared to 1941 numbers.”

 Spring is a time of renewal in the northern hemisphere and it occurs with enormous levels of natural power. Most people, however, are oblivious to that power as they enjoy the sight of flowers and trees blooming.

 I could almost guarantee that you will read or hear about “global warming” or “climate change” being attributed to the arrival of Spring. Do yourself a favor. Keep in mind that those claims, like Rachel Carson’s, represent an anti-humanity, anti-energy, and anti-capitalism agenda of the environmental movement.

 Instead, celebrate the seasonal renewal of life on Earth and give thanks for the energy that permits you to control the environment of the structures where you live and work, that provides you the means to get in your car and go anywhere, and that powers every device you use.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jesse Hathaway: IRS Civil Forfeiture Laws

Somewhat Reasonable - March 20, 2015, 1:10 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, we listen in as research fellow Jesse Hathaway joins host Tom Zawistowski to talk about IRS civil forfeiture laws on Tea Party Talk.

According to a new report by the Institute for Justice (IJ), the IRS has been using federal civil asset forfeiture laws to seize millions of dollars from innocent small business owners and citizens. The IJ report, Hathaway says, documents the IRS’ presumption of the guilt of American citizens, as federal agents “seize first, ask questions later,” forcing citizens to prove that they have not committed the crimes of which they were accused… after the IRS seized their assets.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Oregon’s Obamacare Is A Crony Socialist Nightmare, Just Like Washington’s

Somewhat Reasonable - March 20, 2015, 8:46 AM

Obamacare is an unmitigated, omni-directional disaster.

It’s a disaster as a health care plan. How’s it doing with premiums?

Obamacare Premiums Will Increase Faster Than Private Plans

How about deductibles?  Co-pays?  Medical choices?

Consumers Face Higher Deductibles Under Obamacare Plans 

 

Obamacare Shock: $12,600 Deductible, 40 Percent Co-Pay, Zero Competition

What Obamacare did succeed in doing was giving governments at all levels unfathomable new powers.

Which allows governments at all levels to give deals and favors galore to its friends — and pummel its enemies and the enemies of its friends. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting scandal, anyone? Net neutrality?

This is crony socialism — because it has nothing to do with capitalism.

Obamacare empowered further still federal and state governments — when governments since time immemorial have proven to be utterly incompetent. Veterans Administration deaths and delays, anyone?

Obamacare website, anyone? And not just the federal site. Behold the roiling nightmare mess that is Oregon’s foray into government medicine — Cover Oregon.

Remember this?

John Kitzhaber Resigns: Oregon Governor Quits Over Conflict-of-Interest Scandal

Crony Socialism brought him down. What, specifically?

Kitzhaber Turned Cover Oregon Decision-Making Over to Campaign Consultant

“There is a very bright line between political activity, which is trying to get the governor re-elected, and doing the state’s business in which the governor is supposed to act in the best interest of taxpayers.”…

“These emails show that a lot of the state’s business was being conducted in secret on private email accounts and far from the scrutiny of the Legislature, or the press, or the public.

Hillary Clinton, anyone?

What exactly happened with Cover Oregon?

Cover Oregon Health Exchange Website to Shut Down

Oregon’s exchange is seen as the worst of the more than a dozen states that developed their own online health insurance marketplaces….

Oregon…received a total of $305 million in federal grants to fund its operations….

That’s a lot of our coin. How did Cover Oregon use it?

Oregon Ranks Last in Health Insurance Sign-Ups 

Outstanding. That explains Kitzhaber’s earnest interest in transparency. Turns out his political consultant wasn’t the optimal choice for the gig.

How has the ex-governor been behaving since becoming ex-governor?

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s and Cylvia Hayes’ Trip to Dump Brings Police Sweeping In

The former governor and Hayes showed up at the Knott Landfill southeast of Bend in a pickup and an SUV about 2 p.m. last Friday and spent a few minutes dumping trash, according to Timm Schimke, the director of the Deschutes County Solid Waste Department.

Even more transparency.

AG: ‘Oregonians Deserve … the Facts

Check the landfill. Bring a mask and some air freshener.

The thing is, this isn’t just an Oregon scandal and a Cover Oregon failure. The Obama administration is absolutely also on the hook.

They kept pouring federal money into Oregon — way, way after it was obvious Oregon’s Obamacare was a train wreck.

But as we’ve seen time and again, program oversight and care for taxpayer coin is decidedly lacking from all things government — and this administration in particular.

Obama, First Lady Fly to Los Angeles on Same Day But Take Separate Flights 

Obama’s Dog Flies to Vacation on Separate Jet

Is anyone in Washington paying any attention?

Congress to Kitzhaber: Send Us Cover Oregon Records

Excellent. But they should expand their investigation all the way up the Obamacare food chain.

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously responded “Because that’s where the money is.”

The federal Obamacare superstructure is where the real coin is wasted. Our intrepid investigating Congressmen should adhere to Sutton’s maxim — and go there.

[Originally published at The Daily Caller]

 

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Benita Dodd: Georgia’s Solar Subsidy Boondoggle

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 12:36 PM

In this edition of the Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Environment and Climate News, H. Sterling Burnett talks with Benita Dodd. Dodd is Vice-president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Burnett and Dodd discuss the recent solar power boondoggle in Georgia.

Recently, a company promising a new factory, and jobs, and a $25 million dollar investment producing solar panels received more than $12.5 million grants, loans and subsidies from the state went bankrupt.It installed solar panels on a school in Georgia but taxpayers are paying more than $300,000 a year for bonds taken out to install the solar panels, which have saved the school just $87,000 in energy costs. Taxpayers lost, the state lost, and solar is coming up short once again. Dodd also discussed the fact that Georgia is reducing the money it takes from the federal government to avoid the strings and extortion attached to the money.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Behind the Driving Increase

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 10:10 AM

The Federal Highway Administration reported that driving increased 1.7 percent between 2013 and 2014 in the United States. This compares to virtually no increase over the period from 2004 to 2013. The 2014 increase will come as a disappointment to those who have perceived that the flat driving volumes of recent years signaled a shift in preferences away from driving. It had even been suggested that America had reached “peak car.”

Despite the congruity of such sentiments with urban planning orthodoxy, it’s somewhat risky to divine future economic trends from the perspective of a weak economy. It is rather like predicting future employment trends from realities of the late 1930s, when the world had still not climbed out of the Great Depression

The problem for those who seek to replace the car is that the current form of cities, from Phoenix to Paris, requires cars to support the millions with middle-class standard of living. Of course, with a sufficient decline in the standard of living, cars could become less essential. After all, you don’t need a car to not go to work when you are unemployed.

Nor is “peak oil” coming to rescue; we now live in something more like an oil glut. Even when prices were soaring, the amount of driving barely changed. People may have shifted to more efficient cars, they didn’t give up their cars, they just drove a little bit less.  

The latest driving data may indicate that even the somewhat tepid recovery is speeding up in the United States. This combined with falling gasoline prices is likely to be why driving is increasing again.

Employment Exceeds 2008 Level

Employment is probably the most important factor in the recent recovery of car use

According to data at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank “FRED” website, national employment peaked at 138.3 million in January 2008. By early 2010, employment had dropped to under 130 million. It took until April 2014 to restore the employment level that had been previously achieved more than six years earlier. This was the longest employment trough since before World War I, except for the period of 1929 to 1936, during the Great Depression.

As more people return to employment and incomes rise, driving can be expected to increase. During 2014, the nation’s nonfarm employment rose to the highest level in history. As the year progressed and employment increased, so did driving (Figure 1).

But there is still a long way to go for the economy. The civilian labor force participation rate continues depressed. If early 2008 levels of labor participation were restored, there would be at least 10 million additional jobs.

Falling Gasoline Prices

US Department of Energy data indicates that the average price per gallon of gasoline rose by more than one half between 2005 and 2011. Until the middle for 2014, gasoline prices fluctuated around this level until early summer of 2014. Then the gas price reductions began. By the end of 2014, gasoline prices had dropped to near 2005 levels, which they actually reached in early 2015. Much of the 2014 increase in driving was concentrated since the decline in gasoline prices started in the last half of the year (Figure 2).

Driving and Transit

Ridership and road travel data also shows that there has been little relationship between the annual changes in driving and transit use over the period of the gas price increases and the subsequent decrease. Advocates of greater transit funding have claimed for decades that transit can be effective in attracting drivers from their cars. This was transit’s time.

However, the highly publicized transit ridership increases have been small in context and have shown virtually no relationship to the changes in automobile use in urban areas. This is illustrated in Figure 3. Driving volumes have risen and fallen, with little response in transit ridership. If there were a significant relationship between transit ridership and travel by car, the two lines on the chart would nearly follow one another. However, the lines show virtually no relationship. In relation to the actual changes in travel by car and light vehicle, the changes in transit are imperceivable. Transit ridership remains relatively small, at approximately two percent of all trips and five percent of work trips. An American Public Transportation Association (APTA) press release confirms the weak nexus between driving trends and transit for the most recent period. APTA notes that transit ridership late in the year increased despite the significant reduction in gasoline prices.

Transit does not provide rapid mobility for most urban trips, which is why it has so little potential to attract people from cars. As higher prices force people to cut back on driving, they simply travel less, rather than getting on transit that cannot take them where they need to go in a reasonable time. That would be different if transit provided mobility competitive throughout the metropolitan area. Indeed, transit’s percentage of urban travel would be far above its current two percent. But to build out a system that reaches most jobs, of course, that would be financially prohibitive.

Transit’s strength is downtown (the central business district, or CBD). The largest CBDs have employment densities are 100 times the urban average, and are well served by rapid, radial transit routes. In four of the nation’s largest CBDs — New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco — transit carries more than half of workers to their job, 77 percent in Manhattan alone. Americans use transit where it is competitive or superior to travel by car, which should dispel any notion that there is a national aversion to transit.

But the city is much more than downtown. According to research by Lee and Gordon only eight percent of employment in the 48 largest metropolitan areas was in CBDs. This is despite the presence of impressive office towers that convey a sense of CBD dominance.

Lee and Gordon also show that about 13 percent of jobs are in employment centers centers outside the CBDs, which are often called “edge cities.” Because these centers do not have the radial networks of direct transit, even their high densities produce little in transit ridership.  My analysis of more than 80 post-World War II form suburban employment centers (mainly edge cities) indicated a transit work trip percentage of only 4.9 percent, which is approximately the national average for all areas. Transit’s share to the remaining nearly 80 percent of jobs dispersed throughout the metropolitan areas is just 4.6 percent.

The basic problem is access. Outside of downtowns, few jobs can be conveniently reached by transit. This means transit takes about twice as long as driving alone and often is either not within walking distance of home or does not drop the passenger off within walking distance of work. This is illustrated by research at the University of Minnesota Accessibility Laboratory, which has shown that in 45 large metropolitan areas, only 10 percent of jobs can be reached by the average employee in 60 minutes by transit. By comparison, American Community Survey data indicates that nearly 65 percent of employees who drive alone in the same metropolitan areas actually reach work — and in half the time (30 minutes).

Even low income workers, whose constrained budgets should make transit more attractive largely use cars to get to work.

Driving and a Middle-Income Lifestyles

I have referred before to the research that equates better economic performance with better mobility for people throughout the labor market (metropolitan area).

Driving is not based on the shallow, arbitrary preference expressed in the threadbare cliché of a “love affair with the automobile.” Cars are essential to realizing the aspirations of a majority of people, not only in the United States but in Europe and beyond.

Categories: On the Blog

States Should Defy Unlawful EPA Carbon Dioxide Rules

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 9:10 AM

Last June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan as a nationwide regulation to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electrical power plants. Comments to the EPA have now been submitted, and it’s not a surprise that a majority of state governments oppose the plan. In the best interests of US citizens, states should refuse to comply with the proposed EPA Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), more formally named the §111(d) rule, Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources, calls for a 30 percent reduction in power plant emissions by the year 2030. The CPP sets specific CO2 reduction targets for each state, based on four building blocks: 1) improved efficiency of coal-fired power plants, 2) increased use of combined cycle natural gas power plants, 3) increased use of renewable and nuclear energy, and 4) increased energy efficiency by consumers and businesses. But the main thrust of the proposal is the shut-down and replacement of coal-fired power plants, which now provide about 40 percent of US electricity.

There are three major strikes against the Clean Power Plan. First, the authority assumed by the CPP is not granted to the EPA by the laws of the United States. Second, efforts to try to implement the CPP will degrade the finest electrical system in the world, hurting consumers and businesses. Third, if implemented, the CPP will not have a measurable effect on global warming.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 authorized the establishment of state and federal regulations to control air pollution, and established the EPA to implement requirements of the act. The Clean Air Act and its amendments of 1977 and 1990 authorize the EPA to establish national ambient pollution standards and to control pollution levels from individual facilities, but not to regulate state electricity markets. A September 2014 letter from 15 state governors stated that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal, “not only exceeds the scope of federal law, but also, in some cases, directly conflicts with established state law.”

State electrical public service commissioners are tasked with providing reliable, low-cost electricity for the citizens of their state, while meeting environmental standards. Commissioners trade off the costs and benefits of hydrocarbon, nuclear, and renewable power sources, and they plan new power plants, electrical transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and other facilities. CPP restrictions threaten to inflate the price and seriously degrade the reliability of US electricity for negligible environmental benefits.

The State of Indiana requested that EPA withdraw the CPP proposal, predicting an electricity price increase of more than 60 percent due to EPA regulations. The State of Arizona commented that the CPP is “not technically feasible” and will “seriously undermine the reliability of electric service.” The Public Utility Commission of Texas also urged the EPA to withdraw the rule, estimating compliance costs at over $20 billion and that Texas electricity prices would rise by more than 20 percent by 2020. NERA Economic Consulting estimated a consumer cost of up to $479 billion by 2031, or about $1,500 for each man, woman, and child in the US.

Some states have shown support for the Clean Power Plan, led by California and New York. Both states appear to be in a race to achieve the highest residential electricity rates in the lower 48 states. In 2013, California citizens paid 16.19 cents per kilowatt-hour, but New York was number one at a whopping 18.79 cents per kW-hr, well over the US average of 12.12 cents per kW-hr. Paradoxically, New York recently banned hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, a fuel that the CPP heavily promotes.

However, the Clean Power Plan, if implemented, will provide negligible environmental benefits. Evidence is growing that natural cycles of Earth, such as ocean currents driven by the sun, dominate global temperatures and that human influences are small. Today’s storms, droughts, floods, and surface temperatures are neither extreme nor abnormal by historical standards.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has admitted in Congressional testimony that the effects of the CPP and other EPA regulations will not be visible in the more than 25 indicators of climate change on the EPA website. Yet the EPA continues to push regulations based on the ideology of human-caused global warming. Hundreds of billions in consumer cost and degraded electrical reliability appear to be only a small price to pay for an unmeasurable change in global temperatures.

In the best interest of citizens, states should defy the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

[Originally published at Communities Digital News]

Categories: On the Blog

Government and Business Waste Tax Dollars on Solar Projects

Somewhat Reasonable - March 19, 2015, 8:37 AM

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) published a report February 12, 2015 “Filling the Solar Sinkhole Billions of Bucks Have Delivered Too Little Bang”.  The report summarized,

“In spite of government’s best efforts to encourage innovation by solar energy companies and encourage Americans to rely more heavily on solar electricity, solar power continues to be a losing proposition.  American taxpayers spent an average of $39 billion a year over the past 5 years financing grants, subsidizing tax credits, guaranteeing loans, bailing out failed solar energy boondoggles and otherwise underwriting every idea under the sun to make solar energy cheaper and more popular.  But none of it has worked.  Solar energy remains prohibitively expensive – often three times more than electricity produced from natural gas or other sources.  As a result, less than 1 percent of the electricity consumers by Americans comes from solar energy sources.”

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROMOTING SOLAR ENERGY

On February 10, 2015, the Department of Agriculture issued a press release “USDA Announces Funding for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects” which described the availability of $280 million from the 2014 Farm Bill for their Rural Energy for Americans Program (REAP).  These programs “support clean energy and reduce carbon pollution”.  In the report was the following paragraph:

“Since 2009, USDA has awarded $545 million for more than 8,800 REAP projects nationwide. This includes $361 million in REAP grants and loans for more than 2,900 renewable energy systems. When fully operational, these systems are expected to generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours annually – enough to power more than 5.5 million homes for a year.”

This paragraph startled me for stating rural homes use 1100 kilowatt-hours per year which is utter nonsense because the average home in the U. S. uses 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year.  In addition it would require 4 million kilowatts of solar panels to generate 6 billion kilowatt-hours annually that would cost possibly 12 billion dollars.   At the end of their news release USDA mentioned if you had any questions visit their Ask the Expert page.  On February 10, I sent in questions for clarifying the REAP annual energy output and received a response I would have an answer in 3 to 5 business days.  With no response by February 19, I repeated the questions to Ask the Expert and received a response of an answer in 3 to 5 business days.  Still no response and I called the contact person for the news release and he said he would direct my question to the proper individuals.  As of March 17, I have received no response.  This is one example of tax dollars being spent to promote solar energy and bogus numbers given by the federal government for performance.

Taxpayer-funded solar projects are announced with great fanfare and then sink into obscurity as they are no longer subject to media scrutiny.  This paper provides costs and performance data for four recent taxpayer-funded solar projects in the Southeast—Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, FL; Laredo Bus Maintenance Facility in Decatur, GA; Dublin School Board Facility in Dublin, GA: and University of Georgia Solar Demonstration Project in Athens, GA.

Solar energy prospects are not the same across the United States.  The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) publishes solar energy potentialswhich give maximum output for a one square foot solar panel in watt-hours/square-foot/year.  For desert areas in CA, AZ, and NV, the potential is 610; while in FL and GA the potential is 460.  This means solar panels in FL or GA would have three -quarters the number of annual kilowatt-hours as in western deserts.

On January 30, 2015, Tampa Bay Times reporter Ivan Penn wrote “Florida utilities say solar doesn’t work in the Sunshine State, but it sure does in Georgia”.  Mr. Penn wrote, “While Florida energy policy impedes solar power development, Georgia promotes it: The Peach State, with a population half that of its neighbor to the south, expects to reach 900 megawatts of solar power generation by the end of 2016, almost twice Florida’s projected total by that time.  ‘Georgia is going to wind up being a state that everyone looks toward,’ said Ken Johnson, a vice president and spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C.  He said the reason why Georgia is emerging as a solar-power leader is that regulators and utilities have embraced solar as part of the solution for energy demand rather than rejecting it as not cost-effective.  Johnson said Georgia regulators are ‘proactive in trying to bring more solar without any upward pressure on rates.’”

The November 25, 2014 e-mail by the Georgia Chapter Sierra Club reported “Georgia Named #1 Solar Market in the Nation”.  “Solar power is the fastest-growing clean energy technology in Georgia and is projected to increase by 535 percent over the next decade. It is also now more affordable than ever before, out-competing fossil fuel energy across the country. Last month, Georgia Power reported that 56 companies filed bids for over 5,000 megawatts worth of potential new projects, averaging less than 6.5 cents per kilowatt.”

As shown by the following stories, Georgia is becoming more susceptible to expensive solar projects than Florida.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY COURTHOUSE SOLAR PLANT

Performance of the Hillsborough County Courthouse is described in the July 30, 2014 paper by The Heartland Institute’s James Taylor “Solar Panels on Tampa Courthouse Fail to Meet Promises”.  The facility was built with America Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) funds and cost $1.2 million.  The facility is 196 kilowatts and was projected to save $60,000 per year.  In reality the savings are only $27,000 of electricity annually and with an expected lifetime of no more than 20-25 years, the savings are far short of facility cost.  The article provides a link to real-time operating data for the system which is a great education tool.  Real-time operating data should be required on the Internet for all large solar facilities funded with tax dollars.

Mr. Taylor writes, In 2010, local politicians eagerly lined up for the news cameras to take credit for purportedly saving taxpayers money through the solar panels.  ‘I’d like to welcome and thank everybody who has come out this morning to help us celebrate Hillsborough County’s government going solar,’ said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner at an October 2010 press conference.  ‘It is so wonderful to see the Recovery Act at work in our community, creating jobs and saving money’ said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa).  ‘This is a nice initiative that will allow the county to put a little money back into the pockets of taxpayers at a time that they need it most, and to create jobs,’ said Castor.  ‘Hillsborough County is a great example of how the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program is being utilized across the country,’ said U.S. Department of Energy grant project office Jennifer Holman.  ‘The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program is one of the signature programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,’ said Holman.

The solar panels were installed horizontally on the building roof.  For stationary panels, the optimum position to achieve maximum power output is for panels to face south and be tilted at an angle off horizontal equal to the latitude.  Tampa, FL is located 27 degrees north; thus the best positioning of the solar panels would have been facing south tilted off horizontal 27 degrees.  This positioning would have increased output approximately 15 percent.  Naturally installation costs would have been higher.  The return on investment (ROI) for this solar plant is zero.

LAREDO BUS FACILITY SOLAR PLANT

For a similar project in Georgia, we have 1.2 Megawatts of solar panels installed at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority’s (MARTA) Laredo Bus Facility in Decatur, GA.  This facility has 1.2 Megawatts of solar panels installed on bus canopies covering 190,000 square feet.

The cost of the project was $10.8 million and it was supposed to supply 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year.  This project was also paid for with ARRA funds.  The solar panels were also installed horizontally instead of 33 degrees (the latitude of Decatur, GA) from horizontal facing south.  This means a loss of more than 15 percent of generating capability.

Operating data and maintenance problems are described in MARTA’s November 20, 2014 report “MARTA Sustainability Analysis”.  Excess electricity produced is sold back to Georgia Power Company.  For the period from August 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014, the report had a chart of monthly totals of electricity produced and paybacks to Georgia Power Company.  The annual results were the solar plant produced 1,438395 kilowatt-hours electricity and received $48,157.99 in paybacks from Georgia Power Company.  The report stated, “This chart does not show the savings of the electricity that the facility uses as a result of the canopy. The amount of electricity that exceeds the demand is sold back into the grid. It is estimated that the total monthly savings is $20-$25K per month. So the estimated annual savings can be estimated at $300K annually.”

The report further stated, “One of the challenges of sustainability is the commitment to a sustainable project that has an extended return on investment (ROI). The solar canopy, although funded by a Federal grant, generates roughly $300K per year for MARTA. The estimated ROI is 30 years. The Solar Canopy project has brought tremendous awareness about these types of efforts but some of the dangers are as follows. Suniva, the company that installed the Solar Canopy is now out of business drastically increasing the cost of support services and maintenance to keep the canopy working at top efficiency. The inverters, which are necessary to convert the solar energy into usable electricity, are failing 4 years into the life of the canopies. The cost of replacement is $100,000 per inverter, the total cost of replacement estimates to about a million dollars. At this time, MARTA has no funding or plan that can cover the premature failure of these items. Although this provided a clean source of energy and actually produced in dollar terms, the technology is still new and needs time to develop further.”

When operating, the Laredo solar plant’s output exceeded initial estimates of 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year with a value of 1,438,395 kilowatt-hours for 2014.  This still does not have an annual value of $300,000 stated in MARTA’s report.  For Georgia,  USEIA rates for electricity in 2014 year-to-date  kilowatt-hours are 11.57 cents residential, 10.28 cents commercial, and 6.52 cents industrial.  Thus the value of electricity is approximately $150,000 which gives a return on investment (ROI) of zero.

DUBLIN SCHOOL DISTRICT SOLAR PLANT

Another area of investigation is the Dublin School District solar plant in Dublin, GA.  A 1.08 Megawatt solar facility was built on the grounds of the local high school.  The school board signed a 25-year contract to pay the solar company that built the solar facility $300,000 per year for 25 years. The solar plant is financed by $3.6 million bond issue from the City of Dublin which loaned the funds to Greenavations Power, LLC for construction of the solar plant.  Greenavations Power, LLC leases the facility to the Laurens County Public Facilities Authority which in turn subleases the facility to City of Dublin School District.  The solar company has access to the federal 30 percent tax credit for solar facilities, five-year accelerated depreciation, and the $7.5 million in payments over the 25-year period.  The school district is responsible for all taxes, insurance, and repairs on the solar facility.

A remarkable description of the history of solar energy in Dublin, GA is written by Benita Dodd, Vice-president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF), published March 17, 2015 titled “Cronyism vs. Kids:  High School Solar in Georgia ($7.5 million for $3.5 million)” which covers the period from 2010 to present.  A German renewable energy company located its American subsidiary Mage Solar USA in Dublin, GA after entreaties by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue who is shown wearing a green jacket in the official ribbon-cutting ceremony September 22, 2010.  GPPF reported,“Mage was persuaded with a $1.25 million OneGeorgia EDGE grant in December 2010, and “committed to create 350 jobs and to spur the investment of capital in the amount of $25 million within 60 months.” The total potential value of state incentives (including job tax credits, port tax credits, sales and use tax exemptions, QuickStart training and the EDGE grant) was estimated at $12,444,500, according to the Department of Economic Development”.  Mage Solar was contracted by Greenavations Power, LLC for construction of the Dublin School District solar plant.  GPPF investigations showed, “At the same time, Greenavations, which was paid by the county, has yet to pay Mage for the panels installed at the school. Mage is suing Greenavations and Robert Green in Laurens Superior Court for nearly $1.4 million.”  “Today – less than five years later – Mage’s Dublin facility is shuttered. Its parking lot is deserted, a promised solar academy shut down, too.”

Numerous times the Dublin School System was contacted for operating data, maintenance problems, and insurance costs starting January 29, 2015.  My e-mail address was provided and no reply given to these requests.  However, on June 12, 2014 the Macon NBC affiliate 41 WMGT interviewed Michelle Thubin with Dublin City Schools.  The interview contained this information, “We’re already seeing some changes on our checks for sure,” Michelle Thublin with Dublin City Schools said.  Dublin City Schools turned on the power to the 4,000 solar panels at Dublin High School six months ago. Thublin said in that amount of time, they are already seeing savings.  “We got our power bill back from this May and then we compared it to last May,” she said. “Last May it was about $18,000 and then this year, our power bill has dropped to $3,600.”

The apparent savings on the power bill is $18,000 – $3,600 = $14,400.  However, the school system paid $25,000 for that month’s electricity; thus their power bill for May 2014 was $28,600.  The GPPF article reported, “No numbers have been published yet for the total 2014 energy bill, but the superintendent of Dublin City Schools, Dr. Chuck Ledbetter, told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation the high school saved $87,000 on its 2014 energy bill.”  We’re pleased with what it’s doing,” Ledbetter said. “It’s right about where we thought it would be.”  This result explains the Dublin School Board’s failure to provide operating data.  One could speculate what type of mathematical analysis could show a profit from this 25-year lease agreement.  Perhaps Dublin students are being shortchanged in their education.

Showing the solar industries reward for those promoting dubious solar projects, Dublin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter accepted The Solar Foundation’s K-12 Schools Award for his outstanding dedication to install more than a megawatt of solar energy at Dublin High School.  Specifically, the DHS solar panels were chosen for saving the entire school district significant costs over the life of the project.  No saving will take place and the school system will be stuck with a broken down solar plant after 25 years.  Again the return on investment is zero.

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA SOLAR DEMONSTATION PROJECT

Giving into demands by students, facility, and staff, the University of Georgia in Athens, GA agreed to place a Solar Demonstration Projecton one of their campus building.  The unit was estimated to have an annual output of 30,000 kilowatt-hours and an approximate construction cost of $60,000.  Mage Solar was contracted in 2012 to supply solar panels which were placed on the Jackson Street Building of the new College of Environment and Design with a maximum power output of 19 kilowatts.  Private communications with the University of Georgia said the materials cost for the solar panels was $46,000; thus a $60,000 cost for the system seems reasonable.

Operating data for the year 2014 showed a total energy output of 11,732 kilowatt-hours—about one-third the projected value.  This was to be expected because the original estimated output is too optimistic for solar plants located in Georgia.  In addition, observing the placement of the solar panels on the Jackson Street Building shows they are at too steep an angle for locations at the latitude of 33 degrees for Athens, GA.  This degrades system performance in the summer when solar output is at its peak.  The USEIA 2014 year-to-date commercial rate for Georgia is 10.28 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity.  Thus the annual value of electricity for the Georgia Solar Demonstration Project is less than $1250 which means this facility will not pay for itself before it is no longer functional in 25 years.  Once again the return on investment is zero.

All solar power plants examined in this study show electricity costs two or more times conventional sources of “reliable” electricity provided by coal, natural gas, or nuclear power.  Overly enthusiastic promotions of solar energy by government officials, environmental groups, and those selling solar energy has led to grievous losses to taxpayers in the Southeast.

Categories: On the Blog

GOP: The Grade School Boy Trying Too Hard to Get the Silicon Valley Girl

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 1:11 PM

The GOP wants the Silicon Valley’s love. And by love we mean the millions of donation dollars that currently go mostly to Democrats. And sadly, it appears some Republicans will go to nearly any length to curry some of that coin.

Including giving up core conservative principles. Currently on the Win Your Love sacrificial altar – private property rights.

Behold Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)’s latest love missive to their Valley Girl. Published in the Valley’s Tiger Beat – Wired.

It’s Time to Kill Patent Trolls for Good

Since 2011, Overstock.com, from my home state of Utah, has been targeted by 28 so-called patent“trolls, seeking to enforce vague patents.

Patents are private property – and deserve all the protections a personal parcel of land does.

If a patent is vague, that is the fault of the U.S. government – the Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) – for approving it. Once the USPTO approves, though, that patent is private property – with all the ownership rights pertaining thereto.

If Overstock doesn’t like it – work with Congress to tighten up the USPTO’s approval process. Don’t get government to undermine a fundamental component of our intellectual property system.

Behold the fundamental issue in this whole “patent troll” discussion. We don’t need “patent troll” reform – we need Patent Office reform.

Often these trolling lawsuits come from shell corporations that don’t make or sell anything.

“Shell companies” – otherwise known as property owners. These companies in many cases purchased the patents from those who invented the patent-able product – the people from whom sprung forth the miracle that is creation.

Inventors often have zero desire to actually implement their ideas. Their joy is in the inventing. They are often more than happy to sell an idea (to a “shell company”) – to fund their work on their next idea.

This is an amazing, virtuous cycle of innovation. Why would we want to fundamentally undermine it?

(P)atent trolls are crippling growth across all sectors of our innovation economy – from small businesses to America’s largest companies.

There’s a very easy way to avoid this litigation, Ladies and Gentlemen – pay the people whose property you are using. Or don’t use it.

If I were squatting in your office building and renting the space out – would you be pleased if I got Congress to outlaw your ability to collect rent or evict me? You absolutely would not. Congratulations – you’re an “office troll.”

This is the Silicon Valley looking to “rent seek” – which means getting government to pass laws that tilt the playing field in their favor. And, of course, getting favors from government costs money – otherwise known as political donations.

Of course Democrats are – as always – for Crony Socialist sale. It’s disheartening when the allegedly free market, private-property-protecting Republicans are too.

Hey GOP – sometimes the girl ain’t worth it.

[Originally published at Red State]

 

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – E. Calvin Beisner: The Environment From a Biblical Perspective

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 12:43 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Environment and Climate News, H. Sterling Burnett talks with E. Calvin Beisner. Beisner is the founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, a volunteer network of about 60 Christian theologians, scientists, economists, and other scholars who teach or do research at various universities and colleges around North America. The Cornwall Alliance focuses on the biblical perspective on environmental and natural resource use issues. Beisner was the recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Spokesperson of Faith, Science, and Stewardship Award at The Heartland Institute’s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change, July 8th in Las Vegas.

In this podcast, Beisner and Burnett discuss environmental issues and policy from a biblical perspective, particularly stressing the need to allow use of fossil fuels and the market economy to raise people around the world out of poverty. Beisner’s work with economists and scientists show that the projections of cataclysmic harm from global warming are completely wrong or at the very least, wildly overstated. He suggests the solutions proposed to fight climate change will do far more harm to the poor than the harm from global warming. Leaving present generations in poverty and in danger of premature death is morally unconscionable, and only the market economy and fossil fuel use can raise them out of poverty.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Is Government Shower Regulation in the Offing?

Somewhat Reasonable - March 18, 2015, 11:40 AM

 

[The Government that gave us multi-flush, easily stopped up toilets; dim, annoying, expensive compact fluorescent light bulbs; and that just last year pushed to ban inexpensive Christmas lights, preventing the poor from lighting up their Christmas trees and homes for the holidays, now want to tell weary travelers how much time they can spend in the shower in their hotel rooms.

That’s right the same government that can’t balance its checkbook, keep illegal immigrants from pouring over the border, enforce rules for its own top employees to use a public email system and save their emails, and that can’t suppress or defeat a rag-tag bunch of, relative to our own troops, poorly armed and trained, terrorists despite the fact that the previously ruling tyrants in Libya, Iraq and Syria had successfully suppressed these tin-pot zealot armies for decades, now wants to tell us how long our showers can be because it has determined that there is a magical length of time for showering and if you take showers longer than that, you are wasting water.

According to the Washington Free Beacon EPA wants hotels to monitor their guests shower activity and scold them into taking shorter showers.

Per the Beacon:

[The EPA]  is spending $15,000 to create a wireless system that will track how much water a hotel guest uses to get them to “modify their behavior.”

“Hotels consume a significant amount of water in the U.S. and around the world,” an EPA grant to the University of Tulsa reads. “Most hotels do not monitor individual guest water usage and as a result, millions of gallons of potable water are wasted every year by hotel guests.”

“The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers,” it said. “This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

The hotel pays for the water and guests pay for the hotel room. The hotel incorporates the cost of water and electricity use into the guests room charge. It’s none of the governments business how long anyone takes in the shower. Water is not being wasted in the shower as long as the guest is enjoying its use.

It never ceases to amaze me how intrusive and Orwellian the government is truly becoming. Behavior modification is “newspeak” for government direction of peoples’ day to day, evidently if you are in the shower, minute by minute, activities. The government that want’s to tap your phone and wireless devices, control your speech, online activities and food consumption (see my piece on government food guidelines) now wants to monitor your bathing activities.

And some people still fail to recognize or are willing to admit that the Federal government has gone well beyond the authority and power it was given in the Constitution! They are either willfully ignorant or are in-bed with (or hope to be in-bed with) the tyrants.

Categories: On the Blog

Access to Mid-Atlantic Energy Resources Advances Long-term Energy Security

Somewhat Reasonable - March 17, 2015, 12:55 PM

At the end of January, the Obama administration announced the next step in a long process that could result in the exploration and ultimate extraction of oil-and-gas resources of the U.S. mid-Atlantic—something the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Governors Coalition supports. On March 30, the 60-day comment period ends. If everything goes well, we could see new American resources on the market in twenty years.

With the current oil abundance, it may seem like an odd time to be going after more. However, the legal wheels that could allow limited access to the vast, untapped oil resources move very slowly. Today’s market conditions will fluctuate between now and 2035 when the global demand for energy is expected to spike. Not to mention the increasingly volatile situation in the Middle East, where new coalitions are already being formed: Iran and Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea—just to name two. If one more beheading takes place or a bomb hits the right (or wrong) target, the region could erupt, and the entire energy dynamic would change. Considering the variables, American energy security is always something worth pursuing.

The planning for the 2017-2022 OCS leasing program (5Y OCS) began June 2014, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a request for information and comments. Then, in January, it published the Draft Proposed Plan; the Final Proposed Plan is anticipated in early 2017. 5Y OCS proposes just one mid-Atlantic lease sale six years from now—and even its future is precarious. The mid-Atlantic currently has no leases in federal waters.

Explaining the process, Offshore magazine writes: “The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a five-year program that includes a schedule of potential oil and gas lease sales and indicates the size, timing and location of proposed leasing activity as determined to best meet national energy needs, while addressing a range of economic, environmental and social considerations.”

The BOEM estimates that the entire U.S. OCS holds approximately 90 billion barrels of oil and more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which are technically recoverable. Based on 30- to 40-year-old data, it estimates that the mid-Atlantic OCS may contain approximately 8-9 billion barrels of oil equivalent—which at current consumption rates would be enough to meet South Carolina’s needs for 67 years. New seismic and other geological and geophysical surveys are needed. Modern practices and technologies will provide a more comprehensive view that will help make informed decisions on using the resources.

While the proposal for possible mid-Atlantic development faces opposition from environmental lobbyists, who call it a gift to oil-and-gas interests and an anchor to the “dirty fossil fuels of the past,” it enjoys a favorable political climate in the affected coastal states, where polls show citizens support offshore drilling.

When the January announcement came out, North Carolina’s Republican Governor Pat McCory, chairman of the OCS Governors Coalition, applauded the proposal: “Responsible exploration and development of oil and gas reserves off our coast would create thousands of good paying jobs, spur activity in a host of associated industries, generate billions of dollars in tax revenue and move America closer to energy independence.” Even Virginia’s Democrat senators say the proposal is a “significant step … that should result in safe, responsible development of energy resources off the Virginia and mid-Atlantic coasts.”

Both the senators and governors want to see legislation passed that would provide for the same type of revenue-sharing system currently applied to the Gulf States to compensate local communities for additional infrastructure, environmental protection, and other coastal management needs generated by the new economic activity. If Congress allows revenue sharing, Brydon Ross, Southeast director of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), predicts that it “could generate more than $10 billion in revenue combined for critical public budget infusions without taxpayer dollars.”

Unfortunately, even though the draft proposal includes it and lawmakers and citizens in the impacted states support it, future mid-Atlantic resource development is not a sure thing. The Washington Post (WP) calls the plan: “politically fraught.”

“This is a political plan,” Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, stated, “not a plan based on science and resource data”—though he acknowledged it “is a small step in the right direction.” Luthi added: “Our members are encouraged by the decision to further analyze the mid- and south-Atlantic areas, which have not been included in a leasing program for over two generations.”

5Y OCS is still in the early stages. Addressing the ongoing process, Jeremy Kennedy, an attorney who focuses on domestic- and international-energy transactions, explains: “Each of the steps … will winnow the scope of the 2017-2022 leasing program.” The WP reports: BOEM “could decide to narrow—but not expand—the proposed leasing area before it is finalized.”

Kennedy sees that “little is certain at this time.” After all, the Obama administration has killed previous potential lease sales. “Once published,” he states, “planned lease sales can always be cancelled or delayed by the Interior Department, president or Congress.”

Will the U.S. pursue development of our own offshore oil-and-natural gas resources in the Atlantic, as Canada, Cuba, the Bahamas, and South American Atlantic-coast countries do? No one really knows—but it is something we should do.

Supporters of American energy security need to get involved in the “political process” by making our voices heard. Add your public comment before the March 30 deadline.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Adam C. Smith: Lyft and Uber Ridesharing

Somewhat Reasonable - March 17, 2015, 12:54 PM

In this episode of the Budget & Tax News podcast, managing editor, Jesse Hathaway is joined by Heartland Institute policy advisor and Johnson & Wales University associate economics professor Adam C. Smith. Smith and Hathaway discuss Virginia’s recent legalization of sharing-economy transportation companies Lyft and Uber.

Last year, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles banned Lyft and Uber from operating in state, but backed down and allowed the companies to operate in the state until an agreement between lawmakers, regulators, and the companies could be reached. The bill resulting from those negotiations was recently signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a result which Smith says was a win for consumers.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

 

Categories: On the Blog

FCC’s Title II Legal Case Is a Modern Version of “The Emperor Has No Clothes”

Somewhat Reasonable - March 17, 2015, 8:59 AM

Expect the FCC’s new Open Internet Order’s assertion of Title II authority ultimately to be rejected in court (90%), because of its core illegal confiscatory purpose and its serial ends-justify-the-means trampling of due process.

The FCC’s Title II legal defense is a “modern” day version of “the Emperor has no clothesfable, where the vain FCC confidently parades in public clothed in the legal fabric that utopian legal alchemists have convinced the FCC is invisible only to those who are “hopelessly stupid” or “unfit for their positions.” Sadly, this emperor (the FCC) has no clothes (sustainable legal case).

After reading the FCC’s order, I increase the odds of the courts ultimately rejecting the FCC’s assertion of Title II authority from the 80% probability level in my 3-2-15 White PaperA Legal House of Cards” to 90% now because many of the eight conceptual legal flaws I spotlighted previously are worse than I anticipated.

This FCC Title II legal case and process is an obvious mess. It is the functional legal equivalent of a parent getting caught doing something wrong and then scolding an inquisitive child with “because I say so” answers — over and over again.

For the FCC to prevail, it needs the courts to politically rubber stamp the FCC’s unquestioned and unlimited assumption of “Chevron Deference” not only for interpreting ambiguous law, but for their ends-justify-the-means take on most every building block of the FCC’s legal case.

In a nutshell, the FCC’s core purpose for asserting Title II authority is to permanently ban any price/compensation for edge downstream Internet service, which is illegally confiscatory. And the FCC’s Title II legal case is built upon de facto claims of legal immunity to disregard due process, the law, facts, definitions, precedents, fair notice, reliance interests and proportionality.

Simply the FCC seeks an illegal end via multiple illegal means, and serial sweeping “Chevron Deference” to evade legal and constitutional accountability. Multiple wrongs do not make a right.

The rest of this analysis will answer three questions central to anticipating the likely legal outcome of the FCC’s assertion of Title II authority. How could this FCC legal charade happen? Why is the FCC’s core purpose illegal? And what are the FCC’s Title II serial ends-justify-the-means violations of due process?

How could this FCC legal charade happen?

This is actually not the third, but the FCC’s fourth proposed legal theory to assert direct authority to regulate the Internet. The first three cases, by three different FCC Chairman and their General Counsels — Martin in 2008, Genachowski in 2010, and Wheeler initially in early 2014 — all decided that Title II reclassification was not likely a legally sustainable source of FCC authority.

The first two legal cases failed in court, Chairman Martin’s in Comcast v. FCC in 2010, and Chairman Genachowski’s in Verizon v. FCC in 2014.

Many forget that the third proposed FCC legal case was Chairman Wheeler’s in February of last year.

In response to the FCC’s loss in Verizon v. FCC, FCC Chairman Wheeler stated February 19, 2014 that the FCC would not appeal and would accept the Court’s “invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic…” under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Thus Chairman Tom Wheeler and his General Counsel Jonathan Sallet originally did not believe that Title II reclassification was a legally sustainable legal alternative to solve the FCC’s net neutrality legal authority problem. In late April 2014, FCC Chairman Wheeler continued to reject Title II reclassification as a source of FCC legal authority in his proposed draft NPRM for his fellow commissioners’ review.

However, after a widely-reported lobbying campaign for Title II reclassification of broadband, the FCC passed an NPRM 3-2 in May 2014, which included consideration of Title II reclassification as a potential source of FCC legal authority.

In a November 2014 public call for FCC regulation of the Internet as a utility, President Obama publicly and specifically urged: “I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act,” which is exactly what the FCC majority dutifully voted to do February 26th.

Simply, the FCC decided to reclassify the Internet as Title II “telecommunications” not based on its independent, objective, expert legal opinion, but based on outside political pressure.

Here is the crux of my 90% confidence that the FCC’s legal case will crumble under scrutiny in court.

The FCC’s decision to reclassify is wholly predicated on the FCC political imperative (or “end”) to find some new assert-able FCC legal authority to ban paid prioritization or fast-lanes (i.e. economically impose a permanent “price of zero” for edge downstream traffic without cost recovery). That’s because Verizon v. FCC (page 60) ruled that the FCC did not have authority under Section 706 “to impose per se common carrier obligations.”

Political pressure to turn currently-illegal zero-price regulation into legal anti-discrimination regulation without the involvement of Congress or new legislation, created immense political pressure for FCC lawyers to justify using most any “means” necessary to justify the desired political “end.”

Thus whenever the FCC encounters a fact, definition, precedent, law or constitutional principle that contradicts or thwarts the FCC’s desired end, the FCC serially dismisses them with claims of agency discretion allowed by various court precedents.

However, the FCC’s expectation of deference in this case is so cumulatively serial and sweeping — in reversing a plethora of legally-settled findings of fact, definitions, precedent, law and constitutional interpretation — that a court could ask sarcastically what role the FCC believes remains for the Judicial Branch to adjudicate?

Why is the FCC’s core purpose illegal?  

The core controversial purpose of this FCC’s concept of Title II net neutrality is that the Internet should be a de facto economic digital commons, created via a de facto FCC-set price-of-zero for all edge Internet downstream service with no opportunity for ISP cost recovery or profit. The FCC’s new euphemisms for banning any compensation for edge downstream Internet traffic are a ban on “paid prioritization,” or “fast lanes.”

The FCC claims no direct statutory authority to compel service delivery at a permanent price of zero with no opportunity for cost recovery, and the FCC cites no upheld Title II precedent that ruled an FCC-set price-of-zero with no opportunity for cost recovery as “just and reasonable” under Title II Section 201.

Moreover, nowhere in the FCC’s order is there any discussion of how the FCC expects a compelled Broadband Internet Service Provider is supposed to recover its costs for permanently providing free downstream Internet traffic to the largest edge providers.

Thus the FCC order’s underlying zero-pricing economic purpose, which compels an entity to permanently furnish a costly service at no cost, is illegally confiscatory, and a de facto regulatory takings with no constitutionally-required just compensation.

In addition, a common sense understanding of economics dictates that a permanent price-of-zero without cost recovery is economically unsustainable and destructive regulatory arbitrage over time.

If a court starts from the FCC’s zero-price, no-cost-recovery premise, the FCC’s case is in immediate and serious legal jeopardy.

There are literally eighty years of settled Title II AT&T and Bell legal precedents that make clear that the FCC does not have the authority to permanently compel service with no opportunity for cost recovery or just compensation.

Apparently this FCC imagines that Title II’s “just and reasonable” standard is only based on what is just and reasonable for consumers, and not also for the regulated provider of service which has an obvious Constitutional Fifth Amendment right to “just compensation,” i.e. “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The FCC is making a huge wrong assumption that the FCC can compel a common carrier to do most anything – and not have to worry about its economic effect. That’s because they apparently have forgotten that when the FCC long compelled AT&T to do various common carrier obligations for the first fifty years of the 1934 Communications Act, that AT&T was guaranteed a utility, reasonable rate-of-return to sustain all its operations, investments, and profit.

Apparently this FCC imagines that in a competitive market where market forces and costs determine prices, and ultimately financial solvency, that compelling a competitive provider (which has no FCC guaranteed rate of return) to permanently provide a costly infrastructure service for free to edge providers which generate enormous amounts of fast-growing, cost-causing, downstream traffic, with no cost recovery, is somehow economically or competitively rational, and is not confiscatory.

Obviously no one at the FCC has thought through that Title II was designed as a holistic, end-to-end, utility-regulatory regime, that had widespread regulatory power to compel AT&T to do things precisely because it was a sanctioned closed, monopoly end-to-end service, that was always made whole with a guaranteed rate of return for its business and shareholders.

Even after the break-up of AT&T into local Baby Bells and a long distance network, Title II regulations devised an elaborate series of utility access charges and subsidies to ensure the companies recovered their costs and earned a guaranteed utility rate of return from 1984-1996.

Simply, the FCC is mistaken that it can impose Title II economic regulation without regard to economics or the Constitution.

Furthermore, the FCC’s legal assertion that a combination of Title II and Section 706 authority combined can legally compel an entity to do something that neither Title II nor Section 706 can do legally individually is a desperate attempt at legal alchemy.

What are the FCC’s Title II serial ends-justify-the-means violations of due process?    

Normally an administrative agency depends on some Chevron Deference from the courts in one or maybe two critical parts of their case. This FCC Title II case is so serially and sweepingly dependent on the court giving the FCC substantial deference that it’s tantamount to an expectation of FCC de facto due process immunity to disregard the law, facts, definitions, precedents, fair notice, reliance interests and proportionality.

Simply, the FCC is repeatedly declaring effectively: trust us, because our goal is more important than due process.

Re-defining the PSTN — The FCC’s order claims the authority and latitude to “modernize” (redefine) the legally-settled definition of the Public Switched Telephone Network PSTN by adding “IP addresses” to its defining characteristics. To achieve the FCC’s self-serving legal goal of treating ISPs as “common carriers,” the FCC has to change the definition of the PSTN to add “IP addresses” because a provider is only a “common carrier” by definition, if it is connected to the PSTN.

This may be the most surprising and perplexing sub-decision in the order because just like the 1996 Telecommunications Act created mutually-exclusive definitions for telecommunications and information services, the PSTN and the Internet have been essentially mutually-exclusive embodiments of those mutually-exclusive definitions.

This is not a mere reinterpretation of ambiguous law, this is tantamount to legislation because it would have sweeping un-discussed implications for most everything PSTN and Internet. For example, the FCC currently is in the process of a complex IP transition proceeding.

This radical, scrambling redefinition of the PSTN, which was never put out for comment, arguably reincarnates the Internet to be a sub-part of the PSTN rather than the PSTN obsolescing and being replaced by the Internet. And all of this is done for the FCC’s regulatory convenience without any involvement of Congress, which by the way established a completely different Internet policy in law, which is diametrically opposed to this latest fantastical FCC reinterpretation of law.

Reclassification – The FCC assumes Title II broadband reclassification can be a singular, one-size-fits-all, all-at once decision, when the FCC seeks to undo multiple precedents which resolved very different factual predicates, technologically, historically, competitively and legally. The FCC gave no explanation why they could undo multiple precedents in the same way without addressing why the law and FCC originally addressed them differently, with different facts, at different times in different situations.

Forbearance – Like reclassification, the FCC assumes forbearance under Section 10 can be a singular, one-size-fits-all, all-at-once decision, with no detailed fact finding of competition, market power, or effect on the public interest, when every other exercise of Section 10 authority did. Title II is a holistic end-to-end interdependent regulatory regime. The FCC has effectively asserted in the FCC order that the FCC’s self interest and convenience and the public interest are one in the same. They are not.

Moreover, the FCC did not adequately explain how it can simultaneously hold factually contradictory conclusions at the same time – i.e. that there is insufficient competition to warrant Title II reclassification regulation, but sufficient competition to warrant unprecedented sweeping forbearance and deregulation.

The FCC also never justifies why Section 10 and Section 706, which were provisions designed by Congress to de-regulate, are being employed to impose a huge net-increase in regulation.

Re-defining “Telecommunications” & “Information Services” – This FCC order in effect is asserting everything that previous FCCs decided in detailed proceedings – e.g. findings of fact and interpretation of precedent/law, in several bipartisan FCC precedents (1998, 1999, 2002, 20042005, and 2007) since the 1996 Telecommunications Act – are all wrong and this partisan FCC is  completely right.

Simply, the FCC is asserting that these bearing point definitions, on which the entire free and open Internet ecosystem rests, are not legally-settled, fact-based, precedent-bound, statutory definitions in law, but essentially the “expert” fungible opinion of three FCC commissioners that can “change their mind” at any given time without much APA notice.

The FCC is now claiming that telecommunications can be information services and information services can be telecommunications — whenever three FCC commissioner’s votes say so going forward.  This is quintessentially an arbitrary and capricious assertion of authority.

FCC Ignoring fair proportionality – At core, the FCC is asserting that a handful of alleged free and open Internet violations by a few of the ~2,000 American ISPs, that by the way were all successfully resolved or mitigated without FCC Title II regulatory authority, are such a dire potential threat to the public interest, that all ISPs, including the ~2,000 that have never been alleged to have done anything wrong, all deserve prophylactic 1934 monopoly utility regulatory internment to protect the public.

Not only is the FCC finding all ISPs guilty until proven innocent, it is sentencing ISPs to life in Title II regulatory prison for what the FCC alleges they might do wrong in the future. This is a politically gross abuse of due process, fairness, and the constitutional principle of proportional justice.

FCC Dismisses Huge Reliance Interests – The FCC’s effective cavalier summary dismissal of massively large, potentially ~trillion-dollar-size, ecosystem-wide, economic reliance interests is grossly unfair, arbitrary and capricious as well. In relying on precedent that the FCC can change its mind and reverse a previous decision, the FCC is interpreting that necessary appropriate discretion, practically is carte blanche to do whatever it wants to whomever it wants.

Simply, FCC discretion to change its mind is not authority to change facts, due process or the law.

Conclusion

The extent to which the courts focus on the FCC’s effort to ban “paid prioritization” — the practical and driving purpose of the FCC’s Title II reclassification of broadband – the FCC’s Title II case is in serious legal jeopardy. That’s because the FCC ban on paid prioritization requires compelling a permanent zero-price on edge Internet downstream traffic with no cost recovery, which is obviously confiscatory and hence illegal.

Neither Title II nor Section 706 authority, separately or together, trump ISP’s Constitutional Fifth Amendment right to “just compensation,” i.e. “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The extent to which the courts care about protecting due process, the FCC’s Title II case is also in serious jeopardy. That’s because the FCC’s Title II legal case is built upon de facto claims of legal immunity to disregard due process, the law, facts, definitions, precedents, fair notice, reliance interests and proportionality.

Simply the FCC seeks an illegal end via multiple illegal means, and serial sweeping “Chevron Deference” to evade legal and constitutional accountability.

Multiple wrongs do not make a right.

For the FCC to prevail, it needs the courts to politically rubber stamp the FCC’s unquestioned and unlimited assumption of “Chevron Deference,” not only for interpreting ambiguous law, but for their ends-justify-the-means take on most every building block of the FCC’s legal case.

I don’t profess to know which violation(s) of due process the court(s) could seize upon, but at least one and possibly many could seriously offend any fair court. Importantly, a court only has to take issue with one of the FCC’s many violations of due process here for the FCC to lose.

In short, expect the FCC’s new Open Internet Order’s assertion of Title II authority ultimately to be rejected in court (90%), because of its core illegal confiscatory purpose and its serial ends-justify-the-means trampling of due process.

 

Categories: On the Blog

The New York Times Mangles Obama’s Net Neutrality Power Grab

Somewhat Reasonable - March 17, 2015, 8:09 AM

As we know – America’s media is for the most part decidedly Leftist, often befuddled and rarely right.  So when they wade into an intricate issue like President Barack Obama’s Net Neutrality Internet power grab – we can only expect even more Leftism, befuddlement and wrongness.

On February 26, the Obama Administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pretended to be Congress and rewrote law.  To suddenly start regulating the Internet under the 1934 Telecommunications Act – under rules written to regulate the landline telephone.

You would think we could all assume Congress’ intent in 1934 wasn’t to apply the law they were then passing to the World Wide Web, right?  I mean, we were still sixty years away from the birth of what we know as the Net.

But this little bit of Reality is lost on this Administration.  And, too, on the media.  Led, as usual, by the New York Times.

What the Net Neutrality Rules Say

Translation: “What the Administration and We Want You to Think the Net Neutrality Rules Say.”

(T)he Federal Communications Commission…(voted) to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility….

 Title II of the Communications Act gives the F.C.C. much broader powers, and by simply invoking it, it would be bringing the full authority of the agency to bear on Internet providers.

Emphasis ours – because the Times doesn’t want you to realize what it just wrote.

I will address the following bit of Constitution 101 to the media rather than Iran’s Grand Mullah (as if that will better assuage the media’s President-Obama-defending delicate sensibilities).

The FCC is a part of the Executive Branch – but like just about all of the Executive Branch it is a creation and a creature of the Legislative Branch.  It cannot do anything unless and until Congress first writes law that says “Yo, FCC – do this.”

Again – only the hardest core Left and the media (please pardon the redundancy) could just assume that Congress – in 1934 – intended their law to apply to the Internet.  It is – on its face – utterly absurd.

But that is what the Times here is doing.  Title II emanates from the aforementioned 1934 Act – and is meant for landline phones.  The FCC can’t “simply invoke” it for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – Congress has to invoke it for them.

Thus does the Times breezily brush past perhaps the largest power grab of an Administration rife with large power grabs.

 

3,365 words in excerpts and their analysis – time and again attempting to provide cover for the Administration’s gi-normous power grab. 

 

The Times then – at the very end – gives a paltry 629 words to the dissent of the FCC’s two Republican Commissioners.  Most of said words are excerpts from them. 

 

The F.C.C. had to formulate new rules because the courts overturned the previous set….

Actually, the FCC has been unanimously rebuked by the courts – twice.  And those power grabs were microscopic compared to this one.  It’s as if the courts twice said “You can’t have a piece of pie” – and the FCC just responded with “Fine, we’re taking the whole bakery.”

The original proposal of Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, envisioned basing the new net neutrality rules on Section 706 (the portion of the law actually written for – and meant to keep regulation-free – the Web), not Title II, but he immediately came under intense criticism.

Yes – from President Obama.

The allegedly “independent” FCC originally proposed an-obnoxious-though-less-obtrusive power grab.  On which the FCC had two public comment periods – which resulted in the “4 million comments” about which you have incessantly heard.  Except:

Dirty Data: Why the ’4 Million Public Comments’ on Net Neutrality Might Not Be What They Seem

Because roughly half of the comments were opposed to any new regulations whatsoever.  Tie goes to – a far greater power grab than the one on which we commented?  According to the Times, yes.

Because that’s when President Obama big-footed the process – and the FCC suddenly had the 1934-flashback-power-grab.

On which Obama-campaign-coin-bundling Chairman Wheeler – who extended a comment period on the old order – steadfastly refused to take any comments.  He steadfastly refused to release it to allow We the People to even read it.

Wheeler steadfastly refused to wait for Congress to go first – as the Commission is Constitutionally required to do.  He steadfastly refused to testify before Congress on it.

All of which is context the Times fails utterly to provide.

The Grey Lady goes on, and on, and.…  3,365 words in excerpts and their analysis – time and again attempting to provide cover for the Administration’s gi-normous power grab.  Section after section presenting the Administration’s perspective – as THE perspective.

The Times then – at the very end – gives a paltry 629 words to the dissent of the FCC’s two Republican Commissioners.  Most of said words are excerpts from them.

Fair.  Balanced.  Equal time – from the New York Times.

Categories: On the Blog

Thorner: ‘Building the Machine’ movie provides an in-depth look at Common Core

Somewhat Reasonable - March 16, 2015, 3:16 PM

As part of the Heartland Author Series, The Heartland Institute sponsored an event on Sunday afternoon, March 8, at the Palatine Public Library, which featured “Building the Machine” (also billed as the Common Core movie), a 40-minute movie which introduces the pubic to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and its effects on our children’s education.  Common Core guest critics who participated were Jeb Hopkins, Kirsten Lombard, and Steve.

An excellent and comprehensive review by Cathy Duffy of “Building the Machine” can be read here. Duffy’s review is a must read to understand the dangers of nationalized educational standards.  As Ms. Duffy points out, Common Core standards were adopted quickly with hardly any awareness among the general public. There was no public debate and minimal public comment.

More about “Building the Machine”

Following are some notable observations by Cathy Duffy:

  • The Common Core standards are supposed to be rigorous standards, comparable to international standards—standards that prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century. But there’s huge debate about whether or not that’s true.
  • The U.S. Department of Education used $4.35 billion in grants from their Race to the Top program as a very strong incentive for states to sign on to the Common Core. States had only a few months to apply for these grants at a time when state budgets were stressed, so most states signed on with only a vague idea of what would be required of them.
  • Dr. Milgram and Dr. Stotsky were the only mathematics and English language arts content specialists on the entire 30-person validation committee. Five of the committee members, including Stotsky and Milgram, did not support that finding and would not sign off on the final standards. Stotsky reveals that all of their committee work was very secretive throughout the process. At the end, there was no acknowledgement of any dissent and no minority report. The names of dissenters were simply removed from the record.
  •  Common Core prepares students for community college and vocational training, but not for selective colleges or higher level math and science study.
  • Most homeschoolers are not yet feeling the brunt of the Common Core, but the plan is that eventually curriculum and tests aligned to the Common Core will control education for most students, even if indirectly.
  • It’s difficult to envision government schools backing away from the standards movement altogether since a tremendous amount of money and power stands behind them. Anyone who is concerned about educational freedom and parental rights needs to be aware of what is happening and do all within their power to resist this encroachment on our freedom.

The full movie can be viewed here.  The trailer can be accessed here. The original documentary is now part of an extended three-DVD set that includes parent interviews and six supplementary episodes.  Together the three segments expose Common Core using the words of leading educational experts, along with parents, teachers and a social worker.  See more here to purchase the 3-segment set.

Presentation by Steve, a reading specialist for 16 years

Following the movie there was less than 20 minutes remaining for the three invited guests to offer their comments and concerns about Common Core.  An “all out” warning was heard over a loud speaker that the library would be closing at 5:00 p.m. before Steve was even able to address the attendees

Steve was first up as a reading specialist for 16 years in a school system in the western suburbs. Steve’s comments, as they related to his slide presentation, featured Illinois and the PARCC test.  Conveyed was the following information:

Illinois and PARCC

  • Fully replaces ISAT.
  • Elementary and Middle School: all students in grades 3-8 will take the PARCC assessment.
  • High School: students in English III and Algebra II or Math III will take the PARCC assessment.
  • Governing stats agree to use assessment results for state accountability system.

School Accountability:  The state is currently “revising” its accountability plans to include the new PARCC.  Schools/Districts that don’t show adequate progress will “receive support to improve outcomes for students.

Educator Accountability:  Student growth incorporation into educator ratings beginning in 2016   

Review this Language Arts passage from a test for 4th graders.  By all measures the passage seems inappropriate for assessment in grade 4. See here the Grade 4 Passage from:  “Just Like Home” by Mathangi Subramanian which calls for abstract thinking.

PARCC technical skills

  • Skills to take the test involve click and drag, maneuvering between screens, and typing responses included.
  • Many districts piloting Chrome Books with smaller screens.
  • The unknown of thousands of students accessing the testing site simultaneously.

PARCC test Concerns

  • PARCC is driving what is being taught in the classrooms.
  • The amount of time spent in test-related activities has increased. SAT = Approximately 7 hours. PARCC = Approximately 13 – 15 hours (two sessions March & May).
  • The results will not be broken down in a way that useful for informing classroom instruction.
  • Computerized version is tricky.

Illinois and PAARC

Student test scores will serve as part of teacher evaluations.  Steve, although a reading specialist, expressed concern over PAARC Math assessments, but time didn’t allow him to pursue the topic. Here is a recent post that covers PARCC math test readability.  This article published at “Illinois Review” on Monday, March 9th shows how a “Teacher takes almost a minute to explain simple math problem using Common Core”.

Steve raised the question as to why parents have no right to opt their own children out of the PARCC testing?  Parental rights are absent as children must convey their own opt out messages to their teachers. This presents a dichotomy.  Children are told to follow directions, yet they must refuse the PARCC test on their own. Steve also related how teachers in his district are very discouraged. They must teach in a new way, not knowing if their students are understanding the material being taught.

Kristin Lombard and Jeb Hopkins stand together in abolishing Common Core

It was unfortunate that guests Kirsten Lombard and Jeb Hopkins had so little time to talk, let alone to address questions.  Both Kirsten and Jeb are from Madison, IL.  Jeb Hopkins is a professor at Edgewood College.  Kristin Lombard is editor and author of Common Ground on Common Core.

Jeb Hopkins entertained a question about the merits of a centralist system that puts schools in position of having to do so much testing of children. His response:  “Parents expect their children to be nurtured when sent off to school. Teachers can’t create a nurturing environment when Common Core intrusively undermines the work of the teacher in how they are to teach and what they are to teach.”

Jeb Hopkins together with Kristin Lombard — both of the same mind set to abolish Common Core — responded to a inquiry about ridding this nation of Common Core standards.  Interesting thoughts were shared by Jeb and Kristin:

  1. The only reason Common Core standards exist is so children can be tested.  Teachers will be graded on how well their students perform.
  2. Common Core functions as a system of indoctrination.
  3. The PARCC test is to ensure that teaching is in compliance to Common Core standards.
  4. There must be a 95% participation of student participation in PARCC testing to validate the test’s own threshold.  If 6% of students opt out in a classroom, the PARCC test is not considered viable.

A brief appearance was made by Illinois Representative Tom Morrison, a sponsor of HB 306. Representative Morrison asked those in attendance to urge their representative to vote for HB 306:  “Amends the School Code. With respect to the administration of State assessments, provides that a student is not required to take a particular State assessment if that student’s parent or guardian requests, in writing, that the student be excused from taking the State assessment. . . ”

Summary

Central planning, the essence of Common Core, appeals to those who like power. With 22% of 9th graders presently not finishing high school,  in the future more adults will be walking around without high school diplomas.  Consider Texas, having opted out of Common Core, the state offers a regular high school diploma geared to attend college and a general diploma.  Students, accordingly, decide which course they will pursue.  Such a procedure is not compatible with federal policy.

Common Core sounds good as the opening wedge.  And what’s wrong with all students having the same education standards?  If this is so, why then aren’t all students scoring top grades?  Then too, does the government have the right to teach children what it thinks they should know?  The Pierson/Gates partnership regards students as a collective productive line.   Whatever happened to state initiative that can serve as laboratories of education?

With Common Core education it’s more about the system than the child.  Common Core supposedly trains students for college and careers, when, realistically, not all children should be or are college bound.  As earlier stated, the PARCC test is to ensure there is compliance to teaching the Common Core Curriculum.

The federal government should not be involved in creating national education standards to be implemented at the state level. Instead, parents, teachers, school districts and local communities should be making these important decisions for our children.  The American public must be involved in this national decision regardless of their political persuasion. This involves contacting your legislators and attending local school board meeting for public comment. 

Educational literature available by subscription or for purchasing

Jim Lakely moderated the event as Communications Director at The Heartland Institute.  Heartland Institute has been working for 31 years to put parents back in charge of education. Lakely displayed literature that was available to be picked up as reference material and/or to be shared with others.  The literature included: Heartland’s “School Reform News”Joy Pullman’s booklet, as research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of The Federalist, “Common Core: A Bad Choice For America”; and a palm card, “You Can STOP Common Core,” which briefly informs What is Common Core? and how You can fight back! 

To obtain information about any of the literature items, call the Heartland Institute at (312) 377-4000 or send an email to think@heartland.org.

Categories: On the Blog

Crony Biofuel Politics Wag the Dog

Somewhat Reasonable - March 16, 2015, 1:15 PM

Talk about the Norfolk terrier tail wagging the Great Dane. If they are to have any hope of winning their party’s nomination, Republican presidential hopefuls better support ethanol mandates, Hawkeye State politicos told potential candidates at the recent Iowa Agricultural Summit in Des Moines.

“Don’t mess with the RFS,” Republican Governor Terry Branstad warned, referring to Renewable Fuel Standards that require refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. “It is the Holy Grail, and I will defend it,” said Rep. Steve King, another Iowa Republican. It is vital for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and preventing dangerous climate change and weather extremes, said others.

Corn ethanol is big in Iowa, the March 7-8 Ag Summit kicked off the state’s 2016 election debates, big-time GOP donor Bruce Rastetter made his fortune from ethanol and hosted the event, and the first presidential primary will be held in Iowa. Moreover, Gov. Branstad’s son Eric directs the multi-million-dollar America’s Renewable Future campaign, which co-sponsored the summit and hopes to convince increasingly skeptical voters that the federal government must retain the RFS or even expand it.

Failure to back the RFS means sayonara to any White House hopes, candidates were told. Appropriately chastened, many normally free market proponents dutifully took to the podium to endorse the mandates.

Some cited national security as a justification. The RFS reduces demand for foreign oil, Jeb Bush asserted. Biofuels are a way for America to “fuel itself,” said Mike Huckabee. “Every gallon of ethanol … is one less gallon you have to buy from people who hate your guts,” Lindsay Graham added.

Others focused on allegedly unfair competition. Rick Santorum said the RFS helps ensure that other competitive products besides oil and natural gas “are allowed into [the energy] stream.” Scott Walker recanted his previous opposition and said someday the ethanol industry won’t need these mandates, but right now it “needs government assistance,” because “we don’t have a free and open marketplace.”

Bush and Santorum added that ethanol boosts corn-state economies and creates jobs “in small town and rural America.” Chris Christie said the RFS is “what the law requires” and we need to comply with it. Rick Perry seemed to say it’s time to end federal mandates – and let states pick winners and losers.

That’s fine. But now that they have bowed to the biofuel gods, kowtowed to the small cadre of Iowa corn growers, sought the blessings of crony capitalist campaign contributors, and repeated the standard deviations from facts about green energy, climate change and national security, perhaps they will pay closer attention to other candidates, and to what’s actually happening in the energy and climate arenas.

Presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul remained firm in their belief that the RFS should be phased out now. Cruz has joined Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and others in sponsoring bills to abolish the corn ethanol RFS over five years.

If refiners and gas stations really are working with big oil to cut off access, Cruz suggested, “there are remedies in the federal antitrust laws to deal with that.” Otherwise “the right answer” is to let biofuels keep innovating and producing on their own, “and not have Washington dictating what is happening.”

Biofuel’s problem is not lack of access or unfair competition. It’s that the world has changed since ethanol subsidies and mandates were enacted in 2005. Back then, people more plausibly believed we were running out of petroleum, and global warming might become a serious problem.

But then hydraulic fracturing took off. This steadily improving 60-year-old technology turned the United States into the world’s #1 producer of oil and natural gas – and the U.S. is now importing one-third of its oil, instead of two-thirds. Gasoline prices have plunged, making ethanol much less cost-competitive.

Motorists are buying less gasoline than the 2005 and 2007 ethanol mandates envisioned, so refiners don’t need even 14 billion gallons of corn ethanol a year, much less the 15 billion statutory cap. They’ve hit a “blend wall,” and are being forced to buy far more ethanol than they can blend into E10 gasoline. They certainly don’t need an extra 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2022 – and innovators still haven’t figured out how to make that “advanced biofuel” at a profit.

Using tax dollars to prop up new subsidies, and imposing 15% ethanol gasoline mandates, would be a ridiculous response. The last thing we need is more citizen cash for crony capitalist cellulosic capers.

As to climate fears, no Category 3-5 hurricane has hit the United States since late 2005, the longest such period in more than a century, and perhaps since the Civil War. Tornado activity is also down. Arctic ice has returned to normal and Antarctic ice is at record levels. Sea levels are rising at barely six inches per century. The global frequency and duration of droughts, rainfall and snowfall is within historic norms.

Where is the crisis? The fossil fuel link? If human carbon dioxide emissions drive climate change, did steadily rising atmospheric CO2 levels cause all these blessings and normalcy, and average global temperatures to hold steady for 18 years? The far more likely answer is that the sun and other natural forces still dominate climate and weather systems, as they have throughout Earth and human history – and as actual, real-world temperature, climate, weather, solar and other observations strongly suggest.

IPCC, EPA, NASA, Obama, Penn State, East Anglia University and other climate models and alarms are completely at odds with what is happening on Planet Earth. No wonder alarmists are now so desperate that they blame every weather event on fossil fuels, and viciously attack scientists who point to reality … and threaten their Climate Crisis, Inc. money machine and regulatory power grab.

On top of all the corporate and scientist welfare, rip-offs and McCarthyite tactics, the manmade climate cataclysm mantra has also created a steady stream of corruption and scandal. Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber was forced to resign, after he and his fiancé Cylvia Hayes profited (and failed to report $118,000 in income) from “green energy” schemes. Current Oregon Global Warming Commission chairman Angus Duncan is also president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which makes millions from regional and national sales of renewable energy and “Green Tag” carbon offsets; he also helped write the state’s climate change strategy and cap-and-trade system!

Tens of billions of dollars in wheeling, dealing, nepotism and corporate-environmentalist-political cronyism is intolerable. The Branstad governor-son arrangement raises sniff tests of its own.

Then there are the practical problems. A few corn and soybean farmers get rich. But meat and poultry producers pay far more for feed, and family food bills keep rising. Perhaps worse, says the World Bank, turning half of the U.S. corn crop into fuel creates aid and food shortages in poor nations. More people stay hungry longer, and more die of malnutrition and starvation. The UN Food and Agriculture Association says this has caused food riots and calls it an environmental “crime against humanity.”

Ethanol-blends get fewer miles per tank than pure gasoline. They collect water, corrode engine parts, and cause serious maintenance and repair problems for lawn mowers, chain saws, snowmobiles, emergency generators and other small engines. Classic car enthusiast and former Late Night host Jay Leno says ethanol “eats through fuel pump diaphragms, old rubber fuel lines or pot metal parts, then leaks out on hot engines … and ka-bloooooie!” The older cars catch fire – far more often than before E10 was required.

A new Oregon State University study says biofuels barely reduce fossil fuel use and are likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. And US Department of Energy and other studies demonstrate that producing biofuels requires unsustainable amounts of land, water, fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels.

Not surprisingly, even many likely Iowa voters are now skeptical of federal ethanol mandates. Nearly half of them no longer support the RFS even if it helps some Iowa farmers. Republican presidential candidates who surrendered to a gaggle of Iowa corn growers and renewable fuel interests need to reflect long and hard on these ethanol and corruption realities, and the broader national interest.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jon Haubert: Colorado’s Fracking Task Force

Somewhat Reasonable - March 16, 2015, 11:14 AM

Colorado has been a battleground for anti-energy activists seeking to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, within the state. Last year, activists pushed for two ballot initiatives that would have severely restricted the use of fracking throughout Colorado, an outcome that would have resulted in serious negative consequences for the Colorado economy.

In order to prevent energy policy from being dictated by ballot initiative, Governor John Hickenlooper appointed a task force to study fracking and suggest ways that energy producers, and state and local governments can better interact to address the concerns of citizens within Colorado and still have a viable energy industry. Jon Haubert from Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development and research fellow Isaac Orr discuss the factors leading up to the task force in their recommendations in this episode of The Heartland Daily Podcast.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Weather Bulletin 9

Somewhat Reasonable - March 15, 2015, 7:25 PM

Winter is finally loosening its icy grip across the Northeastern U.S. and much of the globe though, like normal, cold spells may still pop up here and there into early spring.

Boston set a a new snowfall record in the Winter 2015 with time to spare.

Retailers report the extended cold and snow this winter have hit sales hard. A Bloomberg survey of 86 economists had forecast a modest 0.3 percent increase in retail sales for February – the was almost a full percentage point too high. While online retailers saw 2.2 percent increase in sales in February, overall retail sales saw a broadbased 0.6 percent decline. This was the third straight monthly decline this winter. Despite lower gasoline prices and a stronger dollar, shoppers seemed to be staying out of the weather and shopping from home. Nine of the 13 major retail categories saw declines with auto sales falling by 2.5 percent the largest decline since the polar vortex driven snowfall of January 2015. 

The United Kingdom is expecting a fresh bout of winter as a cold front blows in from Scandinavia and Russia. Temperatures are expected to drop to near freezing and additional snowfall is expected in parts of the UK. Much of the country is expected to see temperatures as much as 3.8 °C lower than the average for March.

A new cold front is expected to hit Northern China

as well, dropping temperatures 6 °C on average for the coming week. Combined with high winds and low arid conditions, dusty weather is expected, getting an early start on the spring dust storms that contribute seasonal breathing difficulties in Northern China

Sterling Burnett

 

Categories: On the Blog

Three Potential Paths Post-Obamacare Ruling

Somewhat Reasonable - March 14, 2015, 8:43 AM

There are three paths Congress could take in the wake of a ruling from the Supreme Court that strikes down the Obamacare insurance exchange subsidy system. They amount to a path toward doing nothing, a path toward doing something, and a path toward doing everything.

The do-nothing path is essentially for members of Congress to shrug their shoulders and say it’s the White House’s problem the law is such a mess. The do-everything path would amount to extending the existing subsidies for everyone who has them for two years – which would basically undo the Supreme Court’s ruling and kick the can to the next presidential election.

It’s the do-something camp where there are a variety of views, and not a great deal of certainty because the nature of the Supreme Court decision is as of yet unclear. One particular case is currently being made by freshman Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is making the case for extending the entitlement but also freezing enrollment in Obamacare:

“Nothing that I’m proposing is a continuation of Obamacare, expansion or extension or fix,” Mr. Sasse said. “It’s transitional assistance for 6 million disrupted people, but the assistance comes entirely outside of Obamacare so that we can then have the big national conversation we need in 2016.” …

Under Mr. Sasse’s transition bill, Americans affected by the court’s ruling could keep their Obamacare coverage for an 18-month grace period, akin to “Cobra” coverage for people who leave or lose their jobs.

The government would cover 65 percent of their premiums for the first six months, before phasing its assistance down 5 percent each month until it disappears after another year.

Mr. Sasse has gone out of his way to insist his plan is not an invitation to bail out the Democrats and their 2010 law, as it would prohibit new customers in the federal exchange by enshrining, in law, a prohibition on subsidies in those states.

The bill pays for its Cobra-like assistance by requiring that certain Medicaid waivers be budget-neutral. Congressional budget minders have not scored the law yet, but the senator’s office says the bill will save money compared to leaving Obamacare intact.

But what happens when that assistance runs out? Byron York says Republicans are running into the danger of being the dog that caught the car:

The prospect of seeing those people lose their subsidies – even though some have received them for a short period of time, and even though Obamacare has imposed burdensome costs on many other Americans – is just too much for Republican lawmakers to risk …

Hill Republicans fear such a scenario would create huge pressure on Republican governors, who originally declined to create Obamacare exchanges in their states, to change course and set up state exchanges. The result could ultimately be an Obamacare that is even more firmly rooted and difficult to repeal than it is now – all because of a Republican “victory” in court.

To avoid all that, GOP lawmakers have decided to keep the money flowing. Maybe the payments won’t be called subsidies, but they will be subsidies. The essence of Obamacare – government subsidizing the purchase of health insurance premiums – will remain intact.

There’s a lesson here in the danger of having two parties wedded to the idea that redistributive entitlements are appropriate in general. It’s possible that the country lost something significant post-2012, when Republicans started saying entitlements for able-bodied childless working adults were okay – and not just okay, that we as a nation needed to sustain them out of a sense of moral responsibility. That was pretty much unprecedented in the history of bipartisan politics. The GOP never really conceded that idea during the welfare reform fight, the fights over unemployment benefits, the fights over Medicare and Medicaid, and so on.

Now everybody talks as if this is just another form of health care, when it’s really one of the most destructive “benefits” you could create in terms of a disincentive for work. Republicans seem eager to have their fingerprints on “saving” Obamacare, at least for a transitional period, should the Court rule against the administration. Unfortunately for the country, that period may turn out to never end.

 

Categories: On the Blog

Life is Good in St. Louis

Somewhat Reasonable - March 13, 2015, 4:21 PM

The headline line in the Sunday St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked “Are St. Louis Area’s Home Prices too Low?” This is could not possibly have appeared describing any major metropolitan area of Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. Nor will newspapers in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York or in any of the overpriced markets of California decry low prices any time soon.

The March 8, 2015 article by Jim Gallagher rightly noted that house prices tended to be higher in cities outside St. Louis, there are “restrictions on building, either geographical or political.” Gallagher quotes William Rogers, an economist at the University of Missouri- St. Louis says that “Developers have really serious problems putting up houses in Los Angeles or San Francisco.”

The 11th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, produced with Hugh Pavletich of Performance Urban Planning in Christchurch New Zealand,  confirms the low house prices in St. Louis. In 2014, the median multiple, a price to income ratio calculated by dividing the median house price by the median household income, was 2.7 in the St. Louis metropolitan area. St. Louis is tied for fifth most affordable middle-income housing market among the 86 major metropolitan area markets (over 1,000,000 population) in nine nations.

No one should imagine that the low prices of St. Louis are the result of a depressed economy. Yes, St. Louis is on the periphery of the rustbelt. And yes, the city (core municipality) of St. Louis has lost a larger share of its population than any other large municipality in modern history. Since 1950, the city of St. Louis – a mere 11 percent of the metropolitan area – has lost 63.2 percent of its population, slightly more than the city of Detroit, at 61.4 percent.

Yet, somehow the city of St. Louis has avoided the financial train wreck of Detroit, nor do planners suggest the next industry should be urban agriculture. At a minimum, the difference suggests that St. Louis, even as it has lost population, has been much better led than the Motor City. Further, the much larger St. Louis metropolitan area (which is the area described in the Gallagher article and rated in the Demographia Survey) is anything but depressed.

Gallagher indicates that “lots of people here could pay more for houses, but they don’t have to.” That is correct. However, households in St. Louis pay approximately the same percentage of their income to buy houses today that most people have since World War II. That is also the same amount that Angelos and San Franciscans paid until the coming of excessive regulation (see Fischel) in the 1970s; since then  house prices there have increased between 2.5 and 3 times.

On the surface, St. Louis appears about average in income. St. Louis ranks 25th, slightly above the middle of the 52 major metropolitan areas in per capita income. But that’s just the beginning of the story. As anyone looking for employment in other metropolitan areas quickly finds out, housing cost differences can be huge and make up most, if not all the difference in cost of living. When the cost of living is considered, real personal incomes in St. Louis rank ninth among the 52 major metropolitan areas. It may be surprising, but St. Louis ranks above number 10 Seattle. While nominal incomes in Seattle are nearly 20% above that of St. Louis, when the cost of living is considered, St. Louisans had nearly 1% more income than Seattleites in 2012 (Figure).

The metropolitan areas ranked above St. Louis are the usual suspects of nominal affluence. No one would be surprised that San Francisco has the highest incomes, both nominal and adjusted for cost-of-living. San Francisco’s nearly 50% advantage in nominal personal income over St. Louis drops to less than 10% when the cost of living is considered. Given the graduated nature of the federal income tax, the difference could be less. The other most affluent cities are Boston, San Jose, Hartford, and Washington. The cost of living conversion factor (regional price parity) is more than 25% in San Francisco, San Jose and Washington and 18% in Boston. Only in Hartford, among the leaders, has anything similar to a normal cost of living (6% above the national average)

There are other surprises in the top 10. Both Pittsburgh and Cleveland have higher cost of living adjusted incomes than St. Louis. Less surprising is that Houston is in the top 10, given its robust economy, at least before oil prices dropped.

There are some interesting omissions from the top 10. Global city New York ranks 17th, just behind “Music City” Nashville. Portland, America’s incubator of house price increasing planning policies, finds itself ranked 39th. Even in Jackson, Mississippi, not large enough to make the over 1,000,000 list, has higher real per capita income than Portland.. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Los Angeles. Like New York, often considered a Global City, the city of my birth is anything but Global City real per capita incomes. Even depressed Detroit (though the suburbs of Detroit are anything but depressed) is ranked 10 positions above Los Angeles and has real per capita income 10% higher.

All of this should be regarded as good news for St. Louis. Once, to be sure, St. Louis was far more important. As late as 1910, St. Louis was the fourth largest municipality in the United States, trailing only New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. While St. Louis is not depressed, it has grown much more slowly than most metropolitan areas. But the decline has been more in the urban core city than the surrounding areas. Over the past the past 60 years the city of St. Louis lost more than 500,000 residents, while between 1950 and 2010, while the suburbs added 1,400,000.

Gallagher indicates that construction prices are reasonable in St. Louis. In fact they are not much less than in the stratospheric housing markets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. For example, a 2,500 square foot starter house in the East Bay of San Francisco would cost less than 10 percent more to build than in St. Louis, according to data at building-cost.net.The difference between housing costs in St. Louis and high-cost market is in the land, which is where the cost of excess regulation shows up

As a metropolitan area, St. Louis has competitive difficulties (see: Shrinking City, Flourishing Region: St. Louis Region). The weather is not as nice as in California. The winters are tougher than in Texas or Florida. But the one great advantage St. Louis possesses is reasonable middle income housing affordability. This is an important competitive advantage that led to only modest domestic migration losses during the 2000, when high priced Los Angeles and New York were bleeding more than 1.3 million net domestic out migrants.

Also, with the money they don’t have to pay for over-priced housing, St. Louisans can buy more “stuff” or take longer vacations. Nor do St. Louisans get less for their less money. The median sized detached house is the same in St. Louis (1,800 square feet) as in  San Francisco and slightly larger than in Los Angeles (1,744 square feet), according to the American Housing Survey in 2012, yet St. Louisans pay much less.

The bottom line is that for all of the competitive difficulties, life is good in St. Louis. And, one big reason is housing prices middle-income households can afford.

 

[Originally published at New Geography]

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