Posts tagged ‘Sierra Club’

EPA Enhancing Its Power with Sue and Settle

Congress has ceded far, far too much legislative power to Administration agencies like the EPA.  The only check that exists for that power is process -- regulators have to go through fairly elaborate and lengthy steps, including several full stops to publish draft rules and collect public comment.  A lot of garbage gets through this process, but at least the worst can be halted by a public or Congressional outcry to draft rules.

But like most government officials, regulators resent having any kind of check on their power.  Just like police look for ways to conduct searches without warrants, and even the President looks for ways to rule without Congress, the EPA wants to regulate unfettered by public comment process.

The EPA has found a clever and totally scary way around this.  In short, they collude with a friendly environmental group which sues the EPA seeking certain rules that the EPA believes to be too controversial to survive the regulatory process.  The EPA settles with the friendly group, and a consent decree is issued imposing the new rules, entirely bypassing any rules-making or public comment process.  The EPA then pretends that they were "forced" into these new rules, and as a kicker, the taxpayer funds the whole thing by making large payoffs to the environmental group who initiated the suit part of the settlement.  Larry Bell describes the process:

“Sue and settle “ practices, sometimes referred to as “friendly lawsuits”, are cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein  court-ordered “consent decrees” are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action both they and the litigants want.

And who pays for this litigation? All-too-often we taxpayers are put on the hook for legal fees of both colluding parties. According to a 2011 GAO report, this amounted to millions of dollars awarded to environmental organizations for EPA litigations between 1995 and 2010. Three “Big Green” groups received 41% of this payback, with Earthjustice accounting for 30 percent ($4,655,425).  Two other organizations with histories of lobbying for regulations EPA wants while also receiving agency funding are the American Lung Association (ALA) and the Sierra Club.

In addition, the Department of Justice forked over at least $43 million of our money defending EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include money spent by EPA for their legal costs in connection with those rip-offs because EPA doesn’t keep track of their attorney’s time on a case-by-case basis.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has concluded that Sue and Settle rulemaking is responsible for many of EPA’s “most controversial, economically significant regulations that have plagued the business community for the past few years”. Included are regulations on power plants, refineries, mining operations, cement plants, chemical manufacturers, and a host of other industries. Such consent decree-based rulemaking enables EPA to argue to Congress: “The court made us do it.”

An Infrastructure Proposal Where Everyone Gets it Wrong

Since I am on the topic of infrastructure today, let me discuss a project close to home

A major interstate highway must be built between Phoenix and Las Vegas to keep up with the region’s rapid population growth and to facilitate global trade, says a report released jointly Friday by transportation officials in Arizona and Nevada.

The 105-page report offered justification for constructing an Interstate 11, a multibillion dollar project to improve the link between the two metropolitan areas.

The report sets the stage for preliminary route, design and environmental studies ahead of any decision to build I-11, the nation’s most ambitious interstate project in a generation.

As envisioned, the project would convert U.S. 93 into a four-lane divided highway from Las Vegas to Wickenburg, taking advantage of the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.

I drive this road all the time, and I have never encountered any congestion.  A lot of it is already four lane divided, and the portions that are not move quite fast.  There is one town (1) between Las Vegas and Wickenburg on the two-lane section that requires one to slow down and has, I think, one stoplight.   I consistently average 75 miles an hour on the road.  Sure, it would be nice if it were an interstate all the way, but the only real problem is the congestion in the outskirts of Phoenix, and that is already being addressed with a new loop freeway.

How can you confirm this makes no sense?  Because neither AZ nor NV are spending their own money on this.  This is basically a marketing proposal to obtain federal funds.  If we actually had to spend our own state money on our own highway, I can't imagine anyone making it a priority over other local demands.  But if the Feds will spend money.....

And as dumb as this idea is, the opposition quoted in the article is even dumber, which is probably why this kind of project actually gets approved.  One group of geniuses, not identified, oppose the plan because they want a bullet train instead.  Yeah, that's the ticket -- there is not enough traffic to fill a two-lane highway and Southwest offers hour long flights for $95, so let's build a dedicated high speed rail line.  This is the eternal Las Vegas fantasy, that someone will spend billions to build high speed rail to whisk folks to their casinos.

Finally, there is the environmental argument:

Environmental advocates like the Sierra Club object to paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert. The area west of the White Tanks is largely open space, with a few isolated communities. Planners say the area could swell in population to 2.5 million, with the help of the freeway.

“We still think it’s a bad idea,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club in Arizona. “The freeway is not needed. It‘s time to look at other ways to look at our transportation needs.”

Opponents say I-11 will promote sprawl at a time when Arizonans are driving less.

I don't think widening of a road from 2-4 lanes is really "paving hundreds of miles of virgin desert", though it is funny to me that the same people who said this likely support enormous solar projects that do just that.  Further, anyone concerned with sprawl being promoted along the route have probably never driven on it.  The definition of "sprawl" is almost impossible to pin down, but I don't see people suddenly building suburbs around Wikieup (home of the single traffic light referenced earlier).  This is a freaking deserted road and people are no more likely to move here because the road is wider than they are to live along I-40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque (converted to an Interstate from 2-lane Route 66 years ago) .  If you do drive to Vegas, look for someone to offer a prop bet on the population swelling to 2.5 million and take the under.

Seriously, why can't anyone say in print the real problem here -- it is an expensive waste of money to upgrade a highway that has no congestion problems whatsoever and is simply a bid by state government employees to grab some federal highway funds to keep ADOT administrators and engineers employed.

I am driving this highway a week from Monday.   I will try to take some pictures of all the congestion.

Update:  I did the 299 miles from my house to the hotel on the strip in exactly 4.5 hours.  This includes a 15 minutes stop for gas and snacks as well as navigating from my home to the freeway in Phoenix and through Las Vegas traffic around the strip.  I averaged 66 miles per hour, including the stops and traffic and neighborhood streets.

Quick Observations about the NFIB

The Wall Street Journal editorial page had a piece on the "smearing" of small business.  Apparently, in the political battle over Obamacare, the NFIB has become the new target of the left.

I have not seen these attacks on the NFIB, but after the bizarre joint attacks on ALEC, I certainly believe they exist.  The WSJ summarizes these attacks this way:

According to the smear campaign against the National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB, small businesses are thrilled with the Affordable Care Act and the trade group betrayed the 300,000 companies it represents. Among the dozens of media outlets publishing anti-NFIB op-eds disguised as reporting, Reuters recently asked in a headline, "Who truly speaks for small businesses?" The question mark was superfluous.

The chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus, Democrats Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, chimed in with a letter accusing the NFIB of acting against "the best interest of small business owners" and "the popular opinion of the American small business community." They suggest Karl Rove is behind the suit, as he is everything else.

As a member of the NFIB  (I joined several years ago specifically due to their work on health care) I believe the NFIB addresses issues that really concern our company better than any other group I have found.  Certainly they are far better than the Chamber of Commerce, which tends to be a group of large companies more interested in crony handouts than free competition.  Members get polled constantly to see what issues we care about and to see what positions we would like the NFIB to take.

This latter process makes the NFIB among the most virtuous of the organizations to which I have belonged.  Certainly the Sierra Club, way back when I was a member, never polled me on whether I preferred them to focus their efforts, say, on political activism or true conservation efforts.

I am exhausted by journalists and politicians on the Left who have barely even worked in a profit-making venture, much less run one, who speak with great authority on what small business owners should or should not want.  Our company is in the business of making long-term operations bids.  For the last three years, we have had to bid two numbers for our expenses, one with Obamacare and (a much lower one) without.  Never in 25 years of our history has any external factor, government-drive or not, made this much contingent difference to our bids.  So it is simply insulting to be told that it should not make any difference to me, or that its effects will be universally cost-reducing.

Further, it is really, really hard for a small business to parse the impact of Obamacare because it is #$&*#$ hard to figure out just what its provisions are.  McDonalds can afford to hire a team of experts to figure it out, and to start gaming it by using its political clout to seek special exemptions and treatment from the Obama Administration.  We cannot.  The NFIB is the only organization, public or private, in the country that has actually helped us understand the law's requirements.  For several years running, they have sent an expert, at their expense, to our industry gatherings to help educate companies on the law.

It Was Never About the Ogallala Aquifer

A few weeks ago, I wrote that opposition to the Keystone was never about the Ogallala Aquifer.  Polluting the water was a simply a convenient talking point that might play better with the American public than the true goal, which is to shut down the development of new sources of North American oil.  I got a lot of comments and email that I was making this up, but in fact its pretty clear that opposition to the pipeline pre-dated knowledge even of its route.  Here is a environmental group's presentation from 2008 which advocates opposition to all pipelines (without any reference to their routes) out of the Canadian tar sands as a strategy to halt their development.

Postscript:  I really have little use for discussions about funding amounts and sources of various causes.  I find it largely irrelevent.  So I post this only because this week we are talking about the Heartland Institute's funding of climate skeptics as revealed by hero (if you are an environmentalist blog) or thief Peter Gleick.  Heartland sends a portion of its $6 million budget to support various climate skeptics, and somehow this "revelation" has environmentalists running in circles screaming rape.  But Heartland's pitiful few millions seem a joke in comparison to the environmental funding torrent.  Take this example from the Canadian tar sands issue, just a single one of a myriad of climate-related issues getting millions, even billions of dollars of funding.

Northrop’s presentation promised funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation in the amount of $7 million per year. Named in the presentation were 12 participating environmental pressure groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.

According to Canadian writer and researcher Vivian Krause, U.S. foundations have poured more than $300 million into Canadian environmental groups since 2000. One foundation, endowed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, has been single-handedly responsible for $92 million of that total, Krause wrote Jan. 17 in Canada’s Financial Post. Foundations flush with the wealth of computer pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard, she added, sent another $90 million to wage green-politics wars in the Great White North....

Tax records from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund indicate that it sent $1.25 million to Michael Marx’s organization, Corporate Ethics International, between December 2007 and November 2010. The money was earmarked “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands derived fuels in the United States.” The Fund has not yet filed its tax return for 2011.

Among other initiatives, Corporate Ethics International launched a campaign in July 2010 to persuade American and British travelers to avoid visiting Alberta while tar sands exploration was underway. Tourism brings $5 billion to Alberta, making it one of the Canadian province’s biggest industries.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the second philanthropy Northrop mentioned in 2008 as a partner in the concerted effort to stop tar sands oil development, contributed far more.

Its tax returns indicate expenditures of more than $17.5 million targeted at tar sands oil development, including more than $15.4 million to the left-wing Tides Foundation and the affiliated Tides Canada Foundation. At the time, Tides was led by progressive millionaire Drummond Pike, and by ACORN co-founder and AFL-CIO organizer Wade Rathke.

A newer philanthropy, the Sea Change Foundation, also sent Tides $2 million in 2009, all of it to “promote awareness of an opposition to tar sands.” Another $3.75 million to Tides followed in 2010.

Funded by Renaissance Technologies hedge fund founder James Simons and his son, Nathaniel, Sea Change gave away $120 million between 2008 and 2010 in connection with energy-related issue activism. More than $18 million more of the Simons’ philanthropic funding in 2009 and 2010 went to organizations named in Northrop’s 2008 presentations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, Inc., although Sea Change did not disclose the specific purpose of those grants.

Smaller tar sands-related contributions to Tides came from the Oak Foundation, endowed by Duty Free Shoppers tycoon Alan Parker; the New York Community Trust; and the Schmidt Family Foundation, whose millions come from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy.

Tides, in turn, made at least $8.6 million in grants to 44 different organizations, each time specifically mentioning its “tar sands campaign.” Funds went to Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Forest Ethics, the Rainforest Action Network and dozens of others. Fully $2.2 million of that total went to Michael Marx’s Corporate Ethics International.

I have no problem with private people spending money however they want, but after throwing around sums of this magnitude, it seems amazing they feel the need to stop Heartland from spending a couple of million dollars in opposition.  It's like a rich guy telling you that your Chevy Nova is in the way of his Ferrari and could you please get it off the road.

On Wanting to Debate

This has to be one of the lamest things I have seen in a while.

Fred Singer offered to debate Richard Somerville and Naomi Oreskes in January in San Diego. Both declined. Oreskes said she didn't want to debate someone "with a known record of promoting public misrepresentation of science."

This is used as an excuse to avoid debate by climate alarmists all the time.  But it makes no sense.  If someone is either a) using really bad arguments or b) spreading misrepresentations, I would definitely want to debate them.

Last week my speech at Arizona State on privatizing the operation of state parks was turned into a debate between myself and the most vocal opposition to the approach, the head of the Arizona Sierra Club.  When asked if I would be willing to debate rather than speak, my answer was "hell yes."

You see, I am actually confident in my arguments.  I was longing to have a face to face debate on this topic.  In fact, I was incredibly frustrated that opponents of using private companies to help manage public recreation were constantly arguing against a straw man that doesn't actually exist in reality.  You can see that in spades in the debate below (I am the second speaker, the Sierra Club person is the third).   Note how, despite nearly a year in Arizona of public discourse on this topic (pushed mainly by yours truly), opponents are still criticising the model based on hypothesized implementations, rather than observation of actual examples within an hour's drive of where we were speaking. 

I start at 19:45, which I am sure everyone wants to watch ;=)  And yes I talk too fast, to make it a debate they cut my 45 minutes down to 10.

Criticisms of Privatization

Over at my privatization blog, I take on two critiques of privatization.  The first is from the New Jersey Sierra Club, and echos most of the standard mis-characterizations of privatization (you are going to build a McDonald's in front of Old Faithful!)  The second is from a professor at Columbia, and is perhaps the most outrageous critique I have ever run into (privatization kills!)

Private, For-Profit Environmentalism

I toured a commercial seahorse farm here in Hawaii this afternoon.  It was really an interesting tale, of a couple who saw a problem with the over-catching of wild seahorses and attacked it with a private farming effort.  Not only has private seahorse farming cut the capture of wild seahorses for pets almost to zero, it also produces a better pet (their seahorses born in captivity are taught to eat dead shrimp rather than live food, they live much longer than wild seahorses, and they are easier to breed).  Kudos to these folks.  I love seeing private action solving environmental issues, and their story gets me interested again in the many proposals to allow ownership of tigers and rhinos in private farms to save those species.  Their website is here, and if you are in the market for a pet seahorse, I highly recommend their product. 

Postscript:
  The biggest threat to seahorses is the same one faced by rhinos and tigers:  The huge Asian market for fertility drugs based on these animals.  Generally, any animal included in Asian folks wisdom as improving sex in some way is on the fast track to endangered status.  I am hoping that Viagra may turn out to be a savior for these species, as a substitute, in the same way John D. Rockefeller saved the whales in the 19th century with cheap kerosene.  Maybe the Sierra Club should take some of the huge funds they allocate to paying off Congressmen for more regulations and direct it to Viagra donations to China.

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

US Finally Fulfills Treaty Obligations, Maybe

After more than a decade, the US may finally allow Mexican truckers on US highways, something we actually agreed to in NAFTA:

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco late on
Friday denied an emergency petition sought by the Teamsters
union, the Sierra Club and consumer group Public Citizen to
halt the start of a one-year pilot program that was approved by
Congress after years of legal and political wrangling.

I guess I can understand the Teamsters attempt to have the government shield them from competition -- that has practically become a national sport.  And I presume that the Sierra Club has some environmental concerns with Mexican trucks, though that seems flimsy given trucks must meet US environmental requirements and my guess is that Mexican trucks are at least as fuel efficient as US trucks.   But how can a nominal consumer group possibly justify this action?  Blocking competition in any part of the economy can only increase prices and reduce choices for consumers, particularly in an area like trucking that has almost no impact on the safety of the products actually being shipped.   I wish I could say this was some strange exception, but  consumer groups have for years backed protectionist efforts that do nothing but hurt consumers.

Via Cafe Hayek