Tuesday, November 12, 2013
In the News Today
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
In the News Today
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 -- At the Port of New Orleans today, President Obama reiterated his call for increased federal infrastructure spending, which has been a common theme during the Obama administration.
“Nationally, we are falling behind. We are relying on old stuff,” he told the crowd. Unfortunately, for all the rhetoric, the administration has done little to address the real problems facing America’s transportation networks. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has long called for real transportation system reforms, and again urges the president to seek out now ideas, rather than entrenching the inefficient tax-and-spend status quo, which has led to a great deal of waste, fraud and abuse.
“Despite his repeated claims to the contrary, President Obama’s record on transportation infrastructure is one of failure,” said Marc Scribner, a CEI research fellow. “The White House has been largely absent from the major transportation debates since the administration’s early unsuccessful efforts to promote an incredibly costly and inefficient national high-speed passenger rail system.
“Many politicians and pundits claim there is currently an infrastructure crisis. There certainly are worthwhile transportation projects in need of funding, but the main problems facing the country are related to government mismanagement, not a lack of spending. If the president and Congress actually cared about improving our nation’s transportation networks, they would advocate pro-market policies rather than the same outdated and wasteful policies that have plagued this environment for far too long.”
Instead of more centralized, federal spending and taxation, Scribner said the administration and Congress should support:
· Increased funding and management devolution to the states;
· Repeal of the federal prohibition of tolling Interstate highways;
· Adoption of user pricing to both fund infrastructure investments and reduce congestion;
· Streamlining of environmental review regulations;
· Improved competition and transparency in procurement policies;
· Commercializing air traffic control, as has already been done in Canada, Britain, Germany, South Africa, Australia and elsewhere with great success;
· Private investment and management of highway and airport facilities; and
· Ending unnecessary politicization and involvement of irrelevant “stakeholders,” exemplified by the Obama administration’s pandering to far-left environmentalist groups over the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Instead of knee-jerk appeals for more government to fix America’s transportation networks, the president should look for inspiration in private sector success stories such as America’s freight railroads,” Scribner said. “These private companies have flourished following partial deregulation three decades ago, with average freight rail rates falling by nearly 50 percent and private industry investment totaling more than $500 billion since 1980. Back then, a bipartisan consensus formed around the need to reform economically disastrous regulatory policy. This administration could learn a lot from the Carter administration in this respect.”
CEI (cei.org) is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.
CEI's Michelle Minton (@michelleminton) today writes on Openmarket.org about the FDA's shocking move to effectively ban trans-fat. (See below.) I thought you might be interested in Minton's commentary on this outrageous regulatory maneuver - she warns, in part, that the FDA won't stop there.
Let me know if you would like to interview Minton, who is a consumer policy expert here at CEI. Or perhaps forward to a friend or colleague working on this issue? (Excuse me while I now go to eat some leftover Halloween candy with trans-fat.)
by Michelle Minton on November 8, 2013
On November 7, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to change its classification of trans-fatty acids and remove the designation “Generally Recognized As Safe.” If enacted, this change would result in a de facto ban of synthetic trans fats. In practice, this means food manufacturers would need to prove to the agency the use of trans fats would not have any adverse health effects before products containing them could enter commerce.
The de facto ban on trans fat’s GRAS status signals a sea change in the agency’s approach to food-safety regulation. Historically, the FDA has banned only additives and products that could be acutely dangerous to public health. FDA attempts to limit other ingredients, such as salt and sugar, have met public backlash, but it’s unlikely many will step up to defend trans fats, considering the scientific evidence that seems to link its long-term consumption with a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Since almost any food can become dangerous if consumed in excess over an extended period, this move would set a precedent for the FDA to go after other food ingredients. Unsurprisingly, self-styled “public health” advocates — always at the forefront of nanny state regulatory efforts – are elated at this prospect.
Ironically, the increase in the use of trans-fats can be credited in large part to advice and advocacy efforts by these same groups. As Olga Khazan at The Atlantic notes:
In the 1980s, some scientists began to associate heart disease with saturated fats, and in response, groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the National Heart Savers Association began to hound manufacturers for “poisoning America … by using saturated fats,” and as a result “nearly all targeted firms responded by replacing saturated fats with trans fats,” as David Schleifer wrote in 2012 for the journal Technology and Culture.”
In 1988, the Center for Science in the Public Interest published its report, Saturated Fat Attack, which described trans fats as “more healthful,” something we now know not to be the case. Research has shown that saturated fat is far from being “poison,” and that trans fat isn’t exactly health food. Then, in the mid-1990s, CSPI petitioned the FDA to add trans fat to nutritional labels on food products, which enables consumers to decide for themselves how much trans-fat is too much.
In recent years, more and more consumers have been saying “no thank you” to trans fat, which has prompted companies to voluntarily reduce and virtually eliminate the additive. As Khazan noted, even Crisco, the first shortening product made entirely of vegetable oil, changed its recipe to include less than a half-gram of trans fat per serving.
As with saturated fat in the 1980s and 1990s, the research on trans fatty acids is still developing. According to the updated World Health Organization study of the ingredient, although the growing body of evidence indicates consumption of partially hydrogenated oils — that is, trans fats — increases risk factors for cardiovascular problems, there is no evidence to indicate a correlation between the consumption of naturally occurring trans fats and increased cardiovascular disease risk.
Ultimately, there are hundreds of foods and ingredients that if consumed in large enough quantities for a long enough period of time will result in negative health outcomes. The solution is not to ban them but to let consumers access information and make their own choices. Let nutrition groups petition companies to voluntarily list ingredients and offer healthier options if they like, but keep government out of the decision so consumers can make their own choices.
As the debate over trans fat shows, health advocates, research scientists and our own government often do not know what is best for us; individuals must decide for themselves.
Richard S. Lindzen, Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Cato Institute and MIT Emeritus Sloan Professor of Meteorology, will give a lecture titled, “Is Science Progressing,” on November 13, 2013, 4 PM, at the Cato Institute’s Hayek Auditorium. To RSVP, click here.
In the News
Europe’s Renewable Energy Push Has Completely Backfired
Rob Wile, Business Insider, 6 November 2013
EPA’s War on Coal Could Destroy Arizona’s Energy Future
U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar, Trent Franks, Matt Salmon, & David Schweikert, Arizona Republic, 5 November 2013
News You Can Use
Former Australian PM on Climate Change Alarmism: “One Religion Is Enough”
On November 5th, John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia, gave the second annual Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture in London, titled “One Religion Is Enough.” Mr. Howard chose the title “largely in reaction to the sanctimonious tone employed by so many of those who advocate quite substantial, and costly, responses to what they see as irrefutable evidence that the world’s climate faces catastrophe, against people who do not share their view. To them the cause has become a substitute religion.” Read the whole speech here.
Inside the Beltway
EPA Wraps Up Listening Sessions
The Environmental Protection Agency finished its eleven listening sessions around the country on 8th November to solicit public input on the best approaches to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. President Obama in his second term climate plan announced in June directed the EPA to publish a draft rule on regulating emissions from existing coal and gas-fired power plants by June 2014. The listening sessions were held in the cities where the EPA has its regional office and its main office. None of these offices is particularly close to the States that mine the most coal or rely most heavily on coal for generating electricity. Environmental pressure groups and the coal industry were out in force at many of the sessions.
Marlo Lewis, my CEI colleague, testified at the session held in Washington, DC, on 7th November. You may read his comments here at www.GlobalWarming.org. Marlo mentioned that most of those testifying simply urged the EPA to “do something” to reduce “carbon pollution” and “save the planet.” For example, Richard Cizik, the former long-time executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals and now president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, urged the EPA to take strong action because his child suffered from asthma. In my view, Cizik’s pathetically ill-informed comment is a fair example of the current level of our public discourse.
Around the World
COP-19 Starts in Warsaw on November 11
The nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, 11th November. After the failure to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009, the 195 parties to the UNFCCC at COP-18 in Doha, Qatar last year extended Kyoto while a new treaty is negotiated. COP-19 is supposed to be the beginning of those negotiations. A complete draft is due to be released at COP-20 in Lima, Peru in 2014, and the final version is due to be signed at COP-21 in Paris in December 2015. The UNFCCC aims to have the “Paris Protocol” ratified and in effect by 2020.
That’s the schedule that has been agreed upon, but so far there is little sign that much progress will be made in Warsaw over the next two weeks. One obstacle to making substantive progress is an ongoing dispute over procedural issues. The UNFCCC makes decisions by consensus of the 195 member countries, but Russia objected last year at COP-18 in Doha that the chairman had ruled that a consensus had been reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol even though Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus strongly objected. At the annual meetings of the subsidiary bodies in Bonn last summer, Russia successfully blocked proceeding with the agenda until the issue of decision making was considered.
Now, Russia has sent a letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat asking that defining consensus be placed on the agenda for Warsaw. On the other side, Mexico and Papua New Guinea in 2011 proposed that when a consensus cannot be achieved, decisions can be agreed by a majority of at least three-quarters. India and China strongly objected to that proposal.
Assuming that these procedural squabbles don’t take up the whole two weeks, three of the main issues that could be considered are flexibility, inclusivity, and payoffs. The Kyoto Protocol is a set of mandatory emissions reductions targets and timetables that were initially applied to 37 developed countries. The United States never ratified Kyoto, and Canada withdrew last year. United States senior climate negotiator Todd Stern in a speech in London last month said that the successor to Kyoto must be much more flexible. This flexibility could go so far as to allow each country to devise its own plan to lower emissions. The European Union, on the other hand, supports continuing with legally binding targets.
Inclusivity is a key issue because of the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions in China and India. China is now the world’s largest emitter by a wide margin over the United States, and India’s emissions have also increased fairly rapidly. Thus, most developed countries naturally think that China (and India and Brazil) should undertake economically-damaging emissions reductions just as they have. India, in particular, strongly disagrees. India argues that the West caused the problem and so must solve the problem. India recognizes that their continuing economic progress depends on inexpensive fossil-fuel energy.
As for payoffs, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama rescued COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 from collapse by coming up with an agreement to create an annual fund of $100 billion beginning in 2020 to help poor countries deal with climate change and pay for climate policies. So far, the U. S. has increased climate aid by re-designating regular foreign aid already in the budget as climate aid. But the entire U. S. foreign aid budget is not enough to make up its share of the annual $100 billion. The poor countries that would divvy up this booty are starting to get nervous that the money is never going to appear. And so they are likely to pressure the U. S., the European Union, and Japan for some assurances in Warsaw. Note that President Obama leaves office three years before the bill becomes due.
Australia’s new environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced this week that Australia would be represented at COP-19 by a career diplomat because he would be too busy to attend. He will be too busy because he is in charge of introducing and moving the bill to repeal Australia’s carbon tax when Parliament convenes next week.
CFACT and CEI Will Be at COP-19 in Warsaw
Members of the Cooler Heads Coalition will have NGO delegates at COP-19. CFACT (the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) will have several people, including Craig Rucker, David Rothbard and Marc Morano, in Warsaw for the whole two weeks, 11th-22nd November. CEI will have three delegates for the second week, which is the “High Level Segment” when the political officials attend. They are: Harlan Watson, former U. S. senior climate negotiator for the eight years of the George W. Bush administration; Larry Hart, director of government relations for the American Conservative Union (a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition); and me. Check www.GlobalWarming.org for occasional updates that I will post during the week of 17th November.
Climate Change: Be Not Afraid
This week I gave a presentation to CEI’s fall interns on the climate science debate. My slide presentation covers a wide range of issues – the 17-year warming pause, the divergence between models and observations, recent studies finding that climate sensitivity (the key variable) is lower than “consensus” science had assumed, studies debunking Al Gore’s doomsday scenarios, and, in general, why the state of the climate is better than they told us, not ‘worse than we thought.’ My blog post, “Updated Antidote to Climate Hysteria,” provides an overview and a link to my slide presentation.
Tenth Circuit Ruling Bodes Poorly for Legal Challenges to Impending GHG Rule
In March 2012, EPA disapproved Oklahoma’s Regional Haze plan to improve visibility and, in its stead, imposed a federal plan that cost $1.8 billion more, but which failed to achieve a perceptible improvement over the state’s plan. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sued over EPA’s all-pain, no-gain Regional Haze plan in the Denver-based 10th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. In July, the Court sided with EPA in a two-to-one majority decision. Subsequently, AG Pruitt petitioned to have the entire 10th Circuit Court hear the state’s appeal. On October 31st, however, the court denied AG Pruitt’s petition without explanation. The state’s final recourse is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 10th Circuit’s ruling, if it stands, establishes a troubling precedent that could adversely affect future legal challenges to EPA’s impending greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants. Under the Regional Haze program, EPA is required to issue “guidelines” pursuant to which States must submit visibility improvement plans. Oklahoma argued that it followed the guidelines, so EPA was required to approve the state’s plan. EPA argued that the State did not follow the guidelines. Under administrative law, courts grant EPA a tremendous degree of deference; the question before the 10th Circuit was: How much deference should EPA afford States? The answer, according to the court, is none. If EPA reasoned that the State didn’t follow the guidelines, then the agency’s word carries the day. (Click here to read why the court’s reasoning was flawed).
The legal structure of the section of the Clean Air Act for Regional Haze is nearly identical to the provision of the act that allegedly authorizes EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants. As such, the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling suggests that States will have minimal leeway in complying with EPA guidelines for regulating greenhouse gases from existing coal-fired power plants. Environmentalist organizations are lobbying EPA to use the guidelines to impose a cap-and-trade scheme on the States.
The Cooler Heads Digest is the weekly e-mail publication of the Cooler Heads Coalition. For the latest news and commentary, check out the Coalition’s website, www.GlobalWarming.org.