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After Four Years, Chesapeake Polluters’ Free Ride May be Coming to an End

If you own a car, you’re used to paying a registration fee every two years. It may not be your favorite activity, but you do it. And you recognize that the fees and others like it help offset the cost of making sure vehicles on Maryland's roads are safe, that their polluting emissions are within acceptable limits, and that the people who drive them are licensed to do so.

But, in a report issued last fall (and an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun), CPR President Rena Steinzor and I pointed out that Maryland was not taking that same no-nonsense, even-handed approach to all pollution sources. Instead, state officials have given more than 500 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) a free ride since state oversight began in 2010, waiving more than $400,000 in legally mandated fees in 2013 alone.

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NAM Study on the Cost of Regulations based on Opinion Polls: Statement of CPR Senior Analyst James Goodwin

Today, the National Association of Manufacturers released a report produced by economic consultants Crain and Crain on the "cost of regulations to manufacturers and small businesses."

CPR Senior Analyst James Goodwin responded to the study:

Past Crain & Crain reports on the costs of regulation have been roundly and rightly criticized for unreliable research methods, including basing their studies on opinion polling. Not much has changed about their method in this latest iteration, unfortunately. They still pretend to project actual costs by relying on opinion surveys, and they still refuse to account for the enormous benefits of regulation to the economy and to Americans’ health and well being.  This is not surprising considering that National Association of Manufacturers V.P. Ross Eisenberg admits that they have instructed previous consultants to only look at the potential costs of regulations. The only good thing that can be said about this study is that at least the American taxpayer isn’t footing the bill this time.

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Crain and Crain are Back, and This Time They're Working for the National Association of Manufacturers

Having thoroughly tarnished their own reputations as well as that of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy, economists W. Mark Crain and Nicole V. Crain are now preparing to make the big leap from thoroughly discredited academics to straight up shills for corporate lobbyists working to undermine public protections.  The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), an industry trade group that vehemently opposes such policies as cleaning up air pollution and improving worker safety, yesterday announced that it will release a report tomorrow, prepared by the Crains, that purports to measure the “annual cost of federal regulations.”  That’s essentially what the Crains have been claiming to do for the Office of Advocacy until now, so it’s good news that at least it won’t be taxpayer money that’s footing the bill for their slanted research this time.

Just to review the bidding, in 2010, the SBA Office of Advocacy rather infamously sponsored a similar report by the Crains.  The key finding of the 2010 Crain and Crain report, which antiregulatory members of Congress and allied business groups and advocacy organizations have wasted little opportunity to cite, purported to find that the total costs of federal regulation in 2008 was $1.75 trillion.  

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CPR's Robert Fischman Testifies for the House Committee on Natural Resources on the Endangered Species Act

Today CPR Member Scholar and Indiana University School of Law professor Robert Fischman is testifying today for the House Committee on Natural Resources on potential amendments to the Endangered Species Act.

According to the testimony:

I. THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT FOR CONSERVATION, NOT THE PRINCIPAL TOOL.

Though Congress intended the ESA to conserve “the ecosystems upon which” imperiled species depend,1 the act almost exclusively focuses on preventing species from going extinct. By the time species are listed for protection under the ESA, populations are already so depleted that there remains little flexibility for further declines. The famous inflexibility of the Act, to “halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost,”2 is borne of the emergency situation facing a species when it declines to the very brink of extinction. Isolated fragments of habitat, low genetic diversity, and precious few populations raise the costs of conservation and heighten the consequences of failure.

To read the testimony in full click here.

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The Rest of the Story Behind the Bay’s Enormous Dead Zone

Monday’s Washington Post article on the massive oxygen-depleted areas in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico promised to uncover how “falter[ing]” “pollution curbs” were contributing to the dead zones. Instead, the article focused almost exclusively on the dead zones themselves, providing nothing on the vital, yet stalled, regulatory solutions.

The article mentioned that fertilizer and manure washed from farms helped form the Chesapeake Bay dead zone, which was the eighth largest since record-keeping began. Yet it failed to mention that state and federal efforts to curb pollution from farms have faltered over and over again. 

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No, the GAO Didn’t Say EPA’s Cost-Benefit Analyses are Bad—But Here’s What We Should Take Away from Their Report

If you’re an antiregulatory, anti-environment member of Congress, such as Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) or Darrell Issa (R-CA), how do you get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report that criticizes the cost-benefit analyses that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has performed on some of its recent rules?  That’s easy—you simply ask for one.  Then, when the GAO issues the report, like it did a few weeks back, you can begin issuing press releases filled with invective and righteous indignation.  The report’s findings, you can assert, are smoking-gun evidence that the EPA is running amok, issuing burdensome rules that are harming small businesses and families.  And just like that, you’ve conjured the latest antiregulatory, anti-EPA scandal du jour out of thin air.

Vitter and Issa have followed this playbook to a T and will no doubt continue trying to spin political gold out of this meaningless hay as part of the Republican’s broader strategy of using antiregulatory rhetoric to undermine the work of the Obama Administration while simultaneously boosting their electoral prospects in the fast approaching mid-term elections.  “Rather than using a fair and open rulemaking process, EPA pushed through regulations using sloppy analysis without sufficiently informing Congress or the public of the economic impact,” Issa predictably huffed following the report’s release.

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FDA Discretion and Animal Antibiotics

FDA has stalled for 30 years in regulating antibiotics in animal feed. A court says that's O.K.

The FDA seems to be convinced that current use of antibiotics in animal feed is a threat to human health. But the Second Circuit ruled recently in NRDC v. FDA that EPA has no duty to consider banning their use.  That may seem ridiculous, but actually it’s a very close case legally.  The court’s discussion of Massachusetts v. EPA as an administrative law precedent should be especially interesting to environmental lawyers.

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The Real Price of Chicken Nuggets: Obama Administration Turns Its Back on Poultry Processing Workers; Crippled (Literally) by a Thousand Cuts

Only in Washington, D.C. is nothing portrayed as something.  Out in the nation, not so much.  And so it was late last week that the Obama Administration took a victory lap for not making life even more miserable for some of the most abused workers in America. Yup, despite the best efforts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is supposed to watch out for workers’ well-being, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the life-long booster for corporate agriculture, gave a swift kick in the pants to all those low-wage people of color who make the chicken nuggets and chick filets that now dominate what’s for dinner. 

Up until last Thursday, USDA was claiming loudly to anyone who would listen that it doesn’t “do” worker protection.  Then the agency did a full 180 in the middle of the road, and now claims it has addressed workers’ concerns with the help of its new best friends at OSHA. Those workers are the folks who toil at workplaces so miserable that many states make it a crime to film inside them. 

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Richard Tol on Climate Policy: A Critical View of an Overview

Richard Tol’s 2013 article, “Targets for global climate policy: An overview,” has been taken by some as a definitive summary of what economics has to say about climate change.[1] It became a central building block of Chapter 10 of the recent  IPCC Working Group 2 report (Fifth Assessment Report, 2014), with some of its numbers appearing in the Working Group 2 Summary for Policymakers.[2]

After extensive analysis of multiple results from a number of authors, Tol reaches strong and surprising conclusions:

  • climate change will be a net benefit to the world economy until about 2.25°C of warming has occurred
     
  • the optimal carbon tax is a mere $25/tC (or $7/tCO2)
     
  • the economically “efficient” climate scenario is likely to lead to atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases of more than 625 ppm CO2-equivalent by the end of this century; lower targets might have ruinously high costs

Despite, in the end, almost acknowledging the peculiarity of these conclusions, Tol continues to claim that no compelling argument to the contrary has been made: “A convincing alternative to the intuitively incorrect conclusion that continued warming is optimum, is still elusive.”

Tol’s conclusions in this article do not follow logically from his data and analysis. Though claiming an authoritative and objective stance, he offers, in fact, a controversial reading of climate economics.

As he sees it (with my numbering)

  1. “There are 16 studies and 17 estimates of the global welfare impacts of climate change…
     
  2. “There are 75 studies of the social cost of carbon [marginal damages from another tonne of emissions], with 588 estimates…
     
  3. “…a single group of estimates [of the impacts of climate policy, found in one review article] … includes the models with the best academic pedigree…”

Each of these points is founded on faulty selection of data and analyses, and contains interpretive flaws that make Tol’s facile conclusions unsupportable. First, it highlights 16 studies, some of them very old, from a handful of authors, as if they represented all we know about climate damages. Second, it identifies a larger number of studies of the social cost of carbon, more than half from the same handful of authors, and then focuses almost entirely on the subset of results with a high discount rate. Where it reports on my own work, the survey clearly misrepresents the original published source. Third, it purports to prove that low-carbon stabilization targets are expensive by ignoring models and analyses that reach these targets, but making ad hoc adjustments to other analyses that fail to describe a path to a stable climate.

The field of economic analysis of climate change is a work in progress, with many interesting, sometimes contradictory, developments and approaches appearing in recent years. Most of the field, and most of what economists are writing about climate change, cannot be seen through the narrow, distorting lens of Tol’s review article.

To continue reading the full commentary, click here.

 

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We Do Need a Weatherman to Tell Which Way the Wind Blows

Over the past few years, as levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have continued to rise, natural disasters in the United States and around the world have become ever-more frequent. In the U.S., in fact, extreme weather-related events, including severe droughts, floods, wildfires, windstorms and other disasters are now very often reported in the news media. The clear consensus among climate scientists is that—even though no single extreme event can be said to be directly caused by climate change—global climate disruption has already begun; and this human-created phenomenon is ultimately responsible for an increased incidence of extreme weather.

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