Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rep. Boehner on the cap and trade bill

House Minority Leader John Boenher, who not surprisingly hails from the landlocked state of Ohio, recently released his Top 10 Facts on Why Speaker Pelosi's National Energy Tax Is a Bad "Deal" for America.

1) Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Impose a National Energy Tax on Every Single American

"The national energy tax will impose a national energy tax." Look, I know you paid a small fortune to have Frank Lunz focus test this "Pelosi Energy Tax" verbiage, and it would be a waste not to use it to the hilt. But come on! Pay attention to what you're writing!

It certainly won't apply to Every Single American, as there are a handful of people who are already living off the grid, but that's quibbling. The more important thing to remember is that some of the money collected by the cap and trade auctions will be returned to taxpayers as tax refunds. So if you're poor, or if you take the time to cut your personal energy consumption, you'll actually be better off overall.

Sidenote: Every one of the ten "facts" starts with "Speaker Pelosi's National Energy Tax." I realize that Pelosi isn't at her most popular right now, but I think only the Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck crowd considers her name an actual cuss word.

"Boenher," however, comes pretty close.

2. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Cost American Jobs, Shipping Them Overseas to China & India

Via some study by some chamber of commerce (sorry, I've never seen a chamber of commerce ever support the sane side of any issue) Boenher claims that we'll lose over 2M jobs every single year.

Now, back in the nineties when NAFTA was passed, Republicans were all over the idea that, despite the lower labor costs in Mexico, we wouldn't lose a significant number of jobs, because the quality and ingenuity of The American Worker was second to none. I wonder what happened to that confidence?

My guess? That confidence only manifests when exhibiting such confidence leads to wage cuts for workers and extra profits for businesses.

Business interests have a tendency to publish studies vastly inflating the costs of any new legislation, while underestimating their ability to adapt to it, and demonstrating that under such assumptions, they would go out of business. That's how the American auto industry blocked fuel efficiency standards (though historically, they adapted to previous rises in those standards quite easily). That's how they tried to block the sulfur dioxide permit sales, a program that reduced sulfur emissions by 70%, at a price that was about 1/10th of what the doomsayers predicted.

Listening to studies like these, you get the impression that businesses are fragile hothouse flowers, not the dynamic, adaptive, and innovative institutions that are supposed to drive our economy.

3. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Cause Electricity Bills to “Skyrocket.”

As evidence, Boenher points out that a major utility has already requested a rate increase, despite getting their permits for free for the next several years. Hell, despite the legislation not even being signed into law. That's some powerful legislation right there.

Googling for "duke energy rate increase" brought up several reports on Duke's request. All of them mentioned that the company had put a lot of money into upgrading their plants recently. Not one of them claims that the hike has anything to do with the climate change bill. Boenher isn't being honest with his facts.

4. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Hurt Family Farmers & Rural America

This one basically boils down to "the people who use the most energy will be hit hardest," a not unexpected result. I'd be all for a program that helps the rural poor buy more fuel efficient cars and energy efficient appliances, or even low-interest loans for home solar/wind installations. But Boenher expects us to never do anything about climate change because some people will be hit harder than others. Bah!

5. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Not Improve the Environment

Basically a rehash of the old "China and India won't do anything" argument, which is a very weak one. Despite finding a couple of out-of-context quotes that indicate their stubbornness on the issue, I think China and India will come along. There are a couple of reasons for this.

China and India have long been using our refusal to curb our own emissions as a talking point for their own delay. If we show that we're serious about cutting our own emissions, and if we're developing technology that makes such cuts easier and less costly, they'll start moving in the same direction. The Chinese don't like breathing dirty air any more than we do.

We also have to accept the fact that a large fraction of the Chinese and Indian populations live under impoverishment that Americans cannot understand unless they've seen it firsthand. It's not fair for us to say that they cannot increase their emissions, when our per-capita emissions are about for times what theirs are.

6. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Cause Gasoline and Diesel Prices to Spike Further

This talking point is brought to you by the Heritage Foundation, motto: "Actually, we are entitled to our own facts." The figure they publish -- 58% increase in gasoline prices -- makes no sense to me. Europe has already implemented the market we're trying to implement, and their prices for CO2 are about $20/ton. You have to burn about 83 gallons of gas to emit a ton of CO2, so the cost should be closer to $0.25 per gallon, rather than the $1 or $2 that Heritage is predicting.

It should be noted that a lot of the volatility in gas prices comes from the fact that we're producing as fast as we can, and still not keeping up with demand. Dropping demand should decrease volatility a little.

7. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Be A Bureaucratic Nightmare

There isn't much to be said on this. But when Boehner says that the plan involves "a long and confusing web of government agencies," I have to say two things. First, lists are long. Webs are generally described as tangled, sticky, dense, invisible, etc. Hire. Better. Writers.

Second, I'm not convinced that "long and confusing" and "long and confusing (to John Boehner)" bear much resemblance to each other.

8. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Send Billions of US Taxpayer Dollars Overseas

The criticism here is that the plan allows American companies to purchase international offsets. So, rather than paying $1m to install a more energy efficient boiler at home, a business could pay $200K to someone in Nicaragua to protect a forest, resulting in similar carbon savings. Boenher, in what can only be described as "a flat out lie" describes this as "forcing [American taxpayers] to bankroll another global bailout."

Boenher, nobody will be forcing anybody to purchase international offsets. Businesses will buy them when it makes sense for them to do so. Nor will this money be given away for nothing. You see, in a "free market," people often pay others to do things that they'd rather not do themselves. We would be sending them money in exchange for a service that they provided. This is exactly the sort of behavior you'd expect from a carbon market, and there is nothing nefarious about it.

9. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Raise Food Prices

First, I don't think that "small businesses and middle class families" aren't spending much time worrying about what will happen to food prices in 2035. I think they should be doubly indifferent to the Heritage Foundation's wild-assed guesses, since their studies invariably have a finger on the scales. After all, their cost estimates for this plan come in at around ten times the Congressional Budget Office's projections.

I think that The Heritage Foundation would predict that by 2035, the world would be a nuke-charred hellscape where a handful of survivors are hunted by killer robots, if they thought such a prediction could help keep this bill from passing.

Our current food system is too reliant on economies of scale and cheap energy. A more decentralized, localized system will be more expensive, but would also give us more nutritious food, be less susceptible to terrorist attacks, give more farmers a better living, and be more resilient in the face of an uncertain energy future. That's the direction this bill would be pushing the agricultural industry, and a direction I'd like to see it headed.

10. Speaker Pelosi’s National Energy Tax Will Set the Stage for Another Market Meltdown

At this point, Boenher shows some real Marxist cred. He cites an article from Mother Jones, and implies that capitalism necessarily contains the seeds of its own destruction.

The prediction here is that -- wait for it -- the legislation will create a market for carbon emissions. Maybe I should just agree with Boehner on this one. If you don't have a market, then that market cannot fail. This line of reasoning should be expanded. Comrade Boehner, your brothers and sisters in the People's Revolution welcome you!


Well, despite all his hemming and hawing, the bill narrowly passed the House. It now goes on to the Senate, where it will fail because the Democrats are too chicken to actually force Republicans to filibuster.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sen. Coburn lies about the "waste" in the stimulus bill (Part II)

Coburn cites two other stimulus projects as especially onerous. From his website:
2. $1 billion for FutureGen in Mattoon, Illinois is the “biggest earmark of all time” for a power plant that may never work.


5. $3.4 million for a wildlife “eco-passage” in Florida to take animals safely under a busy roadway.

FutureGen is a "clean coal" project. Personally, I'm against clean coal. I think we need to be pursuing other technologies instead. But a billion or so to find out if it can work doesn't seem like a lot, in the $3 trillion scheme of things.

The whole plant is supposed to be a proving ground for new technologies, so describing it as "a power plant that may never work" seems either flagrantly dishonest or just plain stupid. In his report, Coburn focuses heavily on former Energy Secretary Sam Bodman's criticism of the project, while ignoring current Energy Secretary Steven Chu's support for the project.

After poring over thousands upon thousands of projects, the #2 project on his list isn't nearly as dubious as Coburn portrays.

Regarding the "eco-passage", the latest research is indicating that fragmentation of habitat is dangerous to an ecosystem. Dividing a habitat in two (as a big highway does) can sometimes be as destructive as simply wiping out half of it. Wildlife corridors can help protect species.

If you are Republican enough, then any money spent protecting animals or preserving habitat is wasted by definition. That's probably the primary reason for putting this on the list. Either that, or Tom Coburn really likes the sound turtles make when they crunch under his wheels. But that's getting pretty damned Republican.

Sen. Coburn lies about the "waste" in the stimulus bill

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., junior Republican senator from the unpopulated wasteland of Oklahoma, hasn't been practicing medicine for quite some time. Clearly, he hasn't seen a patient in a while, so you can understand why he might mistake a national economy for a human being, and attempt to perform an examination. From his report, entitled 100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion*:

By offering 100 examples of questionable stimulus projects, worth $5.5 billion, this report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working. Rather, the intent is to educate taxpayers, policymakers and the media on lessons that can be learned from some of the early missteps and prevent other questionable projects from moving forward.

So he says. I have trouble imagining a senator over the age of 60 as an Internet wiz. But he's clearly mastered the art of playing the Concern Troll. He doesn't want to help the stimulus succeed. He wants to manufacture outrage, in the hope of tilting the 2010 midterms in the Republicans favor.

If his goal was to start an honest debate about which projects were succeeding and which were failing, he would be a bit more honest about how he portrays the projects on his list. He selectively quotes this article to imply that the ARRA money actually cost the people of Perkins, Oklahoma.

Two points: the money did come with strings. But the strings are ones that support the aims of ARRA. The "strings" include better pay for workers (putting money in American pockets), a "buy American" stipulation for construction materials (again, putting money in American pockets), and increased reporting requirements, presumably to prevent all the fraud, waste, and abuse that Senator Coburn decries.

The other point: the $1.4M was just the grant portion of the funds. There was also a loan for $5.8M, at an interest rate of 2.9%, a steep discount from the 8% loans Perkins had been pursuing.

It's not clear that ARRA was a finanical windfall for this project. But it's not clear that it was supposed to be. Yes, sewer fees went up, which is counterintuitive when the government hands you a wad of free money. But the point was to get shovels moving on a shovel-ready project, and in that it succeeded. Where there used to be a set of diagrams, now something is being built, people are being put to work, and residents are getting the infrastructure they need.

In short, Sen. Coburn's #1 project -- his poster child for mismanagement and unintended consequences, is doing pretty much what it's supposed to.

One down, 99 to go.

* Cuz, you see, he used to be a doctor, and it's called "a second opinion." Har!