By Larry Bell
The U.S. Supreme Court has finally blocked one of the Obama EPA’s most ambitious regulatory “Clean Power Plan” initiatives aimed at closing coal-fired power plants.
A 5-4 decision ruled that the agency’s draconian new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) restrictions had failed to take “appropriate and necessary” provisions established by the Clean Air Act into account by not considering punishing economic cost impacts.
So that’s really good news … right? Well, maybe not all that much after all. It certainly won’t change the agency’s radical agenda-driven book-cooking benefit accounting culture.
My good friend Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr believes that although that judicial slap-back on EPA’s rule-making overreach is long overdue, it’s high time for Congress and state governments to exact a more fundamental intervention.
His plan would transfer federal regulatory authority of what has become little more than a wholly-owned subsidiary of special interest groups to an organization of state–accountable agencies.
Doing so won’t be easy. It will require wrestling stranglehold control away from powerful federal status quo stakeholders, including politically influential anti-fossil organizations and rent-seeking wind and solar energy lobbies.
Battle-hardened Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker agrees with an EPA decentralization priority. Speaking at a June 2 campaign event the presumed presidential candidate said that “Every state has the equivalent of the EPA … not that they’re all perfect, but they’re much more effective, much more efficient and certainly more accountable at the state and local level than they are in Washington.”
Realistically, the Supreme Court’s requirement that EPA be held accountable to consider regulatory costs vs. benefits means virtually nothing so long as the agency is allowed to define the accounting terms. Their MATS rule offers a great example of junk science-based analyses gone totally berserk.
The assessment begins with a whopper of an assumption that about 6 percent of all pregnant women in America eat as much as 300 pounds of lake fish annually which passes mercury from power plants to their unborn children. This, they assert, results in lowering their children’s IQs by an average 0.009 points. (Never mind that the average IQ test has a 5 point error margin.)
EPA then goes on to speculate based upon a few cherry-picked Education Department lead-exposure studies that each IQ point lost will reduce each exposed child’s future income potential between $892-$1,958 annually.
Based on EPA’s direct mercury-reduction health estimates of $4 to $6 million annually compared with added $9.6 billion in in industry costs, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the resulting 1,600 to 2,400 costs times single benefit ratio “strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding the cost is not a relevant factor.”
EPA previously attempted to pull another rabbit-out-of-hat magic trick by claiming an additional $33 billion to $90 billion in “co-benefits” of requiring plants to install technology to remove particulate pollutants from the emissions stream.
Yet even EPA has acknowledged that more than 90 percent of those mercury rule co-benefits occur at air-quality levels that are already safe and covered by existing regulations. Incidentally, U.S. mercury emissions had already fallen 58 percent between 1990 and 2005, while levels of fine particulate matter have dropped a third since 2000.
Former senior EPA analyst Alan Carlin describes another favored fuzzy math rule justification tactic termed the “linear no-threshold assumption.” This argument applies a sort of logic that if 100 aspirins constitute a fatal dose, then 1 out of 100 people taking one aspirin will die.
EPA currently gets away with withholding scientific reference sources and methodologies even from Congress. This includes highly exaggerated health benefit claims based upon just a few cherry-picked reports while hundreds of reputable contradictory studies are ignored. Peer reviews are often conducted by EPA employees, authors of the preferred studies, and employees of the same institutions paid by EPA to conduct the research.
A U.S. House-approved “Secret Science Reform Act” introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, would attempt to curtail these practices by prohibiting the agency from proposing, finalizing or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or not reproducible. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has sponsored the same bill which a committee has now voted to send to the Senate floor.
Failures of EPA accountability have also prompted the House to pass a “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny” (REINS) bill in 2013. If implemented, the legislation will require full Congressional approval of any Executive Branch regulations costing $100 million or more.
Although these efforts to rein in EPA’s runaway overreach are a good start, they don’t go nearly far enough. The best “appropriate and necessary” intervention will be to disband the federal EPA altogether and let the individual states attend to sensible priorities they care about most and understand best.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of “Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom”(2015) and “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax” (2012).