Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All pain and no gain: Manic regulation kills jobs, produces no benefits

In March of this year the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) released data showing that in 2011 coal was responsible for 42 percent of U.S. power production, a little lower than years past, but coal still is the most commonly used fuel in producing domestic electricity.

Burning coal is dirty, but it is cleaner today than any time in the last 60  years. And mining coal is risky for workers, but so is commercial fishing, logging, flying airplanes, and farming/ranching, the four most dangerous occupations in the country. Yes, coal has its negatives, but so does every one of the energy sources suggested to replace it.

On the plus side, coal not only produces energy, it produces direct and indirect employment for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and billions in tax revenue from its production and sale, and from the income of industry businesses and workers.

Coal generates electricity in 48 states and is mined in 25 states. According to the National Mining Association (NMA) U.S. coal mining directly employs nearly 136,000 people, and the average coal miner earns $73,000 per year. For each coal mining job, an additional 3.5 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy. For example, 60,000 people work in coal-fired power plants, and thousands more work in the transportation industry delivering coal to customers. The NMA estimates that 50,000 new employees will be needed in coal mining over the next 10 years to meet demand and to replace retiring workers. And, coal is projected to be the dominant fuel for electricity generation in the U.S. through 2035, according to the EIA.

This information ought to be seriously considered when the vast army of government regulators is hard at work making life more expensive, but not necessarily better. It was clearly ignored when the Environmental Protection Agency developed the Utility MACT Rule, which establishes the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for emissions of hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Primarily, Utility MACT targets mercury emissions.

You remember mercury. It’s the poison contained in every one of the new miracle light bulbs, called CFLs, which Congress mandated to replace the popular, inexpensive and safe incandescent bulbs we have used for decades. It is also released by coal combustion and the EPA fears it will settle into water supplies and cause birth defects when consumed by pregnant women.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) recently commented on a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute that disputes the EPA’s data. “The EPA's December 2000 determination that triggered the rule assumed that 7 percent of pregnant women in the United States have blood mercury concentrations exceeding the agency's reference dose. In reality, only 0.4 percent (one in every 250 pregnant women) had blood mercury levels exceeding the reference dose.”

“Furthermore, the EPA's reference dose is overly cautious: the EPA's reference dose is 1/15th the lowest exposure level associated with mild, subclinical effects in epidemiological studies,” the NCPA reports. “Finally, the EPA produces no evidence of mercury exposure at these levels having any effect on unborn children.”

The report also says “EPA estimates that each year 240,000 pregnant women in subsistence fishing households eat enough self-caught fish to endanger their children's cognitive or neurological health, yet the agency has yet to identify a single woman who fits this description.”

The EPA justifies implementing this rule by claiming that the public health benefits of limiting coal burning will be greater than the compliance costs. It claims the Rule will save $80 billion a year, but relies on achieving levels of particulate matter discharge well beyond levels generally recognized as safe.

Furthermore, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission projects the Rule will result in losing 81,000 megawatts of electricity generation, almost eight times the EPA’s estimate.

American coal plants are vastly cleaner than those in other countries, where pollution control is virtually non-existent. China now emits more mercury than the United States, India, and Europe combined, and mercury pollution wafts across the Pacific to foul our air and water. The EPA would better serve Americans if it regulated China’s coal burning.

Americans for Prosperity predicts American families and businesses will see electricity bills rise by an average of 12 percent nationwide and by as much as 24 percent in coal country, and this “burdensome regulation” will destroy over a million American jobs in the coming years.

The U.S. Senate had the opportunity last Wednesday to put a halt to this anti-coal, anti-common-sense scheme, but failed by a 53-46 vote.

Incomprehensibly, two coal-state senators, West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, voted against the measure, along with four other Republicans. Clearly, Senators Rockefeller and Alexander have failed their constituents and their states.

The EPA grossly overstated the dangers of mercury from burning fossil fuels and grossly understated the harmful effects of Utility MACT on the public. These folks will not be satisfied until every detectable particle of every substance that at some level of concentration might be harmful to something or someone is eliminated from the Earth, and they are eager to force job losses and higher consumer costs on us trying to achieve that impossible goal.

Click here to comment

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Going Rogue, Part VIII: The EPA’s behavior becoming more egregious

The Environmental Protection Agency. It sounds so good. So … fabulous.

But, as we have seen in this series, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Run by ideologues isolated from the real world and ruled by an obsessive desire to create the impossible perfect world, the EPA is increasingly at odds with what is in the best interest of the American people, pursuing an agenda that has successfully proved immune to both common sense and to the wreckage and pain it leaves in its wake.

From declaring war on the most abundant and most-relied-upon energy sources to imposing water quality standards that common bottled water and commercial apple juice cannot pass, the EPA is likely the most oppressive and out-of-control agency in the federal government, and that, dear readers, is saying a mouthful.

Now the agency has begun using military-style aircraft to spy on Nebraska and Iowa farmers to be sure they are not violating the Clean Water Act. “Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America,” Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith said.

Nebraska’s congressional delegation expressed concerns about the surveillance violating the privacy of cattle farmers and questioned its legality in a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The spy drones operate in EPA’s Region 7, which responded to The Omaha World-Herald’s questions about the legality of the spy flights, saying that “courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal,” and offering the assurance that the agency will only use such flights to protect people and the environment from violators of the Clean Water Act. But who assures the people the EPA will act appropriately?

And then there is the following situation.

If you happened to have stumbled on this story in the blogosphere, which is about the only place you would have seen it, you might recognize the name Al Armendariz, the director of EPA Region 6 who revealed the way EPA bureaucrats view their jobs.

Mr. Armendariz was addressing colleagues about EPA enforcement methods, using the following example from Ancient Rome to illustrate how the agency operates. “The Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean,” he said. “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

Of course, the term “crucify” was merely a figure of speech, not a literal plan, but his little homily exposes the EPA’s fondness for gleefully intimidating folks into submission. Here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave people don’t take kindly to that kind of imperious behavior from those hired to serve us.

The video of this comment outraged many of those who saw it, one of whom was Asheville, North Carolina resident Larry Keller. Trying to reach Mr. Armendariz, Mr. Keller sent an email to an EPA external affairs director that read, "Do you have Mr. Armendariz's contact information so we can say hello? – Regards - Larry Keller."

Well, you can imagine the revulsion that must have engulfed the external affairs director, faced with a mere citizen daring to attempt to personally contact a government official and express his opinion, especially an EPA official with a PhD. How dare he ask for the mailing address, email and phone number of the exalted Mr. Armendariz and possibly intend to interrupt him in the midst of planning crucifixions.

In such cases of peaceful rebellion by an uppity citizen there was only one possible course of action, and that is exactly what the EPA external affairs director and/or his/her fellow public servants did: they sent not the requested contact info, but armed federal agents to visit Mr. Keller. But at least he wasn’t crucified! Not yet, anyway. 

Mr. Keller, however, was undeterred by this act of intimidation, and contacted NC Sen. Richard Burr's office. Sen. Burr has agreed to look into the matter, and his office says he "intends to pursue this matter vigorously."

Warning to Sen. Burr: Be careful, lest armed agents visit your home.

One piece of good news has come from this sordid tale of official abuse: Al Armendariz has resigned his post. One down; hundreds to go. The citizens won the Battle of Armendariz; they are losing the war with the EPA.

They are also losing the war against growing authoritarianism from the federal government. From over-zealous regulators without regard for the effects of their excessiveness to agencies like the Department of Education that send in SWAT teams to break down the doors of people who may – may – have some irregularities with their student loans, our government is increasingly intolerant of the individual freedoms our nation is based upon, and puts its own interests ahead of protecting those freedoms and serving the people.

What madness allows the Department of Education to believe it ever needs a SWAT team?

Thomas Jefferson said: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

It is time for a change.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wisconsin recall debacle casts negative light on labor unions

Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and three of four Republican state senators won the election last week against a public sector labor union-fueled recall movement.

Walker and Kleefisch both won handily against Democrat opponents, 53-46 percent and 53-47 percent, respectively, approximately the same margin by which Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. 

It was a much bigger victory, however, than some news outlets would have you believe. [begin ital] The New York Times [end ital] and [begin ital]  The Washington Post, [end ital]  for example, said Gov. Walker “survives” recall, as if he won by a point or even a single vote. Some media called Mr. Obama’s 2008 seven-point victory a landslide, but with a seven-point victory, Gov. Walker merely “survived.” Six- or seven-point margins are solid wins, but not landslides, even when Mr. Obama is the winner.

At the root of this upheaval was Wisconsin’s adoption last year of sweeping reforms that curbed collective bargaining rights among government workers, brought the state’s pension system into line with private sector pension systems, and empowered public sector workers to choose whether or not to pay union dues. This bill was passed to save Wisconsin some $30 million in the 2011 fiscal year, helping to reduce a substantial budget deficit.

This was an exercise in union excess. The fact that Scott Walker won the General Election and did what he promised to do in the campaign is not sufficient reason to demand a recall. Given the frequency with which campaign promises are forgotten after the election, one could make a case that the Governor’s performance is reason for celebration.

And speaking of his performance, it has been pretty good.

When he took office on January 3, 2011 the labor force was 3,068,342 strong, 2,828,816 people were working, 239,526 were unemployed, and the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As of April of this year, BLS numbers showed marked improvement:  the labor force was about the same at 3,068,900 workers, but 2,863,590 were employed, the number of unemployed had fallen to 205,310, and the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. Approximately 34,000 of the unemployed had found a job. Is that level of improvement in little more than a year bad, or good?

The recall election is a mechanism designed to remove officials during a term of office, but is not a method intended to undo an election because some political faction is unhappy with the results. The people at-large made their decision, and the union faction did not prevail. Barring some illegal activity by those duly elected, everybody should just take a deep breath and wait until the next election.

The ill-conceived recall cost the state millions of dollars and distracted everyone in state government from doing the work they were elected or hired to do. According to polling data, many Democrat voters recognized that the recall was a bad idea, and voted against it because they disagreed with the recall movement more than they disagreed with Gov. Walker’s performance.

This effort is a black eye on the union, conjuring up images of children stamping their feet when they don’t get their way. It epitomizes what is wrong with labor unions, particularly public sector unions: excess.

There is nothing inherently wrong with organized labor, and indeed, there were very good reasons for labor to organize in the past. However, labor law has evolved to a point where laws now mostly control the relationship between employers and employees, eliminating the abuses that were the reason for unions to have originated. Unions simply are no longer needed to protect workers from abuse, and they now focus not on a safe and fair work environment, but on pay levels that are higher than market value and special perks, all of which boost costs for employers.

And that is particularly so in the case of public sector unions. Since government determines the labor climate and is the arbiter of labor disputes, to have a union representing government workers against the government is totally nonsensical.  

The problem posed by the Wisconsin recall madness is far less the responsibility of rank and file union members, many of whom have no choice whether to join a union or not, than of union leadership – which uses political donations and pressure to gain excessive pay, benefits and special perks for members – and the politicians who were more responsive to the lure of financial support and votes than to their responsibility to the taxpayers for whom they work.

It is not the members’ fault if they have an unrealistic level of job perks, and they do feel they are treated unfairly when someone wants to take something away from them. Their position is understandable, even if their level of protest is not.

But the reality is that the level of pay and benefits of public employees places an unfair burden on the taxpayers, and has to be fixed to help restore fiscal stability to the state, and Scott Walker’s first responsibility is to all the people of Wisconsin, not the public employee union.

It is the first step in restoring balance to the realm of public employment.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Voter photo IDs: Are they evil incarnate or electoral salvation?

There is great consternation and wringing of hands throughout the land over the idea that in order to vote a person must show a photo ID to verify that the voter is who he or she says they are, and is registered and eligible to vote. The resistance to this common sense requirement is astonishing.

Why are so many people afraid of measures to assure that potential voters are legal and registered?

The popular excuses are 1) that requiring a photo ID places an unnecessary hardship on some legal voters, and 2) that it is really just an excuse to disenfranchise minority voters. And, some suggest, racism is at the root of this movement.

On the cable channel MSNBC, anchor Thomas Roberts interviewed former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chairman Julian Bond, who said that voter ID laws were racist in intent.

Claims of racism are so common these days, and are an automatic response to so many things, that the term is now just one more meaningless buzzword, and that demeans true instances of racism.

Unhappy with the photo ID requirement, Georgia Democrat Congressman John Lewis, also on MSNBC, said this about voting: “To be able to cast a vote should be very simple, like getting a glass of fresh water.”

Yes, Mr. Lewis, it should be, for every legal voter who has the proper credentials.

Voting is one of the most cherished rights we have. If a right is highly cherished it is therefore important, and if voting is important, shouldn’t our electoral system have integrity beyond reproach? That is why we must insure that only legal, registered voters exercise that most cherished right.

However, the fact is that many state election systems lack integrity and are simply a mess.

An analysis by the Pew Center on the States found that close to 2 million Americans who had died were still on the books as active voters. It also found that nearly 2.75 million people were registered in more than one state, and that 12 million voter records had incorrect addresses or other errors.

There are other election problems, as well. “From voter fraud to election chicanery of all kinds, America teeters on the edge of scandal every November,” according to Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Despite efforts to downplay it, there is ample evidence of voter fraud in the country. Remember the ACORN voter registration scandal where Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck turned up on registration forms in Nevada?

We have dead people voting and people voting who claim to be someone whose name is on the voter rolls, but is not who they are, one of the most ridiculous examples of which occurred in Washington, DC, in the shadow of the Justice Department where an undercover reporter recorded himself giving his name as (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder and being offered a ballot without showing an ID or being questioned about his identity.

Instead of championing efforts to clean voter rolls of dead people and non-citizens, however, Mr. Holder’s Justice Department has ordered Florida’s elections division to halt a systematic effort to purge the state’s voter rolls of non-citizen voters, and is a vocal opponent of photo ID laws.

And on the topic of voter suppression, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported those concerns are not supported by the facts: "In Georgia, black voter turnout for the midterm election in 2006 was 42.9 percent. After Georgia passed a photo ID law, black turnout in the 2010 midterm rose to 50.4 percent,” an increase of more than 17 percent. “Black turnout also rose in Indiana and Mississippi after photo IDs were required," the newspaper reported.

Furthermore, some states with voter ID requirements offer free voter ID cards. Mississippi voters approved a constitutional amendment that would require photo IDs to vote but ensured that "any voter lacking government issued photo identification may obtain photo identification without charge from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety."

Also, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, some states allow voters without ID to vote if they sign an affidavit affirming under penalty of perjury that they are the person they claim to be. And, most states allow provisional balloting so that no one would be turned away from the polls by election officials for lack of a photo ID.

If it is true that photo IDs are difficult for some voters to obtain, groups that help people register to vote can simply adapt their service to help voters acquire photo IDs, and ACORN, or whatever it now calls itself, can substitute this service for creating fraudulent voter registrations.

Complaints that photo ID requirements are efforts to disenfranchise minorities appear to be so much election year hot air, and may be aimed at blocking efforts to get unqualified voters off voter rolls.

Every honest, freedom-loving American should insist upon a system that allows only legal, registered voters to vote. Nothing less is acceptable.

Side note: A photo ID will be required to enter the 2012 Democratic National Convention this September in Charlotte. Wonder if Eric Holder will oppose that?

Click Here to Comment

Friday, June 01, 2012

More rogue-ness from the feds

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has gone to court to prevent the Colorado-based firm Regenerative Sciences from using stem cells developed in one part of your body (bone marrow) to repair damage in other parts of your body, such as joints. The FDA objects to the fact that these cells are chemicals, the use of which they have the power to regulate even though the cells are taken from your body to later be injected back into your body.

The FDA is accustomed to the process by which it requires that many years and millions of dollars be spent to approve drugs developed in a laboratory before anyone is allowed to use them. Regardless of clinical results that show use of stem cells to be highly effective, the FDA finds it intolerable to let you use the cells in your own body without prior approval by a vast and expensive bureaucracy.

More ...