Environment

WPC's Center for the Environment brings balance to the environmental debate by promoting the idea that human progress and prosperity work in a free economy to protect the environment.

What's New

Suspending Failed "Green" Building Rules Can Save Schools Millions

February 17, 2009 in Publications

The Spokesman Review published this op-ed on February 28, 2009
The News Tribune published this op-ed on March 3, 2009

Create Incentive to Cut Emissions with Carbon Price

February 17, 2009 in Publications

The Seattle Times published this op-ed on February 23, 2009

After years, numerous reports and legislation, Olympia is still searching for a coherent policy to address climate change, focusing on a complex accounting system known as cap and trade. That policy, however, won't cover most of Washington's carbon emissions until 2015 and is likely to cost billions in taxes, regulation and lost jobs.

Lincoln's Humble Approach

February 12, 2009 in Blog

Lincoln In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, I listened to an interview with Michael Beschloss who said that Lincoln was a "man of self-doubt." This approach is echoed in other notes written by the President during his time in the White House, one in which he noted that,

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.

He did not always know whether his approach was correct and constantly questioned himself and sought the advice of others, hence the "Team of Rivals" he gathered around him.

Too often, the debates we have about policy focus on what policy will work best assuming that the perfect solution is merely a question of craftsmanship. We need to remember, however, that just as the knowledge and judgment of that great man was imperfect, our ability to craft perfect political solutions is limited, to say the least.

It is a reason that I have so many doubts about cap-and-trade, a policy that one environmental activist said would involve "remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe." It is a quote I have used often to highlight the leap of faith required in adopting such massive, all-encompassing approaches.

A more humble approach puts people in charge of these issues, recognizing that only they can know how best to improve energy efficiency and find the best ways to reduce the environmental impact they cause. That's why these approaches are not only more moral by giving individuals control over the key decisions in their life but are consistently more effective than government approaches based on an arrogant, and inaccurate, belief in the expansiveness of their knowledge.

Jay Manning Gets It Wrong...Again...and Again

February 12, 2009 in Blog

Ecology Director Jay Manning is playing extremely fast and loose with the facts in his tour of legislative committees talking about climate change.

Last week he claimed that Europe was on target to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets by 2012. This requires a great leap of faith. On Sunday, we highlighted the recent data from Europe showing that they are far from reaching the CO2 reductions.

Now there are two more claims which are either ignorant or intentionally misleading.

"We haven't seen any, that I know of, abuses of the market in Europe... We haven't seen any abuse that I am aware of." - Jay Manning before the Transportation Committee, February 9, 2009

This is a remarkable claim. There have been tremendous, well-publicized problems with the cap-and-trade system in Europe with regard to organizations gaming the system. For instance, free credits (i.e. permits to emit CO2 that can be sold) were allocated politically, leaving organizations who lobbied effectively, with extra carbon allocations to sell and a windfall, as we've highlighted before. The director of Germany's carbon trading authority commented last month that "It was lobbying by industry, including the electricity companies, that was to blame for all these exceptional rules," which "enabled companies to get allowances that did not reflect the real situation of their emissions."

In addition to the political gaming that has occurred, others have exploited the rules to sell carbon offsets that produced no real reductions. The US General Accounting Office released a report last November highlighting the many games being played with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which certifies projects designed to reduce CO2 emissions. The key question is whether the reductions are "additional" or whether the reductions would have occurred anyway. The GAO notes that

"significant challenges to ensuring credit quality exist. Many experts and stakeholders have suggested that a substantial number of nonadditional projects have received credits through the CDM, a conclusion supported by several studies."

In other words, there are a "substantial" number of projects that receive funding that do not deserve it. Isn't that the textbook definition of an "abuse?"

"It is a scientific fact that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at this point is about 360 parts per million. Pre-industrial revolution, which is easy to measure from tree cores and ice cores, it was between, for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, between 190 and 200. Incredibly stable." - Jay Manning before the Transportation Committee, February 9, 2009

Wrong. The chart below shows CO2 levels from ice cores going back 600,000 years. I've adapted this chart from a chart used by Al Gore found at a web page that promotes science arguing that climate change is real and significant. The chart starts with year 0, which is up to recent years and the time runs backwards 600,000 years as you move right.

CO2-Historical-Trends  Note that CO2 is not "incredibly stable." It has ranged from a low of about 180 parts per million (ppm) to about 300 ppm, a change of 67 percent. Mr. Manning's claim is simply false and is intended to make us believe that the only reason CO2 increases is due to human causes. He wants to discount any indication that CO2 fluctuates naturally, which it clearly does.

One thing Director Manning is right about is that CO2 has risen in the past several decades beyond what we've seen in the last several hundred thousand years. The chart does not show it, but we are at 360 ppm and increasing. I argued just two days ago in Olympia that I believed that taking carbon out of the ground (i.e. coal and oil) and burning them has undoubtedly contributed to this increase. Furthermore, I believe there is risk from increasing CO2. We are offering solutions to address that risk -- solutions that are more likely to actually reduce CO2 and improve energy efficiency than the system Manning supports.

One may argue that my argument here is a nit-pick. He is right that CO2 is increasing due to human causes. He said, however, that all of the change was due to humans. That is not correct. One may argue that this isn't an important distinction. Well, if it isn't important, don't bring it up. If you bring it up, get it right. Mr. Manning didn't.

There are judgment calls in any policy, especially a policy as expansive and complex as dealing with climate change. The errors Director Manning is making, however, are not judgment calls. They are errors of ignorance or are intended to mislead. These errors make it less likely that good policy will emerge on an issue that is likely to have a major impact on our environment and economy.

WPC Annual Environmental Policy Briefing on the Capitol Campus

February 10, 2009 in Events
Date: 
Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Time: 
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Place: 
Washington State Capitol
Olympia, WA

WPC's Center for the Environment held a lunch briefing on environmental issues facing our state this upcoming legislative session. Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment, led the briefing, covering:

  • Climate change policy options
  • 2009 Agenda for Effective Environmental Stewardship
  • Green-collar jobs

...but does it work?

February 8, 2009 in Blog

This week, the Senate will again hear testimony on the state's proposed cap-and-trade legislation, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the first round of hearings, there was a great deal made about the potential economic costs and benefits of cap-and-trade. Setting those aside for the moment, there was an assumption that,whatever the cost, cap-and-trade will work to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, the evidence shows that it is unlikely to do so.

Ecology Director Jay Manning testified twice before the Legislature this year that Europe was likely to meet its CO2 reduction targets using the cap-and-trade system under the Kyoto Protocol. A quick look at the data from Europe shows this is not true. The most recent data, found on the EU Environment Agency’s web page, show that the emissions reductions they have achieved under cap-and-trade are almost nonexistent.

First, while the Kyoto Protocol measures emissions against 1990, the agreement was signed in 1997 and has been in effect since then. Emissions reductions prior to 1997 are due to other factors including the collapse of the communist bloc and the economies of E. Europe in the early 90s and the UK’s switch from coal to natural gas in the early 90s. Thus, cap-and-trade is only responsible for emissions reductions since 1997. From 1998 to 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available), emissions of greenhouse gases have declined only 0.42%. Nearly 90 percent of CO2 emissions in Europe occurred before Kyoto was signed. The note below, which highlights this point, is taken from the EU report.

Kyotonote

Second, for Europe to meet the goals it would require a sudden reduction of 5 percent in CO2 emissions during the final five years of the protocol (i.e. from 2007 to 2012). As you can see in the chart below, following existing measures, Europe will fail to meet the targets. Adding “additional” measures gets them close but still fails. Only when Europe aggressively pursues carbon offsets from China and elsewhere do they meet the target. Ironically, the EU recently tightened the rules on offsets, meaning that such offsets are likely to decrease, not increase.

EU-Kyoto-Trends

Additionally, as is evident, the 5-year average of emissions, represented by the black line, would leave Europe with emissions only slightly below 1990 levels, missing even the projections for the existing measures. Only a sudden downturn not evident at any time up to this point would leave Europe in compliance. The argument that EU is on track to meet their goals is wishful thinking at best. There is no reason to believe that the WCI cap-and-trade system would be any different.

Finally, as a result of the failure of Kyoto in Europe, countries are facing a large penalty,on the order of $46 billion. This cost will be paid by the economies and taxpayers of Europe.

Put simply, cap-and-trade has not lived up to its promise and alternatives are needed. Whatever you believe about the economic merits or disadvantages of cap-and-trade, if it doesn't work, why would we adopt it?

WPC Annual Legislative Briefing Luncheon

February 4, 2009 in Events
Date: 
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
Time: 
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Place: 
Washington State Capitol
Olympia, WA

During this lunch event each center's research director gave an overview of our latest research and analysis on the key issues facing legislators this Session.

A Crisis Like This Demands Flip Answers

February 2, 2009 in Blog

Last Friday, the House Ecology and Parks committee heard testimony on HB 1718, which is 159 pages of ways we can reduce greenhouse gases, including growth management, restrictions on transportation, green buildings and other new regulations and fees.

We outlined a number of concerns about the bill, specifically that the green buildings elements of the bill are likely to be ineffective and that energy efficiency improvements are best made by families and businesses rather than mandated from above.

On the other hand, Miguel Perez-Gibson from Climate Solutions testified in favor of the bill. I can only describe his comments as non-serious. He talked about the evidence of climate change and the need for action. And what did he cite? Our recent record snowpack? Snow in Dubai or London? Recent downward trends in worldwide temperatures? Nope.

He said that evidence could be found in the Sierra Nevadas where rainfall was one-third normal this year. This is not a credible comment from anyone who claims to be serious about the issue of climate change. In any given year we can cite parts of the planet which are unusually warm or unusually cold. There are always places where rainfall is above normal and those where drought is present. Cherry picking data is the tactic of those who will grasp at any piece of evidence, no matter how unscientific.

Last year, KC Golden of Climate Solutions cited the fact that children were "insisting on solutions in a clear voice" as a reason to take action on climate change. Now, Miguel Perez-Gibson cherry picks one piece of data as a reason to demand action. Either the folks at Climate Solutions don't know any better or they feel they can simply get away with these fundamentally flippant comments because thoughtful arguments simply aren't being demanded.

Accountants v. CO2

January 28, 2009 in Blog

Next week, the legislature will hold simultaneous hearings on the Governor's cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions. Among the many problems with cap-and-trade is that the accounting required is so complex that it virtually invites people to game the system. We wrote about the incentives to cheat in one aspect of cap-and-trade previously.


Recognizing the many ways that cap-and-trade can be gamed and the dangers of price volatility, the bill asks the Department of Ecology to write rules preventing those problems. Here is the section:


NEW SECTION.


Sec. 10.



ENSURING A FUNCTIONAL AND EFFICIENT MARKET.


(1) The department shall consult with other jurisdictions in the western climate initiative, Washington state agencies with expertise on markets, and other states and federal agencies that have designed or implemented a market for regulating air pollutants to design a trading market that includes provisions to prevent market manipulation and ensure a functional and efficient market. The design provisions must include:


 (a) Requiring or conducting audits, investigations, and surveillance of the market;


 (b) Actions to prohibit conflicts of interest between emitters, verifiers, monitors, auditors, investigators, or surveillance persons;


 (c) Establishment of measures to address market emergencies;


 (d) Prevention of fraud to the greatest extent possible;


 (e) Prevention of speculators from unfairly affecting the price of allowances in the program to the greatest extent possible;


 (f) Issuance of orders, and penalties established by rule, sufficient to address market manipulation; and


 (g) Other conditions or provisions necessary to prevent market manipulation.


 (2) The department shall provide a report to the legislature by December 31, 2010, on the design of the market that includes an explanation of how manipulation and excessive speculation will be avoided.


 (3) The department shall refer the most egregious violations to the attorney general or the county prosecutor for consideration for criminal prosecution or to federal authorities for federal prosecution.


So I have many issues with this. First, color me skeptical that more regulation can make a market more "efficient."


Second, the accounting rules to ensure all of these various goals, ("prevention of fraud," "address market emergencies," "prevention of speculators," etc.) will be extremely complex, written in a political manner and be navigable only by those who have money to hire lobbyists, accountants and lawyers. There are certain to be many who take advantage of the rules to their own benefit and the costs will be borne by consumers.


Third, the key elements of this are subjective and undefined. This is my favorite: "Prevention of speculators from unfairly affecting the price of allowances..." There are no definitions for "speculators" or "unfairly." These are simply subjective judgments of a regulator. Is anyone who buys a carbon credit today in anticipation that the price will go up in the future a "speculator?" Doesn't that increase in price, caused by "speculation," encourage more carbon reductions? Isn't that the goal? Isn't that what "market-based" means? If someone wants to sell a carbon credit and someone else wants to buy, both with their own money on the line, why should regulators tell them they can't engage in a voluntary exchange?


So when the Department of Ecology decides to "refer the most egregious violations to the attorney general or the county prosecutor for consideration for criminal prosecution," how will they determine whether a violation has occurred?


Efficiency requires predictability, transparency and flexibility. Cap-and-trade, by way of contrast, is subjective, opaque and rigid.

Washington Policy Center Comments on Senate "Green Jobs" Proposal

in Press releases

Olympia – Unfortunately, the government spending announced today by state Senators will do little to create jobs and will leave the environment worse off in years to come. The eco-fads of past legislative sessions like biofuels, electric and hydrogen cars or so-called “green” buildings, cost taxpayers millions but did little for the environment.