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.

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Does the Governor’s climate change EO have power of law?

May 22, 2009 in Blog

Yesterday, Governor Gregoire issued Executive Order 09-05, which directs state agencies to look for ways to reduce the states greenhouse gas emissions.  However, there appears to be significant a difference between what the Governor is saying and the legal authority of Executive Orders.

In the Governor’s press release announcing her Executive Order, the Governor said, “We can’t further delay action on climate change.”  She continued:

“This executive order benefits our economy as much as our environment. It will protect our natural resources, while creating thousands of green-collar jobs and strengthening our state’s competitiveness in the global race for a clean energy economy.”

In addition, while speaking at her press conference to discuss the Executive Order, the Governor established a tone of urgency.  She said:

“Are we going to simply sit and do nothing and allow the status quo? Or are we going to exercise the kind of leadership…to address climate change.”

Clearly the Governor is conveying a message of action, but does an Executive Order really provide the Governor with the teeth necessary to implement the action she is calling for?

In 1991 the Attorney General’s office issued an opinion, AGO 1991 No. 12, regarding the use of Executive Order that, in part, concluded:

“The legislative authority of the State of Washington is vested in the Legislature.  In absence of a statute or constitutional provision that serves as a source of authority authorizing the Governor to act, the Governor cannot create obligations, responsibilities, conditions or processes having the force and effect of law by the issuance of an executive order.”

In light of the AGO from 1991, perhaps the Legislature,  which chose not to implement similar policies during the past legislative session, will want to ask the current Attorney General to review Executive Order 09-05 to ensure that the Governor has not exceeded her legal authority.

In Case Democracy Doesn't Work

May 21, 2009 in Blog

The Environmental Protection Agency is in Seattle today to hear testimony on their effort to regulate carbon emissions to mitigate the impact of climate change. One theme is emerging in government efforts on this issue -- don't leave legislation to legislators.

This was put bluntly by a professor from Yale in today's Seattle Times.

"In effect, the prospect of EPA regulation is a bulwark against Congress falling down on the job," said Dan Esty, a Yale University environmental professor.

The philosophy expressed here is that constitutional checks and balances from elected representatives are useful only to the extent Congress does what is "right." Otherwise, the executive needs to step in and do whatever is necessary, other branches of government, and public opinion, notwithstanding.

That general philosophy was put into action today in Washington when the Governor, who previously argued that the legislature must endorse her climate change legislation, suddenly realized that legislative approval was not needed. The Democratic majority in the legislature rejected the Governor's bill. As a result, she today announced an executive order that mirrored many of the elements of the bill lawmakers turned down.

Here is the intent language of HB 1819, which failed to clear the House.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. The legislature finds that Washington should maintain its leadership on climate change policy by implementing a cap on carbon emissions and developing strategies to achieve those reductions, including continuing Washington's participation in the design of a regional cap-and-trade program with the western climate initiative.

Here is the language included in the Governor's executive order today. The Governor ordered:

The Director of the Department of Ecology to:  (a) Continue to participate in the Western Climate Initiative to develop a regional greenhouse gas emission reduction program and to work with the federal Administration, Washington’s congressional delegation and appropriate committees to help design a national greenhouse gas emission reduction program that reflects Washington State priorities.

The Governor herself testified before the legislature in an effort to get support for the above language. The bill, despite that effort, died. In an opinion piece in April, the Governor wrote "Now we need a strong climate action bill from this year's Legislature to grasp the opportunities that await us." The question is, what made the Governor suddenly realize that that legislative support she had sought for a strong climate action bill was no longer necessary?

King County "EcoConsumer" Advice: Bad for Consumers and the Environment

May 18, 2009 in Publications

Twice a month, the King County EcoConsumer offers advice to those who want to spend a little more on products to help preserve the environment. The advice offered, however, too often strays from scientific and economic reality and replaces dogma with sound advice. This month the Environmental Watch examines the EcoConsumer's claims about "food miles," green jobs, protectionism and old growth and finds them lacking. Consumers who actually care about the environment should take a more reasoned look at the products they buy and avoid eco-fads that cost more but do little to help the environment.

Global Warming Activists Ignore the Science They Claim To Support

May 17, 2009 in Publications

When discussing global warming, one phrase recurs: “scientific consensus.” Environmental activists often cite “science” when arguing for far-reaching and costly responses to global warming. Ironically, however, those activists ignore the findings of that same science. The potential impacts they cite are based not on science but on speculation which contradicts the actual science.

What It Means to be Green?

May 15, 2009 in Blog

A number of stories and comments crossed my screen yesterday addressing what it means to be "green," and it is unclear to me why anyone would see these as positive.

First, a local environmental group posted this quote on Twitter from environmental activist Stephen Viederman:

"Climate change isn't an environmental issue. It's an issue of equity and justice."

I thought this was a strange quotation to highlight. It indicates that environmental issues are only useful as tools to achieve other leftist goals, like government intervention to impose a particular view of "equity and justice." It also demonstrates a point we made yesterday that leftists, like the NDP in British Columbia, will toss environmental concerns overboard to achieve other goals. Why else would they make protecting the environment contingent on supporting other leftist values?

Second, the people of India can celebrate their position as "greenest" citizens. What got them there also says a lot about what environmental activists, in this case the National Geographic Society, think "greenness" is.

The news story highlighting their achievement begins this way:

That cold water bath many Indians have because there's no electricity...that 'matka' they use because they can't afford a fridge...and the long walk they take to work and back because private transport is expensive and public transport shoddy. There's an upside to the hard life. Indians may be green with envy at the consumption-driven lifestyle in the West, but their own frugal ways and modest means have catapulted them to the top spot in the world's Green index, making them the most environmental-friendly denizens of Planet Earth.

Environmentalists too frequently glorify poverty as a "green" way of life and this is just the latest, and most honest, evidence of that. Many greens, however, still choose to live here rather than such a "green" paradise. Remember this link between poverty and "greenness" the next time you hear promises of "green" jobs.

We've noted many times before that rich countries have better environmental records than poor ones. I'd be willing to bet that Seattle's air quality (or New York's) is better than Delhi's. Poverty means suffering and environmental degradation.

At an environmental breakfast yesterday morning, one of the more extreme local environmentalists told the audience that "Environmentalists can be difficult but they make great ancestors." The comment, from an activist who inherited her wealth, made me laugh. The reality is that environmentalists like her exist because their ancestors were successful entrepreneurs. Across the world, wealth creates the ability to become an environmentalist.

Finally, someone pointed me to this article in Psychology Today. It addresses how our minds misapprehend risks from a variety of sources. One of the ways we get it wrong is when comparing risks of "natural" products to man-made products. The article notes:

The word radiation stirs thoughts of nuclear power, X-rays, and danger, so we shudder at the thought of erecting nuclear power plants in our neighborhoods. But every day we're bathed in radiation that has killed many more people than nuclear reactors: sunlight. It's hard for us to grasp the danger because sunlight feels so familiar and natural.  Our built-in bias for the natural led a California town to choose a toxic poison made from chrysanthemums over a milder artificial chemical to fight mosquitoes: People felt more comfortable with a plant-based product. We see what's "natural" as safe—and regard the new and "unnatural" as frightening.

This is why groups like the Washington Toxics Coalition and others stir up fear of the latest "toxic" threat no matter how small. Natural is good. If people made it, it is bad. They prefer their faulty seat-of-the-pants assessment to actual scientific assessment.

Is this what it means to be green? Does promoting the environment mean promoting poverty? Are environmental issues simply tools to justify government expansion? Does being green mean ignoring science and an honest assessment of costs and benefits in favor of an unsophisticated commitment to an idealized version of the "natural."

If so, it is not surprising that support for their views is in decline.

Dwindling support for costly environmental pursuits

May 14, 2009 in Blog

According to the latest Rasmussen Report, a nationally recognized polling firm, only 42% of Americans believe that a major lifestyle change is needed to save the environment, while 44% disagree and believe no such lifestyle changes are unnecessary.
Not surprisingly, the Rasmussen Report shows that there is a partisan divide on the issue.  The survey found that 57% of Democrats surveyed believe that change is required to help save the environment, but 58% of Republicans disagreed.  Interestingly the survey also finds that:

For those not affiliated with either major political party, 36% believe lifestyle changes  will be necessary, while 49% take the opposite view.

Of additional note, a Rasmussen Report released just last month revealed a reversal of opinion for the cause of global warming.  Among those surveyed the number of Americans that believes global warming was caused by humans has drastically declined.  In that report, only 34% believed global warming was caused by humans.  48% believe that global warming was caused by “long-term planetary trends.”  The survey notes:

These numbers reflect a reversal from a year ago when 47% blamed human activity while 34% said long-term planetary trends.

The Rasmussen Reports show that Americans are not satisfied by the current political pursuits, such as cap-and-trade, to stop global warming.

BC Vote Shows Opportunity for Conservatives on Environment

May 13, 2009 in Blog

Last night BC Premier Gordon Campbell won a rare third term in power, campaigning on his leadership on the economy. But he also benefited by taking action on climate change in a smart way, taking the issue away from the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP).

As Premier, Campbell implemented a carbon tax, with rebates to taxpayers, as the best method to address CO2 emissions. It was an alternative to the bureaucratic cap-and-trade and the myriad of regulations being offered elsewhere, like Washington State. The NDP, seeing a political opportunity, attacked the tax, hoping to raise populist ire. That strategy, however, backfired.

In a preview of the race yesterday, the Toronto Globe and Mail noted:

The first week of the election campaign was a complete disaster for the NDP, dominated by news stories about environmental heavyweights like David Suzuki denouncing the NDP for selling its soul in a populist bid to exploit some short-term voter anger. The message from many of the province's most influential environmental groups couldn't have been clearer: If you care about the earth, vote Liberal.

Last night's election losses are the culmination of the NDP's game-playing on the environment.

We have advocated a stable carbon price with offsetting cuts in property, investment and other taxes, as the best way to address carbon emissions. The package must not raise overall taxes and our preference would be a tax cut. The individual decisions of businesses and families will more effectively reduce carbon emissions, and do it in a way that preserves freedom and promotes prosperity.

Even though the BC model is slightly different than our approach, there are two key takeaway lessons.

First, too often the left treats environmental policies simply as tools to win election. The environmental community jumps on eco-fads with an eye first to political gain and second to environmental benefit. This is why greens continue to support failed environmental policies like the Kyoto Protocol and "green" building mandates in Washington. When the NDP saw what they thought was a more politically expedient route, they threw environmental policy overboard.

Second, the election shows that when conservatives take a serious and responsible approach to the environment, they can take the issue away from the left and win. We shouldn't enact a carbon price just for the politics, but it is another example that good policy is also good politics.

Allowing the left to dominate these issues leaves the debate as a choice between supporting or ignoring the environment. Engaging gives voters a choice between responsible environmental policies that promote prosperity, or the ineffective environmental policies of the past that rely on government forcing lifestyle changes and hurting prosperity.

BC voters made that choice last night and the conservatives are enjoying a third term.

How Can a Drum Circle Be Wrong?

May 11, 2009 in Blog

For those on Twitter, you can follow the Environmental Center @WAPolicyGreen.

We missed the "Fair Trade" drum circle on Saturday, but that wasn't the silliest thing regarding "Fair Trade" last weekend.

The EcoConsumer column in the Seattle Times advocating fair trade, and attacking free trade, was more silly than usual...which is saying something.

The author Tom Watson, whose paycheck comes courtesy of King County taxpayers, attempts to justify "fair" trade over free trade with the following logic:

Free trade usually means reducing trade restrictions among nations. This can result in companies continually moving production to countries with cheap labor and lax environmental regulations. It may also hurt workers in developing nations when products from other countries flood the marketplace.

This paragraph shows how incoherent his view of trade is. In just two back-to-back sentences he argues that free trade is:

  • Bad because companies move to developing countries giving them an advantage so they can ship products to developed countries at the expense of jobs there.
  • Bad because free trade opens developing countries, giving developed countries an advantage so they can ship products to those developing countries at the expense of jobs there.

Ironically, he doesn't see the contradiction from one sentence to the next!

Such incoherent arguments are rebutted by economists as diverse as Paul Krugman, whose Nobel Prize honors his work in trade economics (I recommend his book Pop Internationalism), and Milton Friedman. They recognized that free trade makes both trading partners better off.

"Fair" trade, on the other hand, works (to the extent that it does) only because it is so little used and because only those with available, discretionary income are participating. TransFair USA, the primary organization certifying "fair" trade practices, indicates that there were 87.7 million pounds of fair trade coffee imported by the US in 2008. This is less than 3 percent of the total coffee imported each year. If such trade rules were imposed for everyone, however, it would raise the cost of all coffee, reducing the amount enjoyed by Americans and putting growers in developing countries out of business. Fewer jobs, less prosperity.

There is another reason that advocates for the poor support free trade. Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in micro-lending, writes in his excellent book Banker to the Poor:

I would like to see all barriers and protections around the world markets disappear. Protectionism is built up in each nation in the name of the poor, but its real beneficiaries are the rich and clever people who know how to manipulate the system. By contrast the poor have a better chance in a bigger open market than in a smaller protected market. Everyone would benefit from the free flow of commodities, finances and people.

Free trade, not protectionism in the false guise of "fair" trade, is the way out of poverty. It is also the way toward a cleaner environment since wealthy countries consistently have cleaner air and water than poor countries.

Finally, if Mr. Watson's view of trade is correct, what must he think of the free trade that goes on between Washington and Idaho where labor costs and environmental regulations are different? Soon, all jobs will be moving to Idaho. But that's OK, because then Washington goods will flood Idaho, making them more poor. Right?

Greens vs. Economics: King County edition

May 7, 2009 in Blog

For those on Twitter, you can follow the Environmental Center @WAPolicyGreen.

We've noted the repeated failure of government to pick and choose correct "green" technologies as politicians work against economics and the wishes of people. Ecofads too often substitute for sound policy. The Seattle Weekly highlights one more example.

In "King County's 'Green Cab' Experiment Goes South," the Weekly notes that effort to get more "green" cabs in the county is now falling apart because the County ignored economic realities. In granting the green cab company special preferences, they also added some other rules:

"...the company is obliged to operate differently than other cab companies. Most cabbies are self-employed. They either own a license or lease a taxi from someone who owns one. But the county, trying to ensure that drivers could earn a living wage and benefits without being subject to the whims of license owners, mandated that the new company be run according to a traditional employer-employee relationship. Green Cab would pay drivers regular salaries and allow them the opportunity to unionize.

"But many drivers like the independence of working for themselves. And Green Cab can only afford to pay $8 or $9 an hour, Aboye says, whereas non-employee drivers in the region average $10.50 an hour (without benefits), according to a recent Seattle survey. Unable to recruit drivers under those conditions, Aboye says he and other Green Cab owners are driving the taxis themselves, rather than hiring others to take the wheel. Right now, only 18 Green Cabs are on the road, even though the county was prepared to issue 50 licenses."

Ignoring economic realities and imposing rules on people that they don't want is a recipe for failure. This is just the latest example. The result is that King County doesn't have "green" cabs and they've killed jobs.

Greens vs. Science: Lands Commissioner edition

May 7, 2009 in Blog

For those on Twitter, you can follow the Environmental Center @WAPolicyGreen.

The Olympian today features an article about cuts to state aircraft, including this quote from Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark's spokesman:

“Disposing of this asset in the face of more wildfires and climate-change-related storms is the opposite direction that the state should be headed with its emergency-response infrastructure,” agency spokesman Aaron Toso said.

Two problems. First, the plane in question isn't an air tanker. It is an executive aircraft that is not part of the "emergency-response infrastructure" in any real sense.

Second, his claim about needing the plane to address an increasing number of "climate-change-related storms" is contradicted by scientists. UW climatologist Cliff Mass addressed this issue earlier this year in the Seattle Times:

"As an environmental scientist, I am frustrated by the poor information distributed by public officials, the media and others regarding the current and predicted frequency of extreme weather events. It is time for the scientific community to set the record straight. ... How many times have you heard that severe windstorms and heavy rains will increase in the Northwest under global climate change? The truth is, there is no strong evidence for these claims and the whole matter is being actively researched. Some portions of the Northwest have had more rain and wind during the past decades, some less. And initial simulations of future Northwest climate do not suggest heavier rain events."

Those who want to use climate change to support particular policies often claim that we must "follow the science." When there is a conflict between their desired policy and the science, however, they are quick to distort the science or ignore it altogether.