Archive for May 14th, 2012

EPA “Doesn’t Live In The Energy World”

In a recent hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said under questioning by U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Committee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., that her agency – despite issuing regulations that will have a profound affect on electricity production in the United States – “doesn’t live in the energy world.”

“Tri-State is a wholesale electric power supplier in Colorado that is owned by the 44 cooperative, generating – transmitting electricity and has come to my office multiple times trying to talk about their compliance with EPA’s Utility Max standards and…their estimate is that it would likely cost them $1 million …I’m asking you to comment on the rural co-ops which are non-profits.

Ms. McCarthy confirmed that some ratepayers would see their rates increase by about 3%, which the EPA calculated to be about $3 a month for the average family, there was this exchange between the panel and her:

Rep. Gardner: “And so that – the only way they can do that is to pass those increased costs on to their ratepayers?”

McCarthy: “I have trouble answering that question because I don’t live in the energy world, but my understanding is that compliance can be achieved by lower demand, as well as increased generation, fuel switching, and a number of techniques.”

Whitfield: “I think that’s the point that we’re trying to drive home. You’re right, Ms. McCarthy, you do not live in the energy world. But then you make extrapolations on gigawatt issues that are a reliability concern based on the chart I saw. DOE rolls over in acceptance of your electricity generation, or lack thereof, analysis, and when you have the people in the field who are disputing that analysis on the gigawatt issue, we’re debating with an environmental agency, not our Department of Energy. And if the analysis was close to what industry, financial people, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), EEI (Edison Electric Institute) say then, we would cut some leeway.

“But the administrations proposal – actually, the environmental rules – and the effect on the electric grid, of 10 gigawatts, is laughable. And so, you can do all the analysis on emittants you want, but we reject the premise that you are experts in electricity generation, the cost of building plants, and developing those.”

Rep. Whitfield’s point is that the opinions of actual experts – which seem to be in broad agreement that the EPA rules run the risk of reducing the US’s overall electricity output – are being subordinated to the judgments of the EPA, which, by its own administrator’s admission, doesn’t live “in the energy world.”

Is it true? Well, the EPA estimates a loss of 10 gigawatts (GW) of electrical generation nationwide as a result of its new rules. This estimate is indeed not only out of line, but well out of line, with a variety of other estimates from Credit Suisse (50 GW realistic, 60+ GW possible), Friedman Billings Ramsay (45 GW), the North American Electric Reliabiliy Corporation, or NERC (33-70 GW), the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, or MISO (13 GW immediate, up to 61 GW retrofitted), and the Institute for Energy Research (34 GW).

It’s one thing to be independent of the industries you’re supposed to be regulating. But even independent regulatory bodies shouldn’t be making rules based on assumptions and models whose results virtually nobody in the field takes seriously. Maybe the EPA should live a little more “in the energy world,” a world it so closely regulates.


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“Local Control” – Absolute or Absolut?

Recently, WhoSaidYouSaid showed Colorado state Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, telling public school employees to “go someplace else” if they didn’t like being due-paying members of the Colorado Education Association. Soper was speaking in opposition to HB12-1333, a bill that would have permitted teachers to opt out of union membership any time, with a 30-day notice.

The Democrats’ opposition, as you can see from our distilled video above, was largely based on the idea of local control of schools, enshrined in the Colorado state constitution. The repetition of the phrase by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit, and Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, struck me as a drinking game.

The problem is that “local control,” while it does extend beyond curriculum, is not absolute. According to the Colorado Department of Education, “local control” encompasses:

“Both by citizen preference and law, Colorado is a ‘local control’ state. This means that many pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education decisions – on issues such as curriculum, personnel, school calendars, graduation requirements, and classroom policy – are made by the 176 school district administrations and their school boards.”

Local control would, according to the categories listed above, include things that actually affect the relationship among teachers, schools, parents, and children, but doesn’t seem to include the internal relationship between the teachers and their union.

In practice, according to David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, Colorado case law limits exclusive local control more than this definition – and Reps. Solano’s and Hamner’s insistence – would presume.

The state legislature can set ground rules for teacher dismissals. (Blaine v. Moffat County School Dist. Re No. 1, 1988, 748 P.2d 1280.)

Therefore, sect. 15 does not grant school districts absolutely immunity from legislative regulation of employee relations.

“For purposes of state constitutional provision giving ‘control of instruction’ to local school boards, local board discretion can be restricted or limited, where specific local board decisions are likely to implicate important education policy, by statutory criteria, judicial review, or both.” (Board of Educ. of School Dist. No. 1 in City and County of Denver v. Booth, 1999, 984 P.2d 639.)

As for Rep. Solano’s somewhat snarky assertion that, “If you’re for local control for one thing, it’s very difficult to be against local control for something else,” historically, that’s been far from true for either party. Insistent on local control in this case, the Democrats have, in the past, overridden it to press for Race to the Top funds, establish an arts curriculum requirement, and set sex education standards.

However, what has been true is that the left has been all too willing to use the facade of “local control” as an excuse to stifle reforms both large – as in the statewide school choice program struck down by the courts – and small, as in this case of letting teachers escape unwanted union membership, when they see them as a threat to the entrenched power of the teachers’ union.

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