This article originally appeared in the National Journal on March 12, 2013.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama sounded a theme totally absent during his 2012 campaign: “We will respond to the threat of climate change.… Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
Never mind that the “overwhelming judgment of science” includes a 17-year period that continues today in which the Earth has not warmed one jot or tittle; that the hurricane that blew Obama back into office for another four years was a rare, yet not unprecedented event, amid one of the longest stretches ever with no category 3 or higher hurricane making landfall in the USA; or that federal land, water, and disease and fire control policies implemented by his fellow progressives have ensured that wildfires are harder to control, while farmers, ranchers and urbanites face increasingly reduced access to water.
The President’s outgoing Energy and Interior Secretaries and EPA Administrator were all highly controversial, divisive figures on the American political scene. The nominees to replace them – Sally Jewell for Interior, Ernest Moniz for Energy, and Gina McCarthy for EPA – are supposedly much more mainstream. That remains to be seen.
The Left has pilloried them for being far too soft on fossil fuels and other environmental bogeymen. The Greens groan and shudder at the very thought that their nominations might signal a forthcoming approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the very Green John Kerry has replaced Hillary Clinton at the State Department, which holds the key to Keystone.
However, they have all been called “team players,” in an administration that has been decidedly anti-hydrocarbon and pro-renewable energy. The press says Moniz is both an architect and a supporter of the President’s “all of the above” energy policy – which to date has meant “all above ground” and “little or no below ground” energy resources. The other nominees have similarly murky track records, and extensive ties to climate alarmist and anti-drilling factions of the environmentalist movement.
So one wonders what the President really expects from his new nominees. To date he has been like a wily poker player, signaling in one direction, then laying down cards no one thought he would dare pull out of his sleeve. After declaring war on coal in his first administration, are we really to believe the new Interior Secretary nominee supports domestic coal mining? Or the Energy Secretary nominee? And surely not the EPA designee? Let’s start with the Jewell nomination, for which hearings are already under way.
Sally Jewell began her career as an engineer with Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil), then switched to banking (advising on oil and gas asset management), before taking over as head of outdoors giant REI. She is touted as having business experience that is nearly unique in the Obama Cabinet.
However, Jewell is being prodded by the Left to go beyond President Obama’s “weak” position on public lands and follow Bill Clinton’s practice of closing millions of acres from human activity, especially oil and gas and mineral leasing, but even livestock grazing. Moreover, she is a lifelong outdoors enthusiast, whose “loyalties lie with those who view the public lands as a playground, not the source of commodities like minerals or meat,” notes Grist analyst Greg Hanscom.
While Jewell has continued to own fossil fuel (and power) industry stock, some have suggested that she is likely to support a carbon tax, further curbs on coal mining, more restrictions on Arctic oil and gas drilling, and similar initiatives. We think Congress should compel her to answer two big questions:
1) In light of the President’s “all of the above” energy policy and the clear challenge posed by Chinese ownership of most of the world’s supply of rare-earth minerals, how does energy and minerals development fit in with your strategy for managing our nation’s public lands?
2) Given that all federal lands lie within state boundaries – and that the United States is a federal republic, not a pure democracy – what role should states play in developing policies on federal lands within their borders, including decisions to appropriate private or public land within a state’s borders, and add them to an already vast national government managed park, monument, wilderness, refuge and “protected” lands system, so that the federal government can manage still more lands under newly restrictive policies?
Ernest Moniz has a long track record in and out of Washington for championing the idea that revenues from fossil fuels and nuclear energy can help fund the transition to a “clean fuels” economy. He has no prior objection to hydro-fracking or offshore oil drilling per se, and that has made his nomination the target of Leftist venom. For example, Margie Alt of Environment America whines that Moniz has a “history of supporting dirty and dangerous energy sources like gas and nuclear power.”
But the criticism is likely a smokescreen, because Moniz is expected to be another Obama team player. Indeed, many presume that Moniz is being brought onboard to be “good cop” on liquefied natural gas exports, despite testifying in 2011 that the U.S. will soon be a net natural gas importer, even as fracking has substantially increased domestic supplies. Likewise, his criticism of a flawed Cornell University study demonizing shale oil as worse than coal on greenhouse gas emissions makes him the perfect choice for future hand-wringing over some new study claiming that fracking could cause serious new environmental problems. We think the Energy nominee should answer two questions:
1) Given that the Earth has not warmed in the past 17 years, despite increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is it not time to reconsider the wisdom of increasing the costs of energy to American consumers via carbon taxes, cap-and-trade or the EPA’s plans to rigorously regulate CO2?
2) Given the increasing focus on energy efficiency and conservation, what are the best ways to reduce transmission line losses; curtail impacts on agricultural lands, wildlife habitats, and bird and bat species from wind turbines, solar panels and biofuels; and help families and businesses reduce energy use and expenses – without sacrificing employment, living standards or basic freedoms?
Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator raises quite different concerns. As Marlo Lewis pointed out recently, McCarthy is guilty of lying to Congress during 2011 testimony, when she and other EPA officials denied under oath that motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards were in any way “related to” fuel economy standards.
Lewis concluded that this falsehood facilitated an extortion strategy that protected EPA’s efforts to legislate climate policy under the guise of implementing the Clean Air Act. It did this through secret negotiations that resulted in the auto industry to support rules that exceed Congressional intent, have the effect of unconstitutional Executive Branch legislation, and will result in many more serious injuries and deaths due to downsizing of vehicles to meet far tougher mileage standards.
These actions belie suggestions that McCarthy’s state regulatory experience and face-to-face involvement with industry makes her better able than her predecessor to work with the business community – except perhaps with large companies that seek more subsidies, special regulatory arrangements, or regulations that effectively penalize smaller competitors. It is equally unlikely that McCarthy will have “an open mind” regarding the economic consequences of environmental regulations.
As Competitive Enterprise Institute environmental analyst Myron Ebell has observed, McCarthy “has regularly tried to conceal the Obama administration’s economically destructive policies by misleading Congress, the public and industry. She has regularly stonewalled congressional requests for crucial information. And she is up to her ears in the Richard Windsor email scandal,” involving outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of fake email accounts to hide communications from public scrutiny. In sum, says Ebell, McCarthy has “a strained relationship with disclosure and transparency.”
Ms. McCarthy should therefore be required to respond to two important questions. Unless she can give honest, satisfactory, public answers to them, her nomination should be rejected outright.
1) Under what authority does EPA assert the right to twist existing law, to create new laws that exceed clear legislative language, the stated intent of Congress and historical precedent?
2) Under what authority does an EPA official have the right to lie under oath to Congress, thereby implying that Members of Congress are inferior to the Executive Branch and avoiding disciplinary action because of a partisan Justice Department that shields Executive Branch officials from prosecution for such unlawful behavior?
While we see the possibility that Jewell and Moniz will be loyal servants to the Obama Administration, and thus that their personal histories of support for various enterprises will be compromised and reshaped by political considerations determined in the Executive Office Building, we anticipate that both of these nominees will be quickly approved for service.
As for Gina McCarthy, despite her lengthy experience at the state and federal levels, and despite claims that she understands the need for more commonsense regulations, by her own admission she sees herself and the EPA as being above the law and having authority to create what amounts to binding legislation via administrative fiat.
Such attitudes are contrary to the Constitution and legal precedent and dangerous to our system of government. They should not be rewarded by a confirmation that ignores Ms. McCarthy’s past violations of law and grants her additional powers.