January 14, 2014 10:48AM

CO2 Regulation News from the Federal Register

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

The Federal Register has been brimming with announcements of government activities aimed to reduce/regulate carbon dioxide emissions emanating from the United States.

You may wonder why the government finds the need to pursue such action since 1) U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have already topped out and have generally been on the decline for the past 7-8 years or so (from technological advances in natural gas extraction and a slow economy more so than from already- enacted government regulations and subsidies); 2) greenhouse gases from the rest of the world (primarily driven by China) have been sky-rocketing over the same period, which lessens any impacts that our emissions reduction have); and 3) even in their totality, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have a negligible influence on local/regional/global climate change (even a immediate and permanent cessation of all our carbon dioxide emissions would likely result in a mitigation of global temperature rise of less than one-quarter of a degree C by the end of the century).

We wonder the same thing. Nevertheless, the government has lots of ideas for how to save ourselves from ourselves (with likely to opposite outcome).

Here is a summary of new announcements appearing in the Federal Register over the past month or so on actions aimed to curtail our carbon dioxide emissions (primarily the result of our desire for cheap and reliable energy—gasp!).

Posted November 26, 2013: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced a call for review of the Technical Support Document currently justifying the Administration’s value of the social cost of carbon (SCC) used in federal cost/benefit analyses.  We have discussed this announcement previously, and while it provides a glimmer of hope for injecting some new science and common sense into the government’s social cost of carbon, we are highly skeptical of a positive outcome. We mention the announcement again here, because the public comment period ends on January 27, 2014.  Comments can be submitted here.

Posted December 6, 2013: The Department of Energy announced another in its seemingly endless string of intrusions into our personal choices through its energy efficiency requirement updates for all sorts of consumer products. These revised efficiency regulations rely on the SCC to offset the costs and enrich the apparent benefits of the new requirements. We have already submitted comments on several of these proposed regulations (from walk-in refrigerators to furnace fans), but they just keep on coming.  The latest pertains to commercial and electric motors. Final comments are due February 4, 2014 and con be submitted here.

Posted December 31, 2013: The Department of Energy (DoE) announced that it has declined a Petition for Reconsideration of its rule updating the energy conservation standards for of microwave ovens.  The Petition for Reconsideration was brought by the Landmark Legal Foundation which pointed out that the DoE used a social cost of carbon estimate in the cost/benefits analysis for the rule that had not been subject to public comment and which was some 50% higher than the value used in the C/B analysis that was available for public comment.  In other words, the DoE pulled a pretty big bait and switch.  We at the Cato’s Center for the Study of Science submitted comments on the Landmark Petition pointing out just how far afield from the actual science that the Administrations SCC estimate had become.  The denial was disappointing, but the fight over the proper value for the SCC has now moved to the OMB (as described above).

Posted January 8, 2014: Last, but certainly not least, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its new proposed rule “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.” This is the second iteration of the EPA’s rule which effectively seeks to prohibit the construction of any new coal-fired power plants. The Administration/EPA made a big splash back in September when they announced the details of the plan to the press, but it didn’t clear all the necessary hurdles to make it official until last week. The public comment period on the major piece of intrusive legislation is only open for 60 days, ending on March 10, 2014 (comments should be submitted here). The EPA’s initial proposal limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, announced back in April 2012, received more than 2.5 million comments. When the EPA announced the new proposed rule, the EPA withdrew the old one and announced that it was not going to consider any of the comments submitted on the original proposal. This despite the fact the new proposed rule is grounded in the same (faulty) science as the original  and has effectively the same impact on coal-plants.  Substantially nothing changed, but the EPA is requiring a redo of the substantial effort that it takes to file comments on such a broad proposal.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Undoubtedly there will be major federal announcement to come of rules and regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions—in fact, the Administration has already promised a proposal to limit CO2 emissions from existing power plants. If you think the fight over regulations covering new power plants is contentious (with its 2.5 million comments and all), just wait until that one is proposed.

We see busy times for us ahead!