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Frank Ackerman's Posts


Not-so-smart ALEC: How the lobbying group uses bad data to fight clean energy

dog-dunce-cap-hpRenewable energy is clean, sustainable, non-polluting, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, improves the health of communities surrounding power plants, and protects the natural environment. Who could be against it?

Answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying group that is active in drafting and advocating controversial state legislation. It's not just interested in energy: In recent years ALEC has supported Arizona’s restrictive immigration legislation, the “Stand Your Ground” gun laws associated with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and voter identification laws proposed in many states. ALEC’s priorities for 2013 [PDF] include making it harder to bring product liability suits against manufacturers of defective products, ending traditional pension plans for public employees, promoting the diversion of public education funds into private schools and online education schemes, and supporting resistance to “Obamacare” health policies.

When it comes to energy, ALEC wants to speed up the permitting process for mines, oil and gas wells, and power plants -- and to eliminate all state requirements for the use of renewable energy. The latter goal is packaged as the “Electricity Freedom Act.” In numerous states, ALEC has used studies by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) to claim that the “Electricity Freedom Act” will free ratepayers from the allegedly immense costs and job losses of renewable energy standards.

In a recent study for the Civil Society Institute, my colleagues and I at Synapse Energy Economics analyzed the ALEC studies of the costs of renewable energy. Our report [PDF] found fundamental flaws in both the energy data and the economic modeling used by BHI.

The ALEC/BHI energy analysis begins with wild overstatement of the costs of wind energy.


Breakthrough Institute gets it wrong on climate economics — again

arrows missing targetOops, missed again.

Why do those at the Breakthrough Institute insist that everyone else besides them who cares about the environment is wrong, wrong, wrong? Their latest, called “The Creative Destruction of Climate Economics,” is a swipe at those misguided souls who think putting a price on carbon emissions would help combat climate change.

Breakthrough, according to its website, aims “to modernize liberal-progressive-green politics” and to accelerate the transition to an “ecologically vibrant” future. It “broke through” into well-funded fame in 2003 with its attack on environmentalists for failing to emphasize the economic concerns of ordinary Americans, such as jobs -- thereby alienating the major environmental groups, who had been talking about jobs and the environment for years.

What’s wrong with pricing carbon emissions? This particular breakthrough rests on a mistaken reading of an academic paper in the American Economic Review, the most prestigious outlet for mainstream economics. That paper develops a simplified, abstract model of an economy that generates carbon emissions. Unlike some climate economics models, it assumes that public policy can affect the pace of innovation. Its conclusion, in the authors’ own words, seems quite balanced:

A simple but important implication of our analysis is that optimal environmental regulation should always use both an input tax (“carbon tax”) to control current emissions, and research subsidies or profit taxes to influence the direction of research.

Compared to exclusive reliance on carbon taxes, they continue, “optimal policy relies less on a carbon tax and instead involves direct encouragement to the development of clean technologies.”


Coal ash regulation would create 28,000 jobs

Regulating the coal industry would create jobs and protect human health.Photo: daviptThis article originally appeared in Triple Crisis. Does environmental protection destroy jobs? That may be the strongest argument that the pro-pollution lobby has going for it. No one wants to endorse dirty air and water in so many words, but hey, we're just trying to save jobs at a time when millions are out of work. In one of the latest reincarnations of this idea, the electric utility industry claims [PDF] that regulating the disposal of coal ash could eliminate up to 316,000 jobs. Ever sensitive to industry's needs …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Coal


What’s the real cost of not investing in clean energy?

Climate inaction: Are the long-term costs worth the short-term savings?Your house might not burn down next year. So you could probably save money by cancelling your fire insurance. That's a "bargain" that few homeowners would accept. But it's the same deal that politicians have accepted for us, when it comes to insurance against climate change. They have rejected sensible investments in efficiency and clean energy, which would reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs, and jumpstart new technologies -- because they are too expensive. While your house might not burn down, your planet is starting to smolder. Extreme weather events are …


Think energy efficiency isn’t working? Think again

Imagine a press release with this message: We're not using more household energy than we used to -- and the latest data won't be available until next year. If you read that, I'm guessing you would join me in yawning and moving on to the next story. That is what the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the federal agency that tracks our energy usage, just said -- but it said it in a confusing way that sounded like a much bigger story, and was almost designed to mislead readers. Jess Zimmerman, writing in Grist, was among those whom they succeeded in …


fund, fund, fund

Popular climate econ model needs major overhaul

Pay attention to the signs.Photo: WCN 24/7True or false: Risks of a climate catastrophe can be ignored, even as temperatures rise? The economic impact of climate change is no greater than the increased cost of air conditioning in a warmer future? The ideal temperature for agriculture could be 17 degrees C (30 degrees F) above historical levels? All true, according to the increasingly popular Climate Framework for Uncertainty, Negotiation, and Distribution (FUND) model of climate economics. It is one of three models used by the federal government's Interagency Working Group to estimate the "social cost of carbon" -- that is, …


Global warming exacerbates global thirstiness

Climate change and the Southwest water crisis: making a bad situation worse

Drought denial's tougher to pull off than climate denial.Photo: Luke RobinsonWhere and how will climate change first affect large numbers of American voters? Answering that question may be crucial to the global efforts to protect the Earth's climate. The tsunami of stupidity and science denial that has washed over Washington, D.C., won't be held back by earnest calculations of long-run risks, or by the potential inundation of remote island nations, or by the news that polar bears and other iconic species are endangered. While climate change may seem remote, the water crisis in the Southwest is all too immediate. Recent …


Capitol uphill battle

Climate defeats come from D.C., not Copenhagen and Cancun

What should we learn from the dual disappointment of Copenhagen and Cancun? The climate policy war isn't over, but those who are fighting to cut global emissions haven't won the last few rounds. The decisive defeat in this latest battle, however, did not occur at an international conference. Rather, it took place in Washington, D.C. Although the Kyoto Protocol tried to prove otherwise, there isn't any hope of a meaningful climate agreement without the participation of the United States. With one-fifth of the planet's emissions and a big share of the global ability to pay for mitigation and adaptation, the …


Arguing with ghosts

Opponents of California's AB 32 rail against a law that doesn’t exist

Prop 23 supporters are unable to see how the economy could survive without smog.Photo: Wes & EliIn this year's election season, let me tell you what makes me mad as hell. I'm outraged at the idea of a law that would make you pay for home energy-efficiency improvements and a new energy-efficient car -- but wouldn't let you save money on either electricity or gasoline. Here's the amazing fact, though: There is no such law. Yet if you've been watching the fight to stall or overturn California's climate law, AB 32, you might very well think there is, because that's …


Bjorn yesterday

Bjorn Lomborg: same skeptic, different day

Bjorn LomborgBjorn Lomborg, the Danish climate skeptic, is back in the news. The headlines say he has changed his position on global warming. According to the Guardian, a leading British newspaper, Lomborg is now calling for an annual investment of $100 billion to "resolve the climate change problem by the end of the century," in an alleged "U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby." But the Guardian, and other news outlets worldwide, should not have been so easily misled by this latest salvo in the climate debate. Lomborg now wants to have it both ways, …

Read more: Climate & Energy