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Michael A. Livermore's Posts

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Just how big are subsidies to fossil-fuel companies? Help us find out

President Obama has made tax breaks for the oil industry an ongoing target. He recently reaffirmed his stance in his State of the Union address, saying that our nation has supported these companies for long enough. And as budget season begins next week, we’ll likely see the idea come up again in deliberations over where to cut.

But exactly how much companies like Shell and ExxonMobil receive is something of a mystery. Tucked into tomes of tax code, subsidies for fossil-fuel industries are often obscured. The IRS does not make public the amounts that companies save, and estimates range widely. One analysis found that about $72 billion went to oil, gas, and coal producers from 2002 to 2008. But we really don’t have a clear or complete picture of the actual total; it could easily be much higher.

Read more: Energy Policy

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In State of the Union, Obama should stress that environmental protections don’t kill jobs

Photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House.

In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama is likely to focus heavily on economic growth and job creation. But he should also make clear that economic progress need not come at the expense of the environment; to the contrary, the public-health efforts he's made over the past year will generate billions of dollars in value for the American public.

In a preview of the speech, Obama suggested there will be some focus on energy -- hardly surprising since the Keystone XL pipeline and congressional inquiry into Solyndra were such high-profile issues in the past year. The administration's decisions on environmental regulation this past year made news too -- the delays and punts that angered environmentalists, like the ozone standard and coal ash rule, and the public-health protections that have angered industry, like the mercury rule.

Energy even boiled over into the presidential campaign recently: The Obama-Biden 2012 campaign's first TV ad of the season was something of a rebuttal to the president's critics in the energy industry.

With energy and environmental topics in the news, and many Americans confused about their impact on jobs, it makes sense that the president would want to give more airtime than usual to these issues in his speech.

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Three cheers for new mercury pollution standards

New mercury pollution standards: something everyone should celebrate.Environmentalists and public health advocates have a reason to stand up and cheer: Finalized rules to cut down on mercury air pollution are set to be announced today by the EPA. But economists can also feel good about this holiday-season gift of clean air: Two decades of agency analysis have found the EPA's new mercury standards for power plants to be overwhelmingly cost-benefit justified. With annual compliance costs around $11 billion, and health benefits estimated to be up to $140 billion per year, even the most hard-nosed bean counter should be feeling festive. …

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Why is the EPA still an economic scapegoat?

Pop quiz: When was this statement made? EPA and its minions in the press and the professional environmental lobbies have assumed an absolute monopoly right to flood the American economy with regulations, litigation, and compliance costs that are out of proportion to any environmental problem -- real and imagined -- that has reached the congressional calendar. It's time to get off this super bureaucracy kick unless you really believe that the present drastic deterioration of our economy, productivity, international competitiveness, and living standards will soon miraculously fade away.  It won't happen so long as we keep writing blank checks that …

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A body of evidence for bodily harm from air pollution

You want bodies? We got 'em.This week, the Washington Times ran an op-ed by Steve Milloy in which he asks the EPA to "show him the bodies" of victims of polluted air. He questions whether the agency has "tangible evidence" that emissions from power plants are "causing actual harm to real people." It is tempting to go line by line through the piece debunking each point. But Milloy makes a specific request to see "bodies," and sadly, that is easy enough to show him.  The science showing the harmful effects of particulate matter, or soot, is very strong. The microscopic …

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The EPA goes retro

Photo: Horia VarlanIn January, President Obama issued a call for all federal agencies to review their existing regulations, looking for rules that had grown outdated, ineffective, or insufficient over time. Back then, there was much discussion over whether the move was a gift to business or a robust defense of strong protections even in a downturned economy.  Now, the EPA and other agencies have released their proposed plans for retrospective review, and the proof is in the regulatory pudding. In its current form, there is too little in the EPA's proposal that suggests review efforts will strive to enhance cumulative …

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Wellinghoff hypes IT for electricity

In his vision of an America transitioning away from fossil fuels, Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, sees information technology as the basis for tremendous financial and employment opportunities. And with the right policies and incentives, this could happen soon. But in our current political reality, it feels like light years away. Speaking on the future of American energy in the United States at Princeton recently, Wellinghoff got into the details of the technologies, many sitting on the shelf today, that could change individuals' use of electricity and fuel -- and would change some of how America does …

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Habits making our world uninhabitable

Congress is making ignoring science a habit

In a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee climate hearing, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) jokingly asked if some of his fellow colleagues were going to overturn the law of gravity, "sending us floating about the room." It seems funny until you realize that it's in response to a disturbing trend in Congress of misusing, manipulating, or ignoring scientific facts and academic research. As Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, put it, if they keep it up, "[p]oliticians overruling scientists on a scientific question would become part of this committee's legacy." Just one example: in another Energy and Commerce Committee …

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baby steps

New EPA regulations better but not good enough

The regulations will require the installation of scrubbers at plants like this one.Photo: Duke EnergyEPA released revised regulations for industrial and commercial boilers and incinerators this week. Implemented under the Clean Air Act, the move is a step in the right direction for reducing air pollution. But it misses out on opportunities to maximize net economic benefits for the American public.  In this version, revised in the face of significant political backlash, the rules were made less stringent to lower compliance costs. Compared to an earlier draft of the rule, emissions limits for many pollutants are more forgiving, and some …

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get a little bit louder

Why enviros should have a more active voice about regulations

Speak up!Photo: theparadigmshifterBecause the political arena is often fraught with hyperbole, misinformation, and special interest pandering, facts and reason don't count for as much as they should. Despite that, green advocates have smartly and effectively engaged in the political arena to help protect the environment and public health. But to augment that advocacy, it is equally important for greens to engage in the regulatory process, which offers a refuge from the dysfunction of political discourse. Because of the legal structure that undergirds it, it is one of the few bastions in American government where truth can trump rhetoric. Whenever a …