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Michael A. Livermore's Posts

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After midnight, we're gonna let it all hang out

Midnight regulations

In the months leading up to President Obama's inauguration, the Bush administration rushed through a raft of controversial regulations. These "midnight regulations," like the one that would allow mining waste to be dumped into rivers and streams in West Virginia, caused a major stir at the time -- but whatever happened to them? After a year in office, has the new president been able to clean up his predecessor's last minute mess? The answer is a mixed bag of attempts, delays, successes, and road blocks. Among the avalanche of over 150 midnight regulations issued in the waning days of Bush's …

Read more: Politics

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TVA or CYA?

On first anniversary of massive spill, coal ash remains unregulated

On December 22nd, 2008, a quiet evening in the town of Harriman, Tennessee was interrupted when 1.2 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge burst out of a nearby landfill, poisoning the land and water in its path and causing untold hardship for families whose lives were turned upside down. A year later, the underlying cause of this massive environmental disaster is still unregulated. Despite some rumblings and tentative first steps, the EPA has a long way to go before adopting rules that require safer storage of this dangerous muck. At the very least, the agency should move quickly to …

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Defending the Cantwell/Collins CLEAR Act

Sen. Maria Cantwel (D-Wash.)Sens. Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Collins (D-Ill.) have introduced a welcome addition to the debate over climate change legislation in the Senate. Their bill, with its strong architecture, and simple, fair, and transparent emissions reduction, can help restart the momentum to agree to climate change legislation early next year before the prospect of mid-term elections shuts down the legislative process. Alan Durning and Eric De Place provide a thoughtful critique of the Cantwell-Collins bill, which was introduced last Friday. They justifiably praise certain aspects of the bill, and offer some thoughts on how it can be improved. Mainly …

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The tough task of evaluating Kyoto

The Kyoto Protocol has taken criticism from all sides over the years. But in fairness, it is important to recognize that, according to almost any estimate, the treaty has resulted in surpassed targets in some nations, significant emissions reductions even in nations that may miss their targets, and a marked improvement over business-as-usual had there been no treaty. Whether nations ratified the treaty or abstained, all have been the beneficiaries of global benefits these reductions have generated. As nations prepare to meet in Copenhagen, it would seem to be an opportune time to evaluate the success of the current international treaty to …

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How much will we pay to avoid serious harm to our children and grandchildren?

International climate change negotiations have centered on which countries are willing to pay, how much, and when. Putting aside bickering over who will pick up the tab, the most central question that we need to ask is: What are we willing to pay to avoid serious harm to our children and grandchildren? Some economists believe the answer is to "discount" the effects of climate change depending on how far in the future they fall. In effect, the further out in time something happens, the less important it is. Discounting borrows the logic of the marketplace where $100 ten years from …

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Capturing the massive social benefits of fuel efficiency requires regulation

This Friday is the deadline for public comments on the stricter vehicle efficiency standards from EPA and the Department of Transportation. The docket is likely to be overrun with statements for and against the regulation that would make cars and light trucks 30 percent more efficient in 5 years. From an economic perspective, the social benefits of the rule outweigh the costs. The environmental, health, and energy security benefits -- most especially from reducing the tailpipe emission of greenhouse gases -- could more than double the estimated costs to manufacturers of installing more fuel efficiency technologies: social benefits could total …

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Make the kids pay: The economic effects of climate change on future generations

If someone offered you $100 today or an inflation-adjusted $100 in 10 years, it's unlikely you'd choose the latter. But if taking the money now cost your child's generation billions of dollars, that option would seem pretty miserly. The debate over the economics of climate change boils down to that very calculation: how much are we willing to pay today to avoid climate risks in the future? The simple fact is that as we continue to use fuels that contribute to global warming today, we place major economic burdens on our kids and grandkids tomorrow. In effect, we are forcing …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When will we stop paying the hidden fossil fuel tax?

Last week, the nation suffered from major sticker shock when we learned that our use of fossil fuels comes with a hidden price tag of $120 billion per year.  Thanks to the results of the National Research Council's report on energy and the environment, some of the extra costs of dirty energy were exposed.  (Full disclosure: Policy Integrity's faculty director, Richard L. Revesz, sat on the report's panel).  But folks should prepare for a second round of surprise costs because, as the authors of the report mention, there are more stickers that weren't accounted for in this sum.  David Roberts …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Methane leakage runs up a $50 billion bill

Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so when it's leaking by the ton, it's a $50 billion problem. The New York Times described the phenomenon of methane leakage in a recent article which raised questions about the true costs of this waste.  The EPA estimates that 3 trillion cubic feet of the invisible gas unintentionally escape into the atmosphere each year from patchy gas and oil wells, pipelines, and tanks. This accidental loss alone is equivalent to about half of the global warming power of all U.S. coal power plants emissions.  That is the …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Garbage in, garbage out

Economics of climate legislation deserve honest accounting

The debate over the Kerry-Boxer bill has picked up where Waxman-Markey left off: the economics of climate legislation. Perhaps empowered by the "death panel" misinformation campaign, climate bill obstructionists are reviving rumors of economic disaster in the hopes of panicking the public and eviscerating or blocking final legislation. Just as no one was every going to pull the plug on grandma, the truth of the matter is that the benefits of controlling our carbon emissions far outweigh the costs. As we enter the opening round of hearings on the bill, it is important to draw the line between fair political …