EPA Twists Rules Into a Pretzel

Member Group : Keith Naughton

Good news! The bureaucrats at the EPA can predict the weather for years to come! How do we know this? In a recent rule regulating methane emissions by the natural gas industry the EPA claims the reduced emissions will result in $690 million in savings in the year 2025 from reducing the impacts of climate change, including: " … changes in precipitation patterns, melting and thawing of global glaciers and ice, increasingly severe weather events, such as hurricanes of greater intensity, and sea level rise, among other impacts."

Quite an impressive feat making those calculations. But it does leave one wondering whether we are looking at two fewer tornadoes, one less tropical storm, or just a few more sunny days. The EPA is keeping that information under wraps, but it clearly knows that America will save $690 million in 2025 – not $600 million or $500 million but $690 million. Interesting how that is conveniently above the estimated $530 million in costs, but not too much of a stretch.

Of course, the EPA cannot predict the specificity of weather 10 years into the future, much less the direct or indirect impact of the reduction in what will be a very modest reduction in share of global methane emissions on atmospheric conditions. What is really going on is that the EPA is conjuring a set of numbers to show a net economic benefit to serve the political interests of the Obama Administration. The numerical gymnastics are really a window into the fundamentally fraudulent way in which costs and benefits are calculated by the EPA and other federal agencies.

In its rationale for regulating methane emissions the EPA went to great lengths to point out that atmospheric emissions should not be considered in isolation but have global effects, that is to say a smokestack in Gary Indiana is both a problem for Indiana as well as India and that such effects can be amplified over time.

What the EPA conveniently ignores is that the commodities produced, oil and natural gas, are also part of a global market where changes in the American regulatory regime also can have significant effects. When the EPA raises costs for producers, it makes extraction in other parts of the world more competitive. If American production, which is efficient and regulated, is replaced by production in unregulated, highly polluting autocracies (i.e. almost all exporters of oil and gas), then the net effect is to increase rather than decrease methane emissions. It is therefore possible that this rule will contribute to increases in methane emissions and accelerate human impact on the climate.

And that is not idle conjecture. It is exactly what has happened with so-called E-waste, or the vast amount of electronic equipment Americans discard every year. Tons of toxic materials find their way to developing countries where they are either dumped in unregulated landfills, poisoning the air and water, or are repurposed by workers in unhealthy conditions.

I am not suggesting an end to E-waste recycling. Rather the point is that highly restrictive regulations in America do not necessarily lead to positive outcomes for the environment. Certainly not when we simply export our pollution to poor nations.

That the EPA would cherry-pick its facts and data should not be a surprise. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the federal regulatory apparatus knows that policy is hardly driven by facts. Whether it is the preferences by the agency bureaucrats, political demands from the President or key Congressmen or loud protests from influential pressure groups, regulatory decisions at the EPA are made long before any supposed "impartial" investigation. The full facts are of no concern – nor is the welfare of everyday taxpayers and citizens of any concern.

The federal bureaucracy continues to make the public pretense that it seeks to regulate and construct rules in a rational and objective manner. The end result is a general public that is justifiably cynical of its own government and increasingly fed up with its kowtowing to special interests, expensive boondoggles and disinterest in the public’s concerns.

Yet the Washington commentariat continues to be confounded in the public’s lack of confidence in governmental institutions and is mystified that voters on the Right and on the Left have voted in the millions for outsiders Trump and Sanders.

If the federal government is to regain the trust of the American people, perhaps it should stop its serial dishonesty. Or at least let me know if it’s going to rain on June 20, 2025 – I was planning on going to a Pirates games that day.