Feb. 6, 2017 by David Driesen

The Cabinet and the Rule of Law

To carry out their duty under the Constitution, senators must ask themselves the following question when considering a president's cabinet nominee: Will this person faithfully execute the laws, even if the president wishes to ignore them and carry out a contrary policy? Unless the answer to that question is a clear "Yes," they must reject the nominee. 

Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist Papers that the Constitution authorizes the Senate to disapprove of presidential nominees to discourage the president from nominating candidates "personally allied to him" lest we have office holders with the "pliancy to render them obsequious instruments of his pleasure." The founders required Senate approval of "officers of the United States" to make sure that the executive branch faithfully executes the law, rather than formulates policy on its own. To that end, the Constitution requires all federal officeholders to swear an oath, not to obey the president, but to obey the Constitution. This rejection of fealty to the head of state marked a break with prior tradition, a change aimed at securing a rule of law. Senate approval would also help bring stability, argued Hamilton, preventing "violent. . . revolution in the officers of the government." 

Many senators seem …

Jan. 30, 2017 by David Driesen

Donald Trump based his candidacy on the claim that he would serve working-class people who established politicians have neglected. He promised $1 trillion of infrastructure investment over 10 years, which could generate a lot of blue-collar employment while potentially repairing crumbling bridges and roads, replacing antiquated wastewater treatment systems (in Flint and elsewhere), and creating a mass transit system that could move us into the 21st century in that realm. A sound infrastructure program, unlike anything else that Trump has proposed, really would grow the economy and help hard-hit workers across the country. 

Unfortunately, he did not propose that government raise and spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. Instead of funding his program with a modest tax increase and bond revenue, he promised a $9 trillion tax cut primarily benefitting wealthy people like himself. 

He has tried to square the circle by suggesting that the government offer $137 …

Sept. 8, 2016 by David Driesen

The Clean Power Plan has been widely touted as significant because it regulates the largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States – the electric power industry. Its significance, however, goes beyond U.S. CO2 emissions because it serves as the linchpin of international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in order to avoid dangerous climate disruption. The rule gave the Obama administration sufficient credibility to persuade the Chinese to pledge limits on their own greenhouse gas emissions for the first time and paved the way for worldwide pledges of significant emission reductions at the Paris Conference last December. If the U.S. fails to promptly implement this rule because of an unfavorable judicial ruling, the Paris agreement could unravel, as developing countries do not consider it equitable to demand reductions from them without significant reductions by the United States and other wealthy countries …

Sept. 8, 2016 by David Driesen

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Clean Power Plan (CPP) relies, in part, on a pollution reduction strategy – generation shifting – that is at issue in the ongoing lawsuit over the rule. Generation shifting involves increasing use of relatively clean natural gas and renewable energy and reducing use of relatively dirty and expensive coal-fired power plants. Although the technique has lowered power plant emissions significantly in recent years, opponents of the CPP have argued in legal briefs that section 111 of the Clean Air Act precludes relying on generation shifting to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They claim the technique somehow does not lead to reductions at a pollution source, but their argument doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Generation shifting does reduce emissions at each pollution source that takes advantage of the technique and therefore passes muster. 

Some explanation of section 111 and the CPP …

June 2, 2016 by David Driesen

During the last few years, airlines have increased their reliance on "bait-and-switch" scheduling. They induce travelers to choose their airline based on advertised routes and schedules. They know that especially good routes are valuable and generally charge more for a good route than a bad one. Long after travelers have taken the bait, often paying more than the lowest available price to avoid delay-prone airports, long layovers, and multiple stops, the airlines simply switch around the schedule. While many of these changes can be minor, changing departure and arrival times by 10 or 20 minutes, increasingly airlines feel no compunction at all about completely tearing up the deal they made, adding stops, drastically increasing layover times, and routing the hapless traveler through a different city than she would have selected when she had a choice. They often make these changes just a few weeks in advance, when …

Aug. 28, 2015 by David Driesen

CPR’s Unnatural Disaster report pointed out that current energy policies favoring fossil fuels made it “more likely that there will be disasters like Katrina in the future.” It explained that global climate disruption increases temperatures thereby causing sea level rise, a big threat to the Gulf Coast, and that climate disruption models suggest a shift toward extreme weather events.

Since Katrina, we have certainly seen lots of extreme weather. Perhaps most reminiscent of Katrina, on October 30, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit much of the east coast, causing widespread flooding, especially in New York and New Jersey.1 On February 5-6, 2010, an unusually severe snowstorm, labeled “smowmaggedon” buried Washington, D.C. Looking beyond our shores, super-typhoon Haiyan, one of the largest typhoons on record, devastated the Philippines in November of 2013.

Scientists have become increasingly confident that climate disruption has contributed to the intensity of these …

Oct. 13, 2014 by David Driesen

EPA’s proposed new rule for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants gets a lot of things right. For one thing, it recognizes that electric utilities can employ a variety of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They can switch to natural gas or even renewable energy sources. They can fund end-use efficiency improvements—such as energy efficient windows, better insulation, and light bulbs that burn brightly even while they conserve electricity. All of these techniques reduce power plant emissions. So, EPA is right to make them building blocks for its rule.

But the final rule should correct a very poor policy judgment about the form of the emission limits that utilities can meet with these technologies. EPA should demand state limits on the mass of emissions from power plants rather than limits on emission rates. Let me explain why this seemingly arcane issue matters.

In the …

March 7, 2014 by David Driesen

The media has reported, erroneously, that the Obama Administration’s environmental impact statement concluded that the Keystone Pipeline would have no impact on global climate disruption. The facts are a bit more complicated, and much more interesting. Basically, the final EIS concedes that Keystone would increase greenhouse gas emissions, but it uses a silent political judgment masquerading as scientific analysis to minimize its estimate of the increase’s magnitude. Accordingly, President Obama has ample grounds to reject the Keystone Pipeline application.

Let me explain. The EIS concedes that the construction project creating the Keystone Pipeline would produce .24 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2E) per year until TransCanada completes the pipeline. It also admits that operation of the pipeline after construction would produce 1.44 MMTCO2E per year, about the emissions of 300,000 passenger vehicles.

Although this is a lot of …

Oct. 3, 2013 by David Driesen

This blog explains why President Obama should exempt proposals to mitigate climate disruption by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from OIRA review. First, the procedure that justifies OIRA review, cost-benefit analysis (CBA), just does not work for climate disruption measures. Second, CBA undermines just and legal climate policy. Third, climate disruption poses special risks that make the delay and weakening that comes from OIRA review unacceptable. 

Because of climate disruption's nature, prominent CBA proponents, such as Eric Posner and Martin Weitzman, have argued that CBA works badly for climate disruption. Weitzman emphasizes that climate disruption creates a risk of a catastrophe. Because the magnitude and likelihood of such a catastrophe remain unknown, CBA cannot include a reasonably reliable benefit estimate. Weitzman argues that this problem so dominates any rational response to climate disruption that conventional CBA becomes useless and highly misleading as a guide to climate policy …

Sept. 20, 2013 by David Driesen

Almost every new power plant that the electric utility industry has built in recent years has been a natural gas powered plant. Industry rarely builds new coal-fired power plants anymore because gas has become much cheaper than coal. That is a very good thing. Absent rather expensive carbon capture and storage, new coal-fired power plants emit far more greenhouse gases than natural gas powered plants.

The new source standards promulgated today will tend to lock in the current status quo. They will likely impose no net cost on the economy, because natural gas has become cheaper than coal. Instead of generating electricity with the dirtiest fuel source, we will continue to rely more heavily on a somewhat cleaner fuel source. Given the effects of climate disruption one could argue that these standards do not go far enough. Climate disruption has likely caused heat waves, sea level rise …

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