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Bob Murphy on James Hansen and the "Civil War on the Left" over Waxman-Markey; where is criticism of pork for coal?

July 15th, 2009 No comments

James Hansen, a leading climate scientist at NASA (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) and Columbia University, last week`published a scathing criticism of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the Huffington Post, and Bob Murphy noticed.

Bob offers a rather schizophenic view, expressing both:

  • admiration of (a) Hansen`s insistence – despite pressure from others on the left to dampen his criticism – that, given the risks posed by emissions of greenhouse gases, the Waxman-Markey bill is far from adequate and (b) Hansen`s criticism of the driving role provided by rent-seeking fossil fuel interests; and
  • amusement at the “fireworks” on the left that Hansen`s criticims will set off.

Oddly, it doesn`t seem to occur to Bob that Hansen`s criticism, despite flack from others, that Waxman-Markey is too weak in in the face of the risks that Hansen perceives, lends further credibility to Hansen and his concerns.  If Hansen takes his concerns THIS seriously, then perhaps othes should take him more seriously as well.  (Though to his credit, Bob does link to Hansen`s latest attempt to explain his understanding of climate risks).

It`s also odd that Murphy completely fails to explore Hansen`s criticisms of all of the subsidies to coal that the Waxman-Markey bill gives away, and ignores Hansen`s strong recommendation of a much leaner carbon-pricing strategy, rebated carbon taxes, of the type actively supported by Exxon and many others (not solely on the left).  Why is that libertarians refuse to criticize the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, while refusing to support carbon taxes?  For some at least, it appears that there is a decided lack of interest in biting the hand that feeds them, but wouldn`t a push against subsidies for coal and for a more transparent and less-burdensome climate still be salutary?  In a blog post that addresses Hansen`s stance, the Wall Street Journal asks the same question.  The NYT covers Hansen`s position as a news story.

I copy below a few remarks that I left at Bob`s blog (light editing):

Bob, it`s nice to see you respect Hansen for sticking to his gunds, but
it sounds like you`re mainly expressing schadenfreude, with the hope
that he might forestall W-M.

But Hansen is not taking his own
“rhetoric” seriously, but his own views of the SCIENCE. And those
views, while they hopefully turn out to be wrong, are no laughing
matter. (Presumably you know how to check Hansen`s website directly for
his scientific publications.)

On policy, as I have pointed out a number of times, Hansen has come out strongly in favor of pork-lite, rebated carbon taxes;
too bad that libertarians have showed so little interest in pushing for
carbon policies that are least damaging, but instead, but fighting
everything tooth and nail have instead contributed (inadvertently?) to
massive subsidies for coal.

You might also enjoy the sight of Dennis Kucinich, for reasons similar to Hansen, voting against Waxman-Markey.

But pork aside, I think that Joe Romm, in his response to Hansen, has the better arguments. On the question of pork, I note the continuing lack of criticism of old King Coal [by yourself and by Rob Bradley].

Thorough defense by Joe Romm of Waxman-Markey against "carbon tax + dividend" James Hansen; where is "Principled Entrepreneurship" Bradley on fat subsidies for coal?

July 12th, 2009 No comments

Joe Romm`s defense of Waxman-Markey against climate scientist James Hansen (who prefers rebated carbon taxes and a faster phase-out of coal) is effective and worth a read.

Notably, however, Romm makes no attempt to justify all of the pork now in the bill, including the huge subsidies to coal (Congressman Ed Markey: “We have in huge subsidies for clean coal. Huge. Much more than we have in for renewables.”), which are one of the reasons why Greenpeace has wtihdrawn its support for the bill.

Hope springs eternal that Rob Bradley, in his “free-market” MasterResource energy blog, his Institute for Energy Research or their more blatant PR arms like “grass roots” American Energy Alliance (or side-kick Bob Murphy) will criticize past or ongoing rent-seeking  (“political capitalism”) by King Coal, but so far it looks very much like the piper is calling the tune – to the extent that Rob Bradley bans commentators who note the lack of balance in the application of “Principled Entrepreneurship” (which Bradley has trademarked!).


Bob Murphy, the Heritage Foundation and "green jobs" – ignore coal! We only pay attention to rent-seeking from greens/the left

May 8th, 2009 6 comments

Bob Murphy has recently noted that he is busy at work, doing yeoman`s work in fighting the good battle against stupid “green” or “clean” jobs that the Obama administration and some enviros are pushing.

This is fine as far as it goes, but in his struggle to be fair and even-handed, it seems to me that Bob has made a rather significant omission, as I noted in the following comment on his related blog post:

Bob, the comments you made on the Heritage panel were generally fine, but I`m surprised that you didn`t note that the clean/green jobs thing is to a large degree classic pork wrapped up in a nice moral package – and so differs very little from other government pork packages.

Was it because you prefer not to edge to close to the point that, if CO2 and soot really do create serious climate risks, then those who who produce fossil fuels (and their primary customers) have been getting a free ride off the back of the public for years, aided and abetted by both parties (but most noticeably recently by big government Republicans)?

This, of course, is the chief reason why greenies argue that the fossil fuel/auto/power industry has been buying political influence – not industry generally, as you asserted in your talk. Such rent-seeking is in fact undeniable, indeed readily apparent. 

A case in point is your own institution, IER. You should know this, but even Joe Romm has apparently also missed that IER is no longer funded by ExxonMobil, which deliberately cut off funding to IER after 2007, on the grounds that they had decided not to fund “several public-policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion about how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”

ExxonMobil has now decided that climate risks – and the risk of bad policies – merit then public changing their stance to SUPPORT CARBON TAXES, as their CEO Rex Tillerson noted recently:

“It is rare that a business lends its support to new taxes. But in this case, given the risk-management challenges we face and the alternatives under consideration, it is my judgment that a carbon tax is the best course of public policy action. And it is a judgment I hope others in the business community and beyond will come to share.”

So who is left to fund IER, and Rob Bradley`s shiny new blog, Master Resource, which has collected luminary policy wonks like you, Marlo Lewis, and Ken Green? Inquiring minds want to know!

But it`s pretty clear that the only major fossil fuel funding left in the “skeptic” policy camp is coming from coal. 

And while Rob is now very diligently explaining why his Enron connection has nothing to do with the current stance of IER and MR, it`s a puzzling contrast to his unwillingness to acknowledge Exxon`s prominent change in position. 

In fact, in this regard his only dilgence has been expelling me from the blog, for pointing out what Tillerson now has to say, and for criticizing some of the bone-headed, non-libertarian positions some of the bloggers and visitors at Master Resource have taken:

Rot at the Core: Rob Bradley at “free market” MasterResource blog shows his true colors as a rent-seeker for fossil fuels (with links to the quotes above).

How good`s the Big Coal “death train” gravy train?

And when is Joe Romm going to note that Exxon is now his ally?

Rot at the core: federally-owned TVA’s massive coal flyash spill – the TVA "protects" affected residents by hassling/arresting the volunteers who help them

March 10th, 2009 No comments

A few items of interest have come to my attention regarding the TVA’s massive spill last December 22 of wet coal fly-ash into a lovely river area near Kingston, TN (about 35 miles west of Knoxville, at the junction of the Emory and Clinch Rivers).  The collapse of a retaining wall released over five million cubic feet (more than a billion gallons) of wet coal ash
flooded nearly 400 acres of land adjacent to the power plant and into the nearby
Clinch and Emory rivers, filling large areas of the rivers, damaging homes and property, rupturing
a major gas line and damaging a
railway line.

– according to a report in the Tennessean, the TVA was long aware of the possibility of a release from the Kingston site, but elected not to proceed with any costly fix – the most expensive fix apparently in the ballpark of $25 million – because it didn’t want to set a precedent for spending similar sums at its other wet ash storage sites.  Penny wise, pound foolish – how often that happens when decision-makers don’t face personal responsibility for the downsides (yes, my “limited liaibility breeds moral hazards” meme)!

– in response to the accident, the EPA announced on Monday that it will: request electric utilities
nationwide to provide coal ash impoundment information (the EPA estimates there may be as many as 300 coal ash impoundments across the US
); conduct on-site assessments to determine structural
integrity and vulnerabilities; order cleanup and repairs where needed; and develop new regulations for future safety.  Said administrator Lisa Jackson: “Environmental disasters like the one last December in Kingston should never happen anywhere in this country.”  Not only are such regulations too little too late and probably unneccesarily costly, but one wonders why in this case she fails to note that as the TVA is wholly-owned by the US government, in this case the government did this to us itself.  The industry must be really grateful to TVA for leading the way to more regulations!

– The TVA is spending $1 million a day on the cleanup, and estimates final recovery may cost $525 million to $825 million.  This is just the cost for recovering the spilled ash, which could take two years or more, and does not cover long-term mediation costs, or litigation expenses, fines or any settlements
from the accident or the extra cost of upgrading coal ash ponds at
other TVA plants
, or costs being borne by local, state or other federal agencies.  So we could be easily talking physical damage of a billion dollars or more, and decades before local homeowners can start enjoying the rivers again.

– The TVA announced in February that TVA it lost $305 million in the fiscal quarter
ending Dec. 31 2008 due to the $525 million charge
the utility took for the
estimated cost of the ash spill.

– In response, TVA president and CEO Tom Kilgore, who earned $2.2 million in FY2008, saw his base and incentive compensation for FY 2009 cut by about half.  Said Kilgore, who had outraged ratepayers in October (on the heels of rate increases) by taking large compensation increase for FY2009 (in a package worth up to $3.275 million), “I’m at the point in
my career where it’s not all about money.”

– The fly ash poses health risks, both as the small particle dust can affect the lungs and since the ash contains elevated levels of heavy metals that were left behind from the combusted coal.  A Tennessee Department of Health survey indicates that a third of the people living near the toxic coal ash spill are experiencing respiratory problems, and about half
have increased stress and anxiety.  

According to TVA President Tom Kilgore, TVA and the state Department of Environment and Conservation have tested the water and believe there’s “no reason to believe that the water is not safe,” but “water quality tests conducted by environmental activists showed arsenic
levels as high as 48 times the primary drinking water standard in river
water nearest the spill
. Coal industry watchdog United Mountain Defense
and Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project said January
levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium, beryllium, antimony and
copper violated water quality standards and exceeded primary drinking
water standards.”

State senator Tim Burchett (a Republican) characterized TVA officials as “arrogant clowns” on March 10 as he presented legislation on coal ash storage to a Senate committee.  “I want to assure my colleagues that any offense (to TVA) is intentional,” he said. “I have little faith in what TVA is telling us.”

More on water testing results and on health, safety and environment impacts is here.

– the TVA is naturally trying to buy out residents, both to cut future losses and to limit coverage of the affected area. Apparently these buyouts require the sellers to waive all future health claims against the TVA.

– On top of such purchases, though, TVA – through its own police department – is trying to make it difficult for residents to remain and to prevent full disclosure of health risks, by restricting access to public roads and to the homes of residents, requiring any who receive medical checkups from TVA doctors to waive health claims and by hassling volunteers who, at the invitation of residents, do ash, water and air testing, deliver bottled water, and assist some residents with the transportation needs.   In two recent incidents, the TVA police have gone onto private property to detain volunteers and force the removal of private air quality monitoring devices, and arrested, shackled and jailed on March 6 a driver who had used a public road – now restricted by the TVA – to drop off a two grandmothers (one elderly and vision-impaired) at their homes after a town meeting – and who had written permission from residents to visit at any time.

According to one group, volunteers “have relatives in the Swan Pond Community and have an
open invitation to visit residents or their property near the disaster
site at any time day or night.”   The volunteer who was arrested reports the following, entirely believable – conversation with a TVA officer when he was being booked:

So as I was escorted to the Roane County Jail for processing I was informed by the TVA officer that he was “protecting the residents” of the Swan Pond Community from “people like me.”  When I questioned him further about this he stated that he meant onlookers and sight seers and people taking video while disrupting vehicle traffic and impeding the cleanup of the disaster site.
Well if TVA has any video proof of me personally disrupting vehicle traffic or impeding the cleanup of the disaster site I would like to see it, please post it to YouTube; show the world exactly what I am doing, PLEASE.    When I stated,” why would the residents need to be protected from someone who is delivering water, taking people to the grocery store, hospital, doctor, not trespassing, monitoring air/ water/ coal ash, helping facilitate trainings and organize with the local community, and sit at the Harriman American Legion building for more than 20 hours helping with heavy metal exposure testing,” he could not answer.

So far, one lawsuit against the TVA has been filed in federal court in Knoxville on
behalf of 109 citizens.  The TVA harassment policy may be aimed in part at preventing residents from gathering independent evidence to support their claims.

The TVA is governed by a nine-member board of directors, all current members of which were appointed by nominated by former President Bush (on
the approval of senators from the region) and confirmed by the Senate. 
Over the objections of the current chairman and two others
(Republicans),former national GOP committee chairman and former TVA board member was reappointed in February as chairman.  Since the TVA board has two vacancies, will
have two members terms expire in May and another in 2010, President Obama will have the opportunity to take control of the board.

– Photographic and video images of the impact of the ash spill are here:

– by renowned photographer Carlan Tapp

– by local residents (first three minutes are home footage before the accident)

– More information by the enviro group doing testing and resident support work

– the TVA’s home page, etc.


Where is anyone calling for the privatization of the TVA?

Categories: Coal, damage, limited liability, moral hazard, TVA Tags:

MasterResource/Tom Tanton: another muddle-headed "free-marketer" who thinks it’s fine that coal gets to shift pollution costs to others

March 6th, 2009 6 comments

Sadly, so-called “free-marketers” are often so busy smacking down bad arguments from greens that they fail to note, much less acknowledge, that they’re fairly frequently making bad arguments themselves or ignoring gaping inconsistencies in their own positions.  Of course it IS awfully easy to get caught up in partisan conflict, which provides a nice rush of self-righteousness, but it probably also helps if you’re being paid to post by fossil fuel interests, like the folks over at the supposedly “free-market” MasterResource energy blog, of Rob Bradley‘s Institute for Energy Research.  In any case, it’s disappointing, not solely because it comes from “free-marketers”, but because it offers no hope of engaging productively with those with whom they disagree.  In other words, more of Culture Wars “R” Us.

I’ve already commented quite a number of times here about Rob Bradley and his co-bloggers at MasterResource, but I continue to be astonished by the inability of the bloggers (and some commenters) to notice when they are being inconsistent or are taking anti-market/anti-lbertarian positions.  A recent post by Rob Bradley on the limitations of wind power, with follow-on comments by others, is a case in point.  In his post, Rob trots out some very old literature to make some perfectly fine – if rather obvious and well-known – points about the limitations of wind power; I observed that of course one can make similar observations about the short-comings of other energy sources, such as the social costs of coal. 

While Rob fails to respond, a visitor and one of his guest bloggers, Tom Stanton, senior energy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute (which bills itself as a “champion [of] freedom,
opportunity, and personal responsibility for all individuals by
advancing free-market policy solutions”) ride to his rescue, with strawmen and astonishingly non-libertarian (indeed, utilitarian) commentary.  Why can’t the right do better than this?

For the interested, I excerpt the relevant comments below (emphasis added):

TokyoTom { 03.04.09 at 12:09 pm }

Rob, thanks for this; you are right of course about the drawbacks to wind.

Now can I interest you in some very, very old tracts on how dirty
coal is, both in mining and combustion, or newer ones about deaths,
health costs, damages to property that are still ongoing and
BTW, while you are obviously an advocate for coal, are you also an
advocate that coal producers and consumers bear their own costs? Or is
shifting those costs to others a right that they have homesteaded?

Andrew { 03.04.09 at 6:45 pm }

the question isn’t “is coal bad?” its “is it better than (essentially)
nothing?” It is. Coal, I submit, has save far more lives than it has
cost, and has improved quality of life more than damaged it.

TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 3:58 am }

the question is NOT whether “coal is it better than (essentially)
nothing?”, just as it is not whether wind or any other energy source is
perfect or preferable.

The question is whether those who engage in economic activities are
bearing the costs or risks of those activities, or whether those
activities appear relatively preferable to the people involved because
they are able to shift damages, costs, risks and/or responsibilities
for consequences to others.

True libertarians insist that individuals (and firms) bear full
responsibility for harms caused to others; some in fact insist that
those who are harmed without their consent have the right to use courts
to enjoin the damaging activity. Maybe this all seems a little quaint
to you?

My point is simply that Rob is ignoring, rather obviously and perhaps deliberately, the human costs of the use of coal.

Tom Tanton { 03.05.09 at 9:15 am }

“human cost of coal” has been extensively studied as have most other
energy (nay, all economic) technologies. That study are most often
referred to as “externalities”–Guess what? The economic ‘costs’ of coal
are mostly, if not completely, offset by the economic benefits.
negative externalities are NOT enough to offset the higher cost
premiums of technologies like wind that never quite mature (most likely
because of the heavy per unit subsidy they’ve become dependent on after
35+ years.)
Now let’s see about human costs–in countries with coal (or nuclear or
any meaningful) baseload power isn’t the average life span about twice
that of folks living in countries with no or primitive energy? Aren’t
THOSE folks also less educated, and less free? Do they even have 15
minutes a day of “leisure time”?Aren’t those folks also burdened with
spending every daylight hour finding a piece of wood (or dung) to cook
their measly daily bread and using unsanitary water to boot?
I don’t believe Rob is ignoring the costs of coal. I believe Sir you’re
ignoring the economic and human benefits of coal and modern energy

TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 12:08 pm } [links added]

it seems that you understand little, if anything, about free markets or
libertarian principles. Murray Rothbard`s paper on air pollution makes
it clear that it was utilitarian arguments like yours – “the damage my
pollution does to you is fine because people want to but my products” –
that industry used in the 1800s to subvert the common law and run
roughshod over property rights, leading to the “pollution is free”
philosophy and ruinous competition where the non-polluter went
bankrupt. The upshot was the horrible pollution in the 50s, 60s and 70s
that led to tremendous citizens` movements to use government to bring
pollution under control – with laws signed by Republican presidents.

No externalities? Where were you? What motivated the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, SuperFund?

As for coal vs. wind, please spare me the strawman. I`m not at all
suggesting that wind OUGHT to be subsidized. I`m just asking for a
little intellectual honesty that will recognize that coal use IS
subsidized, by being allowed to shift real and significant costs to
others, and that we`d all be better off if those socialized costs were

Perhaps someday it will occur to those who (correctly) want to bash
greens for their stupid proposals that they might be more successful if
they were a little more consistent themselves and started exploring
common ground. Where`s the post praising the federal court decision
forcing TVA to do a better job at cleaning flue gases than required by
the CAA in order to limit harm caused in NC, for example? Where`s the
post calling for the privatization of the bumbling, polluting TVA,
which keeps generating costs for taxpayers and ratepayers?

But that`s not what this blog is all about, is it? You guys are more
into making enemies and fighting over government than in truly shifting
risks and regulation back to markets and the courts.

As for countries abroad, this is of course unrelated to a discussion
local/regional costs and energy alternatives in the US. But since you
bring it up, don`t forget that the real reason why these other nations
aren`t developed yet is that they`re still kleptocracies that don`t
sufficiently protect private property rights and returns on
investments.  Why are you cheering on poor governance, instead of
suggesting that they could become wealthier sooner by accelerating
their move up the Kuznets curve
(which is an artifact not only of
preferences, but of insufficient information and laws that protect the
elites over private property of the masses)?

Steven Milloy – yet another thoughtful green-hater – on RFK, Jr. and "coal criminal" Don Blankenship

March 3rd, 2009 No comments

Anti-enviro Steven Milloy,adjunct scholar at CEI, author and co-founder of a gadfly free-enterprise fund, has a post up on his Green Hell Blog about some interesting recent remarks by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.   Apparently RFK Jr., at the “Capitol Climate Action” rally held on March 2, said that 

“Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship “should be in jail… for all of eternity,”  and that coal companies Massey Energy, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are “criminal enterprises.”

It seems clear from the context that RFK Jr. is referring to these firm’s destructive “mountaintop removal” mining practices and the legal and political strong-arming (all the way up to bribing W.Va. supreme court justices) in which the leaders of these politically powerful firm engage, which I have commented on several times.

I’m a bit disappointed that Milloy does not favor his readers with an explanation for why RFK Jr. is wrong, and Milloy closes with these puzzling remarks:

“But if Kennedy wants to oppose coal while honoring his father, perhaps
he ought to adopt RFK’s pro-nuclear stance. According to a March 21,
1967 New York Times article, RFK proposed that the New York
State Power Authority be permitted to develop nuclear power pants and
that private investment in nuclear power be encouraged.”

Milloy’s apparently favorable reference to nuclear power and his faiure to address the real social costs of coal stirred me to make a few comments, which I copy below:

Steve, just a few quick questions:

– are you seriously pushing nuclear power, or just cynically
flogging Kennedy for a technology that energy experts like Cato’s Jerry
Taylor have concluded just aren’t economical without life-support from

– do you disagree that coal is dirty, and imposes serious impacts on
health and property rights, both when mined and burned? The American
Lung Assn said in 2004 that power plant pollution causes 24,000
premature deaths each year (at least 50% more than annual homicides),
as well as over 550,000 asthma attacks and 38,000 heart attacks

– States like North Carolina are still suing – and winning – in
federal court to force power producers (like the big, government-owned,
polluting dinosaur TVA bureacracy) to be cleaner:

Do you love the TVA, and hate North Carolina?

Inquiring minds want your help in figuring out whom to hate, and why.

Rob Bradley cheers on coal, but are all those who want to better manage commons and environmental impacts "Malthusian" idiots, or only in the case of coal?

February 5th, 2009 No comments

Rob Bradley has a new post up at MasterResource, cheering on big (and now “clean”) coal, which has apparently received assurances from the Obama administration – after being bad-mouthed by NASA scientist Jim Hansen, Steven Chu and Obama himself – that, despite pressures from the “Malthusian anti-energy crusade” regarding climate change impacts, the recent massive TVA fly-ash spill and opposition to destructive mountaintop removal practices in Appalachia, coal will remain profitable during Obama’s term and central to US energy supplies.  Hooray!

But I wasn’t quite clear on all of Rob’s message, so I asked him a few questions in the comment thread:

Rob, are the John Badens, Terry Andersons, Bruce Yandles, Elinor Ostroms and others who want to find ways to manage our commons better – by improving ownership, incentives and pricing signals – also part of a[n evil] “Malthusian crusade”?

I just wanna make sure I know who to hate.

As for that big fly-ash breach/spill in Tennessee, I’m glad that you didn’t point out how this was a result of government ownership of TVA, with the added benefit that costs will be borne not only by direct and indirect victims, but by taxpayers as well. No sense in pointing out how government is so often in the way, particularly if it detracts from our “we hate enviros!” message. Last thing we ever want to do is to reach a shared understanding with enviros of the institutional underpinnings of problems, since that means our funders might lose some of their fairly purchased, government-given special privileges.

While it’s clear that “free-market” Rob cares little about whether the coal industry continues commercial activities that shift the environmental costs and risks (including potential costs arising from GHG emissions) to others, I forgot to ask Rob whether, as a hearty cheerleader for those poor coal underdogs, he also supports their position that the government should subsidize their change in business model by (a) having Uncle Sam pay the bulk of capital costs for IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle plant) [something like $1 billion for the first one with CCS], (b) giving them a further break (reduced royalties) on the sweet deals they already have for stripping coal from public lands and (c) – now that the federal government is getting into the busy of running the financial sector – making sure that power producers that want to use coal have easy access to credit, by twisting the arms of those uppity Wall Street financiers who with their fancy new “Carbon Principles” and “Enhanced Due Diligence” seem a bit too reluctant to extend credit for coal-fired power plants.

Here’s hoping Rob weighs in further.  I want to make sure I’m not messing up when I try to distinguish the “white hats” from the “black hats”.   From what I can tell so far, seeking to manipulate government policy for your own benefit is evil – as long as you’re not a coal firm, and we call the evil ones “Malthusians”.  Right?

For crashing fisheries, a coalition of mainline US enviro groups calls for …. property rights!

January 15th, 2009 No comments

In a recent post, Andy Revkin, a New York Times reporter who blogs on energy and environmental issues at his “Dot Earth” blog, asks “When whale species, like the minke, are no longer rare, can they be both admired and eaten — as North Americans do with bison — or is it simply wrong to kill whales at all?”

In a comment in response, I noted that as whales are unowned, the problem of how to manage whale stocks shares much in common with the problem of ocean fisheries – viz., open access tragedies of the commons, and politicized management – further noted that the main US environmental groups have very clearly recognized, somewhat surprisingly, that implementing property rights systems is vital to ensuring the long-term protection of fisheries.

Mainline enviros pushing for property rights?  Has the world gone crazy?

I copy below my comment, which quotes the key fisheries statement by the enviro coalition (emphasis added):

Andy, of course the real problem with whales, bluefin tuna and most other ocean resources is that no one owns them, so catching them for one dinner plate or another is frequently a classic tragedy of the commons or, if governments regulate catch, a race to catch within season all while trying to make sure limits are not set too low.

This is the reason why whaling stocks crashed and whalers agreed to a moratorium. The fact that whales remain unowned but further takings are decided by a committee of nations is what ties the dispute to a political process – a process that frankly serves no one’s long-term interest and is a distraction from the more important problems of protecting crashing ocean fisheries in general.

The clear way forward is in establishing rights to the particular stock of whales or fish, so that those who value the resource can invest in protecting it. This holds true just as much for whales as for fish.

This is what the organization Defying Ocean’s End (cofounded by Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, The World Conservation Union, and World Wildlife Fund) has to say about protecting fish:…

“Overfishing, high bycatch rates, the use of gear types that damage habitat (like trawls and dredges), and the large subsidies supporting fisheries (totally over $15 billion per year) are all symptoms of an underlying problem. In most fisheries that are exhibiting declines in landings and revenues, overfishing, bycatch, and habitat damage, actions that result in the symptoms are actually rational given the way the fisheries are managed. In these fisheries, secure privileges to catch certain amounts of fish are not specified, so naturally individual fishermen compete to maximize their individual shares of the catch. No incentives for conservation exist in this situation, because every fish conserved can be caught by another fisherman. The competition to maximize catch often results in a fishery “arms race”, resulting in the purchase of multiple vessels, the use of powerful engines and large vessels, and the use of highly efficient gear like trawls. Capital costs for vessels and gear increase as a result. At the same time, the competition to maximize catch often results in supply gluts, as most fishermen land large catches at the same time during seasons that become shorter and shorter due to the excessive number of vessels participating in the fishery. Prices paid to fishermen are reduced by the glut, and the quality of fish supplied to consumers declines as well (from fresh to frozen). The non-market costs associated with this kind of behavior — such as habitat damage, overfishing, and bycatch — are passed on to the fishery and onto society as a whole.

“Most of the solutions that have been implemented or proposed to fix the world’s fisheries center on command-and-control measures: regulators or courts telling fishermen how to fish through the imposition of controls on effort (e.g., fishing vessel length, engine horsepower, gear restrictions, etc.). Prescriptions like these work against strong economic incentives for maximizing catch, which are not addressed by such measures, and are of course usually resisted by fishermen. Often, prescriptions create incentives for “work-arounds” and set up a cat-and-mouse game between fishermen and regulators – for example, if regulators impose a restriction on vessel size, fishermen may purchase two vessels to maintain high catch levels.

As in most natural resource problems, more effective solutions will address the fundamental drivers of unsustainable fisheries. In this case, the key necessary reform will be to designate secure catch privileges. It is important to understand that such privileges can be allocated to different kinds of entities in different ways, and indeed, they should be tailored to specific fisheries and communities to fit with local customs, traditions, values, and social structure.”

FWIW, I’ve blogged on whales and fishing any number of times:……

The problem of crashing fisheries is a far greater one than what to do about whales, so it is a real shame that the environmental community, Japan (which consumes much of the world’s fish) and other nations cannot see fit to bury the hatchet – at least on whale populations that are growing (perhaps by applying a property rights regime that would allocate ownership rights not only to whaling fleets but to conservation groups) – and work together on setting up sustainable, property-rights based harvesting regimes on imperilled ocean fisheries.

"Clean coal" leaves a big mess; which faceless employee, manager or shareholder committed this tort?

December 26th, 2008 3 comments

Yes, I’m referring to the bursting of the TVA holding dam in Kingston, TN a few days ago, leaving a Christmas Eve present of millions of cubic feet of wet fly ash several feet deep over hundreds of acres downstream, including now valueless private homes and property, and flowing into the Clinch River and Tennessee, where fish kills have been reported.  A video from a helicopter fly-over here; local coverage is here

Enviros and the press were fairly quick to point out that the federal government has declined, under industry pressure, to more strictly regulate the disposal of fly ash (replete with heavy metals and arsenic, and which has been captured in increasing amounts as clean air regulation requires greater “scrubbing” from power plant emissions) – but I’d like to make the point that this is the kind of faceless tort that we get from limited liability corporations, including federally-owned ones like the TVA , where shareholders have little interest and zero practical ability to monitor the risks created by the corporation. 

Further, this type of rent-seeking and money-influenced political balancing is
par for the course, and is a natural outcome of the replacement of the pro-industry, “pollute for free” era with the “government regulates industry” era that Walter Block speaks of

Limited liability:  a gift of the state that keeps on giving!


Bush’s Advent message on Appalachian coal: "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low"

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Just in time for last Sunday’s readings at Advent liturgies of Isaiah 40:4, on December 2 the White House and EPA approved the final issuance by the Department of the Interior of industry-backed changes in the 25-year-old stream “buffer zone” rule.  The revised rule, which the NYT describes as one of “the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President Bush’s last weeks in office”, will make it much easier for coal companies to fill in streams and valleys with the rock and dirt produced by mountaintop removal mining operations.  As I described in an earlier post, these mining practices create direct physical effects on nearby communities, and produce extensive and long-lasting alterations to streamflows and aquatic life, leaching of heavy metals into streams and wells and leave behind dangerous leach ponds.  

It is clear from a review of the proceedings that the decisions of the DOI and EPA were based on the premise that mountaintop removal mining would proceed, with stream buffers not being required if the alternative to stream and valley fill were not economically practicable.  Largely because of the damage such mountaintop removal and fill operations have been proven to do to the interests of local and state residents in stream and groundwater quality and flows, the changes were strongly opposed by the public and by the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Nobody seems to have swallowed the rather Orwellian announcement by the DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement that the new rule will “tighten” restrictions on excess spoil, coal mine waste, and mining activities in or near streams – least of all the coal firms, who praised the new rule!

One wonders if in all the litigation over federal rules, residents who bear the impacts of mountaintop mining have considered bringing direct claims against the mining firms for damage under the common law – as opposed to struggling over the substance of federal and state regulations and whether regulators and prosecutors will try to enforce them.

While I noted this issue last week, I was gently reminded of President Bush’s Christmas gift to the coal companies by the perversely coincidental appropriateness of a church reading on Sunday (the second Sunday of Advent) of Isaiah 40:4:

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

Bush and the coal companies are doing God’s work!