A Free-Market Energy Blog

CEI: Energy/Environmental Policy for the New Congress

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 23, 2019

“Increasing the affordability of both U.S. and global energy is an important economic and humanitarian objective. Policy makers heeding the time-honored healer’s maxim, ‘First, do no harm,’ should reject policies to tax and regulate away mankind’s access to affordable energy.”

It is titled Free to Prosper: Energy and Environment: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress. It is the work of the energy and environmental stalwarts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the organization long led by Fred L. Smith Jr. and now directed by Kent Lassman. And as always, it is reliable scholarship to inform both sides of the political aisle.

The energy White Paper is part of a broader book, Free to Prosper. The eight areas other than Energy and Environment are Regulatory Reform and Agency OversightTradeBanking and FinancePrivate and Public LandsTechnology and TelecommunicationsLabor and EmploymentFood, Drugs, and Consumer Freedom; and Transportation  That’s a lot of the federal matrix of public policy.

CEI Energy/Climate Team

The “Big Four” of CEI’s energy team are Myron Ebell (Director, Center for Energy and Environment) and three senior fellows; Marlo Lewis, Jr.; Chris Horner; and Ben Lieberman. General Counsel Sam Kazman has been front-and-center on mandated energy efficiency standards, and senior fellow Angela Logomasini specializes in federal energy and environmental research issues.

For many years, these voices have been among the most scholarly and measured in the climate debate. And they are savvy as shown by their current public campaign against CNN’s biased climate debate on Meet the Press (Chuck Todd).

The CEI energy and climate team calls it like it is, and (unlike their opponents) do not throw stuff just hoping something sticks to the wall. As such, they have become trusted on the free-market side–and despised (and ignored as much as possible) by their emotional adversaries. “CEI campaigns to destroy the climate for centuries,” Joe Romm at ThinkProgress once wrote. And Romm’s nickname for CEI? The Completely Evil Institute …

Executive Summary

The executive summary of their Energy White Paper follows:

Energy is the lifeblood of the economy. Thanks to affordable energy, the average person today lives longer and healthier, travels farther and faster in greater comfort and safety, and has greater access to information than did the privileged elites of former times. Carbon fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—provide 80 percent of U.S. energy and 87 percent of global energy. They are the world’s dominant energy sources because, in most markets, they beat the alternatives in both cost and performance.

Critics claim that carbon fuels have hidden costs that make them unsustainable. In the 1970s and 1980s, experts often depicted carbon-based fuels as both intractably polluting and rapidly depleting. Technological advances—spurred by sensible regulation and the market-driven imperative to minimize waste and improve efficiency—put the lie to those gloomy prophecies, as energy supplies increased while the air and water got much cleaner.

Today, critics claim that unchecked carbon energy use will cause catastrophic climate change. However, the climate models producing scary impact assessments project about twice as much global warming as has actually occurred. More important, the climate change mitigation policies those critics advocate pose serious risks to American prosperity, competitiveness, and living standards.

The wealth creation and technological progress made possible by affordable carbon-based energy make societies more resilient, as they protect people from extreme weather, power health-improving innovation, and increase life expectancy. Since the 1920s, global deaths and death rates from extreme weather have decreased by 93 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

The war on affordable energy also raises serious humanitarian concerns. Energy costs already impose real burdens on low-income households, including reduced expenditures for food, medicine, and education and late credit card payments. “Consensus” climatology implies that the Paris climate treaty’s objective of limiting average global temperatures to 2°C above preindustrial levels cannot be accomplished without massive cuts in developing countries’ current consumption of carbon-based fuels. Putting the developing world on an energy diet is bound to be a cure worse than the supposed disease.

Increasing the affordability of both U.S. and global energy is an important economic and humanitarian objective. Policy makers heeding the time-honored healer’s maxim, “First, do no harm,” should reject policies to tax and regulate away mankind’s access to affordable energy.

  • Repeal the EPA’s Clean Power Plan
  • End Federal Efficiency Standards for Consumer Products
  • Freeze and Sunset the Renewable Fuel Standard
  • Oppose Carbon Taxes
  • Prohibit Use of the Social Cost of Carbon to Justify Regulation
  • Reclaim Congress’ Authority to Determine Climate Policy

Some Quotations

The so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration is an unlawful power grab that will (a) increase consumer electricity prices, (b) reduce U.S. job growth and gross domestic product, and (c) have no discernible effects on global warming or sea-level rise. (p. 62)
… producing less power or investing in renewables does not improve the environmental performance of a coal or gas power plant. CPP performance standards are, in reality, unlawful nonperformance mandates. (p. 63)
… the federal government has gotten in the business of setting energy efficiency standards for a variety of energy-using consumer goods, from cars to refrigerators to light bulbs. It is time to pull the plug on those decades-old Washington efficiency mandates and give consumers more choice in the products they buy and the way they use energy. (p. 65)
The [Renewable Fuel Standard] is a textbook study in the law of unintended consequences. The program was supposed to benefit consumers. Instead, the RFS artificially bids up the price of corn, soy, and other crops, increasing food and feed costs. In addition, the vast majority of biofuel is ethanol, which contains one-third less energy by volume than gasoline. Consequently, the RFS forces motorists to spend more for fuel and to fill up more frequently. (p. 68)
A carbon tax is a market-rigging policy, not a free market one. It would not be revenue neutral and it would not displace greenhouse gas regulations. Even if the tax were revenue neutral, it would be economically harmful, driving capital out of industries that provide 80 percent of all the energy that Americans consume. Moreover, even the most aggressive feasible carbon tax would have negligible climate effects.
Politics, not the unknowable social cost of carbon, would determine carbon tax rates. In debates over carbon tax rates, revenue-hungry agencies and anti-fossil-fuel politicians would patronize the social cost of carbon modelers whose computers crank out the biggest, scariest numbers.
The social cost of carbon (SCC)—the cumulative damage supposedly caused by an incremental ton of carbon dioxide emitted in a given year—is an unknown quantity. It is not an objective magnitude but a range of guesstimates produced by “integrated assessment models” (IAMs)—computer models that combine speculative climatology with speculative economics. (p. 72)
By fiddling with nonvalidated climate parameters, made-up damage functions, and discount rates, SCC analysts can get pretty much any result they desire. By turning the knobs, social cost modelers can make the benefits of “climate action” look large compared with the costs of compliance and make fossil fuels look unaffordable no matter how cheap. (p. 72)
The Clean Power Plan has egregious legal flaws beyond the Court’s errors in Massachusetts v. EPA , and the agency is currently in the process of repealing it. Nonetheless, as long as Congress treats Massachusetts v. EPA as settled law, future executives will be tempted to usurp legislative power. Congress should curb the EPA’s ability to overreach by clarifying that it has no power under the CAA to make climate policy.


  1. Jim Hollingsworth  

    Seeking permission to use the above material in a book I am writing on climate change. Thanks. Jim Hollingsworth


  2. Michael F. Keller  

    Technology has a long track record of significantly improving both the environment and economics, as driven by the profit motive. However, the heavy hand of the bureaucracy upends that progress as politics is used to pick winners-and-losers in the marketplace. The consumer is inevitably the biggest loser of all under such a “big-government” regime.

    The government needs to be removed from directing energy development and production and relegated to the role of even handily providing help. The only way to achieve such a policy is to gut the Department of Energy. In my opinion, that is the approach the CEI should embark on.

    The DoE is hopelessly corrupt and the epitimy of the Washington swamp. Billion and billions have been wasted with few commercial succcesses. Vastly more efficient to simply provide tax write-offs for energy development by private industry.


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