Environmentalism Isn’t About the Environment

So, here’s a NYTimes story [h/t Environmental Economics] about three separate groups filing environmental lawsuits blocking a solar thermal project in California. The three groups filing the lawsuits are: The Sierra Club, the First-American Quechan tribe and “a labor group.”

Each group gives a different rationale for blocking the project and I think it reasonable to ask what each group’s real agenda is. (But let’s remember this is the NYTimes reporting here, who are not exactly known for their competence.)

The Sierra Club’s rationale is given as:

“The task at hand is to bring clean energy online, which includes large-scale renewables,” said Bill Corcoran, the western regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Los Angeles. “But as we looked at all of the fast-track projects, Calico was far and away the most harmfully located project.”[emp added]

Okay, firstly, that statement seems to imply that most or all of the alternative-energy projects are “harmfully located” and this one is just the worst of the lot. Secondly, the statement doesn’t say that the harm is actually of an unacceptable level. Does the project really threaten the environment to any great extent? Does this lawsuit really give Sierra Club donors the most environmental bang for their donated bucks? The statement really leaves the impression that the Sierra Club is more interested in finding an excuse to file a lawsuit, any lawsuit, than they are in protecting the environment. Is the Sierra Club more interested in brushing up its radical environmental creds or drumming up donation-generating publicity than they are in targeting the worst environmental damage?

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“Decision-Making in the Pressure Cooker: Lessons Learned from the Collapse of Lehman Brothers”

Presented by the Lumen Christi Institute and the Catholic Lawyers Guild.

Thursday, March 3, 5:30 PM, Jenner & Block, 353 North Clark Street.

Info here.

Register here.

The speaker whom I am most interested in hearing is Luigi Zingales. I mentioned his essay Capitalism After the Crisis in this post. Zingales was one of the economists who urged Congress to hold hold hearings on the Paulson bailout plan, and as we know that did not happen. I just read his essay Learning to live with not-so-efficient markets, which I commend to your attention. A compendium of his recent writing, entitled “MY LOSING BATTLE AGAINST THE LEVIATHAN (Public interventions of a desperate free-market economist” can be found here.

And What Isn’t True

The Tea Parties were not violent. Mobs didn’t go after bankers with pitchforks. Instead of sending American Muslims off to interment camps, we tred so softly that 13 people lay dead at Fort Hood. When white slavery appeared encouraged at Acorn and Planned Parenthood, we did not shut our eyes. We wanted both closed down. We recognized the clear lack of justice in the principle of public sector unions; we cited human nature & the inevitable bloat. We saw as farce politicians/bureaucrats negotiating with unions to set deals that other parties – mainly the taxpayers – would have to pay. We understand the importance of the rule of law, of restraining our desire for money & power & sex.

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The Right to Earn a Living: A Revolutionary Idea in Tunisia and America

Revolution against tyranny has blazed across North Africa and Arabia, as President George W. Bush envisioned in his idealistic second inaugural address. The conflagration was lit on December 17, 2010 by Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia, who had been denied a license to sell fruits and vegetables from his cart because he didn’t pay a bribe. A policewoman confiscated his vegetable cart and his wares. He was beaten when he protested, and on December 17 the humiliated young man set himself on fire. He died a few weeks later. Contagious demonstrations in Tunisia quickly followed the fateful denial of Mr. Bouazizi’s liberty.

The liberty whose denial inspired the overthrow of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and, with any luck, Libya was economic liberty, or the right to earn a living. Although that liberty was obviously important to Mr. Bouazizi, the left regards economic liberty, to the extent it regards it as a liberty at all, as a lower order of liberty.

So do the federal courts. Economic regulations get minimal scrutiny under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution. The Takings Clause and the Contract Clause, which were intended to protect property rights and contract rights, have been enfeebled by the Supreme Court.

The division between economic liberties and other liberties is not one the Founders of this republic would have understood. Our revolution too was provoked by economic depredations. The interrelation of liberties is hard to miss. Free speech is much more difficult to exercise effectively without property that individuals rather than governments control.

State and local governments do most of the suppressing of the right to earn a living and the confiscating of vegetable carts in the United States. Conservatives who believe in federalism should be careful not to romanticize the states. From the perspective of an entrepreneur, another layer of regulation is no more felicitous merely because it emanated from a state capital.

States require licenses for all manner of innocuous occupations. Although consumer protection is the usual excuse, little is accomplished by occupational licensing beyond preventing people from getting a start or a new start in life and restricting the supply and increasing the cost of a given type of professional.

The District of Columbia, which unfortunately for its residents possesses home rule powers, recently decided to require wildlife control operators (people who trap varmints infesting houses) to be licensed. As is often the case with occupational licenses, wildlife control operators will have to take a class, pass an exam, and pay a fee. But in addition, the legislation eccentrically requires licensed wildlife control operators to capture and remove animals in ways that aren’t lethal, painful, or even “stressful” for the animal.

While states are the primary malefactors when it comes to occupational licensing, the Obama administration, of course, would not want to miss out completely on a means of controlling economic activity. And so the Internal Revenue Service has recently adopted regulations requiring tax return preparers who aren’t lawyers or CPAs to obtain a tax preparer identification number and to pay a user fee. The IRS intends to require competency testing and continuing education of tax return preparers.

On a larger scale of licensing, the Obama administration has capriciously denied permits to businesses that want to produce energy. Last month the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a water permit that the Army Corps of Engineers had granted to a West Virginia coal mine in 2007 after nearly a decade of study.

The administration has imposed a series of unlawful moratoria on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Companies servicing offshore oil and gas drilling argued before U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a fiery intellectual, that the first moratorium violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it was arbitrary and capricious. Writing that he was “unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the [government’s] findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Judge Feldman issued a preliminary injunction against the moratorium.

The Interior Department quickly issued another moratorium, which it withdrew in October. Since then, the administration has imposed a de facto moratorium by not granting any permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf. Finding those evasions to be in contempt of his preliminary injunction, Judge Feldman ordered the government to pay the companies’ attorneys’ fees. And last week he ordered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to act on five pending permit applications within thirty days, saying that the “permitting backlog is increasingly inexcusable.” So far, neither the court’s order nor soaring oil prices have awakened the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Perhaps the ardor for freedom will circle back from the Middle East to the United States without any unemployed miners or offshoremen having to set themselves afire.

Even Iran is Calling Out Libya

In an amazing display of “the pot calling the kettle black” Iran’s dictator figurehead Mahmoud has condemned the use of overwhelming force in Libya.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned the killings of protesters in Libya, calling the government’s actions there “unimaginable.” Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Arab leaders must listen to their people, and he questioned how leaders could use “machine guns, tanks and bombs” against their citizens.

Like the use of anti-aircraft weaponry against unarmed protesters, getting the government of Iran to call you out represents new and un-precedented lows for Gaddafi.

Now we need to start thinking of what the end game will look like for Gaddafi and his cronies. It is hard to see what country would be willing to take him in now that he has been thoroughly discredited. You never know, but even when Iran’s dictator who has no qualms about calling for the execution of opposition leaders says that your actions are “unimaginable” it is hard to see where you are going to find a happy home.

I briefly thought about putting a “humor” tag on this post but I can’t bring myself to do it.