Already driven to the bankruptcy courts by liability over past wildfires, and facing further legal exposure when its equipment sparks new fires, Pacific Gas & Electric generally does not face liability for cutting power supply [Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg Opinion and related with reader comments; Ted Frank on Twitter] “California’s ratepayers like to imagine that someone else can pay the bill… In 2017, the commission refused to let San Diego Gas & Electric raise rates to cover its liability for wildfires that took place in 2007, which is why utilities are now terrified of any risk, however small, that their equipment might start a fire.” [Megan McArdle, Washington Post/Santa Cruz Sentinel] More: Ed Driscoll with link roundup including account of opposition to trimming of trees near PG&E power lines to reduce fire risk; earlier including link to Susan Shelley column.
An argument that policy and legal factors, including strict liability for wildfires, bars on recovering fire outlays in electric rates, and air-quality limits on prescribed burns, have brought California to its present blackout crisis. [Susan Shelley, L.A. Daily News]
A New York utility says the politically arranged blockage of a pipeline project may mean an end to new gas hookups for residential and commercial customers [Bernadette Hogan and Ben Feuerherd, New York Post]
A demand for “no new fossil fuel infrastructure” seems to be rapidly emerging from the green wing of world politics (Seattle, IEA, Vermont, Maryland, New York, earlier), making clear that its objection is not to a particular pipeline or fracking project or oilfield development or export terminal but to any and all of them, period.
I wonder whether the demand, if taken seriously, would also entail disallowing new gasoline stations.
More/related: strangling the New York power grid [Robert Bryce, Crain’s New York Business]
- France and Sweden rapidly decarbonized their electric grid while continuing economic growth by going nuclear. Why don’t we? [Joshua Goldstein, Staffan Qvist and Steven Pinker, New York Times]
- Washington state appeals court rules “valve turner” activist entitled to present “necessity defense” arguing that “he had no choice but to break into a pipeline facility to save the planet from global warming” [Daniel Fisher, Legal NewsLine]
- Are Canadian climate suits losing steam? [Todd Shepherd, Free Beacon; Stewart Muir, Toronto Sun]
- On fuel blend mandates: “The only good reason for making corn into ethanol is for whiskey.” [Glen Whitman via David R. Henderson, EconLib]
- “Percolating in Washington State: Export-Terminal Permit-Denial Suit Implicates Federalism and Foreign Commerce” [Donald Kochan and Glenn Lammi, Federalist Society, related podcast]
- “Inflicting mass economic harm today in the hope of averting an unknown amount of environmental harm tomorrow is a leap of faith. … It’s not that the cities [filing climate suits] are necessarily wrong; it’s that they can’t know what they claim to know.” [Corbin Barthold, WLF]
- Organized efforts mount to blockade, shut down, and ban oil and gas infrastructure [David Roberts/Vox; Kevon Paynter] My two cents on Baltimore’s ban on new or expanded crude oil terminals, which follows moves against fuel infrastructure in Oakland and Portland [Free State Notes] Massachusetts judge approves “necessity defense” raised by protesters who blocked work on pipeline [Erin Mundahl, Inside Sources]
- Related: calls to ban hydrocarbon (even gas) utility generation stir backlash among some Democrats [Amy Harder, Axios] And not illogically given the distributional effects [Ronald Bailey, Reason]
- “$18 Billion Prize,” new stage play about Chevron/Ecuador case by Phelim McAleer and Jonathan Leaf, ruffles some Bay Area feathers [Daniel Kennard, National Review]
- Questions about curious study of GMO safety [Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed]
- “Creative Regulators and Environmental Protection,” Federalist Society panel video with C. Boyden Gray, Adam White, Robert Glicksman, Nathan Richardson, Caroline Cecot;
- Europe optimizes its train system for passengers, while U.S. optimizes its for freight. Which is the greener choice? [Coyote]
It’s a familiar libertarian insight that regulation often holds government itself to lower standards than it does private actors. Pension funds for public employees are mostly immune from the federal solvency and funding requirements that apply to their private counterparts; Federal Trade Commission rules against false advertising by private companies do not restrain false advertising by government actors on the same topics; the FTC can fine companies massively for data breaches even as the federal government itself suffers gigantic losses of sensitive data to foreign actors with few, if any, visible career consequences for those who had dozed; anticompetitive practices per se illegal under antitrust law become legal when the states engage in them, and so on and so forth.
Now David Konisky of Indiana University and Manuel Teodoro of Texas A&M, in a study published by the American Journal of Political Science entitled “When Governments Regulate Governments,” have taken a look at some data:
Our empirical subjects are public and private entities’ compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. We find that, compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.
For the study, Konisky and Teodoro examined records from 2000 to 2011 for power plants and hospitals regulated under the Clean Air Act and from 2010 to 2013 for water utilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study included over 3,000 power plants, over 1,000 hospitals and over 4,200 water utilities — some privately owned and others owned by public agencies.
* For power plants and hospitals, public facilities were on average 9 percent more likely to be out of compliance with Clean Air Act regulations and 20 percent more likely to have committed high-priority violations.
* For water utilities, public facilities had on average 14 percent more Safe Drinking Water Act health violations and were 29 percent more likely to commit monitoring violations.
* Public power plants and hospitals that violated the Clean Air Act were 1 percent less likely than private-sector violators to receive a punitive sanction and 20 percent less likely to be fined.
*Public water utilities that violated Safe Drinking Water Act standards were 3 percent less likely than investor-owned utilities to receive formal enforcement actions.
[After speculating that public operators may find it harder to raise funds promptly for needed facilities improvements:] Public entities also face lower costs for violating the regulations, the authors argue. There is evidence from other studies that they are able to delay or avoid paying fines when penalties are assessed. And officials with regulatory agencies may be sympathetic to violations by public entities, because they understand the difficulty of securing resources in the public sector.
A bankruptcy judge has dismissed a purported human-rights theory outré enough to have drawn interest from both the United Nations and American legal academia, saying the law guarantees no right to draw water from the Detroit municipal system for free or at rates dependent on ability to pay [Detroit News; Aaron Renn/City Journal and more]
- Coming to other towns soon: new stormwater regs ban car wash fundraisers at schools in Arlington, Va. [ArlNow]
- Krugman hides the ball on coal-fired utility regs [David Henderson]
- Coming in September: book on Chevron/Ecuador case by Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Paul M. Barrett [Business Roundtable]
- Simplified narrative of “business versus environmental regulation” obscures so much [Tim Carney, Washington Examiner]
- Environmental disclosure panel from Vermont Law School “Disclosure Debates” [video, summary by Caitlin Stanton for VLR’s Environmental Health, links to all videos, background]
- California: “Attorney General Posts 2013 Proposition 65 Settlement Numbers” [Cal Biz Lit]
- “Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson” [Cato panel with Andrew Morriss, Richard Tren]