President Obama’s signature domestic policy may have accomplished something previously unthinkable: taking an issue where one party had a dominant hold on public opinion, and reversing it in favor of the opposing party.
If the latest poll numbers and enrollment figures are to be believed, we could be witnessing a political achievement unequaled in modern political history: the complete demolition of one party’s long-term dominance on an issue area – the Democrats’ ownership of the health care issue – in the space of a few months. Quinnipiac finds that young people trust Republicans in Congress more on health policy than the president; that a plurality of Hispanics, long the most pro-Obamacare faction, are now opposed to the law; and that overwhelming majorities (70+ percent) of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are in favor of delaying the law. And that’s not all:
Only 19 percent of American voters say the quality of care they and their families receive will improve in the next year because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while 43 percent say it will get worse and 33 percent say ACA won’t affect their health care. Voters oppose the ACA 55 – 39 percent, with men opposed 59 – 37 percent and women opposed 51 – 41 percent. American voters are divided 46 – 47 percent on whether Obama “knowingly deceived” the public when he said people could keep their existing health insurance plans if they wished. Voters also support 73 – 20 percent extending the March 31, 2014 deadline for signing up for coverage without facing a penalty.
No wonder we’re seeing these kinds of numbers, when even die-hard supporters of the law are getting hit hard by its ramifications. And for what? The enrollment figures released today illustrate that the administration has failed thoroughly in managing Obamacare’s launch, with just 26,794 people having enrolled via Healthcare.gov (and even that definition is dubious, given that the federal site reportedly is unable to process payments at this time). Comparison to the four million or so people who have lost their existing plans is laughable.
All told, the federal exchange enrollment figures work out to just 23 people per day per state signing up via the site. The whole project now looks like the creation of a tiny high risk pool and a Medicaid expansion in half the states. As the American Action Forum outlines in this chart, the project is so far behind the expected and hoped-for pace, it seems unthinkable that it would ever approach estimates in the near future:
All this has led Ezra Klein to publicly voice the concerns that smart progressives have been whispering about for weeks now:
The Affordable Care Act’s political position has deteriorated dramatically over the last week. President Bill Clinton’s statement that the law should be reopened to ensure everyone who likes their health plans can keep them was a signal event. It gives congressional Democrats cover to begin breaking with the Obama administration. The most serious manifestation of that break is Sen. Mary Landrieu’s “Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act.” It’s co-sponsored not just by the usual moderate Democrats — Landrieu and Dianne Feinstein and Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan — but also by Oregon liberal Jeff Merkley. It’s worth noting that Merkley is up for reelection in 2014. The argument Landrieu is making on behalf of the bill will appeal to many Senate Democrats. “When we passed the Affordable Care Act, we did so with the intention that if you liked your health plan, you could keep it,” she said on the Senate floor. “A promise was made and this legislation will ensure that this promise is kept.” It’s an underplayed dynamic of the current political storm that many congressional Democrats feel Obama broke a promise he made to them, as well. The bill Landrieu is offering could really harm the law. It would mean millions of people who would’ve left the individual insurance market and gone to the exchanges will stay right where they are. Assuming those people skew younger, healthier, and richer — and they do — Obamacare’s premiums will rise. Meanwhile, many people who could’ve gotten better insurance on the exchanges will stay in bad plans that will leave them bankrupt when they get sick… Put simply, the Landrieu bill solves one of Obamacare’s political problems at the cost of worsening its most serious policy problem: Adverse selection.
The reason for Bill Clinton’s remarks yesterday are obvious: he understands the political implications, for the party and for Hillary, if Obamacare fails, and this is a savvy bit of CYA in preparation for 2016. The problem is that what he’s proposing, and what Landrieu is trying to require, is very difficult to achieve (if not entirely impossible) given the requirements involved and the closing window on grandfathering or anything of the kind. Achieving that type of fix would require a broad bipartisan agreement in short order, one that seems impossible in today’s Washington. We’re going to continue to see stories like this: a million more Californians lose insurance, state officials try to exert pressure… and Feinstein flip-flops.
But all this is to no avail. Just because there’s massive political pressure for Senate Democrats to do something doesn’t mean the White House agrees with those Senate Democrats. If anything, they’re doubling down on the idea that nothing can be done and that the Senate just has to accept it:
After the president’s apology last week for wrongly assuring Americans that they could retain their health plans if they wanted, senior White House aides said the president wanted to ensure that people who were forced off older policies with less comprehensive coverage were not stuck with higher monthly premiums to replace their insurance. But administration officials declined to say how they might achieve that goal, how much it would cost or whether it would require congressional approval. At the same time, officials signaled the president’s strong opposition to calls from across the political spectrum — including one Tuesday from a key ally, former President Bill Clinton — to support bipartisan legislation that would allow people to keep their current insurance plans even after provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect next year. White House officials refused to discuss in detail what options Mr. Obama was considering. But they made clear that the president was skeptical of any solution that would allow insurance companies to continue selling what officials consider to be cheap and substandard policies.
Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman have more on the worst case scenarios. It never seemed like we would get to this point – after all, the whole effort behind Obamacare included multiple aspects designed to insulate insurers. But we may be about to see the death by a thousand cuts. As Bob Laszewski writes today:
The audacity of this administration to continue telling people to keep going back to the website and the call center when they knew full well that only 25 people per day per state were making it thorough the gauntlet that is Healthcare.gov is startling. This program is in grave danger of collapsing if the administration cannot dramatically grow the size of the risk pool and attract healthy people to it.
Had the administration admitted its management failure before the exchanges launched, or traded a delay of implementation in the course of negotiation, it could’ve taken a political hit, but avoided the policy failure. Perhaps it’s the curse of second-term hubris: Obama has no intention of dismantling the one significant domestic policy he’s pushed through for the sake of a few Democratic red state Senators. He thinks what he’s achieved with the law is too important to sacrifice – and in the end, that may make the law even more vulnerable.thefederalist.com]
Is wood the best fuel to generate electricity? Despite wood’s low energy density and high cost, utilities in the US and abroad are switching from coal to wood to produce electrical power. The switch to wood is driven by regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other international organizations. These regulations are based on the false assumption that burning wood reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
Wood has never been a major fuel source for electrical power. In 1882, when Thomas Edison built the first power plant in New York at Pearl Street Station, he used coal to fire the plant. A switch to wood is not going back in time; it is adopting a fuel that was regarded as inferior at the dawn of the electrical age.
Pound for pound, wood contains less energy and is more expensive than other fuels. A 2008 study conducted at the Rapids Energy Center plant in Minnesota found that, compared to coal, more than twice the mass of wood was required to produce the same electrical output. A 2008 study by the UK House of Lords concluded that electricity from biomass was more than twice the cost of electricity from coal or natural gas. Nevertheless, an increasing number of electrical power plants are switching from coal to low-energy-density and high-cost wood fuel.
This irrational behavior is driven by the EPA, the US Department of Energy, the European Union, the California Air Resources Board, and other world organizations that assume that biomass fuel is “carbon neutral.” Biomass-fired plants receive carbon credits, tax exemptions, and subsidies from promoting governments.
When burned, biomass emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like any other combustion. A 2012 paper by Synapse Energy Economics estimated that burning biomass emits 50 to 85 percent more CO2 than burning coal since the energy content of biomass is lower than coal relative to its carbon content.
The “carbon neutral” concept originated in a 1996 Greenhouse Gas Inventory paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations. The IPCC assumed that, as biofuel plants grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned. If correct, substitution of wood for coal would reduce net emissions.
But a 2011 opinion by the European Environment Agency pointed to a “serious error” in greenhouse gas accounting. The carbon neutral assumption does not account for CO2 that would be absorbed by the natural vegetation that grows on land not used for biofuel production. Substitution of wood for coal in electrical power plants is actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions.
Nevertheless, governments have adopted the “carbon neutral” assumption and continue to promote biomass as a substitute for coal. As a result, nations and utilities are not required to count their CO2 emissions from biomass combustion.
In July, Dominion Virginia Power completed conversion of its Altavista Power Station to biomass fuel, the first of three planned facility conversions at a total cost of $165 million. The change was lauded as a method to “help to meet Virginia’s renewable energy goal.” Virginia citizens paid for the conversion and will pay higher electricity bills in the future.
The Altavista station and other biomass plants claim to be using “waste” fuel that would otherwise be going into landfills. But according to the DOE, 65 percent of US biomass-generated electricity comes from wood and 35 percent from waste.
Finding sources of wood to feed ravenous power plants is not easy. The small wood-fired EJ Stoneman power plant in Cassville, Wisconsin is rated at 40 megawatts. Each day it burns 1,000 tons of wood delivered by 30 different suppliers. The 100-megawatt Picway power plant in southern Ohio considered a conversion to biomass, but could not secure a good wood supply. Picway will be shut down in 2015 when tougher EPA emission regulations take effect.
Following President Obama’s direction, the EPA plans to impose CO2 emission limits on existing power plants, requiring the shuttering of US coal-fired power stations. In 2012, 37 percent of US electricity was produced from coal, with only 1.4 percent produced from biomass. Without some common sense about CO2 emissions, look for expanded efforts to cut down US forests to feed a growing number of biomass plants.
The height of eco-madness is the conversion of the Drax Power Station in the United Kingdom from coal to wood fuel. Drax is the largest power plant in Europe, generating up to 3,960 megawatts of power from 36,000 tons of coal per day, delivered by 140 trains every week. In order to “reduce emissions” at Drax, more than 70,000 tons of wood will be harvested every day from forests in the US and shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain.
Conversion of the Drax facility will cost British citizens £700 million ($1.1 Billion) and the new wood-fired electricity will cost double or triple the cost from coal. Drax Group plc will receive a subsidy of over £1 billion ($1.6 billion) per year for this green miracle.
[Originally published in The Washington Times]
If you are looking for a book that will fully explain why affordable, reliable energy is absolutely crucial to our social and economic well-being, Energy Freedom by Marita Littauer Noon is the book for you. This is truly one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a very long time.
I am not alone in my assessment.
John Fund, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, said of this book, “Even people who have no idea where the electricity that lights their home or gas that cooks their meals comes from will find Energy Freedom a clear, understandable primer on why we all have to care about energy.”
“Marita Noon’s Energy Freedom documents both the role energy plays in the exercise of American freedom and the efforts by some to subvert that freedom through restricting its supply,” said Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt.
Both these men are entirely correct.
Progress Through Energy Advances
In a thorough but very readable narrative, Noon explains how and why so many people work to bring us affordable energy. She also lifts the veil on the dark side of energy politics, where anti-energy extremists pull out all the stops to restrict energy production and consumers’ energy use. Indeed, she slays the “green” monster that warps the thinking of some of the most intelligent people in politics, and she explains how government regulation and red tape have prevented access to so many of our vast natural resources
Noon details how life would be with only electric cars and limited transportation, comparing it to the pre-1920s when Americans rode on horseback. Sure, there were no direct carbon dioxide emissions from transportation (other than horses’ breathing), but each horse required five acres of hay and oats to feed it, and the horses left piles of manure on city streets which created great stench and spread disease. The unintended environmental and health impacts of conventional energy substitutes may have changed over the years, but they remain in one form or another, regardless of how environmental activists choose to frame the issue.
Noon describes an environmental dystopia where the medicines that have helped double our life spans in the past century would be drastically curtailed by reduced availability of cheap energy.
Noon understands and agrees that we all want a green earth—clean air, fresh water, and a safe food supply—but restricting energy use and blocking technological progress are not good ways to achieve it. We have made huge environmental strides since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Despite dramatic increases in population, economic production, electricity generation, transportation miles, etc., U.S. aggregate emissions are less than half of what they were just a few decades ago.
When someone on a street corner or in front of a grocery store asks us to sign a petition to stop plans for a new power plant or some other natural resource project, we ought to remember the larger implications of the environmental utopia they seek, Noon notes.
Unmasking Environmental Extremists
She pulls no punches in linking today’s environmental zealots to the authoritarian leftists of the early and mid-twentieth century. Noon gives full documentation why many people correctly refer to today’s environmental activist groups as “watermelons”—green on the outside, red (Communist) underneath. She quotes George Will explaining, “today’s green left is the old red revised…. The left exists to enlarge the state’s supervision of life, narrowing the individual choices in the name of the collective good.”
Noon provides support for her points with detailed case studies, such as the nefarious ways of the seemingly innocuous Humane Society. Noon gives readers all the information we need to find and read the detailed case studies ourselves, which is a huge plus.
Noon also provides excellent information and data on the most dangerous environmental groups, such as their astonishing net worth. For example, the World Wildlife Fund, which is number three on the list, has a net worth of $426 million. Collectively, numbers two through 10 on the list are worth $2.6 trillion. The number one group on the list, the Nature Conservancy, is worth more than $5 trillion. Even groups ranking relatively low on the list have astonishing resources at their command. The number 7 group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, is worth $232 million. Number 8, Environmental Defense, is worth $145 million.
Topics that Stand Out
The book does an excellent job slaying misconceptions on many energy-related topics, and a few deserve special praise. Noon emphatically and persuasively documents the farce of “free” solar energy. She meticulously explains the absurdity of burning crops to make ethanol and biofuels, documenting the vast amounts of land and resources required to divert our food supply into fuel.
Providing context for energy-related environmental hoaxes, Noon succinctly conveys the deadly historical effects that followed the false DDT claims. She also documents the tragic economic toll on northwestern U.S. communities resulting from efforts to save the non-endangered spotted owl. Far greater economic costs are being imposed on the United States and western democracies in the name of fighting a nonexistent global warming problem.
Energy Freedom is both a thorough book and an easy read. It will make a great Christmas stocking stuffer.