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Samantha Jordan
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Curtis Kalin
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Ross Kaminsky
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Sharon Koss
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Austin Peters
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Kristina Rasmussen
Blog Contributor 

Energy/Environment

New EPA Regulations Would Hurt State Economies
Posted By: Melodie Bowler - 07/11/14

In early June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released 645 pages of new regulations of carbon emissions for fossil-fuel-fired power plants in every state. The overall goal is to reduce total emissions from these plants by 30 percent in 2030, compared to measurements of emissions in 2005. Unfortunately, these regulations could have a devastating effect on taxpayers and state economies.

The EPA determined a different reduction goal for each state based on its ability for further reductions, since total emissions have already decreased since 2005. For some states, such as California, which currently has stricter emissions targets than the EPA, the transition will be easier. For states that rely heavily on coal for energy and jobs, particularly Kentucky and West Virginia, compliance with the reductions may prove extremely difficult.

The percentage reduction goals for each state vary from 10.6 percent in North Dakota to 71.6 percent in Washington. These numbers are deceiving, however. Washington has only one coal-powered plant left and gets the majority of its energy from hydroelectric power. The state legislature has decided to close that one plant in 2025, which will sufficiently reduce emissions to meet their target. Kentucky sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a goal to reduce emissions by 18.3 percent. While this might seem like an easily attainable goal, the state receives over 90 percent of its power from coal plants meaning it will be hard pressed to comply. Kentucky state officials, and many of their counterparts in states south of the Great Lakes, could be forced to close plants, which would immediately result in serious economic disruptions.

In response to the EPA’s unprecedented regulatory overreach and unattainable mandates, several cases were filed against the agency and combined to be heard at once by the Supreme Court. The main case was led by the Utility Air Regulatory Group, but other challengers included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several states. Unfortunately, the 5-4 ruling upheld the agency’s ability to force power plants to adhere to its regulations. There was one small win for proponents of free markets buried in the decision, which negated the EPA’s rule forcing power plants to request permission before expanding their operations. With the new targets now supported by the courts, states must submit their plans for reduction by June 2016, but if states refuse or their plans are deemed inadequate, the EPA will create plans for them.

Opponents of the regulations have spoken up at the state and federal level from both sides of the aisle. Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, pinned blamed on President Obama, stating, "It's clear that the president is trying to impose this national energy tax via executive order because he knows the representatives of the people would never vote for it." Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia worries, "If these rules are put into place, our manufacturers may be forced to look overseas for more reasonable energy costs, taking good paying jobs with them and leaving hardworking West Virginians without jobs to support their families.”

Senator McConnell, among others, rightly calls the new regulations a national energy tax, since the likely result is higher costs for individuals and businesses as cheaper sources of energy are forced out of the not-so-free market. When energy prices rise, so will the costs of goods and services. Equally alarming is the possibility of state-level carbon taxes, which the EPA implicitly allows in the new regulations. While legislators may see a carbon tax as an easy way to comply with the rules and pad state coffers, such a tax might result in the phenomenon called “carbon leakage.” Because states have different reduction goals, their carbon taxes would be different as well. Coal plants and industries which rely heavily on energy consumption will relocate to states with lower taxes, ultimately exporting power and goods back to the states with higher taxes. In this scenario, some states may be marginal winners and others will most definitely be losers.

Despite the ruling by the Supreme Court, some congressmen have yet to concede this battle. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, approved legislation on Tuesday that would curb the EPA’s funding and ability to enforce the emissions regulations. Attached to an appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, the riders would specifically cut EPA funding by 9 percent and reduce the staff to 15,000, its smallest since 1989. The bill would also bar the EPA from using its funding to implement the new regulations. While it is unlikely to pass, especially in the Democrat-controlled Senate, Rep. Rogers emphasized the importance of his committee’s action, stating, “The Congress must exercise its prerogative to prevent this kind of bureaucratic overreach that would be crippling for the U.S. economy.”

In order to keep this conversation alive on Capitol Hill, taxpayers should quickly contact their elected officials, expressing their concerns. In our sputtering economy, the last thing Americans need is a stack of costly regulations from unelected EPA officials. Stay tuned to NTU.org for more as this story unfolds.

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Natural Gas Exports Advance in House
Posted By: Nan Swift - 07/01/14

Last week, H.R. 6, the Domestic Freedom and Global Prosperity Act, passed the House 266 to 150, with 46 Democrats joining the vast majority of Republicans to push the measure over the top. NTU has supported H.R. 6 since its introduction back in the spring because it would “expedite current pending liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications and streamline the process for future applicants,” as we stated in our endorsement letter.

And the bill passed not a moment too soon. Today, the U.S. is the number one natural gas producer in the world thanks to the shale gas revolution, but as the old saying goes “he who hesitates is lost.” Improved technology has boosted the discovery and development of shale oil and gas reserves the world over, and if we don’t act soon, the window of opportunity could be shut to U.S. exports as other sources from Scotland to India come online.

Here at home, domestic consumption has remained flat even as natural gas production has sky-rocketed. Low-cost energy is a boon for consumers, but as the availability of natural resources continues to expand, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for the industry to grow and export LNG abroad to other markets. Doing so would ensure the long-term profitability of the natural gas industry and open the doors for even more growth in a sector of the economy with lots of opportunities for new jobs and investment: two essentials our economy is otherwise lacking right now.

The bottom line for taxpayers is that natural gas is an industry with room to grow if we get hurdles like export restrictions out of the way and we need to do so quickly to take advantage of an international appetite for clean-burning, low-cost energy.

Lately it seems that bills pass the House only to die in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “do nothing” Senate—and that very well could be the same dismal fate that awaits H.R. 6. Yet, a glimmer of hope remains. Only a day after Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced his LNG export legislation, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced his own LNG export bill, S. 2083, the “American Job Creation and Strategic Alliances LNG Act.” The legislation closely mirrors H.R. 6 in that it also calls for an expedited application and approval process for LNG exports to World Trade Organization partners, although it stops short of the detailed plan, deadlines, and transparency outlined in H.R. 6. Still, it would be an important step in the right direction were Sen. Reid to allow a vote on S. 2083—practically any compromise bill that emerged from a conference  would be a net gain for energy and job growth in the U.S.

Of course, political considerations could factor into this issue, as Rep. Gardner is running against Sen. Udall. TheHill.com is reporting that “The lack of votes has become a liability for vulnerable Democratic incumbents from conservative states.” Colorado is not considered to be a conservative state, but the Cook Political Report did move the U.S. Senate race from “Lean D” to “Toss Up” in April. This change in the political landscape could force Reid’s hand and help bring the LNG legislation to the floor for a vote.  The same motivation could also work in taxpayers’ favor on another outstanding energy issue, the Keystone Pipeline, which has passed the House in numerous iterations, but still has yet to see the light of day on the Senate floor despite Sen. Mary Landreiu’s (D-LA) sponsorship of the bill. Instead of re-fighting jobs-killing battles, like bringing back the minimum wage hike, Sen. Reid should let bills come to the floor that put America back to work before these opportunities pass us by.  

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Florida’s 19th Special House Election: A Budgetary Guide
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 06/20/14

In what some are calling a quiet election, there’s still a lot to be said. Though the challenges of taking drug tests have largely been replaced with who can help create the most jobs in the next five months, before the next election for the same office, Florida residents are asking the same questions of candidates as they did in Florida’s other recent special House election: What will you do in Washington, D.C.? Especially in the wake of their last Congressman, Trey Radel, who resigned after being arrested for possession of cocaine.

In just a couple of short months, three front runners have emerged to battle for the 19th District’s seat: businessman Curt Clawson (R), businesswoman and former political activist April Freeman (D), and former health worker Ray Netherwood (L). Each candidate offers different general solutions to America’s fiscal ills but details have yet to come out about how each would actually change the federal budget. However, by using a methodology similar to National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF) BillTally project, taxpayers can see where the candidates stand on at least some of the spending issues. For this brief study, we took direct quotes and campaign materials of candidates and matched them with budget and legislative data to see exactly what the differences and similarities are.

Similar to the New Jersey Special Senate and Florida’s 13th Special House elections, details were few and far between. Even with the campaigns releasing economic plans and platform summaries, we’re still left asking what will they do if elected as the House of Representative’s newest member?

Check out the entire line-by-line analysis of all three candidates. As with NTUF’s other BillTally and campaign studies, only changes in current spending are recorded (similar to the Congressional Budget Office). The reports do not include changes in revenues or costs outside the federal government. Below are summaries of each candidates’ proposals.

Curt Clawson (R) has proposed two (out of 12) quantifiable policies that NTUF was able to score. Combined, they would decrease annual spending by $395.8 billion. The largest budget-influencing item that he supports would cap federal expenditures at 19 percent of GDP, which would be implemented using the “Penny Plan,” which would cut spending by one percent each year as long as the budget is not balanced.

  • Block Grant Education Funds to States: Unknown
  • Continue Federal Flood Insurance Rates: Unknown
  • Create a Budget Cutting Committee: Unknown
  • Freeze Federal Employment: Unknown
  • Limit Federal Spending: $331.9 billion (savings)
  • Require Congressional Approval for Major Regulations: Unknown
  • Block Grant Medicaid Funds to States: Unknown
  • Eliminate Government Health Care Bureaucrats: Unknown
  • Protect Health Insurance Access for those with Pre-Existing Conditions: Unknown
  • Provide for Health Care Plans and Accounts: Unknown
  • Repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: $63.9 billion
  • Restore Medicaid Advantage Funding: Unknown

April Freeman (D) has two (out of 12) policy items that NTUF could fiscally score. Together, they would increase spending by $20.203 billion each year for the next five years. Her largest quantifiable proposal would overhaul the immigration system.

  • Ensure Wage Equality: $3 million
  • Support Domestic Industries: Unknown
  • Support Teachers: Unknown
  • Ban Hydraulic Fracturing: Unknown
  • Expand Alternative Energy Sources: Unknown
  • Fully Fund Water Infrastructure Improvements: Unknown
  • Fight Human Trafficking: Unknown
  • Pass Immigration Reform: $20.2 billion
  • Protect Citizens’ Privacy: Unknown
  • Secure the Border: Unknown
  • Normalize Relations with Cuba: Unknown
  • Ensure Veterans’ Benefits: Unknown

Ray Netherwood (L) had one proposal that NTUF could identify. It would be to replace the current income-based tax system with a national sales tax, known as the Fair Tax. The measure would cut an average $19 billion in federal outlays for each of the next five years.

Normally, there would be some overlap between the candidates’ platforms. In the other Florida Special Election, the front runners supported increasing current spending by $180 million per year to delay a scheduled rate increase for the National Flood Insurance Program. That was not the case in this House race, although the three candidates were not asked similar questions when interviewed by the same source.

What does this mean for taxpayers and residents of the 19th District? It’s time for the campaigns to give Americans more details. While candidates are asking Floridians for their vote, taxpayers are asking for the roadmap of each candidate’s path to reach a better and expanding economy. As highlighted above and in the full report, the absence of budgetary facts and figures opens the possibility that all of the candidates could have much larger or smaller spending aspirations in mind. Clawson, Freeman, or Netherwood need only clarify their intentions with dollar figures to help complete this report and help educate Americans on important and pressing issues that we’re all facing.

Note: National Taxpayers Union Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our research efforts are intended only to educate Americans on how their tax dollars are being or will be spent by those in office, seeking office, or in appointed positions. For more information on NTUF go here.

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(VIDEO) Time to Let American Energy Compete
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 05/21/14

Thanks to the natural gas boom, the United States is on the brink of becoming a net energy exporter. But as NTU has often pointed out, the next step depends on what public officials do, or  fail to do.

A new video produced by the organization Act on LNG is the latest to underscore the pivotal point we’ve reached. Whether the United States will expand on this competitive advantage, and in doing so sustain the gains made in recent years, hinges on whether the Department of Energy will license the export facilities necessary to ship natural gas beyond the U.S. border in its liquefied from (LNG). To date, only seven permits have been approved. More than 20 are still pending review, some for years.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation and spurred by recent global market developments, Congress has stepped up with legislation to pressure DOE and help surmount the outdated export obstacles. NTU has long supported efforts to lift trade restrictions and more recently backed a solid plan in the House to make it happen.

Much of the development that paved the way to the position America enjoys now happened in spite of federal policy, not because of it. If the President truly supports an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, he should direct the Department of Energy to expedite approval of outstanding LNG permits. Congress should move forward with legislative solutions as well. Natural gas has put the United States on a promising path to energy prosperity – it is Washington’s responsibility now to make sure we don’t reach a dead end.

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CBO Reports Raising Minimum Wage Would Kill Jobs
Posted By: Nan Swift - 02/19/14

Following through on his State of the Union promise to move ahead with or without Congress, President Obama signed an executive order last week raising the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25/hour to $10.10, the same increased rate that Senator Reid (D-NV) keeps threatening to bring up for a vote on the Senate floor

It’s really too bad that the President didn’t wait for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to do some number crunching before acting, because contrary to Sen. Reid’s boast that hiking the minimum wage would create “85,000 new jobs,” a CBO report unveiled yesterday confirms minimum wage skeptics worst fears:

Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below). As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers. 

In layman’s terms, implementing a $10.10/hour minimum wage would risk losing half a million jobs. The fact that the CBO tempers their estimate with the caveat that it could range from just a few lost jobs up to 1 million jobs should hardly be comforting. Either way the result is the same: hiking the minimum wage is a jobs killer.

Higher unemployment is the last thing our struggling economy needs – doing anything that risks more lost jobs is tantamount to economic malpractice. Rather than relentlessly pursuing policies that flirt with disaster, Senator Reid and the rest of Congress should be focused on reforms that save and create jobs such as repealing the death tax, lowering the corporate tax rate, rolling back burdensome regulations, and even the big one: repealing ObamaCare, which the CBO estimated earlier this month could cut 2.5 million jobs from the economy.

Given the current state of affairs on Capitol Hill, it’s unlikely the House and Senate could successfully implement the above reforms. Still taxpayers can hope that Senator Reid heeds the latest warnings from CBO.

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Does "Progress" Always Have to Mean Attacking Job Creation?
Posted By: Pete Sepp - 02/11/14

In the paradoxical category, a new but also not-so-new article from Center for American Progress calls - again - for discriminatory tax policies toward oil and gas companies.

That CAP is attacking the energy sector is no surprise - they release a piece of this nature each time quarterly corporate earnings are published. But it's important to acknowledge the contributions in jobs, retirees' investment returns, and yes, government revenues, that the energy sector is already making now. Implications that the industry doesn't carry its fair share of the tax burden undermine the formulation of effective energy and tax policy. Our recent infographic effectively shows the real story of the industry's economic contribution and tax burden.

Is it just a coincidence that this comes on the heels of the President's call for tax hikes on energy during his State of the Union?

Read more about the need to reform the corporate tax code for all, and end the government's trend of picking winners and losers, in my recent U.S. News & World Report piece.

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Keystone Pipeline Clears Key Environmental Review
Posted By: Nan Swift - 01/31/14

Yesterday, I wrote that one of the top four ways the President can make good on his promise to uphold an “all of the above” energy policy would be to move forward with the Keystone XL pipeline:

The Keystone XL pipeline would bring with it 20,000 much-needed jobs over time, and support thousands of other jobs in many sectors. That’s not to mention an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada, our largest and most stable trading partner. This would inject our economy with billions of dollars in additional activity.  … President Obama’s State Department can stop their delay tactics and approve the pipeline’s permit at any point.

Today, the pipeline cleared a major hurdle. The Associated Press reports:

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada moved a significant step toward completion Friday as the State Department raised no major environmental objections to its construction.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the pipeline has passed environmental muster.  During President Obama’s first term, the State Department conducted a study and found that the pipeline would not have any substantial environmental impact. However, the pipeline’s permit was still rejected by the President, and TransCanada, the company behind the project, was forced to reapply.

TransCanada did so, but the President postponed a decision until after the 2012 election. Meanwhile, other reports have found that the tar sands derived oil that will be transported by the pipeline is no more risky to transport than other kinds of crude oil and TransCanda has agreed to comply with ever more stringent construction conditions.  The whole saga is described in greater detail here.

Due to the Administration’s past delay tactics, it’s too soon for taxpayers to start popping the champagne. But one thing is clear today:  the President has run out of excuses to stop Keystone XL.

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It’s Time for a True “All of the Above” Energy Plan
Posted By: Nan Swift - 01/30/14

President Obama reiterated his commitment to an “all of the above” energy strategy in his State of the Union address Tuesday. In the past, this strategy has looked more like a “renewable or nothing” plan. However, the President did make surprisingly supportive comments regarding our booming oil and natural gas industries, saying that his “administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth….”

The President also stated that in order to spur the growth of the natural gas industry he would “cut red tape.” That would be a great first step, but here are a few other areas where we could unleash the enormous potential of the energy sector with just a few snips of the old red tape:

1. Keystone XL Pipeline:  H.R. 3, the Northern Route Approval Act, which would clear the way for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, passed the House with bipartisan support – but remains lost in the netherworld of Harry Reid’s obstructionist Senate. The Keystone XL pipeline would bring with it 20,000 much-needed jobs over time, and support thousands of other jobs in many sectors. That’s not to mention an additional 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada, our largest and most stable trading partner. This would inject our economy with billions of dollars in additional activity. Of course, taxpayers shouldn’t have to wait for the Senate to act (or, more likely, not act). President Obama’s State Department can stop their delay tactics and approve the pipeline’s permit at any point.

2. Permitting Reform: H.R. 1900, the “Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act,” and H.R. 3301, the “North American Infrastructure Act,” would streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines, putting in place commonsense deadlines and guidelines to remove the regulatory limbo where many projects find themselves. The inability to get energy products swiftly and safely from place to place is hampering markets and hurting consumers who have to pay higher prices, or even worse, are going without.

Back in November, the Boston Globe reported on the capacity crunch facing New England:

The projects come as New England struggles to address growing demand for natural gas and supply constraints created by tight pipeline capacity. Those constraints have led to shortages and price spikes during the peak demand periods, such as extended winter cold snaps, helping to drive the region’s already high energy costs even higher.

 “Some days there just isn’t spare gas to be sold,” van Welie said.

Additional pipeline capacity, van Welie added, would help alleviate the issue and could also lead to lower energy costs in New England … .

Today, the cold weather is testing both pipeline and storage capacity in both the Northeast and the Midwest. National Public Radio’s Jeff Brady reported:

With drilling booms in places like Pennsylvania and Texas boosting the country's supply, there's plenty of gas to go around. The problem is building the pipelines and other infrastructure needed to deliver it. This has led to some extreme cases where natural gas prices have been bid way up. Last week in New York, one desperate buyer was willing to pay about 25 times the typical price for gas.

And in Ohio:

Like in the Northeast, the problem is not supply so much as getting the gas to where it's needed, when it's needed. During the cold spell in early January, one utility had problems that left a few thousand customers without gas for more than a day. State regulators are asking customers to conserve to make sure that doesn't happen again.

3. War on Coal: President Obama has made it clear over the years that coal is his least favorite source of energy. Still, it is a crucial part of any true “all of the above” energy policy.  Given its widespread availability and the fact that many alternatives are still prohibitively expensive and unreliable, coal should continue to be a part of our energy profile for the foreseeable future. The President’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other administrative departments have tried to throw up one roadblock after another to keep coal out of the picture. The “War on Coal” has been so successful that almost no new coal-fired electricity plants are being built in the U.S. The few that are have to be outfitted with costly new carbon capture technology. The Washington Post reports:

Last year, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that it was unlikely the technology would become cost-competitive anytime soon. Power plants that can capture and store their carbon are initially expected to cost about 75 percent more than regular coal plants. And those costs won't fall unless there's either a huge technological breakthrough or utilities invest a lot more of their own money in building new plants. Neither appears imminent.

Representative Whitfield (R-KY) has introduced a bill, H.R. 3826, the “Electricity Security and Affordability Act,” to help rein burdensome EPA regulations by enacting common-sense checks and balances that would restore accountability in the rule-making process. The legislation establishes new guidelines for future power plants that are well within the realm of the possible (for a nice change), repeals earlier proposed rules, and requires more Congressional oversight.

4. Renewable Fuel Standard: The corn ethanol mandate imposed by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has had far-reaching negative consequences. Corn ethanol drives up costs for consumers in the form of lower gas mileage, engine damage, and volatile food prices. It encourages farmers to plant on marginal land better left untilled. The list is long. The RFS also set up a market for Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS), which are renewable fuel credits to help refiners comply with the EPA’s cellulosic fuel mandate. Unfortunately, this market has become rife with fraud. Companies that have unknowingly bought and used fake RINs in their attempts to comply with the law have been hit with huge fines by the EPA.

Currently, the EPA is considering lowering the volume of ethanol it will require refiners to blend into the gasoline supply in 2014 due to the fact that gasoline consumption is  down, yet the law requires greater and greater volumes of ethanol to be blended. That’s only a small, uncertain improvement – one that won’t fix the longer term problems imposed by the RFS. Still, it does reinforce the fact that the RFS is a broken, failed policy – hurting everyone but the corn growers for whom the RFS has been little more than a wealth transfer from one portion of the agriculture sector to another.

A bipartisan team of legislators in the House comprised of Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Womack (R-AR), Rep. Costa (D-CA), and Rep. Welch (D-VT), has introduced H.R. 1462, the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act, which would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate, reduce the cellulosic ethanol mandate, and cap ethanol blends at E10.

Washington shouldn’t be picking and choosing winners and losers. Red tape, costly regulations, and unsustainable mandates – not to mention subsidies, tax credits, and loan guarantees for “green energy” projects – all wreck havoc on the energy market. Too often, the end result is higher costs for consumers. Further, these misguided policies have left taxpayers holding the bag for failed government backed enterprises.  If President Obama is serious about an “all of the above” energy policy, the remedy is simple: get government out of the energy market. 

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Energy & The Economy: By The Numbers
Posted By: Douglas Kellogg - 01/27/14

The facts and figures behind America's recent energy resurgence might surprise you...

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Taxpayer’s Tab Supplemental: NOAA Funding and H.R. 2413
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 01/21/14

In the latest edition of The Taxpayer’s Tab, NTU Foundation highlighted H.R. 2413 as the week’s Wildcard bill, which is the section where we highlight proposals we find particularly interesting but that do not fall into any of the other three bill highlight sections. The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act would dedicate new resources to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to research and predict “high impact weather events,” occurring both nationally and globally.  More specifically, NOAA would receive funding to purchase new equipment and conduct research that improves its forecasting abilities ahead of extreme weather phenomena like Superstorm Sandy or last year’s Midwest tornadoes.

The text of the bill as introduced set an authorization of appropriations of $120 million for the years FY 2014-2017. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the bill to determine the outlays, i.e., the actual amount of federal spending that would occur as a result of the authorizations. CBO reported that the programs covered by the bill received funding of $80 million in FY 2013 but it was not sure of actual outlays for FY 2014. Beginning in FY 2015 spending would begin to increase from $89 million reaching $119 million in FY 2017. CBO also determined that additional funding ($42 million through FY 2017) would be required for research and planning. Based on this data, NTUF estimated that the bill would increase spending by a net of $115 million over four years.

That is what we wrote in the Tab, which went out to our subscribers last Thursday. Since the release, NTUF analysts have been contacted by staffers on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to help clarify their position and intentions regarding H.R. 2413. The Committee staffers told us that they disagreed with the conclusion of the CBO report:

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act does not increase the overall authorization for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Instead, it prioritizes weather forecasting research from funds made available for research at NOAA. At present, NOAA spends more than twice as much on climate change research as it does on weather forecasting research. The bill, as amended and passed by the Committee in December, does not affect direct spending or revenues, contains no unfunded mandates, and does not does not increase the overall authorization for NOAA, NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, or the Operations, Research, and Facilities account at [the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)].

In short, Committee staff say that H.R. 2413 transfers funds from NOAA climate change research to weather prediction research. However, there are a few things to consider in reading our article, reading the Committee’s response, and looking at the CBO cost estimate:

  • BillTally Methodology: The goal of NTUF’s signature project is to determine the original spending intention of legislators and cosponsors. Thus, we analyze the text of bills as originally drafted, not as amended in Committee or on the floor of either the House or Senate. In the original language of H.R. 2413, there is no section that formally details a funding transfer (or explicitly prevents new spending to occur) and so we scored the measure as new spending. However, we only look at spending relative to pre-existing authorizations (known as the baseline). In the case of H.R. 2413, CBO determined that $80 million had already been dedicated to similar activities in 2013. The $115 million total in the Tab represents our estimate of the additional spending it would take beyond that to implement the bill’s provisions.

  • CBO Cost Estimates: Occasionally, CBO estimates do not reflect the intentions of bill sponsors. Sometimes this occurs because the text of legislation does not fully outline those intentions, CBO does not interpret the change in law as is outlined in the bill, or both CBO and the sponsors do not account for all the factors (such as current spending or the full costs of implementing a measure).

  • Sponsor/Committee Response: It should be noted that the staffers’ explanation reflects a version of the bill “as amended and passed by the Committee in December” whereas NTUF scores legislation as introduced. Often times, bill text is amended to reflect the changes negotiated in committee or to correct errors in the introduced versions. These actions can change how a bill is interpreted and scored by CBO and so, in keeping with NTUF’s BillTally methodology, we score the initial version of every bill introduced in Congress.

What this means for H.R. 2413: The Committee amended the bill and ordered it to be reported, which means staffers will prepare a written report about the bill including its intentions, section-by-section analysis, and cost information. After that, it would need to be placed on the House’s legislative calendar for floor consideration. In the event the language has been clarified as the Science Committee staff says, the bill would result in a transfer of existing funds and would not increase federal spending.

What this means for taxpayers: For Americans concerned with the accuracy of federally-funded meteorology, especially with regards to large destructive weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, NOAA will have more resources to improve their predictions and models. This assumes that the redirected-funding for weather research yields better results.

What this means for NTUF’s article and BillTally score: Because the transfer changes were made in the amended version of H.R. 2413 and not the introduced version, we will still record the financial impact of the bill as we reported it in The Taxpayer’s Tab: $29 million ($115 million over four years). This score will be reflected in the agendas of H.R. 2413's sponsor and cosponsors when we release our First Session BillTally report in the coming months. It will likely have a marginal impact on an individual’s proposed spending agenda, but that will also depend on the Member’s other proposals.

Something to remember: NTU Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization and so does not take a stance on any legislation, candidates, or the fitness of currently serving officials to serve. BillTally and The Taxpayer’s Tab is intended to educate Americans on the proposals and spending that can affect the federal budget and their own pocketbooks. We are happy not only to write about the many measures being considered in Congress, but also to clarify our work as a bill evolves and makes its way through Congress.

Not a Taxpayer’s Tab subscriber? Get the most up-to-date research from the BillTally project and the spending trends of Congress now!

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