Jan 24 2021: Deregulators seeing(seething) red

You can expect deregulatory advocates to see red over President Biden’s executive order to “modernize regulatory review, ” which could lead to major changes in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), inside the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

This order asks OMB to develop recommendations that “should provide concrete suggestions on how the regulatory review process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.  The recommendations should also include proposals that would ensure that regulatory review serves as a tool to affirmatively promote regulations that advance these values.  These recommendations should be informed by public engagement with relevant stakeholders. “

Decryng that the Biden Administration will put too much emphasis on benefits and not enough costs, expect these voices to get amplified by conservative media. However, the reversals and clamp-downs on benefits was uniquely vicious in the Trump era. If anything, the Biden Adminsitration is simply righting wrongs perpetrated over the past four years.

In the Trump era cost-benefit analyses (CBA), which have long been part of regulatory review, have narrowed and chiefly leaned into the cost side of the equation. We’ve written before about how things like “co-benefits”, e.g., health benefits, were to be ignored in analyzing the benefits side. Just consider what happened in the Mercury Rule. In installing equipment to cut down on mercury, particulate matter (soot) was also reduced with significant health benefits. These, would be excluded, as they were not the intent.

With some minor tuning with each Administration, the CBA process has worked pretty well. Here’s how American Progress describes it: “…whenever an agency has proposed a new federal regulation, it has needed to quantify the costs and benefits to the greatest extent possible, including those that are indirect or ancillary, known as co-costs and co-benefits; analyze the unquantifiable costs and benefits; and put forward a recommended agency action for OIRA to review and approve.”

Nobody likes excessively burdensome regulations but neither should we like forces that inflate costs while simultaneously restricting how reaped benefits can be included.



Jan 23 2021: Utilities—time is right to modernize

“We believe tighter environmental regulations are a net positive for most utilities.” —Charles Fishman, Morningstar

Mr. Fishman goes on to say “We believe tighter environmental regulations are a net positive for most utilities. Growth investments in renewable energy, grid modernization, and electric vehicles should outweigh higher regulatory, operational, and financial risk.”

No surprise to read that renewable energy sources continue to make up a bigger piece of utilities’ sources. Here’s a chart from the US Energy Information Administration showing relative growth patterns. True, renewables are still much smaller, but growth drives investment.

Grid modernization improves reliability and resilience, both of which have grown in concern in this century. In an industry survey 88% of responding utilities say that have a grid modernization strategy.

Despite a somewhat sluggish market for electric passenger cars (can you say “charging stations”?), the market for the transportation sector continues to be positively positioned for electric vehicles.





Jan 6, 2021 The quieting of “Drill Baby Drill”

Today the U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to auction off leases for oil and gas development on more than one million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), in the northeast corner of Alaska. Funny thing is that the expected herd of interested parties has diminished due to market forces.

Drilling in ANWR has been a decades-old battle and the auction today would seemed to cap the fossil fuel industry’s ultimate victory. Not so fast.

There are ongoing lawsuits, naturally. One set back is that yesterday U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason said that groups had not shown a level of harms necessary for her to grant an injunction.

But, what’s also happening is market forces are not encouraging the drillers to drill. There are good reasons for not pursuing:

—lower oil prices and the expense of drilling, exacerbated by climate changes, e.g., warming permafrost

—uncertainty about how much oil is recoverable. US Geologic Survey latest estimate is from 1998 and projects around 10 billion barrels but could be either much lower or higher than that.

—ongoing fuel economy is reducing the demand

—increases from other sources, notably fracking

—large financial institutions, including all five major US banks, have refused or are restricting financing

Ultimately, climate change has become so obvious that the call to be better global citizens encourages fossil fuel companies and their financial backers to have second thoughts and tone down the cry to “drill baby drill.”



Jan 3, 2021: The Future is Renewables

Renewable energies keep increasing, despite efforts to shore up fossil fuels. Retardation of the advance of renewables will not be the order of the day under a Biden Administration. Still the pace of change could be accelerated if markets operate logically and artificial brakes are not applied. “Leading U.S. utilities increasingly understand that renewable electricity can be a driver of rate base growth while legacy assets become a drag on cash flow.” (https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/research/the-2020-us-renewable-energy-outlook)

I was inspired to write about this by this article in Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/29/trump-biden-clean-energy-451546

Pretty easy to find charts showing growth, such as this chart from a Forbes article. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2020/08/02/renewable-energy-growth-continues-at-a-blistering-pace/?sh=ea515de76b60


There’s a lot the Biden Administration can do: Allow states (e.g., CA) to impose vehicle emissions limitations, energy efficiency (starting by not complaining about shower flow), offshore wind permits (NIMBY concerns notwithstanding), policies and personnel that seriously take a look at carbon tax and more.

Here in Tennessee there’s a sense that it leads other Southeastern states, notably in hydroelectric power. But Tennessee does not have a renewables portfolio standard, so there’s a lot of variation and uncertainty. Groups exist to promote renewables here in TN, such as the Tennessee Renewable Energy & Economic Development Council (TREEDC), which is a statewide network of 101 city and county mayors and businesses working together to create a path to fast-track renewables in Tennessee. Projects listed on their website: statewide energy forums, project development/financing, legislative outreach, solar development for communities, municipal wastes to energy, biofuels for governmental fleets, compressed natural gas for fleets. Maryville is among the government partners. https://www.treedc.us/index.html

We’ll revisit this topic in 2021 because the pace of renewables adoption and standardization deserves our attention.

Dec 18, 2020: Trees & Carbon legislation

Lots to like in this proposed legislation, which opens with these words “To establish forestry policies that facilitate reforestation, conservation, inter- national cooperation, and other ecologically sound management practices that reduce atmospheric carbon, to support United States efforts in partnership with the One Trillion Trees Initiative, to encourage the sustainable management, restoration, and conservation of global forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal habitats, and for other purposes.”

Consider just a few things: -increasing the net carbon stock of American forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal blue carbon habitats, -carbon credit market demonstration (alas, only voluntary but still good!) – carbon sequestration, – authorizes $10 million for USDA Forest Nursery Revival programs to ensure that the supply of seeds and saplings allows for increased planting (better if were explicitly more focused on natives), encourages international and multi-agency cooperation.


Nov 20 2020: Climate Change and increasing infectious diseases

75% of emerging infectious diseases have wildlife origins. Climate change plays a role as cold-adapted species will be more susceptible to the bacteria, fungi, viruses and infectious worms that will be on the move.

So it’s not just ancient diseases being released in unfrozen tundra or the misguided carelessness of open-air markets, new and old infectious diseases (notably malaria) will be on the rise due to climate change.

Climate change is not just about what we face outside (i.e., floods, dramatic storms, heat waves), it is about our insides, too!



June 10 -BCDP Issues Survey 2020

The Blount County Democratic Party is interested in how you would rate the importance of issues, based on your life here in Blount County. We are asking because we want to focus on what to do after we win elections when we will govern and solve problems for people. We understand our first mission to replace the current Administration and all the enablers. This is about what comes after that.

We ask that you fill out this survey in this online portal. Your answers will be tabulated along with those from other people in Blount County. Your answers will help determine which issues should get the most attention from BCDP.

Thank you for you participation.

May 25 – Being Present with Absentee Voting

Roll calls. Stating “Present” or “Here”. It is the way to count you showed up and it is also your way to make your presence known on the line, in the drill, through the crowd.

Voting absentee is kind of like that. It is your way to have your vote be counted even if you are not physically present. It should be as simple and as powerful as saying “I’m here. Count my vote.”

Voting absentee is not that simple in Tennessee, which is one of only 16 states that require voters to list a qualifying excuse to get an absentee ballot. Contrast that with 29 states and Washington, D.C., which allow every voter to vote absentee without the need to provide a reason or “excuse”. Plus, there are the five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — who vote exclusively by mail.

Because of the Covid-19 virus some states are easing voting limitations. Whether just for the upcoming primary for now or permanent, some states removed the need for an excuse for voting absentee. Nearly half of the states, including our neighbor Kentucky, have made voting easier by either through removing or reducing restrictions or by mailing out ballots.

Governor Lee has said fear of Covid-19 should not be a reason to vote absentee. We say one should not have to choose between voting and risking one’s health. However, we shouldn’t need a pandemic to change things. We should move forward on no-excuse absentee voting because voting should simply be easier to do.

According to a Pew Research poll, 3 out of 4 Americans (Republicans and Democrats) favor greater access to absentee voting.

What about potential voter fraud? Voter Fraud is rare. For example, the conservative Heritage Foundation in their database found only 1,277 cases going back decades to 1979. Furthermore, the cases of absentee fraud were found in stricter states, not in the “no-excuse states”.

States have a long history of assuring absentee votes by checking to see that the voter is properly registered and the signature on the ballot matches the one on file. Counties and states may need support in equipment and staff hours, but we think this would be worth it to assure all registered voters would have the option to vote-by-mail.

So, before we succeed in getting excuse-free absentee voting, check out this list and see if you qualify to vote Absentee in Tennessee. You can apply now to get a ballot.
1) Individuals who will be out of the county during early voting & election day
2) Full-time students and spouses of students enrolled in accredited college, university or similarly accredited institution of learning outside of home county
3) Permanent Absentee voter (Requires a written statement from the person’s physician that the voter is medically unable to appear at his/her polling pace to vote early.)
4) Full-time resident of licensed nursing home, home for the aged, or similar licensed institution providing relatively permanent domiciliary care outside of home county
5) Serving on a jury
6) 60 years of age or older
7) Candidates for office
8) Election Officials
9) Individuals observing a religious holiday
10) Sickness, physical disability, or hospitalization
11) Voter with a disability and the polling place is inaccessible
12) Caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled
13) Credentialed commercial driver or transportation worker who will be out of the county during early voting and on Election Day

Some additional instruction from Blount Count Election Commission:
“A request to vote absentee by-mail must be initiated by the voter.  The voter must return it to the Election Commission via fax, email, mail, or in person.  The request to vote absentee by-mail cannot be solicited for another voter.  Requests can be accepted up to 7 days prior to the election. Upon receipt and review of your signed request, the Election Commission will mail a set of absentee voting supplies to you. Please follow the instructions carefully, and be sure to contact the Election Commission at 865-273-5920 if you have any questions about your ballot. After completing the ballot and signing the accompanying affidavit, mail the ballot to the Election Commission. No hand-carried absentee ballots will be accepted at the Election Commission or the precinct.  They must be received in the mail or courier service.”