Renewable Potential is Undersold by Federal Policymakers

Inside Climate News: “The Energy Information Administration—the federal agency responsible for forecasting energy trends—has consistently and significantly underestimated the potential of renewable energy sources, misinforming Congress, government agencies and others that use the forecasts to analyze and develop policies, according to a report by a trade group of clean energy companies.”

“Wind generating capacity, for example, has increased on average by about 6.5 gigawatts each of the past 8 years, according to the report released Monday by Advanced Energy Economy, the trade association. But the EIA has projected that only 6.5 gigawatts would be added between 2017 and 2030.”

“The EPA relied on EIA estimates in developing national carbon regulations for power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. The rules set state-level emission reduction targets, which the EPA partly calculated by estimating the potential for renewable energy generation. Because the EPA used the EIA’s assumptions, it underestimated renewables growth and set less ambitious targets than it could have done, according to Katofsky and researchers at the Union of Concerned Scientists and other environmental groups.”

“The trade group contends that the EIA has consistently overestimated—sometimes by more than 50 percent—the cost of power produced from renewables and capacity.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down EPA Pollution Rules

The Guardian: “The US supreme court struck down new rules for America’s biggest air polluters on Monday, dealing a blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to set limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic and other toxins coal-fired power plants can spew into the air, lakes and rivers.”

“The 5-4 decision was a major setback to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and could leave the agency more vulnerable to legal challenges from industry and Republican-led states to its new carbon pollution rules.”

Vox: “The mercury rule will stay into effect for the time being, but the EPA will need to reconsider it in the months ahead, taking costs more fully into account. In his opinion, Scalia remanded the decision back to the DC Circuit Court with this guidance: ‘EPA must consider cost — including cost of compliance — before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the Agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.'”

“Now, we will have to see whether the DC Circuit Court simply orders the EPA to carry out additional analyses — or decides to strike down the rule altogether. Even if the rule does get struck down, however, the practical impact on mercury pollution may be relatively limited.”

Republicans Have Lost the Obamacare Policy War

David Leonhardt: “Republicans … have made undoing the law known as Obamacare their central domestic priority over the past five years.”

“Yet now most experts believe that Obamacare is here to stay. Even if Republicans win back the White House in 2016, they are unlikely to have as good an opportunity to damage the law as the Supreme Court had … The Republicans can still win the electoral battle in 2016, but they appear to have lost the policy war over health care.”

“How, then, can the court’s ruling in favor of the health law – a ruling whose details were even more favorable to the law’s long-term standing than many court watchers expected – be good for Republicans?”

“The short answer is that it isn’t, not if you believe politics exists as a lever to affect government. The longer answer is that Republicans had already lost the war, well before the court ruled on Thursday.”

“They lost it in 2014, when the law began providing real benefits to millions of people – health insurance to a combination of middle-class, poor and sick Americans who could not have afforded it otherwise. Modern American history makes clear that once the social safety net expands in a major way, it’s almost impossible for anyone to reverse it.”

The Obamacare Fight Continues

New York Times Editorial Board warns that “there are myriad ways the current Republican Congress, future Congresses or a future Republican president could subvert important elements of the law or render it inoperative.”

“It is imperative that in 2016 voters elect people to Congress and the White House in 2016 who will support health care reform. It is equally important that as many uninsured people as possible be reached and enrolled in private plans or Medicaid. The greater the number of people who benefit from the health reform law, the harder it will be to dismantle it.”

“States will have an important role to play in expanding coverage. Some 21 states, the vast majority run by Republican governors, have refused to expand their Medicaid programs to include childless adults and people with higher incomes, as the law allows … Yet the Republicans, gripped by an irrational hostility to helping the poor, would rather hurt the uninsured and damage their state economies by refusing federal money.”

“It has long been clear that the Republicans in Congress have no workable plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act, and can’t even fake it. The Republican presidential candidates think they can energize their base with pledges to repeal reform.”

Has the Supreme Court Become Another Political Institution?

Megan Garber in the Atlantic argues that the Supreme Court “has reached a new nadir of partisan rancor. The Justices didn’t simply disagree on the outcomes of cases; they disagreed on the cases’ moral premises. They disagreed on their own roles in deciding what those premises might be. They descended, as a body, into a kind of judicial chaos, throwing up their hands beneath their heavy robes.”

Justice Scalia’s “characteristically avuncular dissents … are evidence of anger; they’re also evidence, more worryingly, of a new kind of nihilism that has creeped into the Court. They’re evidence that partisanship, contra Roberts’ early and perhaps naive hopes, hasn’t been expunged from the Court. That partisanship has, instead, infiltrated it.

“And, though Scalia is the most prominent and arguably the most media-savvy of SCOTUS’s scorn-hurlers, he is by no means alone in his scorched-earth approach.”

“That opinions and dissents are now operating at the heights of moral messaging and the depths of ad-hominem attack is a relatively recent phenomenon—one that has a metaphor, if not a full analogue, in the bitter divides that have become so familiar in other branches of government. SCOTUS is acting like Congress.”

Obamacare Ruling Round-up

New York Times Editorial Board: “The case challenging the law, King v. Burwell, was always an ideological farce dressed in a specious legal argument, and the court should never have taken review of it to begin with.”

“Thursday’s decision was a powerful defense of the law, stronger than observers might have expected from this court.”

Linda Greenhouse: “Justice Scalia derided the majority opinion as a ‘defense of the indefensible.’ But what would be truly indefensible, I believe the chief justice and Justice Kennedy came to understand, was the Supreme Court itself, if it bought a cynically manufactured and meritless argument and thus came to be perceived as a partisan tool.”

“This whole exercise was unnecessary, the outcome too close for comfort. But there is cause for celebration in a disaster narrowly averted — for the country and the court, which is to say, for us all.”

Ezra Klein: “In the aggregate, there’s a case to be made that the Roberts Court, in general, is coming to liberal decisions more often than was expected … But in this case, even if liberals are happy with the Obamacare decision and conservatives are upset about it, deferring to Congress’s clear intent is supposed to be the way conservative judges rule.”

Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs: “This new Supreme Court decision, rejecting an ultraright challenge to the nationwide subsidies that allow lower-middle-income Americans to buy affordable private health insurance on state-level exchanges established by the federal government, will speed the already remarkable implementation of health reform. And that progress has been truly rapid by historical standards.”

Krugman: Obamacare Survives and ‘It’s a Beautiful Thing’

Paul Krugman: “Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against ‘interpretive jiggery-pokery.’ But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.”

“That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.”

SCOTUS Opinion Leaves No Room for Doubt

Greg Sargent: Chief Justice Roberts’ “opinion may have precluded any future efforts by a Republican president to use executive discretion to cancel the subsidies for the millions of people on the federal exchange. This option might have been left open if the ruling had been written differently.”

The opinion “ultimately did not base its conclusion on ‘Chevron deference,’ i.e., the idea that Courts should defer to the discretion exercised by an agency (in this case the IRS) when interpreting seemingly confusing or self-contradictory statutes.”

“The court held that it would not presume that Congress implicitly intended to defer such a central decision to the agency. As such, the Court’s task was to determine the ‘correct’ reading of the disputed phrase.”

“A strong six member majority of the court is coalescing around this very clean argument,’ [Yale Law School Professor Abbe Gluck said].  ‘That sends a strong signal to people who politically oppose the law that the court understands the law and is not going to tolerate more of this frivolous litigation that tries to destroy the statute by distorting it.’”

GOP Reaction to Obamacare Ruling? Relief

Vox: “Amid a flurry of official statements declaring shock, outrage, and disappointment after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance subsidies Thursday, Republicans quietly confided they were feeling something else, too: relief.”

“So even though Chief Justice John Roberts wrote another opinion upholding the health-care law, the conservative actually did Republicans a favor. The 6-3 ruling spares House and Senate GOP leaders from having to act. And it liberates Republican primary contenders from having to talk about subsidies. Instead, Republicans can return to the safe ground of ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare rhetoric rather than having to go down the far riskier road to action.”

A lot of Republicans “weren’t looking forward to spending the rest of this Congress talking about how to put Obama’s law back together. It would have been a messy process, with no guarantee that they could get a plan through either or both chambers. And, of course, there’s little chance that they could have found common ground with Obama to sign their fix.”

“That is, they were facing a whole lot of work with little likelihood of having anything to show for it at the end of the process — other than yet another highly charged political battle over the same law.”

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

New York Times: “The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law may provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance.”

“Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion in the 6-to-3 decision. The court’s three most conservative members — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented.”

“Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan.”

“’In this instance,’ he wrote, ‘the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.’

“’Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,’ he added. “’f at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.’”

Jonathan Cohn: “The decision is a major defeat for conservatives, who have been trying to wipe Obamacare off the books ever since its enactment in 2010. The sweeping reform law, a key component of President Barack Obama’s legacy, now appears to be secure at least through the 2016 elections. Its fate beyond that will depend on who becomes president next year — and whether Republicans in Congress are willing to keep fighting for repeal.”