U.S. Emissions Decline Attributed to Economy, Not Decrease in Coal

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: “From 2007 to 2013, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels decreased by about 11%. This decline was widely attributed to a shift from coal to natural gas in US electricity production. However, a new analysis published in the journal Nature Communications shows that, in fact, the recent economic recession accounts for the majority of the decline.”

“In the United States, coal-powered electricity went from 50% to 37% of the generation mix between 2007 and 2012, with the bulk of it replaced by natural gas, in large part due to new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and underground mapping technologies. Because this shift occurred at the same time as the reduction in emissions, many commentators linked the two.”

“From 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83% of the decrease was due to economic factors including consumption and production changes, and just 17% of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. After 2009, emissions declined by only about 1%, and this was due to a mix of all three factors.”

“The study may indicate that further increase in use of natural gas may not have major benefits for the climate. While natural gas can substitute for coal, research also shows that cheap and abundant natural gas can limit the growth of carbon neutral energy sources including solar, wind, and nuclear.”

Jeb Bush Wants to Dock Lawmakers’ Pay

Philip Bump responds to Jeb Bush’s “crazy idea” that “members of Congress should get paid for how much they actually work.”

“Bush didn’t really articulate how the plan would work. But let’s say that the senators only got the same percentage of their $174,000 salaries as the percentage of votes they made. That would result in Graham and Cruz losing $40,000 a year — and Rubio losing $50,000.”

“Let’s apply the Bush formula more broadly. The government’s Office of Personnel Management says a full-time year is 2,087 hours of work — 261 days, or thereabouts. Here’s how Congress’ number of days in session has compared to that standard since 1985.”

“In 2014, the Senate was in session for 136 days and the House for 135. That’s about 52 percent of the OPM standard for work days. Let’s — generously! — give them another 60 days that they worked doing other things, having meetings in districts, etc. That means that each branch worked about 75 percent of a full year — and that each should get about $130,000 of their $174,000 salaries.”

Could the Individual Mandate Increase Obamacare’s Popularity?

National Journal: “Those determined to hate Obamacare on principle might soon find themselves rhetorically stuck between a rock and a hard place as enrollment season approaches.”

“In theory, the more people who enroll in the exchanges established under the law, the more stable premiums become. And with the penalty for being uninsured becoming more severe this year, the reason more people might enroll is the individual mandate.

“The mandate is getting harsher, and that is the law’s tool to drive healthy people into the exchanges, which should help moderate premium increases. So one Republican talking point is working against another.”

“‘The individual mandate is the real wild card here. Some people point to the special enrollment period during tax season as an indication that the individual mandate is not looming large in people’s minds. But I think that is not a good test,’ said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. ‘I think 2016 will be the first real-world test of a tough individual mandate.'”

“Greater exchange-enrollment numbers not only will advance Obamacare’s goal of universal coverage, but also will impact its affordability to those already insured—and, subsequently, its popularity.”

GOP: Obamacare Repeal Plans Are Not Dead

The Hill: “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that he is not abandoning hopes of repealing ObamaCare through this year’s budget process even as a key deadline passes this week.”

“McCarthy acknowledged Republicans will miss Friday’s deadline to outline plans for reconciliation, though he dismissed the deadline as more of a guideline than a mandate. ‘We will not put anything out by July 24. It’s not a hard and fast deadline,’ McCarthy said.”

“Momentum for using reconciliation on healthcare legislation has faded after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold ObamaCare last month, enflaming some conservatives who remain committed to sending a repeal of the healthcare law to the president’s desk.”

Is Donald Trump the Embodiment of the GOP’s Core Values?

Conor Friedersdorf acknowledges that it’s more than likely that GOP moderates will eventually prevail, but “farcical candidacies [like Donald Trump] are difficult for the GOP to avoid or end quickly because the party is averse to certain truths that would help inoculate it against demagogues.”

Friedersdorf outlines six “truths:”

  1. “When someone makes a lot of money in business that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d make a good president or even a good steward of the economy.”
  2. “Just because Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio hosts take a figure seriously it doesn’t mean that anyone else should.”
  3. Criticism by “mainstream media pundits and GOP establishment … of public figures is insightful and accurate. Their arguments should be weighed and grappled with, not reflexively dismissed.”
  4. At times, transgressing against political correctness is a sign of intellectual integrity and bravery.”
  5. “The fact that a public figure drives the left crazy is not itself a good reason for conservatives to rally around them, no matter how emotionally satisfying some find it.”
  6. “Bombastic rhetoric is not a proxy for conservatism.”

Is Donald Trump a Republican? Democrats Don’t Think So.

Philip Bump: “As our colleagues Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill report, Trump now leads the 2016 Republican field according to a new Washington Post/ABC News polling conducted last week. He gained 20 points since the last survey, completed at the end of May.”

“Asked if he represents the core values of the Republican party, 56 percent of respondents said no. But interestingly, Democrats were more likely to say no than Republicans or independents.”

New Temperature Records Set For June

The Hill: “Last month was the hottest June on record globally, setting yet another in a string of temperature records, federal scientists said. A Monday report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also concluded that land and water surface temperatures each hit a new record in June, and the first half of 2015 was also the hottest on record.”

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“The average temperature across all of the world’s land and ocean surfaces in June was 61.48 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest since federal records began in 1880.”

“June is the third month this year to break its monthly record, after March and May, NOAA said in its report.”

Medicaid Enrollment Ticks Up

Associated Press: “More than a dozen states that opted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have seen enrollments surge way beyond projections, raising concerns that the added costs will strain their budgets when federal aid is scaled back starting in two years.”

“Some lawmakers warn the price of expanding the health care program for poor and lower-income Americans could mean less money available for other state services, including education.”

“In the expansion states, enrollment for Medicaid and a related program for children have increased an overall 28.2 percent compared with a three-month period before the law’s implementation, according to the federal government. In a recent report, economic experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said they expect estimated enrollment and per-person cost increases to level off and even decline over the long run.”

“Supporters of expanding Medicaid say states will eventually save money by doing away with some of their own services for the uninsured, such as mental and behavioral health programs, and by reducing payments to hospitals and other providers for treatment of the uninsured.”

The Debate Over the Social Cost of Carbon

Cass Sunstein in Bloomberg addresses the debate over valuing the social cost of carbon.

“This month, the administration provided a big part of the answer with a new report from its Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, which is intended to capture in dollar terms the damage from 1 ton of carbon emissions … The central value is $36.”

“The working group argued forcefully that if all countries set policies only on the basis of domestic effects, their emissions reductions would end up being ‘economically inefficient,’ because no country would take the slightest account of the harms that it imposed on others. If the U.S. adopts a global estimate, on the other hand, it ‘can signal its leadership’ in the effort to obtain international cooperation on emissions reductions.”

“Many environmentalists object that the discount rate [of 3%] is unfair to future generations and that a far lower rate is needed to hedge against the risk of ‘climate catastrophes.’ The working group responded that the 3 percent rate is itself pretty low and that the range, with $105 at the high end, reflects the risk of catastrophe.”

“To be sure, the uncertainties involved here are real, and reasonable people can disagree with the working group’s choices and arguments. But it’s also true … that the working group has engaged in a highly technical — rather than political — exercise, building on existing academic research and promoting transparency about its assumptions and limitations.”