American Elephants

SWAT Teams From the EPA, NOAA, and the Department of Education? by The Elephant's Child

SWAT team

The proliferation of federal SWAT teams is troubling. In late February four armed federal agents with a drug-sniffing dog descended on the Taos Ski Valley in what was called a “saturation patrol.” The agents were working on tips of possible drug selling and impaired driving in the ski resort’s parking lot and surrounding area. The armed agents were from the U.S. Forest Service.

Did you know that the Department of Education has SWAT teams? They can invade your home at gunpoint and hold you and your family in custody for hours. In 2011, federal “education” agents busted down the front door of Kenneth Wright’s Stockton home at 6 in the morning. Wright’s terrified children— 3, 9, and 11 were forced to sit in a patrol car for two hours, Wright was in custody for six hours.

The Education Department had a broad search warrant and seized paperwork and a personal computer. The agents, 13 from the Education Department and a couple of police officers — told him they were investigating his estranged wife’s use of federal aid for students. She didn’t even live in the house.

Are you obeying all the thousands of regulations in the Federal Register? Are you prepared for early-morning break-ins by the USDA, Railroad Retirement Board, Bureau of Land Management, Tennessee Valley Authority, Office of Personnel Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, EPA, Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Park Service, and NOAA— the folks who monitor the atmosphere and forecast the weather have 96 special agents and 28 armed enforcement officers.

An armed EPA raid in Alaska sheds light on 70 federal agencies with armed divisions. The incident that sparked the raid was last August when a team of armed federal and state officials descended on the tiny Alaska gold mining  town of Chicken,  Alaska — looking for possible violations of the Clean Water Act. This is not the first time the EPA has descended on citizens with a SWAT team, but it is clearly excessive. Violating the Clean Water Act indeed.

We’re getting into Fourth and Fifth Amendment territory here.

Your Power Bill Is Going Up. Blame The Environmental Movement. by The Elephant's Child

America is is the midst of an energy boom. Fracking technology has released abundant oil and gas stored in shale deposits. The amazing paradox of the domestic fossil-fuels boom has been overwhelming destructive federal government policy. The U.S.Oil boom driven by private investment and ingenuity has transformed North American oil markets. The International Energy Agency estimates that America will surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producers by 2015.

Oddly, in the midst of an energy boom, U.S. electricity prices have skyrocketed to new highs. This paradox is not a result of the free market, but of runaway “green” regulation by the government. In November, the BLS Electricity Price Index hit 202.284, an all-time record high nearly 20% higher than just six  years ago. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2008 the U.S. produced 2.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Today, it’s 12.3 billion cubic feet and growing fast. But as energy booms, electricity prices are going up as well.

What is at work here is the green movement’s moral beliefs about what kinds of energy are “good.” Wind and solar power, which are “morally pure” cannot exist without generous governmental (taxpayer) subsidy. Wind and sunshine are of course free, but as producers of electricity, very expensive. The wind is intermittent and must be backed up 24/7 by conventional power, and the wind may not blow for days at a time. The sun goes down at night, and only shines in the day when the clouds don’t cover it. Trust me, I live in the Seattle area. We call the occasional appearances of the sun “sun-breaks.”

Electricity is now one of the most regulated goods in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency has sweeping powers to regulate CO2 — a power not found anywhere in the Constitution, electricity has become even more expensive, and will get more so. The EPA’s new rules, put in place to pander to the environmental movement will remove 34,705 megawatts of coal-based energy capacity off the market. This will increase electricity prices and the cost of everything where electricity is used.

This is a de facto ban on all new coal-fired power plants in spite of the fact that coal produces a third of all electricity in the country due to its cheap coast and plentiful supply.  Despite the fact that CO2 levels are falling in the U.S., not rising, and despite the fact that the earth is cooling, not warming, as it has been for the last 17 years.

The demonization of coal and other fossil fuels means that utilities must shut coal-fired plants, and replace them with more costly energy sources like wind and solar. This is an enormous hidden energy tax, levied on every individual and every business — killing jobs and adding to the unemployment rolls.

Chicago political rules mean you must reward your financial supporters. The environmental movement is flush with money, wind and solar are awash with crony capitalism, and besides, the cost of higher electric bills will be borne by taxpayers.

Of course higher electricity bills on top of higher grocery bills, higher cost health insurance and higher cost of medical care may seem unreasonable. When confronted with a problem, Democrats first reaction is to make a law, to regulate. But that’s where the whole problem came from in the first place — excessive regulation.

Ironically, the very success of economic and  political freedom reduced its appeal to later thinkers. The narrowly limited government of the late nineteenth century possessed little concentrated power that endangered the ordinary man. The other side of the coin was that it possessed little power that would enable good people to do good.  And in an imperfect world there were still many evils. Indeed, the very progress of society made the residual evils seem all the more objectionable. As always people took the favorable developments for granted. They forgot the danger to freedom from a strong government. Instead, they were attracted by the good that a stronger government could achieve — if only government power were in the “right” hands.
…………………Milton and Rose Friedman: Free to Choose

Ten of the Worst Regulations of 2012—This Is Big Government. by The Elephant's Child

Regulations have flowed out of the Obama administration like trickles of water that make gushing streams and become mighty rivers. The economy is drowning in them. The rules imposed by the government have little to do with health and safety, and much to do with power and whether the government or private individuals get to make basic pocketbook and lifestyle decisions that affect their lives.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the regulators that are to blame. Congress increasingly writes laws that pass off power to unelected bureaucrats to wield broad powers to which they are not entitled. It is Congress’ job to write the bills and determine the regulation for which they are ultimately responsible, not pass it on. Each regulation has big costs for the economy in both economic growth and increased unemployment.

Here are ten of the very worst regulations from 2012, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation:

1. HHS’s Contraception Mandate

The Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 15 finalized its mandate that all health insurance plans include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. To date 42 cases with more than 110 plaintiffs are challenging the restriction on religious liberty.

2. EPA Emissions Standards

In February, the EPA finalized strict new emission standards for coal- and oil-fired electric utilities. The benefits are questionable, the majority unrelated to the emissions targeted by the regulation. Science is determining that CO2 is not the cause of climate change. The costs are an estimated $9.6 billion annually.

3. Fuel Efficiency Standards

In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the EPA finalized the fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, for model years 2017-2025. The rules require 54.5 mpg by 2025. Sticker prices will jump by hundreds of dollars. The climate will not change because of the standards.

4. New York’s 16-Ounce Soda Limit

NY Mayor Bloomberg pushed the NY City Board of Health to ban the sale of soda and other sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. Those who are thirsty can just buy two smaller size.

5. Dishwasher Efficiency Standards

Even the regulators admit that these DOE rules will do little (nothing) for the environment. Proponents claim they will save consumers money, cutting back on water and energy. Big increase in cost of a dishwasher, few customers will keep the dishwasher long enough to recoup the cost. Please get out of my kitchen.

6. School Lunch Standards

The Dept. of Agriculture in January published stringent nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs. More than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools are affected—at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion over the next 4 years. Students are in open revolt, they hate the food.

7. Quickie Union Election Rules

The NLRB in April, issued new rules that shorten the time allowed for union-organizing elections to between 10 and 21 days. This leaves little time for employees to make a fully informed choice on unionizing. but President Obama advances the union cause at every opportunity.

8. Essential Benefits Rule

Under ObamaCare, insurers in the individual and small group markets are forced to cover services that the government deems to be essential, whether your doctor deems them essential or not. Under ObamaCare, directions will come from unaccountable bureaucrats, not your own physician.

9. Electronic Data Recorder Mandate

The National Highway Safety Administration in December issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to mandate installation of electronic data recorders (“black boxes”) in most light vehicles starting in 2014. Raises the cost of a vehicle, and invades your privacy.

10. “Simplified” Mortgage Disclosure and Servicing Rules

The New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (unneeded agency created in phony Congressional recess) released their proposal for a more “consumer-friendly” mortgage process to simplify home loans. The simplifying rules run an astonishing 1,099 pages which were followed a month later with 560 more pages for rules of mortgage servicing.  That’s what bureaucracy does.

Follow the fascination progress of government moving to control your every move. See Heritage’s funny but sad Tales of the Red Tape series on The Foundry.

The Problem of Regulation: The USDA Lays An Egg. by The Elephant's Child

The Obama Administration is absolutely opposed to requiring photo ID to cast a ballot. But the administration’s  latest bright idea comes down as a rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requiring the nation’s farmers to prove the identity of every chicken that is transported across state lines. What? This is Ethel, Genevieve and Mabel — Henrietta is the red one.

A flock that is hatched, fatted and butchered as a single unit may be transported from state to state with a “group identification,” but chickens of varying ages and sources may be mingled. In that case, under the law, they will have to attach sealed and numbered leg bands to every bird they transport.

The feds say the regulation is needed to improve the “traceability” of livestock in order to control animal disease. However the Regulatory Impact Analysis that comes with the proposed rule lacks “any quantification of benefits of the very real costs. Nearly 9 billion chickens went to market last year, moving from hatcheries to farms to slaughter houses. Life expectancy for broilers is only five to eight weeks. In that time  their IDs would have to be changed several times  — with documentation — to accommodate leg growth. The USDA wants all such records to be maintained for five  years.

I wonder who owns the factory that produces the “sealed and numbered leg bands” and accompanying documentation forms. As they always say: “Follow the money.”

A few years back, I thought the ultimate bureaucratic boneheadedness had been achieved when the EU required farmers to write the name of the chicken and the farm on each egg sent to market. I never read of the results of that one, or if it endures. This would seem to equal the stupidity.

Benefits? Non-existent.  Any evidence of disease  typically results in the destruction of the flock. Only healthy birds are eligible for slaughter and resale. But keeping records on previously deceased chickens for five years is absurd.

This regulation clearly demonstrates that there are way too many federal employees who don’t have enough to do, and departments can be slashed or eliminated with a clear conscience. Way to go, Secretary Vilsack. You’ve just proved something many of us have been claiming for years, and demonstrated the regulatory burden that government places on small business.

The Regulatory Burden on Small Business is Estimated to Be $1.75 Trillion Annually. by The Elephant's Child

One of the biggest whoppers in Obama’s Kansas ‘fairness’ speech was his claim that tax cuts and deregulation have “never worked” to grow the economy. This is absurd. Countries with greater economic freedom consistently produce greater overall prosperity. President Reagan’s program of lower taxes and deregulation led to a two-decade  economic boom.

The Small Business Administration says that the regulatory burden on our economy is a staggering $1.75 trillion annually. If it were implemented correctly, cutting the regulatory burden would provide a cost-free stimulus almost immediately. Cass Sunstein, who heads up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, calls it an “urban myth”, though the methodology from which those numbers are derived are widely accepted. Well, that’s what Democrats do — regulate.

Wayne Crews surveys the growth of the regulatory state every year in a report called Ten Thousand Commandments, every year since 1996. Over that span, he has seen the number of pages in the Federal Register grow from 67,000 to 81,405. Each page contains a rule that imposes costs on businesses. Owners usually give up and hire someone to handle compliance when they reach a size of about 30 employees. The costs of complying with regulations average $10,585 per employee, the SBA says.

The Chamber of Commerce surveys show that over 60% of small businesses have no plans to hire in the next year, and firms point to greater regulation or the threat of it as a major reason.

— The federal plumbing police are reviewing water efficiency standards for urinals, last reviewed in 1998. The DOE must, according to law, allow the states to toughen the requirements if the feds don’t do it  within 5 years. This can be found in the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products Other Than Automobiles which also regulates the efficiency of toilets, faucets and showers. Add refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, furnaces, dishwashers, light bulbs and more.

Urinals are also regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which requires one urinal for every 40 workers at a construction site for companies with less than 200 employees, and one for every 50 workers where more than 200 are employed.  The Americans With Disabilities Act also controls the proper dimensions and placement of bowls.

— A family farmer in California grows almonds and walnuts on about 40 acres. He has to deal with the state Water Resources Control Board which allows him rights to 405 acre-feet of water a year.  The state Department of Pesticide Regulation requires reports on what he uses for navel orangeworm and husk fly and codling moth. If he didn’t do it himself with state certification, there would be other safety rules.  The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District  issues permits for burning pruned limbs. There’s the state and federal Occupational Safety and Health, and the state Employment Development Department which require paperwork for the farm’s one employee. There’s the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan for above-ground petroleum tanks. Of 81,500 farms and ranches, ¾ sell less than $100,000 of crops and commodities.

Another farmer near Modesto has 450 acres in almonds and walnuts. During harvest time he’s required to keep down the dust.  So he went looking for a 2,000-gallon water truck, and found a nice one that fit the bill. The dealer couldn’t sell it to him without costly modifications because the California Air Resources Board was cracking down on emissions from diesel trucks.

— From the other side of the country, the crew of Carlos Rafael’s 76-foot steel dragger fishing boat captured a giant bluefin tuna in their trawl gear while fishing offshore. Rafael immediately called a bluefin tuna hot line maintained by fishery regulators to report the catch. These fish are highly prized in Japan. A 754 lb. specimen fetched a record price in Tokyo, selling for nearly $396,000.

When Rafael met the boat in Provincetown, agents from NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement informed him they were confiscating his fish, all 881 pounds of it.  Even though the catch had been declared and the boat had a tuna permit, the rules do not allow fishermen to catch bluefin tuna in a net.  They said it had to be caught with a rod and reel.  After being towed in the net, the fish was already dead.  A public affairs specialist with NOAA said the fish has been forfeited and will be sold on consignment oversees. If it is determined that there was a violation the money will go to the asset forfeiture fund.

— New rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor aim to protect children’s safety in a dangerous industry — family farms. They intend to restrict the chores children can be hired to perform like driving a tractor or rounding up cattle in corrals on horseback. The rules would bar young people under 16 years of age from operating power equipment, branding or breeding farm animals or working on ladders higher than 6 feet. Under the regulations a rancher wouldn’t be able to hire local kids to move hay  or pull the grain cart at harvest time. Farm injury rates have declined 59% from 1998 to 2009.  Current labor laws allow children under 16 to work on farms when they aren’t in school but limit the tasks they can do.

Lorinda Carlson, who owns a small orchard in Chelan County WA, said the law would make it harder to hire the five 13-15 year-old workers who usually help her load cherries during harvest season, a job few adults are willing to do.

They’re Coming to Take You Away! Ha Ha! They’re Coming to Take You Away! by The Elephant's Child

FREDRICKSBURG, Va. (WUSA) — Eleven year-old aspiring veterinarian ,Skylar Capo, sprang into action the second she learned that a baby woodpecker in her Dad’s backyard was about to be eaten by the family cat.

“I’ve just always loved animals,”said Skylar Capo. “I couldn’t stand to watch it be eaten.”

She couldn’t find the woodpecker’s mother , so she brought the baby bird to her own mother Alison Capo, who agreed to take it home.  “She was just going to take care of it for a day or two, make sure it was safe and uninjured, and then she was going to let it go,”

On the way home they stopped at a Lowes in Fredricksburg and brought the bird inside because of the heat.  That’s when they were confronted by a fellow shopper who said she worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She pulled out a badge.

The problem was that the woodpecker is a protected species under the Federal Migratory Bird Act.  Therefore, it is illegal to take or transport a baby woodpecker.  The Capos said they had no idea. As soon as they got home, they opened the cage, the bird flew away, and they reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “They said that’s great, that’s exactly what we want to see. We thought we had done everything we could possibly do. ”

About two weeks later the same woman showed up at the Capo house.  This time, accompanied by a state trooper.  Capo refused to accept a citation, but was later mailed a notice to appear in U.S. District Court for unlawfully taking a migratory bird.  She has also been slapped with a $535 fine.  If convicted she could face a year in jail.

After a little publicity, the Service determined that no further action was warranted and the ticket should not have been issued.

The amount of excessive regulation that needs to be undone is a little frightening.

(h/t: Moonbattery)

Will There Actually Be Real Regulatory Reform? Don’t Bet On It. by The Elephant's Child

If, as we asserted, excessive regulation is one of the biggest barriers to hiring, to more job creation, what is the Obama administration doing about it?

Is is truly, as law professor Todd Zywiki says: the Obama administration believes “in a regulatory state in which regulators are seen as disinterested experts with the factual knowledge, practical wisdom, and unwavering integrity to manage the economy.  They alone are presumed to be capable of steering the nation toward prosperity.”

I certainly don’t believe in any ‘disinterested experts.’  I’m a little suspicious of anyone claiming to be an expert in much of anything, and when you get into ‘practical wisdom’ and ‘unwavering integrity’ you have lost me entirely.

Remember that President Obama has hired a regulatory czar, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, whose official title is Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is part of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.  Mr. Sunstein recently wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “21st Century Regulation: An Update of the President’s Reforms.”

He said “A 21-st century regulatory system must promote economic growth, innovation and job-creation while also protecting public health and welfare.  Earlier this year, President Obama outlined his plan to create such a system by adopting a simpler, smarter and more cost-effective approach to regulation.  As a key part of that plan, he called for an unprecedented government-wide review of regulations already on the books so that we can improve or remove those that are out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules.

I’ll bet there is a regulation that requires all members of the administration, when speaking about policies, to include ‘21st Century.’ “innovation,” simpler, smarter and more cost-effective,” and “unprecedented.” The Obama administration seems unusually determined to insist that everything they do is 21st Century.  I spent most of my life in the 20th Century, and I can’t recall anyone ever making a big deal about what century it was.

At any rate, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is “eliminating over 1.9 million hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers, saving tens of millions of dollars every year.” They are getting rid of regulations that require ‘film x-rays instead of digital.’

The EPA is going to quit defining milk as an “oil” as it has been since 1970, and eliminating the costly rules on the agricultural community designed to prevent “oil spills.” Dairy farmers will get an exemption. This will save $1.4 billion over the next decade. They also propose to eliminate the obligation for many states to require air pollution vapor recovery systems at local gas stations, since modern vehicles already have effective air pollution control technologies. The projected annual savings are $67 million.

Other agencies are proposing, or considering, or pursuing.  They have been listening, and developing plans, and two-and-a-half-years into the Obama administration, Mr. Sunstein is releasing reform plans.  Which, of course, is a defining moment.

Heritage defines this as the low-hanging fruit of regulatory relief — things that should have never been instituted and repealed long ago. Dairy farmers have been asking for repeal of the “oil spill” regulations since 2007. Most “actions” are simply suggestions for change at some later date. Of the 31 rules in the EPA’s formal plan, only two are actual rule changes.  The fact that it took 4 years to get the oil spill regulations changed demonstrates how broken the regulatory system is.  The EPA is a veritable treasure vault of unnecessary regulation, and the spigot of new regulation is still flowing full-on.

It is encouraging that they are trying to do something, but it remains way easier to issue new rules than it is to get everybody to agree that one can be parted with.  Don’t expect too much.  The uncertainty remains.

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