Court stops costly EPA rules, but Nevada has already taken the leap

The Supreme Court today stopped the EPA from imposing strict limits on power plant emissions, mostly from coal-fired plants, because it failed to take into account the cost would hugely exceed any potential benefits.

But Nevada’s lawmakers have already jumped off this cliff, deciding to shut down all the state’s coal-fired power plants no matter what the cost to ratepayers and the economy.

Writing for the 5-4 majority today, Justice Antonin Scalia found the EPA acted unreasonably when it deemed cost irrelevant to its regulations. He noted that the EPA claimed it had the power to act even if its rules caused more damage to the environment than they prevented.

“In accordance with Executive Order, the Agency issued a ‘Regulatory Impact Analysis’ alongside its regulation,” Scalia wrote. “This analysis estimated that the regulation would force power plants to bear costs of $9.6 billion per year. The Agency could not fully quantify the benefits of reducing power plants’ emissions of hazardous air pollutants; to the extent it could, it estimated that these benefits were worth $4 (million) to $6 million per year. The costs to power plants were thus between 1,600 and 2,400 times as great as the quantifiable benefits from reduced emissions of hazardous air pollutants.”

I wonder if that ratio could be applied to cost of SB123, which was passed by the 2013 Nevada Legislature? If I recall correctly, one of the arguments in support of SB123 was that the EPA would eventually shut down coal plants anyway.

Twenty-one states did not cave in, but successfully sued to stop the EPA rules. Hold onto your wallets, Nevadans, we are about to pay the price.

Reid Gardner power plant. (R-J file photo by Gary Thompson)

 

Editorial: The IRS should back off changing gaming rules

The Internal Revenue Service is pondering new rules regarding tax reporting by casinos — including tracking player rewards and loyalty card programs and lowering the threshold for reporting electronic jackpots from $1,200 to $600.

At a hearing in Washington this past week Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, testified that the proposed changes would be “far more complicated, onerous and unproductive than may have been understood” by the IRS.

In fact, a Wall Street analyst has estimated the regulations could result in $530,000 less in revenue annually per casino. That might mean the new regulations would not increase tax collections, but actually reduce them.

Seventeen members of the House of Representatives who represent districts with casinos — including all four of Nevada’s representatives, Joe Heck, Mark Amodei, Cresent Hardy and Dina Titus — have sent a letter to the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen urging the agency back off the changes.

They noted that the gaming industry supports 1.7 million jobs in this country from $240 billion in business activity and the proposed changes would have detrimental affects on those jobs and local economies.

“Since the $1,200 threshold level was originally adopted in 1977, to account for indexed inflation the threshold should actually be approximately $4,700 today,” the letter argues. “We strongly believe the IRS should not consider any reduction of this reporting threshold, as any lowering from $1,200 would have significant negative impacts on casino operations and consumers. Any reduction in this threshold would dramatically raise costs to comply, decrease gaming revenue due to more frequent ‘lock-ups,’ and would greatly increase the burden workload for IRS.”

Sounds like a full-employment plan for IRS paper pushers because the agency would be flooded with W-2G forms. The cost of processing the paper could well exceed any additional revenue.

In prepared remarks for the IRS hearing AGA’s Freeman said, “Finally, regarding the suggestion in the proposed guidance that sometime in the future the slot jackpot reporting threshold could be cut in half, from the current $1,200 level to $600, to be clear the casino gaming industry strongly opposes any such reduction. Our written comments detail the myriad adverse impacts that would result for the customer, the IRS and the industry — ranging from significant labor cost increases to more lost business revenue from machine down-time. We do not believe that the resulting flood of additional W-2Gs to the IRS will produce any meaningful additional tax revenue and will simply be more administrative burden for everyone involved, including the IRS.”

After the Washington hearing Freeman told a reporter, “The customer would walk away. This would have enormous implications not just for loyalty cards in the casino industry but in the broader hospitality industry — hotels, airlines and others.”

Both the industry and congressional representatives urged the IRS to scrap its proposed mandatory reporting requirements and take a voluntary approach that lets the many jurisdictions where gambling takes place to craft workable solutions.

We urge our congressional delegation to continue to pressure the IRS to relent from this damaging and counter-productive effort that will cost Nevada’s economy dearly and doubtlessly result in job losses that we can ill afford.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Now for another point of view that the media are ignoring

Since the vast majority of the mainstream media ignored any principled opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling making gay marriage an inalienable right, I reached out to get some comments to balance the scale of journalistic coverage.

The Nevada Concerned Citizens — whose director is Richard Ziser, the man who spearheaded the petition drive that led to the voters amending the state Constitution to prohibit gay marriage — released this statement:

As Christians, we are committed to Biblical faith and ethics. As a result, this body of believers stands on the authority of Scripture and God’s Truth as central to our lives.

What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, the legal redefinition of marriage issued by the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex “marriages;” our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.

While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attractions or confused about their biological identity as male or female, we cannot and will not affirm the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior or any other behavior that deviates from God’s design for males and females made in His image, including His plan for marriage.

We believe religious freedom is at stake with this Supreme Court decision. Consequently, we join together to support those who stand for natural marriage in the corporate world, the marketplace, education, entertainment, media and elsewhere with our prayers, influence, and resources.

Our first duty is to love and obey God, not man. Therefore, we strongly encourage all pastors, leaders, educators, and churches to openly reject this court mandated legal redefinition of marriage and to use their influence to affirm God’s design.

“The Lord Jesus affirmed that design by quoting Genesis: “[F]rom the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9). Jesus later said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). We stake our very lives and future on the Truth of God’s Word.”

Ziser released this statement on his own behalf:

Religious Freedom as we know it in this country is in jeopardy.  Our conservative and libertarian friends should be afraid, very afraid of what the Court has done to our constitution and the institution of marriage.  We now are fully entrenched in a post-modern era … where relativism reigns. Tolerance of the Biblical view of marriage will no longer be tolerated.

That was the view taken by Kelly Shackelford and Ken Blackwell in an op-ed in Investor’s Business Daily. They noted that bakers and florist of faith who decline to provide services for gay marriages already face potential bankruptcy and loss of their homes.

“Their legal rights are no different from Hobby Lobby’s to refuse to cover abortion under ObamaCare,” they write. “Whether from a state or federal RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) or the Constitution’s First Amendment, all Americans have the right to believe what their faith teaches and live according to those beliefs. This freedom is for Christians, Jews and peaceful adherents of all faiths.”

Now, return to the mainstream media for the paeans of praise for the five high-minded justices.

Deuling editorials: Right thing to do, wrong way to do it

The New York Times editorial said the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling “fits comfortably within the arc of American legal history.”

The editorial continued, “As Justice Kennedy explained, the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, the court itself ‘has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.’”

The decision may fit in the arc of changes in attitudes and politics, but it grasped never intended power for five of nine unelected justices.

Justice Atonin Scaliea called it a putsch.

The editorialists at The Wall Street Journal put it this way: “The revolution in mores about gay and lesbian participation in the institution of marriage is among the most dramatic cultural shifts in U.S. history. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges is a declaration of social inclusion whose outcome is welcomed by ever-more Americans. The complication is that the Constitution is silent about marriage and social-policy preferences, which are supposed to be settled by the people and the political branches.”

Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a voted of 69.6 percent in 2000 and 67.1 percent in 2002. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014 struck the amendment as unconstitutional. It is questionable whether it would pass today, if it were on the ballot.

The Washington Post editorial also mentioned changes in attitudes. “Yet the fact that it’s foreseeable to Mr. (Justice John) Roberts that same-sex marriage bans would fall, state by state, to popular pressure shows how far the country has come, and quickly. In states where lower courts had already ordered same-sex marriages to commence, the transition has been generally calm. We expect to see the same maturity and acceptance across the country now.”

The editorialists at Investor’s Business Daily also questioned the power of the court to do what it did. “Do five men and women believe they can rewrite traditions dating back thousands of years with a few strokes of their mighty pens?” they wrote.

“Apparently so. So much for our democracy.”

As I noted before in comments, the ruling opens a new chapter in the interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. WSJ also noted as much: “A better response — as practical politics and for civic comity — would be to support laws that protect the conscience rights of religious believers and faith-based institutions that do not honor same-sex marriages. The unfortunate truth is that the political left is rarely magnanimous in victory, and its activists may not be satisfied until the force of government stamps out private values and practices they find deplorable.”

Likewise IBD: “Justice Samuel Alito made plain that the decision ‘will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.’ Those who continue to believe gay marriage is wrong, he added, ‘will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools.'”

The five justices have opened a can of worms.

It will be interesting to see how the once libertarian-leaning Las Vegas newspaper opines on this topic, if it does.

 

Newspaper column: Those who once pushed for clean energy now balk at paying the price

Be careful what you so ask for. You just might get it — good and hard.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of the 2013 Nevada legislative session, when lawmakers, determined to save the planet from carbon dioxide-induced global warming by closing down all of the state electric grid’s coal-fired power plants, passed Senate Bill 123. Those coal plants would be replaced with clean renewable energy and natural gas-fired plants.

Some of the state’s biggest and most influential companies supported passage of SB123.

Josh Griffin, testifying on behalf of MGM Resorts International, told an Assembly committee: “I am here to support (SB123). As you all know and have heard here today, the piece of legislation in front of you represents thousands of hours of work by so many different interested parties, many of whom have already spoke. … We are proud to support the efforts in this bill.”

Crescent Dunes Solar Project

Richard Perkins, representing Wynn Las Vegas, chimed in: “As Mr. Griffin indicated, the large users in southern Nevada, particularly the gaming companies, participated with NV Energy working through the bill and finding compromise areas. We are here in support of the bill.”

At a Senate Committee hearing a letter was submitted on behalf of Las Vegas Sands Corp. signed by Andrew Abboud, senior vice president of government relations for the hotel-casino company. “Las Vegas Sands Corp. writes in support of the compromise reached by NV Energy and representatives of the Nevada Resort Association and the Southern Nevada Hotel Group on SB123. The legislation is essential to speeding up the closure of Nevada’s coal-burning electric facilities and enhances our state’s commitment to green energy,” the letter said.

An email form Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, was placed into the record in support of the bill.

Other companies also supported the bill, which was being pushed hard by Sen. Harry Reid.

Earlier this year The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston released a study of the economic impact of SB123 commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The study estimated the bill, between 2015 and 2025, would cost Nevadans $617 million dollars and destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020, while driving up electricity prices by nearly 3 percent. These costs are spread across the grid, whether one is a customer of NV Energy or not.

Now, fast forward to a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Nevada hearing earlier this month.

MGM, Wynn and Sands are all trying to exit the state’s monopoly grid and purchase power elsewhere at a lower cost.

At that hearing Wynn Resorts President Matt Maddox sharply criticized the power company, saying, “Nevada Energy made more net income ($354 million net income) than the Las Vegas Strip last year. You know where all that money went? Omaha.” That was a reference to the power company being purchased in 2013, after passage of SB123, by a Warren Buffett company.

While Maddox was testifying, MGM CEO Jim Murren was on public radio complaining about having to pay $86 million a year for power and talking about the firm’s attempt to buy cheaper power on the open market. “We’re not interested in subsidizing everybody who lives in our state on the backs of us overpaying for our power,” he said.

Former state Sen. Randolph Townsend also took the opportunity of the PUC hearing to criticize SB123. “(SB)123 was the greatest highway robbery I’ve ever seen coming through this state. I think it was a disaster,” he said.

At that PUC hearing commissioners denied a Las Vegas-based data storage company’s bid to pay a fee and exit the power monopoly, but indicated negotiation with that firm and the casinos could continue.

Another factor driving up the cost of power for everyone is a state law that mandates 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewables — such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal — by the year 2025. Renewables cost three to four times as much as natural gas- or coal-fired power.

For example, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah is scheduled to come online this year. The solar thermal plant, which will generate power by using a massive array of mirrors to melt salt to drive its turbines, has a 25-year contract to sell power at 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That wholesale price is three and half cents higher than the residential retail rate in Northern Nevada.

Be careful what you ask for.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The rules are precisely what the court says they are on any given day due to any given whim

Cato’s Michael Cannon accused the Supreme Court of playing Calvinball in its decision upholding ObamaCare.

In the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip the characters played Calvinball, a game in which the rules were constantly changing to suit a player’s advantage.

You might conclude the court was playing Calvinball in three cases in two days.

In King v. Burwell on Thursday, the court said the words “established by the state” also mean established by a federal agency, when it comes of doling out subsidies.

Also on Thursday in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., the court ruled that discrimination can be proven by mere disparate outcomes rather than actual evidence.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, today the court ruled, in its customary 5-4 split, that there is a right to gay marriage in every state, no matter how the citizens of any given state may have voted.

In the ruling today, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in dissent a sentiment probably held by many libertarians:

Those civil consequences — and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences — can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact — and the furthest extension one can even imagine — of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

Justice John Roberts, back from his sojourn in Humpty Dumpty land in the ObamaCare ruling, opined:

Petitioners make strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness. They contend that same-sex couples should be allowed to affirm their love and commitment through marriage, just like opposite-sex couples. That position has undeniable appeal; over the past six years, voters and legislators in eleven States and the District of Columbia have revised their laws to allow marriage between two people of the same sex. But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78 …

Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent took apart the Due Process argument of the majority:

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea — captured in our Declaration of Independence — that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

How many other rights will now be found in the penumbra of the Constitution now that we have a right to health insurance subsidies no matter what the law actually says, a right to claim discrimination based on statistics (lies, damned lies and statistics) and a right to the benefits of marriage no matter what the law or constitution of a state may say.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote today’s gay marriage ruling, also wrote the opinion striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, signed by Bill Clinton.

In the that earlier ruling, Kennedy wrote:

The State’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance in this case quite apart from principles of federalism. Here the State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import. When the State used its historic and essential authority to define the marital relation in this way, its role and its power in making the decision enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection of the class in their own community. DOMA, because of its reach and extent, departs from this history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage.

That was then, this is now in the game of Calvinball.

Polygamy must be a right, too. It is in the Bible. If Kennedy can cite Cicero and Confucius, why not the Bible?

In fact, Roberts asked that very question: “If not having the opportunity to marry ‘serves to disrespect and subordinate’ gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same ‘imposition of this disability,’ … serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships?”

 

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Eric Blair, from the U.S. Supreme Court

How apropos that the King v. Burwell ruling came out on the birthday of Eric Blair, who was born on this day in India in 1903.

Eric Blair at six weeks old

You might know him better by his nom de satire, George Orwell.

Orwell wrote frequently about the manipulation of language to obtain one’s desired outcome, especially in his classic, “Nineteen eighty-four,” with its concepts of newspeak and doublethink. Doublethink is holding two contradictory views or opinions at the same time.

This is what John Roberts did in today’s ruling by saying an exchange established the state is the same as an exchange established by the federal government.

 

Orwell once wrote, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Antonin Scalia’s dissent points out the doublethink of both ObamaCare decision from Roberts:

The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (“penalty” means tax, “further [Medicaid] payments to the State” means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, “established by the State” means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.

WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.