FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 06 Mar 2015 15:54:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Carson’s Missteps on Sexual Orientation http://www.factcheck.org/2015/03/carsons-missteps-on-sexual-orientation/ Fri, 06 Mar 2015 15:54:42 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93261 Ben Carson claimed that being gay is “absolutely” a choice, and as proof he said “a lot of people” go into prison and change their sexual orientation while incarcerated. There is no evidence to support these claims.

Though no conclusive answers are available about how people arrive at their sexual orientation, there is general consensus that choice does not play a significant role. Studies have found genetics likely plays a role, as may hormonal exposure while in utero. As for prison inmates changing sexual orientation, very little research has been conducted on the subject. One small, non-representative study that did not follow inmates after release did find some inmates reported shifting their orientation while in prison.

Carson apologized for those comments, but in doing so made another mistake. He said, “We do know, however, that we are always born male and female.” This is not entirely accurate: Disorders of sex development, also known as intersex disorders, occur in about one in 4,500 births and have raised questions about the male-female gender dichotomy.

Choice and Sexual Orientation

Carson, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, spoke with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on March 4. Cuomo asked about the progress toward marriage equality, and compared it to the civil rights battles of the mid-20th century.

Carson, March 4: You can’t just say because it happened that way this time, this is the same situation — it’s not the same situation.

Cuomo: Why not?

Carson: Because people have no control over their race, for instance.

Cuomo: You think they have control over their sexuality?

Carson: Absolutely.

Cuomo: You think being gay is a choice?

Carson: Absolutely.

Cuomo: Why do you say that?

Carson: Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.

Carson went on to say that his point about prisons “thwarts” the notion that being gay is not a choice. In fact, the scientific community remains unsure of exactly what determines sexual orientation, but choice is not a significant factor.

According to the American Psychological Association: “Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

SciCHECKinsertClinton Anderson, a psychologist and the director of APA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office, told us in an email that surveys have borne out this notion that very few feel any choice in sexual orientation. He pointed to one such survey that found 88 percent of gay men and 68 percent of lesbians reported having “no choice at all” about their sexual orientation. Combined with those who said they had a “small amount of choice,” those proportions rise to 95 percent and 84 percent.

Anderson said the APA does “not currently take any position on the biological evidence,” but added that there is “substantial” evidence regarding biology and sexual orientation. For example, there is likely a genetic component, based upon studies of the families of homosexual men. In one such study, published in the journal Science in 1993, it was more likely that maternal uncles and male cousins of gay men were also gay; that study found it was more than 99 percent likely “that at least one subtype of male sexual orientation is genetically influenced.”

Another study, published in 2004 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a journal on biological sciences published by the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, looked at 98 homosexual and 100 heterosexual men and more than 4,000 of their relatives. The study found that female maternal relatives of homosexual men have higher fecundity — reproductive rate, or a measure of how many children someone has or can have — than female maternal relatives of heterosexuals. This could help explain what has been considered a sort of evolutionary paradox, that a genetic trait for homosexuality could be passed down.

This finding has been confirmed elsewhere, including by a 2012 study in the open-access journal PLoS One. In that paper, the authors wrote that “the total female fecundity was significantly higher in homosexual than heterosexual probands” — essentially the people being studied — “thus compensating for the reduced fecundity of homosexuals.”

Another 2012 study, published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, suggested that “epigenetic” effects occurring while in the womb may determine sexual orientation. This means that it isn’t the genes themselves dictating sexual orientation, but which genes or parts of genes are activated or expressed — something that can change based on levels of hormones to which a fetus is exposed.

Prisons and Sexual Orientation

Carson claimed that “a lot of people” change their sexual orientation in prison. There is no evidence that this is the case.

Very little research has been done specifically on changes to sexual orientation while incarcerated. One relevant study was published in 2013 in the Prison Journal by Lauren Gibson and Christopher Hensley, both of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Their work included 142 male inmates incarcerated in a single maximum-security prison. The inmates were asked to retrospectively characterize their sexual orientation before incarceration, and to characterize it again “today,” along with a variety of other questions on sexual activity and other factors.

Of the 142 inmates, 24 reported a change in sexual orientation from before incarceration to the present. In total, 75 percent of those who changed orientation changed from straight to bisexual, 12.5 percent changed from bisexual to straight, and 4.2 percent each changed from bisexual to gay, from gay to straight, and from gay to bisexual. And again, these represented only 16.9 percent of all the inmates who responded to the survey, and only 18 percent of those asked to participate (800 in total) actually responded.

Hensley, the coauthor of the paper, told us in a phone interview that this was indeed a small sample and should not be considered representative of the larger population. He also said that he has not followed up with these inmates to check what their sexual orientation was after release from prison, and that he is unaware of any studies that have examined sexual orientation before entering and after leaving prison.

Ignoring a Gender Continuum

Carson released an apology for his comments on homosexuality and choice. “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation,” he said. “I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”

Within that apology, however, Carson made another mistake. After noting that he is a “doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine,” he said: “We do know, however, that we are always born male and female.” As a doctor, he should know that strict male-female dichotomy does not reflect the current understanding of gender given the approximately one in 4,500 children born with disorders of sex development, also known as intersex disorders.

DSDs represent a number of different congenital abnormalities that can make it difficult or impossible to determine male or female gender at birth. These conditions include syndromes such as 46,XX congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Klinefelter syndrome, epispadias and Turner syndrome.

Much research has gone into understanding and managing DSDs. According to one expert writing in the Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, “The psychological and social implications of gender assignment require a multidisciplinary approach” and a team of physicians across a variety of fields. Other authors, writing in Nature Reviews Endocrinology, point out the need for a shift in attitudes on gender: “Most importantly, dealing with DSDs requires acceptance of the fact that deviation from the traditional definitions of gender is not necessarily pathologic.”

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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Perry Misses Point on Texas CO2 Cuts http://www.factcheck.org/2015/03/perry-misses-point-on-texas-co2-cuts/ Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:30:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93168 Rick Perry said carbon dioxide emissions in Texas were down because of “incentive-based regulation” during his time as governor. But the evidence shows a decline in manufacturing jobs and federal energy policies — not the state’s — are more likely to be the cause of the reduction.

  • Perry pointed to policies that upgraded old diesel engines. But the nitrogen oxide figures he cited actually exclude vehicles, and transportation sector CO2 rose over the time frame in question. The CO2 reduction was largely due to a decline in the manufacturing sector.
  • He also said that Texas transitioned toward natural gas in its power supply, but the percentage of natural gas actually declined. Wind power, meanwhile, grew dramatically, thanks in large part to federal policy.

During his appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (at the 16:24 mark), Perry, the former governor of Texas, said the state’s population grew by 5.6 million people since he took office in 2000 (which is approximately true, depending on exactly what years he intended to include), adding that “that’s lots of cars on the roads in Texas.” He said that jobs went up by 1.4 million over seven years (it was actually a growth of 1.3 million), and then rattled off several emissions reductions that occurred at the same time as the population and job growth:

Perry, Feb. 27: During that same period of time using thoughtful incentive-based regulation, we decreased our nitrogen oxide levels — which by the way is a real pollutant, it’s a real emission — nitrogen oxide levels were down by 62 and a half percent, ozone levels were down by 23 percent, sulfur dioxide levels down by 50 percent, and our CO2 levels were down — whether you believe in this whole concept of climate change or not — CO2 levels were down by nine percent in that state. Isn’t that the goal of what we were working towards? The point is that you can have job creation and you can make your environment better. And that ought to be the role of those 50 states, of being able to put policies into place, incentive-based policies. We put policies in place that helped remove old dirty burning diesel engines from the fleets. We were able to transition our electrical power system to the natural gas burning. I mean that ought to be our goal in this country. And it all starts with energy policy. Open up the XL pipeline, create energy jobs. …

In the past, Perry has decried the Environmental Protection Agency’s “overreaching regulation” and claimed that states could do better at managing air quality than a “centralized, all-knowing, one-size-fits-all federal government. But as we found before, Perry exaggerates the Texas reduction in nitrogen oxide, citing only emission reductions from “point sources” including industrial sites and power plants while leaving out emissions from cars and trucks — a source that he specifically mentions in his speech.

SciCHECKinsertThe Texas Commission of Environmental Quality pointed us toward several policies that did in fact help upgrade diesel engines, an issue that is indeed closely related to nitrogen oxide emissions – but again, the reduction Perry cites does not include mobile sources of NOx. And even still, TCEQ says that the main policy, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Incentive, will cut about 161,000 tons of NOx over the lifetime of the vehicles in question. In 2014, the program will yield an average of 54 tons reduction per day, or less than 20,000 tons for the full year. In 2011 alone, NOx emissions from mobile sources topped 700,000 tons, suggesting the program will have little impact on total NOx emissions.

Texas’ 50 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, meanwhile, does not compare all that favorably with the rest of the region. Between 2000 and 2011, the U.S. and Canada combined achieved a 54 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions. According to the EPA, the U.S. alone saw total SO2 emissions decline from 16.3 million tons in 2000 to 6.6 million tons in 2011, a reduction of almost 60 percent. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration describes, reductions in SO2 emissions accelerated after 1990 when a federal cap-and-trade system was instituted under the Clean Air Act to reduce acid rain.

Where Did CO2 Cuts Come From?

Perry’s new claim that CO2 levels have dropped by 9 percent is largely correct, though neither “the last 14 years” nor the seven years from 2007 to 2014 are the exact time frame for that number. According to the Energy Information Administration’s data that were available at the time Perry made his claim, Texas’ CO2 emissions were 720.3 million metric tons in 2000, the year Perry took office, and 655.5 million metric tons in 2011 — a reduction of almost exactly 9 percent. (EIA has since released data extending through 2012, and also adjusted its figures on earlier years. The new figures show that CO2 emissions fell by only 4.6 percent between 2000 and 2012; Perry left office in January of this year. For this analysis we will use the 2011 numbers that were available when Perry made his claim.)

The question, though, is why those reductions occurred. Perry cited removal of older diesel engines from “the fleets,” as well as an increase in natural gas as an electricity source. Neither of these is the likely source of the bulk of the CO2 reduction. We emailed Perry’s press officers to get clarification on the policies to which he was referring, but we didn’t get a response.

And in spite of policies that did help upgrade diesel engines, the transportation sector’s CO2 output actually rose from 2000 to 2011, from 181.3 million metric tons to 188.5 million metric tons. The electric power sector’s contribution also rose, from 227.6 million to 237.8 million metric tons. Although those sectors may well have reduced their carbon intensity — the amount of CO2 per vehicle-mile driven, or per megawatt-hour of electricity produced — the absolute decrease in CO2 emissions in Texas means that the bigger reduction must have come from elsewhere. Specifically, it came from the industrial sector.

The industrial sector, which encompasses all manufacturing and related activities, saw its CO2 output decrease from 284.9 million to 204.6 million metric tons, a drop of more than 28 percent. This reflects an ongoing trend in industrial output across the United States.

As the Environmental Protection Agency states: “Greenhouse gas emissions from industry have declined by almost 17 percent since 1990, while emissions from most other sectors have increased.” In its 2010 Climate Action Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the U.S. State Department wrote that industrial sector energy consumption has “declined steadily since 1973,” and that in 2008 consumption was 10.2 percent below 2000 levels. The 2014 update of that report also noted a steady decline since 1990, and added: “This decline is due to structural changes in the U.S. economy (i.e., shifts from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy), fuel switching, and efficiency improvements.”

The shift away from manufacturing is borne out by Texas jobs data. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas had more than 1 million manufacturing jobs in December 2000 when Perry took office. In December 2014, the state had about 890,000 such jobs. At the end of 2011, which is relevant to the CO2 drop Perry cited, Texas had 849,400 manufacturing jobs. This is a drop of 20.3 percent, accounting for a large proportion of the drop in CO2 emissions from the industrial sector.

Even if we allow that changes to vehicles and the power sector in Texas contributed to the decline in CO2 emissions (through carbon intensity improvements), Perry is wrong about the state’s primary contribution to those improvements. The electricity supply in Texas has indeed shifted since 2000. That year, coal accounted for 24.2 percent of all the electric generating capacity in the state, and natural gas accounted for 67 percent. There were only 173 megawatts of wind power at that time, or about two-tenths of 1 percent of the total capacity.

In 2012, coal’s share had fallen slightly to 21.1 percent of the total capacity, and natural gas had in fact also fallen, to 61.1 percent — Perry’s claim, then, that Texas had managed to “transition our electrical power system to the natural gas burning” is not accurate. Meanwhile, wind power grew to represent more than 11 percent of the total capacity in 2012, at more than 12,000 installed megawatts (this has continued to grow over the last few years, according to the American Wind Energy Association). Wind power emits no carbon dioxide, and natural gas burning power plants emit about half of what a coal plant emits.

Wind power’s ascendence is due in part to Texas state policies, but this effect is limited. Texas does have a Renewable Portfolio Standard, a law dictating how much of a state’s energy supply must come from renewable sources like solar and wind. The standard, however, has been eclipsed already: It called for 5,880 megawatts of renewable energy by 2015, and a voluntary target of 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Wind power alone had surpassed the initial target by 2008, and the larger goal by 2011.

Studies have suggested that it is a federal policy, the wind power production tax credit, along with declining manufacturing costs and improved technology, that actually drove much of the growth in wind energy in recent years all across the country. According to a review by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (part of the federal Department of Energy), the “PTC has been critical to the development of the wind industry and deployment of wind generation capacity in the United States over the past two decades.” In past years when the tax credit was allowed to expire before being reinstated, wind installations have dipped between 73 percent and 93 percent. Another Department of Energy report in 2013 showed that the cost of a wind turbine fell between 20 percent and 35 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Though the proportion of electricity from both coal and natural gas declined thanks to wind’s increasing share over this time frame, both fossil fuel sources did increase their absolute amounts of installed capacity. Coal power went from 19,812 megawatts installed in 2000 up to 23,132 in 2012, an increase of 17 percent. Natural gas, meanwhile, increased from 54,807 megawatts installed capacity to 66,983 megawatts in 2012, an increase of 22.2 percent.

Perry is thus correct at least that natural gas has increased faster than coal, though no particular state policy explains that fact. Simple economics, however, could explain it: The overall price of coal in the U.S. nearly doubled from 2000 to 2011, while the price of natural gas to the electric power sector actually was about the same in 2000 and in 2011, according to data from the EIA. Furthermore, Texas has not shrunk from coal power in more recent years either — according to the EIA no state added more coal-fired electricity in 2013 than Texas, and the state added about twice as much coal as natural gas power.

All in all, the drops in carbon dioxide emissions over much of Perry’s term in office can’t be attributed to state policies alone. By claiming the emissions reductions were a result of state-level “thoughtful, incentive-based regulation,” Perry ignores the contribution of federal policy to wind energy and the shift away from a manufacturing-based economy.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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Netanyahu Takes Kerry Out of Context http://www.factcheck.org/2015/03/netanyahu-takes-kerry-out-of-context/ Wed, 04 Mar 2015 02:20:29 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93206 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly anticipated speech to Congress contained a curious statement. He claimed Secretary of State John Kerry “confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of a long-term nuclear agreement that the U.S. is negotiating with Iran. That, Netanyahu warned, could put Iran “weeks away” from an “arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

But that’s not what Kerry said.

In House testimony on Feb. 25, Kerry was asked about reports that the U.S. is seeking a deal that would reduce Iran’s centrifuges from 19,000 to between 6,000 and 7,000. Kerry responded by saying a “peaceful program” can have a lot of centrifuges, and the purpose of the negotiations is to make sure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

“[I]f you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges,” Kerry told the committee.

Netanyahu addressed Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner at a time when the U.S. is leading negotiations on a new nuclear agreement with Iran. The U.S. and five other countries in November 2013 reached an accord with Iran called the Joint Plan of Action, or JPA, that was designed to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program to give negotiators time to work out a long-term agreement on an inspection and verification plan that would allow Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. and its allies have agreed to ease sanctions imposed on Iran’s assets.

The U.S. and Iran have been operating under a March 31 deadline for a long-term pact, and Israel has been highly critical of details of the plan that have emerged so far.

In his speech, Netanyahu warned that Iran could not be trusted and its “quest for nuclear weapons” threatened his country’s survival.

At one point, the Israeli prime minister spoke about Iran’s centrifuges, which are the machines used to enrich uranium. Iran currently has “9,400 operating centrifuges and another 10,000 that are installed but not in operation,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The existing JPA allows Iran only to replace failed centrifuges, and the U.S. has been negotiating a reduction. During negotiations, the target number of proposed centrifuges has changed from 1,300 to 4,000 and most recently to 6,500 or more.

Netanyahu recalled that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2014 that Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges. But in doing so Netanyahu misrepresented what Kerry had said about Iran’s centrifuges.

Netanyahu, March 3: Iran’s supreme leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 [discussed in negotiations] or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision. My longtime friend, John Kerry, secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires. Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

Kerry did not confirm “that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges.

At a Feb. 25 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida asked Kerry about reports that the deal being negotiated would allow Iran to have 6,000 or 7,000 centrifuges. Deutch asked “why Iran would need that many since currently there is one reactor.”

Kerry, Feb. 25: [T]he purpose of the negotiations we’re in now with Iran is to ensure that their nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes. That’s the key here. They can have a civilian peaceful program. So when you get into the number of centrifuges and this and that, if — if you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges. And there are millions of centrifuges involved, ultimately, power plants that are producing power. So the key here is, is this a peaceful program, and are the measures in place capable of making sure you know it’s peaceful? That’s the standard we’re trying to apply.

Kerry wasn’t saying that “Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges. He was saying that “a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately” could have 190,000 or more centrifuges.

In fact, when Khamenei said Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges, Kerry at that time said that even 19,000 was too many.

“We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment,” Kerry told reporters at a July 15, 2014, press availability. “And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told us in an email that Kerry’s reference to 190,000 centrifuges at the House hearing wasn’t about Iran or the number of centrifuges that it could possess “under or after a deal.”

“Secretary Kerry was not speaking to what Iran could or would have under or after a deal — he wasn’t talking specifically about Iran at all,” Harf said. “He was arguing that ensuring the nuclear program is peaceful through measures like transparency and monitoring can be as important [as] the number of centrifuges, which can get quite high even in countries that peacefully enrich uranium only to produce electrical power.”

– Eugene Kiely

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More Keystone Spin http://www.factcheck.org/2015/03/more-keystone-spin/ Mon, 02 Mar 2015 21:19:17 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93039 With a showdown vote approaching on the Keystone XL pipeline, both sides continue to spin the facts about exports and safety.

  • Critics continue to call it an “export pipeline” while proponents say the oil it carries would be “used by Americans, not exported overseas.” Actually, somewhere between 38 percent and 50 percent of the output at the coastal refineries it would serve was exported in the most recent 12 months on record, depending on assumptions.
  • Critics claim that building the pipeline won’t stop derailments of tank cars carrying crude oil. Perhaps not entirely. But the fact is that rail shipments of Canadian crude oil into the U.S. are surging while derailments, spills and fires are becoming more common, and a pipeline is a much cheaper and safer way of carrying that oil.

The Senate is expected to vote this week on whether to override President Obama’s veto of a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress to force approval of the project.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a cloture vote no later than March 4.

Exports

The Keystone XL project would bring oil from Alberta across the U.S. border for eventual delivery to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. Opponents including the Natural Resources Defense Council have called it an “export pipeline” that would primarily send Canadian oil to overseas markets without benefiting U.S. consumers. In a Feb. 24 USA Today opinion piece, the NRDC’s president, Rhea Suh, said Keystone oil would “be refined on our Gulf Coast into fuels that would mostly be sent overseas.”

But TransCanada Corporation — which would build the pipeline — says just the opposite. For example, in a 15-second TV spot that ran briefly in Washington D.C., it said the pipeline would carry oil “to U.S. refineries to be used by Americans, not exported overseas.”

Who’s right? Each side is telling just half the story.

The fact is that most if not all of the Canadian crude is designated to be processed in U.S. refineries, not exported directly. But a large portion of the diesel fuel, gasoline and other products of those refineries is indeed expected to be sold overseas. Exactly how much is impossible for us to predict, however. And expert sources are in disagreement.

We can calculate how much of total refined product from the entire Gulf Coast district went for export in 2014. It was close to 37.5 percent.

That doesn’t support the NRDC’s claim that the refined product would go “mostly” for export. However, NRDC’s analysts argue that the Keystone crude would go primarily to several export-oriented refineries that are located close to port facilities, bypassing inland refineries in the Gulf district that serve mostly domestic markets.

The district, known as PADD3 (Petroleum Administration for Defense District 3) includes six states: New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. A number of refineries in the district are indeed many miles from shipping ports.

NRDC told us its calculations assume that all of the Canadian crude coming through the pipeline would go only to coastal refineries in Texas and Louisiana (sub-districts for which the government provides aggregate production figures), and that all of the Gulf Coast district’s exports of refined products come only from those refineries. Using those assumptions produces a figure that supports the claim that Canadian crude would “mostly” end up as exported product — but just barely.

Using NRDC’s assumptions, and data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, we calculate that 50.4 percent of the output of those refineries went for export in 2014. But that means 49.6 percent stayed in the U.S.

As for other experts, the U.S. State Department’s market analysis of the Keystone project said that “[A]lmost half of PADD 3 [Gulf Coast district] refined products go to the domestic market.” That would support the critics’ contention that a wee bit more than half is now going for export.

But a more recent report from IHS Inc., which sells marketing data and analysis to businesses and governments, stated on Feb. 23 that “about 70 percent” of the fuel derived from oil flowing through the Keystone pipeline would be consumed in the U.S. IHS told us that their report was part of their regular service to paid subscribers, and was not commissioned or underwritten by any third party.

Neither the State Department report nor IHS showed how they had calculated their respective figures. Based only on EIA statistics, we can say that no more than 50.4 percent of the oil would be destined for export as refined product under today’s conditions, though the figure would likely grow over time assuming that the current boom in fuel exports continues.

In addition, some portion of the Canadian oil may be exported directly. The EIA reports that the U.S. is currently exporting more crude oil than it has in 57 years, including small test shipments of re-exported Canadian oil to refineries in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Singapore. But it remains to be seen how large that volume might be in the future. Enbridge Inc., the pipeline company that was the first to get a permit to re-export Canadian crude oil, said that it plans to export less than 1.5 percent of its total U.S. shipments.

 Safety

The explosion and fire of a tanker train carrying crude oil to a refinery in West Virginia last month is only the latest in a number of similar mishaps that we highlighted nearly a year ago in our “Pipeline Primer” article. As we said then, “Pipelines are dangerous, but tanker cars are more so.” And that is still the case.

Suh, the NRDC’s president, noted — correctly — that the West Virginia train was carrying oil from North Dakota, “like the train that exploded last year in Virginia, and the one that blew up the year before that in Alabama.”

“The tar sands pipeline won’t take that oil off the tracks,” she stated in her op-ed.

This spins the facts. For one thing, pointing to derailments that spilled only U.S. oil glosses over others that have spilled Canadian oil. For example:

  • Photo of Feb. 14 Ontario derailment by Transportation Safety Board of Canada

    Photo of Feb. 14 derailment by Transportation Safety Board of Canada

    On Feb. 14 — just two days before the West Virginia crash — several tank cars carrying crude oil and distillate from Alberta to eastern Canada derailed and burned in a remote area near Gogama, Ontario. A total of 21 cars were damaged by the fire, and at least 19 spilled a combined total of over 1 million liters (264,172 U.S. gallons) of petroleum product, according to a preliminary report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

  • A year earlier, a 120-car train carrying Canadian crude oil derailed in Pennsylvania. No fire resulted but thousands of gallons of crude oil were spilled.
  • In January of last year, a train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and burned in New Brunswick, Canada, just 20 miles north of the U.S. border.

Fortunately, none of these have come close to repeating the 2013 disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec, when a runaway crude oil train derailed in the town center and killed 47 people.

But it’s a fact that more and more Canadian oil is being shipped by rail into the U.S. The volume has grown more than ten-fold in the past three years, from an average of 15,980 barrels per day during the first three months of 2012 to 182,059 barrels per day in the July-September quarter of last year, according to most recent figures from Canada’s National Energy Board.

Suh chose her words carefully when she wrote that the Keystone pipeline would not take “that” oil off the tracks. Grammatically, she was referring only to the “North Dakota” oil she mentioned in her previous sentence, and not to Canadian oil.

But even that narrow claim is open to serious dispute. The fact is, TransCanada says it has signed firm contracts to transport 65,000 barrels per day of U.S. crude oil through the proposed Keystone XL project. Oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana would flow by way of a proposed spur — the “Bakken Marketlink” — which TransCanada proposes to build if the XL itself is approved. The spur could carry up to 100,000 barrels per day, thus accounting for up to 12 percent of the main pipeline’s capacity of 830,000 barrels per day.

Contrary to the NRDC president’s suggestion, there’s no question that a pipeline would take “oil off the rails” wherever that pipeline goes, whether the crude originates in the U.S. or Canada. That’s because it is not only less dangerous to ship oil by pipe than by rail, but far less expensive as well.

How much less expensive?  Significantly less.

The Association of Oil Pipelines says that “The cost to ship crude oil by rail is generally $10 to $15 per barrel versus under $5 per barrel by pipeline.” And that’s supported by the independent IHS report we cited earlier. It says, ”on average we estimate that rail costs about $8 to $10 more to move a barrel of heavy crude blend from western Canada to the USGC [U.S. Gulf Coast] compared with pipelines.”

We agree with the NRDC’s president that the Keystone won’t stop all rail shipments of crude oil. We don’t know of anybody who has claimed it would. But the economics make it obvious that less oil would go by rail if the pipeline is built than if it isn’t.

– Brooks Jackson

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Feb. 28: Education, Immigration, Oil & Gas http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/feb-28-education-immigration-oil-gas/ Sat, 28 Feb 2015 14:53:51 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93287
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FactChecking CPAC http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/factchecking-cpac/ Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:24:15 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93097 A parade of potential Republican presidential candidates took turns at delivering speeches and answering questions at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that started on Feb. 26. They boasted of their accomplishments and voiced their opinions, but along the way there were some distortions of facts:

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said “all” of the legal immigration in the U.S. was “based on whether or not you have a family member here.” Nearly two-thirds of the inflow of legal permanent residents in 2013 was based on family-sponsored immigration.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that the cost of government regulation “hits American families for $15,000 a year.” That figure comes from a conservative group’s admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation of estimated regulatory costs that does not include any potential savings.
  • Perry mixed and matched jobs data to embellish Texas’ record on job creation. He claimed Texas created 1.4 million jobs in the last seven years, while the rest of the country lost 250,000. In fact, Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country added 987,900 jobs.
  • Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal overstated the federal government’s role in Common Core State Standards, which Rubio described as a “national curriculum” and Jindal said imposes “content standards.” State leaders developed the standards, and local school officials set the curriculum.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his state’s ACT scores rank second in the country. That’s second out of 30 states, and the composite score hasn’t changed during Walker’s tenure.

Rubio on Immigration

Rubio stretched the facts a bit on legal immigration.

Rubio, Feb. 27: We also have a legal immigration system that’s the most generous in the world. A million people a year come to this country legally. No other country even comes close to that. But it’s all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone. It’s got to be based on some sort of merit and economic contribution.

Rubio overstates his case when he says legal immigration in the U.S. is “all based on whether or not you have a family member here, and it can’t continue to be based on family alone.” (Emphasis is ours.)

According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly two-thirds of “lawful permanent resident flow” — 990,553 in 2013 — was due to family-sponsored immigration. (See Table 2.) Much of the emphasis on family-based immigration can be traced to the Immigration Act of 1990, a bill that passed with bipartisan support and raised caps on family preferences. In remarks made when he signed the bill into law, President George H.W. Bush noted that the law sought, in part, to promote “respect for the family unit.”

Still, two-thirds is not “all,” as Rubio stated. About 16 percent of the permanent legal immigration in the U.S. in 2013 was from “employment-based preferences,” which includes “priority workers,” professionals with advanced degrees, skilled workers and those who make large investments in American companies. Another 12 percent were refugees, and nearly 5 percent came via the U.S. “diversity” program to encourage immigration from many countries.

Rubio may argue that more of the immigration system ought to be based on “merit and economic contribution” — more than the 16 percent given “employment-based preferences” now — but he went a bit too far by stating that our immigration system is “based on family alone.”

As for the claim that the U.S. immigration system is the “most generous in the world,” that’s true in raw numbers. As we said, the inflow of legal permanent immigration was 990,553 in 2013 (that’s down from 1,031,631 in 2012). The next closest country for immigration was Germany, which saw nearly 400,000 new permanent immigrants in 2012, followed by the U.K. with 286,000, and France, Italy, Canada and Australia all seeing roughly a quarter of a million permanent immigrants that year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (See Table 1.1)

However, when immigration is considered as a percentage of a country’s total population, the U.S. ranked 18th in 2012. (See Figure 1.4.) And as Adam Ozimek, an associate at an economics consulting firm, noted in a blog posting for Forbes in 2012, the U.S ranked 12th when it came to the stock of immigrants as a percentage of a country’s overall population. So whether the United States’ legal immigration policy is the “most generous” in the world, as Rubio claimed, is a matter of debate.

Perry’s Regulatory Cost-Per-Family Statistic

In his speech, Perry took aim at over-regulation, claiming that “regulatory cost hits American families for $15,000 a year.”

Perry, Feb. 27: This regulatory cost hits American families for about $15,000 a year. That’s the highest cost on your budget than anything other than housing.

Perry’s dubious figure comes from an admitted “back-of-the-envelope” calculation from a report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is “dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.” In other words, it is a staunch opponent of government over-regulation.

In the report, “Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” author Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. calculates the 2013 cost of federal regulatory compliance at nearly $1.9 trillion. To arrive at the cost-per-family figure, that $1.9 trillion was simply divided by the number of American households. By that math, Crews argues, “each U.S. household ‘pays’ $14,974 annually in a hidden regulatory tax report.” And, the report notes, that that figure is “higher than every annual household budgetary expenditure item except housing.”

Crews admits in the report that his methods are “not scientific” but argues that “the comparison is a useful back-of-the-envelope way of reflecting on the magnitude of regulatory costs.”

But a deeper look into the $1.9 trillion figure — contained in another report “Tip of the Costberg“ — shows that the figure is based on the Office of Management and Budget’s annual reports to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulation. The problem is that Crews focused on the “costs” and ignored the “benefits” listed in those reports. The OMB typically makes the case that benefits exceed costs, as you can see in its latest report.

As our fact-checking colleague Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post noted when the same statistic was cited by Rep. Bob Goodlatte last month, “Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time.”

One is free to take issue with the conclusions of the OMB’s cost-benefit analyses, but to highlight the costs while ignoring benefits tells only half the story.

Texas-Size Job Boast

Perry also repeated misleading claims he had made earlier this year about job creation in Texas. He mixed and matched labor statistics to puff up his state’s record.

Perry Feb. 27: In my 14 years as governor, we helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America. In the last seven years, we created 1.4 million jobs. You take those jobs out of the equation, minus those jobs created in Texas, this country lost a quarter of a million jobs.

Perry made similar claims in January in his farewell speech to lawmakers days before he left office.

His first claim — that Texas “helped to create almost one third of all the private sector jobs in America” while he was governor — is correct, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data, the job growth measure preferred by economists and used by BLS to calculate job growth figures it releases monthly. Also called the Current Employment Statistics survey, the data come from a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees. Perry’s claim is even correct if we look at all jobs — both private sector and government jobs — from December 2000, when he took office, through December 2014, the most recent state statistics available. Either way, Texas is responsible for 29 percent of the nation’s job growth in that time period.

But Perry’s second claim — that in the last seven years Texas created 1.4 million jobs while the rest of the country lost 250,000 — isn’t accurate at all, using those same nonfarm payroll numbers. Instead, those numbers show that Texas created 1.3 million jobs and the rest of the country, without Texas, created 987,900 jobs.

In order to claim that Texas created more than a million jobs while the rest of the country lost jobs, Perry has to switch from the nonfarm payroll data he used for his first statistic to the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. (It’s not as easy to find those employment numbers for both Texas and the nation on BLS’s website as it is to pull up the nonfarm payroll data.)

The household survey counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, such as unpaid family workers, the self-employed and day laborers. It also includes agricultural workers and those who are absent from work and not being paid.

Perry is mixing and matching data sets here, using the measure that makes Texas’ record look more impressive. But if he’s talking about job creation – and using the standard measuring stick he himself cited in nearly the same breath — then it’s incorrect to say the rest of the country outside Texas lost jobs.

Common Core and the ‘National Curriculum’

On education, Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal misrepresented the Common Core State Standards.

Both criticized the federal government for imposing a “national curriculum,” as Rubio described Common Core in an exchange with moderator Sean Hannity. The Obama administration does support the standards, and federal money has been used to develop the standardized tests that students will take. But the standards were developed by state governors and education officials and voluntarily adopted by states, and the curriculum is set by state and local school officials.

Jindal, Feb. 26: We object to Common Core because the federal government has no right imposing curriculum, imposing content standards in local classrooms when these decisions have always been made by local parents, by teachers, by local leaders.

A day later, Rubio made similar remarks.

Rubio, Feb. 27: The second thing is, we need to help our people be stronger than ever. That begins with strong families, by empowering parents, by allowing parents to choose the school their kids go to, not tell — not have the government tell them where they’re going to go to school. By the way, that also means not having a national school board that imposes a national curriculum on the whole country.

Hannity: So I’ll put you down as yes for Common Core.

This is not the first time that Rubio has made such remarks. In 2013, Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that Common Core was well-intended, but was “increasingly being used by the Obama Administration to turn the Department of Education into what is effectively a national school board. This effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards is not the best way to help our children attain the best education.” (Our colleagues at Politifact called Rubio’s statement “false.”)

The Common Core State Standards are a set of standards developed by the states for what children from kindergarten through 12th grade should know in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. They were developed by high-ranking state officials through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core does not set curriculum; that is still left up to state and local school boards and officials.

Discussions on the standards first began in November 2007, but much of the work developing the standards occurred in 2009 and 2010, according to a timeline on the official website, called corestandards.org. A final plan was released in June 2010.

The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards, and adoption of the standards is voluntary, as explained on the NGA’s Common Core website:

Common Core State Standards website: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program. It also began before the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released, because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government.

A total of 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards. That includes Florida and Louisiana.

Jindal initially supported the standards, telling the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in 2012 that the Common Core standards were part of his “bold plans to reform Louisiana’s education system.” He rattled off several accomplishments, including: “Adopting the Common Core State Standards, which will raise expectations for every child.”

The governor is now seeking a court order to stop his state’s students from taking the test next month.

We talked to Scott Richard, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, about implementation of the Common Core standards in Jindal’s home state. “It’s been a train wreck,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Richard said the governor has prevented the state from purchasing the PARCC assessment tests that will be used to measure Louisiana student performance on math and English. It is one of two assessments that have been developed with federal funding. (The other test was developed by Smarter Balanced).

Federal funding to develop the assessment tests is at the root of the complaints about Common Core, Richard said. “Local school boards choose what local curriculum to teach to students,” he said. “But the reality is … the actual assessments drive the decisions that school boards make.”

Education Secretary Arnie Duncan says critics are misinformed, confusing standards for curriculum.

Duncan, June 25, 2013: We need to be very clear about definitions here.

  • Standards — learning standards, academic standards — are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.
  • Curriculum — on the other hand — is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level — and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.

We agree. We take no position on the merits of the Common Core standards. But Rubio’s description of Common Core as a “national curriculum” and the Department of Education as “national school board” — and Jindal’s claim that the federal government is “imposing curriculum, imposing content standards” — overstates the federal government’s role in the standards. They were developed by state political and education leaders and implemented by state and local school officials.

Walker on Test Scores

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker overstated the impact of his policies while talking about education.

Walker, Feb. 26: Because of that in our states we don’t have seniority or tenure anymore. We can hire and fire based on merit. We can pay based on performance. We can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can keep them there. And you know what it’s working. It’s working. Our school scores are better. Our ACT scores are 2nd best in the country. Our graduation rates are up over the past four years. Our reading scores are up over the past four years because we put the power back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers and the people they elect to run their school boards.

As we have written once before, Wisconsin ranks second among the 30 states that had 50 percent or more of their students take the ACT college admission assessment in 2014. ACT does not rank states, but that’s how Wisconsin ranks itself, as Walker’s office has told us before. So, Wisconsin ranks second out of 30 states, not “in the country.”

Also, Wisconsin’s composite ACT score has not changed under Walker, so it’s misleading to credit his policies for the state’s ranking.

Wisconsin ranked third in 2010-11, when Walker took office, so its ranking has improved slightly. But that’s not because its scores are better. Its composite score was 22.2 in 2013-14, the same as it was in 2010-11. Wisconsin moved up to second because Iowa’s composite score was 22 in 2014, down from 22.3 in 2011.

Walker is also not quite right about reading scores.

The governor is referring to the statewide assessment tests that are given to students beginning in third grade. The reading scores for elementary and high school grades were up in 2013-14 compared with 2010-11, but they were down for the middle school grades. The percentage of middle school students who scored proficient or advanced in reading was 37 percent in 2010-11, and it dipped slightly to 36.2 percent in 2013-14. By individual grade, reading scores were down for fifth and eighth, but up for all other grades.

As for graduation rates, they are up slightly – from 87 percent to 88 percent — from school year 2010-11 to 2012-13, the most recent year for which statistics are available. But there’s no evidence that Walker’s policies have had an impact on reading scores or graduation rates.

– Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and Lori Robertson

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Will Power Plant Rules Cause Blackouts? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/will-power-plant-rules-cause-blackouts/ Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:54:26 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93029 The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told Congress her agency’s proposed rules governing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will not affect the reliability of electricity service. That’s debatable.

Various analyses have arrived at differing conclusions on this issue, and some electricity grid operators say there is a potential for service disruption under the Clean Power Plan.

The EPA unveiled the Clean Power Plan in June 2014, with hopes it will be implemented beginning in the summer of 2015. It is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The agency says that this will improve public health while also significantly cutting the country’s contribution to global warming.

In an exchange during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the EPA budget (at the 1:33:11 mark), Rep. Bob Latta, a Republican from Ohio, asked EPA administrator Gina McCarthy whether states might be able to receive waivers or another exemption if reliability of electricity delivery is a concern. McCarthy responded:

McCarthy, Feb. 25: EPA does not see the rule as it has currently been proposed to have an impact on reliability.

Reliability refers to the electricity grid’s ability to avoid disruptions to electricity supply — in short, a reliable grid is one that doesn’t have a lot of power outages. This depends on a number of factors, and the concerns regarding reliability and the Clean Power Plan stem primarily from the fact that certain power plants will likely be forced to close earlier than otherwise planned.

SciCHECKinsert

There is no one simple answer as to whether the Clean Power Plan will negatively impact reliability of electricity delivery, in part because the plan does not prescribe exactly how the cuts in emissions should be achieved. Each state can decide how to arrive at the goals, through energy efficiency improvements, cutting pollution from existing power generation facilities, and through installing new cleaner facilities including renewable energy as well as natural gas power plants.

There is nothing in the plan specifically forbidding coal-fired power generation, but the EPA estimates that “[t]he use of coal by the power sector will decrease by roughly 30 to 32 percent by 2030.” Coal plants emit more carbon dioxide than natural gas plants, and other sources including hydroelectric, solar, wind and nuclear emit no carbon dioxide. In 2013, coal accounted for 39 percent of U.S. power production, followed by natural gas (27 percent) and nuclear power (19 percent).

Because there are varying paths available to achieve the Clean Power Plan’s targets, the grid’s resulting reliability is hard to predict. An EPA spokeswoman pointed us toward several documents containing EPA analyses of reliability, all of which found little cause for concern. For example, EPA estimates a reduction in total “operational capacity” — how much electricity generation is available — of 3.5 percent in 2020, mostly due to coal plant retirements. The details and the amount of that reduction, EPA says, means the rule will “have little overall impact.”

Still, several of the organizations responsible for moving electricity around the country and maintaining the grid (known as ISOs — independent system operators — and RTOs — regional transmission organizations) have expressed concerns. These groups are nonprofit organizations that do not take policy positions.

For example, the Midcontinent ISO, which covers parts of 15 states from North Dakota down to Louisiana, released its preliminary findings on reliability in November 2014, and noted some “reliability concerns” regarding the timing of the Clean Power Plan rules. Because the rules would lead to retirement of power plants before otherwise planned, MISO’s CEO said that “[b]uilding new generation, natural gas infrastructure and transmission facilities necessary to support electric system reliability will take more time than the interim performance period allows.” If the rule goes into effect largely as proposed, states would be expected to start “to make meaningful progress toward reductions by 2020.”

Similarly, in comments filed with the EPA, the New York ISO wrote that “the Clean Power Plan presents potentially serious reliability implications for New York.”

The Southwest Power Pool, which covers Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of several other states, has expressed similar concerns: “Unless the proposed CPP is modified, the SPP region faces serious, detrimental impacts on reliable operation of the bulk electric system — introducing the very real possibility of rolling blackouts or cascading outages that will have significant impacts on human health, public safety, and economic activity.”

Again, this is due to the retirement of power generating facilities. SPP estimated that its “reserve margin,” essentially how much electricity is available to meet periods of high demand, would drop well below its required minimum of 13.6 percent down to 4.7 percent in 2020 and below zero in 2024. Though building new generation could change these numbers, SPP says there won’t be enough time to complete such construction.

Some other ISOs and RTOs continue to study the issue but have not issued specific findings. PJM Interconnection, for example, which coordinates electricity in parts of 13 states and Washington D.C., told us in an email that a full analysis will be completed this spring.

“Our preliminary review suggests that power plant retirements that would result from CPP likely would occur over time, potentially making the retirements more manageable … assuming that transmission upgrades are made in a timely manner,” said PJM’s Ray Dotter.

A collective group of the grid operators called the ISO/RTO Council has suggested that the Clean Power Plan would benefit from a “reliability safety valve.” This would essentially build in reviews of grid reliability to the final rule, and allow for some “enforcement flexibility” to help lessen any damaging impacts.

Outside of the grid operators, there are conflicting studies on how the Clean Power Plan and the related retirement of power plants might affect reliability. A report from the nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corp. (which is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) from November 2014 expressed concern about the plan, noting that “Essential Reliability Services may be strained by the proposed CPP” and that more time for the plan’s implementation might be necessary in order to ensure grid reliability.

Two studies funded by advocates for clean energy found otherwise. One was a report from the Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm: “These two responsibilities — assuring electric system reliability while taking the actions required under law to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants — are compatible, and need not be in tension with each other as long as parties act in timely ways.” This analysis was supported by the Energy Foundation, which works to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Another consulting firm, the Brattle Group, also found that “compliance with the CPP is unlikely to materially affect reliability.” This report was commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, a nonprofit that promotes “advanced” energy and describes the proposed EPA rule as “an opportunity to be embraced.”

The array of seemingly opposite conclusions has much to do with the fact that the Clean Power Plan is not yet in its final form, and that parties disagree about how quickly new generation facilities might be constructed. According to the Brattle Group report, North American Electric Reliability Corp. did not consider a wide variety of solutions to reliability concerns, including increasing uptake of energy storage technology and market incentives to improve performance. It is clear, though, that McCarthy’s statement is an oversimplification of a complicated topic.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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Biden Resurrects Bogus Talking Points http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/biden-resurrects-bogus-talking-points/ Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:00:58 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93022 Vice President Joe Biden resurrected years-old, Democratic talking points on the Affordable Care Act and oil production during a recent speech in New Hampshire:

  • Biden said the ACA would reduce U.S. debt by “another $1 trillion over the next 10 years.” That’s a Democratic estimate for 10 years starting in 2022 or 2023, not the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office projects the law would reduce the deficit by $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period, but said beyond that it is “very difficult to predict.”
  • Biden said North America has “more gas and oil rigs … pumping today than all the rest of the world combined.” It’s true North America had 2,051 rigs operating in January, nearly 800 more than the “international rig count” of 1,258, according to industry data. But the international data do not include China and Russia, two top oil-producing countries.

Biden hasn’t said if he will run for president in 2016, but he has been making visits to key early primary states, including Iowa, South Carolina and, most recently, New Hampshire. He visited the University of New Hampshire School of Law on Feb. 25 to pick up the Warren B. Rudman Award for Distinguished Public Service.

In his speech at the law school, the vice president gave an upbeat assessment of the Obama administration’s achievements and the direction of the economy.

$1 Trillion Deficit Reduction?

Biden made his comment about the Affordable Care Act — referring to debt instead, which is the accumulation of yearly deficits minus any surpluses — when speaking on economic policies.

To be sure, CBO has long estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce yearly deficits, not add to them once both spending and revenues from the law are taken into account. But in recent years, CBO has stopped giving a hard estimate for even the next 10 years, saying instead only that “the ACA will reduce deficits over the next 10 years and in the subsequent decade.”

The latest hard number projection — $109 billion of deficit reduction over 10 years – is from a July 2012 CBO analysis of a Republican bill to repeal the ACA. The analysis went on to say, in reluctant, uncertain terms, that for the subsequent 10-year period (beginning in 2023), repealing the ACA would increase deficits by “a broad range around one-half percent of [gross domestic product],” meaning that with the law in place, deficits would be reduced by that general amount. (A 2011 CBO analysis gave the same loose, long-range estimate.)

CBO noted that the agency “does not generally provide cost estimates beyond the 10-year projection period,” because it’s difficult to project that far into the future. “Over a longer time span, a wide range of changes could occur — in people’s health, in the sources and extent of their insurance coverage, and in the delivery of medical care — that are very difficult to predict but that could have a significant effect on federal health care spending.” And, CBO said, such a calculation has to assume that all provisions of current law won’t change over the following 20 years, an iffy proposition.

Despite all of those caveats, Democrats took the “one-half percent of GDP” estimate and calculated that it would amount to a little more than $1 trillion, based on estimates of what GDP would be two decades into the future.

We first wrote about this claim in January 2011, when Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi claimed, as she was passing the gavel to Speaker John Boehner, that the health care law would “save taxpayers $1.3 trillion.” A few months later, in April 2011, President Obama said in a speech on deficit reduction that the ACA “will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.” Neither politician mentioned that this was a 20-year figure filled with uncertainty.

In March 2011, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf said in testimony to Congress that the impact of the law “becomes more and more uncertain the farther into the future one projects,” calling the second decade estimate “a rough outlook.”

The White House still includes the shaky deficit reduction claim on its website pages on the economy, saying the ACA would reduce the deficit “more than $1 trillion in the second decade.” The administration might want to update that page: It also includes an old estimate that the law would extend health insurance to 34 million Americans. CBO said in 2011 that that would be the reduction in the uninsured by 2020, but the most recent CBO estimate is a reduction of 27 million.

That’s just one illustration of how these types of estimates of future outcomes can change over time.

Rigging Oil Rig Data

The vice president also discussed energy, describing North America as “the epicenter of energy for the 21st century.” But then he went too far when he compared the number of operating crude oil and natural gas rigs in North America with the rest of the world.

Biden, Feb. 25: We have more gas and oil rigs, whether you like it or not, pumping today than all the rest of the world combined today. Combined today. And it’s growing.

We asked the vice president’s office where Biden got his information, but we did not receive a response. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration — which collects data on U.S. oil and gas rigs, but not for other countries — referred us to Baker Hughes Inc., an oilfield service provider. Baker Hughes has been providing the industry with North America rig counts since 1944 and international rig counts since 1975. The company’s most recent monthly report shows that in January there were 2,051 rigs operating in North America (defined as Canada and the United States), while the “international rig count” was 1,258.

Those figures give the false impression that Biden is correct. He’s not.

Baker Hughes does not include data for countries where reliable information is difficult to obtain. The company’s international rig counts do not include, for example, all of Russia and land rigs in China. Both are major oil-producing countries. In fact, the EIA says Russia and China were the third and fourth top oil-producing countries in the world, respectively, in 2013.

Baker Hughes, on its FAQ page, lists the countries and regions that are not included in its international rig count:

Baker Hughes FAQ page: The Baker Hughes International Rotary Rig Count is a monthly census of active drilling rigs exploring for or developing oil or natural gas outside North America (U.S. and Canada). The Baker Hughes International Rotary Rig Count does not include rigs drilling in Russia, the Caspian region, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea or onshore China. Iraq was excluded from the International Rotary Rig Count for the period September 1990 to May 2012. Syria is currently excluded from the International Rotary Rig Count as of February 2012 due to difficulty obtaining data as a result of continued civil unrest.

Baker Hughes does include offshore rigs in China, but there were only 33 of them in January. Most of China’s oil and gas rigs are on land.

BP Energy Outlook 2030, a report released in January 2013 by British Petroleum, estimated that, in 2011, China had about 1,500 land rigs in operation, and Russia, identified in the BP report as FSU (the Former Soviet Union), had more than 1,000. (See the chart in the BP report labeled “Onshore oil & gas rigs 2011.”) So, Russia and China combined — let alone the rest of the world — had more rigs operating in 2011 than North America, which Baker Hughes says had 2,298 that year.

Biden’s claim that the North America rig count is “growing” is also false. He could have made that case a few months ago, but plummeting crude oil prices have forced companies to shut down rigs.

As we mentioned, North America had 2,051 oil and gas rigs in operation as of January. That’s over 200 fewer than were operating in January 2014, when there were 2,273 rigs operating in North America. And the number of operating rigs continues to fall. For the week ending Feb. 20, there were 1,670 operating rigs in North America, down from 1,740 the prior week and down from 2,403 for the same week a year ago, according to Baker Hughes.

Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy firm that also produces rig counts, blamed the steady decline in active rigs on falling crude oil prices.

Wood Mackenzie press release, Feb. 19: “The oil price collapse is hitting onshore activity and rig operators, drilling rigs are currently being stacked at an alarming rate,” says Scott Mitchell, Research Director at Wood Mackenzie.

As for rigs in the United States, Wood Mackenzie’s release said the post-recession peak occurred in November 2014, when there was a monthly average of 1,859 active rigs in the U.S. But even at its recent peak, the number of U.S. rigs in operation was far less than what it was in the 1980s.

EIA historical data, from 1949 through 2012, show the number of crude oil and natural gas rigs peaked at 3,970 in 1981. So, the current level is less than half what it was more than three decades ago.

In boasting about North America having more oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined, Biden was repeating an old, Democratic talking point that Politifact wrote about in 2012, when President Obama made a similar claim. It should be retired.

– Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely

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Feb. 21: ACA, Immigration, NIH Budget http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/feb-21-aca-immigration-nih-budget/ Sat, 21 Feb 2015 14:59:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=93155
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‘Amnesty Bonuses’? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/02/amnesty-bonuses/ Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:12:51 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92788 Q: Will people living in the U.S. illegally receive “amnesty bonuses” because of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration?
A: There is no automatic payment, but some working immigrants could claim up to four years of earned income tax credits if they meet eligibility requirements.

FULL QUESTION

Is it true that illegal immigrants who sign up and who have paid no income taxes will get back $24,000 though they have not paid any income taxes?

____________________________________

Is it true that illegal immigrants who receive amnesty and a Social Security number would receive Earned Income Tax Credits for the previous three years without paying taxes for those years?

FULL ANSWER

Several readers have asked if President Obama is “granting amnesty bonuses to illegal immigrants.”

No, the administration isn’t giving automatic payments to all immigrants who may be affected by executive actions the president announced in November.

However, it’s possible that some of those who have been working while living in the U.S. illegally — even if they paid no income tax — could receive several thousands of dollars in tax credits from the IRS if they file tax returns.

But Republican Rep. Paul Gosar went way too far at a town hall meeting in Arizona on Feb. 9 when he claimed “each illegal alien will get $24,000 in compensation.”

That amount is the maximum in tax credits that a family with three or more children could receive if they filed a tax return this year and amended tax returns for work done in past years.

What is this all about?

Obama’s immigration actions would allow parents illegally residing in the U.S. for at least five years, and who also have children who are citizens or legal permanent residents, to remain in the country for up to three years without the threat of deportation, if they register and pass a background check. If they meet the requirements, they would also be given work authorization for the three-year period and would be able to get a Social Security number.

With that Social Security number, they would be able to file new tax returns, or amend old ones, and possibly claim the earned income tax credit that helps low-income workers.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen confirmed that fact during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 11.

Koskinen: … to be eligible for the earned income tax credit you have to work. It’s in the earned income tax credit.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney: Correct.

Koskinen: To apply — be able to apply for it, you have to have a Social Security number.

Mulvaney: OK.

Koskinen: So if you either are — we have about 700,000 [Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers] out there by the illegal immigrants who are paying taxes …

Mulvaney: Correct.

Koskinen: … but they’re not eligible to apply because they don’t have a Social Security number.

Mulvaney: But several million of them will get Social Security numbers under the new program, right?

Koskinen: And under the new program, if you get a Social Security number and you work, you’ll be eligible to apply for the earned income tax credit. You will get them — an amount depending on your situation.

Koskinen told Mulvaney and other committee members that “if you get a Social Security number, you can then file for this year if you’re working, and if you earned income in the three years before that and filed, you’ll be eligible.”

Those living in the country illegally and working can file tax returns using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, but those ITINs can’t be used to claim the earned income tax credit. So, those who filed with an ITIN would have to submit amended returns to receive any credits.

But Koskinen also said that even those who had not filed tax returns in the past could attempt to claim the credits for work done up to three years ago.

“If you did not file, you’ll have to file a return and you’ll have to file to demonstrate with the same information you would — anybody else would that you actually earned income and, therefore, [are] eligible,” he said.

That last point about non-filers was a clarification from an earlier Senate Finance Committee hearing on Feb. 3, in which Koskinen mistakenly told committee members that only those immigrants who had previously filed returns would be eligible to claim the credits retroactively.

We should note that the EITC is a refundable tax credit. That is, if the credit is greater than a worker’s tax liability, the IRS will refund the difference. The IRS will even refund the amount of the credit if the worker — whether a citizen or immigrant who qualifies for the reprieve from deportation — paid no income tax.

$24,000 ‘Bonuses’?

So how much could those successfully claiming the credits receive?

Gosar, an Arizona congressman, said “it was learned that the household income deferred tax credit applies retroactively three years. So each illegal alien will get $24,000 in compensation.” That’s not accurate at all.

As we said, there is no automatic payment for anyone. Even those who apply for the tax credits are not guaranteed to get anything, let alone the highest amount possible.

Some have correctly noted that for those with large families — having at least three qualifying children — the tax credits could amount to as much as $24,000 over four years. But that’s only if the immigrants qualified for the maximum credit of about $6,000 each year and owed little to no income tax on their earnings.

Those eligible for the EITC could receive a lot less depending on their income, marital status and family size. The income limits and credit ranges for 2014 are as follows:

Number of Qualifying Children For Single/Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er), Income Must be Less Than For Married Filing Jointly, Income Must be Less Than Range of EITC
0 $14,590 $20,020 $2 to $496
1 $38,511 $43,941 $9 to $3,305
2 $43,756 $49,186 $10 to $5,460
3+ $46,997 $52,427 $11 to $6,143

So a $6,000 credit each year is by no means a guarantee.

According to IRS statistics, nearly 28 million people received the EITC in 2013, totaling more than $66 billion. The average credit that year was $2,407.

The Pew Research Center estimates that Obama’s planned actions on deferred deportation would affect about 4 million immigrants, most of whom — 3.5 million — are parents whose children have legal status. But Pew didn’t say, and Koskinen said the IRS doesn’t know, how many immigrants may receive the tax credits or how much it could cost the government.

And now, it’s at least possible that immigrants who were set to apply to Obama’s expanded deferred action program won’t get anything.

In Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued a ruling on Feb. 16, temporarily blocking the administration’s planned immigration actions from taking effect.

“The judge said that the administration’s programs would impose major burdens on states, unleashing illegal immigration and straining state budgets, and that the administration had not followed required procedures for changing federal rules,” reported the New York Times.

The White House has said that the Justice Department will appeal the decision.

– D’Angelo Gore

Sources

Senate Committee on Finance. Hearing on Internal Revenue Service Operations and the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016. 3 Feb 2015.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Hearing on “GAO’s High Risk Report: 25 Years of Problematic Practice.” 11 Feb 2015.

Associated Press. “Republicans Critical of Obama’s ‘Amnesty Bonuses.’ ” 14 Feb 2015.

IRS. Statistics for Tax Returns with EITC. Accessed 18 Feb 2015.

IRS. Tax Year 2014 Income Limits and Range of EITC. Accessed 18 Feb 2015.

White House. “Immigration Accountability Executive Action.” Fact sheet. 20 Nov 2014.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel and Passel, Jeffrey S. “Those from Mexico will benefit most from Obama’s executive action.” Pew Research Center. 20 Nov 2014.

Shear, Michael D. and Preston, Julia. “Dealt Setback, Obama Puts Off Immigrant Plan.” New York Times. 17 Feb 2015.

Kessler, Glenn. “Lawmaker bungles immigration facts at town hall meeting.” Washington Post. 20 Feb 2015.

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