News: CJ Exclusives

No Cost-Benefit on Recommendations

Senator believes he was misled on consultant’s credentials

A consultant to North Carolina’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group yesterday acknowledged that his organization has conducted no cost-benefit analysis of recommendations CAPAG has made to a special legislative commission on global warming.

State Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican and member of the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change, questioned Tom Peterson of the Center for Climate Strategies, who is advising CAPAG, yesterday during a 3 ½-hour meeting at the General Assembly complex. Pittenger, in a phone interview following the meeting, criticized the lack of a cost-benefit review of what CAPAG’s recommendations — which would ostensibly lower greenhouse gas emissions — would do to the state’s economy.

“I think it’s ludicrous,” Pittenger told Carolina Journal. “[A cost-benefit analysis] should be part of the process. Without that, we haven’t served the public well. We need to know what the costs are in energy and raising taxes, and we need to know the benefits of all the 56 recommendations.”

CCS measures benefits only in the amount of carbon dioxide emissions reduced and the cost for their elimination. No effect on the climate; on net CO2 left in the atmosphere; or on economic impact, is measured.

In a question-and-answer session following a presentation by Peterson, Pittenger asked about CCS’s analysis, funding sources, and credentials. CAPAG has produced 56 policy recommendations to help lower carbon dioxide emissions in North Carolina, and CCS provided all the options that the panel studied.

Peterson denied that environmental interests like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which paid for nearly three-quarters of the cost of the CAPAG process, were promised any favorable results.

“The work we did in this process was structured to support the goals of [the Department of Environment and Natural Resources],” Peterson said. The N.C. Division of Air Quality determined in 2005 that greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide) created by human activity are the primary cause of global warming, and established CAPAG to study reduction of those emissions.

Pittenger also inquired about the credentials of the consultants CCS uses (CCS has none of its own employees, according to its most recent tax return), asking whether they had any economists. Peterson answered that they had many, “including myself.”

But afterward, Pittenger was angered to learn that Peterson’s biographical information on two Internet sites showed no higher-education degrees in economics.

“I think his statement was deceptive and not a straightforward answer,” Pittenger said. “As a result of his unwillingness to state the truth regarding his background, that discounts the work of CCS.”

On CCS’s Web site, Peterson lists a B.S. degree in Biology from the College of William & Mary; a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University; and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. His work history includes positions with the Environmental Protection Agency as an “economist with the…Office of Transportation and Air Quality” and as an “economist with EPA’s Water and Agriculture Policy Division.”

However another biographical sketch of Peterson at the Pennsylvania State University Web site, where he is listed as an adjunct professor at the Dickinson School of Law, does not mention his role as an economist for the EPA. A job advertisement for various positions of “economist” at the EPA requires a Ph.D. in economics, which Peterson apparently does not possess.

“Benefit-cost analysis skills and research experience in environmental, natural resource, agricultural, or related applied microeconomic fields are required,” the EPA job posting says.

An email to Peterson and a message left at the CCS office in Pennsylvania, inquiring about his background, were not returned.

Following Peterson at the legislative committee meeting was a presentation by David Ponder, a graduate research assistant in the Political Science department at Appalachian State University. CCS subcontracted for the Energy Center at Appalachian State to conduct a “macroeconomic analysis” on CAPAG’s recommendations.

Ponder cited, in what CCS and the Division emphasized were preliminary findings, that the bulk of CAPAG’s recommendations could produce more than 328,000 net new jobs by the year 2020. Ponder said the study was patterned after the N.C. Energy Scenario Economic Impact Model, which was developed two years ago for the N.C. Energy Policy Council.

Pittenger also questioned Ponder’s ability to carry out a credible economic analysis, given his political science emphasis.

“They don’t have people who are credible to speak to the cost-benefit analysis of the issue,” he said.

More than two weeks ago CJ submitted a public records request to Appalachian State requesting all records regarding the Energy Center’s study of CAPAG’s recommendations. Information about the request has been sparse. Yesterday, public information officer Jane Nicholson responded in an email: “Awaiting information from the university attorney.” Energy Center director Dennis Grady and technical director Jeff Tiller have not returned several phone messages and emails inquiring about the records.

The Division of Air Quality says it has seen no written economic analysis or data that the Energy Center has conducted, and therefore had no documents to provide in a separate CJ records request.

Prior to the meeting of the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change, Pittenger co-hosted a press conference with the John Locke Foundation that emphasized a peer review of CCS’s economic analysis methodology in other states, written by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Massachusetts. The Locke Foundation publishes Carolina Journal.

At the press conference Pittenger criticized how little attention the legislative commission has paid to climate science, noting that only two of roughly 75 experts called to testify before the commission have been climate scientists.

“It’s been a defense for the anthropogenic cause,” he said of the legislative commission process. Later he added, “We’ve got a bunch of liberal greenies who have just enough information to be dangerous.”

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.