September 19, 2013
(This article originally appeared on townhall.com September 13, 2013) What many Americans may not know is that the substance that is poured into millions of American fuel tanks every year can no longer be classified as gasoline. Due to legislation passed in 2007, the government requires that millions of gallons of ethanol be blended into gasoline each year to create a form of biofuel. The legislation was passed on the premise that the demand for gasoline would increase over time, making fuel more expensive. And, by mandating that ethanol be blended into gasoline, legislators believed that the country would become less reliant on traditional fuels, driving prices down in the process. But the idea backfired and consumers and taxpayers are suffering. A funny (but not unexpected) thing happened along the way to the pump. Rather than Americans guzzling down an increasing amount of gasoline, new technologies were invented that revolutionized fuel efficiency. In turn, there has been a decrease in demand for fuel, meaning that the legislation was based on a faulty premise. Now, instead of using common sense and logic by calling on Congress to reform or repeal the legislation, President Obama has been using the mandate to pedal his green energy agenda, which not surprisingly relies on higher fuel prices.» Read More
September 17, 2013
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US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit (courtesy Wikipedia)
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in a case that has Verizon taking on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in a battle over regulations and the Internet, aka Net Neutrality. Verizon, one of the nation's largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), will make their case to the appellate court for the right to charge fees to content providers who are willing to pay to have their data transported faster to customers. While the FCC contends that Verizon and other ISPs must provide content freely so that all have an equal ability to reach consumers, the critical issue is whether or not Verizon has the ability to manage its network to provide the best possible service for its customers. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been no stranger to this debate and the warning signs have been clear for a potential power grab from the FCC. “Net neutrality,” which is loosely defined as a system that allows information on the Internet to move freely without regard to content is in reality, a not so subtle attempt to regulate the Internet. The truth is that the Internet has thrived because government has, up until now, kept a light regulatory touch on the Internet. Quick reacting business and free market forces have kept the Internet thriving, slow unresponsive government bureaucracies would certainly have an adverse impact on the quality of service and capabilities available to consumers and businesses who depend on the Internet in their everyday lives. A new regulatory regime for the Internet will stifle innovation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a newly created, and unwarranted bureaucracy.
August 30, 2013
As we head into the Labor Day weekend (the unofficial end of summer), the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) continues its “Recess Watch” series with an issue that should be of great importance to taxpayers, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system. LEED is owned by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and used by the General Services Administration (GSA) as the exclusive system to certify federal buildings as “green.” TPA has done extensive work over the last year looking for answers about the program (read here and here) including Freedom of Information Act requests that have yet to be answered. The latest developments on LEED come out West from the editorial board at The Oregonian, as it becomes clear once again that the original mission of LEED and the way in which standards for the certification system are being decided are not one in the same. » Read More
August 26, 2013
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(courtesy Peretz Partensky)
Even though sequestration triggered across-the-board spending cuts (which many exaggerated would bring about the end of the world), there is still a great deal of room for more cuts at many agencies and to many programs. One of the most blatant examples that continues to plague the government are the number of vacant buildings that the government is paying more than a billion dollars to keep regardless of the fact that nobody has been using them for quite some time. A report from Big Government revealed that taxpayers are on the hook for $8 billion with vacant and unused properties. The federal government blames red tape and various other legalities for the excess properties. In fact, it is this same red tape that is preventing them from making the empty buildings available for sale. Kristen Hinman at Bloomberg writes that in order to be able to sell a property, the government must first “offer them for free to ‘homeless-services providers’, in turn forgoing any sales’ proceeds.” Though this may seem well-intentioned, the simple fact is that most of these buildings are not suitable for that and a simple rule turns into a compliance nightmare that prevents these empty structures from being sold and perpetuates the wasted taxpayer dollars spent on upkeep and maintenance.
August 19, 2013
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EPA building (Washington, D.C.)
One of the key hallmarks of the Obama Administration is their perpetual use of the regulatory process as a means to accomplish goals that cannot be done within the scope of the normal way of passing legislation through Congress. A key element is the direction and power the President gives to his executive branch agencies to carry out these harmful regulatory ‘recommendations’. The latest example is the so-called ‘social cost of carbon’ being used by the Obama Administration as a means to yet again impose more costs on taxpayers and consumers. According to Reason, the social cost of carbon refers to “the economic and ecological damage caused each time we add a ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.” The hitch is that is the figures were put together in 2010 by the White House Interagency Working Group using questionable computer models and outdated information with which projections were being based upon to reach a cost assessment. The original estimation by the group and agreed upon by the Administration was recently revised upwards setting off a chain reaction that has put this issue at the forefront in Congress as many members view this as just another way to burden businesses, consumers, and taxpayers with needless and counterproductive regulations.
August 13, 2013
Retransmission consent and the Cable Act of 1992 may not initially sound like a hot button issue for taxpayers and consumers. But, a closer look shows that it is an issue that affects millions of people when major sports championships like the World Series or Super Bowls are blacked out because of disputes between content providers (CNS, ABC, et.) and video distributors (cable systems, satellite providers). In fact, in 2012 the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) retransmission consent rules almost stopped some Bostonians from watching the Super Bowl. According to a January 26, 2012 article in the Union Leader, “Villandry is among 200,000 DirecTV subscribers who may be blacked out from watching Super Bowl XLVI, the result of an ongoing dispute between the satellite provider and Sunbeam Television Corporation, which owns the NBC affiliate in Boston. A conflict over retransmission consent fees has prevented DirecTV customers in Greater Boston and New Hampshire from watching NBC since Jan. 14.” The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has been writing about retransmission consent and the need to update the Cable Act of 1992, and how there is an inherit advantage for broadcasters: leverage in negotiations with monopoly cable providers, granting broadcasters the right to choose between guaranteed carriage or insisting that multichannel video programming distributors (cable and satellite providers) obtain and pay for a station’s consent to retransmit the station to local subscribers. The latest consequence of this leverage is the continued standoff between CBS and Time Warner which has led to blackouts for certain regional customer bases. The conflict not only gives more incentive to revisit current legislation, but it also serves as a reminder of the dangers of other legislation, specifically net neutrality and why it would be harmful for customers and businesses in the industry. That is why today, along with Americans for Job Security, Center for Individual Freedom, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and Less Government, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance sent a letter to the House of Representatives urging them to follow the example set by the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, which was introduced in the 112th Congress by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) in order to get government out of the video marketplace, and to allow negotiations to take place in a true free market.
Click 'read more' below to see the coalition letter » Read More
Nothing Fair About the "Internet Radio Fairness Act" as TPA Joins Coalition Against House LegislationDavid Williams on
August 5, 2013
There are a number of ways that consumers can listen to music including downloads and streaming "radio" services like Pandora radio or Spotify. And, with any burgeoning technology there comes some government officials who just don't understand what the government should or shouldn't be doing. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance keeps a close eye out whenever the government or government officials talk about “fairness” and with the recent passage in the Senate of the destructive Marketplace Fairness Act, it is no surprise that the Internet Radio Fairness Act is something TPA strongly opposes considering there is nothing “fair" about the proposed law. This legislation “would require the government to grant subsidized, below-market rates to Internet radio companies for their input costs.” This is an approach that clearly ignores free-market principles and allows the government to pick and choose winners and losers in the marketplace. The government being involved in setting rates will prohibit a truly free market from existing when compensating music owners and creators for their labor. The best way forward is to get the government out of rate-setting, rather than perpetuate government involvement by granting below-market rates to favored groups. A broad coalition of free-market thinking groups joined together to send this coalition letter last week expressing opposition and urging members to defeat the Internet Radio Fairness Act.
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'Sue and Settle' Update: Oklahoma Leads the Way as A Dozen States File Suit Against the EPA in Federal CourtMichi Iljazi on
July 22, 2013
EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (courtesy Wikimedia)
The federal government seems to have quite a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to spending and regulation. ‘Sue and settle’ is the latest tactic used by the federal government and environmental groups to increase the federal government’s regulatory power over the private sector. The way this tactic is employed is when a federal agency, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a like-minded group, like the Sierra Club, coordinate a lawsuit between each other where there is no aggrieved party. The court then quickly adopts a pre-arranged settlement. Not only does this undermine the adversarial litigation process, the settlements pave the way for new regulations that are favored by the environmental groups and the EPA. The deadline to execute the settlement is intentionally short term, which leaves those affected by the new regulation with little opportunity to react. The EPA then implements the new regulation on a rapid timetable and, if questioned, the agency defends its actions as “court-ordered.” Now it appears that several states have had enough, and have decided to take on the EPA and ‘sue and settle’ in court. Led by Oklahoma’s Attorney General (AG) Scott Pruitt, 12 state AG’s have filed suit against the EPA demanding the agency turn over documents that may prove to show the pattern of cooperation and collaboration with various environmental organizations that has been termed ‘sue and settle.’ » Read More
July 19, 2013
Just when you thought you heard it all along comes the federal government to throw a curveball at you. In a story that is part comical, part frustrating, but 100 percent true; the US Department of Agriculture compelled a magician to come up with a disaster plan in case something occurs (i.e. hurricane). The plan the feds want is not for the magician though, they want it for his rabbit. Yes, HIS RABBIT:
“My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist. I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly. I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.”» Read More
June 28, 2013
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has been looking into the pernicious practice known as “sue and settle” for some time now. Sue and settle has harmful consequences for consumers, business, and taxpayers. Sue and Settle occurs when the EPA and a like-minded group coordinate a lawsuit between each other where there is no aggrieved party. The court then quickly adopts a pre-arranged settlement. In addition to undermining the adversarial litigation process, that settlement paves the way for new regulations that are favored by the environmental groups and the EPA. The Obama Administration has aggressively used Sue and Settle to further the regulatory power of the federal government but we have reached a tipping point. Today, TPA led an effort with seven other concerned organizations including National Taxpayers Union, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Independent Women’s Forum, National Center for Public Policy Research, Americans for Job Security, Frontiers of Freedom, and the Competetive Enterprise Institute sending a coalition letter to both the Senate and House of Representatives urging them to support legislation from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga) to bring much needed transparency to “sue and settle.” The Taxpayers Protection Alliance will continue efforts to shed light on this practice with the hopes of bringing it to an end.
Click read more to see the full letter » Read More
June 3, 2013
On Friday, May 31, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance urged the Senate to end the government’s duplicate catfish inspection program, which wastes $30 million in taxpayer funds annually. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already inspects imported catfish, a food it labels as “low risk” for contamination. However, as a payoff to the domestic catfish industry, language was added to the pork-laden 2008 Farm Bill to add a second inspection under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the Government Accountability Office and the USDA, preparing for the program’s implementation cost taxpayers $19.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2012 – all without a single inspection. Similar amounts were likely spent in FY 2013, according to Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). TPA applauds Senators McCain and Shaheen, as well as the 11 other senators from both parties, who are leading the fight to repeal this provision. Doing so today would save taxpayers $165 million in future spending, according to the Government Accountability Office.” Visit http://repealcatfish.com/ for more information on the USDA’s catfish inspection program. » Read More
May 10, 2013
(The following op-ed first appeared in Roll Call on May 7, 2013) The Environmental Protection Agency is always looking for ways to expand its power and scope. That’s not exactly news in Washington and not dissimilar to most federal bureaucracies. But unlike many other agencies, the EPA has figured out a way to completely eschew government transparency and circumvent the traditional regulatory process in a way that needlessly spends more taxpayer dollars. This unconventional tactic, known as “sue and settle,” works when the EPA and a like-minded group, such as the Environmental Working Group, coordinate a lawsuit between each other where there is no aggrieved party. The court then quickly adopts a pre-arranged settlement. In addition to undermining the adversarial litigation process, that settlement paves the way for new regulations that are favored by the environmental groups and the EPA — such as tougher emission standards for fossil fuels. » Read More
March 25, 2013
The net neutrality world is all-abuzz with the announcement that Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) Julius Genachowski is retiring. According to The Hill, “The net neutrality rules were one of the defining achievements of the tenure of Chairman Julius Genachowski,…” That is not a good legacy and should not be considered an “achievement.” “Net neutrality,” which is loosely defined as a system that allows information on the Internet to move freely without regard to content, is in reality a not so subtle attempt to regulate the Internet and the next Chairman will determine the fate of net neutrality. The Hill also noted that, “Berin Szoka, the president of libertarian think tank TechFreedom, said he hopes the next chairman abandons the fight over net neutrality. ‘I am mystified why we have spent the last seven years arguing about net neutrality,’ Szoka said. He argued that the Federal Trade Commission's existing authority to police anti-competitive and deceptive business practices is sufficient to address potential net neutrality abuses.” The truth is that the Internet has thrived because government has, up until now, kept a light regulatory touch on the Internet. Quick reacting business and free market forces will keep the Internet thriving, not slow unresponsive government bureaucracies. A new regulatory regime for the Internet will stifle innovation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a newly created bureaucracy.» Read More
March 7, 2013
On January 17, 2013, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the General Services Administration requesting, “a copy of all e-mails to the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ from the General Services Administration from 2002 to 2011,” and “a copy of all e-mails from the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ to the General Services Administration from 2002 to 2011. A third FOIA request was sent for “a copy of all General Services Administration e-mails that mention the U.S. Green Building Council or the ‘USGBC’ from 2002 to 2011.” These requests are part of an ongoing investigation by TPA into the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system promulgated by the USGBC and mandated by the GSA for all new federal buildings. As of March 7, 2013, TPA has received no response to the FOIA requests. Even if there were no records that were responsive to the requests, GSA should have notified TPA with that information. USGBC may have inadvertently forced GSA to play their hand when they mentioned to a reporter (in response to TPA’s FOIAs), “The group is likely to be disappointed, says Lane Burt, USGBC’s director of technical policy, who adds that USGBC staff members correspond regularly with GSA staff members.” The good news is that the USGBC has at least acknowledged that records exist. The bad news is that there hasn’t been a response from the GSA.» Read More
January 17, 2013
Today, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) intensified it’s investigation into the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system by submitting three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (click here, here, and here.) to see what kind of collaboration there was between the General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Green Building Council USGBC (USGBC). Since 2010, GSA has mandated LEED gold standards for all new federal buildings. TPA has been concerned about private, non-science based non-profit organizations like the USGBC being involved in creating environmental standards that are then relied upon to dictate government policies and in turn cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Last year, TPA highlighted the fundamental problems with LEED and the attempt to institute LEED v.4 (read here and here). In TPA’s public comment letter to the USGBC, TPA pointed out that products such as plastic insulation, vinyl roofing, and LED lighting are discouraged through the chemical avoidance credits in LEED v4, which uses the European Union’s REACH regulations as a benchmark. This is a standard that small and medium U.S. based manufacturers are unfamiliar with and will struggle to meet. Moreover, there are credits for certification in this new standard that could reward architects for rejecting modern technology and chose instead to use a thatched straw roof, yet the standards dissuade builders who use bullet resistant glass in federal courthouses. LEED v4 is filled with arbitrary and requirements that pick winners in losers in the marketplace. The USGBC seems to have undue influence in mandating LEED standards and now TPA wants answers.» Read More
August 9, 2012
When consumer demand exists, the market will satisfy it. Earlier this summer, Google unveiled a new product, Google Fiber, which provides super-fast Internet. How fast is super fast? As the New York Daily News reported “Google promised to provide Internet access at speeds of over 100 times faster than today’s average broadband rate…” Now that is fast. While Google’s formal announcement for Google Fiber only took a few minutes, preparation and creation of the service has been a long time coming. In spite of significant financial hurdles and with careful consideration, Google has chosen to take the risk and – when the time comes – rightfully reap the reward for the creation of Google Fiber. Google’s decision to begin to build out its new Google Fiber service was certainly not a rash one. As the Kansas City Star reported, “… no matter how badly the corner geek wants Internet speeds of one gigabit-per-second… he won’t be able to get it unless about 10 percent of his neighbors also register for Google hook-up.” There’s a good reason for this. A company doesn’t want to waste its money and resources on an area or product that is without demand among consumers. Google didn’t have to be too concerned about this though. It was reported that “More than 1,100 communities pleaded with Google to make them the company’s Internet service Guinea pig.”» Read More
July 19, 2012
Today the House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled, “Continuing Oversight of Regulatory Impediments to Job Creation and Job Creators Still Buried by Red Tape.” Given our nation’s current economic plight, job creation should remain at the forefront of every policy makers’ considerations. In order for companies and small businesses to be able to hire more employees, a hospitable environment must exist that will encourage businesses to invest in new endeavors. On the other hand, what businesses need least when it comes to prompting job creation is another unnecessary, ineffective government regulation. More often than not, additional government regulations not only dissuade companies from expanding, the new requirement actually will create an environment where it is cost prohibitive for the company to remain in business. Today’s hearing examined potential changes to the government’s flavor-of-the-day regulation, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which the Government Services Administration (GSA) uses as its only green building rating system. If these new LEED standards are adopted, another blow to job creation will likely result. » Read More
June 29, 2012
Last week the internet was abuzz with the idea that some countries were proposing that the U.N. should take over management of the Internet. Later this year in Dubai, at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, the technology arm of the U.N., a plan will be debated that would allow this international body to take over some control of the Internet. According to the Associated Press on June 23, 2102, “Secret negotiations among dozens of countries preparing for a United Nations summit could lead to changes in a global treaty that would diminish the Internet's role in economic growth and restrict the free flow of information.” Allowing the U.N. or some member countries to manage the Internet could result in a myriad of problems. As people often quip, if something is not broken, there is no need to fix it. As Ariel Rabkin told The Weekly Standard in 2009, “The management of the Domain Name System has been largely apolitical, and most of the disputes that have arisen have been of interest only to insiders and the technology industry. IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, operated on behalf of the Commerce Department] has concerned itself with fairly narrow questions like ‘Should we allow names ending in .info?"’ Commercial questions about ownership of names, like other property disputes, are settled in national courts.’” Rabkin as noted that allowing international government bodies to manage the internet could result in more problems like such as “Domain names presenting political questions. Which side in a civil war should control Pakistan's Internet domain. . . ” and the “Control of Internet names could become a lever to impose restrictions on Internet content.” » Read More
June 12, 2012
There are plenty of examples where government programs come up short, but one area where we usually can count on the government to come through is in its creation and implementation of nanny-state regulations. As recent examples make clear, there’s certainly no shortage of government dictates that walk us closer and closer down the path toward a nanny state. From what size soda you’re able to purchase to how you can transport your pet, each example seems more egregious than the next. And just when you think you’ve heard the worst of them, a new one comes along to rear its ugly head: the “Safe Routes to School” program. Like most government programs, the title of this program is at best innocuous and vague. And even after examining its stated purpose: “to reduce vehicle usage, increase foot traffic, and consequently create healthier children and a cleaner environment,” a lot of questions remain unanswered. For example, a lot of ambiguity surrounds what constitutes a safe route and who determines what a safe route is. Perhaps still the most confounding element of this program is demonstrated by the amount of money the government has spent on it since 2005 – a whopping $1 billion!» Read More
May 2, 2012
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Hillbilly Handfishin’ and River Monsters are two television reality programs that show the struggle of catching catfish. At the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in the halls of Congress there is another catfish struggle. This one is between those that want to save an unnecessary bureaucracy and those that want to downsize government and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. According to an April 29, 2012 article in The Hill, “As the 2012 farm bill moves to the Senate floor, a scuffle has intensified over the inspection of catfish. The battle pits the southern catfish industry and its supporters against a wider coalition of agriculture groups and fiscal conservatives.’ Last year Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) led the fight against the new regulation. This year, they continue the battle joined by a group of 17 senators from both sides of the political aisle. Even though seafood is inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is a move to have foreign catfish put under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) inspection regime. While this may sound benign, it is a move that could drive up prices, add layers of bureaucracy to an industry that doesn’t need it and burden taxpayers with yet another expensive bureaucracy which could cost up to $30 million.