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May 26th, 2015 at 8:25 pm
Fifth Circuit Maintains Roadblock to Obama Immigration Amnesty

Today the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift an injunction prohibiting the Obama administration from implementing an executive amnesty program for millions of illegal immigrants.

Ken Paxton, the Attorney General of Texas who is leading a 26 state lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s amnesty order, applauded the court for stopping “a drastic change in immigration policy” since the program bypassed congressional approval. Texas is alleging significant financial burdens on state taxpayers if the federal government is allowed to proceed.

The Obama administration is now considering whether to appeal the Fifth Circuit’s opinion to the U.S. Supreme Court, a move which could backfire and derail a policy goal long sought by immigration activists.

This much we know: the rule of law has been preserved, at least for today.

H/T: New York Times

May 21st, 2015 at 12:25 pm
More GOP Debate Improvements

Add Daniel Henninger to the list of conservatives offering up new ideas to get the most out of the upcoming GOP presidential debates.

With as many as 19 Republicans possibly running for president, “something more is needed this time” than just a one-size-fits-all gabfest.

“In addition to the traditional debates, the candidates or their supporters should underwrite a series of smaller debates/conversations,” writes Henninger. “Divide the 19 into groups of four or five candidates, randomly selected. Pick the issues, and go at it. Give voters a chance to see who these mostly interesting people are and how their minds work outside the confines of a 60-second timer.”

In my column this week I lay out a proposal to randomly assign candidates into debating pairs so debaters can get more than the usual four to six minutes to speak. Henninger’s idea to put groups of four or five together may be more workable with such a large field. Either way, the key is to give every candidate sufficient time to make his or her case for the nomination.

There are several ideas for improving the quality of debate this go around. Let’s hope the people in charge of the process take some of them to heart.

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May 20th, 2015 at 3:11 pm
More Insurance, Less Health Care?

A new report says that the number of Americans who are ‘underinsured’ is 31 million people – double the figure from 2003.

Being underinsured means that a person has access to health insurance, but doesn’t use it to get healthy because the cost is too high.

ObamaCare – with the popularity of its high deductible insurance plans – may make the problem worse.

“The steady growth in the proliferation and size of deductibles threatens to increase underinsurance in the years ahead,” says the Commonwealth Fund report.

“People who have high deductibles do tend to skimp on healthcare,” Sara Collins, the study’s lead author, said to reporters.

That’s because a trip to the doctor’s office can generate thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses before the insurance company contributes a penny.

The Obama administration has claimed a lot of credit for lowering the uninsured population, but has been unsurprisingly mum about the uptick in the number of underinsured Americans. If this trend continues, millions of people will be forced to pay for a financial product they cannot afford to use, but dare not risk going without since the IRS has the power to penalize.

That sounds like a policy opportunity conservatives would do well to exploit.

H/T: The Hill

May 18th, 2015 at 6:13 pm
CMS Hush-Hush on New ‘Epic’ Medicaid Rules

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services won’t say what’s coming before it announces new rules for long-term managed care, the first in 13 years.

“The number of people enrolled roughly quadrupled, from 105,000 in 2004 to 389,000 in 2012,” reports National Journal. “And overall Medicaid spending on long-term care is projected to balloon from $60 billion annually to more than $100 billion in 2023, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated, as the baby boomers get older and require more care.”

Health care industry leaders are anxiously awaiting the new regulations without any indication of what’s coming. CMS has been working on the updated regulatory scheme for more than a year, and so far is keeping the people most effected in the dark.

“It’s a lot like the recent Mayweather-Pacquiao fight,” a representative of managed care plans is quoted as saying. “There’s lots and lots of hype around it, and it’s either going to be epic or it’s going to kind of fizzle.”

With President Barack Obama’s penchant for going big, it will be shocking if his administration opts for fizzle instead of epic. That nameless bureaucrats have this much control over major policy decisions says a lot about the real do-nothing tendencies of Congress. Rather than debate and deliberate over such a consequential matter, Members of Congress have outsourced their lawmaking function to an executive agency.

That’s not leadership. It’s a dereliction of duty.

May 14th, 2015 at 9:54 am
Bipartisan Support Growing to Repeal ObamaCare Medical Device Tax

A group of 18 House Democrats sent a letter recently to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) requesting “timely passage” of a bill to repeal perhaps the most unpopular ObamaCare tax.

The medical device tax levies a 2.3 percent fee on medical devices, and is credited with causing increased prices and a decline in jobs within the manufacturing industry. Much of the Democratic support for repeal comes from members representing states with large device making companies in Minnesota and Indiana.

In a divided Congress, repealing the medical device tax may be the best way demonstrate bipartisan opposition to ObamaCare. Last year, 79 Senators voted to repeal this tax though then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to bring it to a floor vote. With Republicans in control of the chamber, a vote is likely to occur.

Even if President Barack Obama vetoes the measure – which the White House has promised he will do unless Congress imposes another tax to offset the revenue loss – the mounting pressure to get rid of the medical device tax indicates that there are political victories to be had, if congressional leaders will push for them.

May 14th, 2015 at 7:18 am
Hawaii’s ObamaCare Exchange Out of Money

Add Hawaii to the growing list of states that can’t afford to continue funding their financially unsustainable ObamaCare exchange.

“The state’s exchange is drowning in their own debt and is set to shut down by September 30,” writes Kristina Ribali of the Foundation for Government Accountability. “Administrators had been hoping to get a funding boost from state lawmakers, during their current legislative session, but that will not happen.”

Hawaii’s death spiral became clear in January when the federal government notified the state that it was out of compliance with ObamaCare’s performance benchmarks. By this year state exchanges have to prove their long term financial viability, and their IT systems must be integrated with the Medicaid database. The latter requirement ensures that applicants are correctly channeled to the appropriate government assistance program.

Hawaii – like Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont – isn’t generating enough revenue in enrollment fees to make its exchange solvent. Its failure to integrate IT systems is likely the final blow before the state hands over its exchange function to, the federal counterpart.

Like the other states just mentioned, Hawaii’s ObamaCare exchange failure has been expensive: $204.3 million.

And counting…

May 11th, 2015 at 3:01 pm
Resist the Nanny State with Private Citizen Defense Funds

Charles Murray at AEI has a thought-provoking idea for pushing back against the Nanny State: private citizen defense funds.

“People don’t build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance,” Murray explains. “In the case of the regulatory state, let’s buy insurance that reimburses us for any fine that the government levies and that automatically triggers a proactive, tenacious legal defense against the government’s allegation even if – and this is crucial – we are technically guilty.”

Defending the technically guilty is designed to make overzealous regulators think twice before going after someone. The point is to concentrate enforcement resources on the worst offenders – not the weakest targets.

Murray suggests two ways of funding his citizen defense initiative. “The first would be a legal foundation functioning much as the Legal Services Corporation does for the poor, except that its money will come from private donors, not the government. It would be an altruistic endeavor, operating exclusively on behalf of the homeowner or small business being harassed by the regulators. The foundation would pick up all the legal costs of defense and pay the fines when possible.”

But wait, there’s more!

“The other framework would be occupational defense funds. Let’s take advantage of professional expertise and pride of vocation to drive standards of best practice,” says Murray. “For example, the American Dental Association could form Dental Shield, with dentists across America paying a small annual fee. The bargain: Dentists whose practices meet the ADA’s professional standards will be defended when accused of violating a regulation that the ADA has deemed to be pointless, stupid or tyrannical. The same kind of defense fund could be started by truckers, crafts unions, accountants, physicians, farmers or almost any other occupation.”

Though it would be nice if some of the great ideas touching on regulatory reform – for example, the REINS Act – are signed into law someday, the wonderful thing about Murray’s idea is that it could go into effect without any helping hand from government.

You can read the entire article at the Wall Street Journal.

May 5th, 2015 at 7:48 pm
Get ObamaCare Out of the Health Insurance Exchange Business

Health insurance exchanges are a great idea – as long as the government isn’t the one running them.

“In a private exchange, an employer can make a defined contribution to a tax-free group plan chosen by the worker,” explains Robert Moffit. “If the worker purchases a less expensive plan, the worker can keep the difference in savings. A worker who wants a more expensive plan can top off the employer’s contribution with her own money.

“In a well-run private exchange, self-insured employers can offer greater flexibility in benefit design, allowing workers and their families choice among a variety of health plans offered by multiple carriers,” Moffit continues. “With cost calculators, plan and provider performance ratings, and easily accessible network and formulary information, workers are suddenly empowered to make well-informed health-care decisions. In the style of 401(k) pensions, the private exchange could emerge as the transformative platform for a revolution in health-care financing.”

Interestingly, enrollment in private health insurance exchanges is now at 6 million – double what it was in 2014. That’s almost equal to the 7+ million currently enrolled through, the federal ObamaCare exchange.

One way to move health insurance reform away from the top-down, government-run model of ObamaCare would be to grant vouchers to individuals and families that don’t get coverage from an employer. Government could then go back to what it does best – giving out money – while letting the private sector do its job – delivering services at an affordable price while still making a profit.

Best of all: Almost 20 fewer government bureaucracies.

May 4th, 2015 at 7:59 pm
ObamaCare Exchanges Are Losing Money

The reason 35 states chose not to build a local ObamaCare exchange – even though the federal government made billions of dollars available to do so – is pretty simple: After an initial burst of funding the a state must foot the bill to maintain it.

That’s turning out to be a very costly proposition.

Consider Oregon.

“The case of Oregon is the most extreme,” explains an editorial in the Washington Examiner. “After spending $200 million to develop its own health insurance exchange, the Beaver State was forced to abandon it altogether because of pervasive and intractable technical problems.”

It gets worse.

“Tiny Vermont spent roughly $4,000 for every uninsured Vermonter to develop its exchange – more than enough to buy a pre-ObamaCare policy for everyone for an entire year,” says the editorial. “And yet after spending so much, the Green Mountain State may soon follow Oregon’s lead in abandoning its creation. Minnesota faces a similar situation.”

Recall that ObamaCare’s upfront establishment grant money was designed to make it seem like the controversial health law didn’t add to the federal deficit by enticing states to take on the legacy costs of operating the exchanges. With becoming the de facto nationwide ObamaCare exchange, that gamble has backfired, but not before wasting lots of taxpayer money.

April 30th, 2015 at 7:39 pm
California’s Drought Is a Failure of Water Storage to Keep Up with Population Growth

If you’re going to encourage massive immigration, you better build the infrastructure to sustain it.

That’s just one of the many insightful points in a new article by Victor Davis Hanson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Central Valley farmer.

“A record one in four current Californians was not born in the United States, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California,” writes Hanson. “Whatever one’s view on immigration, it is ironic to encourage millions of newcomers to settle in the state without first making commensurately liberal investments for them in water supplies and infrastructure.”

Over the last forty years, California’s environmentalists – aided and abetted by once and current Governor Jerry Brown – have systematically opposed the construction of water storage facilities that would have kept pace with the state’s population boom. To make matters worse, millions of acre feet of water that should go to households instead is flushed down riverbeds and into the ocean to create more swimming space for endangered fish.

With California entering another year of drought, environmentalists are applauding Governor Brown’s decision to mandate 25 percent reductions in water usage. They claim we just don’t have the water. The truth is they refused to build the storage capacity, and now we get draconian measures.

New issue, same problem: Liberals want all the benefits of a permissive social policy, but they refuse to accept responsibility for the costs.

April 29th, 2015 at 5:58 pm
IG Warning: States May be Illegally Using ObamaCare Grants

At least 37 states have received a total of $4.8 billion to implement ObamaCare, but under the terms of the “establishment grants” those monies cannot be used to pay for overhead costs like rent, software maintenance, staffing and utilities.

That hasn’t stopped some states from trying, apparently.

“We have concerns that, without more detailed guidance from [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid], [State-based ObamaCare exchanges] might have used, and might continue to use, establishment grant funds for operating expenses after January 1, 2015, contrary to law,” writes the Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Department.

“In media reports and during our review of [states’] budget information, we have observed that some [states] face uncertain operating revenues in 2015 and future years. Because operating revenues are uncertain, there is a risk that [states] might use establishment grant funds to cover operational expenses,” warns the IG’s letter.

The IG points to evidence that the Rhode Island exchange does not have a dedicated funding source, and the Washington exchange is short $125 million unless the state legislature steps in.

In other words, ObamaCare gave seed money to start expensive new state agencies that are now supposed to be self-sustaining. At least two are not, and the tone of the IG’s letter implies that many more are suspect.

If an enterprising conservative committee chairman wants to protect taxpayers while exposing one of the failures of ObamaCare, following up on the IG’s warning letter with a detailed investigation would be a good strategy.

H/T: The Hill

April 28th, 2015 at 7:37 pm
On Entitlement Reform, Are Republicans All in This Together?

Recent statements by likely GOP presidential candidates indicate the answer may be no.

“Republican governors across the country, including several conservatives, couldn’t resist the siren song of federal dollars and chose to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare,” writes Stephen F. Hayes at The Weekly Standard. “The federal government promises to fully fund Medicaid expansion for three years, after which the federal dollars are phased out and states will be responsible for paying for the expanded program themselves.”

Those governors include John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey. Both argue they made the best of a bad policy situation. Former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas could also be added to the mix, since he has recently distanced himself from Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform package ahead of an anticipated presidential bid.

After three years of party unity – broadly speaking – on entitlement reform, Republican leaders seem to be charting different paths on how to tackle the issue. This can and should be a healthy exercise in deliberation and persuasion, precisely the kind of policy-centric debate so necessary in the primaries.

That is, if the conversation stays on topic. Kasich, for example, has already shown a willingness to demonize critics instead of responding with a better argument. To wit, when health policy expert Avik Roy asked Kasich how he could be against ObamaCare’s “top-down government” but support Medicaid’s version of the same, Kasich retorted, “Maybe you think we should put them [the poor] in prison. I don’t.”

Hillary Clinton’s attack machine couldn’t have said it better. For the good of the conservative movement, Kasich and the rest of the presumptive GOP presidential field should.

April 23rd, 2015 at 3:19 pm
Obama Admin Also Pressuring Kansas, Tennessee to Expand Medicaid or Lose Funds

First Florida, then Texas, and now Kansas and Tennessee have been told by the Obama administration that unless they expand Medicaid under the rules laid out in ObamaCare the federal government will withhold payments from local hospitals.

Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott is so angry at the move he’s promised to sue the Obama administration for violating a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the feds from conditioning Medicaid funding on ObamaCare expansion.

Yet this is precisely what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is doing. According to Kaiser Health News, CMS “confirmed Tuesday that it gave officials in [Kansas and Tennessee] the same message that had been delivered to Texas and Florida about the risk to funding for so-called ‘uncompensated care pools’ – Medicaid money that helps pay the cost of care for the uninsured.”

“Medicaid expansion would reduce uncompensated care in the state, and therefore have an impact on the [Low-Income Pool], which is why the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June,” a CMS official warned.

The reason states have resisted expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare is that it transforms a program currently helping discrete populations – e.g. pregnant women, the disabled, elderly, blind, and children from needy families – into a universal, taxpayer-funded health insurance program for every person earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That change translates into large amounts of new spending that will eventually lead to increased state taxes.

By making a state’s refusal to expand Medicaid a factor in deciding whether Medicaid dollars will continue to flow, the Obama administration is directly flouting a prohibition handed down by a 7-2 Supreme Court majority (liberal Justices Kagan and Breyer sided with their five more conservative colleagues). If the Supreme Court wants to ensure that its rulings will be taken seriously, it should fast-track Florida’s lawsuit and let the Obama administration know it must follow the law.

April 22nd, 2015 at 5:57 pm
What Will Republicans Do If Supreme Court Strikes Down ObamaCare Subsidies?

Sometime in June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to publish its opinion deciding whether the Obama administration acted outside the law in extending federal subsidies to citizens in states without a local ObamaCare exchange.

If the Court’s ruling adheres to the rule of law, the subsidies will be disallowed. Predictably, this is making some Republicans nervous that Americans getting the ObamaCare the Democrats passed will blame the GOP.

And so, there are a growing number of proposals to overrule the Court, at least until 2017 when (hopefully) a Republican president will be in office.

The latest plan in this line of thinking was unveiled Tuesday by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). “Johnson’s plan would allow people to keep their ObamaCare plans and their subsidies until August 2017,” reports The Hill. “The bill would also repeal ObamaCare’s mandates for individuals and employers to provide insurance…”

Of the proposals currently available, Johnson’s is the only one that makes no change to ObamaCare as it currently is. All it does is ensure the program lasts until about eight months into the next president’s first year in office.

The question is: What’s the point? If Johnson’s bill were to become law, it would put large numbers of Republicans on record as saying that despite the plain meaning of the statute, ObamaCare’s subsidy scheme is simply too important to be governed by normal legal rules. If that’s true, then why not make things easier and introduce a bill that just amends the disputed section and grant subsidies to everyone?

If Senator Johnson and other Republicans are fearful of voter backlash, then he and others should propose specific policy alternatives. Overruling the Supreme Court for making the correct legal decision is not justified by political calculations of what might happen at the ballot box.

Voters deserve statesmen, not politicians that hedge their bets. If Senator Johnson wants to be reelected next year, he needs to earn the privilege by either embracing ObamaCare for the long-term or putting forward a specific alternative.

April 21st, 2015 at 6:48 pm
What It Takes to Prove Global Warming Exists

Lost amid the charge of “inconvenient truths” and “hockey stick” graphs is a clear notion of what it would take to prove that global warming is real, man-made and alterable.

Robert Tracinski has an answer.

“We don’t know whether current warming departs from natural variation, nor have scientists proven the underlying mechanisms by which humans could cause such an increase,” writes Tracinski at The Federalist. “But even if we did know these things, we would have to be able to forecast with reasonable accuracy how big the effect is going to be. A very small warming may not even be noticeable or may have mostly salutary effects, such as a slightly longer growing season, whereas the impact of a much larger warming is likely to cause greater disruption.”

And therein lies the trillion dollar question: If meteorologists can’t consistently predict the weather from day-to-day, how on earth can humanity justify spending vast amounts of money on temperature predictions that fluctuate from “global cooling” to “global warming” only to settle on “climate change”?

As Tracinski says, “Given the abysmal record of climate forecasting, we should tell the warmists to go back and make a new set of predictions, then come back to us in 20 or 30 years and tell us how these predictions panned out. Then we’ll talk.”

April 17th, 2015 at 1:32 pm
A Market-Based Solution to California’s Water Shortage

California’s water crisis – and Governor Jerry Brown’s draconian response to it – could go a long way toward uniting middle class and elite urbanites in a revolt against political favoritism run amuck.

As Shikha Dalmia explains, “The best — and most sustainable — solution to California’s water woes would be full-bore markets in which prices can rise and fall with supply and demand. Under such a system, depleting water reserves would have led to price increases long ago, producing an automatic incentive to conserve. More importantly, this would have clearly signaled growing scarcity, spurring new technologies for affordable water generation. All of this would have allowed consumers and businesses to make small adjustments over time without letting the shortage reach a crisis point.”

“Moving overnight to a system of market-based water pricing is probably not doable,” she continues. “But if California has to make emergency cuts, it would make sense to impose the biggest cuts on the biggest users — which means the deepest cuts for fish-rescuing environmentalists, followed by water-hogging farmers, followed by residential users. Instead, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is doing the exact opposite.”

The constituencies being hit the hardest by Brown’s mandatory water usage reduction order are rich enclaves like Beverley Hills and Newport Beach, and middle class urban residents who already pay the highest rates for water, but use the least when compared to other groups.

Those outside California may not remember that what ultimately led to Governor Gray Davis’ successful recall was his support for tripling the annual vehicle license fee. Californians will put up with a lot from politicians, but making it exorbitantly expensive to enjoy basic comforts like driving and water consumption could be just the disruption it takes to break the liberal stranglehold on state government and implement the kind of market-based reforms Dalmia is promoting.

We’ll see if Governor Moonbeam gets the hint, or sacrifices millions of people’s well-being for the sake of his beloved environmental movement. If he indulges the latter, there could be an opportunity for another California taxpayers’ revolt like the one that put a stop to annual property tax spikes in the 1970s.

April 16th, 2015 at 6:57 pm
California’s Water Wars Heat Up

A fight is brewing in California between state regulators and local water suppliers over how to cope with mandatory water usage reductions ordered by Governor Jerry Brown.

California’s State Water Resources Control Board received more than 200 letters from cities, counties, and water districts balking at the proposed regulatory structure for monitoring compliance.

Criticisms include:

  • Monthly water usage rates are “meaningless” because varying temperatures and rainfall fluctuate dramatically during the year
  • Lack of credit given to water agencies that have already reduced their usage rates through local conservation programs or locally financed desalinization projects
  • Farmers outside the Central Valley – the state’s agricultural hub – being treated the same as urban districts which do not get an exemption
  • Failure to subject public school and college campuses to the same water use restrictions imposed on cities, since the former often are able to “override local building and zoning codes”

Everyone in California is feeling the pinch of decades’ worth of neglected improvements to water storage capacity.

Thanks to ‘green’ environmentalism, much of California may soon be brown.

H/T: L.A. Times

April 10th, 2015 at 2:57 pm
Beware ObamaCare as Tax Day Approaches

Nearly every American that received an ObamaCare subsidy to help pay for health insurance last year got the wrong amount.

“Only 4 percent of the people who signed up for ObamaCare got the correct subsidy, so a whopping 96 percent will see their tax bill adjusted, some up and others down,” writes Betsy McCaughey. “Who would design a system that’s right only 4 percent of the time?”

The main reason for the discrepancy is that a person must estimate – i.e. guess – their entire taxable income for the next year in order to find out how much of a subsidy they qualify for under ObamaCare during enrollment season. A raise or switch to a higher paying job could be zeroed out because the government gets to “clawback” the difference. Losing a job means a fatter refund.

You can see which direction ObamaCare’s incentives point to, which provides a partial answer to McCaughey’s rhetorical question – people who penalize moving up the income ladder.

April 9th, 2015 at 8:27 pm
Eradicating Marijuana Plants Would Save 63 Billion Gallons of Water in California

In 2006, the last time the Drug Enforcement Agency counted the number of outdoor marijuana plants in California, there were roughly 17.5 million.

Since then the number has likely increased significantly due to lack of enforcement by the Obama administration and the effective decriminalization of marijuana use by lax police departments.

Even so, as Ethan Epstein explains, if we take the 2006 figure as a baseline and add to it the fact that a marijuana plant soaks up about six gallons of water per day during its 150-day growing season, California could have saved 63 billion gallons of water since the start of the drought four years ago.

Imagine the savings if California officials got serious about curtailing illegal marijuana growing today.

If Governor Jerry Brown wants to find ways to reduce unnecessary water consumption he should start by uprooting the millions of illegally grown marijuana plants. Had the plants not been siphoning off a precious natural resource over the course of the drought, California could have saved 15 percent of the total Brown wants to recoup through rationing.

In other words, cut off the crooks before knee-capping the law-abiding.

April 9th, 2015 at 6:22 pm
Get the Government Out of Your… Toilet?

California Governor Jerry Brown’s new water rationing edict is giving state regulators the cover they need to impose all kinds of nanny state restrictions on law-abiding citizens.

In addition to installing ‘smart meters’ on businesses and homes to monitor water usage and impose fines, the California Energy Commission is using Brown’s executive order to increase the use of low-flow appliances. Beginning in January 2016, all toilets and faucets sold in the state must conform to higher water efficiency standards.

“Wednesday’s vote also sets a 1.28 gallon maximum water flow for toilets, putting in place a limit included in a 2007 law but never formally translated into water-efficiency regulations,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

It’s hard to believe that a state so friendly to the environmental lobby as California would have failed to implement even more restrictions when it had the chance, unless doing so would be extremely burdensome and therefore unpopular. Now, however, they can simply claim an emergency and ignore the outcry.