Reed Irvine - Editor
|April-B , 1990||XIX-8|
THE CATASTROPHIC ENVIRONMENT ACT
In 1988 Congress passed a health care act that was intended to help senior citizens meet the costs of catastrophic illnesses. The legislation surged through both houses with little opposition. Oblivious to warnings that it contained a dangerous time bomb, the media, with a few exceptions, failed to warn the public and the politicians that the catastrophic health care act could be a catastrophe.
Last year millions of senior citizens learned for the first time that Congress had saddled them with a heavy tax disguised as an insurance premium for health care coverage that many of them didn't want or need. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D, Ill.), one of the measure's principal authors, found himself running between parked cars to escape outraged Chicago constituents. Congress spent much of 1989 digging out from its self-created mess, finally repealing the unpopular legislation.
Now the Congress is on the verge of another disaster-- and again without any meaningful attention from the press. Goaded by the looming environmental propaganda extravaganza known as Earth Day 1990, the Senate on April 3 voted 89-11 to approve a Clean Air Act (CAA) that the Washington Times noted "would touch every aspect of U.S. commerce, making the nation's air pollution law the toughest in the industrial world."
Anchor Dan Rather of the "CBS Evening News" complained that the bill was "watered down under pressure from President Bush and industry lobbyists." But he did not tell viewers the economic costs of CAA, nor did he answer some basic questions about its impact on the country, to wit:
Are its Draconian restrictions on American industry--and citizens--necessary? Will they truly "build a cleaner, safer America," as President Bush said in praising the vote? Do average Americans realize the size and powers of the regulatory monster created by CAA? And of the jobs that will be lost in industry? And, finally, will the real out-of-pocket costs to the American consumer, in higher prices for gasoline and electricity, to mention only two of uncountable items, justify amorphously inexact claims about health and comfort benefits?
Newspaper readers would have answers to these and other Clean Air questions only if they read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and the columns of Warren Brookes, nationally syndicated columnist for The Detroit News. Brookes is the antithesis of those journalists who have admitted that they have crossed the line from reporting to advocacy on environmental issues. WSJ editor Robert Bartley and staff do far more searching environmental reporting than the paper's own news staff. Brookes and the WSJ editorialists asked hard questions about both the science and the economics of the CAA.
Network TV, conversely, contented itself with stories over whether Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D., Maine) could coax agreement on a "strong" bill from the Bush Administration. Despite the networks' self-claimed devotion to reporting on the environment, the most important legislation on the subject in a decade received less meaningful discussion than the NCAA Final Four basketball showdown.
Here are some of the things most of our media did not bother to report about the Clean Air Act:
--Any plant or business, which emits "toxic" gases into the atmosphere, must obtain a license from the EPA. These include morn-and-pop dry cleaners, your neighborhood service station, printing and furniture refurnishing shops and welders. Proponents concede that licensing costs, for lawyers and paperwork, will run up to $25,000 even for small businesses.
--Required vapor-recovery systems will cost service stations about $1,000 per pump. "Non-polluting" systems for dry cleaners are estimated at about $30,000. EPA will also require expensive monitoring equipment to measure escaping vapors.
--Once licensed, a business must return to EPA for permission to make any plant changes whatsoever. This means repeating the costly, time-consuming regulatory process each time a businessman wishes to replace outdated machinery, or try new technology. Industry people told Congress during hearings on CAA that they expect many businessmen to take the easy way out and get by with older equipment. No one has estimated how much the fear of entanglement with EPA will cost America in deferred capital investment.
--EPA bureaucrats can condition issuance of a permit on such factors as a business agreeing to adopt an acceptable waste-recycling program, or to use a specified packaging process. Such interference in management prerogatives has been unknown in America since the National Recovery Administration, the New Deal legislation which the Supreme Court quickly threw out as unconstitutional.
--Who will suffer? Smaller businesses. The Wall Street Journal, which devoted two full pages to CAA's impact on April 4, quoted the co-owner of a Washington dry cleaner who grosses $1 million annually, and who expects CAA will cost him $100,000 in new equipment as saying, "A good point from my perspective is I expect a large number of cleaners won't be able to afford the equipment and I'll get more business when they go out of business."
--CAA mandates that "reformulated gasoline" must be sold in the dirtiest cities by 1994. It will contain ethanol, a corn-derived alcohol, or methanol, a natural gas by-product. "Reform" gas is more expensive than conventional gas. The American Petroleum Institute estimates the increase would be 20 to 25 cents a gallon; the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress opts for a more modest 10 to 15 cents. Consumer groups put the increase at a couple of pennies.
--Detroit estimates that auto tailpipe emissions are 96 percent cleaner than they were before 1970, because of improved fuels, catalytic converters and other technological advances. The present 27.5 miles per gallon fleet standard is about twice the mid-1970s average. The average American-made car is slightly below 3,000 pounds, versus 4,000 plus pounds in 1974. These gains did not satisfy environmentalists; CAA's new emission standards will increase car prices an average $600.
--Environmentalists are not content to stop there. Sen. Richard Bryan (D., Nevada) has strong support for a bill forcing Detroit to produce cars with a fleet-average of 39.8 miles per gallon by 2001. This means the largest American car would be a compact, and mandate what Ford calls a product line of "all sub-Pinto sized vehicles."
--Electrical utilities burning high-sulfur-content coal spent more than $15 billion to meet existing clean air standards. The industry thinks it was successful. During 1973-87 coal use increased 88 percent, while sulfur dioxide emissions dropped by more than 21 percent. But under CAA, if plants continue burning high-sulfur-content coal, they must install scrubbers costing from $130 million to $230 million. If they switch to low-sulfur coal from Wyoming and Montana, transportation costs would soar. The Edison Electric Institute estimates that the CAA will cost utility customers $17 billion a year in higher electric costs by 2001, with household electricity bills increasing more than 20 percent in ten Eastern and Southern states.
During a floor speech on March 9, Sen. Steve Symms (R., Idaho) urged the media to read a report Sen. Bob Dole (R, Kansas) put into the Congressional Record the preceding evening concerning CAA job losses. "I think it goes right to the heart of the matter of what this bill is all about," Symms said.
If any reporter followed Symms' counsel, we could not find the resulting story. His reference was to a study by economists Robert Hahn and Willard Steger of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Their study concluded that the CAA would have an "immense adverse impact" on businesses and industries "in locations everywhere in the United States." They wrote, "There are a minimum of several hundred thousand jobs at risk---even with the more moderate proposals...a minimum of 200,000 jobs will be quickly lost, with plants closing in dozens of states. This number could easily exceed one million jobs--and even two million at the most extreme assumption...."
Hahn and Steger estimated that small businesses "are expected to incur new and significant control costs. For example, we estimate the average small business will be charged approximately $15,000 for fees to cover permitting expenses." Monitoring equipment for covered pollutants "is likely to cost from $50,000 to $250,000." The overall impact will be particularly harsh on towns already economically impacted, with losses of municipal tax revenues. Many displaced workers will be toppled into the economic "underclass," with scant chance of recovery.
"One thing we can be sure of," Sen. Symms said, "there are no environmental free lunches."
DeTocqueville mused about how a democratic society such as the United States could slip into despotism. He wrote, "It would be like the authority of a parent...It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate."
The vision of a cleaner, more pastoral society, controlled at the grassroots level, is belied by the professional environmentalists' insistence that a Washington bureaucracy will be more responsive to the "people's needs" than officials elected at the grass-root level. But these stated goals must be weighed against the German Greens, one of whom told columnist Alston Chase last November, "Grass-roots democracy sounded wonderful before we were elected to Parliament. But now we are in power, centralized solutions seem far more effective."
Such will certainly be true when Congress enacts CAA, and the Environmental Protection Agency is elevated to cabinet status. Sen. Don Nickles (R., Okla.) notes that EPA "is going to be building a $400 million building to house their new bureaucracy...That building is not going to be big enough to house their new bureaucracy, their new clients...."
Nickles, Symms and others argued that CAA enforcement hearings should be before an administrative law judge, not an EPA hearing officer. This would follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs other federal enforcement hearings. But under CAA, accused offenders would go before what Symms called "EPA bureaucrats." Nickles noted, "...we are talking about fines up to $25,000 a day or causing people to be unemployed. We think we should have a day in court, not some un elected bureaucrat who has a bias because he is an employee of EPA making a decision. We believe it should be impartial." The amendment lost 50-47.
A let's-get-on-with-it attitude dominated Senate floor discussion on CAA. Sen. John Chafee (R., R.I.) complained that instead of getting "bogged down in all the details of permits and enforcement and what standard should be observed, let us not take our eye off the ball which, namely, is that we are trying to attain better health for the citizens of our nation."
That a deal had been cut between Majority Leader George Mitchell and the Bush White House seemingly was all that was important once the CAA reached the Senate floor. Thus Mitchell and his men--abetted by a negligent press--steered around any serious discussion of hard scientific findings questioning the scares at the foundation of the legislation: the so-called "greenhouse effect," and acid rain.
Legislators less confident than Mitchell would have been shaken by an important greenhouse study released on March 29, at the height of what passed for debate. The new evidence came from NASA weather satellite observations from 1978 to 1988. Roy Marshall, of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, summarized, "We found that the earth's atmosphere goes through fairly large year-to-year changes in temperatures and over that 10-year-period we saw no long-term warming or cooling trend." A collaborator, John Cristy, of the University of Alabama, said that although temperature swings can be "quite dramatic" over a decade, they tended to even out.
The study makes plain the "greenhouse effect" is unsupported by empirical evidence; but it has been accepted as fact in uncountable media stories the past several years. AIM's bulging file of greenhouse scare pieces has palm trees growing on The Mall in Washington (courtesy of the Washington Post) and people living under plastic domes for comfort (a 1988 Newsweek cover article).
Thus far the Post concedes only that the evidence is "confused and inconclusive," as it did in a February editorial. The Post tucked away the NASA report on page A-26 and did not suggest it called into question the necessity for the Clean Air Act.
The indefatigable Warren Brookes published an article in The Washington Times on April 3 rifled fifty Reasons to Doubt Global Warming." These are 50 of what he calls the "better papers" among some 500 he has read challenging global warming zealots. Nonetheless, Sen. Timothy Wirth (D., Colo.) insists on the Post Op-ed Page, "I have not seen any peer-reviewed scientific articles that assert that current greenhouse emissions will not cause global warming in the future."
The media, which have much credibility invested in the hoax they helped create, side with the alarmists. The Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press recently issued a report citing 100 acts by the Bush Administration, which it claimed, "seriously compromise the news media's ability to gather and disseminate news." As an example of "disinformation" it listed the decision by White House chief of staff John Sununu to order revisions in a Bush speech on global warming, Sununu's sin was that he did not buy a scare draft supplied by EPA but chose to rely on more objective science. This outfit's "steering committee" includes the three TV anchors--Rather, Jennings and Brokawmand 27 other prominent journalists, none of whom have disavowed the nonsense issued under their names.
The media picture of acid rain is of verdant forests shriveling under showers of pollutants, and sparkling mountain lakes dying. No one questions that excessive acidity can damage plant and aquatic life, but as with global warming, there has been a rush to cry, "The sky is falling," while ignoring the scientific evidence.
Acid rain became a national issue in the mid-1970s, when the media began blaming it for deaths of trees and lakes in the Northeast, particularly in the Adirondacks. The initial scientific studies were contradictory. But acid rain zealots insisted that the solution lay in sharply reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal-burning electric power plants and industries. The Reagan administration resisted pressure from both domestic environmentalists and the Canadian government to adopt programs to reduce or eliminate acid rain, saying that more study was required.
A study known as the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) has now been completed. It cost $600 million--a decade-long project that involved 300 scientists and more than 100 peer reviewers who, in addition to their own research, reviewed 5,000 other acid rain studies.
NAPAP is now in final review, but enough has been made public to dash most scare stories---provided any one in the media, or Congress, paid attention. Although the final report is not due until late spring, NAPAP director Dr. James R. Mahoney said no significant changes would be made.
The findings are good news to everyone except the radical environmentalists. The good news is that acid rain is not killing our forests and lakes. One key finding is, "There is no evidence of a general or unusual decline of forest in the United States and Canada due to acidic deposition or any other stress factor. Moreover, there is no case of forest decline in which acidic deposition is known to be a predominant cause." High elevation red spruce in the Adirondacks and Green Mountains were found to be the only trees "affected by acidic cloud impacts, in combination with other stresses." These represent less than 0.01 percent of the total eastern-forested area. NAPAP found "no supportable evidence that our sulfur dioxide emissions had any widespread impact on Canadian forests."
NAPAP confirmed what scientists have long known-- that most of the acidity of lakes comes from the surrounding soil and rock, not from rain. Of the 220 lakes in the U.S. that are too acid to sustain fish life, 206 are cut out of the earth over highly acid basaltic rock. They have always been and will always be acid.?
Further, NAPAP found that the Clean Air Act passed in 1970 seems to be working. Sulfur dioxide emissions nationwide fell from 32 million to 24 million tons annually from 1973 to 1988. To the disappointment of the radical environmentalists, the study found that this sharp cut in sulfur dioxide emissions produced "no apparent trend in the acidity of rainfall." NAPAP director James Mahoney explained, "Because of complex atmospheric reactions, percentage reductions in emissions may not result in similar percentage reductions in depositions."
Dr. S. Fred Singer, professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia, points out that the finding that reductions in emissions do not necessarily cause lesser amounts of acid rain directly contradicts a 1983 National Academy of Sciences report that was widely used as the basis for proposals to cut sulfur dioxide emissions. The Senate nevertheless based the new CAA on the NAC, not the NAPAP findings.
NAPAP concluded that cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by an additional 10 million tons annually would be no more beneficial than the 8-million-ten cut originally proposed by the Bush administration. A majority of the U.S. Senate ignored its own $600 million study and voted for the 10- million-ten reduction. NAPAP said the 10-million-ten cut might improve the quality of the Adirondack lakes in perhaps 50 years, but putting lime in the lakes would reduce the acidity much faster at far less cost.
The New York Times reported the NAPAP findings in Dec. 31 and Feb. 20 stories by science writer William K. Stevens that were notable for their tone and omissions. "A 10-year, half-billion-dollar federally sponsored investigation is concluding that acid rain causes some significant environmental damage but far less than initially feared," Stevens wrote. He said that some portions of the report "are riddled with uncertainty," and he found--and featured--predictable critics, including a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who challenged the findings. Stevens did not mention the recommendation that liming affected streams, at a cost of a few million dollars, would be quicker and more effective than spending billions to cut plant emissions.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who fathered NAPAP, commented, "The news about acid rain is good news." He suggested that his Senate colleagues pay heed to what NAPAP found. "You never do anything effective about an issue in public life until you learn to measure it," he said. "We have not just learned to measure very much in the natural environment. That is exactly why we created NAPAP in the first place. If the measurements do not come out the way some people anticipate it, so be it."
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COMMUNISM IS NO LONGER CHIC NOW THAT IT HAS BEEN DECISIVELY REJECTED BY THE majority of the people in Eastern Europe, but this doesn't mean that the erstwhile American admirers of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and their heirs have been transformed into fans of free enterprise. Many of them are as passionately critical as ever of the economic system that has brought unparalleled affluence to the United States and other capitalist countries. They see our affluence as a curse rather than a blessing. Those who once proclaimed the capitalist nations as exploiters and oppressors of the masses are now portraying them as destroyers of the earth. In Germany they say that the Greens have red mots, and it was no accident that twenty years ago Lenin's birthday was chosen to celebrate the first Earth Day.
THE DISASTERS PREDICTED AT THAT TIME HAVE NOT COME TO PASS. DR. PAUL EHRLICH, one of the most prominent doomsayers, predicted in an article in Ramparts magazine in 1969 that the oceans would be dead in 10 years because of an "eco-catastrophe" resulting from pesticides, oil spills and other environmental crimes. That same year in his book, The Population Bomb, he argued that the earth had only a few years of survival left unless drastic steps were taken to control population. This book, underwritten and heavily promoted by the Sierra Club in connection with Earth Day 1970, advocated creating a government agency that would decree the optimum population for the U.S. and enforce measures to achieve it. In a Playboy interview in 1970, Ehrlich said the U.S. would have to "de-develop" to reduce its population drastically. He claimed that "many scientists" thought that we should aim for a population of well under 50 million. In a 1972 book, Population - Resources - Environment, Ehrlich advocated compulsory sterilization and discussed putting a chemical in the water or in staple foods that would sterilize those ingesting it. He said this would be easier to administer and less subject to "corruption and abuse in favor of some segments of society" than other methods.
FRANK NOTESTEIN, A NOTED DEMOGRAPHER, SAID IN A 1970 REVIEW OF The Population Bomb, "It is a sad day when we see professionally expert distortions of the truth peddled to the public under the highest scientific auspices, as if truth can be fostered best by untruth. When scientists become concerned with reform.... they will at their peril abandon the ardent respect for truth that lies at the basis of their professions."
THAT COMMENT IS APPLICABLE TO MUCH SAID AND WRITFEN RECENTLY ABOUT THE alleged environmental crisis confronting the world. The predictions have changed, but the tendency to disregard the scientific evidence and exaggerate the dangers has not. Paul Ehrlich, unfazed by the failure of his previous prophecies, still commands the respect of the media. This year, NBC's Today Show hired him to do a series called "Assignment Earth." In January, he used this pulpit to tell "how man is destroying the entire ecological system with something that appears completely harmless." He said, "Our dependence on the cow has devastated the world environment." He blamed cattle for the destruction of the rain forests, and he charged that cows were creating "desert wastelands" in Africa and India. "But nowhere," he added, "has the damage from cattle been more severe or more uncritically accepted than on the public lands of the American West." He said cattle grazing in the West had transformed "rich, fertile grassland" into "this barren, eroded moonscape," and he wanted it halted on public lands.
CATTLEMEN WERE INFURIATED. THEY HAD PROVIDED NBC IN ADVANCE WITH DATA and expert opinion showing that conditions on the Western ranges were generally excellent and were in the best condition they have been in during the past century. They charged Ehrlich with numerous serious factual errors. They argue that intelligent grazing is the best tool to enrich wildlife habitat, water quality and regeneration of the land. So far, NBC has stiffed the cattlemen.
THE MEDIA, THROUGH BOTH NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT ARMS, MADE EARTH DAY 1990 a super-hyped extravaganza. Thanks to a project initiated by Norman Lear, TV entertainment programs were made into vehicles for the environmental message. This followed a year of extensive reporting on the environment in 1989. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that last year ABC, CBS and NBC devoted a total of nearly 14 hours to environmental stories on their evening news shows. Their total of 453 environmental stories compared with 185 in 1988. The tone was apocalyptic, with 30 percent of the sources used on TV saying environmental problems had reached the crisis stage and 70 percent saying a crisis was approaching. No one was shown saying that fears of a crisis were overstated.
THE APOCALYPSE-NOW THEME INTENSIFIED AS EARTH DAY APPROACHED. DEBORAH Potter on CBS said, "Population is a time bomb that has already gone off, and the victim is the environment." Ned Potter on ABC warned, "The environmental crisis is closing in on the world's food supply," but he advised that we could save ourselves by shifting to a lifestyle "that doesn't use up the earth's resources." He advised building homes with three-foot thick walls consisting of discarded automobile tires, using sun and wind to supply power. Peter Jennings warned that "the whole world is at risk," and ABC's Bill Blakemore found comfort in the fact that children in elementary school realize how bleak their future is. He said, "This generation knows it's been born into a dying world." On ABC's Good Morning America, Charley Gibson interviewed Howie Wolke of an organization called "Earth First," whom he described as "an eco-terrorist." Wolke was unconcerned about the loss of employment that would result from radical measures he and others were pushing, explaining, "People were unemployed when they closed clown Auschwitz."
NEWS AND VIEWS THAT UNDERMINED THE FEARS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL EXTREMISTS tended to be ignored or downplayed. Good examples were the haft-billion-dollar NAPAP study discussed in this report. It found some good news: acid rain is not killing our trees and lakes. It got little attention and was quickly forgotten by most of the media. The same was true of the NASA report on the lack of evidence for global warming in a decade of measurement of the temperature of the earth's atmosphere.
ANOTHER GOOD EXAMPLE WAS THE STUDY ON AGENT ORANGE BY THE CENTERS FOR Disease Control that found there was no evidence that this herbicide had caused cancer in Vietnam veterans. Agent Orange had been one of the favorite whipping boys of the chemophobic environmentalists for two decades. No one had ever shown that it caused any health problems in humans except chloracne, a skin ailment. Media generated fears had kept up the pressure on government to carry out studies that might prove that Agent Orange caused cancer and other serious diseases. When no one else could find such evidence, Congress handed the assignment to the Centers for Disease Control. In early April they revealed their findings of a 5-year study to determine whether Agent Orange could be blamed for cancer in Vietnam veterans. The answer was no.
A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF 3,776 MEN OF THE SAME AGE GROUP, 2,000 OF WHOM HAD cancer, revealed no greater incidence of five of six types of cancer among those who had served in Vietnam. The one exception was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but it was found that the men who had the highest rates of this cancer were naval personnel who had served on ships off the coast of Vietnam and were never exposed to Agent Orange. On the other hand, the veterans with the lowest rate of non-Hodgkins lymphoma were those who had served in the III Corps area, where the spraying of Agent Orange was the heaviest. There was an inverse correlation between the likelihood of having been exposed to Agent Orange and the risk of contracting this particular cancer! Had the outcome been just the opposite, this would have been front-page news in the papers and would have led the TV newscasts. The New York Times and Washington Post put the story on the inside pages, with The Times headlining its story, "Higher Risk of Rare Cancer Found for Vietnam Veterans." ABC News didn't even report that Vietnam veterans had no higher incidence of five of the six cancers. It focused entirely on the lymphoma without mentioning that there was an inverse correlation between the incidence of this cancer and the likelihood of exposure to Agent Orange. In doing so, it managed to create the impression that the CDC conclusions were suspect and that the government was not being fair to veterans who had filed claims for other alleged disabilities they attributed to exposure to the chemical.
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