|The Week That Was
May 24-30, 1999
The Week That Was (May 24 to 30) brought to you by SEPP
We had a chance this week to watch a debate between EPA administrator Carol Browner and the lawyers, Edward Warren and C.Boyden Gray, who opposed the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Court remanded the setting of ozone and particulate standards back to the EPA, stating that EPA had overreached their constitutional authority. (TWTW May 17-23) The depth of feeling can be gauged from an internal EPA memo, which referred to Gray as the "personification of soot and smog."
The Brownie Lady (see http://www.washingtonpest.com) was in great shape, full of self confidence but completely wrong on every count. First, she claimed that the EPA was not supposed to consider cost in setting ambient air-quality standards. We would suggest that she look beyond the Clean Air Act at the basic legislative language of the National Environmental Policy Act, and especially Section 2b; it mandates cost benefit analysis, at least implicitly. But Browner doesn't understand what this means. She said, at least twice, that the purpose of C-B analysis is to find the most effective way of meeting a standard. She evidently confuses cost-effectiveness studies (where benefits are stipulated rather than calculated) with C-B-which is the only way that an ambient standing can be set. Finally, she seems to be aware of our argument that lowering the ozone level will permit more solar UV to penetrate and increase the rate of skin cancer. She makes light of this, however, by saying we can't permit dirty air even though that would decrease skin cancer. But dear Brownie Lady, life is full of such tradeoffs, and the only rational way to do a tradeoff is to compare numbers, whether expressed in dollars or in life-years-saved. After all, the metabolism of food inevitably generates oxidants, which can cause cancer; should we therefore stop eating?
While on the subject of overreaching…Citing its authority on pesticides, EPA wants to control plants that are gene-controlled to produce their own pesticides. This has raised a big ruckus, with environmental groups wanting EPA to broaden its focus while the Institute for Food Technology calls the EPA rule, "scientifically indefensible." EPA also proposed labeling vegetables that make their own anti-pest substance, even though the label "pesticide" has the connotation of danger and could create public anxiety. But a settlement is in the works. EPA seems willing to adopt the term, "plant-expressed protectant." Isn't the English language wonderful.
The Clinton Administration and Congress are still battling over the economic cost estimates of the Kyoto Protocol. Janet Yellen, chair of the Presidents Council of Economic Advisors, puts the cost between $14 and $23 per ton of carbon (in reduced emissions). This assumes that all of the Annex 1 countries participate in an international trading system; it also makes certain assumptions about carbon sinks to offset emissions. On the other hand, former State Department negotiator Robert Reinstein testified at the same Congressional hearing that the supply of emission credits would cover only about 30 percent of OECD demand, raising the price to $150 to $200. By the way, Yellen's $10-billion-cost-estimate-per-year works out to about $100 per household. So… for $100 would you be willing to cut your family's energy consumption by about 35 percent?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released its long-awaited economic analysis on the costs and benefits for U.S. agriculture from the Kyoto Protocol. The USDA estimates only a $371 million annual decline in income compared to an estimated $10-$20 billion decline in a report issued by the American Farm Bureau Federation and four other national groups. The USDA study used, or was told to use, the White House economic analysis as a basis for its energy cost estimates. In the Farm Bureau study by Dr. Terry Francl, AFBF senior economist, fuel prices increased by 25 to 50 percent, but USDA increased them from about 3 to 7 percent. Can anybody really believe that cost increases of around 5 percent will result in a 30 to 40 percent reduction in fuel use? The USDA estimated increases in the cost of chemicals and pesticides from about 1 to 4 percent; yet under one scenario the feedstock, natural gas, could rise in price by as much as 50 percent. The USDA, more hopeful than realistic, assumes that farmers will have complete access to carbon-credit trading. Further, American farmers would be squeezed between rising production costs at home and capped world market prices set by foreign competitors exempt from Kyoto.
One would certainly like to see a Congressional oversight committee take a close look at these studies and ask why USDA's numbers disagree with the Farm Bureau. That should be an interesting performance.
What is feeding the Greens? The Resources for Global Sustainability publishes a guide for grant seekers, "Environmental Grant Making Foundations." It identifies 740 donor foundations that control $77 billion in assets and give away approximately $500 million in environment-related grants each year. Come to think of it, it's really a very simple system. The funds come mostly from people who have created wealth by starting industries (Ford), or found oil (Pew, W.Alton Jones), or built successful high-tech companies (Hewlett-Packard). Then their heirs, together with professional fund administrators, pour the money into organizations that work zealously to deprive industries of the natural resources they need. And this does not count all of the money pumped into the same organizations by your friendly federal government, assuring the officers of the non-profits of a substantial personal income as long as they advance the policies of the agencies.
The Journal of Commerce (which should know better) carried an opinion piece by one such. Charles Moore is the associate director of the Sustainable World Program at the W. Alton Jones Foundation (which supports every Green cause, from harebrained to extreme). His essay (May 19) must take the prize for confused thinking. He attacks the White House, and Al Gore, for not doing enough. He criticizes the "neo conservative" think-tank Resources for the Future for abandoning Kyoto in favor of carbon taxes. And he denounces industry (presumably the solar and wind types) for accepting government money to subsidize research. Still in a time warp of the 1970's, he rails against oil companies (and their "windfall" profits), "who would prefer us to ransom the Earth's climate system." With oil prices at all-time lows? It seems not to have occurred to Mr. Moore that his real villain is the consumer who insists on putting fuel in his gas tank so he can drive to work. Maybe that's the "bold thinking" that Mr. Moore is searching for.
It's disquieting, however, to learn (Fort Worth Star-Telegram May 14) that George W. Bush says, "the science proves there is global warming." A few weeks ago he thought that "the science is still out." He didn't tell anyone who he's been talking to in Al Gore's office …or wherever he gets his scientific advice.
Perhaps someone should direct him to the SEPP website….