|The Week That Was
January 13, 2001
NEW ON THE SEPP WEB:
With the US Supreme Court considering the issue of cost-benefit analysis in environmental decision-making, it may be useful to excerpt from a report written by SFS in 1976, a quarter of a century ago and published by the MITRE Corporation:
The Requirement for Cost-Benefit Analyses
Since the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) went into effect on January 1, 1970, more than 6,000 environmental impact statements have been prepared according to section 102(C) of the Act. During 1974 alone, the cost to only the various government agencies was well in excess of $100 million.
Some six years later, it may still be too early to draw up a balance sheet on NEPA and on environmental impact statements. On the one hand, they have improved decision-making in the Federal Government. Without an EIS, the Alaskan pipeline would have been constructed according to its original design with possibly deleterious consequences. On the other hand, the delay has jeopardized our oil security, permitted the Arab countries to mount an embargo, and thrown doubt and confusion into our long-term energy planning. In many cases, environmental impact statements have been used by opponents of a project simply to create delays and obstructions. It has also thrown the courts into the business of making final decisions regarding the legality of a multitude of federal actions. "NEPA in the Courts," a legal analysis and review of litigation by Frederick R. Anderson, published by Resources for the Future in 1973, offers a substantial review of the 150 cases that had been or were being litigated in the first three years.
There has sprung up an industry based on environmental statements, consulting firms which make it their business to put together the substantive material and the boilerplate required for an EIS, sometimes amounting to thousands of pages and leading to tomes weighing tens of pounds. One assumes that a corresponding effort has gone into the reading and analysis of the material. The main criticism has been with the cost of the process, the delays that it imposes, the quality of the analysis (which leaves much to be desired), and its relevance.
The Act is reasonably clear about what is required. Section 102 (C) states that
Of greater interest to me is section 102(B) of the act, which deals with a more substantive matter-as opposed to 102(C), which is more procedural and simply explains how to draw up an impact statement. Section 102(B) reads as follows:
A plain reading of the text leads to the following conclusion. In making a decision, whether an investment decision or project decision, the decision-maker considers economic and technical aspects. Usually he will make a rate-of-return calculation or, equivalently, a cost-benefit analysis. The Congress is now saying that this is still the primary consideration, but let us be sure that we include environmental costs and benefits which have up until now not been included because they have not been quantified, that is, because they have not been expressed in the same units, namely, in dollars. What the Congress is therefore asking is that we develop methods and procedures which will assign dollar values to environmental amenities so that these can be considered on the same terms and along with other economic returns and benefits.
Now this is a very sensible idea, and one that has a goodly amount of precedent in other kinds of federal project decision-making. For example, in planning a reservoir and dam, one normally takes into account the benefits from flood control, from water supply, from hydroelectric power, but also the recreational benefits, which have only more recently been quantified. To be sure, the incentive to quantify previously unquantified benefits came because it added to the total of the benefits and therefore made the project more attractive. What the Congress is saying now in NEPA is that environmental benefits as well as environmental losses must be included in the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project.
Since the institution of its Dioxin Reduction Law in July 1999, Japan has either shut down or suspended operations of as many as 4,600 incinerators, representing 17 percent of the country's operating incinerators. According to BNA's Daily Environment Report, the Japanese government set a national target to reduce domestic dioxin emissions by 90 percent by March 2003 compared with 1997 levels from new emission sources such as waste incineration and paper-manufacturing. Virtually all of the shutdowns affect small and medium-sized incinerators. Although Japanese officials say that closing incinerators which do not meet emission standards is a welcome development, they are concerned about the possibility of illegal dumping and export of industrial waste.
POSSIBLE DIOXIN BENEFITS FOR BREAST CANCER RESEARCH:
Toxicologists at Texas A&M University are studying dioxin's ability
to inhibit estrogen's facilitation of the growth of breast cancer cells.
Based on this research, a team of scientists led by Dr. Stephen Safe is
hoping to produce chemicals that mimic dioxin's interference with estrogen
-- working in the same way, without the potential toxicity levels of dioxin.
While studying the effect of dioxin on liver cancer in rats, the scientists
noted some "odd and interesting" effects, says Safe. In addition
to observing much lower levels of breast cancer in rats exposed to dioxin,
Safe also noted that the chemical seemed to cause a decreased immune response
in mice, but an increased response in rats, and that while guinea pigs
showed negative effects, hamsters seemed to have no response to the chemical.
NAS FINDINGS MAY PAVE WAY FOR MERCURY EMISSION RULES:
Two recent studies from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) could
set the stage for new regulations regarding mercury emissions. According
to The New York Times, NAS' 18-month review of EPA's risk calculation
for mercury concluded that the most important hazard by far lay in the
threat to developing fetuses. It emphasized that the risk to most people
was very small, and that the primary goal should be to cut the exposure
in young women who frequently eat fish in which the highest levels of
mercury tend to accumulate. According to Inside EPA, a separate NAS report
reviewing EPA's 1996 human reference dose standards for mercury will likely
validate EPA's conservative approach in setting the dose standard, despite
the fact that NAS will also likely find that EPA has not adequately proven
a link between decreasing mercury emissions and curbing mercury exposure
to humans. Both reports are likely to boost EPA's efforts to regulate
electric power plants, currently the largest source of mercury emissions.
RED CROSS WARNS ON CLIMATE
BBC News (8 June, 2000) reports that the world's largest non-governmental aid organisation says the developed countries' polluting lifestyles represent a massive debt owed to the poor. The charge comes in the World Disasters Report 2000, published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The report says the developed world's pollution is heating the planet, with potentially drastic consequences for all on Earth. And it argues that everybody, rich and poor, should have an equal right to pollute the atmosphere.
[**That's a new entitlement we should take note of**]
The report says: "Reckless human use of fossil fuels - overwhelmingly by industrialised countries - has helped raise the spectre of climate change, which darkens everyone's horizon. But poor people in poor countries suffer first and worst from extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. Today, 96% of all deaths from natural disasters occur in developing countries.
[**To suggest that natural disasters, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
floods and tropical storms are caused by energy use in the US is ludicrous.
Not even the IPCC goes that far.]
The report argues that all nations will have to live within "one global environmental budget", which will mean a drastic change from the situation today, when "industrialised countries generate over 62 times more carbon dioxide pollution per person than the least developed countries." The report contrasts the monetary debts owed by developing countries to their wealthy creditors with the rich world's climate debt. It says the poorest states are owed up to three times as much in carbon credits as they owe in dollars. But the world's richest nations have amassed a climate debt totalling $13 trillion, the report says.
The Federation endorses the idea of "contraction and convergence," which would mean that citizens of every country, rich or poor, would be entitled to emit the same amounts of climate-changing pollution, an idea pioneered by the London-based Global Commons Institute. Aubrey Meyer of GCI told BBC News Online: "This endorsement by the Federation, which is a fairly cautious group, shows that contraction and convergence is an idea whose time has come."
[**Those of us who have looked at the GCI proposal think it's the goofiest idea to come down the pike.**]
[Finally, the report deals with "Persistent Sceptics", but can't really argue against the facts]
Some researchers still doubt that human activities are inducing rapid climate change. They highlight the inconsistencies between the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface, which shows rapid warming over the last two decades, and the data produced by satellite and balloon studies. These show little if any warming of the low to mid-troposphere - the atmospheric layer extending up to about 8km from the Earth's surface. Climate models generally predict that temperatures should increase in the upper air as well as at the surface if increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing the warming seen there.