|The Week That Was
July 5 - 11, 1999
One learns a lot from editorial page writers. An Indian friend of ours, with one of the leading papers, tells about his family, which runs a large refrigeration plant for foodstuffs in a major Indian city. Seems they needed to upgrade and go to lower temperatures. So they got rid of the old ammonia plant (nasty stuff and very poisonous) and went to CFCs. Why not HFCs, as we are forced to do in the U.S.? Much too expensive, and requiring more maintenance. What about regulations? Yes, we have these, of course. What about government inspectors? It’s much cheaper to bribe them, perhaps 100 rupees (about $3) a month. What about the money that India gets from the International Fund for the Montreal Protocol that’s supposed to help developing countries phase out CFCs and make the transition to substitutes? Oh, that money; it goes to the Indian government to run education and awareness programs about ozone depletion; not one penny goes to businesses.
So what else is new? The Indian govt. winks at the violators, the US govt. winks at the Indian govt. while jailing people who try to recycle CFCs from old refrigerators. In the meantime, Indian CFC producers make a good business supplying the stuff to foreign bootleggers and smugglers.
More inspiring news from India: Kathleen Alana McGinty, Al Gore’s sidekick and chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was interviewed by the Economic Times of India while at the Tata Energy Research Institute in Bombay where she is building an Indo-US dialogue on sustainable development. After criticizing former President Bush (who tried so hard to be the environmental president) for not doing more at the Rio Climate Conference, she rhapsodized about the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol that would grant CO2 credits to industrialized nations for doing good in developing countries. Katy graciously allowed that it was not the responsibility of the developing countries to resolve the climate problem because industrialized countries caused it all. And she tried to persuade her suspicious interviewer that CDM is a good deal for India financially, with a revenue flow that could be $10 billion over 10 years globally of which India could get $1 billion annually, according to the World Resources Institute. And guess who pays the bill? No wonder McGinty keeps pushing CDM as a great opportunity for India. In an understatement, the interview concludes with “CDM is not about sacrifice on the part of the developing country.” Ah yes, the hard sell.
Meanwhile, the Pew Center for the Environment is working on selected developing countries to talk them into adopting Kyoto, giving all the usual phony arguments. It would be a great relief if Pew just turned over their endowment to them and goes out of business. At the other end, more protests against Exxon-Mobil at the annual shareholders meeting, where Father Michael Crosby, a Capuchin monk from Milwaukee, intoned that global warming is “like a ship in the dark…another Exxon Valdez.” His group was soundly defeated.
The US National Assessment of Climate Variability and Change is part of the Global Change Research Program. It tries to build up support for climate scares around the country while siphoning off funds supposed to go for research. Here is one of the gems (courtesy of David Wojick) from their Q&A section: Q: What does it mean to have true stakeholder involvement? A: Building resiliency includes encouraging stakeholders to consider opportunities around and vulnerabilities to possible impacts of climate change and increased variability. It also means engendering a level of understanding and trust that encourages the use of new and emerging information in the decision-making and management processes. And finally, when one considers the future and that HUMAN ACTIVITIES ARE THE CHIEF CAUSES OF MANY OF THE CLIMATE CHANGES WE ALREADY OBSERVE, we must empower individuals and society as a whole to make better, more environmentally friendly decisions” (our emphasis). And we pay tax dollars for this?
EPA thinks they have a strategy to bypass the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A three-judge panel of the Court had turned down EPA’s attempt to institute tightened regulations on particulates and ozone, claiming that EPA had usurped powers reserved to Congress.
EPA has requested that the full Court deal with their case and may even be prepared to take it to the Supreme Court. But just in case… they are working on a new approach (NY Times June 15). It relies on petitions from four states that claim they cannot meet the older smog standards because of too much pollution blowing in from other states. Using that argument, EPA thinks they can force power plants in 12 states to reduce their emissions further. Challenges are sure to be filed to this new approach, but EPA administrator Carol Browner is unfazed: “The courts robbed us of that opportunity, but we’re not giving up.”
One wonders why EPA decided to tighten ozone standards at all. Was shifting the goal posts just a strategy for bureaucratic survival; did EPA bureaucrats feel threatened as more and more cities became smog-free? Or did EPA produce a political analysis, carefully estimating the costs and benefits to the agency from such a policy. Tightening ozone standards would slap penalties on the Midwest and raise their low electricity rates closer to the New England level, keeping industry from moving. Well, whatever works.
Another theory (proposed by Bonner Cohen): By clamping down on ozone and particulates, EPA is setting up a regulatory scheme that would also allow it to control emission of greenhouse gases, even without Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. No wonder the Brownie Lady is upset that her scheme has been scotched.
Environmental health threats are in the news recently. An Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences) panel gave a clean bill of health to silicon breast implants. No evidence for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus. But that was years after a $3.2-billion settlement offer had put Dow-Corning into bankruptcy. The American Council on Science and Health convened a panel of 17 scientists and physicians, chaired by Dr. C. Everett Koop, to investigate the health effects of phthalates, added to plastics to make them soft and flexible. The panel concluded that they are safe and pose no harm to adults or children. Nevertheless, toy manufacturers are running scared because of an ABC “20/20” news story. And manufactures of medical devices, including IV bags and blood bags, catheters, etc., may be considering radical changes that would inevitably impact on health care costs.
The ACSH report also puts environmental risks in perspective (Wall Street Journal, June 22, 1999): “Smoking, excessive drinking, drug use, accidents in the home, unprotected sex, poor nutrition, lack of exercise -- these are the demons that lead us along the road to sickness and death. The enemy is not tiny amounts of chemicals that have proved safe over many years.”