The Week That Was
May 25-31, 1998

We reported last week on new research indicating that the pesticide DDT may not have been the "Silent Spring" disaster environmental activists have long claimed. Last week new research out of Canada and published in the New England Journal of Medicine says asbestos fears may also be going down the drain.

According to an article in the Washington Post ("Study Questions Cancer Threat From Asbestos," May 28, 1998) Montreal epidemiologist Michel Camus and two colleagues tracked the lung cancer rate among thousands of women in a cluster of Canadian towns near asbestos mines or factories. In the 1940s and 1950s, before pollution controls were put in place, the air in such towns was so thick with asbestos fibers that women had to regularly sweep it off balconies and people left footprints in it on the sidewalks.

Yet the Canadian scientists found no measurable increased risk of death from lung cancer in such towns. Said co-author Jack Siemiatycki, professor of epidemiology at the University of Quebec, "If these people didn't experience excess rates of cancer, it's hard to understand the meaning of all the risk projections being done for schools and buildings where people are panicking because they're being exposed to small amounts."

Scientists who criticized the study, most notably Dr. Philip Landrigan, an advisor to the U.S. EPA on the asbestos issue, found fault not with the Canadians' data but with their "interpretation." Actually, the EPA has for some time recommended that the best policy with asbestos in buildings is often just to seal it up and leave it alone. Of course, the EPA kept mum on that point in September 1993, when New York City school officials delayed school openings while they spent millions ripping asbestos out of school buildings. School officials took some heat when a few of the kiddies, idling on the sidewalks for weeks, were hit by cars.

Another report out of Canada (UPI, May 26) says Commissioner of the Environment Brian Emmet has slammed the Canadian government for failing to put its enthusiasm for the Global Climate Treaty into action. The government doesn't have a real plan, complains Emmet. Over the past decade, he says, greenhouse gas emissions have been going up not down, and by the year 2000 will be 11 percent above the government's stated target.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, D.C., the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, one of several organizations now funded by Pew Charitable Trusts to package global warming for the press and the public, has completed the first round of its ongoing global warming ad campaign with spreads in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Business Week, and television spots aired in the Washington area. Given that money is no object at the Pew Center, we wondered if advertising revenue directed toward such media outlets (full page in the Washington Post, $41,000; Wall Street Journal, $142,861; New York Times, $75,978; Business Week, $81,000) doesn't give their reporters an appearance of conflict of interest. Well, probably not.

Elsewhere, Enron Renewable Energy Corporation, which had produced 90 wind turbines before 1998, is set to ramp up production to 548 this year. According to an item on the Dow Jones Wire May 15, Enron Renewable is on the hunt for strategic acquisitions, looking for deals similar to its October 1997 buyout of Germany's Tacke Windtechnik. Thomas White, chairman and CEO of Enron Renewable, says if consumers do show an inclination to pay a premium for green power, Enron may one day have a renewable-energy desk as part of its massive trading operation.

Speaking of trading, Michael Marvin, executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, in a March 13 letter to Dirk Forrister, chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force, said that "many of the Council's members have been eager to help create a trading institution, and have been working with the United Nations Framework Convention and officials within the U.S. government to provide input on design criteria." The only corporate BCSE member copied on the letter was John Palmisano of Enron.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week issued and then quickly downplayed a report that catalytic converters installed on U.S. automobiles to cut air pollution may be generating nitrous oxide, a form of laughing gas thought to contribute to a putative global warming. This prompted a Maryland colleague to speculate that, if true, nitrous oxide might have a tranquilizing effect on cranky, gridlocked commuters, a kind of mobile Prozac.

Drivers might need a little Prozac if the Sierra Club has its way and forces them into compact cars whether they want them or not. Responding to a study that claimed most Americans now driving big, comfortable cars and trucks wouldn't dump them unless gasoline prices doubled (three out of 10 wouldn't switch no matter what the gasoline cost), Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's "Global Warming and Energy Program" said it's time to unleash the regulators. "The political will doesn't exist to raise gas taxes by 80 percent or 100 percent," he said, Becker called on federal lawmakers to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would force automakers to manufacture more small, ultra-fuel-efficient cars.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has already documented how current CAFE standards, by pushing Americans into small cars, have resulted in thousands of additional auto accident deaths each year. SEPP President Fred Singer has noted that higher fuel efficiency, combined with cheap gasoline, actually encourages Americans to drive instead of, say, taking the train. This increases traffic congestion. Cars stuck in traffic, says Singer, emit infinite amounts of pollution (and CO2) per mile at zero miles to the gallon.

Finally, in the Norwegian Sea a Greenpeace activist is reportedly holed up on an oil rig operated by the Norwegian division of Shell Oil, proof that cozying up to Green activists does not necessarily rid you of those who wish to be a nuisance. Perhaps Greenpeace is lobbying for a seat on the Shell Board of Directors.

Until next week.

This issue of TW^2 was compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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