The Week That Was
September 14-20, 1998

Wariness at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Is EPA Administrator Carol Browner beginning to see the same handwriting on the wall as her boss in the White House? Sources tell us that reporters requesting interviews are now being told she won't talk to them until they run their questions past an EPA attorney. Those whose questions are deemed a bit too probing are getting doors slammed in their faces.

Well, to put it mildly, EPA policies have been getting rather mixed reviews. It's apparently becoming harder and harder to get by on sanctimony alone. Last week the Agency's efforts to link pollution in minority communities with civil rights violations claimed another victim. As reported by David Mastio in the Detroit News, plans by Shintech, Inc. for a $700-million plastics plant in a rural, poverty-stricken part of Louisiana were scrapped after a year of legal hassles. The plant would have provided 140 permanent manufacturing jobs and as many as 2000 temporary construction jobs. Browner called Shintech's decision to quit proof that "environmental protection and economic growth can go hand-in-hand." How the federal government encourages growth by discouraging jobs for the poor, however, was unclear. Perhaps the real fear for the Clinton Administration is that poor people may lose their dependence on federal handouts.

Next on the EPA "environmental justice" firing line is a proposed $175-million steel mill north of Flint, Michigan. We recall that in 1989 filmmaker Michael Moore produced a satire called "Roger and Me," which sharply criticized General Motors President Roger Smith for shutting down an auto manufacturing plant in Flint and putting hundreds of people out of work. Perhaps Moore would consider filming an update.

A government-funded report just released by the National Research Council contains a bit of irony even the news media couldn't miss. The United States, says the NRC, lacks a sound system for researching long-term climate patterns, and without such a system an understanding of the possible effects of a warmer climate are impossible. (Okay, guys! Cancel Buenos Aires!)

The government's experts say rainfall in northwestern Europe and western North America can be predicted months in advance, "to some degree," and expectations about El Niņos are becoming more reliable, but there has been little progress in gauging the long-term picture.

One thing that prompted the NRC report, of course, has been the study of Greenland ice cores, which reveal huge natural variations in climate and temperature over the entire Holocene, the last 10,000 years. The NRC now acknowledges that climate "has changed, is changing and will continue to do so," with or without human influences, and calls the fact that the government has no mechanism for supporting long-term measurements of the climate system a major problem. Said oceanographer Carl Wunsch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "We need decades of data but have no means of funding its acquisition."

Actually we've been hearing this complaint from climate scientists for some time. Perhaps they should restore to the climate research program the funds that the White House is directing into "community education workshops" - all 18 of them. Or perhaps they should try siphoning off a few million from the Administration's proposed $6.3 billion global warming package. In that, long-term climate predictions come via Albert Gore's crystal ball and the balance is reserved for public "education" and corporate bribes.

Enron Corporation will receive EPA's 1998 "Climate Protection Award" on October 27. No doubt the Washington Post will cover the ceremony when Ken Lay, CEO of this "brave firm" picks up his plaque. Meanwhile John Ahearne, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and member of the Energy Department's Environmental Management Advisory Board, threw cold water on the nuclear power industry's hopes of making hay with the global warming issue. Ahearne said construction costs, waste disposal, and public fears pose serious obstacles to a nuclear-powered future. To a chorus of guffaws and comments of "pie in the sky," he told 150 engineers and scientists at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, that environmentalists were pinning their hopes on renewable energy.

Archer Daniels Midland also got bad news regarding its efforts to steer the government toward a greater reliance on corn-based ethanol to reduce CO2 emissions. One of the environmentally concerned, Dr. David Pimentel, studied the cost of producing ethanol from corn and calculates that "about 71 percent more energy is used to produce a gallon of ethanol than energy contained in a gallon of ethanol." Pimental estimates the real cost of ethanol production as $2.52 a gallon. And, of course, if the energy used in production comes from a fossil-fuel-fired power plant, it doesn't even reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Moving on, the EPA Science Advisory Board says computer models used to predict future emissions of particulate matter are seriously flawed and must be improved before EPA moves ahead with its assessment of the costs and benefits of air regulatory programs between 1990 and 2010. The models reportedly failed to predict the observed downward trends as measured by monitors.

Elsewhere, World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland last week called smoking the "biggest global health threat" and demanded a total ban on cigarette advertising. "By the year 2010 tobacco is going to be the biggest disease burden globally," she said. But as junk science expert Steve Milloy points out, this statement is contradicted by WHO's recent World Health Report 1998, which points out that of the 52.2 million deaths in 1997, one-third were associated with infectious and parasitic disease, but only 1.1 million were from lung cancer. The report also said that among the "most disturbing" findings was that 20 million people per year die before age 50; 10 million of these are under age 5--deaths unlikely to be related to smoking. This looks like an example of WHO's misplaced priorities. Why bother combatting poverty, poor sanitation and communicable disease when you're setting the stage for another assault on personal behavior?

Speaking of which, medical researchers in New Zealand announced last week that eating butter is as deadly as smoking cigarettes and demanded that butter cartons carry warning labels to that effect. According to the Associated Press report, New Zealand dairy farmers--apparently not yet beaten into submission by their own government--immediately branded the announcement as "ridiculous" and an attempt by an arrogant and intolerant few to deter people from eating something they enjoy. Kevin Wooding, spokesman for Federated Farmers, said that "if you listened to everything these health experts said, you wouldn't go outside."

Finally, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, enumerating a list of what he called "evolving priorities," says he hopes to spend part of his tenure educating the public toward a more compassionate view of mental illness. We figure this is the President's next line of defense.

Until next week...

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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