The Week That Was
June 17, 2000


In The Times of London (3/1/00), Nigel Hawkes, Britain's leading science correspondent, discusses the US National Research Council report (Jan. 2000) that vindicates the much-attacked satellite data on atmospheric temperatures. And if they are correct in showing little if any warming, then the surface data have problems, and so do the climate models.


Seven people have died so far in a Canadian epidemic of E. coli infection. Contamination of drinking water is blamed largely on agricultural runoff from hog and cattle farming operations and from fields sprayed with manure. "Ah, the joys of organic farming."

And a big hooray for EPA, which tried to set the chloroform standard to zero - a barely disguised ban on chlorine. To quote from Howard Hayden's The Energy Advocate: "Save the Environment for E. coli!"


The Supreme Court may examine EPA's contention, for the past 30 years, that the Clean Air Act allows it to regulate based on health damage, but not on cost. The American Trucking Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the states of Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia think that EPA should also weigh economic factors and consider the financial impact of regulations.

This latest move follows the ruling last year of the US Court of Appeals for DC that remanded EPA's new restrictions on ozone and on small particulates.

Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, it could rule that Congress intended to allow EPA to consider costs, overturning the decisions of lower federal courts and a "long settled area of administrative practice."

A hopeful sign is the fact that the Supreme Court now has Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, author of "Breaking the Vicious Circle" and expert on cost-benefit analysis. Another hopeful sign is that the court may give a proper interpretation to the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and its section 2b. NEPA, of course, is the fundamental act underlying all subsequent environmental legislation.

In a different development involving EPA, the EPA has agreed to settle a lawsuit by a Midwest utility and energy coalition charging it with having failed to enforce Clean Air Act Requirements in 6 Northeast states.

Under the consent decree achieved by the "Midwest Ozone Group," EPA will proceed with vehicle inspection and maintenance programs in the Northeast and plans for a 15% reduction
there in volatile organic compounds (VOC). (VOC is a precursor for urban smog.)

This is part of an ongoing battle between the Midwest and the Northeast over what causes Northeast smog. Late last year, Northeastern state officials joined an EPA lawsuit against 7 Midwest utilities charging that they should have installed anti-pollution equipment on 17 aging coal-fired plants to reduce emissions of NOx. The utilities however claim that they were grandfathered under the provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

Particularly poignant is the fact that EPA's lawsuit and administrative enforcement action against 44 electric power plants includes 7 administrative orders against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned utility. But TVA has been the first of these to fire back, filing a petition for review with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue is whether routine maintenance, as claimed by TVA, must meet the lengthy permitting process and numerous strict standards for building a new facility or substantially modifying an existing one. TVA claims that EPA is reinterpreting the law and changing the rules of the game. TVA would have to spend $3 billion to comply, it claims.

Utilities are also concerned with the impact of EPA's actions on the reliability of the electricity supply. It would delay or even prevent routine maintenance and result in more frequent blackouts. It's going to be a hot summer…


EPA's reassessment of dioxin, while not yet officially reviewed and released, is expected to report cancer risks 10 times greater than previously thought. The report is expected to generate wide controversy and criticism from both scientific and industry sources. At the same time, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued its 9th report on carcinogens in May, removing saccharin from the list. It added or upgraded 14 other substances including tobacco smoke, solar UV radiation, and alcoholic beverages, but it did not update dioxin from a "reasonable anticipated" to a "known" human carcinogen.

In the meantime, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report showing the rate of new cancer cases and deaths for all cancers combined declined, on average, 0.8% per year between 1990 and 1997. The average drop was double that between 1995 and 1997.



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