The Week That Was
February 16, 2002

1. Our irrepressible Gordon Prather takes a sanguine view on the Clean Skies Initiative announced by Pres. Bush on Feb 14. Not everyone agrees: Read the statement put out by Consumer Alert. Chris Horner explains why a "voluntary" energy tax invites ridicule and will soon become mandatory.

2. SEPP comments on Bush' Clean Skies Initiative: Plusses and Minuses. We give it a gentlemanly grade of C.

3. (Some) Religious Leaders Oppose Arctic Oil Drilling:

4. Robert Ehrlich, a professor of physics at George Mason University is the
author of "Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True." (Princeton
University Press, 2002), in which he explores the evidence for nine
controversial ideas in science. Here's are two examples:


i) As far as is known, the White House didn't consult its allies. Republican support for the CSI is likely to be lukewarm. The Enviros have already denounced it as "not enough." It'll do in the coal industry and raise electric power costs in the Midwest. This might please the Northeast - but will they vote Republican? Politically, we'll give it a grade of D.

ii) Will it help the Bush Energy Policy Plan? Doubtful. It depends on coal and nuclear, but there will be opposition to both -even though nuclear is the obvious way to meet the CO2 targets set by Bush. Opposition to oil drilling on the ANWR is likely to continue (see below), and so will pressure to raise CAFE drastically. Grade: a C.

iii) Will it stave off pressure on the US to join Kyoto? To some extent. Linking CO2 emissions to GNP is a sensible idea but why set targets at all? [The trend towards increased de-carbonization will continue and may even accelerate with a rebirth of nuclear power and the increase in hybrid electric cars.] But voluntary has a nasty habit of turning mandatory (as it did during the Clinton Administration) - especially if some industries are given financial incentives in the form of emission vouchers. Grade: a C.

(To be continued)


"Leaders from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious groups will be joined by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D, CT) as they articulate their opposition to legislation opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. More than two dozen clergy and lay people will be on hand to express their theological and religious reasons for opposing Arctic drilling, and to underscore their solidarity with the native Gwich'in people, for whom the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a sacred area because of its importance to the caribou herd on which the Gwich'in depend.
Press conference held February 6, 2002, in Room 385, Russell Senate Office Building"

SEPP Comment: No comment

4. From Robert Ehrlich, author of "Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True."

If maverick scientist Thomas Gold is right, we shouldn't be too concerned about an energy crisis over the long haul, because the world has far more reserves of fossil fuels than most geologists believe. We call coal, oil and gas fossil fuels, because they are generally believed to be the remains of ancient life that have been buried and "cooked" to their present form. According to Gold, coal, oil and natural gas are not fossil fuels at all, but rather part of the original composition of our planet, and present in much greater abundance than they would be if they were of biological origin. Gold claims that the biological traces found in "fossil" fuels don't point to a biological origin, but to a contamination from deep underground bacteria. He notes that natural gas or methane is found nearly everywhere on the planet, even in places where it wouldn't be expected on the basis of a biological origin. By Jove, it's even found on Jupiter, and not many people have suggested that as evidence that Jupiter must have had ancient life. But, there's also a bad news side of the story if Gold is right. The world may have centuries more worth of "fossil" fuels than most geologists believe, but in that case, global warming due to fossil fuel use has the potential to be serious over the long term.

What do the following things have in common: alcohol, sunshine, iodine, iron, copper, sodium, and cholesterol? These agents all are beneficial in low doses, but harmful to humans in very high doses, a concept known as "hormesis." The list of hormetic agents is much longer than these examples, and might even include bacteria, since a totally sterile environment causes an unchallenged healthy immune system to deteriorate. Some researchers believe that the list of hormetic agents includes nuclear radiation, as well. Nuclear radiation is, of course, harmful in high doses. It can cause death in the short run, and cancer many years after an exposure. But, no excess cancers have ever been demonstrated in animals or people for very low doses. The problem is that the "signal" (the cancers caused by radiation) gets lost in the noise -- the random fluctuations in the natural cancer rate. In fact, some studies have shown that for low doses the relationship between radiation and cancer may operate in reverse. For example, according to physicist Bernard Cohen, people living in counties having above average amounts of radon (a radioactive gas that seeps up from underground) actually have lower lung cancer death rates. That doesn't prove that radon is beneficial at low doses, since other things besides radon could explain the lower lung cancer death rates in the high radon counties. But, if nuclear radiation were ever proven to be beneficial at low doses, this finding would have enormous policy implications. You might even pay a premium to have a nuclear waste dump in your backyard. That's not too likely -- but it would certainly alter the present belief that there is no "safe" level of exposure to nuclear radiation.



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