The bitter fight over Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee for EPA Administrator, is headed to the Senate floor under a potential filibuster threat. Myron Ebell, Director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, explains that the deeper cause of this political fight is a startling lack of transparency at the EPA that McCarthy is unlikely to fix.
News stories trumping junk science are common, but I expect better from Fox News, which claims to be “fair and balanced” and hosts great shows like STOSSEL. And they’ve run some of my commentaries, which I appreciate. That’s why I am perplexed by some Fox reports on environmental issues, many of which seem to peddle junk science pushed by activists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
For example, the other day Fox published a silly story from Prevention magazine on how chemicals found in popcorn cooked in nonstick pans might give you heart disease based on a single study that found a statistical association, which can occur by mere chance. How many other studies failed to find an association? The article doesn’t bother to go there—rather, it says: “Scary? You bet.” The article does offer a weak qualifier, stating that “more research needs to be done to determine the specific relationship between PFOA [the chemical used in non-stick the pans] and cardiovascular disease.”
Yet EWG’s Shoppers’ Guide is a perversion of data that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects annually to measure traces of pesticides found on produce. Residue levels are always extremely low, and USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency both explain that the data demonstrates that levels are too low to pose significant health risks. Yet EWG lists healthy foods—such as apples—as “dirty” because they have a few extra parts per billion of trace pesticide residues. The response should be: Who cares? The levels are too low to have an impact, and eating these foods is certainly good for your health.
In the below video, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (KY-01) talks about the Environmental Protection Agency’s discriminatory practice of granting fee waivers to political allies and denying them to critics—a practice CEI Senior Fellow Christopher Horner recently made public. (Whitfield begins talking about the issue around the 1:17 mark.)
Action is heating up on the next farm bill, as the Senate Agriculture Committee today completed its markup of their bill which will go to the Senate for consideration. The House is scheduled to release its markup on Wednesday. No surprise – the Senate bill is replete with subsidies and support programs that cost tens of billions of dollars.
Yesterday, in anticipation of the markup, eleven taxpayer and policy groups sent a letter to the House and the Senate with its listing of the “Terrible Twelve” – the twelve most egregious farm policies. The groups urged policymakers to reform or eliminate these costly and distorting programs:
- Direct payments
- Federal crop insurance
- Shallow loss program
- USDA Trade Promotion programs
- Sugar program
- Diary Market Stabilization Plan
- Target prices
- Rural broadband
- Mandatory assessments
- Cotton program
- Ethanol’s Feedstock Flexibility Program
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program
Last week, a coalition organized by CEI sent a letter to policymakers urging reform of the U.S. sugar program, which costs consumers an estimated $4 billion a year in extra costs.
Amendments are likely to be introduced on the floor in both the House and the Senate to reform some of these wasteful programs. But the farm programs are a classic example of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. In addition, because nutrition and food stamp programs make up the majority of the costs of the farm bill, both urban and rural policymakers form an unholy bipartisan alliance to push farm bills through. Bipartisanship isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Is your hand wash slowly killing you as government regulators sit idly by? Sounds silly, but that’s what environmentalists seem to think about an antibacterial agent called triclosan, which is used in soap and other consumer products.
According to the NRDC: “In laboratory studies, they [antibacterial chemicals] have been shown to disrupt hormones and can encourage the growth of drug-resistant bacteria or ‘superbugs.’” The group wants consumers to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “to pull products containing triclosan and triclocarban from store shelves.” The NRDC is also suing FDA for not completing its scientific review of triclosan, which has dragged on for more than 40 years.
The Globe and Mail reports: “Some Americans are shocked that the FDA has taken so long. Mallory Smith is troubled to learn that the government has never confirmed the safety of antibacterial soap’s key ingredient.”
Yet the fact that bureaucrats rarely move quickly isn’t shocking at all. In fact, the NRDC lawsuit proves why government isn’t well suited to take swift action or promote public safety. And there are many reasons why chemical reviews in particular take a long time, none of which have to do with safety.
First, chemical exposures from consumer products are generally too low to have any significant impacts. Measuring such negligible risks is akin to looking for needle in a field of haystacks. Government researchers can dig and dig, yet never find anything, nor can they prove a chemical is 100 percent safe since nothing is. So they continue with no end in sight.
For example, while triclosan has been used pretty widely for more than 60 years, there’s no hard evidence of triclosan-caused cancers or “superbugs.” The best greens can offer are allegations based on studies that suggest links between the chemical and health effects in rodents dosed large amounts. The same is true for naturally occurring chemicals in broccoli, coffee, pickles, and more. We don’t need an FDA review of these foods to know they are safe to eat and that these rodent studies are not particularly relevant to human health risks from trace chemicals.
The program is an outdated relic of the 1930s that has outlived its purported usefulness. It is a central planning scheme that—
—Allocates the domestic supply
—Restricts imports of sugar
—Sets prices substantially higher than the world price
—Buys up surplus sugar and sells it at a loss to ethanol producers
Ten taxpayer, advocacy, and public policy groups signed on to the missive, which also pointed out who benefits and who loses:
The U.S. sugar program is a classic public choice case of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs: of how special interests can trump the public interest. A small number of sugar producers receive enormous benefits, while the costs are spread across the U.S. economy, hitting consumers and the sweetener-using industries.
The groups urged policymakers to reform or eliminate the program.
As European renewable energy initiatives seek to radically reform their means of energy production, it would make sense that it be done in the most affordable way possible. However, leading European solar groups have teamed up with EU officials to make sure this is not the case. In light of recent EU allegations of Chinese solar panel dumping in European markets, The European Commission is set to impose a 47 percent tariff on Chinese solar panel imports beginning June 6. A recession plagued Europe driven by renewable energy policies is shooting itself in the foot by implementing a tariff that will increase the price of its energy production.
The imposition of this tariff could not come at a worse time for European consumers. In pursuit of “green energy” production, the U.K. and Germany have already initiated plans to essentially do away with existing energy sources. As I noted in The Commentator, the result has been higher energy prices. Solar power production, being both expensive and inefficient relative to alternative sources, is an industry that requires substantial subsidies to exist. A tariff on Chinese solar panel imports means a step in the wrong direction in terms of making solar energy a more viable energy source.
A tariff on cheap Chinese solar panels not only makes energy production more expensive, but it invites retaliation from the EU’s second largest trading partner at a time when free trade is imperative for economic recovery. The dumping allegations, originally brought forth by German company SolarWorld last September, have already worked to substantiate a 31 percent tariff on Chinese panel imports in the U.S. In response to the U.S. tariff, Chinese officials have threatened a retaliatory tariff. Critics of the new EU tariff worry China will respond in similar fashion.
As Europe seeks to make their renewable energy sources work, it is clear that protectionist policies are not the best strategy for doing so. Renewable energy’s two biggest drawbacks come in the form of efficiency and affordability. Cheap Chinese imports help to solve the latter problem in the solar energy realm. Instead, European solar panel prices rise as the interests of SolarWorld and other European big solar groups stifle foreign competition and take precedence over the consumer.
A page 1 New York Times story today describes how the Obama administration, despite opposition from civil servants, radically expanded a legal settlement that had already become a “magnet for fraud,” paying out vast sums of money over baseless claims of discrimination at the Agriculture Department in the Pigford case. As the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson notes, its story “today breaks vital new details about how career government lawyers opposed Obama appointees’ insistence on reaching a gigantic settlement for claims of bias against female and Hispanic farmers in the operation of federal agriculture programs” over the objections of “career government lawyers.” As the Times reports,
On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling [adverse to claimants and favorable toward USDA], interviews and records show, the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.
The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud.
The ever-growing settlement became “a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees.”
If you want to have fun in California’s Disneyland, avoid reading the warning signs saying that products used in the park may give you cancer and reproductive problems! They’re not just a buzz kill, they are plain dumb and misinformed. But it’s state law that they be there. You can find them in Starbucks and many other places throughout the state too.
California’s nonsensical Proposition 65 law directs regulators to place chemicals on a “toxic” substances list, and then forces companies to issue warning labels when they use these substances to make consumer products and food. But regulators list chemicals for myriad stupid reasons. For example, they may list a chemical simply because high doses give cancer to rats, which is also true of broccoli. It’s the dose that makes the poison, which is one reason that such rodent tests have little relevance to health impacts in humans.
If the logic behind is law were correct, you might worry about keeping a nickle in your pocket since California lists nickel as a toxic substance. It’s not clear why the federal government does not have to post warning labels on nickles. I guess the feds are exempt from state-level idiocy?
As I noted on the Independent Women’s Forum Inkwell blog yesterday, one chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), has recently gained a temporary — hopefully soon-to-be-permanent — stay from listing on the Proposition 65 list. This case raises questions about the thousands of other chemicals found on this list. Had industry fought as hard as the American Chemistry Council is currently doing for BPA, would fewer chemicals be on this list? Maybe so. After all, at existing exposures, none of these chemicals pose much of any risks.
It may not be a popular fact, but a fact it is: the environment is getting cleaner, and it has since about the mid-20th century. The question is, what caused this improvement? How can we keep it going? Over at Topix.com, my colleague Geoffrey McLatchey and I argue that the best answer for both questions is wealth creation:
Economic growth and environmental quality are not opposing values. They go hand-in-hand. Something happens to a country when its per capita GDP reaches about $5,000 (U.S. per capita GDP is about $48,000). At that point, families are certainly not rich. But they don’t have to worry as much about where their next meal will come from. They can afford to begin to take care of other needs, such as building sewage systems and other pollution-reducing infrastructure. Instead of using wood for heating and cooking, people can turn to more efficient fossil fuels, which means less deforestation. Farmers can afford to adopt modern techniques that produce more food with less land, leaving more left over for wildlife.
That’s the good news. The even better news is that greater progress is on the horizon. The number of people living in absolute poverty halved between 1990 and 2010, and the number continues to dwindle. Remarkably, this is happening even as global population increases. As more countries pass the $5,000-per capita benchmark, ecosystems around the world will benefit.
Read the whole thing here. Even if people do concede to the data and admit that the world’s environmental situation isn’t doom-and-gloom, they often give credit to the EPA. A glance at my recent EPA report card will hopefully disabuse people of that notion. Innovation, not regulation, is what will keep the environment healthy. That’s the lesson people should take from Earth Day.