Environment

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Senior Fellow William Yeatman argues that the REDO Act, up for a House vote today, would limit a practice called sue and settle. Friendly activist groups sue allied agencies over missed deadlines, and the settlements typically include enactment of policies that the agencies and the groups both favor. Sue and settle is a form of regulation without representation, without input from Congress or voters.

IMG_3456Could your affection for bottled water be responsible for your bout with migraines? Apparently so, if you believe the latest headlines about the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). But its wise to be wary of such silly claims.

First of all, it’s wrong to suggest that single serving bottled water commonly contains BPA, because that’s simply not true. BPA is not used for single-serving, flexible plastic water bottles, as pointed out on the International Bottled Water Association website. They note: “It [BPA] is not, however, used in any retail-sized PET bottled water containers.” Nor is it used for most food storage containers like GladWare and other more flexible plastic food storage containers. So go ahead and put those containers in the microwave and leave your bottled water in the car and sun despite the claims that doing so will release BPA! They don’t have any BPA to release. But even if they did, I wouldn’t worry.

BPA is used in the five-gallon water jugs designed for office water coolers, and other products made with hard, clear plastics, such as safety goggles. It was once used to make hard clear plastic reusable water bottles, but most of these are now made “BPA-free,” thanks to all the misguided hype about BPA risks. And BPA is used in resins that line the interior of soda cans and steel cans for canned foods. These resins prevent the development of dangerous pathogens in our food, which is a good thing! The trace levels of of BPA that ends up in the food are so low that the risks are negligible and those benefits outweigh any risks, as numerous comprehensive scientific reviews around the world have concluded.

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Post image for Sugar — Congress’ Favorite Sweetener

The sugar lobby’s sweet contributions and their day-in-day-out lobbying means broad bipartisan support for continuing the U.S. sugar program in the 2013 farm bill, as The Washington Post noted in a wide-ranging article December 7. Sugar policy, consisting of price supports, restraints on domestic supply, and import controls, benefits mainly a small number of rich sugar producers at the expense of consumers and taxpayers, according to the article.

Historically, the program has resulted in domestic sugar prices substantially higher than the world price. Besides those sweet deals, the government also buys back sugar producers’ surplus so they don’t have to pay back federal loans. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture sells that sugar to ethanol producers at a loss.

Numerous attempts have been made to rein in this egregious program, but the sugar industry’s intense and consistent lobbying and the huge contributions they make on both sides of the aisle almost guarantee them the program’s continuation.

The cost to consumers hits them in the pocketbook, as sugar is an ingredient in not just sweet treats, but in staples such as bread and processed food. The sugar program means about $3.5 billion in additional costs to consumers per year.

It’s estimated that the higher domestic prices for sugar has cost the confectionery, beverage, and food industries nearly 127,000 jobs between 1997 and 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and has led to many candy companies moving their operations to other countries, such as Mexico and Canada. For every job saved in the sugar producing industry through the sugar program, about three jobs are lost in the confectionery and food industries, says Commerce.

As CEI noted in a coalition letter to the House and the Senate:

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.

In the middle of this holiday season my colleague Stephanie Rugolo over at the Cato’s new project, HumanProgress.org, is spreading cheer by getting out the word about the improving human condition. She offered these thoughts which I’d like to share:

Good News to Share Over the Holidays: The World Is Getting Better

You’ve heard it all before, “The world is becoming increasingly violent,” “Work-related injuries are on the rise,” “Soon, we’ll have no more forests.” As it turns out, pessimism is often at odds with the real world.

Long term trends for nearly every indicator of human progress are positive. For instance, forest coverage in rich countries is increasing in line with the Environmental Kuznets Curve. This trend will hopefully continue in the developing world as it becomes richer.

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According to the International Labor Organization, work fatalities are way down, while economic freedom is on the rise. This should give pause to those who think that free market is synonymous with bad working conditions. Quite the opposite. Economically free countries tend to be richer than economically unfree countries, and richer countries have safer working environments.

 

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Moreover, there has been a dramatic decline in violence. Conflicts between major powers, which used to be commonplace, are non-existent. Deaths due to genocide are way down, too.

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So cheer up and enjoy the holidays!

A protectionist meat labeling rule requires complicated labeling of beef, pork and poultry to indicate where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. Called country-of-origin labeling or COOL, the U.S. Department of Agriculture labeling scheme means that cattle from Canada moved to the U.S. for slaughtering, for example, will have to be tracked, segregated, and recorded to show that the meat is from cattle “Born in Canada, raised in Canada, and slaughtered in the U.S.” Meat products from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. would have labels indicating that.

The rule particularly affects major U.S. trading partners, Canada and Mexico, which are part of an increasingly integrated system of meat production for those three countries. But the rule also hits domestic meat processors and retailers with higher costs of a tracking and record-keeping system from birth through raising, then through the meat processing and distribution systems.

The original COOL rule was part of the 2008 U.S. farm bill. It mandated that the “Made in America” label could only be used for meat products from animals that had been born, raised, and harvested in the U.S.  However, Canada and Mexico in 2009 brought a complaint to the World Trade Organization that the rule discriminated against those two countries and was a violation of the WTO rule on Technical Barriers to Trade. The WTO ruled in 2012 against the U.S. and determined that the COOL label requirements had a “detrimental impact on imported livestock because its record-keeping and verification requirements create an incentive for processors to use exclusively domestic livestock.” The WTO said the rule had to be rewritten to be compliant.

The revised USDA rule first went into effect in May 23, 2013, with the USDA allowing an extension to November 23, 2013. But its requirements for major trade partner Canada has led two Canadian government ministers to call for another WTO review to ascertain whether the revised rule is compliant and to publish a list of possible retaliatory measures against a wide range of imports from the U.S. In a statement accompanying the listing, the two ministers wrote:

Despite consistent rulings by the World Trade Organization, the U.S. government continues its unfair trade practices, which are severely damaging to Canadian industry and jobs.

Our government is extremely disappointed that the United States continues to uphold this protectionist policy, which the WTO has ruled to be unfair, and we call on the United States to abide by the WTO ruling.

We are preparing to launch the next phase of the WTO dispute settlement process on the new U.S. rule, which we had hoped to avoid by the United States living up to its trade obligations.

The Canadian government, with the full support and active engagement of Canadian industry, has fought against this unfair treatment, which is also hurting U.S. industry and consumers.

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thanksgiving-dinnerplate Toxic chemicals lurk in the “typical” Thanksgiving meal, warns a green activist website. Eat organic, avoid canned food, and you might be okay, according to their advice. Fortunately, there’s no need to buy this line. In fact, the trace levels of man-made chemicals found in these foods warrant no concern and are no different from trace chemicals that appear in food naturally.

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) illustrates this reality best with their Holiday Dinner Menu, which outlines all the “toxic” chemicals found naturally in food.  The point is, at such low levels, both the man-made and naturally occurring chemicals pose little risk. This year the ACSH puts the issue in perspective explaining:

Toxicologists have confirmed that food naturally contains a myriad of chemicals traditionally thought of as “poisons.” Potatoes contain solanine, arsenic, and chaconine. Lima beans contain hydrogen cyanide, a classic suicide substance. Carrots contain carototoxin, a nerve poison. And nutmeg, black pepper, and carrots all contain the hallucinogenic compound myristicin. Moreover, all chemicals, whether natural or synthetic, are potential toxicants at high doses but are perfectly safe when consumed in low doses.”

Watch ACSH’s video on this topic here.

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scrabbleHeadlines continue to appear to claiming that a recent study has shown that the chemical bisphenol A increases the risk of miscarriage, which I addressed in a Forbes article last week. There are many problems with this research, such as the fact that it is not available in a published, peer-reviewed format. Check out my piece here for more details.

This issue raises a bigger concern about the state of science today, particularly when the research is related to chemical safety. Reliance on hard facts, scientific standards, and cautious conclusions seems to be withering away. Even well-schooled researchers have become involved in the game of activism and alarmism, using carefully chosen rhetoric to generate headlines and fear based on inconclusive and largely meaningless studies and even unpublished research.

There are some terms that should make you wary. Key among them are headlines that condemn a chemical because a study “links it” to or “suggests” its a problem or simply because the study is “consistent with” other equally unimpressive studies or even mere theories. Researchers increasingly use these phrases to describe weak statistical associations and weak studies that are often too small to provide much value.

In these studies researchers measure the strength of associations by assessing the “relative risk” of a chemical. This process compares groups of individuals with relatively high chemical exposures to groups of individuals with low or no exposures. If the high-exposure group(s) experiences more health ailments, researchers then report an association between the chemical and the illnesses they discover. They then engage in calculations to express the strength of that association numerically as a risk ratio. If the risk ratio is 1, then the study reports no difference between the groups. A relative risk of 2 suggests that the exposed group has risk that is two-times higher than the other group, a relative risk of 3 suggests that risk is three times higher, and so on. However, relative risks of 3 and below are generally considered weak associations and potentially the result of a mere statistical accident or researcher bias. Such associations do not establish cause-and-effect relationships and do not warrant alarm.

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Like anything else, carbon emissions have both costs and benefits. Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow in CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment, discusses a new study that finds the carbon debate has some nuance to it, after all.

Post image for Sugar Policy Drives Out Candy Companies

“Cheaper sugar sends candy makers abroad” says a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal (gated). The article noted that increasingly U.S. candy makers are moving their production to other countries because federal price supports keep domestic sugar prices way above the world market price.

Candy companies, such as Atkinson Candy Co., said it moved 80 percent of its production to Guatemala. “It wasn’t like we did it for profit reasons. We did it for survival reasons,” said the president of the family-owned Texas company. And confectioners aren’t the only ones affected by high sugar prices. Besides candy makers, general food producers feel the crunch of high sugar prices, as sugar is an ingredient in breads and baked goods, many canned and preserved fruits and vegetables, and other canned goods. The U.S. Commerce Department found that for every one job saved in the sugar industry because of the U.S. sugar program about three jobs were lost in the candy-making industry.

These food producers blame U.S. sugar policy for keeping the prices high through a system of domestic supply and import restrictions and price support programs that historically have kept U.S. sugar prices double or triple the world price.

And that’s not likely to end soon. The current agriculture bills in the House and the Senate both maintain the costly sugar program, and earlier proposals to reform the system were narrowly defeated.

CEI has long been involved in attempts to reform the sugar program. See here and here and here for more background on the issue.

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General Counsel Sam Kazman explains why, in his view, the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions. CEI is a co-petitioner in a lawsuit over those regulations that the Supreme Court has announced it will review during its current term.