Saturday, November 22, 2008

EPA Set to Take Over

Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963. It's primary purpose was to limit pollution from power plants and steel mills. It's been amended (or accompanied) several times: to limit smog, curtail acid rain, decrease the ozone hole over the South Pole, and sundry other absurd purposes.

The primary list of pollutants identified, and for which acceptable levels were set, was: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide (both major components of smog), particulates (such as coal dust), carbon monoxide, ozone, and lead. But in the sweepstakes to control industrial production, those were real pikers. The power-hungry enablers in the Federal government have now awarded environmentalists the PowerBall jackpot to end all jackpots. In April 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority under the CAA to (and must) regulate CO2 emissions. (PDF)

Among other legal technicalities, the case could only be heard if the plaintiffs had standing. As the SCOTUS decision explains:
To demonstrate standing, a litigant must show that it has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant, and that a favorable decision will likely redress that injury.
Given the scientific evidence to date, no one could possibly satisfy these criteria. The Court held otherwise. Read the syllabus yourself if you happen to be interested in their convoluted reasoning rationalizing justifying their decision. (Page 2 of 66 of the PDF above.)

One reason they held otherwise is not at all convoluted. It's simply false, or (more accurately) not known to be true: "The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized." Not to put too fine a point on it, bull.

Unless they meant something like an Ice Age or the elimination of the atmosphere (as might have occurred on Mars millions of years ago), the statement is just silly. Every time the climate changes in my neck of the woods — like from summer to winter — I'm at risk for serious harm. Somehow, I don't think this is what the Fearsome Five justices had in mind.

They wrote:
The Government’s own objective assessment of the relevant science and a strong consensus among qualified experts indicate that global warming threatens, inter alia, a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems, a significant reduction in winter snowpack with direct and important economic consequences, and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events.
This is the problem with politicized science. Not only are the statements here not known to be true, there is ample evidence that they are all false.

Sea levels rise and fall, but they've been rising gradually on average ever since the ending of the last Ice Age (about 400 feet over the past 20,000 years, or a quarter inch per year). Current measurements show they're not doing so now in any significant way, and certainly not to a degree that is serious. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis during the Clinton Administration and the IPCC, not exactly hostile to environmentalism:
Coming out of the Ice Age, sea levels rose at an annual rate varying from 1/16 to 8/16 inches [see the table]. Over the last 7,500 years the rate has averaged 1/16 inch per year. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that there is no evidence of an acceleration in the rate of sea level rise over the past century.[ibid]
The bit about "natural ecosystems" doesn't even qualify as false, since it's practically meaningless. How much is severe? How could — short of a scenario as may have happened on Venus — the changes be irreversible? Even if it were true, why should we care very much unless we're dependent on those ecosystems?

The Court doesn't specify where this reducing snowpack is. I can assure them it ain't in Idaho. Last year we had double the normal snowfall, the largest amount in the past 50 years. To move away from anecdotal evidence, the ice pack near at least one of the poles is much larger. In Antarctica, it's been increasing for 30 years, by 0.11 ± 0.05 million sq. km per decade. (PDF)

There is no evidence strong enough to justify the claims that disease is increasing, nor that weather events are becoming more ferocious, nor are they linked to alleged global warming. Quite the reverse.

The Justices need to spend less time watching Al Gore documentaries and more time encouraging their assistants to look at the actual scientific literature. But then, facts aren't driving their decisions.

To the contrary, all this is to show (just as when the Feds clamped down on the use of DDT when it was known — by the judge deciding the case — that it was harmless) that science has nothing to do with the decision. The Fearsome Five on the Supreme Court simply want to hand the EPA the power to regulate CO2 emissions (even when the EPA themselves don't want it) and that's what they were determined to do.

As Scalia wrote in dissent: [The Court] "has no business substituting its own desired outcome for the reasoned judgment of the responsible agency."

Surpassing all human understanding, not even the EPA wants this power. Here's a quote from the ANPR (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) of the EPA itself (pg 5):
One point is clear: the potential regulation of greenhouse gases under any portion of the Clean Air Act could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land."
It invariably sounds like hyperbole, but the plain fact is this makes the EPA the de-facto ruler of nearly all business in America. Think that's an exaggeration? Re-read the bolded portion of the quote.

Here's another quote, this time from comments to the ANPR from the Department of Agriculture :
"[M]any of the emissions are the result of natural biological processes that are as old as agriculture itself. For instance, technology does not currently exist to prevent the methane produced by enteric fermentation [cow farts] associated with the digestive processes in cows and the cultivation of rice crops; the nitrous oxide produced from the tillage of soils used to grow crops; and the carbon dioxide produced by soil and animal agricultural respiratory processes. The only means of controlling such emissions would be through limiting production, which would result in decreased food supply and radical changes in human diets." (ANPR pp. 66-67) [emphasis added]
Stuff this hot, not even the not-normally squeamish Feds want to touch. Get set for things to heat up more when the not-at-all squeamish new Administration arrives in late January.


Anonymous said...

You almost had me. I was thinking you had a pretty good case, then you stumbled on something I know a little about:

To the contrary, all this is to show (just as when the Feds clamped down on the use of DDT when it was known — by the judge deciding the case — that it was harmless) that science has nothing to do with the decision.

DDT was banned from broadcast agricultural use because of the massive amount of evidence that it wipes out ecosystems. The harms were so great that two different courts had ordered EPA to speed its review. The evidence for harm was so overwhelming that the DDT manufacturers lost so massively on appeal, not even they would appeal it further.

This is significant. Under U.S. law, such regulations must have a substantial basis in fact before taking effect. Had a judge "known" that DDT was harmless, the judge would have been obligated to rule against the ban.

So, now I look at the rest of your post with a jaundiced eye.

Ed Darrell
Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

Jeff Perren said...

Mr. Darrell,

Welcome to Shaving Leviathan and thank you for your comment. Your argument is flawed in several ways, but part of that is my fault.

First, even were I in error about DDT it doesn't follow that anything else (much less, everything else) I said is false. That said, skepticism can be a very healthy thing in moderation.

More importantly, your rebuttal references harm to ecosystems. I meant, and maintain, that DDT is harmless to humans (used correctly, of course) and that the judge knew this.

Lastly, "wipes out ecosystems" is almost certainly an exaggeration, no?

In any case, the post is not chiefly about DDT risks and benefits. Do you have a view on any of the rest of it (beyond jaundice)?

Jeff Perren said...

Mr. Darrell,

Do you dispute this?

Ed Darrell said...

Harmful to ecosystems means harmful to humans, in the final analysis. If we kill of all the other creatures on Earth, we can't survive. Are you seriously arguing that we should have continued to kill bald eagles and osprey? Such massive disruption of ecosystems produces unpredictable chaos, and where it happens, massive human epidemics generally follow.

So "not acutely toxic to humans" is not the same as "safe" or "wise." Restrictions on DDT use in the U.S. came not a moment too soon, and have produced only benefits.

DDT was not banned because of the harms it poses to humans. DDT was banned because it was destructive to so much of what we had hoped to save. DDT applications also wiped out predators of harmful insects. Predators breed more slowly than the pests, and they were more greatly affected. So DDT applications frequently provided a quick protective shield for this year's crop, sacrificing future production. That's not a good way to run a farm.

Human harm was not the chief concern of the EPA. While it is true that DDT is not acutely toxic to humans most of the time, EPA's charge, and that of the Department of Agriculture before the creation of the EPA, was to protect American natural and agricultural resources. Killing farms and forests is rarely a good idea, even if humans are left standing temporarily.

You refer in your second post to the junk science presented at the Junk Science site (the name should be a clue to the wary). One of the chief bait-and-switch claims of Steven Milloy, the proprietor of that site, is that humans survive massive doses of DDT. True. DDT is a "probable human carcinogen" (listed so by every cancer fighting agency on Earth), having been found to cause cancer in every laboratory animal tested. Junk Science claims DDT does not cause cancer, but there is not a research study anywhere which makes that claim. Poisoning humans immediately with DDT takes a bit more than is usually applied. Our experience with other animals, however, suggests that the biomagnification of DDT is something that humans should be concerned about, if we eat ducks, or fish, or pheasants from the wild. But remember, DDT was not banned due to the harms it causes humans.

Milloy's site is misleading on other issues, too. The site can lead one to believe that there was little harm documented to birds. Milloy makes that appearance by misrepresenting key studies that showed that DDT is particularly deadly to chicks of birds, killing them in the eggs or shortly after they hatched (Milloy leaves out the "shortly after they're hatched" part in one classic claim, leaving the conclusions of the researchers to appear exactly the opposite of what the researchers found). I have checked out each of his footnotes, and I've found none that support a claim that DDT should be brought back, or that DDT was not harmful enough to ban.

I'm particularly concerned about Milloy's claims about eagles. If you read his site, you get the idea that harm to eagles was conjectural, and fuzzy. He claims citations to Audubon bird counts, but when you go to the library to look up the bird counts from 1941 through 1964, you find that none of Milloy's numbers square with the numbers Audubon actually reported. In every case, Audubon reported trouble among eagles, and that trouble was especially acute among young and immature eagles. In those years when Milloy says Audubon reported increases in eagle numbers, Audubon reported serious trouble and declines. It appears that Milloy's claims are exactly the opposite of what was published.

In short, yes, I dispute the claims at the Junk Science website. I have provided significantly longer, detailed criticisms of the Junk Science errors at my blog. You can see some of the criticisms here:

And here:

Jeff Perren said...

I would never rely solely on a single site or source for my views. As near as I can tell you don't dispute the point that the judge (or perhaps the EPA administrator, it's difficult to be sure) didn't believe the material was harmful. In fact, you seem to concur that DDT is not harmful to humans. Whether we should be concerned about potential damage to eagles, etc is a debate that would take us farther afield than I care to go with this at present.

This is not the place to debate the pros and cons of DDT use since the post contained that only as a passing point.

Still, I'll look further into what you've written on the subject.

Thank you for the additional material. Even though your post provides ample evidence that we have fundamentally different views about what is and is not important when it comes to environmental issues, I always appreciate hearing the views of a knowledgeable person.

Thank you for taking the time to respond at length.

Ed Darrell said...

Regret I left the idea that I don't dispute the claim that a judge found DDT harmless. It's simply not so. Since all the federal district court judges ruled exactly the opposite, I assume you're talking about EPA's Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney. His findings were that, with a new label that restricted DDT use from agricultural broadcast spraying, EPA lacked authority to enforce the label with stronger means. The federal courts had explicitly instructed EPA to the contrary, and EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus issued the rule based on Sweeney's evidence. The federal courts held that Ruckelshaus did the right thing.

One can make a case that Sweeney agreed that DDT did not appear to be acutely toxic to humans. That was not the issue Sweeney was adjudicating, nor was it a point upon which any decision turned.