Archive for December, 2010

Surgeon General Jumps the Shark

December 12, 2010

By Steve Milloy

Let’s all thank Surgeon General Regina Benjamin for demonstrating beyond all doubt last week that nannyism is more dangerous than smoking.

The Office of the Surgeon General just released a report claiming that a single puff of a cigarette or a single inhalation of secondhand smoke can permanently damage one’s health and perhaps lead to death. Now we know what all those blindfolded condemned men given one last puff as they stood before firing squads really died from.

While no one disputes that too much smoking is unhealthy, the new report demonizing any smoking or even incidental exposure to secondhand smoke is clearly over the top.

Certainly any exposure to tobacco smoke will have some sort of a discernible physiological effect — just like virtually every sensory experience. But Benjamin asserts that even one of those physiological events, however transient and reversible, can cause harm and possibly even lead to death. As commonsense and everyday experience informs (most of) us, this is ridiculous.

So how does Benjamin back up her assertions? Well, she really doesn’t.

The report contains the usual set of epidemiologic studies showing that smokers tend to be less healthy and die earlier than nonsmokers. None of this is news, though it should be noted that these studies often fail to isolate tobacco as the cause of the adverse health outcome as opposed to the entire suite of unhealthy behaviors that smokers tend to have – i.e., smokers tend to be heavier drinkers, have poorer diets, get less exercise, lead more stressful lives, and have less education and income than nonsmokers.

The report contains not a single example of anyone who had incidental or limited contact with tobacco smoke and then experienced an adverse health outcome or death.

“Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events like heart attack,” avers the Surgeon General’s media release. It’s a scary statement, but it’s not one supported by any real-world evidence of that happening despite the billions of people who have been so exposed over the centuries.

Supporting Benjamin with an op-ed in the Washington Post Also was former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw who recalled and lamented the smoking-related death of his father: “After 50 years of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, my father died, too young, of a massive heart attack. He was 69. It’s almost certain that all those years of nicotine inhalation were a major contributor to his clogged arteries.”

What is more than almost certain is the fact that, although Brokaw’s father was such a long-term and presumably heavy smoker, he surpassed the life expectancy for his birth year (1912) by about 14 years — not bad for someone actually permitted the dignity to make his own lifestyle decisions.

Like many, if not most people, I don’t care for smoking or inhaling anyone else’s tobacco smoke. That said I’m more concerned about the all-too-common and wanton disregard of facts and the misuse of science and statistics, especially by those in positions of power and prominence.

Today’s lifestyle nannies, aided by a gullible and scientifically illiterate media, feel at liberty to demonize any behavior or substance, and to tread upon any and all individual liberties without regard for the relevant facts. Making the situation worse is that the nannies have few vocal opponents, as they stand ready to demonize and ostracize anyone who dares speak up against their junk science.

The two most significant advances of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were the development of science and the realization of individual liberty as an intrinsic right. Surgeon General Benjamin’s report is a clear sign that both are on the downswing of history.

Steve Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com and the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).

Court refuses to halt EPA climate rules

December 10, 2010

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused late Friday to stop the EPA’s greenhouse gas rules from going into effect on January 2, 2011. The litigation over the rules will continue, but the court will allow them to go into effect pending the outcome of the litigation.

EPA’s Smoke-and-Mirrors on Smog and Soot — Part 1

December 9, 2010

This article begins a series examining the science and economics behind the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals to tighten air quality standards for ground-level ozone (O3 or smog) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5 or soot). There are two proposed EPA rules at issue:

  1. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone (NAAQS), proposed in January 2010; and
  2. Clean Air Transport rule, proposed in July 2010.

Starting with the science used by the EPA to justify its regulatory action with respect to smog, the agency proposed to make more stringent the ozone NAAQS as follows:

EPA proposes that the level of the 8-hour primary standard, which was set at 0.075 ppm in the 2008 final rule, should instead be set at a lower level within the range of 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm), to provide increased protection for children and other ‘‘at risk’’ populations against an array of O3-related adverse health effects that range from decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms to serious indicators of respiratory morbidity including emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory causes, and possibly cardiovascular-related morbidity as well as total nonaccidental and cardiopulmonary mortality.

The first field study that the EPA cites in its proposal is a 1998 study by Korrick et al. that the EPA describes as follows:

The results of one large study of hikers (Korrick et al., 1998), which reported outcome measures stratified by several factors (e.g., gender, age, smoking status, presence of asthma) within a population capable of more than normal exertion, provide useful insight. In this study, lung function was measured before and after hiking, and individual O3 exposures were estimated by averaging hourly O3 concentrations from ambient monitors located at the base and summit. The mean 8-hour average O3 concentration was 0.040 ppm (8-hour average concentration range of 0.021 ppm to 0.074 ppm O3). Decreased lung function was associated with O3 exposure, with the greatest effect estimates reported for the subgroup that reported having asthma or wheezing,
and for those who hiked for longer periods of time.

Here’s how the study was conducted, according to its authors:

During the summers of 1991 and 1992, volunteers (18-64 years of age) were solicited from hikers on Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. Volunteer nonsmokers with complete covariates ( n = 530) had pulmonary function measured before and after their hikes. We calculated each hiker’s posthike percentage change in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV1 ) , forced vital capacity (FVC) , the ratio of these two (FEV1 /FVC) , forced expiratory flow between 25 and 75% of FVC (FEF 25-75% ), and peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR).

Here are the reported results:

After adjustment for age, sex, smoking status (former versus never) , history of asthma or wheeze, hours hiked, ambient temperature, and other covariates, there was a 2.6% decline in FEV1 [95% confidence interval (CI) , 0.4-4.7 ; p = 0.02] and a 2.2% decline in FVC (CI, 0.8-3.5 ; p = 0.003) for each 50 ppb increment in mean O3.

Accepting these results at face value (i.e., blaming O3 for the reported effect), none are of clinical significance. FEV1 values between 80% to 120% of average are considered normal. It follows then that a 2.6% decline, especially after strenuous hiking, is not clinically significant.

But then is it really appropriate to attribute even this insignificant decline to O3 in the first place?

Fig. 2 in the study indicates that O3 levels varied throughout the day, but the researchers only took spirometry measurements at the beginning and end of each hike. So there’s no data that indicate spirometry measurements varied with changes in O3 levels.

Even if it was possible to wave a statistical wand over the FEV1 and FVC measurements to adjust for the potential confounding risk factors (most of which were self-reported and not verified or validated by the researchers), important potential confounding risk factors variables were omitted, e.g., hiker fitness and hiking intensity to name just two.

Moreover, hikers were volunteers and not selected at random, possibly introducing some sort of bias into the mix.

The researchers needed to show that O3 caused the changes in spirometry, but they didn’t. In any event, the changes weren’t clinically significant.

At most, this study provides evidence that hiking up and down a mountain may slightly affect one’s breathing. It does not show, as the EPA claims, that even low levels of O3 (i.e., levels 47% lower than the current standard) are a public health problem.

Exelon helps Obama attack coal — again!

December 8, 2010

Chicago-based utility Exelon is now funding efforts to help out the endangered Obama EPA in its jihad against the coal industry.

Last July, the EPA proposed its so-called “Clean Air Transport” rule to further regulate air emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA’s alleged concern is that the emissions travel interstate and reduce air quality (fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone) in 31 downwind states.

The rule was finalized in October and is scheduled to go into effect sometime in the spring — except that some coal-burning utilities are getting concerned about the timing of the rule and there is a new sheriff in D.C. (i.e., the GOP-controlled House with power over the EPA’s budget and the inclination to investigate the EPA).

The EPA estimates that the rule will provide anywhere from $120 billion to $290 billion in annual health and welfare benefits and avoid 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths annually. (It’s too bad that these estimates are entirely bogus, otherwise the EPA could solve our deficit problems almost singlehandedly. But that is a story for another day).

The transport rule, of course, is in addition to the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations that take effect on January 2, 2011 and the EPA’s January 2010 proposal to further ratchet-down the national air quality standards for ground-level ozone. This is a lot of expensive anti-coal regulation that places the EPA high on the new Congress’ “to do” list. So the Obama EPA has reason to be nervous.

Riding to the EPA’s assistance now is the Pacific Economics Group which just issued a report claiming that the EPA has actually underestimated the economic harm caused by interstate transport of coal plant emissions. According to the report:

Pollution from power plants that have failed to install pollution controls is causing nearly $6 billion in annual costs, because of higher labor expenses, lost work days, lost productivity, and higher insurance costs.

As a result of uncontrolled pollution in downwind regions, between 2005 and 2012:

  • Businesses will suffer over $47 billion in costs;
  • Over 360,000 jobs will be lost;
  • State and local governments will lose almost $9.3 billion in tax revenue; and
  • Families and businesses in polluted areas will pay $26.0 billion more for reformulated gasoline as a result of ongoing pollution.

Though the report was prepared on behalf of several no-name Pennsylvania-based “public interest” groups, it was funded by Exelon Corp., the operator of the largest fleet of nuclear power plants in the U.S. — the very same Exelon that is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and that lobbied for cap-and-trade.

Exelon and its bobbleheaded CEO John Rowe had planned to make billions of dollars off cap-and-trade, bought John Deere’s wind operation for $860 million in August and hope to advance its nuclear power capabilities at the expense of the coal industry.

Exelon’s new report not only attempts to advance its anti-coal objectives by supposedly validating the EPA’s transport rule, but it also no doubt scores political points with the Obama administration for helping out the soon-to-be-embattled EPA. And then there is that Chicago connection… Oh and did I fail to mention that John Rowe is one of the signatories to a letter in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled, “We’re OK With the EPA’s New Air-Quality Regulations“. Rowe is a felony rentseeker.

This blog will soon begin a series exposing the junk science behind the EPA transport rule — which is perhaps even more appalling than EPA’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gases. Stay tuned!

CFL makers rise to defend incandescent bulb ban

December 8, 2010

Compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) makers Philips Electronics, Osram Sylvania and General Electric are scrambling to defend the looming ban on incandescent light bulbs, according to Climatewire.

Philips has sent halogen bulbs to members of Congress and conservative columnists like George Will in an effort to show that CFLs are not the only option to incandescents. Sure, halogens and LEDs are options, but expensive and inferior ones. Try putting LED lights on your Christmas tree — they’re about as aesthetically pleasing as a migraine.

Sylvania is trying to convince people that the 2007 legislation — sponsored by let’s-hope-he’s-not-a-RINO Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich), the chairman-elect of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and signed by the accursed, lame-memoir-hawking George Bush — is not a ban at all. In January 2012, however, you won’t find any 100-watt incandescents on store shelves. In January 2014, 40-watt bulbs will be history. How is this not a ban?

Consumers, in fact, have more choices, says Sylvania. Perhaps, but they’re getting a lot worse.

Philips, Sylvania and GE all lobbied Congress into forcing us to buy more expensive and inferior lighting — all in the name of saving the planet from the dreaded global warming.

Moreover, CFLs are handblown by poor, low-wage Chinese bastards who reportedly are being poisoned by the mercury.

And no, Upton doesn’t get any points for any meaningless regret he expresses or futile effort he may make to repeal the ban. The Senate likely will not pass and/or Obama likely will veto any such bill. You can bet that the CFL makers will make sure of that.

In the next world, may the CEOs and lobbyists of Philips, Sylvania, and GE; Fred Upton and the members of the 110th Congress who voted for the ban; and the accursed George Bush be compelled to read W’s biography ad infinitum by humming and flickering CFL-light.

EPA lawyer: What Constitution?

December 6, 2010

If you need more evidence that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is out-of-control, consider the comments of EPA senior counsel Bob Sussman as reported by Energy & Environmental Daily last week.

But Bob Sussman, who was EPA’s deputy administrator under President Clinton and returned to the agency to be Jackson’s senior counsel, said the agency has no choice but to carry additional weight these days because of inaction in Congress.

“After two decades of very active legislative activity on the environment, we’ve had 15-plus years in which the consensus and political will to overhaul our environmental statutes has been lacking,” Sussman said.

“It’s a situation which is going to continue because I think Congress is fundamentally divided on the future direction of environmental protection. The statutes that we have, imperfect as they may be, are the statutes that we’re going to have to continue to live with.”

Hello… America-to-Bob-Sussman… under our Constitution, the legislative branch makes the laws and the executive branch executes them. EPA has no constitutional authority to take any action that has not been not previously authorized by Congress. Contrary to Sussman-think, the EPA cannot take action that, in effect, “overhauls our environmental statutes” and it cannot “carry additional weight” on its own initiative.

One of the highest priority items for the 112th Congress will be to get a grip on the outlaw EPA.

Chevy saves the planet for $4 per car?

December 2, 2010

by Steve Milloy
December 2, 2010, DailyCaller.com

General Motors has apparently had an epiphany. GM now “realizes” that it “shares the planet with everyone” and wants “to do more to help keep it clean.” So GM has pledged to buy carbon offsets representing one year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from the 1.9 million Chevys projected to be sold during 2011.

Under the Chevy Carbon Reduction program, GM will spend up to $40 million over five years offsetting about 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

There is much less here than meets the eye.

First, while GM describes the program’s cost as “substantial,” it’s really not. GM expects to sell about 10 million Chevys over the next five years — so the actual expenditure works out to about $4 per car. That triviality will be matched by the program’s environmental impact.

Human activities emit about 40 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. So if all goes as planned, GM’s program will reduce global human greenhouse gas emissions by about 0.004 percent over the next five years. GM calls this “a start” and denies that the program is “greenwashing.”

In fact, GM states on its web site that, “This is really about making a positive statement to our customers. And letting them know that we are committed to doing the right thing.” But merely claiming green-ness while accomplishing nothing tangible for the environment fits the definition of greenwashing perfectly — “the deceptive use of green PR or green marketing in order to promote a misleading perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly,” according to Wikipedia’s definition of the term.

And it’s quite possible that the Chevy Carbon Reduction program will accomplish even less than the company believes since it involves the purchase of so-called “carbon offsets.” GM’s $4-per-Chevy expense will be directed to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, an Oregon-based non-profit that will “invest” the money in purportedly climate-friendly projects like planting trees, and solar and wind power.

But carbon offsets can be murky endeavors — so much so than when the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported on them in 2008, concerns about their legitimacy overflowed into the report’s title, “Carbon Offsets: The U.S. Voluntary Market Is Growing, but Quality Assurance Poses Challenges for Market Participants.”

The basic problem with offsets is that buyers can be ripped-off fairly easily. Offset sellers claim the proceeds go toward efforts to prevent the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But as greenhouse gas emissions are invisible, challenging to estimate, and the accounting for these projects is typically not open to public scrutiny, buyers must rely on the credibility of the brokers and project operators. The GAO found that “the information provided to consumers by retailers offered limited assurance of credibility.” In other words, buyers beware.

Aside from any schemes and scams run by individual offset brokers and project operators, there is the overlay of the radical environmental agenda on the offset industry. GM’s offset broker, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), is run by a former employee of the radical Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). BEF’s offsets are “certified” by an organization called Green-e, the board of directors of which includes members of NRDC and the radical Union of Concerned Scientists — as well as BEF’s senior vice president. So, not only are BEF and Green-e not independent of one another at the management level, they are threaded together ideologically by ties to radical environmentalism, a movement whose members will say and do almost anything to advance their social and political agenda. And GM is going to rely on assurances from BEF and Green-e about offsetting invisible greenhouse gas emissions.

Should any of this matter to consumers? Who cares whether GM scams and gets scammed for a few dollars per car? Bailouts aside, taxpayers and consumers should already be angry with the “Big Three.” Chrysler, Ford and GM are all members of the NRDC-run U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a big business-radical environmentalist coalition that lobbied for cap and trade. If the Big Three and their green buddies had succeeded in foisting cap and trade upon us during the 111th Congress, millions of U.S. jobs and trillions of dollars in GDP would have vanished during the ensuing years.

What separates Chrysler and Ford from GM presently is that, cutting through all the nonsense, the Chevy Carbon Reduction program is little more than a $40 million wealth transfer from consumers via GM to anti-consumer radical environmentalists and their allies. The good news for GM is that when I get a new car in 2011, no one will need to worry about any emissions from a Chevy.

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them (Regnery 2009).

Obama: No cap-and-trade? Then no drilling!

December 2, 2010

President Obama’s reversal yesterday on offshore drilling should surprise no one.

When he announced plans for more drilling last March, President Obama was really offering it as a carrot to get the oil industry to sign on to cap-and-trade. That gambit failed. Cap-and-trade is dead and so now is his offer of more offshore drilling.

The administration’s reference to the Gulf oil spill as a reason for the reversal is simple camouflage for the withdrawal of an offer that was never sincere in the first place.

On balance, President Obama is the loser. Cap-and-trade is dead forever, while offshore drilling opportunities could expand as early as January 20, 2013.