California governor Jerry Brown had little choice but to issue a belated, state-wide mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. How such restrictions will affect Californians remains to be seen, given the Golden State’s wide diversity in geography, climate, water supply and demography.
We do know two things. First, Brown and other Democratic leaders will never concede that their own opposition in the 1970s (when California had about half its present population) to the completion of state and federal water projects, along with their more recent allowance of massive water diversions for fish and river enhancement, left no margin for error in a state now home to 40 million people. Second, the mandated restrictions will bring home another truth as lawns die, pools empty, and boutique gardens shrivel in the coastal corridor from La Jolla to Berkeley: the very idea of a 20-million-person corridor along the narrow, scenic Pacific Ocean and adjoining foothills is just as unnatural as “big” agriculture’s Westside farming. The weather, climate, lifestyle, views, and culture of coastal living may all be spectacular, but the arid Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay-area megalopolises must rely on massive water transfers from the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, or out-of-state sources to support their unnatural ecosystems.
Now that no more reservoir water remains to divert to the Pacific Ocean, the exasperated Left is damning “corporate” agriculture (“Big Ag”) for “wasting” water on things like hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds and non-wine grapes. But the truth is that corporate giants like “Big Apple,” “Big Google,” and “Big Facebook” assume that their multimillion-person landscapes sit atop an aquifer. They don’t—at least, not one large enough to service their growing populations. Our California ancestors understood this; they saw, after the 1906 earthquake, that the dry hills of San Francisco and the adjoining peninsula could never rebuild without grabbing all the water possible from the distant Hetch Hetchy watershed. I have never met a Bay Area environmentalist or Silicon Valley grandee who didn’t drink or shower with water imported from a far distant water project.
The Bay Area remains almost completely reliant on ancient Hetch Hetchy water supplies from the distant Sierra Nevada, given the inability of groundwater pumping to service the Bay Area’s huge industrial and consumer demand for water. But after four years of drought, even Hetch Hetchy’s huge Sierra supplies have only about a year left, at best. Again, the California paradox: those who did the most to cancel water projects and divert reservoir water to pursue their reactionary nineteenth-century dreams of a scenic, depopulated, and fish-friendly environment enjoy lifestyles predicated entirely on the fragile early twentieth-century water projects of the sort they now condemn.
It’s now popular to deride California agriculture in cost-benefit terms, given that its share of state GNP (anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how one counts related industries) supposedly does not justify its huge allotted consumption of state water (anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent). But note the irony: California supplies a staggering percentage of the nation’s fresh vegetables and fruits; it’s among the most efficient producers in the world of beef, dairy, and staple crops. One can purchase an iPhone 6 or a neat new Apple watch, but he still must eat old-fashioned, pre-tech food. There are no calories in Facebook, and even Google can’t supply protein. On the other hand, I can live without an iPad. Who is to say which industry is essential and which isn’t? Insulin and antibiotic production constitute a micro-percentage of GDP, but is their water usage less important than Twitter’s? Is a biologist who studies bait-fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta really more important than a master tractor driver whose skill gives broccoli to thousands?
We’re suffering the ramifications of the “small is beautiful,” “spaceship earth” ideology of our cocooned elites. Californians have adopted the ancient peasant mentality of a limited good, in which various interests must fight it out for the always scarce scraps. Long ago we jettisoned the can-do visions of our agrarian forebears, who knew California far better than we do and trusted nature far less. Now, like good peasants, we are at one another’s throats for the last drops of a finite supply.
Does anyone remember President Obama’s executive order requiring that regulations be justified and not unduly burdensome? It would be hard to find a better example of the vast gap between requirement and reality than in Michigan v. EPA, before the Supreme Court Wednesday, March 25.
At issue is the EPA’s new nationwide rule slashing mercury and other emissions that would put coal- and oil-fired power plants in the cross-hairs of what industry representatives describe as the EPA’s “most costly rule” ever under The Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, the very political “science” behind the EPA’s claim of far greater benefits than the 10-digit annual compliance costs comes nowhere close to justifying the policy.
Power plants emit only a tiny fraction of the mercury released into America’s air. The EPA reported that in 1995, total U.S. emissions from all human activity (158 tons) was about 3 percent of all mercury released to the air from all sources (5,500 tons). And power plants are only part of that total. Eliminating so little mercury will not save many thousand lives, as the EPA asserts. But it will dramatically raise the cost of coal-powered electricity.
Perhaps most troubling has been the EPA’s use of selective science to transform small effects into massive benefit claims. For example, it ignored the fact that CDC surveys show blood mercury levels for American women and children falling and already below the levels found safe by both the EPA and FDA, and well below the standard set by the World Health Organization.
The EPA could have used evidence from a University of Rochester study of the Republic of the Seycheles, whose residents consume types of fish — the primary “carriers” of methylmercury from atmospheric deposition to humans — similar to American diets. But the Center for Science and Public Policy found that the study of high-dose exposure, which followed the same children from six months to nine years of age, found “no observable health effect effects associated with fish consumption in which methylmercury is present.”
Instead, the EPA based its criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders. Not only do they eat more fish, their diets include a great deal of pilot whale meat and blubber. That gives them not only far higher doses of mercury, but also of PCB. Further, they ingest little selenium (which limits conversion to methylmercury), or fruits and vegetables. Given that in epidemiology, one of the most basic rules is that “the dose makes the poison,” their circumstances are virtually irrelevant to Americans. As the Center for Science and Public Policy concluded, “The Faroe Islands study should not be the sentinel study upon which assessment of methylmercury inake via should be gauged.”
The proposed EPA mercury restrictions on power plants, despite a massive PR campaign to the contrary, would have very small effects on human exposure to mercury, at a very high price. And there is no need for a nationwide command and control “solution.” The EPA has found that only “between 1 and 3 percent of women of childbearing age (the group of most concern) eat sufficient amounts of fish to be at risk from methylmercury exposure.” And the FDA and most states already issue advisories for citizens to limit their intake of contaminated fish.
Mandating massively expensive policies on everyone is not justified because a small fraction of women of childbearing age are potentially at risk from mercury ingestion, out of fear some of them may not sufficiently heed existing warnings. That is particularly so when there is so little evidence that substantially higher exposures than in America impose measurable damage. Rather than being “justified and not unduly burdensome,” the EPA mercury rule is unjustified and punitively burdensome.
Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University
Every day, we make choices that carry a degree of risk. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for those under 44, but that doesn’t stop us from getting behind the wheel. While we can’t completely reduce our risk of a crash, we can lower it by avoiding risky behaviors like speeding recklessly or texting.
Yet despite the potential deadliness of an automobile crash, car makers aren’t required to put a safety label on vehicles. And even if they did, it’s unlikely that we’d see a dramatic decline in the number of car crashes. It’s curious then that California law requires warning labels on products that pose dramatically less risk.
When California citizens went to the polls in 1986, it probably seemed like a no-brainer to vote for a law that required manufacturers and businesses to warn consumers when they might be exposed to chemicals that could cause cancer or developmental defects. The law, known as Proposition 65, sounds like an excellent public health initiative in theory. In execution, however, the law has created warning label overload.
There are myriad problems with the law. But in a new paper on Proposition 65, I’ve identified two fatal flaws with Proposition 65’s procedures: the threshold for determining whether a chemical poses a health risk is incredibly low, with no way of explaining to consumers the degree of risk exposure to the chemical poses, and the process for determining which chemicals require warning labels is alarmingly unstandardized.
For starters, a chemical earns a place on the state’s list of dangerous chemicals if California regulators find that exposure causes one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals over a 70 year period.
To put that in perspective, roughly one in 100,000 people will die from running or playing soccer. At the same time, research has shown that exercise can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a number of deadly health ailments.
This is precisely why Proposition 65 warning labels are ridiculous — there’s no context for what level of exposure poses an actual risk and when a chemical might actually have health benefits.
Take seafood for example. Researchers have suggested that consuming fish and shellfish has numerous health benefits. They contain a number of essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, but almost all fish contains at least a small amount of mercury. In fact, recent research suggests that consumption of fish by pregnant mothers might actually boost brain development and has no impact on prenatal development.
Mercury is listed as a carcinogen under Proposition 65. Therefore fish in California comes with a warning label.
Scaring consumers away from fish flies directly in the face of U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advice that “Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet.” According to the FDA, “for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.” Yet California’s Proposition 65 warnings indicate otherwise to consumers — research suggests the prominent warning labels in restaurants and markets where fish is sold have resulted in a dramatic decline in fish consumption.
This begs the question: How are California’s regulators determining which chemicals are harmful? Unfortunately, as I’ve explained in my new paper, there appears to be no consistent or standardized testing protocols for what constitutes sufficient evidence to label a chemical as either carcinogenic or causing developmental harm. That’s why the state’s chemical decisions can contradict opinions rendered by the FDA, EPA, and other regulatory agencies across the globe. Chemicals are listed even if the scientific consensus isn’t on the state’s side.
To truly make Californians healthier, the state needs to develop a standardized process, ideally with input from outside experts, for determining which chemicals should be listed and explaining the actual risk to consumers. After all, it’s more likely that taking car rides will have you swimming with the fishes than eating fish will put you six feet under.
Dr. Joseph Perrone, Sc.D., is the Chief Science Officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, a project of the nonprofit Center for Organizational Research and Education. CORE is supported by a wide variety of businesses and foundations, including those in the hospitality, agriculture, and energy industries.
In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency charged 187 defendants with environmental crimes and sentenced offenders to a combined 155 years of jail time. That’s more than double the amount of jail time eco-offenders were sentenced to in 2010, according agency data.
The EPA, however, charged significantly fewer people for environmental crimes in 2014 compared to 2010, reflecting the agency’s strategy of going after larger, more lucrative criminal and civil cases.
“By taking on large, high impact enforcement cases, EPA is helping to level the playing field for companies that play by the rules, while maximizing our ability to protect the communities we serve across the country,” Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.
EPA data shows the agency raked forced companies and other offenders to pay $9.7 billion in actions and to pay for “equipment to control pollution and clean up contaminated sites” as well as $163 million in civil penalties and criminal fines. The agency also got offenders to pay $453.7 million to clean up Superfund sites.
EPA enforcement actions resulted in 141 million pound reduction in of air pollutants and a 337 million pound reduction in water pollutants, according to agency data. Enforcement actions also cleaned up 856 million cubic yards of contaminated aquifers.
“Despite challenges posed by budget cuts and a government shutdown, we secured major settlements in key industry sectors and brought criminal violators to justice,” Giles said. “This work resulted in critical investments in advanced technologies and innovative approaches to reduce pollution and improve compliance.”
But probably EPA’s most startling statistic is its more than doubling of prison sentencing for environmental criminals in the last four years. In 2010, the EPA successfully charged 289 defendants, garnering 72 years in prison sentences.
Jail time for offenders has now doubled to 155 years among a successfully convicted group of only 187 defendants.
So who were some of the top environmental criminals of 2014?
Mark Kamholz, the environment control manager at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and other federal laws and sentenced to one year in prison, 100 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.
All this for “releasing coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve” and because a coke-quenching tower did not have federally mandated pollution control technology, says EPA. Kamholz order another employee to conceal the fact a pressure valve was releasing pollutants into the air.
The Tonawanda Coke Corporation was hit with fines as well. The company was forced to pay a $12.5 million penalty and pay $12.2 million in community service payments for violating federal environmental laws. The EPA says this is “one of the largest fines ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial.”
Ohio waste disposal company owner Benedict Lupo was sentenced to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine for ordering his employees to dump waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Lupo illegally dumped fracking waste into the tributary 30 times in 2012 and 2013, having his employees dump the waste at night when nobody else was around.
Robert Lewis, a hazardous waste transporter, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste in a self-storage facility in Macon, Georgia. He also illegally stored waste in Rex, Georgia and at his home in Albany.
And finally, Benjamin Pass, the owner of a recycling business, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and forced to pay $21 million in fines for “mishandling of used oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) that led to widespread contamination and millions of dollars in clean-up costs.” Pass also fined $539,000 for not paying incomes between 2002 and 2011.
This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation
Electricity prices are already increasing at record levels and Environmental Protection Agency rules will only force power prices up even higher as the agency finalizes a slew of regulations aimed at the power sector.
A report by Energy Ventures Analysis found that the EPA underestimates how much its power plant regulatory regime will raise electricity and natural gas prices by imposing new regulations on power plants, most recently being the agency’s rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.
These new rules to tackle global warming, combined with other rules to reduce more traditional air pollutants, will dramatically increase Americans’ utility bills by 2020, according to EVA’s report which was sponsored by the coal company Peabody Energy.
“Annual power and gas costs for residential, commercial and industrial customers in America would be $284 billion higher ($173 billion in real terms) in 2020 compared to 2012—a 60% (37%) increase,” the EVA report found.
The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from existing power plants aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA says its plan will result in “approximately 46 to 49 GW of additional coal-fired generation” being “removed from operation by 2020.”
On top of this the “decrease in coal-fired power will also cause natural gas prices to rise up to 11.5 percent as an additional 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is used to make up for the lack of coal power in 2020,” EPA said. “Average retail electricity prices are projected to increase in the contiguous U.S. by 5.9% to 6.5% in 2020.”
The Energy Information Administration estimates that 50 gigawatts of coal-fired power are slated to shutdown by 2020, mainly because of an EPA rule targeting mercury emissions. This means that the Clean Power Plan could nearly double the amount of coal-fired capacity being retired by 2020.
Retiring coal-fired generators and using more natural gas-fired power and green energy comes at a cost, however, as new energy infrastructure must be built to accommodate the shift and gas prices rise as demand increases.
“The cost of electricity and natural gas will be impacted in large part due to an almost 135% increase in the wholesale price of natural gas (100% in real dollars), from $2.82/mmbtu in 2012 to approximately $6.60/mmbtu ($5.63) in 2020,” EVa reports. “These increases are due to baseline market and policy impacts between 2012 and 2020 as well as significantly increased pressure on gas prices resulting from recent EPA regulations on the power sector and the proposed [Clean Power Plan].”
U.S. industry would be hit the hardest, seeing their electricity and gas costs soar 64 percent by 2020 over 2012 costs. EVA notes that skyrocketing “operational costs in the industrial sector are of particular concern for energy intensive industries in the U.S. such as aluminum, steel and chemicals manufacturing, which require low energy prices to compete.”
“Industrial power consumers would be expected to pass energy cost increases on to their customers, affecting the costs of goods purchased by American consumers over and above increased monthly utility bills,” EVA reports.
“The EPA’s collection of regulations will force American families, businesses and manufacturers to shoulder the burden it stands to create,” said Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Partnership for a Better Energy Future — which opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
“Today’s report from EVA is consistent with what industry has been saying for months — the EPA’s regulatory agenda will do significant damage to the American economy,” Kolton said.
Environmental groups, however, have said the Clean Power Plan — and pretty much all major EPA rules in the last six years — are necessary to protecting public health and the environment. Activists have spent a large amount of energy, in particular, protecting the Clean Power Plan which they see as the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate agenda.
The Natural Resources Defense Council recently published a report saying the Clean Power Plan will actually save Americans money while fighting global warming. NRDC argues, in contrast to EVA, that EPA’s plan overestimates the compliance costs of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
“It’s clear that EPA has ample room to significantly strengthen the Clean Power Plan, making deeper cuts to dangerous carbon pollution from power plants at a reasonable cost,” said Starla Yeh, the report’s co-author and NRDC policy analyst.
“It can do so relying more on energy efficiency and clean energy—such as wind and solar energy—which can help slash America’s biggest source of heat-trapping pollution.,” Yeh said.
NRDC’s report argues that EPA overestimated the cost of increasing energy efficiency in the power sector by double what current projections are and overestimated the cost of green energy use by 50 percent.
Taking these factors into account, NRDC argues the Clean Power Plan will save Americans between $6.4 billion and $9.4 billion from energy efficiency by 2030 — well above EPA projected savings of up to $8.8 billion by that year.
“In 2030, energy efficiency savings could total 140 terawatt-hours more than what EPA projected,”NRDC reports. “Renewable generation could be 171 terawatt-hours higher than EPA’s projections. Collectively, that’s equivalent to the electricity used by 29 million homes in one year—roughly the population of the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas together.”
This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations, or fracking, fell 73 percent since 2011, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. A welcome development for President Obama’s climate plan, but one that may not stop the EPA from imposing more regulations on the oil and gas industry.
The EPA just released data showing that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inched up 0.6 percent in 2013 due to higher utilization of coal to generate electricity. But as emissions from coal grew, emissions from the oil and gas industry fell last year, in particular, methane emissions from fracking operations.
“Reported methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems sector have decreased by 12 percent since 2011, with the largest reductions coming from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which have decreased by 73 percent during that period,” the EPA reported. “EPA expects to see further emission reductions as the agency’s 2012 standards for the oil and gas industry become fully implemented.”
Good news for fracking, but is it good enough to stop the EPA from issuing more regulations? It’s not exactly clear.
EPA chief Gina McCarthy has said the agency was considering “cost-effective regulatory and-or voluntary efforts” to reduce methane emissions. In 2012, the EPA imposed pollution control requirements for oil and gas wells which is expected to drive methane emissions down.
But pressure from environmentalists and Democratic politicians has increased as the deadline for EPA to issue possible new rules for methane looms. Any new rules or voluntary programs crafted by the agency would have to be finalized by March 2016.
“Ton for ton, methane causes at least 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period,” reads a letter from 15 senators, led by Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, to President Obama.
“Voluntary standards are not enough,” the 13 Democrats and two independents wrote. “Too many in the oil and gas sector have failed to adopt sound practices voluntarily, and the absence of uniform enforceable standards has allowed methane pollution to continue, wasting energy and threatening public health.”
Environmental lawyer David Doniger with the Natural Resources Defense Council has called for increased regulations on fracking to reduce methane emissions. The New York Times reported in July that Doniger helped come up with the “blueprint” for the EPA’s rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — which is why some lawmakers are taking his interest in methane emissions seriously.
“We know this methane leakage can be cut by half or more with proven, cheap technology,” Doniger wrote in a blog post. “But EPA’s current standards don’t apply to fracked oil wells that also contain gas — gas that the drillers often just waste by venting or flaring it away.”
“The Obama Administration, in conjunction with the NRDC, is carrying out an all-out assault on America’s fossil fuel resources that is unnecessarily inflating the cost of energy,” said Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe.
Inhofe has questioned the integrity of a series of EPA white papers on methane emissions from the natural gas industry. Inhofe wrote to the White House that the EPA white papers lack “a fundamental understanding” of the oil and gas industry and that the agency “believes it has the capacity to actually help oil and natural gas companies” operate more efficiently.
Natural gas operations, including fracking, releases methane emissions which can be captured and sold or burned off — also called flaring. The EPA has been trying to enhance the environmental image of gas by encouraging companies to capture gas instead of flaring it, which means it’s not being emitted into the atmosphere.
The oil and gas industry says it doesn’t need any more help from the agency to capture methane as emissions have been falling dramatically even as gas production booms.
“Thanks in large part to innovations like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, America is leading the world in producing natural gas and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Howard Feldman, head of regulatory and science affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.
“Industry will continue to be a leader in environmental stewardship as it maintains our country’s leadership position as the top producer of natural gas,” Feldman added.
This piece was originally published on The Daily Caller News Foundation.