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The Wrong Scary Toy Story

One in three toys was found to have “significant levels of toxic chemicals, including lead, flame retardants and arsenic,” according to a new report from the anti-chemical industry. But don’t let the report’s political agenda distract you from very real toy safety issues.

In what is pitched as its second annual “consumer guide to toxic chemicals in toys,” the Michigan-based Ecology Center reported that, among the 1,500 toys that it tested: 20 percent contained lead, with 3.5 percent exceeding the current recall threshold for lead-based paint; 2.9 percent contained bromine at levels greater than 1,000 parts per million (ppm), indicating the use of brominated flame-retardants; 18.9 percent contained detectable levels of arsenic, with 1.4 percent containing greater than 100 ppm; 2.4 percent contained detectable levels of cadmium; 4.2 percent contained detectable levels of mercury, with 1 percent containing levels greater than 100 ppm; and 27 percent of toys were made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.

All these chemicals and ppm-levels may sound scary, but what’s the reality?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that there are no reports of any children being harmed by toys containing brominated flame retardants, arsenic, cadmium, mercury or PVC. Brominated flame retardants, in fact, help keep children safe by slowing the burn rate in case of a fire.

That no documented harm has been caused by these chemicals in toys comes as little surprise since, as the basic principle of toxicology goes, “it is the dose that makes the poison.” All substances even air, water, sugar and salt, are “toxic” at sufficiently high exposures. All of us come into contact with potentially toxic substances every day in our air, water, food, clothes, jewelry, and personal care products, for example, but not at levels that cause harm. The Ecology Center made no effort to explore whether and to what extent children are actually exposed to the chemicals detected—much less did it establish that any such exposure is harmful.

The Ecology Center aims to scare parents merely based on the mere detection of these chemicals in toys, which is nothing less than classic junk science. But what’s more interesting—and revealing about the Ecology Center’s motives in fomenting the toy scare—is that it entirely missed warning parents about a very real and deadly threat posed by some of the toys it tested.

Of the top ten lead-containing toys, six were jewelry (necklaces, charm bracelets and a pin) containing from 0.2 percent to about 41 percent lead, according to the Ecology Center. If you then go to the group’s web page to find out why you should be scared about lead in toys, you first, and foremost, get the old environmentalist myths about how there is no safe exposure to lead and that lead causes lower IQ scores and other development problems. While the Ecology Center does mention some real health effects of lead poisoning, including muscle weakness, anemia, and kidney damage, it omitted the big one, death, and then fails to mention a real death that parents might find instructive.

In February 2006, a 4-year old Minnesota boy was taken to the hospital because of vomiting. He was diagnosed with gastroenteritis and released. Two days later, he returned and was admitted to the hospital. Ten hours later he was placed on a mechanical ventilator. The next day, blood work revealed that the boy had an extraordinarily high blood lead level of 180 micrograms per deciliter, and studies indicated that his brain was receiving no blood flow. He was removed from life support and died.

An autopsy retrieved from his stomach a heart-shaped charmed imprinted with “Reebok.” His mother recognized the object as a charm that came with a pair of shoes belonging to another child whose home her son had visited, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She was not aware that her son had ingested it, since he had no history of ingesting non-food substances. When tested, the charm was found to consist of 99.1 percent lead. Reebok voluntarily recalled the charms shortly thereafter and instructed parents to “immediately take the charm bracelets away from children and dispose of the entire bracelet.”

Did the Ecology Center spotlight this incident and its outcome on its lead information page? No—even though its “most dangerous” lead-containing toy is a Disney-brand Hannah Montana necklace with heart-shaped charms that are 40 percent lead. Study leader Jeff Gearhart told me that he had heard of the Minnesota poisoning case, but couldn’t explain why mention of it was omitted.

Blinded by its anti-chemical agenda—Gearhart told me that he was glad to see that companies were responding to the unwelcome spotlight of his research by reformulating their toys—the Ecology Center apparently can’t see the true dangers in the forest because it’s focused on the politically incorrect “chemical” trees. If a public interest group, which is what the Ecology Center holds itself out to be, is really concerned about toy safety, how about alerting parents to real and specific dangers—like swallowing small lead trinkets? But that’s not all.

In 2007, there were 232,900 toy-related injuries among all ages, including 18 toy-related deaths among children under age 15, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Riding toys, including non-motorized scooters, and small toy balls were associated with most of the deaths. Most of the 232,900 injuries were lacerations, contusions and abrasions, most frequently to the face and head. Notably, there were no reports of injuries from chemicals in toys.

The Ecology Center seems to be worried about toy safety only to the extent that it helps the anti-chemical political agenda. But there are plenty of genuine toy safety concerns for consumers to consider. They ought not to be distracted from those realities by trumped-up, bogus scares.


Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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Green-on-Green Violence

The activist group Environmental Defense got a taste of what it used to dish out this week when its Washington, D.C., offices were invaded by another green group, the Global Justice Ecology Project.

The Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) essentially accused Environmental Defense (ED) of collaborating with the enemy—big businesses that want cap-and-trade global warming legislation. Noting that her father was one of ED’s founders, GJEP head Rachel Smolker said she was now “ashamed” of ED because it advocated cap-and-trade. Smolker said that the European version of cap-and-trade, the Kyoto Protocol, had “utterly failed” to reduce emissions and served “only to provide huge profits for the world’s most polluting industries.”

“Instead of protecting the environment, ED now seems primarily concerned with protecting corporate bottom lines. I can hear my father rolling over in his grave,” Smolker said.

The GJEP activists who took over ED’s offices rearranged the furniture to illustrate how cap-and-trade is “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” and sported signs that read “Keep the cap, ditch the trade” and “Carbon trading is an environmental offense.”

While this column’s position is that global warming alarmism is the ultimate in junk science and that the proposed solutions to this non-problem amount to economic and social suicide, for those who believe in the need for global warming regulation, the GJEP activists do indeed have a point—cap-and-trade is a charade.

If you subscribe to climate alarmism, you can view cap-and-trade only as too little, too late. Last August, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, R.K. Pachauri, told the Voice of America that the clock is running out on the amount of time left to reverse global warming. “I would say about six or seven years. We need to think about change rather quickly because unless we do that, then the impacts of climate change are going to get more and more serious,” he said.

Assuming for the sake of argument that manmade greenhouse gases are the climatic culprit that the U.N. and CO2-phobes make them out to be, how much progress toward Pachauri’s goal of reversing global warming will cap-and-trade have made in seven years? None.

First, NASA’s CO2-phobe-in-chief, James Hansen, says that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels need to be stabilized at about 350 parts per million (ppm) to avert harmful climate change. But atmospheric CO2 levels are already at 380 ppm and growing. So the CO2 horse has already left the climate barn.

Next, the schedule of emissions reductions in the Lieberman-Warner climate bill—the legislation that died in the Senate last June because it was too onerous—would only have reduced annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 11 percent by the seventh year of its implementation. Since the Lieberman-Warner scheme covered only 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in the first place, the actual reduction in annual emissions after seven years would have been less than 8 percent from current levels. As the U.S. would still be emitting more than 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually, it’s pretty obvious that a measly 8 percent reduction would not “reverse” global warming, as Pachauri says needs to happen.

Finally, as former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, it’s called “global warming” not “America warming.” China is either close to passing, or has already passed, the U.S. as the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter. As it builds a new coal-fired power plant every week, China is increasing its emissions by as much as 10 percent per year. China, then, will increase its emissions more in one year than the U.S. would cut in seven years. Now that’s a carbon offset—one that renders any U.S. cap-and-trade efforts as futile as King Canute trying to command the tides.

The Global Justice Ecology Project is entirely correct that cap-and-trade is a system that will “rake in profits” for Environmental Defense’s big business buddies. ED’s cohorts in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership lobbying effort expect that taxpayers will award them more than $1 trillion in free carbon credits over the first 10 years of a cap-and-trade scheme. After all, USCAP members like Alcoa, Dow Chemical, Dupont, and General Electric are not lobbying for global warming regulation just so they can operate under an even more onerous regulatory regime. Cap-and-trade is the latest in corporate rent-seeking—getting paid for being regulated.

Hardcore Greens like the GJEP are understandably upset at supposed allies “sleeping with the enemy.” But large activist groups like Environmental Defense went mainstream long ago and are now more like the big businesses they used to scorn rather than the than grassroots groups they started out as. In contrast to GJEP’s hand-scrawled 2006 tax return showing revenues of a mere $103,349, ED’s neatly typed out 2006 tax return showed revenues of $83,827,034.

Environmentalism has become an industry of sorts. According to a recent Forbes report, the 11 largest environmental groups have combined annual revenues of about $1.8 billion and own billions of dollars of assets. By selling out, Big Green has cashed in.

It will be interesting to see whether the hardscrabble green groups that seem to really believe in a coming climate apocalypse will succeed in pressuring the limousine Greens to return to the fold, or whether the haves will make the have-nots an offer they can’t refuse.

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Obama’s Bad Green Deal

President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to combat unemployment by creating 2.5 million public works jobs could only be loved by someone ignoring the economic and political realities of public works, alternative energy and the Greens.

“Rebuilding roads and bridges, wind farms and solar panels, fuel efficient cars and alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead” is what Obama said he intends to accomplish.

It’s true that road building can contribute to economic growth, but not like Obama seems to think. The road building boom of the 1950s and 1960s did boost U.S. economic growth, according to Federal Reserve economist John Fernald. But this was because mass expansion of the interstate road system facilitated growth-producing economic activity. While necessary for keeping traffic moving safely and smoothly, simply re-building roads and bridges doesn’t spur commerce and, so, isn’t a strategy for economic growth.

While appropriate expenditures on new roads can produce high economic returns, according to a 2002 study published by George Mason University transportation experts in Public Works Management Policy, this isn’t what Obama is proposing. His reticence on new construction is likely due to his indebtedness to the Greens, who oppose new roads. The Natural Resources Defense Council testified before Congress last June, for example, that “footprints,” or new and existing road construction, should be “minimized.”

Moreover, capital spending on infrastructure doesn’t seem to work fast enough in economic hard times. The U.S. has only “limited experience with capital spending as a countercyclical device” and “the results have been largely negative,” according to the George Mason study. Capital expenditures on infrastructure take four to six quarters to implement because of the necessary planning, contract bidding and construction phasing.

The public works programs of the Great Depression, the historical event with which our current economic crisis is being compared, failed to stimulate the economy. As described in Jim Powell’s book, FDR’s Folly, the Civilian Conservation Corps spent $2 billion between 1933 and 1939 working in wilderness areas and parks planting trees, controlling tree diseases, and building paths, picnic areas and firefighting infrastructure.

Not only did the Public Works Administration only build roads, bridges, schools, dams and naval ships, it tended to employ architects, engineers and skilled workers rather than the unskilled people who needed work. Newspaper columnist Walter Lippman concluded that the PWA was “worse than a failure” when it came to jobs creation and economic stimulus.

Other New Deal infrastructure public works programs, including the Federal Emergency Relief Act, Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, “do not appear to have had the strong effect on productivity” in the areas where the money was spent, concluded National Bureau of Economic Research economists in 2001.

Then there are the Greens, who tend to oppose any sort of construction, even for so-called renewable energy projects. Prominent Greens such as Maryland Gov. Marvin O’Malley and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have opposed wind farms as eyesores. Canadian Greens oppose a wind farm in British Columbia because it allegedly will “wipe out” migratory birds. A wind farm proposed for the Georgia coast cannot proceed without a multiyear study of its impacts on whale calving grounds. Green activists currently oppose dozens of applications for solar farms across more than 518,000 acres of public lands in the Southern California desert because of alleged concerns for tortoises, squirrels and other wildlife.

What about the fuel-efficient cars and alternative energy to which Obama referred? A Washington Post headline this week said it all, “Hybrid vehicles are popular, but making them profitable is a challenge.” Batteries that add $8,000 to sticker prices and $7,500 tax credits that about one-half of Americans can’t take advantage of because they don’t earn enough money didn’t make economic sense when gas cost $4; they make much less sense with $2 gas. Hybrid and plug-in cars may use less fuel, but they are light years away from economic efficiency. If the cars aren’t cost-effective—which is the only reason to buy them—they won’t be flying off the assembly line and won’t be creating jobs in the flagging U.S. car industry.

One great green alternative energy hope is cellulosic ethanol, which uses biomass (like switchgrass) rather than food (like corn) as a feedstock. But there are no commercially viable cellulosic ethanol plants because the technology is expensive. The Department of Energy is spending $385 million to build six plants over the next four years in hopes of producing 130 million gallons of ethanol per year. The purpose is to show that the plants can be run profitably once their construction costs are covered by taxpayers.

But not only will these test plants be too small and not be built in time to provide economic stimulus, the long-term feasibility of cellulosic ethanol itself is questionable. Americans consume about 140 billion gallons of gasoline annually. Will the Greens—who oppose the 149 gasoline refineries now operating—really permit the construction of hundreds of cellulosic ethanol refineries that make greenhouse gas-producing fuels? And what about the environmental impacts of the plants themselves?

Finally, let’s keep in mind that, for most of us, energy is an expense that we like to minimize. How does forcing consumers to buy expensive “green” energy contribute to economic recovery and growth?

If Obama wants to solve the economic crisis when he’s president, he’s going to have to promote policies that encourage real economic growth, rather than regurgitating green talking points that are a recipe for making a bad situation worse.

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Detroit Needs Drilling, Not Bailouts

Looking for the root of the impending car industry debacle? Look no further than the failure of the Big Three and the United Auto Workers to challenge the Green attack on cheap gasoline.

Since the 1980s, the golden goose of the U.S. auto industry has been SUV and light truck sales. Those vehicles were so popular and so profitable that the Big Three could afford to meet UAW demands for high wages and generous benefits. The golden goose even enabled the Big Three to afford the infamous UAW Jobs Bank where thousands of laid-off auto workers were kept on the payroll for years, costing the automakers billions of dollars.

But for decades, the Big Three and the UAW overlooked the linchpin of all these “good times”—the cheap gasoline that fueled SUV sales. For some strange reason, neither the companies nor the UAW had the foresight or courage to challenge the Green chokehold on our gasoline supply.

While the Greens blocked oil drilling offshore and on public lands, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Big Three and the UAW looked the other way. When the Greens worked to block the expansion of gasoline refineries through both direct opposition to plant expansion and through stringent EPA regulation that made refinery expansion expensive and unprofitable, the car industry snoozed. Only Ford CEO Wiliam Clay Ford Jr. was active on the Green issue—but not in a helpful way. He advocated higher gas taxes to incentivize the public away from buying SUVs.

It wasn’t until September 2008 that the CEO of General Motors finally got around to calling for increased offshore oil drilling—almost 20 years after the offshore drilling moratorium began. The UAW has yet to make the connection between cheap gas and its members’ jobs.

But let’s not give GM too much credit yet. In a full-page advertisement in the New York Times this week, entitled “There’s a belief that GM is not doing enough,” GM boasts that, “We have aggressively addressed our North American manufacturing footprint, shifting our production from trucks and SUVs to smaller cars and crossover vehicles.” What?

Amazingly, as gas prices plummet to levels not seen since early 2005 and SUV and light truck sales start to rebound, GM is “aggressively” shifting out of the hugely profitable vehicles that the public loves into less-profitable eco-boxes that are loved only by the Greens. Moreover, foreign carmakers can make better ecoboxes and sell them for less money, since they aren’t burdened by the UAW legacy costs that add about $2,000 to the cost of a car. Smaller cars were losers for Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s, and little has changed.

GM has also let the Greens goad it into betting much on the production of the electric car known as the Chevy Volt. “The future is electrifying,” is GM’s marketing pitch for the Volt. Touting the car as an “Extended-Range Electric Vehicle that is redefining the automotive world,” GM says that the Volt “is designed to move more than 75 percent of America’s daily commuters without a single drop of gas.

That means for someone who drives less than 40 miles a day, Chevy Volt will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions.” Should you decide to drive more than 40 miles, then the Volt has a “gasoline-powered, range-extending engine that drives a generator to provide electric power when you drive beyond the 40-mile battery range.”

But as Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins pointed out last week, “We’re talking about a headache of a car that will have to be recharged for six hours to give 40 miles of gasoline-free driving.” If you use the car as intended, that is, never going beyond 40 miles between charges and so never using the gasoline engine. Even then, you’ll have to periodically drain the tank, since gasoline goes bad after a couple of months. And then you’ll have to make a special effort to dispose of the old fuel in an environmentally safe manner, just as for used motor oil.

The alleged advantage of the Volt is that, while it’s running on its battery, it produces no emissions. But it can hardly be assumed that consumers will flock to the Volt for that dubious reason.

Detracting from this alleged benefit is the fact that India’s Tata Motors is preparing to sell its $2,500 Nano car as low-cost transportation in developing nations. The millions of carbon dioxide-emitting Nanos to be sold in the developing world will more than offset whatever emissions are avoided by the many fewer Volts sold in the U.S. Moreover, there is the overriding reality that both China and India, the fastest growing emitters of carbon dioxide, have vowed not to cut their emissions. So the Volt’s alleged emissions benefit is quite illusory in the context of global warming.

Although the Big Three and the UAW didn’t set out to kill their golden goose, they didn’t do anything to protect it, either. It’s not too late for them to figure out that cheap gasoline is their friend and the Greens are the enemy. The future may be electrifying one day, but for today, the Big Three and UAW need, “Drill, baby, drill” and the equally important “Refine, baby, refine.”

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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Greens Pave Way to Republican Comeback

If congressional Republicans—or what’s left of them—are looking for the path out of the political wilderness following last week’s electoral drubbing, there’s a shortcut to victory in 2010 being paved for them by the Greens.

Last weekend on Fox News Sunday, Barack Obama’s transition chief, John Podesta, said the Obama administration would act quickly to reverse a recent Bush administration move opening up public lands in Utah to oil and gas drilling. Podesta said that it was a “mistake” for the Bush administration to allow drilling “in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah…”

So, GOP, the battle lines are drawn. Since declining oil and gas prices are likely only temporary, we remain in an energy crisis. The problem could be solved by increasing domestic oil and gas production, but the Obama administration apparently aims to stand four-square against this.

The time has passed for Republicans to fret about being painted by the Greens as “pillagers of the Earth” for supporting drilling in allegedly fragile environments. Let’s get real. While such demagoguery is a standard Green tactic to block the development of natural resources, the notion of a “fragile” environment is a canard.

We routinely alter local environments. Any time you stick a shovel in the ground, you’ve permanently altered the environment. But in a rational world, mere environmental change is not the same as environmental destruction—and if we are going to pretend that it is, then we’re going to have a hard time justifying any development whatsoever.

Moreover, modern oil and gas drillers aim to minimize their environmental impact, out of self-interest if nothing else. The potential legal and reputational liabilities are too great if they don’t. Last spring, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) even commended three oil and gas drillers (BP America, Devon Energy and Questar) for reducing their footprint on public lands.

Of course, local environments will be disrupted to some limited extent by drilling, but most probably to a much lesser extent than most other sorts of development, whether they be new or expanding suburban communities, roads, farming or a green energy projects—like wind farms, solar panel fields, and cellulosic ethanol plants.

Consider, for example, how much “fragile” environment would be disturbed by T. Boone Pickens’ plan to build the largest wind farm in the world on 400,000 acres in the Texas panhandle. While the Greens say they support Pickens’ effort, in what way is the Texas panhandle less fragile than the Utah desert?

Last spring, the BLM placed a moratorium on solar power projects to be built on public lands, pending environmental impact studies. The necessary transmission lines and water use might disturb the native vegetation and wildlife, says the BLM. But the solar power industry screamed bloody murder and the moratorium was soon rescinded.

Given that the Greens oppose oil and gas drilling everywhere, the rest of us—especially congressional Republicans—must adopt the solar industry tactic of outspoken outrage if we want to end the Green-induced energy crisis. There is at least one congressional Republican who understands the Greens’ no-drilling-anywhere game—Arizona’s John Shadegg.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in September, Shadegg spotlighted the Greens’ “dead-ender” mentality on drilling with respect to leases in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, which holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil (a two-year supply) and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (a three-plus-year supply).

Not only have groups like the Sierra Club and EarthJustice challenged the legality of all 748 government-issued leases in the Chukchi, they’ve challenged the legality of the entire outer continental shelf leasing program itself. Shadegg wrote that the Greens’ “incessant legal and administrative challenges make true the Democrat claim that oil from newly opened [public lands] will not reach the market for years.”

Last week, Shadegg trounced his Democratic opponent, garnering almost 80 percent of the vote. His success stands in stark contrast to Green-friendly Republicans who were defeated, including New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu and North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Then there’s Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who may very well lose in a recount against comedian Al Franken. Let’s not forget that John McCain’s embrace of global warming alarmism garnered him no visible Green support while simultaneously alienating many Republican voters.

Earth to Republicans: the Greens don’t and never will support you. That should come as no surprise since they’re all about left-wing politics—not the environment, which they use only as a battering ram/shield for their political agenda. Kowtowing to the Greens is a fool’s errand, if not political suicide. In contrast, most Americans want and need energy security and independence. They would vociferously support you in that endeavor.

The Greens plan to make an all-out push for their agenda in 2009, knowing that 2010 is an election year in which politicians, even Democrats, get cautious and avoid radical legislation. Since anything could happen in 2010—including the election of a Republican-controlled Congress—the Greens have no choice but to grab what they can, while they can.

All that stands between America and energy policy disaster in 2009 is the Republican minority in Congress. Averting that disaster and championing domestic production is the path to victory in 2010. If the Republican leadership needs help in getting its arms around the problem, a visit to Rep. Shadegg’s office would be a good start.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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The First Green President

President-elect Barack Obama could be the nation’s first green president—whether he likes it or not. The Greens’ early investment in Obama’s political soul has matured, and they’re already angling for—and even demanding—payback.

Though the financial crunch should place economy-harming global warming legislation on the back burner, the Natural Resources Defense Council is pushing for it within the first 100 days of the new Congress, supposedly as a means of easing the credit crisis and financing renewable energy projects, according to a report in the November 3 issue of Carbon Control News.

Under the NRDC proposal, credits covering as many as six billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions would be issued in the program’s first year. The credits would be guaranteed a minimum value of $15 per ton by Obama’s Treasury Department, magically converting all that hot air into a $90 billion asset. The guarantee would allow the credits to be used as collateral for loans to green energy projects.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a key Obama supporter and rumored Secretary of Energy candidate, lobbied on behalf of the green energy industry the morning after the election. Responding to a question from a CNBC interviewer about the merits of “undivided government,” Rendell said, “[Undivided government] is going to allow us to act quickly. We need… to send a message to the renewable energy economy, to the [20 to 25] companies in Pennsylvania and… in New Jersey who are hanging in the balance and, if that tax credit is not renewed or made permanent, they’re done in the next three to four months. This government is going to be able to move in the first weeks of the new Congress.”

Then there’s wannabe green-energy billionaire and Obama supporter Al Gore. Not only did Gore’s climate campaign group place full-page ads in national newspapers on Nov. 5 asking “NOW WHAT?,” in a same-day Wall Street Journal op-ed, Gore argued for carbon-free electricity within 10 years and electrification of the automobile fleet. Both are areas in which Gore has significant financial interests through his UK-based investment firm, Generation Investment Management, and his U.S.-based venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins.

The Greens are more to Obama than just one of many constituencies. He credits the early endorsement of his candidacy by the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters (LCV) in February 2004 for his rise from the Illinois State Senate to the U.S. Senate. “I had no money, had no organization, it was unlikely that the Democrats would nominate a skinny guy from the Southside with a funny name like Barack Obama,” he told the National Journal’s CongressDaily publication.

Momentum began to shift his way “when we got the support of the League of Conservation Voters,” he said. “Not only did they provide us financial support, not only was [LCV head] Deb Callahan’s gorgeous face on television saying I was a pretty good guy—and that sold some tickets right there—more importantly the League, along with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, signaled to those who are considered swing voters in the state of Illinois, Republicans and independents who may sometimes veer toward that side of the aisle.” Obama was the first non-incumbent member of Congress to be included on the LCV’s list of “environmental champions.”

The LCV said it made an early decision to invest heavily in Obama’s race, “largely because of his support for environmental issues during his tenure in the state Senate.”

“Early on, we recognized Barack’s leadership on these issues, and made a substantial investment in helping him win the Democratic primary,” Callahan said. Not surprisingly both the LCV and Sierra Club endorsed Obama in 2008. The Obama web site emphasized that “The League of Conservation Voters has given Barack Obama the highest lifetime rating of anyone currently running for president.”

When a reporter asked Sierra Club head Carl Pope whether expectations for Obama have been set too high, Pope responded: “We are not electing the archbishop of Canterbury or a saint. We’re electing an American politician. Is he susceptible to pressure? He damn well should be.…We’re not going to go away when he’s elected. We and other forces that are supporting him are going to stay organized. And as he told the environmental community when he met with us, we’re going to have to keep his feet to the fire.”

It’s little wonder, then, that the Sierra Club program director for global warming told the media after this week’s election that a federal renewable energy mandate—that is, compulsory use of expensive and unreliable, but Green-supported, wind and solar power—“is almost a certainty.”

Obama has selected (or perhaps had thrust upon him) former Gore staffer and Clinton administration EPA head Carol Browner to advise on the environmental aspects of the transition. Browner was perhaps the most ruthlessly green EPA administrator ever. In 1997, she issued the most expensive EPA air pollution regulations ever—even over the objections of Gore. Now that’s green.

Finally, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Hollywood) is moving to oust closet global warming skeptic Rep. John Dingell (D-General Motors) from the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, so that Waxman can play a lead role in climate and other green legislation.

Exit polling indicates that Obama triumphed over John McCain because of the economic crisis. Though he wasn’t elected to be the first green president, the Greens are set to call in their chits and, if necessary, to force that mantle on him.

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IgNobels for Obama

Seventy-six American Nobel laureates in science endorsed Barack Obama this week. Despite their scientific successes, their political analysis just doesn’t make the grade.

Featuring signatories such as James Watson—the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA who shocked the world in 2007 with his assertion that blacks were not as intelligent as whites—the Nobelists praised Obama in an Oct. 28 letter as a “visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness.”

Although the election is between Obama and John McCain, the letter first criticized President Bush for “stagnant or declining federal support” of science and politicizing the scientific advisory process.

But in 2007, Bush asked Congress to double the funding for AIDS programs from $3 billion per year to $6 billion per year. During the Bush administration, the budget for the National Institutes of Health increased by 38 percent from $17.1 billion to $23.7 billion. Bush increased funding for climate change research by 15 percent from $1.75 billion to $2.02 billion. The National Science Foundation budget went from $4.4 billion in 2001 to $6.0 billion budget in 2008. The budget for the National Institute of Standards and Technology increased by 34 percent from 2002 to 2008 ($692 million to $931).

In August 2007, Bush even signed the so-called “America Competes Act,” a law that would double federal funding for basic science research by 2016. Ironically, it is the Democratic-controlled Congress that so far has failed to appropriate funds to implement the law.

Although the Obama Web site says,“Barack Obama and Joe Biden support doubling federal funding for basic research over ten years…,” there’s no indication they’ve made any progress in convincing their fellow congressional Democrats on this point.

While the Nobelists claim that “Senator Obama understands that Presidential leadership and federal investment in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world’s leading country,” they overlook the fact that McCain also supported the America Competes Act and, on his web site, says he “will fully fund” the law.

The Nobelists’ assertion about the Bush administration politicizing science is also a canard that boils down to their political differences with Bush on subjects like embryonic stem cell research and global warming.

The Nobelists wrote that, “We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security and improve our economy.” But what does any of this really mean?

Shouldn’t the 48 signatories who won their Nobels for chemistry and physics return their prizes for signing a letter that calls for climate change to be “reversed”? Just how would that be physically accomplished? And, then, reverse the climate to what point? What it was in, say, 1750, 1850 or 1950? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they actually did reverse climate change; how would they keep climate from changing the moment after they got it where they wanted it?

On the other hand, there’s not a single climate expert among the letter’s signatories—so maybe they really didn’t understand what they were signing.

The “treat disease” comment in the letter is undoubtedly aimed at the embryonic stem cell research controversy. But despite limitations in the U.S., the rest of the world was free to conduct such research. Has there been any progress? There’s been nothing to speak of except a lot of fraud—remember South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk?

Is Obama really a science “visionary” as compared to McCain? As liberal-leaning Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein wrote on Oct.16, “Both presidential candidates… offer policies farther from the president than they are from each other. They advocate mandatory caps on the main global warming gas and favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research—positions opposite the Bush Administration.”

A quick review of the political contributions of the 76 Nobelists revealed that at least 28 of them have contributed to Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama. There seems to be no recent record of any of the signatories contributing to any Republicans.

Contrary to the Nobelists positioning themselves as independent geniuses looking out for the nation’s best interests, the group appears to be nothing more than a collection of liberal academics who rely on their elite status rather than well-reasoned argument to promote a political candidate.

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Greens Aim to Take Us Forward to the Past

If you need more evidence that the Greens intend to destroy our standard of living, you need not look further than the Oct. 18 issue of New Scientist magazine — the cover of which reads, “The Folly of Growth: How to stop the economy killing the planet.”

The issue features eight articles that New Scientist editors believe justify their editorial entitled, “Why economic growth is killing the planet and what we can do about it.” Presented below the editorial is an ominously drawn graph purporting to show how global temperatures, population, carbon dioxide concentrations, GDP and loss of tropical rainforest and woodland have dramatically spiked upward since 1750, and how species extinctions, water use, motor vehicle use, paper consumption, fisheries exploitation, ozone depletion and foreign investment spiked during the 20th century.

The editorial concludes that “the science tells us that if we are serious about saving the Earth,” economic growth must be limited.

In the first essay, University of Surrey (UK) sustainable development professor Tim Jackson doubts renewable energy technologies will work without reduced consumption. Rather than buying an energy efficient TV, he says, you ought to consider not buying a TV at all.

Next, prominent Canadian Green David Suzuki says that nothing is more important than the environment and that we need to lower our standard of living. You need to judge your standard of living by “quality of life, your relationships with other people and your community,” Suzuki says. Stores filled with food, record longevity and wealth are an “illusion,” he asserts, because we’re using up our children’s and grandchildren’s inheritance.

University of Maryland ecological economist Herman Daly claims that we’ve passed the point where economic growth provides benefits and that we need to “transform our economy from a forward-moving aeroplane to a hovering helicopter,” but that such a “steady-state” economy “doesn’t have to mean freezing in the dark under a communist tyranny.” In trying to explain his latter comment, he says that “Most of the changes could be applied gradually, in mid-air,” by which he apparently means replacing the income tax with a tax on goods to “encourage people to use them sparingly.” Although he acknowledges that this regressive policy would hurt the poor, he says taxes could be used to provide welfare.

James Gustave Speth — Yale University dean, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former adviser to President Jimmy Carter — says that green values stand no chance against market capitalism. Economic growth “creates barriers to dealing with real problems,” he says. While we need to spend more money on social services and environmental protection, he is “not advocating state socialism,” he claims, but rather a “non-socialist alternative to today’s capitalism,” whatever that means.

Andrew Simms of London’s New Economics Foundation describes as “disingenuous” the argument that global economic growth is needed to eradicate poverty. He says that “we have to overcome knee-jerk rejection of the ‘R’ word — redistribution” and that we need a “Green New Deal” that controls capital and raises taxes to create environmental jobs.

Susan George of the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute advocates developing a World War II-type mentality toward life including rationing, “victory” or home gardens and the government run by wealthy elites who would work for a salary of $1 per year.

London Metropolitan University “environmental philosopher” Kate Soper says that the tourist industry, food service industry, dating services and gyms are evidence that we need to shift to a less work-intensive economy. “Of course, we would have to “sacrifice some conveniences and pleasures: creature comforts such as regular steaks, hot tubs, luxury cosmetics and easy foreign travel,” she says, but “human ingenuity will surely contrive a range of more eco-friendly excitements.”

What’s missing from the New Scientist compilation of Green-think, of course, are essays from Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx and, perhaps, Al Gore. Malthus, a prominent 19th century economist, famously predicted that a geometrically expanding human population would outpace the arithmetically expanding food supply. Unable to foresee the improvements in agricultural technology, he turned out to be entirely wrong.

Karl Marx could have chimed in with his communist slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” — where the government gets to determine what your needs are. As implemented in the Soviet Union and Communist China, Marxism resulted in the starvation and murder of perhaps more than 100 million people and the political and social repression of the survivors.

Al Gore could have contributed an essay reassuring Green elites that none of this wealth redistribution and standard of living contraction would affect those who, like him, can already afford home indoor heated pools or those who can could afford to spend $65,000 and three weeks jetting around the world with the World Wildlife Fund.

The New Scientist essays reveal how the Greens aim to eviscerate life as we know it. They want to take us from 200 years of “more-bigger-better” to a future of “less-smaller-worse.” Won’t happen, you say?

With Barack Obama leading in the polls, one of his advisers recently issued an ultimatum to Congress regulate carbon dioxide emissions in 18 months, or an Obama EPA will do it unilaterally. And then there’s Obama’s famous colloquy with “Joe the Plumber,” where he said he was for redistributing the wealth. And let’s not forget Obama’s comment in May that “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times…”

Obama has said he’s for economic growth, yet he’s willing to force-feed us Green policies that would crush it. And as it turns out, that’s what the Greens are really after in the first place.

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Junk Science: Candidates Don’t Come Clean on Coal

A squabble about “clean coal” has broken among the presidential candidates. Neither side has leveled with voters.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden kicked off the controversy in September when he commented at an Ohio campaign stop that, “We’re not supporting clean coal.” He then had to back track since Barack Obama supports clean coal, as he reiterated in last week’s second presidential debate. Then, at a rally in Scranton, Pa. this week, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin jumped in the fray saying that, “So whether Joe Biden approves it or not, John McCain is going to develop clean coal technology here in America…”

It’s a lot of hot air about an idea that is unlikely to go anywhere fast.

The “clean coal” debate is about air emissions from power plants that burn coal to generate electricity. Nowadays when the candidates talk about “clean coal,” they’re not talking so much about power plant emissions of particulate matter (soot), sulfur dioxide (SOX) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) so much as they are that great global warming boogeyman, carbon dioxide (CO2). When the candidates say they support “clean coal,” they’re talking about technologies that would capture CO2 emissions before they are emitted into the air and then store them permanently underground. The shorthand for this process is “carbon capture and storage.”

But the technology for simply capturing carbon dioxide isn’t ready for prime time and won’t be anytime soon — if ever — on the sort of commercial scale that would need to occur for it to make any sense. The main problem is cost. The most promising technology for CO2 capture is called IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle). But the cost of building a power plant with IGCC technology to capture 90 percent of the CO2 generated is 47 percent higher than that for traditional power plant, according to a July 2006 study by the EPA.

Capturing CO2 imposes a cost amounting to about $24 per ton. At the largest U.S. power plant which emits about 25 million tons of CO2 annually, the extra cost would be $600 million per year. For all U.S. coal-fired power plants, which emit a total of more than 2.2 billion tons annually, the cost would be a staggering $52 billion per year. Passing along the capital and operating costs to consumers would raise electricity prices by almost 40 percent according to the EPA. And since the EPA is not known for overestimating costs, the actual cost is likely to be much higher and even more difficult to pass on to consumers.

So it’s no wonder that private investors have shunned IGCC technology, forcing its promoters to rely on government subsidies. But even those are vanishing. Earlier this year, the deep-pocketed federal government pulled out of the FutureGen project — a pilot effort to build and operate the first zero-emissions, coal-fired power plant — because of cost.

Capturing CO2 is hardly the end of the game, however. The gas has to be stored somewhere, after all. But where would you store the approximately 1.2 trillion cubic meters of CO2 produced annually produced by the nation’s coal-fired power plants?

Underground geological repositories, like saline formations and depleted oil and gas fields are being considered. But it’s not at all clear that these potential repositories could reliably hold vast and ever-increasing amounts of CO2 forever without leaking and without polluting surrounding groundwater. CO2 leaching into groundwater would acidify it. Then there’s the possibility of explosion. In August 1986, a natural formation of CO2 under Cameroon’s Lake Nyos exploded killing hundreds of people.

If repositories are identified, we’d need a nationwide network of pipelines to pump the CO2, oftentimes, hundreds of miles from power plants. This would be a massive project that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars factoring in the acquisition of rights of way, construction, operations, maintenance and environmental monitoring costs.

Keep in mind that much energy would be needed to pump CO2 long distances through pipelines which would have to be kept dry to prevent corrosion and leak-free to prevent groundwater pollution requiring expensive cleanup. Rest assured that environmentalists and trial lawyers would be monitoring for leaks.

Past the cost and technical challenges, there’s the public acceptance problem. A July 2008 report from the Congressional Research Service concluded that CO2 pipelines and storage may give local communities much gas.

Even if all the aforementioned problems were solved, perhaps the most daunting obstacle remains — the Greens. One of the most powerful special interest lobbies of our time, the Greens don’t like coal even if it is “clean.” Obama endorser and Natural Resources Defense Counsel attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for example, says that “there is no such thing as clean coal.” He alleges that the “true costs” of coal include “dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates.” An e-mail alert from Greenpeace ahead of this week’s final presidential debate called clean coal a “myth” since coal mining “destroys mountains and forests and pollutes America.”

The irony is that coal — which is used to provide about one-half of our electricity — is already burned cleanly and safely in the U.S. with existing pollution control equipment and enforcement of government regulations, regardless of what hysterical Greens claim. There is no credible evidence to the contrary.

So beware of politicians talking about “clean coal” — it’s just another promise they couldn’t keep even if they tried.

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Five-Star Green Hypocrisy

Move over Al Gore. Swankier carbon charlatanism has come to town in the form of the World Wildlife Fund’s luxury getaway called “Around the World: A Private Jet Expedition.”

“Join us on a remarkable 25-day journey by luxury private jet,” invites the WWF in a brochure for its voyage to “some of the most astonishing places on the planet to see top wildlife, including gorillas, orangutans, rhinos, lemurs and toucans.”

For a price tag that starts at $64,950 per person, travelers will meet at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Fla. on April 6, 2009 and then fly to “remote corners” of the world on a “specially outfitted jet that carries just 88 passengers in business-class comfort.” “World class experts — including WWF’s director of species conservation — will provide lectures en route, and a professional staff will be devoted to making your global adventure seamless and memorable.” Travelers will visit the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil, Easter Island, Samoa, Borneo, Laos, Nepal, Madagascar, Namibia, Uganda or Rwanda, and finish up at the luxury Dorchester Hotel in London.

This is the very same WWF that says “the current growth in [carbon dioxide] emissions must be stopped as soon as possible” and that blames Americans for emitting 21 percent of global CO2 emissions even though the U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the global population. In December 2007, the WWF launched its “Earth Hour” campaign, a global initiative in which cities and communities simultaneously turn out their lights for one hour “to symbolize their leadership and commitment to finding solutions for climate change.”

So how does this fantasy trip square with the WWF’s alarmist rhetoric?

Using the carbon footprint calculator on the WWF’s own web site, the 36,800-mile trip in a Boeing 757 jet will burn about 100,000 gallons of jet fuel to produce roughly 1,231 tons of CO2 in 25 days — that’s the equivalent of putting about 1,560 SUVs on the road during those three-plus weeks and that doesn’t even include emissions related to local air, ground and water transport and other amenities.

The WWF laments on its web site that the average American produces 19.6 tons of CO2 annually, which is nearly five times the world average of 3.9 tons per person. But during the WWF’s posh excursion, travelers will produce 14 tons of CO2 per person. That’s 71 percent of the average American carbon footprint and 360 percent of the average global footprint in a mere three-and-one-half weeks. But who’s counting — especially when you’re in “19 rows of spacious leather seats with full ergonomic support” enjoying “gourmet meals, chilled champagne [and] your own chef.”

I guess those are the rules when you’re one of WWF’s wealthy donors, but now contrast this with the how the WWF says the rest of us should live our lives. The group’s web site states that “It clearly is time for all Americans to roll up their sleeves, to take steps to reduce emissions, to prepare for climate change, and to encourage others to do the same.”

We, the masses, should — nay, must — use compact fluorescent light bulbs, reduce hot water use, turn thermostats down in the winter and up in the summer and use low-flow shower heads and faucets. We should pledge to commute by car pool or mass transit, switch to “green power,” and get more fuel efficient cars. We should make our lives more expensive and less convenient so that the Green elites don’t feel too guilty while jet-setting to exotic locales.

Maybe, you’re thinking, the WWF plans to makes its trip “carbon neutral” by purchasing carbon offsets — after all, the group does offer a carbon offset calculator on its web site under the heading “Join WWF in our mission to save life on Earth.” But neither the trip brochure nor the WWF web site mentions that any offsets will be purchased — and there seems to be good reason for that.

According to the WWF’s calculator, it would cost in excess of $44,000 to offset the carbon emissions from the jet travel alone. Then there’s the September 2008 report from the General Accounting Office which concluded that the carbon offset market lacked credibility. The Republican leader of the congressional committee requesting the report commented that “that the lack of standardization of offsets and fundamental problems assessing and verifying credibility, leave consumers in the dark and exposed to waste, fraud, and abuse.” Former Clinton official Joseph Romm wrote on his blog that, “the vast majority of offsets are, at some level, just rip-offsets.”

The Greens are apparently reluctant to fall for their own scams.

If you can’t make the WWF’s private jet expedition, the group offers a wide variety of other pricey, carbon-spewing tours. You might be interested in the WWF trip to the Galapagos or Fiji Islands, where you’re less likely to run into pesky downscale local tourists. The WWF has called for limitations on local tourism in the Galapagos and Fiji Islands saying that it causes greater environmental damage than “larger tourist operations” — like the WWF’s.

I’ve been thinking that WWF’s bandit-like panda bear was an appropriate logo given the group’s promotion of “rip-offsets.” But now, I think that a new logo may be in order — perhaps a hippo-crite?


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Greens Exploit Wall Street Bailout

Will the Wall Street bailout be the beginning of the New (Green) Deal?

Environmental activists are trying to figure out ways to advance their global-warming-regulation agenda by exploiting the current financial crisis, including the Wall Street bailout bill to be voted on by the House.

The good news for them is that they may not need to succeed, since someone with a very Green agenda will be in charge of implementing the bill should it become law.

As reported by Carbon Control News (Sep. 24), “Environmentalists and some Democrats are seizing upon the financial sector crisis to call for major federal investments in energy efficiency and improvements in the electricity grid as a way to address climate change and spur a lagging economy.”

Michael Moynihan, former Clinton administration economic adviser and director of the Green Project for the New Democrat Network, has called for a national infrastructure bank to fund clean energy projects.

Following up on this idea, two house Democrats introduced a bill last week to establish a “Clean Energy Investment Bank.”

Although Moynihan claims this would be an improvement over the current earmark system, the bank seems to be little more than a permanent Green earmark.

The activist group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is lobbying for the Treasury Department to conduct global-warming impact reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — the federal law requiring federal agencies to conduct environmental-impact studies of their actions.

Through its citizen-lawsuit provisions, the Greens often use NEPA to block energy, highway and logging projects that involve federal agencies and lands.

FoE claims that as the Treasury Department becomes a significant shareholder in financial institutions that it bails out, it would be obligated to carry out environmental impact studies since, to some extent, the activities of those financial institutions would also be activities of the Treasury Department.

“Subjecting entities that receive financial backing from taxpayers to NEPA could provide a hook for environmentalists to force greater scrutiny of actions by those entities that increase greenhouse gas emissions, including the underwriting of fossil fuel projects,” reported Carbon Control News (Sep. 26)

Anti-nuclear Greens are trying to use the recent bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers to block the construction of the first nuclear reactor built in the U.S. in 30 years.

This column previously reported on how the Greens are trying to stop Maryland from permitting the construction of a third reactor at Constellation Energy’s Calvert Cliffs power plant by arguing that emission-less nuclear power actually worsens global warming.

Lehman’s bankruptcy raised concerns about the financial health of Constellation, leading to a buy-out offer from the Warren Buffet-led Mid-American Energy Holdings Company.

The Greens called for the project to be halted “in light of the nation’s worsening financial crisis and serious concerns about the stability of the company building the project,” according to Carbon Control News (Sep. 26).

Monday’s rejection of the Wall Street bailout bill by the House has opened the door for the alternative-energy industry to again try to renew the tax credits about to expire for wind power projects such as the Pickens Plan.

The Senate bill passed Wednesday night extends the much-lobbied-for tax credit.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called on Congress to “Green the Bailout” (Sep. 28).

Friedman quoted a green-collar jobs proponent who said, “You can’t base a national economy on credit cards. But you can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart biofuels and a massive program to weatherize every building and home in America.”

Finally, even if none of these provisions make it into the bailout bill, the Greens will likely be able to count on Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to implement their agenda for them.

The former head of Goldman Sachs — who simultaneously headed up the Nature Conservancy and recently told Fortune magazine that action on global warming is crucial to the U.S. — is no stranger to using “other people’s money” to implement the Green agenda on land secured by distressed debt.

Paulson could use bailout money to purchase debt securities that are secured by property either coveted by Greens or targeted for energy or natural resource development projects that the Greens oppose.

Once the U.S. Government owns the securities (and, thereby, the property) an omnipotent Paulson could essentially take the land out of circulation by “preserving” it as public land.

He could even claim — through the economic device of “contingent valuation” — that the acquired land has more value as pristine public land than as, say, an energy or logging project.

Contingent valuation uses opinion surveys to value intangible assets for which there is no market, such as scenic views and crystal-clear air.

Respondents are asked hypothetical questions like, “How much would you pay to preserve a seashore view from oil drilling?” or “How much is it worth to keep a forest pristine and un-logged?”

Though the whole process is pretend — the respondents know they won’t actually spend any of their own money for this preservation — the government uses the method to establish monetary values of preserved lands.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how contingent valuation could be used to gin up phony bailout profits through land preservation.

Paulson has already said that he would bequeath the bulk of his fortune — in the neighborhood of $500 to $800 million — to Green causes.

Imagine what he would be willing to do with your money.

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Picking on the Pickens Plan?

Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens’ camp responded last week to this column’s multi-part analysis of the so-called “Pickens Plan.” Focusing on my most recent comments, Pickens Plan defender Warren Mitchell said he was “overwhelmed” by my “lack of logic” and wondered what plan I had to “wean ourselves from foreign oil.”

Mitchell first objected to my point that Iran isn’t switching to natural gas cars to sell more oil (as claimed by Pickens in a TV ad), but rather to reduce its gasoline imports and, thereby, reduce international pressure on its nuclear weapons program.

But as pointed out in a January 2007 congressional hearing by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), “… squeezing Iran economically… is having an effect… Iran’s oil minister admitted that this financial pressure has stunted its oil industry. It now has to import 42 percent of its refined gasoline.”

An Iranian political analyst said in July 2007 that “We will greatly suffer if [foreign countries] suddenly decide not to sell us fuel… Fuel rationing [Iran’s initial strategy for reducing imported gasoline] is a security-economic decision to reduce fuel consumption.”

Even Iran’s main car maker admitted to the Associated Press that natural gas cars “will greatly help Iran reduce, and even stop in the long run, importing gasoline from abroad.”

Although some Iranian politicians aligned with the national oil company have previously pushed for higher gas prices to curtail domestic demand for subsidized gasoline so that the Iranian government could invest in more oil production over the long-term, there’s no evidence that this is driving Iran’s switch to natural gas cars.

Moving on, Mitchell claimed that I “assaulted America’s natural gas supply, acting as if natural gas is already a scarce commodity in the U.S… Reality dictates a very different picture when it comes to America’s oil and natural gas supply.” Mitchell went on to say that the U.S. imports about 70 percent of its oil, while it has only 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves. In contrast, he says, 97 percent of U.S. natural gas comes from North America and these figures don’t account for the natural gas shale reserves that U.S. gas providers are able to access.

“Sleight-of-hand” is probably more appropriate than “reality” with Mitchell’s figures. When Mitchell talks about oil, he limits it to U.S. imports and sources. But when he talks about natural gas, he talks expansively in terms of North America—that is, the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Most of the oil used in the U.S. (53 percent), in fact, comes from North American sources, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Next, the U.S. produces only about 83 percent of its natural gas. We import the rest, and this supply—just like our oil supply—is vulnerable to world events and market pressures.

Mitchell is wrong about known U.S. oil reserves—the actual figure is only about 1.6 percent (about a 3-year supply), according to the most recent DOE data. The good news—omitted by Mitchell—is that the U.S. reserve data excludes many known-but-not-counted domestic sources of oil, including the outer continental shelf (a 9- to 15-year supply), public lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (a 1.5-year supply in ANWR alone) and western oil shale (possibly an 800-year supply, according to the Department of Interior).

While Mitchell touts natural gas shale reserves as significantly adding to U.S. production, such “unconventional production” of natural gas is expected by the DOE to increase only from 44 percent of total domestic production in 2005 to about 49 percent by 2030—not enough to reduce U.S. dependency on imported natural gas. The DOE says that liquid natural gas (LNG) imports will be the largest incremental source of natural gas for the U.S.

Readers should note that while Mitchell liberally engaged in ad hominem argument, he didn’t respond to my earlier comments on the Pickens Plan, including that Pickens: wants to profit at taxpayer and consumer expense; plays fast and loose with facts; lobbied the state of Texas turn him into a government entity so he could earn private profit; and fails to mention the hurdles, costs and inconveniences of switching to natural gas cars.

Readers should also be aware that Mitchell is more than merely the “former chairman of Southern California Gas Company and San Diego Gas & Electric,” as he signed his column. He also serves along with Pickens on the board of Clean Energy Fuels—the largest provider of vehicular natural gas in North America, a company Pickens founded in May 2006.

Finally, Mitchell criticized me for not offering an energy plan to “save America from itself.” He must not be aware of my many columns in which I suggest that America’s energy path forward is to step-up development of domestic oil, natural gas and coal resources as well as to develop more nuclear power. Other energy sources could be used as they prove themselves in the marketplace—rather than as forced upon us by fast-talking special interests and their politician mouthpieces.

America has made it this far without Soviet-style, long-term central planning, where, regardless of the likelihood of changing circumstances in the future, the government arbitrarily picks society’s winners and penalizes the losers, leaving the nation stuck indefinitely with the high costs of bad decisions.

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Anti-chemical Activists Hit the (Plastic) Bottle Again

Anti-chemical activists opened a new front in their jihad against the plastics chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) this week.

A first-of-its-kind study, published in the prominent Journal of the American Medical Association (Sept. 17) claimed that exposure to BPA, used in food and beverage containers, was associated with increased rates of heart disease and diabetes in humans.

Using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003-2004, the researchers compared urinary concentrations of BPA with a variety of health outcomes in 1,455 adults.

They claimed to have found statistically significant correlations between higher BPA urinary concentrations and increases in heart disease and diabetes. No correlations were reported for arthritis, cancer, liver disease, respiratory disease, stroke or thyroid disease.

The researchers concluded that “[t]hese findings add to the evidence suggesting adverse effects of low-dose BPA in animals” — and the media unquestioningly reported in numerous headlines that the study “linked” or “tied” BPA with heart disease and diabetes.

This column has already debunked the BPA animal studies the researchers referred to so we’ll focus on the new study’s claims.

For both the heart-disease and diabetes correlations, the researchers reported that disease rates more than doubled between those in the highest quartile versus the lowest quartile of BPA urinary concentration.

The correlations, however, are of doubtful reliability since their margins of error are so large — 355 percent for heart disease and 211 percent for diabetes.

This unreliability is precisely what one might expect from the slipshod manner in which the data were collected by the CDC and analyzed by the researchers.

None of the health data collected was verified. Survey respondents were simply asked “Has a doctor or other health provider ever told you that you have [fill in the disease]?”

Such self-reported data are notoriously unreliable. A 1995 study, for example, reported that 40 percent of self-reported heart attacks were false positives — people confusing angina (pain) with a real heart attack.

Next, the researchers didn’t compare the timing, duration or level of exposure with the onset of disease — in effect, they simply assumed that the occurrence of disease was BPA-related.

BPA, however, is metabolized and excreted from the body pretty quickly, usually within 24 hours. Without more information on exposure to BPA and disease origins, there is absolutely no basis for linking the two.

The researchers failed to rule out many competing or confounding risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, including family history of the diseases, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical activity levels, stress and alcohol intake, to name a few.

Moreover, diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and heart disease is a risk factor for diabetes — neither of which the researchers considered.

Nor were lipid and glucose blood chemistry irregularities correlated with BPA urinary concentrations, further detracting from the case that BPA was truly associated with increased heart disease and diabetes risk, respectively.

Finally, the numbers of heart disease cases (79) and diabetes cases (136) are inadequate for drawing reliable conclusions.

By dividing these relatively few cases over four exposure categories, the researchers relied on even fewer cases of disease in the highest exposure categories.

Although the researchers tried to imagine how BPA might act to cause heart disease and diabetes, they offer no evidence or ideas that would qualify their speculation as more than simply “idle.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that plastics industry workers have been occupationally exposed to BPA for more than 40 years, likely with much higher exposures than those of the study’s subjects.

Yet there are no reports of higher rates of heart disease and diabetes among these workers.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the FDA told the Washington Post this week that it has no reason to think that BPA in food packaging and liquid containers is unsafe.

So who’s making all the fuss and why? This column has previously spotlighted some of the more outspoken activists behind the BPA scare — we’ll get to them (again) in a minute.

The new study features less well-known personalities. Co-author Michael Depledge, described as responsible for the “supervision” of the study, sits on the board of the U.K. anti-chemical group Natural England.

Another co-author, Tamara Galloway, has written of her conviction that “pollution is a major threat to human and environment health.”

The smoking gun indicating that this study is little more than rank anti-chemical fear-mongering is that the study was accompanied in JAMA by an editorial penned by Frederick vom Saal and John Peterson Myers.

Readers of this column will recall that vom Saal is behind much of the dubious animal study work on BPA and Myers is a co-author of the debunked 1996 chemical-scare book “Our Stolen Future.”

Vom Saal and Myers advocate in their editorial that U.S. regulators abandon science and risk assessment as a standard for regulating chemicals, and instead move to the European model of regulation that requires that substances be proven not to cause harm under any conditions — knowing full well that “proving a negative” is impossible to do.

This so-called “precautionary principle” would essentially provide regulators with arbitrary power to ban virtually any chemical, regardless of its risks, benefits or realities.

It’s appalling that the editors of JAMA — the official voice of the American Medical Association whose physician-members rely on the benefits of chemicals to treat patients — would lend their credibility to activists advocating the abandonment of science and risk analysis in favor of Luddite anti-chemical hysteria and politics.

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Pickens’ Natural-Gas Nonsense

“Get this one,” says billionaire T. Boone Pickens in his latest TV ad, “Iran is changing its cars to natural gas and we’re not doing a thing here. They’re doing this to use less oil and sell it for $120 a barrel. We can switch our cars to natural gas and stop sending our dollars to foreign countries.”

Readers of this column know better than to take at face value the marketing of the so-called “Pickens Plan.”

So what’s the full story behind Iran’s move, and what would be the impact of switching our cars to natural gas?

Although Iran is a major oil and gas producer, it lacks oil-refining capacity and must import about 50 percent of its gasoline. To be less vulnerable to international pressure concerning its nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided to reduce Iran’s reliance on imported gasoline.

He started with rationing in May 2007. But that quickly led to violent social unrest.

Ahmadinejad then decided to convert Iran’s new car fleet to natural gas. So 60 percent of Iran’s car production this year—about 429,000 vehicles—will be dual-fuel-ready, capable of running on both gasoline and natural gas.

But contrary to Pickens assertion, Iran isn’t trying to use less oil:; It’s trying to use less imported gasoline—and only to thwart a possible international gasoline embargo.

Though hardly a role model for energy policy, should we nevertheless follow Iran’s lead with respect to natural-gas cars? Just what would that mean to you and to our economy?

While the natural gas sold for auto fuel is as much as 50 percent less expensive than gasoline—at least for now—the cover charge to get into a natural-gas vehicle can easily erase any savings.

A new natural-gas-powered car, such as the Honda Civic GX, for example, is almost 40 percent more expensive than a conventional Civic ($24,590 versus $17,700).

While tax credits can reduce the cost by thousands, somebody—either you and/or taxpayers—will be paying the difference.

If natural gas fuel saved you, say, $2 per gallon, then you’d have to drive 124,020 highway miles or 82,680 city miles to break even on fuel costs against the $6,890 purchase price premium.

You can convert an existing car from gasoline to natural gas, but the costs are daunting.

Converting a car to dual-use (as in Iran) costs between $6,000 to $10,000. Converting a car to run on natural gas only is about half as expensive.

Even so, the conversion has to be done correctly or, in the worst case, you risk leaks that could turn your car into an improvised explosive device. And if your car is altered without proof of EPA certification, you might not get any of the all-important conversion tax credits.

Then there’s the inconvenience. Though their fuel tanks are larger—which, incidentally, reduces trunk space—natural gas cars have less range.

While a new Honda Civic can go as far as 500 miles on a tank of gasoline, the GX’s range is less than half of that—and, currently, there are only about 1,600 natural-gas refueling stations across the country, compared with 200,000 gasoline stations.

If your home uses natural gas, you could buy a home filling station at a cost of about $2,000 plus installation. While home filling stations can further reduce fuel costs to substantially below $2 per gallon, the devices take about 4 hours to replenish the fuel consumed by only 50 miles of driving. So much for gas-and-go.

Moving past the personal expense and inconvenience, the broader implications of natural-gas cars are worrisome.

The U.S. currently uses about 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year. Like all commodities, the price of natural gas is supply-and-demand dependent.

Switching just 10 percent of the U.S. car fleet to natural gas would dramatically increase our consumption of natural gas by about 8 percent (1.9 trillion cubic feet)—an amount that is slightly less than one-half of all current residential natural gas usage and one-quarter of all industrial usage.

The price ramifications of such a demand spike would likely be significant. The current cost advantage of natural gas over gasoline could easily be reversed. Our move toward energy independence could also be compromised.

Domestic production of natural gas has not kept pace with rapidly increasing demand. Consequently, about 15 percent of our natural gas must now be imported.

Without more domestic gas drilling, additional demand will need to be met with natural gas imported by pipeline and in liquefied form from the very same foreign sources that T. Boone Pickens rails about in the context of oil.

In its most recent annual outlook, the U.S. Department of Energy projects that the U.S. natural-gas market will become more integrated with natural-gas markets worldwide as the U.S. becomes more dependent on imported liquefied natural gas—causing greater uncertainty in future U.S. natural-gas prices.

The natural-gas supply problem will be additionally magnified if significant greenhouse-gas regulation is enacted.

Here’s how: Currently, when natural gas gets too expensive, electric utilities often substitute coal or cheaper fuels for power generation.

Under a greenhouse-gas regulation scheme, however, inexpensive coal might no longer be an alternative because of the significantly greater greenhouse-gas emissions involved with its combustion.

Utilities, and ultimately consumers, could easily find themselves at the mercy of natural-gas barons—like T. Boone Pickens himself, a large investor in natural gas.

Is that the real “Pickens Plan?”

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
**Link to this article alone ** Posted under the categories(s): Steven Milloy Joel Johannesen on TwitterFollow Joel Johannesen on Twitter

Cholesterol Drug Scare Shenanigans

Why is the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine encouraging a cancer scare over the cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin? Is he overcompensating for past bad behavior?

Prescribed for millions of patients, Vytorin is a single pill that combines the cholesterol-lowering medicines Zocor and Zetia. Its popularity declined in early 2008 after several studies questioned whether Vytorin produced any health benefit and a panel of cardiologists recommended that the drug be used only as a last resort.

Then, in July, a Norwegian researcher reported that, in a clinical trial known as SEAS, 102 patients taking Vytorin developed cancer, compared with 67 patients taking a placebo—a statistically significant result indicating that chance could be ruled out with some degree of confidence as the cause.

Drug companies Merck and Schering-Plough, the makers of Zocor and Zetia, respectively, subsequently commissioned famed epidemiologist Richard Peto of Oxford University to evaluate the SEAS results. Those findings were published this week on the Web site of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Based on his review of SEAS and two other ongoing Vytorin trials (called SHARP and IMPROVE-IT), Peto concluded that the trials provided no credible link between Vytorin and cancer risk, although follow-up would be needed to make a more reliable determination.

Peto based his conclusion on the fact that in the SEAS trial, there were no statistically significant increases in any specific type of cancer; the statistically significant result occurred only by adding all cancers together. Moreover, for the three specific cancers with reported risks closest to attaining statistical significance in the SEAS trial—skin, stomach and prostate—the results were precisely the opposite of what occurred in the SHARP and IMPROVE-IT trials. That is, in those trials, placebo patients had higher rates of cancer at those sites than did Vytorin users.

Additionally, Peto found no increase in risk of cancer over time in the three trials—generally, cancer risk increases with increasing exposure to a cancer-causing substance. This observation, he acknowledged, will also require more follow-up, since the patients in the trials have been followed for only a few years.

Although more Vytorin users than placebo patients died from cancer in all three trials, the result was only statistically significant in the SEAS trial. But Peto dismissed the SEAS result, since it was what had generated all the controversy in the first place and so couldn’t be used to verify the validity of a link between Vytorin and cancer. More telling than overall cancer deaths, however, was the lack of a statistically significant excess number of deaths from any specific type of cancer.

Though the available data don’t absolutely prove that Vytorin doesn’t increase cancer risk, there seems to be no good reason to think that it does—unless you’re the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In an editorial accompanying the Peto analysis, editor Jeffrey Drazen wrote that, “Although the Oxford group may ultimately prove to be correct, it is appropriate to raise a note of caution.” Without providing any back-up scientific data, Drazen then speculated that since Vytorin works by interfering with the gastrointestinal absorption of cholesterol, it might also interfere with the absorption of other unnamed molecular entities that “could conceivably affect the growth of cancer cells.” Drazen also was unwilling to cede that higher cancer death rate of Zetia patients was simply due to chance “until further data are in.”

But the main reason that Drazen is simply wrong about keeping the Vytorin cancer scare on life support is that there’s no evidence whatsoever that the drug is associated with any specific form of cancer at any specific site.

For example, excessive smoking is associated with lung cancer, and occupational asbestos exposure is associated with mesothelioma. But given a specific route of exposure, no potential carcinogen is known to cause cancer at multiple sites on a random or haphazard basis. Aggregating different cancers into a catch-all “all cancer” category simply lacks demonstrable biological plausibility.

Drazen’s insistence on waiting for more data on cancer deaths is similarly nonsensical. Vytorin would first need to be associated with an increased risk of a death from a specific form of cancer—a notion clearly contradicted by the data so far.

None of this should be controversial or new to Drazen. So what’s up with him?

Prior to becoming editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Drazen had close ties with many drug companies—and once got into trouble because of them.

In March 1999, the Food and Drug Administration found that Drazen made “false and misleading” statements about the safety and efficacy of the asthma drug levalbuterol made by Sepracor—a drug company that hired Drazen to review two studies on the drug and then to comment to a company interviewer. Needless to say, given this past, his NEJM appointment was somewhat controversial.

So since becoming editor, Drazen has seemingly gone out of his way to turn against the hand that once fed him. In a May 2005 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Medical Editor Turns Activist On Drug Trials,” former NEJM editor Marcia Angell said that, “[Drazen’s] been converted. Through painful experience, Jeff is learning what these companies are about. He sees the ugly side that he hadn’t seen before—the bias that company-sponsored research contains, the suppression of results that they don’t like, the spin of unfavorable results.” Dr. Angell would apparently have us believe that Sepracor forced or tricked Drazen into saying “false and misleading” things about their drug.

So now it seems that instead of pro-drug company bias and spin, Drazen now leans toward anti-drug company bias and spin. Imagine if Drazen were just to stick to science in the first place. He wouldn’t have to worry about shifting alliances to atone for his mistakes.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
**Link to this article alone ** Posted under the categories(s): Steven Milloy Joel Johannesen on TwitterFollow Joel Johannesen on Twitter

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