TSR Extra - Recess Notes 2002:

Answers to Common Environmental Questions

 


DATE:
July 23, 2002

BACKGROUND: As members of the House and Senate head home for the August recess, many important issues regarding energy and the environment will be on constituents' minds. Here are succinct responses to common questions in the areas of:

I. global warming
II. energy
III. nuclear energy
IV. wildfires
V. land use
VI. air and water quality
VII. biodiversity and endangered species

 


 

I. Global Warming

 

Issue: George W. Bush killed the Kyoto Protocol.

Response 1: President Bush did not kill the Kyoto Protocol. It was dead when he took office. Senate Res. 98, approved 95-0 on July 25, 1997, states that the Senate will not ratify any climate treaty that would harm the U.S. economy or fails to require developing nations to reduce emissions. Kyoto fails both tests. The President simply recognized these facts.

Response 2: President Clinton signed appropriations bills in 1999, 2000 and 2001 prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from using any funds to "issue rules, regulations, decrees of orders for the purpose of implementation, or in preparation for implementation, of the Kyoto Protocol" until the Protocol is ratified by the Senate.

 

Issue: Emissions reductions demanded by the Kyoto Protocol would have had few economic effects.

Response: The Kyoto Protocol would have had a devastating affect on the U.S. economy, according to very conservative projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. They estimate gasoline prices would have risen 14 to 66 cents per gallon by the year 2010, electricity would have gone up 20 to 86 percent and gross domestic product would have fallen.

Other experts have predicted the output of energy intensive products, such as steel, chemicals, paper and cars would have fallen by as much as 15 percent. Such sweeping changes would cost the jobs of millions of Americans. That is why responsible leaders, such as Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, and James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union, have expressed grave concerns about the Protocol.

 

Issue: The burdens of meeting the demands of the Kyoto Protocol are distributed fairly.

Response 1: No, the burdens of meeting the demands of Kyoto would have fallen most heavily on minorities. A study commissioned by six African-American and Hispanic organizations found that the increased costs forced by the Protocol would have cut minority income by 10 percent (white incomes would go down only 4.5 percent) and 864,000 black Americans and 511,000 Hispanics would have lost their jobs.

Response 2: Undeveloped countries such as China, India and Brazil are exempted from the Kyoto Protocol. However, these three countries alone are projected to produce 16 percent more carbon dioxide by the year 2020 than the U.S., even if the Protocol is not in place.

 

Issue: We have already seen man-caused global warming in this century.

Response: Actually, we have seen no sign of man-induced global warming at all. The computer models used in U.N. studies say the first area to heat under the "greenhouse gas effect" should be the lower atmosphere, known as the troposphere. Highly accurate, carefully-checked satellite data have shown absolutely no warming. There has been surface warming of about half a degree Celsius, but this is far below the customary natural swings in surface temperatures.

 

Issue: Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are the primary cause of global warming.

Response: There are many indications that carbon dioxide does not play a significant role in global warming. Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel on climate change, estimates that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would produce a temperature increase of only one degree Celsius.

In fact, clouds and water vapor appear to be far greater factors related to global temperature. According to Lindzen and scientists at NASA, clouds and water vapor may play a significant role in regulating the earth's temperature to keep it relatively constant.


Issue: The science on global warming is conclusive. CNN reported that a prestigious 2001 National Academy of Sciences report represented "a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse and is due to man. There is no wiggle room."

Response: The CNN report was inaccurate. Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of 11 scientists who prepared the report, has said so, repeatedly. As he has said, there were a wide variety of scientific views to be presented in that report and, "the full report did, making clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them." It should be added that the same is true of all of the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change studies on which the notion of global warming is based. Journalists who claim that studies reporting a diversity of opinion are unanimous or nearly so are guilty of false reporting.

 

Issue: Even if the science on global warming isn't certain, we should abide by the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol anyway, as a precaution.

Response 1: No. We must never base environmental actions on anything but sound science. We have ample experience of doing more harm than good with environmental regulations based on unsure science. For example, the Clean Air Act mandated oxygenates in gasoline and we ended up with no improvement in air quality but now have the oxygenate MTBE polluting water wells in 31 states.

Response 2: We should not take actions that may be unnecessary but will certainly increase poverty. As economist Walter Williams of George Mason University has observed, "As you look around the world, it is poverty, as opposed to dirty air, that has implications for health."

 

Issue: We should at least set up programs for voluntarily cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

Response: The federal government has no statutory authority for regulating carbon dioxide since it is not classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

 

Issue: Many large companies support the Kyoto Protocol and restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.

Response: You have to ask yourself why. As the economist Walter Williams of George Mason University has said, "Companies can use the law and regulation to accomplish what they cannot accomplish in the market. If I'm a CEO, without principle, of a company that produces gasoline products and I see another company that wants to drill for oil off Santa Monica, I would surely contribute to an environmental group that would tie my competitor up in court, thereby gaining for me a greater market advantage." The same reason, or other reasons completely unrelated to global warming, might motivate calls for carbon dioxide emissions.

 

Issue: Still, the warming we have seen so far is unprecedented.

Response: Actually, no. A thousand years ago, the earth was in a very warm period, but around 1300 A.D. the Northern Hemisphere entered an ice age. Over the last 200 years, the earth has been steadily warming. Just 30 years ago, there was great concern about global cooling.

 

Issue: But what about those computer models showing global warming? They can't all be wrong.

Response: They have been wrong ­ continually. In 1988, the IPCC computer models predicted temperatures would rise 0.8 degrees Celsius per decade. By 1990, the estimates were down to 0.3 degrees and by 1995, it was 0.2 degrees. So, the recent changes of estimates are nothing new nor are they any more likely to be right. In fact, none of the predicted warming has occurred.
In addition, the computer models leave out a wide variety of major climate mechanisms, including clouds. Most notably, they leave out a natural heat vent phenomenon over the South Pacific that appears to have a self-regulating effect of the earth's temperature.

 

 

II. Energy

 

Issue: Both the Senate and the House passed energy bills. Why hasn't a final bill become law?

Response: They are mired in the House/Senate conference committee where members are trying to find a compromise between them. The bills are so different that it is possible no compromise will be reached.

 

Issue: We need an energy bill. Relying on the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, for our oil just makes no sense. We are supporting our enemies.

Response: Unfortunately, right. The problem is the current bills, particularly the Senate version, have anti-energy provisions. The Senate bill would reduce available energy and implement many provisions of the Kyoto Protocol that are harmful to our economy.

 

Issue: Weren't we going to explore for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

Response: That was the President's original plan and it received strong support in the House. However, Senate Democrats have been strongly opposed to drilling in ANWR and Majority Leader Tom Daschle refuses to compromise on the matter.

 

Issue: Isn't it best if we don't drill in ANWR? It could cause serious harm to the environment and provide very little oil.

Response: During the Clinton Administration, the Department of Energy released the publication "Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Technology" in October 1999. The report said oil and gas drilling can be done in a very environmentally-sensitive manner. It also reported that oil and gas drilling sometimes can aid the environment. The claim that ANWR only holds six months of oil is misleading at best. That statistic requires an assumption that the United States would rely solely on oil from ANWR and exclude all other sources of oil, foreign and domestic, during that entire six-month period. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that ANWR holds between 5.7-16 billion barrels of oil. This is enough to replace half of what we currently import from the entire Persian Gulf region for 36 years, or could replace what we now import from Saudi Arabia for almost 30 years.

 

Issue: We should be using clean, renewable energy sources such as wind generators and solar power anyway. That's the way to environmentally safe energy independence.

Response: Unfortunately, there is little likelihood of wind or solar power ever producing any meaningful power in the near future. While a conventional gas-fired 500 megawatt power plant requires just 55 acres of land, including drill rigs and pipelines, to produce the same power with wind or solar requires staggering amounts of space. You would need 6,720 acres of solar panels and 29,250 acres of windmills; not something most of us would want in our back yards.

 

 

III. Nuclear Energy

 

Issue: Some people want us to use more nuclear energy but it's just not safe. We don't need a Chernobyl in the U.S.

Response: Nuclear energy is probably our safest source of power. There has never been a harmful release of radioactivity from a U.S. nuclear plant. Chernobyl released radiation because there was an intense fire in the graphite used to control the plant's nuclear reaction. All American nuclear power plants use water for this process instead of graphite.

 

Issue: We did have a dangerous accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant.

Response: In fact, the incident at Three Mile Island was a testimony to the safety of nuclear plants. After the incident, investigators found it had been a true melt-down - what amounts to a worst case scenario for a nuclear plant ­ and that many of the actions taken by the operators to resolve the problem were incorrect. Yet, the plant safely shut itself down and there was no release of radiation and no injuries.

 

Issue: Now Congress has voted to ship all our nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada, shipping this deadly material will make it a perfect target for terrorists, what critics call a "mobile Chernobyl."

Response 1: Shipping used nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain is extremely safe. We have made thousands of similar shipments over the years without a single release of radiation.

Response 2: The casks in which nuclear material is shipped would make a most unlikely and unproductive target for any terrorist. They are incredibly strong, tested to withstand 80 mph truck and train crashes and intense fire. Even a perfect hit by an anti-tank missile, a nearly impossible task, would not cause a significant spill of material. Gasoline tankers and many other targets are more vulnerable.


Issue: Yucca Mountain still isn't big enough to store all our nuclear waste and besides, nothing can be safe for 20,000 years.

Response: Both of those problems will be resolved by proven new technology - reprocessing of nuclear fuel and advanced fast reactors. When fuel is shipped to Yucca Mountain, more than 95 percent of its energy remains. These processes will enable us to use that fuel repeatedly, resulting in less waste and waste that has to be stored for only a few hundred years.

 

 

IV. Wildfires

 

Issue: Wildfires are a common natural occurrence.

Response: Not the kind of wildfires we have today. Build-up of fuel due to poor forest management has led to a dramatic build-up of fuel that makes these fires hotter and harder to put out.

 

Issue: We should just let these fires burn. That will solve our wildfire problem long-term.

Response: Actually, the reverse is true. These hot "monster" fires burn hundreds of thousands of acres. Nearly 4 million acres have burned already this year, double what normally burns by this date. Years from now, this will result in vast tracks of dense forests of trees that are all the same age. According to forestry expert Dr. Tom Bonnicksen of Texas A&M, these forests will provide the torches for much larger fires in the future.

 

Issue: But we can't return to the old days of heavy logging. We were destroying our forests.

Response: Logging was actually preserving our forests by reducing the fuel load. The last time we harvested more timber than we grew was 1933. Yet, during the period from the early thirties to the early sixties, careful forest management that included logging, reduced the number of acres burned per year from nearly 50 million to less than three million. This year, in our national forests, we will harvest only a few hundred thousand acres of trees while millions of acres are needlessly lost to fires.

Since we have a policy of suppressing fires, logging is an important part of the process of reducing fuel supplies that feed monster fires.

 

Issue: Droughts, not mismanagement, are responsible for forest fires.

Response: Droughts certainly play a role. However, there have been many droughts in the past, particularly in the West, that produced only a fraction of the fire devastation we see today. The fact is that the Clinton Administration, at the urging of environmentalists, reduced logging in our national forests by 90 percent, throwing virtually whole towns out of work and helping to produce the severe fuel build-ups that make fires nearly impossible to fight. The George W. Bush Administration has not yet reversed this flawed policy.

 

Issue: The Clinton Administration "Roadless Rule" that put 58 million acres off-limits to road building saved much of our national forests.

Response: Actually, it put many of these areas in jeopardy. Areas most at risk for monster wildfires need roads for transportation and to act as fire breaks. Fires are best fought by firefighters on the ground with fire trucks. Fire trucks can't fly. Decisions on forests, like nearly all others, are best made at the local level, not by bureaucrats pressured by environmentalists working behind the scenes in Washington.

 

 

V. Land Use

 

Issue: "Smart growth" urban planning policies are reasonable land-use measures that combat the ills of urban sprawl without harming Americans' standard of living.

Response: Smart growth measures such as urban growth boundaries and restrictive zoning practices inflate housing prices and could deprive millions of Americans of homeownership.


Issue: Limiting development of housing in suburban areas is a good way to reduce the fiscal burden on local governments.

Response: So-called "smart-growth" policies are aimed at reducing development in the suburbs. However, these policies make housing less affordable and restrict housing options for working families. For instance, in the 1990s, the number of jobs in the northern Virginia region increased by 412,000, but the number of dwellings grew by just 204,000. Using the standard of 1.6 workers per home, that is a shortage of approximately 53,500 homes. This housing shortage actually increases the fiscal burden on local governments because it forces many low-income families to rely on public housing assistance.


Issue: Still we can't afford to lose any more open land.

Response: Today, only five percent of the land mass of the United States has been developed. And, throughout most of this century, we have been taking farm land out of production as farming has become more efficient. All the while, our forest lands have been increasing. Fears of "using up" our land seem intended to force suburbanites and rural people into cities.

 

Issue: It doesn't seem right for the federal government to give rural communities money in through the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program.

Response: It is an issue of fairness that makes perfect sense. When these communities' lands were federalized, they lost their tax base. In view of this, Congress made the federal government a "taxpayer" through the PILT program. These payments provide for schools, roads and other basic services.

The problem is that the government hasn't been a very conscientious taxpayer. The PILT program has never been fully funded (paying the communities the same as if the land was on the tax roles). While it would require $343 million per year to fully fund PILT, the White House asked for just $165 million in this year's budget. The House raised that amount to $230 million; better but still far short of what it should be. Perhaps the Interior Department, which administers these funds, should be less interested in buying more land and more interested in paying Americans first.


VI. Air and Water Quality

 

Issue: Air quality in this country is getting steadily worse.

Response: Air quality has been getting steadily better since the 1970s. Aggregate emissions of the six "criteria" pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act have fallen by 64 percent since 1970.

 

Issue: Air Quality Index (AQI) levels, which measure the amount of pollutants in the air, are rising toward dangerous levels in major cities across the nation, exposing people to more days of poor air quality.

Response: According to EPA statistics, AQI rates are significantly lower today than in the past, and extreme progress was made during the last decade. In 1990, Los Angeles had 173 days in which the AQI was listed as unhealthy. In 2000, there were only 18 unhealthy AQI days. In New York, the number of days of unhealthy AQI ratings dropped from 36 to one between 1990 and 2000. The number of unhealthy days in Las Vegas fell from 21 to zero, while San Diego reduced the number of unhealthy days from 93 to three. Washington D.C. had 25 unhealthy days in 1990 yet there were only two reported in 2000. Atlanta also reduced the number of unhealthy days, going from 42 in 1990 to only eight in 2000.

 

Issue: The increase in the number of cases of asthma over the last 20 years is caused by air pollution.

Response: Over the last 30 years, air quality has improved at the same time as incidences of asthma increased. This casts doubt on the correlation between air quality and asthma. Scientists have found asthma is largely related to genetics. Although air pollution can make conditions worse for asthma sufferers, it does not cause the condition.

 

Issue: We are running out of water.

Response: The amount of water in our ecosystem will always be the same. Water is constantly recycled through evaporation and precipitation. According to Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw in their book, Facts not Fear: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children about the Environment, the Earth "has more than enough water to meet human demands [the problem is that] water is often found in the wrong place at the wrong time." Our challenge is to resolve some of these logistical problems.


Issue: We must reduce our dependence on oil because oil spills are ecological disasters, and their effects last decades.

Response: A 1990 study conducted by the Congressional Research Service found that, while the immediate impact of an oil spill on marine animals is dramatic, the overall impact of spills has been "modest and of relatively short duration."

 

Issue: Instances of toxic release of chemicals into the environment in the United States are increasing.

Response: Since 1988, there has been a 45 percent reduction in toxic releases, which amounts to a reduction of approximately 1.5 billion pounds. Also, the chemical industry has reduced toxic releases by 56.8 percent since 1988, and five percent in 1998 alone, according to the Pacific Research Institute.

 

 

VII. Biodiversity and Endangered Species

 

Issue: Species are going extinct at an alarming rate. 40,000 species become extinct every year or approximately 110 per day.

Response: The original estimate, made in 1979 by Norman Myers in his book The Sinking Ark, was based on the assumption that 1 million species would become extinct in 25 years. This works out to 40,000 extinct species per year. The fact is we don't even know the exact number of species on earth - estimates suggest anything from 1.6 million and 80 million - let alone the number that have or will become extinct.

 

Issue: The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been successful.

Response: Of 1,254 animal and plant species listed as endangered since the ESA was enacted in 1973, only 29 have been removed from the list, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Only 13 listed species have actually recovered, however, since twelve were taken off the list due to either erroneous population counts or data entry errors. Only seven listed species have become extinct. This amounts to a one percent recovery rate over almost 30 years.

 

Issue: We should save old growth forests for the spotted owl because it helps other birds and animals as well.

Response: Not necessarily. Not allowing clear cutting or thinning of forests because of one species can be detrimental to others. For instance, by restricting logging of old growth forests to protect the habitat of the spotted owl, other birds such as the golden winged warbler, ruffed grouse and Eastern towhee are deprived of the new young forest growth they need to survive.


 

by Tom Randall and Gretchen Randall
Co-Directors, John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, The National Center for Public Policy Research

Issue Date: July 23, 2002

Contact the authors at
The National Center for Public Policy Research, Chicago office
3712 North Broadway - PMB 279
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 857-5086 or [email protected] or [email protected]

Or through The National Center for Public Policy Research's headquarters:
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 543-4110 fax (202) 543-5975
[email protected] http://www.nationalcenter.org