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Policy: Environment & Energy

How the EPA's empire-building got in the way of its science

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Climate Change,EPA,Jimmy Carter,Richard Nixon,Energy and Environment,Global Warming

The Environmental Protection Agency is completely bipartisan in only one respect: its uncontrollable rogue insistence on empire-building.

Democratic and Republican EPA administrators have been infected with that endemic disease of bureaucrats -- the irresistible urge to expand a department's size, budget and authority by asserting control over more and more key missions and initiatives.

It's an old problem of democracies: Pericles, charismatic general and leader of ancient Athens, outraged his Greek allies by sending officials to appropriate their joint military treasury so he could use their money to beautify his city with the Parthenon and other civic glories.

Today, President Obama's EPA holds the United States imperial championship with 2,827 new taxpayer-funded regulations filling 24,915 pages of the Federal Register -- 38 times more space than the Gutenberg Bible, which took up only 1,282 pages, says CNS News.

But Republicans bear the onus for EPA's most disastrous decision, which came immediately after President Richard Nixon created the agency with Reorganization Order No. 3 in 1970.

First thing out of the box, newly minted EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus -- a respected attorney and excellent manager -- faced a world-changing decision: whether to ban DDT, the miracle insect killer that wiped out malaria in America.

Ruckelshaus inherited authority over pesticides from the Agriculture Department, so the fledgling EPA's first order of business was the DDT issue.

EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney held testimony hearings for seven months, concluding that DDT “does not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds, or other wildlife,” “is not a carcinogenic hazard to man" and that "there is a present need for the essential uses of DDT."

Ruckelshaus did not attend a single hearing or read Sweeney's report, but he clearly heard from readers of Rachel Carson's anti-pesticide mind-killer Silent Spring, from the old-line bird-protecting National Audubon Society and the new (1967) Environmental Defense Fund.

Ruckelshaus was a member of Audubon and later of the Environmental Defense Fund. He overruled Sweeney's decision and issued the ban, asserting that DDT was a “potential human carcinogen,” thus beginning EPA’s rogue disregard of court decisions — empire-building on the march.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to ask Ruckelshaus face-to-face about his decision: Was it political? He told me, “Yes, it was completely political. It was the right thing to do.”

Millions of Third World victims of malaria would disagree if the Republican DDT ban hadn’t killed them.

I contacted Alan Moghissi, who has a doctoral degree in physical chemistry, for his assessment of the EPA's bipartisan problems. He was there at the EPA's beginning -- a veritable charter member -- and has become legendary as a regulator for demanding accountability of the science used by policy makers. He served as EPA's principal science adviser for radiation and hazardous materials and as manager of the agency's Health and Environmental Risk Analysis Program, and has since been in high positions with several universities.

He developed the “Best Available Science” concept and its “metrics for evaluation of scientific claims,” which are notably absent from today's EPA: open-mindedness, skepticism, universal scientific principles, transparency and reproducibility.

Moghissi praised Ruckelshaus for establishing seven fundamental principles for running the EPA (which the boss preached but didn’t practice), including “Scientific decisions must be free of non-scientific influences.” If today’s EPA “climate scientists” had to obey that, they’d be jobless.

Most dismal, the Ruckelshaus dictum that “Governmental actions must be based on sound science” has degenerated into “noisy science.”

Moghissi pointed to specifically bipartisan empire-building: “During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, I became involved in 'The Harvard Six Cities Study' of the association between air pollution and mortality,” he said. The study concluded that “air pollution was positively associated with death from lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease,” fodder for blanket regulations.

Moghissi pointed out that the study’s theoretical model assumed that “the inhalation of any amount of particles causes adverse effects.” Even though the study allowed for different effects from different kinds of pollution and only claimed “association” but not causation, Moghissi found the model’s assumption appalling, because it ignores a basic premise of epidemiology, “the dose makes the poison,” called “the dose-response curve.”

So what? Pollution is pollution.

No, it’s not.

Don’t faint, it’s not rocket science, it’s common experience. Think of salt: Get too little salt and you die of heat exhaustion or congestive heart failure; get the right amount and you’re healthy; get too much and you die of high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. The dose makes the poison.

Just because high levels of exposure cause an effect does not imply that any level at all will cause the same effect — like salt doesn't. If you don’t explain that to the media, you scare people, you’re a fear merchant.

Moghissi cited bipartisan empire-building in government climate science: It only blames CO2 for “dangerous man-made climate change” because it can be regulated and ignores the 800-pound gorilla of greenhouse gases, water, because it can't. The omission is justified with a bland assumption that they know all about it.

Moghissi said, “Water plays a significant role in the global climate. However, water occurs as vapor and as particulate [clouds]. Researchers assume that globally on the average the ratio between vapor and particles is constant. Where is the evidence?”

Evidence-free science is the hallmark of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all the dead minds that follow it. When you can’t tell the difference between science and politics, what do you need evidence for?

Moghissi is still trying to convince governments to honor the metrics for evaluation of scientific claims: open-mind­edness, skepticism, universal scientific principles, transparency and reproducibility.

If you want to confound a climate-change believer, just suggest they abide by any one of those things.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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Ron Arnold

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