By Ghost of John Brown
We've all heard the common phrase "Figures Lie and Liars Figure". Never has that phrase been quite so appropriate as with this Administration's Environmental Protection Agency. Recently, Environment Illinois sent out a press release that claims the recently implemented "Cross-State Air Pollution Rule" will result in 2,000 fewer people in Illinois taking a dirt nap and as many as 34,000 nationally. Wow, that seems pretty significant. Imagine if we could save the entire population of Danville, Elk Grove Village or Northbrook every year. Just by the stoke of a pen in Washington DC, they can save thousands of lives.
Any time I see "facts" that are just thrown out there so breathlessly, it sends off alarm bells in my head. Click below the fold to see these figures lie.
Numbers like "34,000 annual deaths prevented" are thrown out by agencies like this and they are endlessly repeated as gospel. Do a Google search for 34,000 deaths, and you'll see an endless loop that goes back to the EPA statements, but very little about where the numbers actually came from. Very few reporters try to figure out if the claim is accurate. Instead, they just re-type the press release and go on to the next story and the public believes the claim to be accurate.
Digging a little deeper (cause that's what you pay me to do), the basis for all of the hoopla in Washington, DC and within the hallowed halls of environmental think tanks like Environment Illinois and their confidence that the Cross-State rule will save so many lives comes from the reduction in fine particulate matter.
The origin of this concern is the 1963 Clean Air Act and subsequent amendments in 1970, 1977 and 1990. As with most grand pieces of legislation, the Clean Air Act left some aspects of implementation rather nebulous and required the agencies to come up with certain rules. The 1970 Clean Air Act Extension established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). In 1997, the Clinton Administration expanded the NAAQS to include fine particulate matter.
So, let's look at the basis for the concern in fine particulate matter.
As with most federal regulation (and ambulance chasing lawsuits) their origin lies in some study that determines a problem. In the case of fine particulate matter, we have to travel to Vineyard, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. (note, a significant portion of the following comes from "Polluted Science", Reason Magazine, August/September 1997. I would encourage you to click on the link and read the entire article)
Much like the more famous valleys in Los Angeles, the Utah Valley occasionally has air inversions. The Wasatch Mountains to the east trap the flow of air and the valley is covered with a haze. In the late 1980's the Geneva Steel Mill shutdown due to a strike. An enterprising economist at Brigham Young University, C. Arden Pope, decided to look at the health effects of the plant shutdown. (remember, I said he was an economist) Mr. Pope came to the conclusion that half to 80% of the particulate pollution in the valley came from the Geneva Steel Mill. He compared the PM10 (Particulate Matter at 10 microns) to the hospital admissions. He came to the startling discovery that "children's admissions were two to three times higher" when the mill was open than when it was closed.
Wow - lets just stop right there and close all the steel plants why don't we.
Sorry to get you all alarmed with that last sentence, I don't know what I was thinking. Contrary to Mr. Pope's "research", Dr. Joseph Lyons, M.D., and a professor of epidemiology (someone that knows something about medicine instead of just being an economist), stated that "Every other year, the Utah Valley has an epidemic of viral bronchiolitis, an infection of the tiniest tubes in the lungs". It raises hospitalization rates dramatically. Then the steel mill was closed, it just happened to be a low year for the disease. Thus, voila, there were fewer hospitalizations due to respiratory problems. So, what appeared to be a great correlation between particulate matter and ill health effects was really due to other causes. Just because A=B and B=C, it doesn't mean that A=C. I know, I know, in math it does, but not in epidemiology. Remember, C. Arden Pope was an economist, so he likes math
But it doesn't stop there. Mr. Pope became somewhat of a celebrity. We all know what happens with celebrity researchers - they get money for more junk studies.
In 1993, Mr. Pope joined forces with researchers from Harvard and the completed what is referred to as the "Six Cities Study". The Six Cities study looked at the comparison of air pollution levels and premature deaths in six cities across the country. The study found that in cities with higher levels of pollution, there were higher levels of premature death. For instance, they compared Steubenville, OH (approximately 30 miles west of Pittsburgh, PA) and Portage, Wisconsin (approximately 30 miles north of Madison). Steubenville was the most polluted city and Portage was the cleanest city. Their study showed that Steubenville had a 26% higher mortality rate than Portage. If that was the only statistic that we looked at, we should all jump up and down for clean air.
What the researchers kind of don't want to talk about, though, is that if you only compare the mortality rate of nonsmokers, there is no statistically significant difference in deaths between the two cities. Moreover, there was no difference if you exclude people with occupational exposure to gases, fumes or dust. Hmmmm, kind of important, don't you think?
So, the general basis of the report was if you look at these really clean cities, people live longer, so it is all about clean air, even though they left out significant issues. The Six Cities Study and similar studies largely completed by the same researchers or using the same data sets, is the basis for saving "34,000 deaths annually".
There are a number of other fallacies to these "studies" which are included in the Reason Magazine article such as controlling for temperature, and the fact that if one pollutant is increasing, all of them are which begs the question "how do you know which one it is?"
The fuzzy basis for the correlation between particulate matter and mortality makes the purported 34,000 annual deaths about as real as Milli Vanilli's singing ability.
Air Is Improving Anyway
Despite the call for stricter standards, air quality has been improving over the last few decades anyway. PM10 (particulate matter at 10 microns) has decreased in the southeast, industrial midwest and northeast from 25-29% between 1988 and 2003. In fact, most of the country is only at about half of the National Standard. PM2.5 has similarly decreased over the same time frame from 1-20% with every area in the country except for Southern California below the national standard. So, we are already below the national standards even without the new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
Kind of interesting that the only area of the County that doesn't meet the current standards, Southern California is not going to be required to follow the new Cross State rules. You don't suppose it has anything to do with the fact that it is a Democrat state and it has the most electoral votes, do you?
At What Cost?
The new rule will focus attention on power plants. The Cross-State Rule will require power plants to install scrubbers and other air quality devices. The cost for these improvements can be hundreds of millions of dollars PER plant. Think your electric bill is too high already? Haha - you haven't seen anything yet. The rules are so onerous that many plants will just close instead of implementing expensive requirements.
At a time when jobs are being lost, and inflation is on the way, the EPA, by the fiat of new rule implementation, will cause electric rates to rise and will shutter thousands of jobs. This, even though the analysis is based on junk science.
One of the largest electric power producers in the Country, American Electric Power has estimated that they will spend $6-8 billion dollars upgrading plants and electricity costs will increase by 10-35%.
Then candidate Obama promised us that he would bankrupt the coal industry, and by golly, he's trying.
We've found one thing that Obama didn't lie about to us.
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