Brought to You by www.SEPP.org, The Science and Environmental Policy Project
By Ken Haapala, President
Transparency in Regulatory Science: On August 16, the EPA comment period closed on proposed rules to ensure transparency in science used for regulations called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” Harvard University roared against the proposed rules claiming the rules would “drastically limit the scientific and medical knowledge that underlies a host of EPA regulations that protect human health.”
According to the Harvard Gazette the letter signed by 96 officials of the school included, “Harvard President Larry Bacow, the deans of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the presidents of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear. It says that the EPA’s push to require studies to reveal the material that supports their conclusions would bar the best available science from being considered in the regulatory process.” TWTW was unable to find the latest letter, but a June 4 letter from then Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust highlighted the key issue.
“…The proposed rule, with its prohibition against EPA reliance on any study where personally identifiable data cannot be made public, effectively disqualifies the best available science from use in the regulatory process.
“The landmark Harvard Six Cities study is one such example. Published in 1993, Six Cities revealed a strong link between air pollution and life expectancy. The study, and others that followed, served as the basis for federal regulations that have reduced fine particulate matter in the air we breathe, and the long-term analyses published since these regulations were implemented indicate that the long-term health and economic benefits have been remarkable.
“Despite these demonstrated benefits, Six Cities has repeatedly been cited as an example of ‘secret science,’ a charge that its science cannot be trusted because some of the underlying data is not available for public scrutiny.”
The 1993 Harvard Six Cities study was used by the EPA during the Clinton Administration to impose regulations on small particulate matter – PM 2.5, soot with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less – narrower than the width of a human hair. Immediately, many in the medical community questioned the study. The sample size was small, 8111 adults; the study was dependent on subjects answering questions about the past, not objective measurements of exposure; and the correlation was weak, with the strong cofounding variable of cigarette smoking. Despite what the Harvard President now states, it was weak. The study states:
Mortality rates were most strongly associated with cigarette smoking. After adjusting for smoking and other risk factors, we observed statistically significant and robust associations between air pollution and mortality. The adjusted mortality-rate ratio for the most polluted of the cities as compared with the least polluted was 1.26 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.08 to 1.47). Air pollution was positively associated with death from lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease but not with death from other causes considered together. Mortality was most strongly associated with air pollution with fine particulates, including sulfates. [Boldface added]
Although the effects of other, unmeasured risk factors cannot be excluded with certainty, these results suggest that fine-particulate air pollution, or a more complex pollution mixture associated with fine particulate matter, contributes to excess mortality in certain U.S. cities.”
Compounding the problem was the arrogance of the researchers who dismissed any questioning of their work, including adjustments. The entire issue is a classic in bureaucratic science. Officials at the EPA during the Obama Administration used PM2.5 to claim that clean burning, coal -fired power plants were killing thousands of people (no death certificates). The UN World Health Organization has made similar claims on flimsy evidence.
Ironically, according to the Harvard Gazette the new letter contains the statement:
Data transparency does not guarantee valid, high-quality science. In the scientific community, study quality is judged not by transparency but by scientific methodology and the rigor with which studies are conducted.
This is true. Nothing guarantees valid, high-quality science, including the source of the studies, be they from government agencies, universities, or individuals. Other entities repeating the same errors does not improve on the science. It is the constant testing of assumptions and methodology against hard evidence that improves on the quality of the science.
According to its Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2017, the University received $618 million in Federally sponsored support, or 12.6% of its operating revenue of $4.9 billion. These moneys neither support nor taint the research. They give an indication why the University is objecting so rigorously to new rules requiring transparency in EPA regulations. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy,
Quote of the Week: “The greatest enemy of discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel Joseph Boorstin [H/t Gordon Fulks]
SEPP’s Comment on Transparency: On August 16, SEPP submitted the following comment to the EPA:
“RE: Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OA–2018–0259
Proposed Rule to Strengthen Science Transparency in EPA Regulations
“We strongly support transparency in all regulatory science.
“Few actions demonstrate an authoritarian attitude in government as declaring a substance may be harmful to the public but refusing to explain why. Claiming only that science supports a policy is paternalistic. This “father knows best” attitude is degrading to citizens and earns contempt towards those who use it. The failure of EPA to fully explain the science behind pronouncements regarding health and welfare is one such example. The lack of transparency in some of EPA’s public health pronouncements is inimical to the concepts of a free and open democratic republic.
“Further, the policy is anti-science. Science progresses by continually questioning and testing prior assumptions and concepts. For example, until the late 1950s, most scientists believe that space was a vacuum. Then, Eugene Parker hypothesized the sun emitted high energy, plasma and particles with variable consistency called solar wind. Opposition was strong. But during 1959-1962 Soviet, then US, spacecraft carried instruments measuring the solar wind. The errors in past thinking were corrected, and the concept of space weather advanced considerably. This is how science advances. Parker’s work is being honored by the recently launched Parker Solar Probe, the first US spacecraft named after a living person.
“By keeping details of research secret, the EPA is causing public health science to stagnate. Further, there is no reason for the public to assume the research was competently executed. Transparency is necessary for healthy scientific growth.” See links under Other Scientific News.
Dam Failure, Laos: The fear of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the fear soot from coal-fired power plants is contributing to international organizations such as the World Bank denying funding for coal-fired power plants in developing countries. Such actions leave developing countries with fewer options, such as unreliable power from wind and solar or hydropower, which can be very reliable unless there is extensive drought.
With the Mekong River running through the eastern part of the country, the government of Laos is trying to promote development by creating hydropower along its rivers and to provide revenues by selling hydropower to neighboring countries – to become “the battery of South-East Asia.” The climate is mostly tropical savanna with a monsoon climate in the southeast, which can receive heavy rains of 3,700 millimeters (150 inches) annually. The heavy rains can vary in timing and area covered.
According to western sources, there are an estimated 51 existing hydroelectric projects already operating in Laos, and 46 more under construction. Another 112 are at the development stage. In general, these are earthen dams, not reinforced concrete. Regrettably, one of the auxiliary dams in the large Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy project failed during heavy rains, resulting in numerous deaths downstream. The finger-pointing has begun. Unfortunately, one cannot expect modern western standards of safety when constructing earthen dams in developing countries. (The official number of fatalities in building the US Hoover Dam in the 1930s is 96, without a flooding issue.) See links under energy issues – Non-US.
Opposing Global Greening: Fresh after earning the wrath of the greens for its Magazine special that the science of global warming was well understood in the decade of the 1980s, an article in the New York Times claims that global greening is harmful. It begins with a photo of Kudzu, an invasive plant. A similar stunt was used in an earlier report by the US Global Change Research Program, demonstrating the USGCRP’s tendency towards propaganda. The NYT article goes on making familiar claims that additional CO2 makes plants less nutritious and that the benefits will not last. Such claims have been countered by the data collected by CO2 Science.
Writing in CFACT, physicist Will Happer, head of the CO2 Coalition, demolishes the claims in the Times article. Just like the Magazine special, the new article is short on hard evidence – perhaps termed as fact-free! See links under Social Benefits of Carbon Dioxide and Litigation Issues.
Book Review – Dumb Energy: Dispelling myths is difficult, particularly when strong vested interests profit from them. In a clearly written, short book, Norman Rogers explains why wind and solar power are “Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy.” Electricity generation from wind was invented in the 1880s, shortly after Thomas Edison opened the first electrical coal-fired power plant with the necessary infrastructure to use electricity for practical purposes. Particularly after the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, Americans demanded electric power and light. Reliable electricity became the mark of modern civilization.
In the early 20th century, systems of delivering reliable electric power, called the grid, were developed, and regulated by local and state governments. In 1935, the Federal Power Act was passed, largely written by power engineers and scientists. It recognizes the grid is an energized system of delivering power, not electrons, for the benefit of all on it. Contrary to myth, it is impossible to distinguish which electrons come from which generators and the grid does not recognize political boundaries. Reinforced by Supreme Court decisions, the Power Act divides the power industry in three categories – generation, local distribution, and transmission. States were given jurisdiction over generation and local distribution. The federal government over transmission. A large part of the costs of transmission is created by the need for stability on the grid, not than just delivering power.
Wind power was initially used in many communities and rural areas. Because wind power is inherently unreliable, it lost to the reliability of the grid. Human preference demonstrated that reliable electricity is of high-value, while unreliable electricity is of low-value. Wind power will continue to be unreliable until a low-cost system of storing electricity on a massive scale is created. Solar power has similar issues and the sun sets daily. Massive subsidies and “accounting tricks” hid the high costs of unreliable wind and solar energy from the public.
Rogers addresses many of the weaknesses of wind and solar and accounting “tricks” used to make them appear to competitive with traditional power. These include heavy subsidies in the form of tax credits that can be sold to corporations desiring to reduce their taxes. Rogers does not clarify the costs (subsidies) that transmission companies (gird operators) must pay for making the unreliable electricity reliable, raising the value of unreliable electricity.
These costs are passed on to the consumers, not the generators of unreliable electricity. Thus, the US public pays a double subsidy for unreliable energy from wind and solar. It subsidizes the capital costs of construction through tax credits, etc., and it subsidies the costs of making unreliable electricity reliable. On top of these subsidies, over half of the states require these low-value types of electrical generation.
In addition to the myth that wind and solar are a low-cost substitute for fossil fuels and hydropower, Rogers addresses many other myths about electricity and its generation. No doubt, this valuable book will receive great criticism from those who benefit from current myths. See Dumb Energy: A Critique of Wind and Solar Energy, on Amazon Books, https://www.amazon.com/Dumb-Energy-Critique-Solar-energy/dp/1732537631/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1534698523&sr=1-1&keywords=dumb+energy
Number of the Week: $43 billion. The above mentioned 2017 Financial Report for Harvard University values its investment portfolio at $43,275,926,000.
No TWTW Next Week: Ken Haapala will be attending the 36th Annual Meeting of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness next weekend, August 25 and 26, in Las Vegas. He will present SEPP’s April Fools Award to a well deserving recipient (probably not attending) and give a talk on group think (bureaucratic science) using the recently claimed acceleration in sea level rise as an example. TWTW will resume on September 1.
1. Round Up the Usual Lawyers
Attorneys relied on junk science to win $289.2 million in damages.
Editorial, WSJ, Aug 15, 2018
SUMMARY: The editorial states:
“The world’s most widely used herbicide isn’t carcinogenic, but it’s now a corporate toxin. On Friday a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289.2 million in damages for failing to give sufficient warning about the “substantial dangers” of its signature weed killer known as Roundup. Shares of Bayer, which recently acquired Monsanto, have plummeted this week in anticipation of a legal onslaught from plaintiff lawyers.
“The San Francisco Superior Court case involved Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014. Working as a school groundskeeper, Mr. Johnson routinely used Roundup, and he now claims its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused his cancer. The jury examined gory photos of the lesions that covered up to 80% of his body, and in testimony Mr. Johnson described how even wearing clothing caused excruciating pain. Such emotional testimony would elicit sympathy in any jury of human beings.
“But legal claims are supposed to be about the law and evidence. And the problem for Mr. Johnson is that there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that glyphosate does not cause cancer. One comprehensive study, published last November in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, investigated cancer incidence among nearly 45,000 licensed pesticide applicators who had been exposed to glyphosate.
“The study found ‘no evidence of an association between glyphosate use and risk of any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies’—including non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, far from a corporate shill, has likewise concluded that glyphosate is safe.
“The outlier in the scientific community is the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Over the years this group has claimed pickled vegetables and ‘very hot beverages’ may cause cancer, and its risk assessments suggest that working as a barber or hairdresser is only slightly less hazardous than being exposed to mustard gas. So it wasn’t shocking in 2015 when the group concluded that glyphosate is also “probably carcinogenic.”
A Reuters investigation later revealed that the U.N. outfit had repeatedly ignored and omitted evidence that showed no link between glyphosate and cancer. Christopher Portier, an adviser who worked on the group’s glyphosate determination, was concurrently accepting payments from Lundy & Lundy, a law firm behind several cancer-related class-action lawsuits. Lo, Mr. Portier also testified as an expert witness for Mr. Johnson.
“Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos remarked twice during the trial that the evidence for punitive damages was ‘thin,’ and Monsanto plans to push back on Friday’s verdict. In post-trial motions, the company will ask the judge to reexamine the jury’s verdict. Judge Bolanos has the authority to vacate the jury’s decision, declare a mistrial and call a new one, or reduce Monsanto’s damages. The company may also appeal to a higher court.”
The editorial continues that this is the first glyphosate lawsuit to make it to trial, but about 5,000 are filed and concludes: “Too bad there’s not a weed killer for junk lawsuits.”
2. The Phony Numbers Behind California’s Solar Mandate
A state-hired consultant lowballed the costs and assumed massive subsidies in estimating benefits.
By Steven Sexton, WSJ, Aug 12, 2018
SUMMARY: The assistant professor of public policy and economics at Duke University writes:
“California’s energy regulators effectively cooked the books to justify their recent command that all homes built in the Golden State after 2020 be equipped with solar panels. Far from a boon to homeowners, the costs to builders and home buyers will likely far exceed the benefits to the state.
“The California Energy Commission, which approved the rule as part of new energy-efficiency regulations, didn’t conduct an objective, independent investigation of the policy’s effects. Instead it relied on economic analysis from the consultancy that proposed the policy, Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. Its study concluded that home buyers get a 100% investment return—paying $40 more in monthly mortgage costs but saving $80 a month on electricity. If it’s such a good deal, why aren’t home buyers clamoring for more panels already? Most new homes aren’t built with solar panels today, even though the state is saturated by solar marketing.
“The Energy Commission is too optimistic about the cost of panels. It assumes the cost was $2.93 a watt in 2016 and will decline 17% by 2020. Yet comprehensive analysis of panel costs by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated the average cost of installed panels to be $4.50 a watt for the 2- to 4-kilowatt systems the policy mandates. That is $4,000 more than regulators claim for a 2.6-kilowatt model system in the central part of the state, where 20% of new homes are expected to be built. Berkeley Lab further estimates that costs fell a mere 1% between 2015 and 2016, far short of the 4% average annual decline the regulators predict.
“Now consider the alleged savings on energy bills. The commission’s analysis assumes California will maintain its net energy-metering policy, which effectively subsidizes electricity produced by a rooftop solar panel. Residential solar generators are paid as much as eight times what wholesale generators receive, according to a grid operator’s analysis of publicly available data. Dozens of states are rethinking these generous subsidies, paid by ratepayers, because they shift the costs of maintaining the electric grid to relatively poor nonsolar households. The California Public Utilities Commission is set to revisit this regressive policy in 2019—before the solar mandate takes effect.
“If the subsidies are removed, solar adopters would be in the red. This is why the electricity generated by the solar mandate should be valued at the cost of its replacement from the grid—not at the subsidized rate households receive. In a presentation at the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this year, I estimated the value of rooftop generation for each of California’s ZIP Codes using one year of price data from the grid operator. The average electricity value of the solar mandate’s model system is $12.50 a month, far less than the $80 benefit the regulators claim.”
Moreover, using statistics to estimate which power plants would respond to additional solar generation, my colleagues and I also estimated the total value of the pollution avoided by the mandate’s model system to be only $6 a month. Even accepting the Energy Commission’s optimism about solar panel costs, the policy’s public benefits are only half as large.
After further discussion the essay concludes:
“Though the solar mandate is unlikely to deliver huge savings to consumers, it certainly will raise the price of new and old homes. This couldn’t come at a worse time: Rising housing costs are putting the dream of homeownership further out of reach of low- and middle-income Californians. Sacramento politicians accuse the Trump administration of ignoring science and forgoing expert, independent review in pursuing its environmental and energy agenda. They should look in the mirror.”