Featured stories in this issue...
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #941, Jan. 10, 2008
By Peter MontagueAs a dump, the sky is a valuable resource -- a place where we can throw wastes like sulfur and nitrogen oxides, soot, mercury, methane, and carbon dioxide (among other things). Economists call the sky a "sink" rather than a "dump" but it's the same thing. (Obviously the sky has many other values besides its capacity to accept wastes -- but for now we'll ignore those other values because this is about economics.)
In recent years scientists worldwide have concluded that we have been dumping too much carbon dioxide [CO2] (and other "greenhouse gases," like methane) into the sky, thus contributing to global warming. They say we need to cut back pretty drastically.
The need to reduce CO2 emissions raises four questions:
(1) How to set a total limit on sky dumping?
(2) How to divvy up individual dumping privileges?
(3) How to persuade people to stay within their dumping allotment?
(4) If we collect money by charging people for the privilege of dumping into the sky, what should happen to that money?
Here's a brief discussion of these 4 questions:
Question 1: Scientists disagree on how much total CO2 we humans can dump into the sky each year without contributing significantly to global warming and thus to climate change. Many scientists used to believe that we could safely double the amount of CO2 in the sky, from the 280 parts per million (ppm) that the sky held in 1750, raising it to 560 ppm some time later this century.
However, in the past few years, the authoritative scientific group on climate change, the IPCC, has been saying that we need to stabilize CO2 at 450 ppm, not 560 ppm.
But late last year the best-known U.S. climate scientist, James Hansen, started saying in public that anything over 350 ppm runs the risk of changing the climate so much that we will soon find ourselves living on a "different planet" -- with coastal cities awash, major regional shortages of food and fresh water, more frequent and more intense hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and droughts -- in sum, climate chaos.
We have already exceeded Hansen's 350 ppm limit. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere now stands at about 380 ppm and is rising about 2 ppm each year. Even stabilizing at 450 ppm would require deep cuts soon, and of course 350 ppm would require even deeper cuts even sooner.
In any case, there is, so far, no consensus on the global cap that we should aim for, and there is no global authority except the United Nations to help nations achieve whatever cap they eventually set.
Still, almost everyone agrees big cuts are needed.
Question 2: How to Divvy Up the Sky Dump?
If you accept the need for cuts, then you accept that the sky is a limited good -- we can't continue to dump into it without limit as we've been doing. Therefore, as with any limited good, we have to set restrictions on total dumping (a "cap"), and then make sure individual dumpers, together, don't exceed the cap. This means allocating dumping privileges among the dumpers. What's the best way to do that?
As Larry Lohmann writes in his indispensable book, Carbon Trading (6 Mbytes PDF),
"What kind of rights should people or governments have to carbon dump space, given the need to maintain climatic stability for current and future generations? Do you divide up the dump space equally among the world's people? Do you give the world's worst-off disproportionate shares in the dump? Do you give the biggest shares to those who haven't yet had a chance to use much of the dump? Do you give the biggest shares to those who can least afford to cut down on their use of the dump? Do you give the most dump space to those who can use it to contribute the most to the global good? Or do you just give the most rights to the dump to those who are using it the most already?" [pg. 18, emphasis added.] This last approach is the one favored by major carbon emitters in the U.S., as we'll see.
Question 2: How to persuade dumpers to control their CO2 Emissions?
After you've decided the question of how to divvy up the sky dump, then there are three main proposals for controlling CO2 dumping:
(1) Traditional regulation. Set a cap on total emissions. Then enforce a permit system that specifies the amount of CO2 that each emitter can emit, similar to the regulatory system now operating in the U.S. for a few air and water pollutants (under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act). If anyone exceeds their allotted limit (and gets caught), they may eventually face punishment (ranging from a slap on the wrist to imprisonment.) Basically limits are set on each polluter (more or less) but the polluter does not pay for the privilege of polluting. Dumping into the sky is free.
(2) A carbon tax. Set a cap on total emissions. Then tax each pound of carbon dumped, and ratchet up the tax rate as time goes on until you reach the tax-rate that achieves the desired total reduction in emissions. The polluter pays, and every polluter has a continuing incentive to dump less.
(3) Cap and trade. Set a limit on total emissions. Then the authorities give or sell "allowances" (or "credits") which represent a right to emit a certain amount of CO2. Typically, an "allowance" will represent the right to dump one ton (or one metric tonne) of CO2 into the sky per year (though allowances can be "banked" and used at any time in the future). (One ton = 2000 pounds; one metric tonne = 2200 pounds.) Periodically, the "cap" on total CO2 emissions may be lowered by the authorities and the number of allowances available for gift or purchase would be reduced accordingly. Those who can reduce their emissions cheaply will do so and will thus have extra allowances that they can sell to others, and those who cannot reduce emissions cheaply will find it cheaper to purchase more "rights to pollute" from those who have extra allowances. (At least that's the theory that economists extol.)
Economists say that this "cap and trade" approach is the most "efficient" way for society as a whole to reduce its emissions. However, economists ignore a serious injustice that such systems can create: an old, dirty power plant in a poor neighborhood may be expensive to fix, so the owner simply buys the right to continue polluting for years or decades. The problem isn't the CO2 emissions themselves, which are not directly toxic -- but CO2 emissions are accompanied by "co-pollutants" that are real killers: oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, mercury, lead, and, most importantly, ultrafine particles of soot. When cap-and-trade was tried for more than 5 years in California, serious injustices were created, and pollution was not reduced adequately. So cap-and-trade programs may achieve "efficiency" at the expense of the health and quality of life for people of low income and people of color. This raises the question, "efficient" for whom? For wealthy polluters, perhaps, but not necessarily for everyone.
Precisely because it is "efficient" in this way, "cap and trade" is favored by the big CO2 dumpers -- and their financial backers. They say it is the cheapest way for CO2 emitters to achieve any required reductions, meaning they can often buy the "right to pollute" more cheaply that they can achieve real cleanup.
The financial industry has a slightly different motive than the coal industry -- financiers are hoping to make billions of dollars trading carbon just as they hoped to make billions selling collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), mortgage-backed securities (MBSs), and structured investment vehicles (SIVs). To the financial industry, carbon allowances are just one more investment instrument, and one they hope will provide a big payoff. In 2005, worldwide CO2 emissions from the primary energy industry totaled 27136 megatonnes (millions of tonnes) [IEA pg. 48]; if each tonne required a carbon allowance worth, say, $10, a new market worth $271 billion would spring into being overnight. That money could provide lots of good jobs for bankers, traders, lawyers, publicists, and assorted hustlers because carbon trading is very complicated and requires a large private bureaucracy to support it.
The U.S. government has no official policies on any of these questions or approaches, but 10 Eastern states are now setting up a carbon trading operation called "Reggi" -- the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). (The 10 states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.)
Begun in 2003, RGGI is now pretty far along. It is scheduled to formally begin January 1, 2009, less than a year from now. Just this week, New Jersey passed a law authorizing state government to participate in the RGGI "cap and trade" scheme. Governor Jon Corzine (former chairman of the Wall Street investment bank, Goldman Sachs) is expected to sign the measure into law before Jan. 15.
RGGI is important because it seems very likely that the federal government will eventually adopt something like the RGGI approach.
RGGI has already answered the four questions:
Question 1: How to set caps? RGGI did this by negotiation. The ten states hashed it out among themselves. See Table 1, below. The 10 states have set a regional cap at 188 million tons (= 170.5 million metric tonnes) per year between now and the year 2014. For the following four years, 2015-2018, the 10-state cap will be reduced roughly 2.5% per year to get the total cap down to 153.6 million tonnes, 10% below the current cap, by the year 2018.
Question 2: How to divvy up the sky dump? REGGI allows each state to sell dumping rights, but only to the biggest polluters. Only electric power plants of 25 megawatts or more that burn fossil fuels have a right to (and must) purchase CO2 allowances under RGGI. An individual citizen who wanted to purchase a carbon allowance for the purpose of retiring it, to reduce global warming, could not do so. (For a list of the power plants subject to RGGI in each state, see the lists on the RGGI web site.)
Question 3: How to keep people within their allotments? RGGI is a cap and trade scheme. So long as RGGI is in place, no carbon tax will be imposed. Enforcement of RGGI limits has not yet been described but it will most likely resemble traditional "regulation" but with tremendous new complexities added by allowance auctions, allowance trading, declining caps, "temporal flexibility limits," "safety valves," "price triggers," "project additionality" and "offsets." (These exotic concepts are all more-or-less described in the RGGI Program Overview, though the document introduces mysterious acronyms that are never defined.)
Question 4: What to do with any money collected?
Under RGGI, each state will collect money, and there's a lot of money involved. If CO2 allowances sold for just a dollar apiece, the 10 states would collect $188 million between them each year, and nearly everyone expects allowances to sell for anywhere from $3 to $30 apiece.
New Jersey, for example, is creating a "global warming solutions fund" as part of RGGI. If carbon allowances fetch $3 each on the market, New Jersey's 20.7 million allowances (see Table 1, below) will bring in nearly $70 million each year. The rules for spending this large sum are vague. At least 60% of it will be controlled by the state Economic Development Authority, to subsidize development of ways to reduce CO2 emissions, including helping utilities build new power plants; 20% goes to the Board of Public Utilities to reduce energy demand in the state and to reduce costs of electricity to low and moderate-income urban residents; 10% will be controlled by the state Department of Environmental Protection to help municipal governments plan ways to reduce electricity demand or greenhouse gas emissions. In sum, it resembles a giant slush fund of the kind politicians know and love.
Another way to handle the money would be to return it directly to every citizen of the 10 states in equal shares -- an approach being called "cap and dividend." Peter Barnes, author of Who Owns the Sky, favors this approach, and it does seem to have a lot of merit, if we can establish that we have a clear right to sell carbon allowances in the first place. (More on this below.)
Will it work?
It remains to be seen whether the cap-and-trade approach can actually reduce CO2 emissions quickly enough to avoid climate chaos. Economists estimate that the price of CO2 needs to rise to $30 to $50 per tonne before electric utilities will feel a real inducement to shift to less-polluting technologies. In contrast, the RGGI program has built in "safety valves" to keep the price of carbon low. If the price stays above $10 per ton for two consecutive years, electric utilities can purchase "offsets" in foreign countries to cover up to 20% of their emissions. In other words, they can continue to pollute in New Jersey if a farmer in, say, Swaziland asserts that he or she has planted a lot of trees and promises to maintain them for the next 100 years (and promises not to cut down an equivalent number of trees somewhere else during the 100 years), thus sequestering a lot of carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming. Since the farmer will receive cash for making such a claim, and the utility will be allowed to continue polluting if it makes such a claim, both parties to an "offset" agreement have powerful incentives to offer an optimistic assessment of the facts. How will RGGI state governments measure what's actually going on in Swaziland? With "offsets," opportunities for flimflam are almost limitless.
And finally, do we have a right to sell the sky?
Even if we conclude it's right and good to privatize the sky and to sell the right to dump wastes into it, the question arises, what is our fair share of the sky? The sky belongs to no one, or it belongs to everyone, doesn't it?
If you calculate the amount of CO2 emitted world-wide for the generation of electricity and divide that by the total world population, you get 0.53 tonnes of CO2 emitted per person per year. See Footnote 1 and Table 1. You might call this "one global citizen's fair share of sky-dump space" for electricity generation.
In using electricity, each citizen of the 10 RGGI states causes the emission of 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. So each RGGI citizen (including yours truly) is dumping seven times the world average "fair share" of CO2 emitted during electricity generation. Pretty clearly, we are hogging the sky dump.
So long as we were hogging the sky dump without claiming any "right" to do so, it might be explained as merely a thoughtless act, or an act of greed.
Even if our government were to impose a carbon tax on CO2 emissions, that in itself would not imply that we were claiming a "right" to emit carbon. We could tax carbon dumping without claiming any special "right" to dump more than our fair share.
But now, with cap and trade, we are asserting, as a matter of law, that each citizen of a RGGI state owns the right to dump seven times the per-capita world average CO2 into the atmosphere for electricity. If you think RGGI-state citizens are not claiming such as right, look at it this way: you cannot sell something that you do not own. If the citizens of New Jersey can sell an electric utility the right to emit carbon dioxide, then the citizens of New Jersey must be claiming that they own such a right -- otherwise they couldn't sell it.
As a citizen of New Jersey, I have to ask, where did we citizens of the RGGI states acquire the right to sell seven times our fair share of "dump space" in the sky? Who or what gave us that right? If we are challenged in an international court of justice, what legal and ethical authorities can we cite to support our outsized claim of ownership? Is it merely that we are rich people with a huge army, and might makes right?
Table 1 -- Each RGGI state's annual CO2 emission cap from now to 2014, in short tons (column 1), then converted to metric tonnes (column 2), and finally divided by the state's 2005 population (column 3) to get tonnes per person allowed in each state (column 4). As you can see Delaware is allowed to dump 8.1 tonnes per person annually, while Vermont is only allowed to dump 1.8 tonnes per person. These numbers were worked out during negotiations between the states. The 10-state regional cap (170 million tonnes divvied up among 48,656,341 citizens of the 10 states) works out to an average of 3.5 tonnes emitted per person per year, which is 7 times the global average per-capita CO2 emissions from the electrical-generation sector of total global primary energy systems.
State............ Tons....... Tonnes .. Pop.(2005) Tonnes/person
Connecticut:.. 10,695,036.... 9702373.5... 3510297... 2.8
Delaware:...... 7,559,787.... 6858123.4... 843524.... 8.1
Maine:......... 5,948,902.... 5396753.1... 1321505... 4.1
Maryland:..... 37,427,007... 33953209.6... 5600538... 6.1
Massachusetts: 26,660,204... 24185730.2... 6398743... 3.8
New Hampshire:. 8,620,460.... 7820349.8... 1309940... 6.0
New Jersey:... 22,892,730... 20767935.3... 8717925... 2.4
New York:..... 64,310,805... 58341780.9.. 19254630... 3.0
Rhode Island:.. 2,659,239.... 2412421.0... 1076189... 2.2
Vermont:....... 1,225,830.... 1112054.3... 623050.... 1.8
RGGI totals.. 188,000,000.. 170,550,731.. 48656341... 3.5 (avg)
Global totals..... 3.77E9....... 3.42E9.... 6432E6.. 0.53 (avg)
Table 1. Sources of the data: The state caps were found on pages 3 and 8 of the RGGI Memorandum of Understanding between the states. Maryland was missing from that document, so Maryland's cap was calculated by subtracting the total of the other nine states from the announced 10-state cap of 188 million tons, a figure found in footnote 1 on page 2 of the "Overview of RGGI CO2 Budget Trading Program." State populations for 2005 are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The global energy data, CO2 emissions and population data are from International Energy Agency, "Key World Energy Statistics 2007," pg. 48.
 Data from International Energy Agency (IEA), Key World Energy Statistics 2007. World total primary energy supply (TPES) in 2005 was 11434 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent). (IEA pg. 48) World electricity consumption was 16695 Twh [terawatt-hours] (= 1435.5 Mtoe, using the conversion factor on IEA pg. 58), so electricity provided (1435.5/11434)*100 = 12.6% of global TPES. Total global CO2 emissions from TPES in 2005 were 27136E6 tonnes CO2. (IEA, pg. 48) If 12.6% of this is from electricity, then electricity accounted for CO2 emissions of 27136E6*0.126 = 3.42E9 tonnes CO2, or 3.42E9/6432E6 = 0.53 tonnes per person, globally, in 2005.
From: The New York Times (pg. F1)
By Kim SeversonLafayette, Colo. -- Robyn O'Brien likes to joke that at least she hasn't started checking the rearview mirror to see if she's being followed.
But some days, her imagination gets away from her and she wonders if it's only a matter of time before Big Food tries to stop her from exposing what she sees as a profit-driven global conspiracy whose collateral damage is an alarming increase in childhood food allergies.
Ms. O'Brien has presented her views, albeit in a less radical wrapper, on CNN, CBS and in frequent print interviews. Frontier Airlines and Wild Oats stores distribute the allergy-awareness gear she designed.
Her story is one of several in a new book, "Healthy Child, Healthy World" (Dutton, March 2008), whose contributors include doctors, parents and celebrities like Meryl Streep.
Sitting at the table in her suburban kitchen, with her four young children tumbling in and out, Ms. O'Brien, 36, seems an unlikely candidate to be food's Erin Brockovich (who, by the way, has taken Ms. O'Brien under her wing).
She grew up in a staunchly Republican family in Houston where lunch at the country club frequented by George and Barbara Bush followed Sunday church services. She was an honors student, earned a master's degree in business and, like her husband, Jeff, made a living as a financial analyst.
Ms. O'Brien was also the kind of mom who rolled her eyes when the kid with a peanut allergy showed up at the birthday party. Then, about two years ago, she fed her youngest child scrambled eggs. The baby's face quickly swelled into a grotesque mask. "What did you spray on her?" she screamed at her other children. Little Tory had a severe food allergy, and Ms. O'Brien's journey had begun.
By late that night, she had designed a universal symbol to identify children with food allergies. She now puts the icon, a green stop sign with an exclamation point, on lunch bags, stickers and even the little charms children use to dress up their Crocs. These products and others are sold on her Web site, AllergyKids.com, which she unveiled, strategically, on Mother's Day in 2006.
The $30,000 Ms. O'Brien made from the products last year is incidental, she said. Working largely from a laptop on her dining room table, she has looked deep into the perplexing world of childhood food allergies and seen a conspiracy that threatens the health of America's children. And, she profoundly believes, it is up to her and parents everywhere to stop it.
Her theory -- that the food supply is being manipulated with additives, genetic modification, hormones and herbicides, causing increases in allergies, autism and other disorders in children -- is not supported by leading researchers or the largest allergy advocacy groups.
That only feeds Ms. O'Brien's conviction that the influence of what she sees as the profit-hungry food industry runs deep. In just a few dizzying steps, she can take you from a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to Monsanto's genetically modified seeds to Donald H. Rumsfeld, who once ran the company that created the sweetener aspartame.
Through creative use of e-mail, relentless inquiry and a persona carefully crafted around the protective mother archetype, Ms. O'Brien has emerged as a populist hero among parents who troll the Internet for any hint about why their children have food allergies.
"You have changed my life... my diet... my health... my spirit... and I thank YOU," a father who had lost his teenage daughter to anaphylactic shock told her by e-mail.
Ms. O'Brien encourages people to do what she did: throw out as much nonorganic processed food as you can afford to. Avoid anything genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones. Don't eat food with ingredients you can't pronounce.
Once she cleaned out her cupboards, she said, her four children started behaving better. Their health problems, which her doctor attributed to allergies to milk and other foods, cleared up.
"It was absolutely terrifying to unearth this story," she said over lunch at a restaurant in Boulder, Colo. "These big food companies have an intimate relationship with every household in America, and they are making our children sick. I was rocked. You don't want to hear that this has actually happened."
But has it?
Record numbers of parents are heading to doctors concerned that their children are allergic to a long list of foods. States are passing laws requiring schools to have policies protecting children with food allergies. But no one knows why the number of allergies seems to be on the rise, or even if they are rising as fast as some believe.
Ms. O'Brien and leading allergy researchers agree that few reliable studies on food allergies exist. The best estimates suggest that 4 to 8 percent of young children suffer from them, though the reactions tend to grow less serious and less frequent as children grow older.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the number of deaths linked to food allergies at 12 in 2004, the most recent year for which data are available. However, its statisticians point out that such figures are drawn only from doctors' notations on death certificates.
"It's a soft number, and it might well be an understatement," said Arialdi Minino, a statistician at the agency's National Center for Health Statistics.
Dr. Elizabeth Gleghorn is the director of pediatric gastroenterology at the Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif. She has been in practice for 20 years, and has noticed a recent increase in eczema, which can indicate food allergies. But she doesn't think food allergies are increasing dramatically.
Often, a child might have intolerance to a food and not a true allergy. But the Internet has afforded more ways for parents to inform themselves and do their own diagnosing, which could add to the popular impression that food allergies are rising at alarming rates, Dr. Gleghorn said.
Many health professionals, though, agree that something is changing. Among the amalgam of theories that weigh the effects of genetics and environment, the hygiene hypothesis intrigues many researchers. It holds that children are being exposed to fewer micro-organisms and, as a result, have weaker immune systems.
"But this alone cannot account for the massive relative increase in food allergy compared with other allergic disease such as asthma," said Dr. Marc E. Rothenberg, the director of allergy and immunology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the second-largest pediatric research facility in the country.
Could it be that a toxic food environment has made children's immune systems go haywire? It's hard to find an expert in the field who supports Ms. O'Brien's theory. "I don't think it can be proven, so I can't say scientifically one way or the other," Dr. Gleghorn said.
Mix the lack of hard data with an increasingly complex food landscape, and you've got Robyn O'Brien.
"Food allergies just become a focus for a broader fear about the food system," said the author Michael Pollan, a contributor to The New York Times Magazine.
Mr. Pollan, in both "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and his new book, "In Defense of Food" (January, Penguin), shares many of Ms. O'Brien's views about industrialized agriculture. He also has a niece with a peanut allergy. So Ms. O'Brien sent him an e-mail message, and a correspondence began.
Ms. O'Brien took his responses as an endorsement of her work, and then mentioned his support in messages to other people. Mr. Pollan, who said he has no idea if her theories are accurate, asked her to stop telling people he was working with her.
Leveraging brief e-mail exchanges with notable people is an important method that Ms. O'Brien uses to build her universe. The unlikely mix includes members of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s staff; Mary Alice Stephenson, a host of "America's Most Smartest Model"; and, recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a regular on Oprah Winfrey's show.
"The fact that people like him and Malcolm Gladwell, presidential campaigns, celebs take the time to reply means a lot as it gives me hope that people are still engaged," she said in an e-mail message to this reporter.
While some of her contacts, like Mr. Gladwell, an author and a writer for The New Yorker, don't remember her, the strategy has worked. Nell Newman, who runs the organic arm of Newman's Own products, spoke up on her behalf on the national news. Deborah Koons Garcia, the widow of Jerry Garcia and director of the documentary "The Future of Food," invited her to lunch.
But her biggest asset might be a relentless drive to wind together obscure health theories, blog postings and corporate financial statements. She then posts her analyses on her Web site.
She chides top allergy doctors who are connected to Monsanto, the producer of herbicides and genetically modified seeds. She asserts that the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, the nation's leading food allergy advocacy group, is tainted by the money it receives from food manufacturers and peanut growers.
Anne Munoz-Furlong founded the network in 1991 after her daughter was found to have milk and egg allergies. She said the group now has 30,000 members and a $5.6 million budget.
Although Kraft did help the organization start its Web site and other food manufacturing companies and trade groups sponsor some of its programs, that support has amounted to about $100,000. Mrs. Munoz- Furlong said that she and doctors on her medical board do not believe that genetically modified foods cause food allergies because most children with allergies react to specific foods, like eggs or milk.
And, she said, communicating regularly with industry can help get the word to parents about potential allergens in products, and supporting research to identify causes of allergies helps consumers more than companies.
She also cautioned against taking the advice of people who have no medical training or run Web sites not certified to have reliable medical information. "She's a dot-com," Mrs. Munoz-Furlong said of Ms. O'Brien. "It's completely different than a dot-org. From the very beginning our intent was education."
(Ms. O'Brien did recently start a nonprofit foundation to support research that is not tied to the food industry.)
On the days when Ms. O'Brien grows discouraged at being David against the Goliath of Big Food, she turns to the people who believe her.
Erin Brockovich, whose brother died of a food allergy years ago, was a legal file clerk who helped land a record judgment against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for contaminating drinking water. She is an environmental consultant who is popular on the inspirational lecture circuit.
Ms. Brockovich said her new friend does a great job of arming everyday people with facts, so they can take a stand.
"You don't have to be a doctor or a scientist to look into whether our food supply is safe," she said. "Being obsessed doesn't mean she's crazy. Frankly, I think it takes a little bit of being crazy to make a difference in this world."
From: Rutland (Vt.) Herald
By Eric Tucker, The Associated PressPROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A judge on Friday refused to strike down a proposal from the state that calls for three former lead paint manufacturers to pay an estimated $2.4 billion to clean up roughly a quarter-million homes in Rhode Island.
The companies two years ago lost a landmark public nuisance lawsuit brought by the state attorney general. A cleanup plan developed by the state after that decision would require the companies to pay for inspecting, cleaning and remodeling homes that contain toxic lead paint.
The companies -- Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries, Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC -- have called the proposal legally flawed, even unconstitutional, and asked Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein on Friday to throw out parts or all of the plan.
But Silverstein rejected the request after several hours of arguments Friday, calling the demand "premature" and saying the companies' concerns would best be addressed by two public health experts he appointed last month to evaluate the state's proposal and make recommendations.
"The court already has indicated that, at least on a technical basis, it was going to seek the aid of more highly qualified folks," Silverstein said during arguments Friday. Silverstein will have final say in how the cleanup of lead paint will be carried out.
He also reminded both sides that he had no obligation to adopt the state's proposal as-is, saying the ultimate cleanup directive he issues "may have none of the elements of the state plan in it."
The companies are appealing the February 2006 verdict to the state Supreme Court, which has scheduled arguments in the case for May 15.
The state's proposal envisions a cleanup that would take four years and involve 10,000 workers. The plan covers homes built before 1980 -- two years after lead paint was banned for residential use in the United States -- as well as certain seasonal homes, elementary schools and child care centers.
While the state's report does not advocate the complete removal of lead paint from homes and buildings, it does call for the removal and replacement of home components such as tainted doors, windows and cabinets.
Mickey Pohl, a lawyer for Sherwin-Williams, described the proposal as "improper and so legally defective in so many ways" in a lengthy challenge on Friday.
He argued that the plan would violate the rights of property owners by forcing them to temporarily relocate while their homes were worked on. He also said it would allow "warrantless inspections" by giving the state the right to force property owners to open their homes to work crews, if necessary.
"You can't force people to let government agents into their homes for inspections of anything," Pohl said.
Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for the state, accused Pohl of grossly mischaracterizing the plan. She said homeowners would be forced to participate only as a last resort and in cases where there was a specific threat to a young child. Otherwise, she said, properties with owners reluctant to have their homes inspected and cleaned would be placed on a list and work would not begin until the property is sold or becomes vacant.
Fitzpatrick said the companies have complained about the state's proposal without suggesting any viable alternatives.
"There have been no solutions offered by the defendant," she said.
Rhode Island in 1999 became the first state to sue former lead paint and pigment makers. The first trial ended with a hung jury in 2002, but a jury in a second trial ruled in favor of the state by determining that the presence of lead paint constituted a public nuisance.
Copyright 2008 Rutland Herald
From: Toronto (Canada) Star
By Peter Gorrie, Environment ReporterToronto would become a North American leader if it adopts a plan, unveiled today, that would force businesses to reveal how much toxic material they use and release into the environment.
The proposal, from the city's Medical Officer of Health, David McKeown, would require annual reports from about 9,600 dry cleaners, auto body shops, printers and others that use any of the 25 chemicals considered most likely to cause cancer, respiratory ailments and other health problems.
For the most dangerous, such as lead and mercury, the law would apply if a company handles as little as 10 kilograms a year.
The information would be publicly available on the Internet.
"We're really pleased. We're very excited about it," said Lina Cino of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, a leading advocate of a "community right to know" bylaw. "It's completely in the right direction."
The Liberal government last year rebuffed a proposal by New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth) for a province-wide law. City council has endorsed the idea in principle.
"In an era of massive chemical use and exposure, the city has taken the lead and is on the verge of a significant breakthrough," Cino said.
Supporters argue that city residents now are denied information on a cocktail of toxic chemicals that get into the air and water through spills or legal discharges. The Ontario Medical Association says bad air causes 1,700 premature deaths in Toronto each year.
Only the roughly 300 largest sources must report under the federal National Pollutant Release Inventory.
The proposal is open for comments for 30 days. Toronto Public Health plans to submit a final proposal to the Board of Health in May. If the board approves, the plan would be made into a bylaw that goes to city council.
"It would be a first for Canada," and among the toughest legislation in North America, said Monica Campbell, who heads public health's environmental protection office. "It's a really strong and sound strategy that makes sense for the city."
No decision on penalties, enforcement, timing and costs would be made until the board approves the proposal, Campbell said.
The law would not apply to homes, construction sites, vehicles, hotels, restaurants or several other types of business. It also wouldn't apply to chemicals dumped into sewers -- already covered by a bylaw -- or to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Those might come later but, for now, "it's a sense of walk before you run," Campbell said.
From: Washington Post (pg. A3)
By Rick WeissHD FDA to Approve Food From Cloned AnimalsMove Would Defy Congress's Wish for Delay
Having completed a years-long scientific review, the Food and Drug Administration is set to announce as early as next week that meat and milk from cloned farm animals and their offspring can start making their way toward supermarket shelves, sources in contact with the agency said yesterday.
From: E&E News PM
By Katherine Ling, E&ENews PM reporterThe House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a planned review today of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's oversight efforts in the wake of reports about snoozing security guards at a Pennsylvania nuclear plant.
"The NRC's stunning failure to act on credible allegations of sleeping security guards, coupled with its unwillingness to protect the whistleblower who uncovered the problem, raises troubling questions," the committee chairman, John Dingell (D-Mich.), said in a statement.
At issue: a report to NRC by a guard at Exelon's Peach Bottom power plant last spring that his fellow guards were sleeping on the job.
Exelon said there was no evidence to support the guard's allegation, so NRC did not investigate. But the guard videotaped his sleeping colleagues and sent the tape to a New York City television station.
Exelon has since fired the company in charge of its security, Wackenhut Corp., and NRC has held several hearings on the matter. The commission also required all commercial power plants to submit a detailed review of their security operations, including actions to ensure "security guard attentiveness."
The sleeping guards got attention anew last week in a Washington Post article that detailed the incident and the handling of security at nuclear power plants (Greenwire, Jan. 4).
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said increased oversight over NRC was needed since Wackenhut remains a major security contractor for the commercial nuclear industry.
The committee said it would also examine possible inadequacies in the relicensing of existing power plants and licensing decisions at reprocessing facilities.
Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman, said the commission would cooperate with the committee.
From: New York Times
By Alina TugendI have the usual New Year's resolutions -- exercise more, lose weight, be a nicer person. I also hope to find out if I am inadvertently poisoning my children.
My fear has to do with reusing what are known as "single use" plastic water bottles, like Poland Spring. I buy them not because I distrust New York tap water, but because they are easy to carry around in the car and to various kids' sporting events. And if one is lost, as it invariably is, no biggie.
We refill them with tap water and use them a number of times before recycling. I was, I sanctimoniously thought, doing my green part.
But by trying to save the earth, am I hurting my family's health? I had heard it wasn't a good idea to refill these single-use bottles because the plastic leaches dangerous chemicals. But is that enough of a risk to make me change my ways? What if I stop using plastic bottles and then drink less water? Is that a good trade-off?
It is the old conundrum about risk versus benefits.
Here is what I found out: most plastics are stamped with a number from 1 to 7 at the bottom -- these numbers are used to indicate how to recycle or dispose of the plastic.
The type of plastic bottle that typically holds water, soda and juice is made from polyethylene terephthalate, a petroleum-based material also known as PET that is labeled No. 1.
The trouble with reusing those plastic bottles is that each time they are washed and refilled they become a little more scratched and crinkly, which can lead them to degrade. That can cause a trace metal called antimony to leach out, said Frederick S. vom Saal, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri who has studied plastics for years.
"We have to assume that along with that metal, others are almost certainly leaching out as well, but we don't know what they are and we don't know what to look for because manufacturers won't tell us what else is in the bottles," Professor vom Saal said.
One inaccuracy that I came across repeatedly is that a chemical called phthalates, which can interfere with male hormones, poses a danger from such water bottles.
Lynn R. Goldman, professor of environmental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the truth was that it leached in barely discernible amounts.
Perhaps more worrisome is that because the bottles -- with their small openings -- are harder to wash out than the wide-mouth hiking and sports bottles, they can house bacteria.
At this point, I do not feel terribly anxious about reusing the bottles several times -- that is usually all we can do before we lose them or they crumple beyond recognition.
But perhaps a better alternative -- in terms of health and the environment -- is to use the hard plastic bottles made with polycarbonate plastic, often known by the brand Nalgene. It has the numeral 7 stamped at the bottom and is the same type of material used to make some baby bottles, the lining of tin cans and other products. I have some of those around the house. They are just too big to fit into our car cup holders so I retired them to the basement.
Time to dig them out?
Not quite. Environmental groups and some scientists have raised concern that such plastic can leach bisphenol A, an endocrine- disrupting chemical.
It is a big enough issue that last year, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction convened a 12-member expert panel to examine studies related to the chemical.
At the same time, another government-financed group, made up of about 40 scientists with expertise in bisphenol A, reviewed more than 700 relevant studies.
Here is where it gets a little tricky. The first group concluded that most people's exposure to the chemical was well below the Environmental Protection Agency's standard.
Nonetheless, the panel expressed "some concern" that the chemical could cause behavioral and neurological problems in developing fetuses and young children. For more information, go to www. niehs.nih.gov.
More studies are being done on certain aspects of the chemical, said Michael D. Shelby, director of the center, and a final brief will be issued this summer.
But Professor vom Saal, the lead author of the scientists' report, said their findings were far less benign. "There is a very high level of concern about the potential harm caused by bisphenol A in animals," he said, including potential for diabetes, cancer and obesity. "The prediction by this panel is that we can expect similar harm in people."
And industry has its own view. Steven Hentges, executive director of the polycarbonate/BPA global group of the American Chemistry Council, dismissed fears about bisphenol A and said that no country had banned or restricted the chemical's use. "No government body has found reason to be alarmed," he said. On its Web site, Nalgene reaches the same conclusion.
So forget about those bottles? The reality is that bisphenol A is present in many types of material, from resins used to coat the interior surface of most food and beverage cans to some children's toys.
There is a danger in focusing exclusively on bottles rather than looking at the need for government regulation of the widespread use of these chemicals, Professor Goldman said.
But choosing what water container you use can give you a slight sense of control. And Professor vom Saal noted that the range of exposure among people varied widely. So exchanging that polycarbonate water bottle for one made of glass or stainless steel may be a good idea.
Forget glass for obvious reasons ("Mom, I just sliced my finger"). A search of available stainless steel bottles showed they run around $16 and up -- a safer but pricey alternative given that no matter how hard we try, we are bound to leave them scattered on various fields.
"If I was to use plastic, I would stay with No. 2 and No. 5," Professor vom Saal said. No. 2 is high-density polyethylene; No. 5 is polypropylene. Both are used in margarine tubs and yogurt containers for example.
But, he warned, do not heat anything in any type of plastic in the microwave.
If you do use these hard No. 7 plastic bottles, the Green Guide, published by the National Geographic Society, advises you to avoid washing them in a dishwasher or with harsh detergent to limit wear and tear.
I have no doubt that some readers think it is ridiculous to worry about such risks, while others will immediately toss out their plastic bottles. I am still on the fence.
So, in a frenzy of indecision, I decided to look elsewhere in an attempt to be environmentally good. What about those plastic bags we use for sandwiches and snacks -- is there a way to cut down on them?
One friend suggested wax paper, another foil.
"The big trade-off is between manufacturing and disposability," said Seth Bauer, editorial director for the Green Guide and thegreenguide.com. "Plastic is manufactured incredibly efficiently and uses a lot less energy, while wax paper has a fairly intensive manufacturing process."
Mining aluminum is also bad for the environment, he noted, and uses a great deal of energy.
Plastic bags can be rinsed out, if they do not hold meat, and reused, but wax paper is better than plastic when it comes to disposal.
There is also a Web site, www.reusablebags.com, which offers a product called "Wrap-N-Mat" with a Velcro closure that you can wash and use repeatedly at $6.95 a pop.
I might try good old-fashioned Tupperware. I started searching on the Web for cute ones shaped like sandwiches and then realized I had plenty of containers in my cupboard that would do the job just fine.
Stop buying and use what we have in the house? Now that would be an innovative resolution.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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