Today, Governor Gregoire announced $16.5 million in grants for "for energy efficiency, clean technology, transportation and bioenergy programs throughout the state." The package of grants, she claimed, "supports and creates more than 2,000 living wage jobs." A closer look at the project reveals that the definition of "living wage" is fairly flexible.
As a kid, I wore number 27 in the blue and white, just like Darryl Sitler. As a goalie, I idolized Ken Dryden and read Jacque Plante's book. I still have a broken stick from Gilles Meloche I got when I was six. I can identify Don Cherry by sight.
Despite my love for hockey, and Canadian hockey players, I don't idolize Canada as much as Alan Durning of the Seattle environmental think tank, the Sightline Institute. He wrote a piece recently demonstrating the fundamental difference greens and free-market advocates have in our views about the relationship between people and the government. And it says a great deal about why the environmental left keeps trying to impose policies that fail time and again.
At the Sightline blog, Durning writes that Canada has a superior system of government, which he says is more "democratic" than the approach we followed with the creation of the US Senate. The evidence of their system's superiority is its ability to pass laws. He uses BC's decision on the carbon tax as evidence:
"An example: British Columbia’s leaders announced a carbon tax shift in February 2008, enacted it in May, and began collecting it in July. This speed and decisiveness would have been impossible in any of the Northwest states."
He goes on to say that "Canada rules, because of Canada’s rules for making rules." The criteria he uses to assess the success of a political system is its ability to impose rules on the public.
Is that really what we want in a government?
First, he mistakenly calls a parliamentary system more "democratic" than our system. A cursory look shows this is false. A parliamentary majority can be earned with a fraction of the nationwide or provincial vote. A parliamentary system only requires that one party win a majority of seats. Those seats are won by receiving a plurality, not majority, in a district. Thus, a party can theoretically win a majority of seats, and control of the federal government, without winning a majority of the vote in ANY of its individual seats. For instance, in the 2005 UK elections, the Labor Party won 55 percent of the seats in Parliament, but received only 35.2 percent of the national vote. The Conservatives won 45 percent fewer seats despite receiving only three percent fewer votes nationally.
Second, the reason BC was quick to enact the carbon tax was that one party controlled government, a feature Durning likes. One party controls government in our state's capital and it doesn't seem to be speeding things along.
Finally, systems of government are not created to make life easy for politicians. Instead, they are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There are many systems where speed of decision-making is put ahead of those goals and the results are frequently less positive.
In his 2004 book "The Logic of Political Survival," Stanford professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita notes that Presidential systems are best at promoting peace and prosperity. Analyzing data going back a century from countries across the world, Mesquita notes that countries where the national leaders must face a national vote do best. Parliamentary systems do well, but are not as prosperous or free as Presidential systems like ours. He says, that dictators are the worst for "promoting peace, prosperity, and human dignity, while representative democracy, especially with direct election of the head of government, appears to be the best yet invented to achieve those ends." The book is an excellent empirical analysis of how governments actually perform.
Environmental activists emphasize policies that impose lifestyle changes, feeling that if only people would live the way politicians want, everything would work out. As a result, they look for political systems that facilitate the process of imposing rules. This approach, however, is a failure. Politicians promote mass transit, but bus and light rail ridership consistently falls well below projections.
Those of us who believe in the free market, on the other hand, emphasize the goals of prosperity and freedom for people. As Mesquita's research shows, the American Presidential system is the best for those ends. Better yet, prosperity is the best tool to promote environmental sustainability. As America has become more prosperous, our air and water has become cleaner and energy efficiency has dramatically improved.
I like to have the best of both worlds: I idolize Canadian hockey players and advocate the American Presidential, free-market system.
We have not engaged this session on the campaign by the Washington Conservation Voters and Washington Toxics Coalition to ban bisphenol A (BPA) largely because such campaigns are built around emotion not science. As we noted yesterday, politicians were literally kissing babies at the ceremony to ban BPA. The campaigns against PBDEs and thimerosol were run in much the same way.
Last week we called on supporters of the ban to track its results to determine if the human illnesses they claim BPA is causing, actually decline during the next decade. That suggestion drew this response from a supporter of the ban:
If you're skeptical, maybe the WPC will fund a self-study in which you can swallow a teaspoon a day of BPA for a year, then report back one [sic] how it worked out for you.
This demonstrates how science-free the campaign against BPA is. Studies show that the high end of the public's exposure to BPA is one-tenth of a microgram per kilogram per day. One teaspoon is about 5 grams, or about 50 million times more, per kilogram, than the high end of actual exposure. Since I weigh about 86 kilograms, the BPA dosage the commenter wants me to eat is 580,000 times more than the upper end of real-world exposure.
By way of comparison, the maximum recommended daily intake of salt is 2,400 mg. To match in salt the BPA dosage the commenter recommends, he would have to eat more than 3,000 lbs of salt every day! My guess is that eating that much salt would have a more negative impact on his health than my swallowing 1 tsp of BPA a day.
The argument offered by the commenter, and many who called for the BPA ban, requires ignoring basic scientific precepts like the level of exposure. This is a common game in these types of campaigns and demonstrates that the efforts are not based in science but are simply eco-fads.
We will almost certainly see another effort next year to ban some compound deemed dangerous to children, and the campaign will certainly feature photos of babies. It will also certainly feature the same kind of unscientific claims made by the commenter.
Governor Gregoire today signed a ban on bisphenol A (BPA),a compound used in plastics such as beverage containers. Both the Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Toxics Coalition praised the signing, arguing that BPA hurts children.
The Toxics Coalition even tweeted that politicians at the signing were "kissing babies (no joke)." Indeed that style of politics has typified the campaign against BPA, and in today's press release, one advocate said "Chemicals like BPA have no place in consumer products, especially those used by children..."
So, what now?
Advocates of the ban claimed all manner of impacts to children from BPA, as they have in previous campaigns. A Washington Toxics Coalition fact sheet claims that "Laboratory studies have linked BPA to cancer, miscarriage, obesity, reproductive problems, and hyperactivity." These impacts are seen, they claim, "at extremely low exposure levels."
This provides an opportunity to test the accuracy of those claims. Beginning next July, BPA is banned in beverage containers for children under age three. Over the next decade we should theoretically see a reduction exposure levels and, therefore, miscarriage, obesity, reproductive problems and hyperactivity. But that hasn't always been the way it has worked out.
After claims that autism was associated with a vaccine preservative called thimerosal, California banned it. A study found that even after it was banned, autism rates continued to climb. The AP noted "Researchers from the state Department of Public Health found the autism rate in children rose continuously during the 12-year study period from 1995 to 2007. The preservative thimerosal [a form of mercury] has not been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, but it is used in some flu shots."
If the Washington ToxicsCoalition and the Washington Conservation Voters care about helping children, and not just appearing to help children, they will measure the impact of these bills as time goes on and be honest about the results. Doing so is the best way to ensure that we are truly doing what is best for children. If BPA is harmful, the data will show it. If it is not, then they should support restoring itrather than risking impact from whatever compound replaces it. It may be embarrassing to admit they were wrong, but if their campaign is truly for the health of children, that is a small price to pay. We'll see what they do.
Monday's Seattle Times wrote about the Bullitt Foundation's effort to create the "greenest building ever." The Times reports the Foundation is running into problems. Government regulations are hindering progress and the City of Seattle is having to waive some rules. This led to an unintentionally honest assessment of the City's regulation:
"We haven't actually gone down this road before," said Sally Clark, who chairs the Seattle City Council's land-use committee. "Most [regulatory] systems are not built for innovation."
Truer words were never spoken and they exemplify the problems with politically designed approaches to environmental sustainability. Innovation, such as hybrid vehicles and improved energy efficiency, has been the driving force in improving environmental health. Regulations impede that progress and narrow the options available to find new environmental solutions.
The irony is that politicians in Seattle and Olympia don't take that lesson from these examples. For them, the answer to too much government is more government. They add new regulations and government programs in the hope that such efforts will guide us to a sustainable future. As the new Bullitt Foundation building demonstrates, however, innovation thrives in an environment with fewer rules and more intellectual freedom.
Making regulation the centerpiece of environmental policy undermines the very freedom needed to promote innovation.
The King County Conservation District is holding its election tomorrow for the Board of Supervisors. Rather than pay to be put on the regular King County elections ballot, the District organizes its own election to save money. As a result, those who want to vote must go to one of the polling locations.
The King County Conservation District has a budget of over $6 million and has variety of responsibilities regarding environmental stewardship outlined on their web page:
Our mission is to promote the sustainable use of natural resources through responsible stewardship. A five-member Board of Supervisors is responsible for all District programs and activities. ...We promote conservation through demonstration projects, educational events, providing technical assistance and, in some cases, providing or pointing the way to funds which may be available for projects. The KCD has no regulatory or enforcement authority. We only work with those who choose to work with us.
You can cast your ballot at one of these locations:
King County Library/Auburn Branch 1102 Auburn Way South, Auburn WA 98002 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
King County Library/Bellevue Regional Branch 1111 110th Avenue NE, Bellevue WA 98004 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
King County Library/Carnation Branch 4804 Tolt Avenue, Carnation WA 98014 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
King County Library/Des Moines Branch 21620 11th Avenue S., Des Moines WA 98198 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Seattle Public Library (Downtown Main Branch) 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle WA 98104 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
King County Library/Shoreline Branch 345 NE 175th, Shoreline WA 98155 Poll hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
King County Library/Vashon Island Branch 17210 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon Island, WA 98070 Poll Hours 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
News out of Sacramento from an obscure California administrative office didn’t earn much attention here in Washington. Maybe it should have.
A 63-word statement on January 12 bound California to a policy known as the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) – the same policy that Gov. Gregoire is working to install here.
The problem is that a simplistic concept of an LCFS doesn’t quite square with the realities of fuel science. According to EPA, the carbon content of fuel isn’t subject to variation – for every gallon of gasoline our engines combust, the amount of carbon emitted is constant. So if an LCFS can’t impact the carbon content of fuel, what exactly is it equipped to do?
Peel back the layers of the LCFS onion, and it becomes clear that it’s a policy designed not to make the fuels in our tank any better or more efficient than they are today – but to make those fuels harder to find and more expensive to purchase. Achieve those two things, LCFS supporters candidly admit, and you reduce the demand for energy by making it so expensive that folks will learn to live without it. Of course, that’s not exactly how those supporters are selling it the public. But once you come to terms with how an LCFS works, it’s tough not to arrive at precisely that conclusion.
So how does an LCFS actually work? First, it attempts to render a carbon score for all the oil that Washingtonians use on a daily basis – again, not a score for how much carbon is actually in the oil, but a score for how much energy is required to bring those sources of energy to the market. Unfortunately, under the bizarre accounting methodology, Saudi Arabian oil scores significantly better than resources from Canada. Nigerian oil makes out far better than energy from Mexico. Even oil produced right here in the United States falls short of samples delivered from places like Libya.
When asked about these difficulties by legislators, the head of Washington’s Department of Ecology climate program admitted “it’s complex.” And those complexities create strange results. The system might actually encourage replacing Canadian oil with oil shipped from overseas.
So if an LCFS is setup to prevent secure, affordable Canadian oil from crossing the border and being turned into the fuels we need to run the state – how are Washingtonians supposed to make up the difference? One option is to ratchet up imports from the Middle East, currently residing at nine percent of the state’s energy consumption. And the other? We can start using hydrogen and electric plug-in cars instead – never mind that those technologies are decades, perhaps even generations, away from commercial viability.
Late last year, we released a classified memo from Gov. Gregoire’s chief of staff laying out a plan for implementing the California model here in Washington. The memo, available on our site, reveals that the ultimate objective of a Washington LCFS, and other climate policies, is to encourage support for imposing the mandate nationwide. The assumption is that the high cost of such an approach in Washington will cause people here to call for a national approach to level the playing field. Until then, the cost of our “leadership” will come out of our pockets.
There may be plenty about the state of California of which Washingtonians could be conceivably envious. An LCFS, though, is simply not one of them. Not at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty in our state and not when there are other approaches to reducing carbon emissions that are both more effective and more efficient.
Earlier this year we highlighted problems with a previous federal program to weatherize government buildings. The legislature is considering HB 2561, which would borrow $850 million for energy retrofits in state buildings. Supporters claim the bill "pays for itself," although the sponsor, Rep. Dunshee, admitted in committee that the state will not attempt to recover the savings from energy reductions to pay for the cost.
This story is just one more example that taxpayers should be wary of programs that promise to create thousands of jobs while saving money at little or no cost to the taxpayer. It is also a good example of something we pointed out in December, that bureaucratic rules can dramatically slow the creation of jobs and environmental improvements.
In the continuing saga of a story we helped break a few years back, there is still debate about the impact of climate change on snowpack across the Northwest. In 2007, it became clear that there were games being played with snowpack data. Then-state climatologist Phil Mote (now at Oregon State University) claimed that snowpack had declined by 35 percent since 1950. His colleagues noted that he was cherry-picking the data and recently published a report, after an exhaustive peer review process, indicating that the number is incorrect and misleading. Ironically, Mote accused them of "oversimplifying" the issue although he has backed off his previous claims.
This study doesn't claim that climate change won't have an effect on snowpack, but they make the absolutely correct point that "if you try to spin it that all of the loss we're seeing is evidence of what global warming is doing, you really risk undermining your credibility." If only they'd told the IPCC that three years ago.
An article in the Daily Journal of Commerce by a green building supporter echoes the data we've provided that "green" buildings are not living up to their promise. He worries that the failure of "green" buildings to live up to their promises could undermine government and public support for those programs. The author writes:
There have been countless stories of “green” buildings not actually performing in an environmentally friendly and efficient manner. In fact, this happens so frequently that a new phrase has entered the English language just to describe it: performance slippage. This term is most often used to describe a building that achieved a rating from a credible system (i.e., LEED or Green Globes), however once in operation did not actually see any differences in performance in areas such as energy efficiency and water usage.
In the end, however, he argues that the rules actually need to be made more strict. He says that we need to ensure that "standards and codes used to define a green building are developed in a consensus-based and public manner." He doesn't explain how creating standards by consensus will make the system better and it seems that focusing on the process of creating the standards rather than the outcome continues in the wrong direction, just faster.
During last night's Super Bowl, Audi's ad portrayed a fictional future when the green police check to ensure that each of us is being environmentally correct. Once scene features the green police going through people's garbage and when a man tries to throw away an orange peel, he is cited for a compost violation.
These advertising folks sure have a creative mind! Where would they get such an absurd view of the future?
Bolden is an inspector for the city of Seattle and after the new year starts on Sunday, he'll start issuing fines to businesses that violate the city's law by mixing their recyclables with ordinary trash. - Seattle Times, December 31, 2005
Oh. Well, certainly the part of the commercial where they arrest the guy for owning incandescent light bulbs would never happen.
Turn out the lights on traditional incandescent bulbs. A little-noticed provision of the energy bill, which is expected to become law, phases out the 125-year-old bulb in the next four to 12 years in favor of a new generation of energy-efficient lights that will cost consumers more but return their investment in a few months. - USA Today, December 16, 2007
Maybe being an ad man is easier than I thought.
P.S. If anyone can find a link to a carbon-sniffing aardvark, please pass it along.
"Communities would continue to be exposed to air pollution, new or expanded businesses face stricter pollution control requirements and the state might suffer federal sanctions..."
"Slower response to businesses and industries that need air quality permits to start or expand operations..."
"Won't be able to identify, assess and respond to toxic hotspots; won't be able to develop response to and reduce risks from toxics like benzene, chromium and formaldehyde;..."
These are just a few of the impacts the State Department of Ecology says will result by shifting $1.6 million from current projects to implement the Governor's executive order on climate change, signed last spring.
When the legislature rejected the Governor's bill on climate change, she signed the order which included elements that, in then Ecology Director Jay Manning's words, "go beyond the bill’s requirements." To fund these efforts, the Department of Ecology moved funding from a number of current activities, shifting it to implement the Executive Order. Last June, the Office of Financial Management itemized where the funding would come from and what activities would not take place as a result of the funds sweep.
The spreadsheet, which can be read here, outlines cuts to a number of current projects. The impacts range from failure to respond to toxic hotspots, reduced work on improving air quality and increasing the wait time for businesses to receive permits.
What is remarkable is that the Governor's executive order does nothing to reduce carbon emissions in the near future. It is a laundry list of planning efforts, including "Continue to participate in the Western Climate Initiative," "develop emission benchmarks, by industry sector, for facilities the Department of Ecology believes will be covered by a federal or regional cap and trade program," "develop by September 1, 2010, recommendations for forestry offset protocols," and the like.
Contrast the speculative impact of those planning processes to the near-future impacts on environmental quality by shifting the money, not only to the projects listed above, but to other projects that face the chopping block in this tough budget. Cliff Traisman of the Washington Conservation Voters told Publicola last month that there were a number of important environmental projects facing cuts this year, including:
Hazardous Waste Cleanup, Department of Ecology: $500,000
Solid Waste Cleanup, Department of Ecology: $273,000
Funding to prevent long-term storage of mercury, Department of Ecology: $300,000
Air Quality Activities, Department of Ecology: $300,000
Water Quality Cleanups, Department of Ecology: $204,000
Water Quality Monitoring, Department of Ecology: $200,000
All of these combined add up to $1.77 million, just over the amount being diverted to the legislatively-rejected climate policy.
Too often, environmental priorities are set based on the latest political fad without consideration of what is lost or the alternatives. By signing the executive order, the Governor committed the state to cutting projects designed to defend air and water quality, help businesses create jobs while meeting environmental regulations and clean up toxics and hazardous waste. Of course the rejoinder, even from the environmental community, will be that we need to fund all of these things. That, however, is exactly the attitude that rejected setting priorities and led us to the current situation. Whether they want to admit it or not, if projects aren't economically sustainable, they aren't environmentally sustainable.
Until we change the approach to setting environmental priorities, we will continue to fund politically-motivated projects at the expense of projects with real environmental benefit.
For those on Twitter, you can follow the Environmental Center @WAPolicyGreen
In her State of the State address today, the Governor announced a program to retrofit state buildings with a "green building program" she claims will save $60 million. Washington politicians frequently make such claims, but in the past they have been consistently inaccurate and even retracted by the agencies overseeing the projects.
Proposing projects with a history of failure is not only bad for taxpayers, it also wastes resources that might truly promote environmental sustainability.
·In 2005, the Governor signed legislation requiring schools to meet “green building” standards, claiming that such buildings would use 30-50 percent less energy. Since that time, however, audits show that “green” schools in virtually every district use moreenergy per square foot than other schools in the same district. In the Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett and Spokane school districts, “green” schools use 30 percent more energy per square foot than schools built just before the law.
·The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Ecology and school district directors have all now admitted that these “green” schools don’t save energy.
·The state currently has a program to retrofit buildings to improve energy efficiency. Savings, however, are not based on actual performance, but projections that often prove to be inaccurate. General Administration has not audited the information to see if those projections are accurate.
·A federal audit of a similar program found significant problems with the projections and auditing so significant that the program may actually spend more money than it saves. The report noted that “the Department may risk spending up to $17.3 million more than it will realize in energy savings.”
As long as Olympia continues to focus on costly and ineffective eco-fads like "green" buildings, Washington will continue to waste resources and opportunities for environmental improvement.
The past year saw a strong move toward trendy environmentalism and away from policies that are likely to be environmentally sustainable in the long run. Nonetheless, there were a few glimmers of hope for thoughtful and honest approaches to environmental issues.
Here are the top five.
5. Seattle turns down the bag tax. Sometimes preventing a step backward is as good as taking a step forward. The issue is not that plastic bags don't have an environmental impact. The problem is that they are seized upon because they are politically easy targets. The Seattle Times published a graphic showing the environmental impact of the bags. Those impacts are extremely small, especially when compared to the cost of the ban. We calculated that you could receive the same benefits from reductions in CO2 emissions and water use for less than four percent of the cost of the ban. It is important to remember that waste of money is waste of resources, and spending $20 to get $1 of benefit wastes numerous opportunities to mak!
e positive environmental improvements. The vote shows that even in Seattle politicians can't simply be frivolous with money when it comes to the environment.
4. Getting the facts right. Often, it's not what you don't know but what you know that ain't so. In 2009, fortunately, there were a couple of instances where environmental misinformation was corrected. As we mentioned yesterday, the Seattle Weekly had attacked us as climate "deniers." While it is true that we don't support the most extreme claims of impact from climate change, we believe there is risk from CO2 emissions. When we pointed this out to the Weekly they, in a very gracious post, corrected the record. Additionally, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction removed a video from its web page (posted a couple years ago) that made claims about green buildings which were inaccurate. Truth be told, they didn't do so quickly or willingly. They removed the video only after KING TV aired a story highlighting the false claims in the video and after the facilities director at the Spokane School District asked them!
to remove it. Those requests were made on March 25. Instead of removing the video they simply added a disclaimer saying that it "may not represent current conditions and knowledge of high-performance schools." When we asked for the video in a disclosure request we were denied. We repeated our request, noting that they could not deny it to us. We received the video and one week later it was removed from the page. These things didn't happen on their own, of course. We had to press. But I can cite many other cases where bad information was not removed despite evidence to the contrary, so we celebrate small victories.
3. British Columbia conservatives win re-election with environmental platform. Earlier this year, the conservative party (ironically named the "Liberal" party) in British Columbia won a rare third term in power and their environmental agenda played a role. Public opinion research shows that while large majorities say they are concerned about the environment, majorities believe environmentalists are too extreme. This offers conservatives with an intelligent and effective approach to the environment an opportunity. In BC the conservatives took advantage of that opportunity with their policy of a carbon price and tax rebates to citizens. The Toronto Globe and Mail even wrote:
The first week of the election campaign was a complete disaster for the NDP, dominated by news stories about environmental heavyweights like David Suzuki denouncing the NDP for selling its soul in a populist bid to exploit some short-term voter anger. The message from many of the province's most influential environmental groups couldn't have been clearer: If you care about the earth, vote Liberal.
As conservatives head into the elections of 2010 in the US, there is an opportunity to show that the right choice for the economy, jobs and the environment are policies that make use of the creativity and incentives of the free market.
2. Cap-and-trade dies in the legislature. This was a short-lived victory, but a good moment, nonetheless. Despite appeals in the media and in person from the Governor, the legislature turned down the costly and ineffective climate policies she offered. This was quickly undermined by the Governor's Executive Order on climate change, but it demonstrated that the legislature recognized that it could not ignore economic realities and the many problems of cap-and-trade. A step in the right direction, even if it was followed by a step in the opposite direction.
1. Elinor Ostrom wins the Nobel Prize in Economics. She isn't the first economist to address environmental issues to win the prize. Ronald Coase won the prize in 1991, in part for his application of the theory of transaction costs to economic externalities. But the first woman to win the prize in economics examined the wide range of solutions available to solve "the tragedy of the commons," where there appear to be no incentives to work for long-term environmental sustainability. In selecting her, the committee wrote:
Rules that are imposed from the outside or unilaterally dictated by powerful insiders have less legitimacy and are more likely to be violated. Likewise, monitoring and enforcement work better when conducted by insiders than by outsiders. These principles are in stark contrast to the common view that monitoring and sanctioning are the responsibility of the state and should be conducted by public employees.
It is a reality that we see frequently here in Washington state, where politicians pick and choose and impose environmental solutions (Jay Manning's comment in the climate change memo that the Governor's executive order would cause businesses to look for relief from the federal government is a case in point). Ostrom's work shows that alternatives that come from voluntary and market approaches can solve problems better than the standard, command-and-control approach favored by too many environmental activists and politicians. Her good work, and the recognition of it, earns the top spot in our list for the hope it creates for future environmental policy.
Best wishes to all of our readers and supporters for the new year and here's to hoping that 2010's list of good environmental moments is longer and more robust.
The past year was not a good one for promoting environmental sustainability in Washington state. The overriding theme of 2009 was the way politics displaced environmental honesty. Environmental policy offers benefits in two ways: benefits to the environment and political benefits to politicians associated with environmental policy. Sometimes, however, these two are at odds, especially when what is popular doesn't actually help the environment or what is good for the environment is difficult, costly or decidedly un-sexy. This year, popular trumped positive.
Along those lines, here are the top five worst environmental moments of 2009.
First, we have to give honorable mention to P-I cartoonist David Horsey. This doesn't really count as a "moment," but deserves attention because it is emblematic of the thinking that underlies so much bad environmental policy. On May 22, Horsey penned a cartoon showing the Earth goddess Gaia talking about a "dangerous infestation" that is destroying her. In the final frame she (and Horsey) renders judgment, saying "These humans have got to go." Overpopulation is a popular theme with environmentalists and they have claimed repeatedly that we've crossed the threshold time after time. Ironically, the problem they identify is always other people. I'm not sure how to describe this notion as anything other than "inhumane."
5. King County Eco-Consumer. Writing a twice-monthly column for the Seattle Times, the King County Eco-Consumer offers advice for those who want to buy and live environmentally. Frequently, however, his advice conforms not to the science or economics of sustainability but to well-worn political slogans. For instance, the eco-consumer told us that "the lower the food mileage we rack up, the better." This, however, is simply untrue. Food shipped many miles by train often has a lower carbon footprint than food shipped by truck. Shipping milk from Yakima is more efficient than shipping hay from Yakima to cows in King County, despite the fact that the actual milk travels a shorter distance. Following his advice would actually be counterproductive in many cases. For more about why the Eco-Consumer earned a spot on the list, read our piece King Coun!
ty EcoConsumer Advice: Bad for Consumers and the Environment.
4. Dow Constantine chooses politics over the environment. When a political spokesman, in Nixonian tones, tells the media "We are being absolutely truthful," you can be sure the opposite is true. In his recent campaign for King County Executive, Constantine ran an ad attacking our position on climate change, calling us climate "deniers." Ironically, he continued to make the claim even after his source, the Seattle Weekly, retracted it. The Weekly, the Seattle P-I and the Seattle Times (twice, here and here) all criticized Constantine for the claim. Do!
w knew the claim was false because the campaign highlighted policies in the WPC's Policy Guide, but ignored our policy recommendation calling for creating a carbon price and tax cuts to encourage energy efficiency. His decision, however, was that the political benefit of lying was more important than the environmental benefit of honestly addressing our policy. Such a position commits Constantine to bad environmental policy because changing his position would mean acknowledging he was dishonest in the campaign. It is the best example of a bad trend where environmental politics trumps environmental sustainability.
3. The gap between "green jobs" rhetoric and reality. With the economy taking center stage politically, the promise of "green jobs" became a centerpiece of the rhetoric justifying new environmental taxes and regulations. The Governor has repeatedly claimed that Washington created more than 47,000 green jobs. As we noted earlier this year, however, those green jobs are not new in any real sense and have more to do with definitions than economic growth. It is obvious, as well, that many who promise green jobs don't even believe their own rhetoric. One version of the state's proposed cap-and-trade legislation required an economic analysis examining "How to address trade competition from countries and states that are not participating in an emissions reduction program." The legislation acknowledges that the regulati!
on will put us at an economic disadvantage compared to other states and nations. As we noted recently, the Governor's current Chief of Staff doesn't see that as a bad thing. The harm done to Washington's economy by the Governor's climate change Executive Order creates opportunities. Jay Manning wrote in his memo on the order that "An almost certain increase in the regulated community’s interest in getting a national program will be an important side benefit" of the Executive Order. Those businesses covered by the regulation will be hit so hard that they will look to the federal government for relief. Policymakers know they are playing games with the economy and jobs, but they hope that they can fool the public long enough to get what they want and that, somehow, jobs will materialize. It demonstrates that, despite their rhetoric, policymakers know !
their climate policies are likely to kill more jobs than they !
2. Maury Island Hypocrisy. As we noted last year, a dock on Maury Island has become a cause celebre for local environmentalists. Freshman Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark quickly moved to satisfy donors on the island by moving to stop the construction of the dock, designed to ship gravel off the island. He moved quickly to pull the dock's permit when a judge ruled that the US Army Corps of Engineers had not followed the proper procedure when analyzing the dock. It was hailed as an environmental victory, despite the fact that the judge did not rule on the environmental impact, just the process. It is important to remember that the project had been given permits by the state Department of Ecology and King County as well. The reason this decision is on the list, however, is the contrast between the attention given to a small project with all its environmental permits and the most serious water quality problem on the island in Quartermaster Harbor, which!
lies in an aquatic reserve managed by Goldmark. As the Maury/Vashon Island Beachcomber noted in September, the cleanup of that part of the island is far behind schedule. They wrote that the County can't get any of the homeowners to cooperate in assessing the impact failing septic tanks are having on the Harbor. The Beachcomber wrote that "Despite several meetings, no homeowner has stepped forward to allow the county to take a look at his or her system, and none has agreed to work publicly with county officials to find a solution to a system that may be failing or inadequate." The gap between the actions of King County and Goldmark regarding the dock and the problems in Quartermaster Harbor is a dramatic example of how the value of environmental policy is more about political benefit than environmental benefit.
1. Governor Gregoire's Climate Executive Order. After pushing for a bill authorizing a range of environmental regulations and supporting Washington's participation in a cap-and-trade system, the Governor instead simply signed an executive order implementing those policies after the legislature turned them down. The Executive Order raised a number of red flags. First, there are questions about its legality since it attempts to usurp legislative authority. Second, it attempts to pick and choose future technologies that will best reduce carbon emissions. This is a strategy popular with politicians looking to receive credit for "leadership" on climate change, but it rarely delivers results (see biofuels and hydrogen cars for recent examples). Finally, it spends money to continue Washi!
ngton's role in the Western Climate Initiative's effort to create a regional cap-and-trade system. The Department of Ecology claimed it could simply shift the money from other projects to cover the costs. Strange that it is so easy to find available money at a time when we face a significant budget deficit. Worse, the WCI is likely to collapse because none of the key decisions about the structure of the WCI have been made and political changes in the participating states make it unlikely that the system will ever be launched. That sets aside the reality that cap-and-trade systems have failed to meet their targets due to the many political payouts that are invariably included in these systems. An Executive Order that has legal questions, embraces failed strategies and wastes money on a system that doesn't work, earns the Governor's Executive Order on climate change the top spot in this year's list of worst environmental moments of 2009.
It wasn't all bad this year (although the bad certainly outweighed the good). Tomorrow we highlight the top five good environmental moments of 2009.
It is hard to find a politician talking about climate change these days who fails to highlight the technological solutions they are certain will save us from climate catastrophe. Their record in this area, however, is very bad. In just the last decade we have been told that biofuels, electric cars, hydrogen cars, carbon capture and storage and the like would all usher in a new, carbon-free era.
The Wall Street Journal has a great article today about the foolishness of trying to determine the path that technology will take.The author Gordon Crovitz notes that "The more we learn about how innovation happens, the less straight the lines of advance look." He lists his top ten worst technology predictions of all time. Among them:
"The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys," Sir William Preece, chief engineer at the British Post Office, 1878.
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" H.M. Warner, Warner Bros., 1927.
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
"Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night," Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.
We could create a similar list of predictions about environmental technologies (the 1977 Stanford Research Institute study predicted that solar energy "is likely to dominate the space-heating market for new construction as soon as the year 2000." It is less than 1 percent today.). This won't stop politicians from promising that they can predict the future and grant regulatory favor and government subsidies for their favored approaches. Before they continue down this road and repeat the mistakes of the past, they should read Crovitz's piece.