Greens vs. Science - Toxic Troglodytes Edition

June 10, 2010 in Blog

This week, the Washington Toxics Coalition sent out a link on Twitter, highlighting a "New blog post! Study: One in Two Children Have Chronic Health Issues." The Toxics Coalition has too frequently set aside science in favor of scare tactics to achieve its goals (for instance read the exchange from our blog here: Greens vs. Science - BPA Edition).

Ironically, the Toxics Coalition often attacks its opponents over the use of similar tactics, recently touting a debate where it argued for a ban on bisphenol A (BPA) as "Science vs troglodytes." Calling its opponents troglodytes demonstrates the Toxics Coalition's commitment to science.

The blog the Toxics Coalition links to regarding the study on children's chronic health issues shows how clearly divorced the organization is from science.

The blog post notes the study found that half of American children have some form of "chronic" disease in their youth. The blog goes on to note, "Children are not 'little adults' – their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals such as those released by the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic lifecycle."

There is, however, a problem with this assessment: the study never discusses PVC or any other compounds. By discussing the study, and then mentioning PVC, the blog hopes readers will be mislead into connecting the two even though the science does not.

Additionally, the study itself casts a wide net in its definition of "chronic disease." The press release for the study notes:

Some of the conditions included asthma, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, heart problems, allergic conditions, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, sinus infections, ear infections and more. Obesity was defined as a body-mass index in the 95th percentile or higher for the child's gender and age.

Some of these are legitimate chronic diseases, others are subjective. I'm not sure I'd call an ear infection "chronic." Nor is there any indication that PVC or any other chemical causes diabetes.

Finally, while grasping at the study for evidence that children are unhealthy due to PVC or whatever other targeted toxic of the day, the conclusion of the scientists is exactly the opposite. In the press release the authors say:

What surprised the authors, however, was that the chronic conditions weren't always lasting. Overall, only 7.4 percent of the children who had a chronic condition at the start of the study still had that same condition at the end of the research period. "We've always thought of chronic conditions as quite permanent, so these findings give a lot of hope for kids with chronic conditions and obesity," said Van Cleave.

The authors were actually surprised the children's maladies were so transient. This directly contradicts the insinuations we are poisoning our children with toxics. The study finds kids have illnesses, but recover quickly.

As far as the cause of the diseases, the authors also contradict the Washington Toxic Coalition's insinuations:

"It's likely that a lot of these conditions resolved because families made lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods, reducing screen time and becoming more physically active."

This is certainly sound advice. For the Washington Toxics Coalition to claim this study helps their cause, as opposed to the cause of the Florida Orange Growers or Little Leagues, is to ignore the science altogether. It is clear why the Toxics Coalition likes to label its opponents "troglodytes." When the science isn't on your side, what other tactics are available?

Politics before Schools: Goldmark Release Ignores $35 Million in School Cuts

June 8, 2010 in Blog

Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark sent out a press release today attacking Attorney General Rob McKenna regarding an issue of eminent domain in Eastern Washington. The headline screams "McKenna refuses to stand up for Washington's schools, Goldmark is forced to seek other options."

Goldmark said he was concerned that the value of trust land would be diminished, leading to lower revenue for school construction since schools are the primary beneficiaries of revenue from trust land leases. The release quotes Goldmark saying:

"We have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the trusts for current and future generations. I believe that Okanogan PUD’s proposal will have unacceptable negative impacts, including increased fire risk and higher management costs for the trusts."

This is the strongest statement Goldmark has made supporting the state's obligations to manage trust lands for the benefit of schools. In the past, he has minimized this obligation, advocating policies that would reduce the value of state lands and harming schools.

What precipitated the change? Perhaps the cost is very high, significantly reducing funding needed at a difficult budget time. How much will this decision cost the state's schools? Here's what Goldmark's spokesman Aaron Toso had to say in an e-mail to me today:

"It is difficult to put a fine point on the dollar amount that schools would lose from this eminent domain action into the future. ... It is also impossible to see into the future and guess where the market for commodities may be for our grandchildren’s children—or even what the commodities may be (i.e. forest biomass, carbon sequestration, habitat credits or clean energy)."

Toso's e-mail can be shortened to: "I don't know."

This concern is especially ironic since many of the policies Goldmark advocates will have significant costs to taxpayers and the schools. For instance, Goldmark is advocating increasing the amount of state forest certified under the Forest Stewardship Council, a regulatory scheme favored by environmental activists. Such a move would reduce the amount of timber harvested, and revenue to the schools, by an estimated 25 percent. The Department of Natural Resources own numbers show that using this standard would reduce the revenue in the South Puget Sound region by 30 percent.

Statewide, timber harvests yielded $145 million for schools and other state programs in 2009. Using FSC statewide could cost taxpayers more than $35 million a year in lost revenue.

Sadly, this is a consistent trend with Commissioner Goldmark. Substitute politics for science and data. While claiming to be concerned about the impact this ruling will have on the schools, his own policies will cost schools tens of millions each year by the Department's own estimates.

More Wishful Thinking on Green Buildings and Energy Retrofits

May 21, 2010 in Blog

This fall, voters will be deciding on Referendum 52 which asks them to approve borrowing $500 million to fund "energy retrofits" for state buildings. The claim is the program will create jobs, like the federal stimulus program, and save money by improving the energy efficiency of the buildings. These programs have a mixed record and often are not audited to see if savings actually materialize.

The Sightline Institute, however, posted their initial "analysis" of the referendum this week and there are a couple of silly errors. Sightline writes that "A study of Washington schools found that investing in energy retrofits for our school buildings not only saves schools money, but it also improves student health and test scores."

First, they confuse "green" building with energy retrofits. The study is about schools built from the ground up using "green" building standards. It does not cover energy retrofits, which are small projects that replace individual light and energy systems in existing buildings.

In 2009, I testified before the legislature when it initially considered the energy-retrofits bill. I noted that energy savings projections were often wide of the mark, citing WPC's research on "green" buildings. We noted that energy retrofits are different from green buildings, but raised the point to urge caution when it comes to counting on energy savings in financial projections. That caveat was not enough for the bill sponsor. When the bill was considered again in 2010, I was walking up to testify when the sponsor of the bill warned me not to discuss "green" buildings since the bill had nothing to do with them. I wonder if that same warning will now be offered to Sightline.

There are studies that examine the results of energy-retrofit programs. You can read our blog post on the bill that became Referendum 52 and follow the links to the studies.

Second, the study cited by Sightline is written by an architecture firm that specializes in "green" buildings and fudges many of the numbers on energy and waste. For example, in the section highlighting the reduction in construction waste from refurbished buildings, they note that in an "informal survey of 6 LEED [green] buildings" they found that between 22 and 90 percent of the building was recycled. They conclude that "Using an average of these numbers yields a value of 56% of school construction waste that can be recycled." This is a very basic math error. The way to calculate an average is to add all six numbers together and then divide by six. What the architects did instead was find the average of only the high and low numbers.

They don't provide all six numbers in the document, so the real average is a mystery. If most of the numbers are closer to the 22 percent, the actual average will be lower. Conversely, if most of the numbers are closer to the 90 percent, the average will be higher. Given the obvious bias of the report, however, I can guess what the reality probably is. In any case, this is a simple and embarrassing math error.

There are many other errors and the projections from the 2005 report have come nowhere close to the actual performance of the schools during the past five years.

Much of Washington's environmental policy is adopted with the assumption it will work, but no effort is made to compare the actual results to the promises. This betrays the reality that the real value of those policies is political, not the benefit (or harm) to the environment. If we truly care about the environment, we should audit rigorously and ensure that we are getting the environmental benefits we were promised. Sightline's first cut at Referendum 52 skips the audit in favor of wishful thinking.

Why I Should Hate People from Thurston County and Iowa...and Foreigners

May 20, 2010 in Blog

One of the strongest trends in environmental thought is the move toward "buying local." Environmental activists argue that buying local is better for the environment and saves energy -- which, unfortunately, is often not the case. There is, however, a strong dose of provincialism and chauvinism in these attitudes. For many, "buy local" has become a surrogate for an us-versus-them mentality.

This mentality is manifesting itself in some silly ways.

In Portland, for instance, a pig cook-off led to a "buy local" brawl. The Associated Press reports:

Portland police had to break up a fist-fight after a pig-cooking contest that resulted in a McMinneville chef and the event's organizer being arrested. After the Sunday event, chef Eric Bechard confronted Brady Lowe, the cook-off's organizer, denouncing the contest for giving top marks to pork raised in Iowa. Bechard, who advocates using locally raised food, told police he didn't like the contest bringing in a pig from Iowa.

It is about time someone is standing up against pigs, and people, from Iowa. They don't even have mountains or beaches in Iowa. How can they understand our values?

While it's obvious that people from other states are suspect, we shouldn't overlook the fact that people from our state's fellow counties are just as suspect. So says one of the advocates of the newly created East Jefferson PUD. Responding to a WPC piece written by Brandon Houskeeper noting that East Jefferson's startup costs were more than double what boosters of creating that government-run utility promised, one of the advocates wrote this to the Port Townsend Leader:

Clearly, Mr. Housekeeper [sic] isn’t from here and has no idea about our values. In contrast, the voters apparently believe in employing local folks, paying cost based rates and being able to meet and elect our Commissioners rather than pay an escalating ROI to a profit-based utility owned by a foreign investment firm.

How can someone from Thurston County understand the values of people in Jefferson County? Don't even get me started on the values of people in a "foreign" company.

Some people, however, aren't merely using their fists or letters-to-the-editor to address this issue. The City of Lake Elmo, Minn. has actually passed a law prohibiting farmers from selling produce grown outside the city. One farmer, who owns land both inside the city limits and just outside the city limits, must ensure he keeps track of what was grown inside and outside the city limits. Due to the needs of crop rotation, one year the city will get pumpkins, and something else the following year. This seems rather bureaucratic when it would be much more simple to just build a wall around the city.

Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises once said "Interventionism generates economic nationalism, and economic nationalism generates bellicosity." Of course, he was a foreigner.

Follow the Science...but Where?

May 18, 2010 in Blog

One of the most common phrases used to support various environmental policies is "follow the science." This assumes, however, that the science is clear and that the uncertainty in the science is not being influenced by the personal politics of the scientist doing the work or by those interpreting the science. Too often that is not the case.

Are Washington's Environmental Policies Helping Or Hurting?

April 21, 2010 in Blog

During the past five years, environmental policy has become one of the centerpieces of every political campaign and is highlighted regularly by elected officials. For the past five years (excluding 2010) the Washington Conservation Voters have chosen their list of "Environmental Priorities" and the Senate Majority has a web page specifically touting their successes during the past five years.

Once the legislation is passed, however, few go back to see if the policies actually achieve the promised results.WPCEnviroScorecard

During the past five years, the legislature has enacted more than two dozen environmental policies ranging from climate change, to clean water and banning flame-retardant compounds. While these policies receive significant attention while being considered by the legislature, few of them are later audited to determine if they are achieving the intended results.

For Earth Day 2010, we have examined the environmental policies passed by the legislature and governor during the past five years to determine when they have succeeded and when they have failed. The results are mixed, but in too many cases the programs are off track and the policies have either already failed or are likely to fall short. Considered together, these environmental policies are likely to do more damage to the environment than good.

You can read the whole report here: Five Years of Environmental Policy: Are We Making A Difference?

Will Earth Day be More Successful than Earth Hour?

April 21, 2010 in Blog

For the fourth year in a row, WWF sponsored Earth Hour, an effort to get people around the world to turn off their lights to symbolically demonstrate the need to use less energy to fight climate change. While the effort is considered symbolic, there are numerous claims that the effort actually saves significant amounts of energy.

For instance, on the Earth Hour Wikipedia page, it is claimed that "Vietnam electricity demand fell 500,000 kWh during Earth Hour 2010," and "The Philippines was able to save 611 MWh of electricity during the time period, and is said to be equivalent to shutting down a dozen coal-fired power plants for an hour," and "Toronto saved 900 megawatt-hours of electricity. 8.7% was saved if measured against a typical March Saturday night."

We examined energy use in Washington state related to Earth Hour to see if these trends were repeated here. We looked at electricity data from various parts of the state and found that energy use actually increased during Earth Hour compared to similar Saturdays and to the Friday and Sunday surrounding the event.

For instance, when looking at energy use during the recent Earth Hour weekend, we found that energy went up on all three days during the 8 p.m. hour, fell during the 9 p.m. hour on Friday and Sunday, but not on the Earth Hour Saturday. Here is the data on the change in energy from 8 p.m., before Earth Hour, and 9 p.m., the middle of Earth Hour (energy data is available by hours, so the actual data covering 8:30-9:30 p.m. is not available):

Date Change in Usage
Friday, March 26 -1%
Saturday March 27 (Earth Hour) 1.20%
Sunday, March 28 -1.90%

The other issue is whether energy use on every Saturday goes up during that hour when compared to typical Fridays and Sundays. So we also looked at the Saturdays before and after Earth Day. This data covers a separate part of the state, so it doesn't match perfectly. It is very similar, however, indicating that results across the state are alike. Here are the results:

Date Change in Usage
Saturday, March 20 0.45%
Saturday, March 27 (Earth Hour) 3.13%
Saturday, April 3 1.98%

So, we do use energy later on Saturday than on Friday or Sunday, but the increase in energy use in Washington went up more on the Earth Hour Saturday than either Saturday before or after.

This is more evidence that environmentalism has become as much about symbolism as about sustainability. People feel good that they are making a difference without actually making a difference.

Legislature Finds $15 Million For Political Poster Child While Environmental Projects Go Unfunded

April 14, 2010 in Blog

Today's Seattle Times reportsthat the state set aside $15 million from the Asarco settlement to help buy a gravel mine on Maury Island that has been a poster child for Seattle environmental activists. During the past few years, environmental activists have spent huge sums of money suing to stop the creation of a dock to move the gravel off the island. Both Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and King County Executive Dow Constantine made the issue a centerpiece of their campaigns, promising island residents that they would stop the project.

Politicians and environmental activists claim the dock is environmentally damaging. There's only one problem -- the scientists at the Puget Sound Partnership don't rank this project as a priority.

In their priority list for the South Central Area, the scientists at the Puget Sound Partnershp (PSP) do not mention the dock. Despite that, the state found $15 million to prevent it from being used. By way of comparison, $15 million is larger than the annual protection and restoration budgets for:

  • DOE - Local Gov't Stormwater Grants - $14
  • Washington Wildlife and Recreation Grants (WWRP) - $11
  • DOE – other direct spending - $11
  • Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) - $10
  • Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) - $9
  • Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) - $5
  • Department of Natural Resources (DNR) - $4
  • State Parks - $3
  • Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB) - $3
  • Conservation Commission - $2
  • Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA) - $2

While the Maury Island dock is not a priority concern, the PSP does, however, list Quartermaster Harbor, on the other side of Maury Island, sandwiched between Vashon and Maury Islands. Quartermaster Harbor, which is part of a state aquatic reserve, is recognized as one of the most polluted places in the Sound. The Vashon/Maury Island Beachcomber reports that "Research five years ago showed that Quartermaster Harbor hosts the highest concentration in all of Puget Sound of an alga that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning."

The problem is that septic tanks surrounding the Harbor are failing, polluting the harbor. So, what has been done about this problem?

Despite working for years, there has no progress fixing the problem of septic tank failure. Last September the Beachcomber reported "After two years of effort, King County officials have made little headway in a far-reaching attempt to get homeowners along the western shore of outer Quartermaster Harbor to address failing septic systems that are fouling the wildlife-rich bay."

The County doesn't deserve all of the blame, the homeowners are not cooperating and politicians are not anxious to put pressure on voters and donors who helped them during the last campaign. This is a major reason that so much focus has been put on the gravel dock rather than a more significant environmental concern a couple miles away.

The final irony is that while $15 million has been lavished on a non-problem, a group looking to help clean Quartermaster Harbor is begging for volunteers. The Beachcomber reports that "The Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a small, highly regarded nonprofit that is undertaking the mussel research, wants volunteers. Islanders can help them collect native mussels to attach to the raft or even help build the raft."

For more information on how to help the Fund, visit

The Shifting Math of the "Jobs" Bill

April 12, 2010 in Blog

Today, the legislature will vote on a bill to increase state debt by $500 million, spending the money on a variety of projects on public buildings. As this bill has moved forward, the number of jobs created by the spending has changed, and not in a consistent way.

When the bill was offered initially, it proposed borrowing $850 million to create 38,000 jobs -- a cost of $22,368.42 per job. The bill being offered today has been scaled back by about 40 percent, down to $500 million. The jobs creation estimates, however, were cut by about half that amount, to 30,000 jobs, for a cost of $16,666.67 per job. Since the projects have not been chosen, these numbers are purely estimates, so it is unclear why the cost per job would change. Remember that these numbers include both labor and materials, so not all of this amount goes to workers.

Last month we noted that the basis for job creation claims can be all over the map. When the Governor announced grants to create "green" jobs, the cost per job ranged from $174,063 to $477.

Additionally, although the bill says it will "create jobs quickly," the criteria for submitted grants won't be finished until December 31, 2010. Applications will then be turned in and approved sometime during 2011 with construction to begin after that.

An example of the confusion about jobs, is this discussion from January 13, when the bill was first heard in the Capital Budget Committee. The discussion is interesting because it demonstrates:

- How fast and loose they are with the jobs projections
- The tension between efficiency and job creation. Rep. Dunshee claims both that the bill will be extremely efficient, with a high return on investment and claims that it costs more to do these kinds of projects, leading to more jobs.

Special Session Goes Retro With $850 Million Debt Proposal

April 11, 2010 in Blog

The Senate is set to take up HB 2561, a bill that would create $850 million in new debt to pay for energy retrofits at schools in Washington. Sponsor Hans Dunshee says the bill has been modified to address concerns about the impact this new debt would have on the state's bond rating.

Those changes, however, won't be unveiled until the hearing. The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Dunshee is "declining to give details until the new plan is rolled out Sunday afternoon at a public hearing." The Special Session is set to end Tuesday, so if the bill is to pass before the deadline, the bill's hidden details will have to be approved today.

Beyond the concerns about transparency, the bill itself is unlikely to deliver the promised results. When it is was released earlier this year, Rep. Dunshee claimed on the House Democrats' blog that it would create:

* 38,000 new jobs
* $190 million in energy savings every year
* Better, longer-lasting schools
* It pays for itself

Our research shows these claims are not based in actual experience.

First, the energy savings estimates are based on a small version of the program that has been around for a decade. Those energy retrofits, however, have not been audited, so projections are based on an estimate of savings, not actual results. The GA estimates first-year savings and then simply extrapolates over the life of the project. As we've noted with green schools, these projections can be wide of the mark and, without audits, they are of questionable reliability. Supporters of the bill claim the numbers are "guaranteed" by the contractor. But the performance is confirmed only for the first year. Contractors are willing to monitor beyond that initial year, but will charge addition fees to do so. An amendment to extend the requirement for audits beyond the first year was killed in the House Capital Committee.

Second, the return on investment of these projects varies widely. Some pay for themselves in about eight years (based on GA's projections), while others take more than 50 years. Some actually increase energy use. For instance, in South Kitsap School District, funding was used to fix a failing HVAC system. The good news is that the school now has air conditioning. The bad news is that the school's energy bill increased. This is certainly an improvement in the quality of the school but basing budget projections on savings from these projects is faulty.

It is also unclear how the bill pays for itself. Rep. Dunshee told the Capital Committee that the State would make no effort to recover the projected energy savings. The state provides the money to the districts, but any energy savings are kept by the district.

Finally, an audit of a similar federal program found a number of problems. The Inspector General of the Department of Energy found, when examining a subset of the projects, that "the Department may risk spending up to $17.3 million more than it will realize in energy savings." They also found that contractors overestimated the savings from projects, increasing the fees they receive, which are calculated based on energy savings. You can read the whole report here.

For more about this, you can read the Policy Note we released last year about this issue called Mixed Results from Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency Contracts.

There are opportunities for the state and school districts to receive savings by upgrading equipment, but not all projects are created equal and some have simply failed to live up to their promise. Ensuring the state gets what it pays for is why we offered the Climate Change Accountability Act (C2A2) this year. Heard in the House Ecology and Parks Committee, the bill would have required contractors on state projects to certify energy savings, refunding a portion of their fee to the state if energy targets were missed. Many of the same contractors who will likely testify in favor of the bill today, testified against the increased monitoring and accountability requirements of C2A2.

Greens vs. Science - Tuna edition

April 7, 2010 in Blog

Environmental activists have long pushed the myth that eating tuna and some other fish is bad for women due to potentially high levels of mercury. The Washington State Department of Health shows the nuanced approach to this warning. On their web page they give the following advice to women who are or might become pregnant:

Do not eat  - shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, or tuna steaks.

Puget Sound Cleanup Isn't a Priority, That's Why We Need More Taxes

April 6, 2010 in Blog

The legislature continues to look at a package of tax increases to close the gap between revenues and their desired level of spending. One of the ideas on the table is a tax increase on refineries which translates to a gas tax increase of 4-6 cents (see note below). The justification for this tax is that the money is needed to fund Puget Sound Cleanup.

Previous funds for Puget Sound cleanup have been shifted to other projects, leaving little for that effort. Rep. Ross Hunter explained why the money keeps getting taken for other things:

“Imagine you had saved up money to do a landscaping project in your back yard, and you had this nice pot of money, and you’re just about ready to start on it, and you get unemployed and you stay unemployed, and it looks like you're going to be unemployed for a while. You know, you might say it might be a good idea to take this money that I have saved up for cleaning up my backyard, and I’d kind of like to have groceries this week. I think that's the kind of the situation the state’s in right now. We’re trying to not do that, but you also have to recognize that you have to prioritize what you do, and maybe doing that in the short run is a better choice than either eliminating all of our college financing for students, or eliminating the kinds of daycare that we provide that allows parents who are coming off welfare to go back to work rather than staying at home.”

Following the analogy the unemployed person should take a loan and fix the yard anyway. Of course the only way legislators can get away with such logic is by believing that they can simply raise taxes anytime to create more money without considering the consequences of those tax increases. Such a mindset is not conducive to setting and keeping priorities.

This attitude also ignores the fact that businesses and families cannot do the same and each dollar lost to taxes cannot simply be made up elsewhere.

This mindset can also be bad for the environment. The state does not currently prioritize environmental expenditures in any systematic way. Environmental priorities are chosen based on their political popularity rather than analyzing which projects will have the greatest environmental benefit for the dollar. As a result, projects that are sexy are "prioritized" while other projects that may have more environmental benefit are ignored.

This year we offered the 2010 Recommendations for Effective Environmental Stewardship which includes a recommendation to analyze the state's environmental projects to see where we can receive the highest benefit for each taxpayer dollar. At a time when resources are scarce, putting funding where it matters most is more thoughtful and responsible than hoping we can continue to raise taxes on job-creators and families without consequence.


So, the Sightline Institute doesn't like my range of 4-6 cents for the cost of this. They argue that the current proposal calls for an increase of 0.85 percent, which, given current prices, is two cents. OK. I agree. It is worth pointing out that this is different from other gas taxes in that it is a percentage and not an actual cost per gallon. Most taxes on gasoline are a fixed cost per gallon. This is a percentage, which means the price will go up if wholesale price goes up.

Really, though, the actual amount is a bit of a distraction since whatever the price is must be justified based on environmental benefit. Neither Sightline nor Ross Hunter have done this, which is the point of my blog entry. Is two cents, or four, or six, justifiable? Who knows because no such effort has been made to determine that other than an assumption that it is. If we truly care about doing what is best for the environment, we should justify expenses based on something more than "good things will happen." Spending money without an idea of the quantity of benefit reduces the funding available for other projects that might have a greater environmental benefit.

I Continue to Oppose the Banana-Chicken

April 1, 2010 in Blog

Seattle environmental think tank, the Sightline Institute, has a story about a promising new technology, the salmon-goat. I am featured in this article noting that this technology is just as foolhardy as previous proposals:

Todd Myers, environmental director for the right-leaning Washington Policy Center, objected to the development of salmon-goats, arguing that previous hybrids had not yielded their promised benefits for urban agriculture. “Remember the banana-chicken?” said Myers, “In the 1990s environmentalists said the banana-chicken would solve ozone depletion, and look where that got us."

Opposing the banana-chicken was the right policy then. It is still the right policy today.

What Living Wage Means for 'Green Jobs'

March 30, 2010 in Blog

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.

Canada Rules but America Prospers

March 26, 2010 in Blog

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.