Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March madness: little-told stories of how Bush and other bad guys juke the stats

This is a somewhat calmer week in DC on the environmental front, so perhaps it is a good time to remind one and all of little-told stories that can have a big impact on the air we breathe – and even see.

We offer three for your consideration – all of them involve what cops on HBO’s “The Wire” call “juking the stats” – that is, playing little accounting tricks to alter the outcome of various analysis. And all of them could lead to more pollution than if things were reckoned honestly.

Cost-benefit baloney: Last week, EPA chief Stephen Johnson renewed an often-repeated industry pitch to require that national clean air standards be based in part on an assessment of the projected costs and benefits. There are a lot of reasons why this is a pretty dumb idea, but let’s consider just one: that the bean counters at the White House Office of Management and Budget can juke the stats.

And, in fact, they’ve done exactly that. During the past several years behind the scenes they have ordered the EPA to radically revise – and lower – the projected benefits of cleaning up the air. Some of this stuff is really dense, but the bottom line is that OMB ordered EPA to change a whole series of assumptions used to calculate benefits, with the result that projected benefits are relatively much lower than they would have been under the method EPA used in prior years, even in the early years of the Bush administration.

Want to see an example? Let’s take the pollution standards for diesel trains and ships announced last week. Two years ago, our friends with the state and local clean-air regulators performed an analysis of the benefits that would be achieved by applying pollution standards comparable to that required for diesel trucks or off-road engines.

They used the exact same methodology that EPA had used in its 2004 off-road diesel rule.

And they found that setting tougher standards for trains and ships would prevent nearly 4,000 premature deaths a year by 2030.

But the official EPA cost-benefit analysis for this rule now projects that it would prevent only 1,400 premature deaths a year by 2030. Still attention-getting, but much lower benefits from cleanup.!OpenDocument

Where did all the other bodies go? I guess into the delete file of some OMB computer.

Polluted parks: Another story I haven’t seen enough of is the effort by the Bush administration to juke the stats to permit more air pollution in national parks.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: one of the key principles of the Clean Air Act is that relatively pristine areas – such as national parks and wilderness areas – should remain relatively unsullied by air pollution. To achieve this, big new potential sources of pollution (such as a coal-fired power plant) must project the impact of their emissions on any possibly affected national park or wilderness area, and make sure any impact is minimal.

To permit more coal plants to be built, the Bush EPA has proposed accounting changes that would permit more pollution in these pristine areas.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has called EPA on this , but I haven’t seen anywhere near the media coverage that this outrage deserves.

For the ugly details, check with Mark Wenzler at the National Parks and Conservation Association,


Malarkey made in the USA: Finally, let us consider the latest effort by the National Association of Manufacturers to scare policy makers in the name of protecting industry from cleaning up its emissions.

Partially thwarted in its effort to block any changes in EPA’s national smog standards, NAM has turned its attention to Congress – and global warming. Always ready to twist the truth, NAM is touting what it calls an “independent” study (that NAM paid for along with the American Council for Capital Formation, or ACCF) by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It should not come as a shock that this “analysis” predicts that global warming legislation would cost more than official government assessments predict.

Because NAM juked the stats.

Indeed, in a footnote to the report (page 3 – let us know if you need this), the authors of the report concede that

SAIC executed the NEMS model in this project using input assumptions provided by ACCF and NAM. Analysis provided in this report is based on the output from the NEMS model as a result of the ACCF/NAM input assumptions. The input assumptions, opinions and recommendations in this report are those of ACCF and NAM, and do not necessarily represent the views of SAIC.

In other words, don’t blame us for this fiction. We just took the money and ran their bogus assumptions through our computers.

1 comment:


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