Economy / Politics / Presidency / Regulation / Uncategorized

Have Your Cake & Eat It Too: The Cloaking of Public Policy in an Election Year.

Policies change during elections. Always. No questions asked. Period. This being said, what are the true agendas of the policy makers? What’s really going on? Well, the answer? They want their cake and to eat it too. Especially when policy sounds REALLY good on paper.

Perhaps the most debated question of the next 20 years is the impact of global warming on public health. Will the oceans expand? Will more disease flourish because of the warming? Will food supply diminish? I don’t think we need to know that you’d have to have a crystal ball to formulate these answers based on extrapolations currently seen. This being said, the talk of climate change is something that seems far too abstract to quantify. If we avoid raising the world temperature by 2 degrees, we could potentially avoid the impact of melting the ice caps and increasing evapotranspiration levels, catastrophic air damage, and many other things. Here’s the real kicker though: if CO2 emissions are only 70% of this problem which have a long atmospheric resonance time with an impact we may not actually be feeling yet, it’s possible these degree impacts are unavoidable. What are we to do then? The most practical approach? Have our cake and eat it too. Yes, independent of climate change, it is more economical and responsible simply to use less. This allows us to save our earth space for less waste disposal, increase fuel supplies, extend scientific patents for more innovative, cost-effective mechanisms. To extract more power from the same supply could do wonders. Mitigation of packaging or using more efficient combustion engines/air conditioning units certainly seems the most advantageous method to reduce waste.  This being said, these methods are not only more advantageous, but apparently also insight major changes in the greenhouse gas argument. Brad Plumer recently did a piece on how by mitigating smaller sources (methane and soot, which in combustion reactions, are byproducts of incomplete combustion reactions. A complete “clean” combustion yields CO2, Water, and heat. Because organic compounds are not “clean”, clean combustion cannot ever be actually reached, yet a drive toward the most maximum combustion reaction allows for more efficient energy production, and therefore mitigation of cost) He states: “Soot is accelerating ice melt in the Arctic. What’s more, because methane and soot cycle out of the air fairly rapidly (soot can wash out in a matter of days), clamping down on these pollutants would have an immediate impact […mitigation measures for methane include] capturing gas currently escaping from coal mines and oil- and gas-producing facilities; reducing leakage from long-distance pipelines; preventing emissions from landfills; updating wastewater treatment plants; draining rice paddies more often; and limiting emissions from manure on farms. And here are the anti-soot strategies: installing more filters on diesel vehicles; taking the worst-polluting vehicles off the road; upgrading family cookstoves with cleaner-burning models; building more efficient brick kilns, boilers and coke ovens; and banning the routine burning of agricultural lands now common in many parts of the tropics. As a side benefit, the authors point out, curbing soot and methane could have considerable side benefits. The measures listed could prevent 700,000 to 4.7 million premature deaths and also boost crop yields, thanks largely to reductions in ground-level ozone, which is formed when methane interacts with other gases in the air. (Scientists also suspect that soot pollution is disrupting the Asian monsoon cycle, which could have additional effects on farm production.)”1
It’s important to note this. Changes in air quality could really impact overall health. Sustainability! Yay! As a minor point, these results still seem questionable. The World Health Organization suggests: “The global warming that has occurred since the 1970s was causing over 140,000 excess deaths annually by the year 2004.”2 Yes, I understand that greater population, rising temperature (resulting in more infectious disease, and higher death rates due to both less crop yield and more detrimental environmental impact on susceptible populations), and therefore a 3-fold or even tenfold increase would not be outlandish. I’m not certain how a figure increases 33.57-fold, though, when comparing to cumulative death rates for a 34-year period where anthropogenic carbon emissions were already occurring in record amounts each subsequent year. Regardless, these numbers sound good. To be the president that stopped: 1.2 million deaths due to urban air pollution, mitigating the 60,000 in deaths from natural disasters, or 15,000 More Temperature-Related Deaths In Europe Per Year By 20703 would all be something that one would want to publicize to environmentalist come election time. Therefore, the EPA would be doing these things, right?

BUT…SURPRISE! EPA has adapted a policy for limited information for 2012 rulings. In one of three major, recent stories: “EPA won’t promise final power plant carbon rules before 2012 elections.”4 This isn’t the case for just power-plants; much of the agency is placed on hold, as to not chase down problematic policy impacting a potential incumbent’s run for office. This seems to defy logic– the EPA is not currently pioneering innovation in the fields of environmental responsibility: “EPA’s top air-quality official isn’t making any promises that the standards will be finalized before the 2012 elections”4 even though the EPA has gone on record, stating: “the regulations will prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma starting in 2014, which would amount to $280 billion a year in health benefits.”5 At a time of economic uncertainty, wouldn’t a net cost-benefit amounting in ~$280 billion really impact the community in an acute fashion, JUST like soot mitigation, JUST like NOx and SOx emissions, and JUST like methane reductions? Wouldn’t this work in conjunction to the job creation plan the president proposed – economic injection? Need jobs now? These all seem to play out in a direct manner and a similar circumstance all the same time.

If it almost seems as though this is not the fault of the EPA, you’re on the right track. Discussing the recent block of both mitigation measures on smog and interstate SOx and NOx emissions, the NY Times broke a story on the recent meeting between Lisa Jackson and President Obama:  “The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 — if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said.”6 The President, here, understands the NOx and SOx mitigation potential benefit — $280 billion. It’s funny, he, on the surface, he seems to be in support of business vs. environmental growth.  It’s more curious, therefore, that Obama was willing to block the production of perhaps the most detrimental environmental project recently, the Keystone pipeline. Yes, the blocking of the pipeline was inevitable, as the last “state-of-the-art” pipeline with Canada produced no less than half a dozen major leaks in the first year. Yet was this completely an environmental issue? This pipeline was to go through the major fresh-water producing center for food production in the United States (to claim the block solely on environmentalists would be naïve, as this would certainly suggest multi-conglomerate farm agencies to protest the building of this project). Yet this raises a question: what is the President’s 2012 policy? He’s blocking the regulation of air that would impact the public health of (debatably) millions, while also siding with rejection of a pipeline, masquerading as solely an environmental issue.

Don’t believe me? Agro-businees is huge, and more political than anyone would dare think. Monsento company spent $8,831,120 for lobbying in 2008 alone, owns part of Disney World, employed a Supreme Court Justice, Heads at FDA, EPA, and Former Secretary of Defense. In conjunction: “the Obama administration is “littered” with ex-Monsanto executives, and that the company spends millions of dollars every year lobbying the U.S. government to further its own agenda. At least three former Monsanto execs hold high positions of power in the Obama administration. Michael Taylor, senior adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), used to be vice president of Monsanto. Islam Siddiqui, former vice president of the Monsanto-funded lobbying group CropLife, is now a negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative on agriculture. Roger Beachy, the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is former director of a plant science center funded by Monsanto. Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court was also another victory for Monsanto, as Kagan defended Monsanto’s “right” to contaminate the environment with GM alfalfa in the case of Monsanto v. Geertson Seed.”7 In line with this, disruption of the ogallala aquifer would displace millions of gallons of fresh water, and potentially contaminate all food production in the US, causing astronomical devastation on the food supply in the mid-west.

Obama’s decision to block the pipeline based on Environmental impact is simply naïve. Lack of funding from one of the largest agro-business the world seems a MUCH more likely scenario as to why one would cancel the project. It also seems more convenient in an election year, considering all the recent past rejections of Environmental Policy, that a president would mask a policy as an environmental move, as opposed to a move which would impact a major financial constituent.  Regardless of the impact of the pipeline (it probably would have cost millions in leaks, and only produced minimal long-term occupational careers), this move was a cloaked action after the rejection of so much real environmental policy. It was a move used to express environmental action, even when only 1 of the 3 recent, major actions this year sided in favor of human health. Yes, moderation in recent times is what wins elections in reelection years. We need to go back to the old Obama, pioneering public health action. This new Obama feels like a different story.

1 – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/buying-some-time-on-climate-change-with-methane-and-soot/2012/01/13/gIQAQoDrwP_print.html
2- http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/
3- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/21/global-warming-heat-cold-temperature-deaths_n_881515.html
4- http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/205081-epa-wont-promise-final-power-plant-carbon-rules-before-2012-elections
5- http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/201831-court-delays-epas-cross-state-air-pollution-rule
6- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/17/science/earth/policy-and-politics-collide-as-obama-enters-campaign-mode.html?pagewanted=all
7- http://www.naturalnews.com/031532_Monsanto_lobbyists.html

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