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March 2011

Dumb and dumber: Pres. Obama and EPA's Lisa Jackson

This one is from stalwart Paul Driessen, although I changed his title. Here he points out the latest nonsense from these lunatic Greens, who also happen to be high government officials...

Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that his policies would cause electricity rates to "skyrocket" and "bankrupt" any company trying to build a coal-fired generating plant. This is one promise he and his über-regulators are keeping.

President Obama energetically promotes wind and solar projects that require millions of acres of land and billions of dollars in subsidies, to generate expensive, intermittent electricity and create jobs that cost taxpayers upwards of $220,000 apiece—most of them in China.

His Interior Department is locking up more coal and petroleum prospects, via "wild lands" and other designations, and dragging its feet on issuing leases and drilling permits. Meanwhile, his Environmental Protection Agency is challenging shale gas drilling and fracking, and imposing draconian carbon dioxide emission rules, now that Congress and voters have rejected cap-tax-and-trade. That's for starters.

The beat-down of hydrocarbon energy goes on. Oil, gas and coal provide 85% of the energy that keeps America humming, but the administration is doing all it can to take it out of our mix. American voters, consumers and workers may want more drilling, mining and use of hydrocarbons, to get the economy going again. But the administration has a different agenda.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has unveiled another 946 pages of regulations that she claims will protect public health. The regs cover 84 "dangerous pollutants" that are already being scrubbed out of power plant emission streams by a host of innovative technologies. In fact, coal-fired generators now emit a fraction of what they did just 40 years ago.

The most frequently cited of these pollutants is mercury. Higher doses cause well-known ill-health effects, from severe neurological damage to brain damage and death. However, it has been all but eliminated in herbicides, light switches, thermometers and other products.

Its presence in coal and power plant emissions is likewise minimal and declining. The last serious cases of human health impacts from mercury poisoning in the US occurred decades ago—and coal-fired power plants remain the largest source of US-based man-made mercury only because other human sources are essentially gone.

Nevertheless, EPA and its anti-energy, anti-job allies like Climate Progress and Greenpeace are using mercury to spearhead their latest campaign against a fuel that provides half of all US electricity, and up to 95% in many manufacturing states.  Even worse, they claim minorities somehow are especially at risk from mercury and other power plant pollutants. They even went so far as to hold a people-of-color-only press conference, to stir up fears and persuade minority interest groups to support the new regulations.

A few elemental facts put the alleged "dangers" power plant mercury emissions in perspective—which EPA and its fellow campaigners steadfastly refuse to do. They also illustrate how EPA abuses science, statistics and tax-funded "education" campaigns to promote needless public anxiety and expand its control over our lives, jobs and consumer choices, on a host of pollutants that pose little actual risk.

First and foremost, we are talking about a mere 41 tons of mercury per year. If that sounds like a lot, consider the following.

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the cremation of human remains results in 26 tons of atmospheric mercury per year—from mercury-silver amalgams in teeth fillings.

China's coal-fired power plants emit six times more mercury than their US counterparts, and power plants worldwide emit nearly twelve times as much, according to UN and other data. Since the atmosphere, jet streams and weather systems are global phenomena, all this mercury is mixed with US emissions,

But even these man-made sources are dwarfed by natural sources.

According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, forest fires in the Lower 48 States and Alaska annually put over 44 tons of mercury into the air. Root systems carry naturally occurring mercury from soils into their leaves and wood; forest fires release the mercury into the atmosphere and also "roast" it out of burned soils. (Maybe it's time to ban forest fires—and wood-burning stoves.)

Recent studies by two Cambridge University scientists calculate that man and Mother Nature discharge up to 9100 tons of mercury into the global atmospheric every year. Most comes from volcanoes, but subsea vents (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and elsewhere), geysers and forest fires also play major roles.

In other words, US power plants account for less than 0.5% of all the mercury in the air that we Americans breathe. Even eliminating every ounce of this mercury will donothing about the other 99.5% of that pollutant in America's atmosphere.

And yet EPA & Company demand that we do just that—at a cost of billions of dollars per year, to "protect" us from infinitesimal or imaginary risks.

Perhaps our helpful bureaucrats and activists could put a Plexiglass bubble over the entire United States, to keep those evil natural and Chinese gases out; plug Old Faithful and Kilauea; keep people (especially minorities) away from Yellowstone National Park; and ban curly mercury-enhanced CFL bulbs.

Add up everything EPA is doing to tax, obstruct and penalize coal use, and we are looking at huge increases in electricity prices. These skyrocketing prices will hammer family budgets, especially in minority communities, impairing nutrition and health, making it harder for many families to heat, cool and pay for their homes, and increasing illness and death.

Soaring energy prices will also force numerous companies to outsource manufacturing operations and jobs. Electricity is a major cost for factories, offices, stores, hospitals and schools. Every price hike hits them with another $10,000 to $1,000,000 or more in new annual expenses that they must pass on to consumers—or address by laying off more employees, whose families then suffer even more.

These hard realities must be viewed against 8.9% national, 11.6% Hispanic and 15.3% black joblessness.  (These figures do not include people who have given up on finding a job, or have been forced to take part-time or temporary work.) EPA's unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats are being completely disingenuous when they say their latest ten-pound stack of rules will bring one milligram of net benefit to human health and welfare, especially for minorities.

EPA's special "stakeholder briefing" on March 16 certainly conveys the correct image. Environmental activist groups are holding the stake that this rogue agency intends to pound through the heart of America's economic recovery and civil rights progress.

EPA needs to start basing its policies and rules on science, reality, common sense, and comprehensive public health considerations. Congress needs to reassert its authority over EPA.

Both need to focus on responsible, science-based air and water quality standards that address real health and economic needs—and recognize that "human health and welfare" means more than eliminating every vestige of US man-made emissions, especially when we can do absolutely nothing about the vast majority of natural and man-made global emissions.

America—and our economic and civil rights progress—are waiting. 

Paul Driessen is a senior fellow with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, nonprofit public policy institutes that focus on energy, the environment, economic development and international affairs. Paul Driessen is author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power, Black death

Mobilizing good health

My latest HND piece shines the spotlight on the world of mobile health apps. Thousands of these apps are currently available, and they range from counting calories to remote patient monitoring, whereby a physician can keep tabs on your health condition.

I check in with Mark Stetler of AppMuse—a company that matches would-be app purveyors with suitable developers—to get a bead on where this field is headed. Also included are a few remarks from the usual naysayers.

Read the complete article.

A look at dysautonomia

My latest HND piece examines a little known disease that may affect as many as 3 million Americans. While dysautonomia is a generic term meaning any disorder of the autonomic nervous system, many sufferers exhibit the condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

POTS can be operationally defined as being indicated when the patient's heart rate increases by more than 30 beats per minute, after moving from a supine to an upright position. Hypotension will usually accompany the elevated heart rate.

POTS seems to disproportionately affect teenage girls, and even if the above symptoms should be easy to detect, typically docs do not routinely run those sorts of tests. As a result, many young victims go undiagnosed for months, while their quality of life drops to near zero.

The good news is that there are some surprisingly effective treatments, along with an excellent support structure for the kids involved.

Read the complete article.

The Lincoln Lawyer

A nicely done crime/legal thriller, with a strong cast. Ryan Phillipe might just get typecast as a sleaze, if he's not careful.

If this movie is any indication, star Matthew McConaughey seems to do better when he doesn't take off his shirt. It's also fun watching the long parade of veteran character actors—even if they have too little to do.

Read my complete review, including the (in)famous "Spoilers and Other Comments" section.

Techie stuff on the date of Easter

Many people have noticed that Easter is quite late this year. In fact, April 24 is almost as late as it can be. According to ecclesiastical rules, Easter can never occur before March 22 nor later than April 25.

For a detailed explanation on how the date of Easter is determined, surf over here.

For Baby Boomers who claim that they have cannot remember Easter being on April 24, you're right. The last time Easter occurred on this date was in 1859. However, in 1943, Easter fell on the latest date it possibly can: April 25. The next time that will occur will be in 2038.

As to early dates, check this out...

The last time Easter fell on March 22 was in 1818, and this will not occur again until 2285. Looks like we missed out.

You still don't need to worry about fragranced consumer products

The title of my latest HND piece riffs on the sequel to the popular horror film "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997).

This tack is appropriate because the fear entrepreneurs are at it again—attacking fragrances used in many household products. And, you can still ignore the campaign. The original attack occurred only last Fall, but it seems that the NGO Greenies, facing a losing fund raising proposition with their global warming nonsense, had to play the fragrance angle once more.

Leading the way is appallingly awful junk science from University of Washington professor Anne C. Steinemann, who—taking a page from P.T. Barnum—has definitely found suckers and a ready market for her ill-informed causes.

Believe it or not, the good professor's "work" consisted solely in analyzing various household products and finding that they contained such chemicals as limonene, the natural scent of citrus fruits, and alpha-pinene, the natural scent of pine trees. Not only does she not claim any health effects, she stipulates that no such conclusion should be drawn from her work.

That caveat was added at the insistence of the journal that publsihed her material, even though they knew full well that the fear entrepreneurs would still jump on Steinemann's results anyway. I found out that some members of the editorial board of the journal actually wanted to run the article without this caveat. Now you understand why I regularly lament the quality of published works in health science these days.

Steinemann's affirmative action excuse for science is far too common these days, and should cause all Americans to wonder exactly which grant applications NIH turns down.

Read the complete article.

The most accurate conversion utilities on the Web

Yes, they really are. I'm talking about the conversion utilities that apply to common units of measurement for gas concentration.

For some years, the good folks at Interscan have made available on their website downloadable Excel spreadsheets, to perform such conversions as parts-per-million to milligrams per cubic meter. Since these calculations take into account ALL necessary parameters (unlike most other web-based "converters") as well as maintain at least two decimal places, they truly are the most accurate on the Web.

Recently, Interscan updated the converters. They are now easy-to-use script based utilities, requiring only a few keystrokes. The conversions are made on the fly.

By way of background, Interscan also offers an informative Knowledge Base article on the stupidity of some of the alternative units of measurement.

Making chocolate sweet again

That's the title of my latest HND offering. I take you through some of the early history of chocolate, along with a discussion of its health benefits.

But, there's also a dark side.

Cacao, like other plantation products, had been linked to slavery, and then poor working conditions. Such practices are not confined to the dim past, however, and grotesque worker exploitation and even old fashioned slavery still exist in the chocolate trade.

Fortunately, there are companies, such as Jungell, Inc. with their Angell Bars, that are doing something about it, by embracing Fair Trade policies.

Read the complete article.

The Cholesterol Delusion

That's the title of a new book by cardiologist Ernest N. Curtis MD, reviewed in this week's HND article.

The cholesterol skepticism movement is growing, and Curtis came to it quite naturally. As a cardiologist, he was seeing hundreds of patients with coronary artery disease who did not fit the accepted profile. This prompted him to look into the science supposedly supporting the cholesterol and diet/heart theory of coronary artery disease.

Like most people who actually examine the work—as opposed to simply accepting someone else's interpretation of it—he concluded that:

The Cholesterol Theory and the Diet-Heart theory [of coronary heart disease] are scientifically bankrupt. Moreover, the continued presentation of these unproven theories as established fact in both the popular press and medical journals causes harm by diverting attention from the true causes and wasting billions of dollars on useless research.

There are many zingers in The Cholesterol Delusion, and here are a few examples:

  • The Cholesterol Theory is a near-perfect medical analog of the Emperor's New Clothes. When examined closely, there is nothing there.
  • Victims of heart attacks have cholesterol levels evenly distributed throughout the range of values. In fact, more than half of heart attack victims have cholesterol levels in the low normal range.
  • The official cause of death on death certificates can be wrong more than half the time. Moreover, it is clouded with the cultural biases of a particular country.

Consider the implications of this cause of death business for a moment. If the data is so wildly inaccurate, then just how valid are the countless epidemiological studies supposedly linking this or that "risk factor" to death from heart disease? Short answer: Not very.

As you might expect, Dr. Curtis also takes a dim view of statins, and has the data to back it up.

Read the complete article, and then check out his book.