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Environmentalists anonymous.

Every half-century or so, it seems, America must come to terms with some addictive behavior that has become a public nuisance. In the Depression era it was alcoholism, and the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous was America's answer.

In the 1990s, maybe it's time for another organization--"Environmentalists Anonymous."

Don't get me wrong. A little environmentalism every now and then, preferably over dinner, never hurt anyone. I can imbibe the heady concoction of screwball assertions and wild imaginings of global doom-contained in Vice President Al Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance"--with the best of them. I'll even concede that conservatives haven't paid close enough attention to legitimate environmental issues such as water and air pollution. If we had, the likes of "Greenpeace" wouldn't have cornered the rhetorical high ground on these topics.

But I, like the average sensible American, draw the line somewhere. I don't surmise the end of the world the minute the Labor Day temperature shoots above 87 degrees, and I especially am against saddling the U.S. economy with incredibly complex and expensive environmental regulations, based on the unsubstantiated ravings of pseudoscientists in headlong pursuit of research funding.

By contrast, many highly placed individuals, most notably the vice president--and also institutions such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and especially the news media and Congress--have gone off the deep end with their predictions of global doom.

Only last year, the media terrorized the nation with stories about the thinning ozone layer in the atmosphere. These stories, according to an ever-expanding army of former doomsayers, have turned out to be exaggerations of data with little or no basis in fact.

"Ozone holes could soon open over heavily populated regions in the northern hemisphere as well as the southern," Time magazine wailed in February 1992. "This unprecedented assault on the planet's life-support system could have horrendous long-term effects on human health, animal life, the plants that support the food chain, and just about every other strand that makes up the delicate web of nature."

Statements like these might be dismissed as lunatic ravings if they weren't still having such widespread impact. But media-generated scares based on sloppy or debauched science have been stampeding lawmakers for decades.

Take the flap over chlorofluorocarbons, which are used in aerosols and refrigeration and are believed to play a role in ozone depletion. OK, fine. But their phaseout will cost American consumers and businesses tens of billions of dollars. Before we spend that kind of money, I'd like to be certain ozone depletion is happening, and that it is being caused by CFCs.

But these assumptions are far from axiomatic. Four days after NASA released data it believed signaled an accelerating depletion of the ozone layer, the U.S. Senate voted 96-0 to speed up the phaseout deadline for CFCs to the end of 1995 from the year 2000.

However, only a year after terrorizing the public with a skin-scalding doomsday scenario, a NASA report now says record low levels of ozone in late 1992 and early 1993 were more than likely caused by gases from the 1991 eruption of a volcano, Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines!

Not only that, but "current and projected levels of ozone depletion do not appear to represent a catastrophe" admits Michael Oppenheimer, atmospheric scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund and a prophet of ozone panic in the past.

Even The Washington Post has been frantically backpedaling from the ozone hysteria. After nearly a decade of headlines and handwringing about erosion of the Earth's protective ozone layer, "the problem appears to be well the way to solution," the Post reported April of this year. "In fact," it continued, "researchers say the problem appears to be heading toward solution before they can find any solid evidence that serious harm was or is being done."

Did you catch that?

The same deal may go down over "global warming." Though scientists right and left are backpedaling from predictions of a "greenhouse effect" raising global temperatures, the Clinton administration has yet to repudiate its desire for the U.S. to comply with agreements signed by other nations at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro last year. The Rio agreements would require legislation curbing so-called "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide at an estimated cost to U.S. businesses and families of $100 billion per year.

Meanwhile, the EPA might consider enrolling its staff in Environmentalists Anonymous. After all, it forced the 2,400 residents of Times Beach, MO, to abandon their homes in the early 1980s to save them from the cancer-causing ravages of dioxin--only to find out later that medical research didn't support the supposed danger.

The agency also recently launched a crusade against violators of "wetlands"--even though the word "wetlands" appears nowhere in federal law. It jailed farmers for such heinous crimes as filling ditches on their land. The 9,000 regulations it enforces so haphazardly cost the U.S. economy an estimated $130 billion in 1992.

Perhaps worst of all, the EPA's own Expert Panel on the Role of Science now admits that the agency has distorted scientific data to ensure that science conforms to policy--not the other way around. As a result, the EPA consistently has gone along with, or provided cover for, the death-by- (pick one) Alar, asbestos, dioxin, and radon crowd.

The EPA operates under no clearly defined federal mandate, routinely tries to grab new jurisdictions for itself, and conducts investigations--more like inquisitions--that follow no rhyme or reason. This is the agency President Clinton wants to raise to Cabinet-level status.

"Many scientists, economists, and government officials have reached the dismaying conclusion that much of America's environmental program has gone seriously awry," lamented The New York Times earlier this year, as if the chagrin for the situation rested solely on the scientists and not the media. U.S. environmental policy, the paper added, "has too often evolved largely in reaction to popular panics, not in response to sound scientific analyses of which environmental hazards present the greatest risk."

Do tell. Does that mean legislation drawn up to respond to environmental scare stories will be withdrawn, and the American taxpayer and businessman spared the expense of paying for them? Or does it mean the federal agencies responsible for sloppy science will be called to account for their misdeeds? Don't bet on it.

And don't be surprised if compulsive environmentalism continues to afflict eminent leaders including, unfortunately, the vice president of the U.S.

"That increased accumulations of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, cause global warming, the is no longer any serious debate," Gore maintains. "There are a few naysayers far outside the consensus who try to dispute that. They are not really taken seriously by the mainstream scientific community," he says.

To the contrary, the mainstream scientific community has strict guidelines for verifying the results of research before those results are distorted in the popular press. That community is now forcing its less-responsible members to retract their exaggerated predictions. Isn't it time for the vice president to change his tune as well?

Isn't it time for Environmentalists Anonymous?
COPYRIGHT 1993 Chief Executive Publishing
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Above the Beltway
Author:Feulner, Edwin J.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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