Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Laissez-Faire Capitalism

What a fine idea.

Here's why it doesn't work:

When the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a rule last week to limit mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, officials emphasized that the controls could not be more aggressive because the cost to industry already far exceeded the public health payoff.
What they did not reveal is that a Harvard University study paid for by the EPA, co-authored by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists had reached the opposite conclusion.

That analysis estimated health benefits 100 times as great as the EPA did, but top agency officials ordered the finding stripped from public documents, said a staff member who helped develop the rule. Acknowledging the Harvard study would have forced the agency to consider more stringent controls, said environmentalists and the study's author.


The Harvard study concluded that mercury controls similar to those the EPA proposed could save nearly $5 billion a year through reduced neurological and cardiac harm. Last Tuesday, however, officials said the health benefits were worth no more than $50 million a year while the cost to industry would be $750 million a year.


Hammitt's Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has been widely cited by the Bush administration on various science issues. Hammitt assumed leadership of the center from John D. Graham, who is now the administrator of the Federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Hammitt noted that Graham was criticized during his confirmation hearings for being "pro-industry."

"I didn't think that was terribly fair," Hammitt said. "Now here we are, doing the same kind of analysis and it comes out in a more environmentally protective direction than EPA is, and they ignore it. There is an irony in that."

The Harvard study was commissioned through EPA grants to an independent nonprofit organization of northeastern-state governments that works on regional environmental issues. Praveen Amar, director of science and policy at the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, said the EPA provided about $270,000 in funding for the project. Amar said that scientist Glenn Rice, Hammitt's co-author, is an EPA employee who had been given time to work on a doctoral thesis at the Harvard center.

"Are you saving the industry a billion dollars but taking away $10 billion worth of benefits for the general public?" Amar asked.

The problem with "Free Market" capitalism is that it's not free. It's manipulated, always, owned, always. Someone benefits, someone's getting really rich. When there's that much money at stake, is that someone going to let the welfare of a few hundred (million) poor (theoretical) saps he doesn't even know get in the way of his making a couple more gazillion bucks?

Let's be serious here.

Especially when that guy doesn't actually believe what the scientists tell him about, oh, global warming. Or the damage industry is doing to the environment. Because his preacher told him Jesus wouldn't let that happen. And who knows more, Jesus or some scientist? And if something bad happens to all those people down river, well, it's just because they weren't right with Jesus. Or didn't work hard enough. Or something.

Can't be his fault. He worked hard all his life for everything he has. That's all he knows.

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