Gas Attack

Don’t like having your freedoms infringed? Worried about the economy? Forget the Patriot Act and the credit crisis; here comes the EPA.


  1. Charles says

    So… the EPA wants to make Ultimate illegal?

    They should just take this to its logical conclusion: suck all the air away from the Earth and leave it in a vacuum–starting with EPA headquarters, of course. After all, they have to set an example for the rest of us.

    Posted July 20, 2008 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  2. the one eyed man says

    The editorialist for the WSJ is happy to ridicule efforts to contain greenhouse gases, but offers no suggestion regarding what to do about them. Presumably he is happy with the status quo.

    According to the EPA, lawn mowers use 800 million gallons of gas per year and account for roughly 5% of the nation’s air pollution. They typically have dirty and inefficient engines, which could emit much less pollution and use much less gas if regulations required minimum standards for pollutants and efficiency. Let’s suppose it costs an additional ten dollars to make a lawn mower meet these standards, and the result is an engine which is twice as efficient. If the author thinks that ten dollars is too much to ask to halve the amount of gas used and pollution emitted over the course of the life of the mower, he ought to say so.

    The author is aghast at efforts to “jack up” fuel efficiency standards and controlling the weight and performance of cars and trucks. If the author wants to have Hummers and Ford Explorers available to everyone, he ought to explicitly acknowledge that the flip side of this bargain is higher oil prices, less oil for future generations, increased health risks associated with pollution, an enormous trade deficit, and lots of money going to countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.

    I don’t claim any expertise in global warming or the environment, but it seems that there is a widespread consensus that the earth’s climate is getting warmer, perhaps irreversibly so, with potentially dire consequences. The balance between the long term survivability of the planet and its inhabitants, weighed against the inconvenience of paying more for lawn mowers and three ton vehicles, points to reasonable regulations to reduce greenhouse gases (not to mention the other benefits which accrue from using less oil and causing less pollution).

    Since you approvingly include the WSJ piece in your blog, it is reasonable to ask the following: in your view, what (if anything) ought to be done to control the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the environment?

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    There are an awful lot of implicit assumptions that one must make if one is to rally round the EPA here.

    1) The Earth is warming.
    2) That’s on balance a bad thing.
    3) Anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the cause.
    4) Therefore we should regard them as “pollutants”.
    5) Reducing such emissions will reduce the rate of warming.

    Reducing such emissions will necessarily come at the expense of certain economic and personal liberties, and at high financial cost (“Innovative strategies for reducing hull friction include coatings with textures similar to marine animals…”). So, another assumption:

    6) Whether the cost is worth the benefit, and what rules should be put into effect, should be decided by the EPA bureaucracy.

    I think there is room amongst all that for some caution and skepticism.
    6) That we do so is so important that it trumps any considerations of economic or personal liberty.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    The conventional wisdom is that assumptions one through five are correct. I’m not qualified to have an opinion regarding whether the conventional wisdom is true or not. However, if the vast majority of scientists believe that the Earth is warming as a result of human activity – as seems to be the case here — then it’s reasonable to believe that they are probably right, and one ought to use that probability in evaluating whether the risks of continuing the status quo outweigh the dislocations caused by doing something about it.

    However, while the science may be murky, the other consequences of pollution and energy consumption are both obvious and quantifiable. Even if global warming were not an issue, the economic, health, and geo-political harm caused by them would justify regulations which limit them. Is it worth enriching Iran and impoverishing ourselves so soccer Moms can let their Chevy Suburbans idle while parked at the mall so they can listen to the radio? Do you disagree?

    Nobody wants to have their toys taken away from them, least of all the Wall Street Journal. (Hence they are vociferous in supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and equally vociferous in opposing tax increases which would pay for it). However, I don’t think that there is an unalienable right to buy any product or pursue any activity one desires, and there are instances when the government ought to limit such activity in pursuit of a greater goal. I can’t buy opium, Cuban cigars, or surface to air missiles. My “economic liberty” to drive an old gasser which spews exhaust in the air is restricted because I can’t renew my registration if I fail the smog test.

    I’m all for being cautious and skeptical. However, at some point you have to look at the available evidence and make a judgment, based on imperfect knowledge, as to whether it is better to act or not to act. Based on the current state of scientific knowledge – combined with the economic, health, and geo-political consequences of the status quo – it seems evident to me that reasonable regulations are more than overdue.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hi Pete,

    Much of what you say may be true. The concern is the planet-saving visionaries at the EPA just taking their apparently unlimited mandate and running roughshod over everybody.

    I mean, “innovative strategies for reducing hull friction include coatings with textures similar to marine animals”, for God’s sake. Never mind the cost, just do it, cause they say so.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    I would guess that the process at the EPA is the same as it is with other regulatory agencies: they list a series of proposed guidelines, it goes through a public review process, and the end result is a much different than what it started with. If there are egregious regulations — and I have no idea if the coatings on boat hulls fit into this category — then they will be flagged and corrected. No agency has an unlimited mandate: they are limited by their charter and by Congressional oversight.

    Typically, after industry lobbyists and other concerned parties have their say, things get watered down quite a bit. So perhaps the description in the Journal of the EPA as the Bureaucracy That Wanted To Take Over The World is somewhat overblown.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Yes, well, from your lips to God’s ear, as they say.

    It certainly doesn’t hurt that the WSJ is spreading the word, oversight-wise. A little push-back, a little loyal opposition, some checks and balances, letting in some daylight, etc. are more than welcome, as far as I am concerned.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    I have no problem with loyal opposition, even if it comes with the hysteria and hyperventilation which is typical of WSJ editorials. I’ve been a subscriber for 25 years and read the editorials every day. They often have interesting things to say, even if they do comb over the bald spots in their arguments with a lot of invective and calumny. If you want to know the pure conservative position on something, you’re likely to find it there: you can’t get any further to the right than the WSJ editorial page without dragging your knuckles on the ground. I always thought that if I couldn’t refute their editorials, I was intellectually bound to agree with them.

    However, this piece was weak because it was intellectually dishonest. All it did was ridicule selected parts of a 588 page document without any broader context than throwing mud. Either there is harm caused by lawn mowers and Ford Explorers or there isn’t. If he believes that there is no harm, then he should make the case. If he believes that there is harm but it does not justify regulation, then he should make that case. He did neither. All he did was poke fun at the government agency which wants to regulate Our Precious Lawnmowers (ignoring the fact that they are dirty, inefficient, and probably a low-cost way to make a measurable impact on gas consumption and air pollution). He combined this with gratuitous swipes at liberals who want to “outsource their policies” (without, of course, naming the liberals or providing evidence that this is what they are trying to do).

    One of the reasons why the conservative movement is going down the tubes is that too much of it is based on reflexive anti-liberalism. One gets the feeling that the author didn’t undertake a dispassionate study about the environment and come up with reasoned conclusions: he’s against the thesis of global warming because people like Al Gore are for it, and heaven forbid that a right-thinking American would believe in anything Al Gore believes. I think most Americans have moved beyond this, and recognize that global warming is a serious issue which needs to be dealt with. It would be helpful to have a debate on what the best course of action would be, but regrettably writers such as this one have abdicated their role and chose to throw mud instead.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    No, you are missing the point altogether. The editorial objected to the fact that the EPA seemed to be all set to make an awful lot of intrusive, progressivist policy, without appropriate restraint or debate.

    That they blithely toss off a notion to require modifying boat hulls with state-of-the-art biomimetic material is typical of this sort of mindset. Heaven help the small fisherman or freight company who mightn’t be able to afford such a burden.

    It is amusing that you complain about “reflexive anti-liberalism”, and then refer to conservatives as knuckle-draggers.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    Whether the regulations are intrusive or progressivist (whatever that means) is arguable. However, rather than issue the proposed regulations “without appropriate restraint or debate,” the did exactly the opposite: they issued a press release and invited public comment. According to their press release:

    The EPA “presents and requests comment on the best-available science, requests relevant data, and asks questions about the advantages and disadvantages of using the Clean Air Act to potentially regulate stationary and mobile sources of greenhouse gases. The ANPR also reviews various petitions, lawsuits and court deadlines before the agency, and the profound effect regulating under the Clean Air Act could have on the economy.”

    The editorial makes it sound like they are operating in the dead of night to over-regulate a gullible public. In reality, they were ordered by the Supreme Court to determine if there are health effects caused by greenhouse gases and to suggest remedies. They did what they were told to do, so perhaps your beef should be with the Court. They issued a proposed set of guidelines and solicited public opinion. As an interested party, the WSJ editorialist is welcomed by the EPA to argue his case. Think he will?

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says

    Moreover, the author’s statement that “the Bush Administration has done a public service by opening this window on new-wave green thinking like Mr. Gore’s, and previewing what Democrats have in mind for next year” is blatantly wrong.

    The Bush administration did not “perform a public service” or “open a window:” the EPA issued a press release along with the report, which was put in the Internet as a pdf. The EPA was the one which performed a public service by opening the window, not the Bush adminstration (which has altered reports issued by the EPA by watering them down to avoid the suggestion that perhaps greenhouse gases would have a deleterious effect on human health. The government which is entrusted to protecting us instead is in the business of protecting corporate interests. But I digress.)

    As for what “Democrats have in mind for next year:” any evidence? Of course not.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Peter, I am certainly not about to hold up the Bush administration as an exemplar of environmental sensitivity, or concern with scientific rigor.

    If the EPA defies the historical odds by being a government bureaucracy that, when given lavish funding and enormous regulatory power, does not grow into a hydra-headed monster, I will be, to quote Hubert Humphrey, as pleased as punch. And as for what the Democrats have in mind for next year, their candidate has slid most gratifyingly to the right on several key issues, so there is hope there also; indeed I am likely to vote for him, if I can come to terms with having a Muslim president.

    I am leery, though, of new forms of suffocating government regulation, which usually have the effect of favoring Big Business (who, by virtue of their scale, can comply with requirements like providing restrooms for the polygendered, seventeen-bin recycling stations, wind-powered switchboards, pan-cultural admiration training, and biomimetic hull sheathing), and crushing small-scale entrepreneurs (who cannot).

    I am also leery of a certain mindset that, having noted the pre-emptive convenience of actual war on several occasions in the 20th century for overriding individual interests, and which, in the service of large-scale social engineering, seeks in all and everything the “moral equivalent of war” to command once more that we all fall in line for the common good — which shall of course be explained to us by the experts in power. It seems that global warming is just the thing such folks have been looking for, and I for one do not relish the idea of Al Gore in the role of a 21st-century “Iron Pants” Johnson, thank you very much.

    But you are right: the notes you cite from the press release could not have been more sweetly mollifying; one would imagine that the last thing the EPA wants to do is actually to regulate anything, or interfere with anyone’s pursuit of the American Dream. I hadn’t seen that text, and we thank you for digging it up. Perhaps you are right, and I’m just a reactionary old grump. Let’s see how it goes.

    Posted July 21, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  13. JK says

    I have a question. Has the EPA considered any action on those containers of compressed CO/2 that are used to fizz up the soda pop/tonic “water” at everyones’ favorite hamburger/watering place?

    Posted July 22, 2008 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says


    Yes, I was wondering if they still make those litttle CO2 cylinders that BB guns used to use.

    Posted July 22, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    Needless to say, regulations can be wise or foolish. Intrusive and progressive regulations prohibited minors from being miners, and required doctors to be licensed before performing surgery. The other extreme is exemplified by the dictator in Woody Allen’s Bananas, who required all of his citizens to wear clean underwear. In order to make sure the law was obeyed, they had to wear it on the outside.

    Let’s take the hypothetical example that government regulations of lawn mowers would halve the gas consumption and pollutants for a cost of ten dollars per mower. I think we would both agree that this is a reasonable trade-off for reducing national pollution by 2.5% and gas consumption by 400 million barrels. However, this would never come to pass absent government regulation, as no manufacturer would add an extra cost which did not generate incremental sales.

    The problem with the WSJ editorial is that it uses ridicule instead of analysis, so readers can confirm their pre-existing suspicion that big government liberals are all out to take away our toys (Hummers, guns, cigarettes) to make us all more in their image. I have no idea whether the bulk of recommendations in the EPA report are sensible or risible. However, instead of making a reasoned argument why regulation should be limited or non-existent, he avoids the issue entirely and uses symbols (the lawn mower! what will they take away next?) to play to the crowd.

    Posted July 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    There may be hope after all.

    Posted July 23, 2008 at 4:04 pm | Permalink