Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Dust Up Over EPA Guidelines

Joel Schwartz writing at TCS Daily has a two part posting dissecting both the environmentalist dissent and junk science over Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on very small airborne objects. The issue focuses on the level of fine particulates, termed PM2.5 in agency jargon, that should be considered acceptable on both a daily and annual basis.
Particle Civics: When the Environmental Protection Agency cuts allowable particle pollution levels more than 45 percent, you might expect commendations from environmentalists and the press. You’d be disappointed.
The EPA is recommending dropping the acceptable maximum daily level from 65 ug/m3 down to 35 ug/m3. The annual standard for air quality adopted by the Clinton administration in 1997 would be maintained and a stricter daily standard enforced. The Save the Earth fanatics are upset because in their pursuit of purity, this is not enough.
Could public debate on air pollution be any more absurd? EPA proposes a new standard that would reduce allowable peak PM2.5 levels by 45 percent and that would double the national PM2.5 non-attainment rate. Yet environmentalists call this “status quo” with a straight face, health scientists claim EPA ignored their recommendations, and journalists endorse these false assessments.
Status quo will never be acceptable to the eco-socialistists and the grant funded environmental research community. Why stop at good when perfection is possible?
Faith Based Pollution Standards: The Environmental Protection Agency claims its new more stringent standard will save thousands of additional lives each year. On the other hand, environmentalists and many air pollution researchers claim EPA is killing thousands of people by not clamping down even further. As I detail below, both views are mistaken.
Schwarz points out the methodology problems afflicting so much of the environmental work being presented as science. The two major defects are publication bias and data mining or model selection bias. Both originate from the desire to find significant and meaningful knowledge from statistical analysis of measurements of the complex and dynamic atmosphere, compared to the complex and dynamic health of large populations. The validity of statistical conclusions ultimately depends on the validity and precision of the underlying data.
Thus, the entire PM2.5 regulatory enterprise rests fundamentally on the results of small and inconsistent statistical associations that are likely the spurious result of publication and model-selection biases. The result is unwarranted public fear, an ever-expanding regulatory state, and large amounts of Americans’ income squandered on minute or perhaps non-existent risks.
Simply put, there is no legitimate evidence to indicate that spending millions of dollars enforcing expanded Federal Regulations would have any impact at all on human health. The pursuit of purity is derived from an idealized conception of nature embraced by environmentalists. In reality, nature is pretty messy and all life has evolved to deal with a baseline level of dust in the wind.