The Alarmist Presidency
Barack Obama never wastes an opportunity to expand government regulation.
There’s a school of thought among conservatives and libertarians that liberals knowingly seed and fertilize phony crises in order to cultivate even more big government. While I don’t wholly discount that point of view, I think the sky-is-falling mentality that permeates the Obama administration’s approach to environmental issues is more the result of living within the liberal echo chamber for so long.
Environmentalists and their Democrat allies spent eight years screaming that the Bush administration and corporate America were destroying the environment and putting our lives at risk. Having been handed the keys of state, Obama naturally embraces those voices that offer “solutions” to a problem that never actually existed. Democrats being Democrats, those solutions naturally involve benevolent government intervention.
It’s a chicken and egg argument in any case. Does the liberal desire for socialism consciously create phony problems, or does it merely exploit crackpot ideas that fit in with the program? Either way, this administration hasn’t yet met an environmental “crisis” it isn’t willing to address by rolling up its sleeves and getting down to the dirty work of drawing up more rules that will protect the ignorant masses who have been exploited by big businesses for so long. The latest example of this phenomenon is a report from the President’s Cancer Panel which attributes cancer to the supposed poisoning of America. Entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” the report was prepared by a couple of academics: LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D. of the Howard University College of Medicine and Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D. of the University of Texas. A couple of paragraphs from the letter that accompanies the report, signed by Leffall and Kripke, gives you the flavor:
“The Panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread. One such ubiquitous chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is still found in many consumer products and remains unregulated in the United States, despite the growing link between BPA and several diseases, including various cancers.
Environmental exposures that increase the national cancer burden do not represent a new front in the ongoing war on cancer. However, the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures. The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
When somebody trots out bisphenol A as their showpiece problem, what follows isn’t going to be pretty. The evidence linking BPA to adverse health effects of any kind is remarkably weak, much less to cancer. But this is a chemophobic administration and Leffall and Kripke dutifully deliver a report that raises chemophobia to new heights. The report was so hysterical and full of unsubstantiated conjecture that even the American Cancer Society rolled their eyes. Consider this from a New York Times’ piece that was surprisingly critical of the Cancer Panel’s report:
“Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist from the cancer society, said in an online statement that the report was “unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer,” and had presented an unproven theory — that environmentally caused cases are grossly underestimated — as if it were a fact.”
Leffall and Kripke’s underlying assumption – that the 80,000 chemicals in use in America are “unregulated or virtually unregulated” – is utter nonsense. Every chemical is evaluated by the EPA as part of the Agency’s obligations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in order to determine if the chemical presents a possible threat to the environment or human health. If the Agency determines that there is a potential problem, it is charged with regulating said chemical appropriately. Further, the vast majority of those 80,000 chemicals are used in small quantities and could not therefore effect the environment on a macroscopic scale in any case. The EPA goes beyond the requirements of TSCA when it comes to the 3,000 or so chemicals that are used in large quantities. The Agency has gathered and continues to gather even more information on the health and safety effects under its “High Production Volume” chemicals program.
Beyond that, we have EPA rules covering chemical discharges to the air, to surface water, to ground water and in the soil. We’ve got OSHA, NIOSH and the American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists, all of whom spend a great deal of time looking at the effects of chemicals on human health and environment. Rather than proposing new studies, new restrictions and new regulations, Leffall and Kripke would do better to propose a study that would study the huge pile of studies we already have. That would serve the dual purposes of keeping academics happily engaged in a pointless task, and allowing the rest of us could to avoid further benevolence from Big Brother.
We haven’t even gotten to cap and trade yet and already Obama’s EPA is working up the most restrictive air quality standards in history, creating new ways to regulate vast swaths of oceans, pushing for sweeping new stormwater regulations and now this. A rational president would take one look at the President’s Cancer Report and quietly deposit it in the circular file. But Barack Obama? This kind of hysterical alarmism is just the kind of excuse this president needs to regulate, well – everything.