Dec. 31, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

Shining a Light on CFLs

The Environmental Working Group is out with a new guide to Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), and they warn that not all CFLs are environmentally equal.


CFLs offer huge energy-consumption and length-of-use advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs, but they introduce one noteworthy environmental problem: each CFL has a tiny amount of mercury inside the glass. It’s not much – about what would fit on the tip of ballpoint pen – but if the bulb breaks, the mercury can be dangerous. If one breaks, you’re supposed to get children, pregnant women and pets out of the room, open the windows, turn off air conditioning or heating, put on rubber gloves and a mask, and carefully put the pieces into a sealed jar. (Read cleanup instructions from EWG here, and from EPA here (pdf)).


Disturbing as that description is, CFLs still pose less of a mercury problem than incandescent bulbs, EWG and EPA say, because the coal-fired power plants that supply about half of the nation’s electricity send even more mercury up the smokestack. Since CFLs use considerably less energy than incandescents, their tiny onboard mercury payload is less hazardous to the environment.


Bulbs aren’t all that likely to break …

Dec. 30, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi ran a piece this weekend about local deaths caused by air pollution. It must have left readers shaking their heads; indeed, that seems to have been the point. Here’s the lede:

The more than 800 people who died prematurely this year from breathing dirty San Joaquin Valley air are worth $6.63 million each, economists say. Relatives don't collect a dime, but society is willing to pay someone this price. Confused? You're not alone.

The story goes on to discuss just a few of the absurdities inherent in the process by which regulators put a dollar value on human lives lost – statistical lives, as they coldly refer to them. Grossi notes, for example, that different lives are valued differently – children’s lives are worth less than adults’. By the end of the piece, it’s hard to escape …

Dec. 29, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

David Fahrenthold had a powerful article in Saturday's Washington Post on the failures of Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts. The lede:

Government administrators in charge of an almost $6 billion cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay tried to conceal for years that their effort was failing -- even issuing reports overstating their progress -- to preserve the flow of federal and state money to the project, former officials say.

Devising accountability mechanisms to safeguard against just such problems with the Chesapeake Bay Program –– the multi-state effort to restore the Bay – was the purpose of a unique project of CPR’s this year. The effort yielded recommendations to help establish a framework for the accountability mechanism. Read more, here.

Dec. 24, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

The Mercatus Center is out with a new report focused on midnight regulations -- the last-minute regs pushed through by Presidents even as their successor’s inaugural parade reviewing stand is being constructed on the front stoop of the White House. President Bush and his political appointees at regulatory agencies are making considerable use of their midnight hour, working to adopt new regs that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, make it harder for women to get reproductive care, keep truckers behind the wheel for 14 sleep-defying hours a day, make it easier to get a permit to mine uranium on the edge of the Grand Canyon, weaken protections against toxic chemicals in the workplace and so much more. (For a frightening list of the Administration’s last-minute regulating, visit ProPublica’s impressive compilation.) In fairness to the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration did something very similar. To …

Dec. 23, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

It breaks no new ground to observe that the Bush Administration’s record on respecting science and scientists is dismal. Three examples tell the tale:

  • The President’s 2001 decision to severely restrict federal support for stem cell research;
  • The President’s embrace of Intelligent Design – the latest ruse for insinuating the religious doctrine of Creationism into public school biology classes alongside evolution; and,
  • The one for which future generations may best remember George W. Bush: his active opposition to meaningful action on climate change, which went so far as to suppress EPA’s scientific findings on the subject.

Those and other examples have set off a long-running battle – eight years of running, to be precise – pitting scientists and advocates of science against White House and industry operatives. Defending the White House record through much of this was Science Advisor to the President John Marburger. It was …

Dec. 22, 2008 by Matthew Freeman

Last year at about this time, the toy giant Mattel was up to its ears in recalled toys - more than 20 million of them to be specific. Not a good posture for a toy company right before Christmas.


Nevertheless, there’s an argument to be made that Mattel caught something of a PR break out of the incident – or more accurately the series of incidents. I haven’t seen Mattel’s polling on it, but my hunch is that if you ask people what they remember from last year’s toy recalls, two things would come up: Chinese manufacturing and lead paint. Both of those things are on target, but they don’t quite tell the story. Eighty percent of toys sold in the United States are imported, primarily from China. Indeed, Mattel contracted with a Chinese company to produce more than a million toys that Mattel …

Dec. 19, 2008 by James Goodwin

The past few weeks, Congress has been working on an economic stimulus bill intended to jolt the U.S. economy back to life.  Earlier in the week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi projected that the bill will combine roughly $400 billion in infrastructure spending with roughly $200 billion of targeted tax cuts.


According to its proponents, one of the big goals of the stimulus plan is to create 2.5 million jobs over the next few years.  A growing chorus of observers is calling on Congress to ensure that as many of those job as possible are “green jobs,” and the Democratic leadership in Congress seems happy to oblige.  In a recent interview, Speaker Pelosi explained that the stimulus plan sought to create a large number of jobs by directing a significant portion of the infrastructure spending toward the construction of a “smart, modern grid that …

Dec. 18, 2008 by Margaret Giblin

From a developmental standpoint, the 280 or so days between conception and birth are among the most important in a person’s entire life. During this period, pregnant women are cautioned to avoid a wide variety of exposures that can inhibit fetal organ development and growth. However, a recent report highlights the risk posed by one type of exposure against which women can’t realistically protect themselves—pollution in the air they breathe.

The list of pregnancy “don’ts” is lengthy, and with good cause. Certain types of exposures have long been definitively linked to particular outcomes in fetal health and development. Pregnant women are advised against consuming alcohol, because drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. And they’re warned away from eating too much fish – at least of the variety that is likely to contain mercury, because fetal exposure to mercury can lead to damage to …

Dec. 17, 2008 by Shana Campbell Jones

Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions.                                                            -- Thomas Jefferson


Last week, I attended the National Conference on Climate Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.  Given the politicization of climate change science and the impending political battles over what to do about climate change, “Mr. Jefferson’s University” was a profoundly fitting -- if ironic -- setting for a climate change and governance conference. In addition to being one of the founders of the republic, Thomas Jefferson assiduously recorded the weather for 50 years in his daily journal. (A little-known fact: Thomas Jefferson recruited volunteers throughout Virginia to observe the weather, establishing a …

Dec. 16, 2008 by Joseph Tomain

President-elect Obama’s announcement of his energy team clearly signals a dramatic change from the energy policy of all past presidents not only from the past administration. This team will oversee a new direction for future energy policy, especially pertaining to climate change.


With these appointments and in his remarks, the President-elect identifies several strong themes for future energy and environmental policy including: (1) A commitment to expanding the economy while protecting the environment; (2) creating a government office merging energy and the environment (this point is underscored by Carol Browner’s selection); (3) science and technology are to be in the forefront of energy and environmental policy (underscored with Stephen Chu’s nomination); and (4) that innovation in policy and technology will be encouraged (underscored by the nominations of Nancy Sutley, Lisa P. Jackson and Sen. Ken Salazar).


The President-elect’s remarks announcing the appointments are …

More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 31, 2008

Shining a Light on CFLs

Dec. 30, 2008

Do Lost Statistical Lives Really Count?

Dec. 29, 2008

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Effort Takes Its Lumps

Dec. 24, 2008

Mercatus and Midnight Regs

Dec. 23, 2008

Obama Speaks Up for Science

Dec. 22, 2008

Unsafe Toys Lay Bare CPSC's Problems

Dec. 19, 2008

And Green Jobs Justice for All