Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Clear and Present Dangers 9: The Environment and Energy

In my latest reading of M. Stanton Evans' Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America's Government (copyright 1975), I finished the chapter on the environment, read the chapter on the energy crisis, and started the chapter on civil liberties.  I have two items, and I will focus in this post on the environment and energy.

1.  This first item is about the environment, but it will also refer to information that's in the chapter on the energy crisis.  Yesterday, I said that Evans expressed apprehension about the types of substances that could replace lead in gasoline, fearing that those substances could be more hazardous than lead.  In my latest reading, Evans elaborates on this.  On page 240, Evans says that the catalytic converters that are supported by the Environmental Protection Agency change sulfur into sulfates, which "are potentially quite dangerous to people with respiratory ailments----as lead, for example, is not."  Evans later discusses a similar scenario, in which the federal government recommended that detergent manufacturers replace phosphates with a substance known as NTA, on the ground that phosphates have negative environmental affects in that they cause algae to proliferate in lakes (actually, in this sentence, I'm combining what Evans says with what this article says).  According to Evans, NTA itself was problematic because it "caused birth defects in rats" and was believed by a former Surgeon General (Jesse Steinfeld) to possibly cause cancer (page 241).  Moreover, Evans states that certain non-phosphates that were "marketed in place of phosphates" could "cause damage if splashed in the eyes or swallowed", and some "destroyed the flame-retardant qualities of infants' clothes" (page 241).  In contrast, Evans states, phosphates had a "rather wholesome record" in that they were not known to harm anyone (page 241).

On DDT, Evans argues that banning it has resulted in more malaria-related deaths.

Regarding where Evans' discussion of the environment intersects with his comments on the energy crisis, Evans on page 255 refers to a 1972 report by the Office of Science and Technology estimating that environmental regulations and environmental protection equipment will be costly for businesses, and that there are many areas in the country in which such equipment is unnecessary.  According to Evans, the report also says that pressuring businesses with time-limits hinders them from developing better technology that is good for the environment.

On page 253, Evans argues that government regulations have resulted in gas-guzzling cars, which are inappropriate when the country supposedly has an energy crisis.  Evans says that EPA-mandated emission-control equipment reduces gas mileage and that the push to remove lead from gasoline "meant that fuel for efficient high-compression engines became appreciably more expensive."

Evans may have legitimate arguments on the environment.  I don't know enough to comment one way or the other.  I will say, though, that my impression has been that liberals tend to support fuel-efficient cars, whereas there are a number of conservatives and Republicans who glorify gas-guzzling SUVs and believe that stringent fuel-efficiency standards hurt the economy.  But was that always the case?

2.  Regarding the energy crisis, Evans advances a variety of arguments.  He argues that government price-controls on natural gas has discouraged development and contributed to demand outstripping supply (page 250), yet he also contends that they have hurt the coal industry, which cannot effectively compete against the low price of natural gas (page 251).  Is this contradictory, or can both be true?

Pages 256-259 had some interesting discussions.  Evans says that the U.S. produces 75 percent of its own energy needs, while getting only 8.1 percent from Middle Eastern and North African imports (Evans refers to the October 29, 1973 U.S. News and World Report); that domestic production increased since the protectionist policies of Eisenhower; and that oil profits have been modest compared with other industries.  Evans is arguing against the narrative that oil companies are deliberately creating shortages in order to boost profits.  Evans is open to the notion that oil companies are "shipping oil to foreign nations" and are "holding back supplies to wait for better prices" (page 257), but he believes that lifting government price controls could ameliorate this situation, as the lifting of price controls on meat resulted in more meat being brought to the market and thereby a reduction in meat prices.

On page 260, Evans refers to Chase Manhattan's insight that taxes have inhibited oil companies from keeping up with their capital needs, and so it's no surprise that petroleum is "in short supply" (Chase Manhattan's words).

The thing about the last observation, though, is that an energy bill passed during President George W. Bush's Presidency gave energy companies tax credits, and yet the price of gasoline remains high.

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