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Articles by Liz Borkowski

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In a commentary on Thursday’s Marketplace, the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson critiqued T. Boone Pickens’ new energy plan. In doing so, he painted a misleading picture of the government’s role in our energy usage.

Pickens wants wind energy to replace natural gas in electricity generation, and use the freed-up natural gas to fuel vehicles so we can use less foreign oil. There are problems with this energy plan, but Wilkerson is most concerned that the government might be “picking a winner” if it helps Pickens realize his scheme. (Wilkerson doesn’t specify exactly what Pickens wants the government to do, but Reuters reports that under the Pickens plan, the government would need to create power transmission corridors.)

Wilkerson doesn’t seem to think the government should get involved; his criticism of the Pickens Plan is that it’s “not about offering you, the consumer, a choice.” This is where he overlooks one crucial factor in the energy puzzle. He says:

If wind power were more efficient than the alternatives, we’d already be using more of it. If natural gas cars were attractive to con... Read more

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  • DOD slows condemning research into its polluting behavior

    Back in April, a Government Accountability Office report explained how the White House Office of Management and Budget was holding up the EPA's Integrated Risk Information System assessments. According to GAO, the OMB started requiring an "interagency review" process allowing agencies that might be affected by the IRIS assessments to provide comments on the documents. As a result, some of these outside agencies can effectively block completion of IRIS assessments, which inform federal environmental standards and many environmental protection programs at local, state, and even international levels.

    The GAO explained that this interagency review process came about because the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and NASA were upset about how EPA was addressing "controversial" chemicals such as perchlorate, napthalene, and trichlorethylene (TCE). These departments and agencies view these hazardous substances as "integral to their missions." IRIS assessments could lead to regulatory actions that will require lots of protection and clean-up spending by the responsible agencies.

    Last week, the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held its second hearing on the IRIS process. One witness was particularly vocal about DOD's foot-dragging on TCE.

  • Implications of the study linking childhood lead exposure and adult criminality

    A study just published in the journal PLoS Medicine (and written up in the L.A. Times) suggests a link between childhood lead exposure and adult arrests for violent crimes. Studying 250 adults for whom they had prenatal and childhood blood lead level measurements, University of Cincinnati researchers found that each 5-microgram-per-deciliter increase in blood lead levels at age 6 was associated with a nearly 50 percent increased risk of arrest as a young adult (the risk ratio was 1.48).

    The good news is that overall, U.S. children's blood lead levels have dropped dramatically since manufacturers started phasing lead out of paint and gasoline in the mid-1970s. The bad news is that 40 percent of the nation's housing still contains lead-based paint, and hundreds of thousands of children still have blood lead levels associated with neurological problems.

    When we as a society consider whether to regulate hazardous substances, we need to remember that allowing their continued use can have severe consequences. The lead saga demonstrates that even when environmental and health advocates succeed in getting hazardous substances out of consumer products, the damage can be extremely costly and long-lasting.

  • Lessons from the asbestos crisis should guide the response to nanotechnology, but will they?

    The story of asbestos in this country ought to serve as a cautionary tale: A seemingly miraculous fiber was widely introduced into common consumer products; only after it was already in millions of homes did the general public realize that it causes a particularly terrible form of cancer. Now, treating victims and cleaning up contaminated communities is costing billions of dollars, and thousands of people endure the toll of a debilitating and deadly disease.

    Nanotechnology is another innovation that promises to bring consumer products to a whole new level -- and, once again, it looks like nano products will become widespread and entrenched before we have a complete picture of what the risks are.