News: CJ Exclusives

Smokestacks Built on Dubious Data

Environmental Defense wrote questionably sourced plan-- Part 2

RALEIGH—The North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Plan, the report on which the state’s landmark 2002 legislation was built, was written by a left-wing environmental group and contained assumptions based on what some call “junk science.”

Environmental Defense, which produced the plan, usually stakes out positions on issues that are clearly left of center and are often described by critics as “alarmist.” The group believes the United States should sign on to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and used last year’s big budget film fantasy “The Day After Tomorrow” as a launching point to warn about the dangers of global warming.

“In the coming years, global warming is likely to increase the frequency of ‘killer’ heat waves,” EDF’s website explains, while admitting the movie itself is “implausible, pure fantasy.” “During the summer of 2003, the hottest in at least the past 500 years, record heat waves scorched Europe.”

Consistent weather records were not kept until the late 19th century. But that tactic is a common one among some environmentalist groups: singling out an atypical weather occurrence in a single year and declaring it a trend. “In 1995 in Chicago a heat wave resulted in 525 deaths during a five-day period…,” EDF also warned.

The group’s Southeast air quality manager, Michael Shore, employed that device in his Smokestacks plan also: “North Carolina’s air quality consistently ranks among the least healthy in the nation. For example, in 1999, the state had the fifth-highest number of unhealthy air days.”

In reality North Carolina meets the EPA’s standards for carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and “coarse” airborne particulates. Last year in the John Locke Foundation’s “Clearing the Air” study, author Joel Schwartz wrote that the state fell short in a small number of “fine” particulate standards and some ozone standards. But just as North Carolina was on the verge of meeting the ozone standards, Schwartz said “EPA moved the goalposts in April 2004.”

Schwartz is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and has conducted air quality studies for several agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Shore also claimed in the plan that the state’s coal-fired power plants release pollution that “causes thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks… and severe reductions in visibility in the mountains.” No known data exist on deaths or asthma linkage to North Carolina sources of air pollution, and poor visibility in the mountains is primarily related to out-of-state pollution sources.

Shore also contended in his Smokestacks plan that the cost of compliance for Duke Power and CP&L, the two utilities to be regulated by the Smokestacks law, for the new emissions standards would be only a combined $449 million. Actually, the two utilities will be writing off $2.3 billion for the equipment in the next seven years.

Shore and EDF did not respond to several e-mails and phone messages seeking comment.

Part 1: Smokestacks Bill Helped Utilities
Part 3: Duke Challenged Merits of Smokestacks
Part 4: Rate Freeze Allowed Despite Audit

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected].