April 20, 2004
Air and Government: invisible killers
Posted by Jon Henke
David Brooks has an excellent piece on the nearly inscrutable field of environmental regulation.....
The journalist has the ultimate power, a cynic once said, the power to choose whom to be co-opted by.
Much like economics, the environment is a field in which there is sufficient apparently contradictory data that honest people could argue for years, but never reach any firm conclusions.
That temptation is never greater than when you are writing about environmental policy. You can go to the environmental groups and get one set of facts. Or you can go to the industry groups and get an entirely different set of facts. Both sides have long histories of exaggeration and distortion, and there's no other realm of public policy in which it is so hard to find honest brokers, capable of offering a balanced perspective.
In fact, that's exactly what happens.
On his way to discussing the big failure and success of the Bush environmental record, Brooks makes this important point...
The first thing to be said is that air pollution trends are unchanged under President Bush. For the past three decades, the quality of our air has steadily improved. Air pollution from the six major pollutants has decreased by 48 percent over that time, even though our economy has grown by 164 percent. If you look at the charts showing that decline, you can't tell when the Clinton era ended and the Bush era began.It's often said that regulatory agencies tend to get captured by the industries they regulate, which act primarily to benefit the industry. While true, it is also true that those regulatory agencies can be captured by the special interests who care little for the industry, but a great deal for regulation.
That's not a good recipe for balancing the economic with the safety interests of the industry, or the general public.