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Tim Kern, Talking Sense

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Location: Anderson, IN, United States

Saturday, January 20, 2007

EPA, for Example

This is old, but the tactics are used increasingly, by governments and others whose facts are too thin to make a legitimate point: they make an illegitimate point!
This was first published in 1996, by The Independence Institute, run at the time by now-Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, so I am including all of the Institute's references.
EPA Skidding Out of Control
Tim Kern
Opinion Editorial March 6, 1996

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to scare Colorado, and it is resorting to distortions and apocalyptic predictions to make its point. A recent Denver newspaper headline read, "Faster speeds would worsen air, EPA says." The article warned that "nitrogen oxide in the air could increase by as much as 6.6% if speeds are raised on rural highways not already posted at 65 mph."

The claim is nonsense. First, the number of total vehicle miles (TVM) traveled on such roads is small, compared with the number of TVMs traveled overall. The amount of time spent driving those roads is an even smaller percentage of the overall time spent . Also, how many cars on those roads are already ignoring the 55 mph limit, and would not be affected?

Even if the EPA's prediction were correct, the pollution increase would be trivial. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a strict standard for prolonged exposure to nitrogen oxide in the workplace: 25 parts per million (ppm). If tailpipe emissions really did raise the current levels 6.6%, the metro air concentration would rise to only 0.0175 ppm - roughly 1/1400th of what OSHA says is safe.

The EPA claims to be concerned about our health. This should include concern over our quality and length of life, as well. Example: A two-hour round-trip commute, during which only half the time is spent at 55 mph, could be shortened by 15 minutes, if the 55 mph segment could be driven at 75 mph. That amounts to more than a week's work in a year. (If your work itself involves driving long distances, you could increase your productivity by a week each month - or more!) If you waste "just" a week each year, that adds up. In ten years, you will have wasted time equivalent to your kid's entire summer vacation. Moving along your personal timeline, would you like to live a few extra months, or would you rather save a few dollars a month on gasoline?

If people are on the road longer each day, this adds to congestion, requiring more roads to be built (or causing more pollution from the traffic jams). While people are driving, they are not able to sleep that additional time; they are less alert, and could be dangerous.

The EPA also says that higher speeds could produce more carbon monoxide (CO), because these emissions increase above 48 mph, according to one study. The EPA then makes a leap of faith and says, "Using the same reasoning, particulate matter (PM) emissions may also increase." PM tailpipe emissions are insignificant compared to PM pollution. The former are small particles of stuff coming from the engine; the latter are visible dust, the "brown cloud" we know too well. PM pollution is mainly caused by traffic - tires slowly disintegrating, cars rolling over sand and gravel, crushing it and flinging it into the air - and traffic effects are not discussed in the EPA papers. PM pollution has almost nothing to do with tailpipe emissions.

The EPA's study says that heavy traffic - heavy trucks and buses - would remain at 55 mph; but its "max-case" figures show dramatic increases in nitrogen oxide from these vehicles, from 32,384 to 45,069 tons per year in Colorado. That's a 39% increase, and it's due to... nothing. No speed increase, no population increase, presumably no emission increase; yet somehow more pollution.

In the past, the EPA, Congress, and the rest of the federal establishment have withheld federal highway funds, and thus dictated all kinds of state issues: speed limits, construction permits, motorcycle helmet laws, seatbelt use laws, child seat standards. The feds' intrusiveness and arrogance chafed citizens and state legislators alike.

The federal bureaucracy, having now lost the battle about how "speed kills" (facts don't support that idea), having lost the battle to control the states through highway-fund blackmail (states have rediscovered the Tenth Amendment), and noticing that the American people put value on their time (and are therefore willing to pay for a little more gasoline), has resorted to that time-honored federal tradition: lying with figures. Who knows what they'll try if that fails!

Tim Kern is Special Projects Coordinator for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279- 6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email) webmngr@i2i.org