Rachel's Democracy & Health News #900

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, March 29, 2007................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

The Death of Recycling
  In this important essay, Paul Palmer argues that traditional
  recycling has outlived its usefulness. What we really need is a system
  for designing and manufacturing products with perpetual re-use in
  mind. We need to recycle the function of products, not just the
  materials they are made of. This is the true Zero Waste
Elizabeth's Choice
  Because of Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer, "... A new story might
  be told. It is a story about the need to prevent breast cancer.... It
  is not an easy story to reduce to a sound bite. But here are the
  basics. There is an epidemic of breast cancer. The causes of the
  epidemic are clearly environmental. ..."
Bush Order Revokes Clinton TRI Requirements for Federal Facilities
  As the scandals of his Presidency hold our attention, Mr. Bush is
  busy in the back room, rolling back laws and regulations that were
  intended to protect the natural environment and public health.
Diversion of U.S. Grain to Fuel Is Raising World Food Prices
  The ethanol craze -- growing corn to fuel our automobiles -- is
  having serious side-effects throughout the global food system.


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #900, Mar. 29, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Paul Palmer, Ph.D

[Paul Palmer hold a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale. He is
interested in hearing from readers who may want to join him in
starting a new organization focused on zero waste. Contact him at

A little more than a year ago, an article entitled The Death of
Environmentalism by Shellenberger and Nordhaus made a splash when it
claimed that environmentalists had become complacent, relying on their
time-honored methods of banning behaviors that they found
objectionable through political and judicial activism, rather than
through engaging the moral base of the American public. The critique
was applied to the looming crisis of global warming and seemed to
portend a gigantic failure if environmentalists did not embrace a new
awareness of public concern and participation and stop relying on
public policy correctness and technical fixes.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus noted the lack of inspiring visions to
energize the public. They went on to lament the smugness of officials
of environmental organizations who have become used to rich rewards in
salaries, grants, dues and acclaim from growing membership lists.

There is a movement for resource recapture that suffers from the same
defects. It has come to be called Recycling. Latterly it too has
become lazy, relying on yesterday's methods and advancing no new ideas
to inspire the public. The practitioners, while not profiting from
dues or grants nearly as much as the defenders of wildlife,
nevertheless have their own stultifying income source. They have
become used to income derived from the low grade collection of
garbage. Their method is to pick away at garbage streams recapturing
small amounts of smashed up lowgrade materials. Alternatively they
profit by exacting garbage dumping surcharges, resembling guilt taxes,
from the dumpers. They have formed close alliances with the garbage
industry, the two often being indistinguishable. Since no approach to
conservation that relies on harvesting garbage can ever threaten the
garbage paradigm, they have no way to inspire the public. They do
promote themselves mendaciously as being fundamentally opposed to
garbage, but that ideology is merely a holdover from a time when
recycling was young. The contradiction is disturbing to even casual

What would you think about a gigantic piece of the environmental
movement, involving trillions of dollars worth of resources annually
in this country alone, that environmentalists ignore? The way in which
resources are used to create products is exactly such an item. After
working in this field for thirty years, I have seen that
environmentalists are afraid to deal with industrial production
because they don't understand it. It seems like a technical subject
that they have no hope of getting a handle on. If a single resource is
badly harvested, like old growth trees, they will organize. If the
process produces an obvious pollution, they will demand regulation to
correct it. But there it stops. The way in which products are designed
specifically for waste is simply not on their screen.

In the United States, recycling as a theory of resource management
arose in the nineteen seventies. Since that time, no new theory or
even interpretation has been put forward until today. Three major
developments should be noted.

** First, the garbage industry realized that it could take over the
movement for recycling, turning it into a division of garbage
management, finally paying recyclers a surcharge to co-opt them.

** Second, the recyclers accepted the pre-eminence of the garbage
industry and dropped any notion of replacing or closing dumps.

** Third, a few progressive individuals and organizations began to
discuss a new resource management plan to which they gave the name
zero waste.[1,2,3]

At some point, the recyclers, now working for garbage management, saw
that zero waste could become a slogan that appeared to the public to
be a higher theory of resources. Because of their immersion in the
recycling paradigm as an ultimate theory, they were actually unable to
put flesh on the bones of the zero waste approach, but they began to
spread the bare slogan. On the ground, nothing changed. The recyclers
went to a number of jurisdictions (several California cities
especially) and urged the cities to join them in putting forward the
facade of a new resource management plan, which a number of cities
did. In actuality, the new plans concerned Zero Waste in name only.
They proposed only more recycling.

How Does Zero Waste Differ From Recycling?

What should have been in such plans, that would have revealed a truly
new theory of resource conservation? The essence of the new synthesis
can be summed up in one pregnant phrase: redesign for reuse. But what
kind of redesign for what kind of reuse? That is where the new theory
flexes its muscles.

The basic problem that has always plagued recycling is that it accepts
garbage creation as fundamental. Zero waste strategies reject garbage
creation as a failure, actually an abomination that threatens the
planet, an historical accident, a politically motivated defect in the
design of our industrial-commercial system of production. Zero waste
actually goes deeper in that it rejects waste of every kind at every
stage of production. Zero waste demands that all products be
redesigned so that they produce no waste at all and furthermore, that
the production processes (a kind of product in themselves because they
too are carefully designed) also produce no waste. Zero waste at no
point interfaces with garbage but rather simply looks beyond it. In
the theory of zero waste, once all waste is eliminated, there will be
no garbage, no need for any garbage collection, no garbage industry
and no dumps. All that superstructure of garbage management will fade
away as simply irrelevant.

The currently operative theory of recycling is entirely different. It
contemplates the continual, even perpetual collection of garbage and
then attempts to find innovative ways to reuse the maximum part of
that garbage. In the current jargon, recycling is an end-of-pipe
theory. Zero waste is a redesign theory. Because end-of-pipe
approaches are necessarily inefficient and difficult (since products
were never designed for reuse) the best that recycling is able to hold
out for in most cases is destruction of products after one use
(through smashing, chopping, grinding, etc.) and the laborious
recapture of only the bare materials. Thus the common recycling
obsession with steel, aluminum, paper, glass and plastic, ignoring
fifty thousand additional common chemicals, plastics, metals, glasses,
minerals etc. It is no exaggeration to say that recycling has no
comment on the vast majority of products, processes and materials,
while zero waste has solutions or improved practices to offer for
every single product, production process, material and (current)
waste. In addition, zero waste offers a compelling spirituality as it
elevates the conservation of our one precious planet to the level of a
holy creed and demands that our design for resources usage reflects
that creed.

Recyclers also try to find last-minute ways of reuse, such as is done
by thrift shops, by turning junk into artwork or by construction reuse
yards which resell doors, windows, sinks and more. While a single
piece reused is indeed a victory, these are again end-of-pipe
enterprises which probably account for less than 1% of all discards.
Zero waste seeks to elevate reuse into an integral part of the design
of 100% of all of these products.

In the new zero waste theory, products are designed from the start to
be reused over and over. After many uses, including repairs,
rebuilding, remanufacturing etc., disassembly into materials may
become necessary for a step that resembles recycling, but even at this
last stage, the reuse of materials has been carefully designed into
the original product, planning for it in many critical ways. Thus even
when zero waste comes down to the reuse of component materials, it
does so in a way that is sharply different from an end-of-pipe method.
For example, zero waste principles strongly recommend against the
lamination or joining of different materials in an indissoluble bond
unless the lamination can be reused as lamination, or disassembled.
All parts must be well identified by markings and history, not
something to be guessed at with inadequate symbols (like the recycling
labels on plastic) of such generality that they convey little
information of any use. Extensive information about every part, every
piece, every material will be key, using every tool of modern
information tracking such as radio frequency tags (rfid's), bar codes,
public specifications and the internet. Recyclers, by contrast, have
no response to difficult items like laminations except to toss them
into a dump, as non-recyclable.

If zero waste thinking is new to you, you may be wondering how all of
this can be done. In my book, Getting To Zero Waste, I detail many
practical applications that are simple and straightforward even in
this world of production dedicated to waste. As one simple example,
repair has all but faded away. Repair of electronic and other
technical instruments has been replaced with discard followed by
purchase of a new, cheap product from China. But why did repair become
so economically disfavored? For electronics, four major reasons were

** Circuit diagrams were generally unobtainable, necessitating a
constant series of educated guesses.

** When circuit diagrams were obtained, they were filled with arcane,
uninterpretable proprietary symbols. Even a simple resistor could be

** Parts, including simple mechanical ones, were not grouped into
standard, interchangeable assemblies such as a standard circuit board
or a tape loading mechanism.

** Lastly, parts themselves became unavailable, sometimes after a few
months or at most after a few years.

Look at this list! The needed changes leap off the page at you. Begin
by demanding, under pain of not being allowed to sell product, that
every single circuit diagram must be published openly on the web, for
all to see. Then demand that all symbols used on the diagrams must be
publicly understandable and explained. Insist that repair shops be
established, or certified, for every group of products or by every
manufacturer. Require long-term availability of parts. This is only
the beginning, yet it shows the narrow end of a funnel opening up to a
revolution in reparability.

Even products that the recyclers have no clue how to reuse or even
think about are commonplace for zero waste strategizing. I worked
successfully and easily in chemical reuse for thirty years. The
recyclers have never had any ideas to offer except fear, bans and
urging users to discard chemicals into dumps. The software industry
depends critically on reuse of its intellectual creations, yet the
recyclers have only the trivial focus on the paper or discs that are
used for storage of software.

Why have the designers been able to design waste so cavalierly into
their products? A large part of the answer is the ready availability
of a subsidized dump. As we get further into a zero waste society,
dumps will not only become unnecessary but as soon as any zero waste
solution can be applied, the dump can be legally put off limits. When
there is no eternally welcoming dump for a product, there will be no
alternative to designing for perpetual reuse.

Necessarily, this is only a hint of a long discussion. Are there too
many products and designs for you to contemplate? Simple, establish
Zero Waste Divisions in the Engineering Departments of every
university. Obviously this author, or a hundred like him, are not
going to be able to subject every product to a deep analysis with
solutions. That is the function of research. Let us give employment to
thousands of industrial redesigners, chemical engineers, biologists,
fermentation technicians and every other kind of professional. The
kinds of jobs found in the garbage industry are not worth hanging on
to, compared to the brand new jobs needed for innovative, intelligent
and responsible design of products for perpetual reuse. Design for
responsibility should create a flood of new patents, protecting
designs which can then spread worldwide as brand new businesses carry
the message around the globe that the Age of Garbage has ended.

By now the reader can see that zero waste differs from recycling
approaches in an important way: its intellectual roots. Recycling is a
simple notion, hardly more complicated than the dumping of garbage
into a hole in the ground. Simply find some component of the garbage
being collected and divert it into a (usually existing) alternate
process as a raw material. True, recycling encounters many political
problems needing to be solved, collection and diversion systems to be
designed, as well as the difficulties of introducing mixed or
contaminated materials to a processing system used to completely
refined and "clean" raw materials. Engineering and scientific
professionals play almost no role. Zero waste, on the other hand,
essentially requires high level redesign. Every product being made
needs to be designed under a brand new constraint -- the disappearance
of easy discard. Chemical products will require chemists and chemical
engineers. Other technical products will likewise require help from
other professionals. Contamination will be fundamentally unacceptable.

Hopefully the reader begins to see the outlines of a new paradigm
which will make garbage creation obsolete. Yet it is only common sense
applied to production. We have come back to a tenet of The Death of
Environmentalism -- the one that laments the lack of inspiration. Is
it not an inspiring vision to demand that rational design be applied
to reuse? Is the complete elimination of garbage and dumping not a
vision that ordinary people can seize and insist on? In another
hundred years, people will read with disbelief that in the twenty-
first century, industry actually designed products for a single use,
then to be smashed and buried underground. That will seem to be a
story about Neanderthal behavior.

I have had to digress to explain zero waste so that the reader will be
able to understand the most recent developments.

All design work takes place in a universe of broadly shared
assumptions. These include the availability and cost of materials, the
price of robots or labor, consumer acceptance, etc. Sometimes the
intended use controls everything, such as with high end research
equipment or racing yachts. But there is one assumption that always
pervades the entire design process -- waste is to be expected and it
costs practically nothing.

Eliminate this one assumption of wasting and the whole design process
will be turned on its head. Time-honored methods of designing for
cheap assembly and quick obsolescence will themselves need to be
discarded. Instead, quality components, expertly assembled will be the
norm and the design will necessarily become one for perpetual repair,
refurbishment, upgrading, reuse of every part and every function.

The recyclers also like to talk about an end to dumps. So how does
this vision differ from theirs?

One can reasonably say that recycling and reuse has always been with
us. We wash our clothes hundreds of times; we do not throw them out
after one use. We repair our automobiles endlessly. Home Depot counts
on the fact that we will fix up our houses. We patch roads. Since
airplanes can never be allowed to fall out of the sky due to
obsolescence, the airplane industry maintains a kind of zero waste
attitude, constantly repairing and downgrading for decades. Yet in
spite of these conservative attitudes, garbage dumping exploded in the
last century and is still growing. Various studies claim that
Americans account for many tons of garbage for every pound of product
they buy.[4] The recycling approach has clearly failed to stanch this
torrent of garbage.

More troubling is the development over the last thirty years of a
close, symbiotic relationship between the methods of the garbage
industry and the recycling movement. When recyclers seek inputs of
materials, they primarily employ collection methods based on discard.
Classically, they simply task the garbage collector to set out one
more green or blue or red container next to his garbage can. The
result is predictable -- the public frames recycling as tantamount to
garbage collection and treats it with disdain. Households have no idea
which container to use for what and everything gets mixed up. If there
is any doubt, it is understood that recycling is just garbage anyway
so what difference can it make which can is used? The recyclers
themselves go along with the garbage company pleas and accept the
nonsensical notion that everything can all be mixed together (i.e.
making garbage) and then sorted out later.

The public acceptance of waste comes from two sources. First, the
unconcerned public have come to accept the canard that garbage is
natural. They support the whole superstructure of subsidized dumps and
profitable garbage collection. We hear that "you have to put it
somewhere"; "just get rid of it" and we treat garbage as a social
"service". Second, the only claim to a popular alternative is the
recycling one, which in turn supports garbage to the hilt. The
developing crisis in planetary resources will force the abandonment of
both of these defective notions.

Recyclers have recently begun to create analyses claiming to be based
on zero waste. Many of these claim to be aware that zero waste is not
just more recycling. However, despite the good words, not one of them
presents any programs, projects or ideas which go beyond mere
recycling or challenge the primacy of garbage. This is not an
accident. The close relationship to garbage methods contaminates the
analysis. These erroneous writings are easily available on the web
under the name of various cities and counties, especially in
California, that have adopted putative zero waste resolutions. These
include Palo Alto, San Francisco, Oakland and Nevada County.[5] It is
essential that newcomers not accept every program that calls itself
"zero waste" as part of the new paradigm.

Even without its crippling association with the garbage industry,
recycling suffers from a crippling constriction of goals. At its best,
the ideology of recycling has always been limited to an enervating
focus on the dump! Because it has never transcended its early
ideology, which was forged in the 1960's and early '70's, recycling
has never claimed to do more than target the elimination of dumps, yet
even this modest goal is unattainable by recycling. Even if recycling
were amazingly effective, taking out 90% of some material which was
heading to the dump (no project is close to this effectiveness), ten
percent would still go into the dump on every cycle. After about eight
cycles, virtually the entire load of original material will be sitting
at the bottom of a dump and it is only new, virgin materials which are
still circulating. In the case of aluminum cans, the project that
recyclers like to point at with pride, about fifty percent of the
aluminum ends up in the dump on each cycle and the typical cycle is
about three months long. At the end of a year, just about the whole
load of aluminum is found in the dump and all the cans in circulation
are made of new material which will likewise soon be residing in the
dump. No wonder the garbage industry is hardly shaking in its shoes
over the success of recycling. The deficiencies of recycling are even
worse than this. As I said earlier, recycling entirely overlooks the
processes that call for the materials that it is concerned with. So
the processes can continue to be as wasteful as a waste oriented
society can make them. Instead of a tightly designed process, we find
them designed in a lazy way to create, for example, chemical excesses
for which recyclers can find no use. No problem: our society reserves
portions of soil, water and air by regulation that are good for
nothing but being polluted. So long as the regulations are followed,
pollution is accepted. But who is to question why unusable excesses
are produced in the first place? Recycling makes no objection, while
zero waste thinking demands that cheap disposal eventually be
eliminated and that wasteful practices be redesigned to function
without the benefit of the welcoming dump.

Consider now the enormous waste of designing products to be fragile,
breakable, trashy, lightweight and with signature, critically weak
parts inside. This practice is part of the strategy called "planned
obsolescence". When the pieces immediately break, the recyclers may be
standing by to snatch some of the materials, but how does that compare
to a product that is so well designed for reuse that only a tenth as
much raw material ends up passing through the industrial meatgrinder?
Only a fraction as much energy has to be used. Only a fraction as much
soil exhaustion is caused in extracting the natural resources that go
into the product. And remember that among those natural resources is
food for the humans working in the factory as well as fuel for their
transportation and the resources for their education, entertainment
and all the rest of life. That can all be minimized by repairing and
refurbishing the products endlessly. The recycler, by contrast,
accepts this wasting as natural, so long as a portion of the bare
materials are captured for reuse at the last moment.

The conceptual analysis which ties up all the loose ends is functional
reuse. This means the reuse of the highest function of every product,
not the lowest materials. For example, the unfortunately classical
method of recycling a glass bottle is to destroy its function. As a
container, its function is to contain. The fact that it is made from a
nearly valueless glass material is of virtually no interest. Yet the
recycler will gleefully abandon the valuable function for the
valueless material and crow about his success. This is a serious
failure of design. The common-sense way that zero waste approaches
this reuse is by using the containment function -- by refilling the
bottle. All of the value is recaptured and there is no reason to
transport broken glass across the country, remelt it, fill it in a
distant factory and ship it back to where it started.

Recycling claims to save energy, but this is by and large an empty
claim, Recycling actually is a way to insure that energy is wasted for
no reason. Zero waste already shows the way to recapture almost 100%
of the energy, by refilling, so why are we still smashing bottles?
Only because garbage fleets demand methods which make use of their
core capability -- hauling heavy loads around the country, no matter
whether to a dump or a recycling facility.

Functional reuse is a broad general principle that applies to every
single product made anywhere. Not to ten or twenty percent of the
contaminated materials in a garbage can, but to everything. It is only
from working with inherent functions that new patents and new
worldwide businesses can emerge.

One estimate says that industry produces seventy-one times as much
garbage as households,[4] while producing the products we want. A
theory that ignores 98.5% of a problem no longer commands respect.

The conclusion is inescapable. Recycling has had its day and is now
moribund. Those of us concerned about the destruction of the earth
need to adopt a new, healthier understanding of the real world. That
new synthesis is Zero Waste.


Paul Palmer wants to hear from readers who may want to join him in
starting a new organization focused on zero waste. Contact him at


[1] Grassroots Recycling Network

[2] Eric Lombardi, Boulder http://www.ecocycle.org/Zer

[3] Paul Palmer, Getting To Zero Waste, http://gettingt

[4] Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman, Wasting and Recycling in the
United States 2000, pg. 18, citing Office of Technology Assessment,
Managing Industrial Solid Wastes from manufacturing, mining, oil, and
gas production, and utility coal combustion (OTA-BP-O-82), February
1992, pp. 7, 10.

[5] Oakland Zero Waste Resolution, and http://ww

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From: Collaborative on Health and the Environment, Mar. 26, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


Elizabeth Edwards and Breast Cancer Prevention

By Michael Learner

During the past week, John and Elizabeth Edwards announced that
Elizabeth's breast cancer has returned. The cancer is in her rib. It
may be in her lungs.

My thoughts kept coming back to Elizabeth this week. I thought about
what she and John have been through since the doctor gave them the
news. I thought about the conversations they had before they told
their staff of their decision and stepped into the sunlight to make
their private grief public before a media-drenched world.

For the past twenty-two years, I have worked closely in the Commonweal
Cancer Help Program with hundreds of mothers like Elizabeth Edwards
who are facing metastatic breast cancer while their children are still

I know Elizabeth hopes for many years of life. I imagine she also
decided that if she has less time, making John president would be the
greatest gift she could give to the man she loves. I imagine she wants
to go out fighting for the things she believes in and taking care of
her family.

The one thing Elizabeth Edwards' new diagnosis -- and their shared
decision to stay in the race -- makes almost certain is that breast
cancer will be front and center in the presidential campaign. The
predictable course of media coverage will be stories about her
courage, about new treatments, about the need for more research, and
about living with recurrent breast cancer as a chronic disease.

What interests me is the possibility a new story might be told. It is
a story about the need to prevent breast cancer. It is a story that a
number of us across America have been telling for some time. It is not
an easy story to reduce to a sound bite. But here are the basics.
There is an epidemic of breast cancer. The causes of the epidemic are
'clearly environmental. We do not know which environmental factors
contribute how much to the epidemic.

More important, we may never know which environmental factors
contribute how much to the breast cancer epidemic. Because breast
cancer is a disease that is amplified in industrial civilizations by
an infinitely complex interaction of many factors. Diet, exercise, and
chemical exposures make some contribution. There are many other
possible contributors.

If it were "just" a breast cancer epidemic that is amplified by
industrial civilization, maybe we would throw up our hands and say:
"This is a tragedy but it is too hard to deal with all the
complexities to try to do something." But the breast cancer epidemic
is not the only epidemic. And it is not separable from the other
epidemics of our time. How many of our children struggle for breath?
How many cannot read, or write, or pay attention to what is happening
around them? How many are autistic? How many have birth defects that
you can see? How many have birth defects that you cannot see at birth
- defects of the heart, the immune system, or the mind? How many have
childhood cancers?

How many young girls have premature puberty? How many develop
endometriosis? How many young couples struggle with infertility? And,
as we get older, how many of us develop cancers -- like Elizabeth
Edwards -- in the prime of life? How many develop allergies, chemical
sensitivities, or autoimmune diseases? How many develop early onset
Parkinson's Disease, or ALS, or early onset Alzheimer's? And how many
are subtly altered, in ways that do not manifest as frank disease, but
shift the experience of what it is like to be human?

It may be too much to ask Elizabeth and John Edwards to talk about
breast cancer prevention. It seems indecent to intrude on their
private and public tragedy and to tell Elizabeth Edwards what her
message about breast cancer should be. We cannot decently ask
Elizabeth Edwards to make the link between preventing breast cancer
and preventing many of the epidemic diseases of our time.

But it may be that some of the rest of us can say a word or two on the
subject. Because -- after over twenty years of working with hundreds
of young mothers with metastatic breast cancer -- there is only one
thing I am sure of.

I know Elizabeth Edwards is strong enough to face life and death with
metastatic breast cancer. But I also know, deep in her heart,
Elizabeth Edwards absolutely does not want her two daughters, one
adult and one eight years old, to face the same disease. She does not
want her daughters, when they have young children, to face what she is
facing now. She has lost one son already, claimed by a car accident at
age 16 in 1996. She has no need, whether she is alive or dead, to lose

Elizabeth Edwards is now among the thousands of mothers with stage IV
breast cancer who know in their bones what it means that their young
children may lose their mother. But what is even harder for Elizabeth,
and all those like her, is the thought that her daughters, who may
lose their mother at an early age, might face the same disease when
their children are young. It is this tragic lineage of preventable
grief that stands at the heart of the breast cancer prevention

That thought may lead Elizabeth Edwards where many of the courageous
women with breast cancer I have known have been ineluctably led. They
know how difficult a cure for breast cancer has proven to find.
Billions of dollars and decades of research have not found one. They
know what living with breast cancer is like. The surgeries, the
chemotherapies, the radiation. They know about living from one
check-up to the next with the ever-present fear of recurrence. And
when recurrence comes, they know what it means for them and the ones
they love.

Many of these courageous women have come to understand that the only
sensible thing to do is to make the kind of investment in breast
cancer prevention that we have made in breast cancer treatment
research. And they understand that this investment in prevention
should be not only investment in a research agenda but investment in
public policies that protect public health as well.

These courageous women have come to understand that the breast cancer
epidemic is essentially inseparable from the other epidemics of
environmentally related disease in our time. And so they have decided
to fight for a world where every major contributor to breast cancer
and other chronic diseases is minimized.

That means a return to some basic public health values. It means clean
air, clean water, and safe foods. It means schools where children eat
nutritious meals and exercise vigorously every day. It means eating
the foods our grandparents and their parents for thousands of
generations before them ate. It means reducing the terrible gap
between rich and poor which is the largest single contributor to the
burden of all disease in this country and every other country. It
means health care for all. And it means a systematic and thorough
approach to reducing our body burdens of thousands of toxic chemicals
and radiation exposures that were not in our grandparents' bodies and
should not be in ours.

Politics completely aside, from a public health perspective John
Edwards is talking about the real issues. He talks of universal health
care. He talks of narrowing the gap between rich and poor. That
yawning gap in the distribution of wealth is the single greatest cause
of ill health. It is also the single thing we could most readily
change with a simple vote in Congress and the stroke of a pen. Edwards
talks of the need to spend at home the billions we are now spending in
the Middle East. It is not a political statement to say that it is a
good thing that at least one candidate is talking about the real
issues in public health.

Will Elizabeth Edwards' new cancer diagnosis lead her to do the kind
of thinking so many thousands of women across the country have done?
Will it lead her to think about breast cancer prevention? Will she do
the research and come to understand how complicated breast cancer
prevention is? Will she go deep enough to recognize breast cancer as
an ecological disease that is part of the whole fabric of ecological
diseases we face today? Will she see the need to do what the Europeans
are doing and what people are doing in states across the country -- to
work for clean air, clean water, and safe foods, and to systematically
reduce the thousands of untested toxic chemicals building up in our
bodies? And if she makes the connection, will she discuss it with John
Edwards? And if agrees, will Elizabeth and John Edwards be the ones
who finally bring breast cancer prevention into the American

I don't know the answer. I only know that if Elizabeth doesn't do it,
we need to continue to do it. We need to tell the simple truth that
breast cancer prevention is part and parcel of preventing most of the
major diseases of our time. It is only complicated if we get caught up
in the game of trying to figure out which specific stresses are
responsible for what proportion of what disease. It is simple if we
just say we need to make our country safer for our children and for
all of us again. We know how to do that. It is common sense. That is
our choice, and Elizabeth's choice.

Michael Lerner is president of Commonweal and a Co-Founding Partner
of CHE, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.

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From: Risk Policy Report, Mar. 27, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Douglas P. Guarino

A recent executive order signed by President Bush revokes Clinton-era
measures requiring federal facilities to report their pollution
releases to EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which the agency uses
for a slew of regulatory decisions governing water quality, emissions
and other regulatory requirements.

While the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is
drafting guidance that a spokeswoman says will continue to require
federal facilities to report TRI releases, environmentalists are
concerned that it could further diminish TRI data after EPA issued a
controversial regulation last December that scales back industry's
reporting requirements.

Environmentalists say that if the upcoming CEQ guidance does not
clarify that federal facilities must still report to TRI, they will
call on Democratic lawmakers to mandate federal facility TRI reporting
in pending legislation seeking to block EPA's new regulation from
taking effect.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), one of the sponsors of the pending
legislation, told reporters March 22 that Democrats may seek to attach
the TRI legislation to must-pass appropriations legislation later this
year. Last year, the House approved similar legislation as an
amendment to the fiscal year 2007 Interior and Environment
Appropriations bill.

The legislation could gain a further boost after EPA unveiled TRI data
for 2005, which shows a three percent increase overall in total
disposal and other releases. "Annual changes are not unusual," EPA
said in a March 22 press release, saying that possible reasons for the
increase include production increases, fluctuations in the content of
raw materials used in particular industries and changes in releases at
large facilities that impact the national data. Relevant documents are
available on InsideEPA.com.

Executive Order (EO) 13423, which the Bush administration published in
the Federal Register Jan. 26, revokes EO 13148, which former President
Clinton issued April 21, 2000. Section 501 of the Clinton order
required federal facilities to report to TRI under section 313 of the
Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

Environmentalists are raising concerns federal facilities may be
exempt from all TRI reporting in the future as a result of the Bush
order, given that federal facilities are not required to report to TRI
by law. The exact impact of the order, however, will largely depend on
what guidance CEQ issues to EPA and other federal agencies on how to
implement the order, activist sources say.

"Given that E.O. 13148 was the only order still in place requiring
federal facilities to report under the TRI program, Bush's new order
may exempt all federal facilities from reporting to TRI in the
future," an analysis of the order prepared by the activist group OMB
Watch says.

A CEQ spokeswoman says federal facilities are still required to report
to TRI despite the Bush executive order. The CEQ spokeswoman says TRI
reporting requirements under previous executive orders will continue
despite the order. The spokeswoman expects CEQ will issue guidance
within "the next week or so" that "should spell out implementation
requirements" for the new order.

Environmentalists say they are concerned about the possibility of a
TRI exemption for federal facilities due to the significant amount of
toxic releases from Defense Department (DOD) and Energy Department
(DOE) facilities. "In 2004, the most recent year of TRI data, 313
federal facilities reported 90 million pounds of toxic chemicals
released to the air, water and land," according to OMB Watch.

Activists are particularly concerned about air releases from coal-
fired power plants under the Tennessee Valley Authority, one
environmentalist adds. The Tennessee Valley Authority had more than 69
million pounds of TRI releases in 2004, the environmentalist says.

Controversy surrounding the executive order comes as Pallone and other
Democrats are vowing to pass legislation that would block EPA from
implementing its rule scaling back TRI reporting requirements for
industry. The rule, which EPA finalized Dec. 18, raises the reporting
threshold for chemical releases under TRI from 500 pounds to 2,000
pounds and for the first time allows facilities that manage up to 500
pounds of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) to use a simplified
reporting format.

Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), together
with Pallone and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), have introduced bicameral
legislation that would block EPA's regulation from taking effect.

During a March 22 conference call, Pallone told reporters that
Democrats may seek to attach the legislation to appropriations
language later this year.

Pallone told reporters the first step for the bill in this Congress
would be for the House Energy & Commerce environment subcommittee to
host a hearing on the legislation, but said he had not yet secured a
date for a hearing due to a slew of recent budget hearings that have
occupied the committee's schedule. Asked if full committee chairman
John Dingell (D-MI) supported the legislation, Pallone said Dingell
"for the most part has been pretty supportive of community right to
know over the years."

Pallone and Solis participated in the conference call in order to
announce the release of a new analysis of 2004 TRI data prepared by
the activist group U.S. PIRG, Toxic Pollution and Health. The
lawmakers said the study, which analyzes chemical releases reported by
TRI and categorizes them by known health effects, is an example of the
type of information that will be limited if EPA's new rule is allowed
to go forward.

The environmentalist says the study, along with recent reports that
the rule will lead to significant decreases in agency estimates of
national environmental and human health risks, will help bolster
arguments in support of the legislation.

An informed source familiar with modeling EPA conducted prior to
releasing the rule told Inside EPA recently that scaled-back reporting
would result in a decrease of 10 to 20 percent of calculated potential
risk nationally using some agency assessment tools, even though EPA
estimates the new rule will only result in a 1 percent decrease in
reported releases. Alterations to EPA data on potential risks are
significant because federal, state and local regulators use the data
to set enforcement and air monitoring priorities.

A supporter of the rule argues that a 2004 study prepared for the
Small Business Administration (SBA) shows that "for 99 percent of all
of the nation's 3,142 counties, the changes in reported risk are not
significant." However, the same report shows that reported risks for
some counties, such as Arapahoe, CO, will decline by nearly 80 percent
under the new thresholds using EPA models. Charleston, SC, will lose
nearly 70 percent of its reported risks, according to the study, and
Caddo, LA, will lose nearly 60 percent.

EPA officials could not be reached for comment.

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From: Earth Policy Institute, Mar. 21, 2007
[Printer-friendly version]


By Lester R. Brown

If you think you are spending more each week at the supermarket, you
may be right. The escalating share of the U.S. grain harvest going to
ethanol distilleries is driving up food prices worldwide.

Corn prices have doubled over the last year, wheat futures are trading
at their highest level in 10 years, and rice prices are rising too. In
addition, soybean futures have risen by half. A Bloomberg analysis
notes that the soaring use of corn as the feedstock for fuel ethanol
"is creating unintended consequences throughout the global food

The countries initially hit by rising food prices are those where corn
is the staple food. In Mexico, one of more than 20 countries with a
corn-based diet, the price of tortillas is up by 60 percent. Angry
Mexicans in crowds of up to 75,000 have taken to the streets in
protest, forcing the government to institute price controls on

Food prices are also rising in China, India, and the United States,
countries that contain 40 percent of the world's people. While
relatively little corn is eaten directly in these countries, vast
quantities are consumed indirectly in meat, milk, and eggs in both
China and the United States.

Rising grain and soybean prices are driving up meat and egg prices in
China. January pork prices were up 20 percent above a year earlier,
eggs were up 16 percent, while beef, which is less dependent on grain,
was up 6 percent.

In India, the overall food price index in January 2007 was 10 percent
higher than a year earlier. The price of wheat, the staple food in
northern India, has jumped 11 percent, moving above the world market

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that
the wholesale price of chicken in 2007 will be 10 percent higher on
average than in 2006, the price of a dozen eggs will be up a whopping
21 percent, and milk will be 14 percent higher. And this is only the

In the past, food price rises have usually been weather related and
always temporary. This situation is different. As more and more fuel
ethanol distilleries are built, world grain prices are starting to
move up toward their oil-equivalent value in what appears to be the
beginning of a long-term rise.

The food and energy economies, historically separate, are now merging.
In this new economy, if the fuel value of grain exceeds its food
value, the market will move it into the energy economy. As the price
of oil climbs so will the price of food.

Some 16 percent of the 2006 U.S. grain harvest was used to produce
ethanol. With 80 or so ethanol distilleries now under construction,
enough to more than double existing ethanol production capacity,
nearly a third of the 2008 grain harvest will be going to ethanol.

Since the United States is the leading exporter of grain, shipping
more than Canada, Australia, and Argentina combined, what happens to
the U.S. grain crop affects the entire world. With the massive
diversion of grain to produce fuel for cars, exports will drop. The
world's breadbasket is fast becoming the U.S. fuel tank.

The number of hungry people in the world has been declining for
several decades, but in the late 1990s the trend reversed and the
number began to rise. The United Nations currently lists 34 countries
as needing emergency food assistance. Many of these are considered
failed and failing states, including Chad, Iraq, Liberia, Haiti, and
Zimbabwe. Since food aid programs typically have fixed budgets, if the
price of grain doubles, food aid will be reduced by half.

Urban food protests in response to rising food prices in low and
middle income countries, such as Mexico, could lead to political
instability that would add to the growing list of failed and failing
states. At some point, spreading political instability could disrupt
global economic progress.

Against this backdrop, Washington is consumed with "ethanol euphoria."
President Bush in his State of the Union address set a production goal
for 2017 of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels, including grain-
based and cellulosic ethanol, and liquefied coal. Given the current
difficulties in producing cellulosic ethanol at a competitive cost and
given the mounting public opposition to liquefied coal, which is far
more carbon-intensive than gasoline, most of the fuel to meet this
goal might well have to come from grain. This could take most of the
U.S. grain harvest, leaving little grain to meet U.S. needs, much less
those of the hundred or so countries that import grain.

The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800
million people who own automobiles, and the world's 2 billion poorest
people. The risk is that millions of those on the lower rungs of the
global economic ladder will start falling off as higher food prices
drop their consumption below the survival level.

In February 2007 the World Food Programme Director James T. Morris
reported that 18,000 children are now dying every day from hunger and
malnutrition. This daily loss of life is six times the number of U.S.
combat fatalities in Iraq over the last four years.

There are alternatives to this grim scenario. A rise in auto fuel
efficiency standards of 20 percent, phased in over the next decade
would save as much oil as converting the entire U.S. grain harvest
into ethanol.

One option that is gaining momentum is a shift to plug-in hybrids.
Adding a second storage battery to a gas-electric hybrid car along
with a plug-in capacity so that the batteries can be recharged at
night allows most short-distance driving -- daily commuting and
grocery shopping, for example -- to be done with electricity. If this
shift were accompanied by investment in thousands of wind farms that
could feed cheap electricity into the grid, then cars could run
largely on electricity for the equivalent cost of $1 per gallon

Encouragingly, three auto manufacturers -- Toyota, Nissan, and GM --
have announced plans to bring plug-in hybrid cars to market. Plug-In
Partners, which is spearheading a national campaign to shift to plug-
in hybrid cars, already has 508 partners, including electrical
utilities, corporations, state and city governments, and farm and
environmental groups. Among its fast-growing list of partners are the
American Public Power Association, Electric Power Research Institute,
American Wind Energy Association, American Corn Growers Association,
and the cities of Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Boston. Already a
number of Partners have collectively pledged to purchase for their own
fleets more than 8,000 plug-in hybrids as soon as they reach the

Ethanol euphoria is not an acceptable substitute for a carefully
thought through policy. For Washington, it is time to decide whether
to continue with the current policy of subsidizing more and more
grain-based fuel distilleries or to encourage a shift to more fuel-
efficient cars and a new automotive fuel economy centered on plug-in
hybrid cars and wind energy. The choice is between a future of rising
world food prices, spreading hunger, and growing political
instability, or one of stable food prices, sharply reduced dependence
on oil, and much lower carbon emissions.


From Earth Policy Institute

Lester R. Brown, "Beyond the Oil Peak" and "Stabilizing Climate" in
Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in
Trouble (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006).

Lester R. Brown, Outgrowing the Earth (New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2005).

Lester R. Brown, "Distillery Demand for Grain to Fuel Cars Vastly
Understated: World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History,"
Eco-Economy Update, 4 January 2007.

Lester R. Brown, "Exploding U.S. Grain Demand for Automotive Fuel
Threatens World Food Security and Political Stability," Eco-Economy
Update, 3 November 2006.

Lester R. Brown, "Supermarkets and Service Stations Now Competing for
Grain," Eco-Economy Update, 13 July 2006.

Lester R. Brown, "World Grain Stocks Fall to 57 Days of Consumption:
Grain Prices Starting to Rise," Eco-Economy Indicator, 15 June 2006.

Lester R. Brown, "The Short Path to Oil Independence: Gas-Electric
Hybrids and Wind Power Offer Winning Combination," Eco-Economy Update,
13 October 2004. From Other Sources

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, The State of Food Insecurity
in the World 2006 (Rome: 2006).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007 Agricultural Outlook Forum, March

U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2016
(Washington, DC: February 2007).

U.S. House of Representatives -- Committee on Agriculture,
Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, Review of the Impact of
Feed Costs on the Livestock Industry, 8 March 2007.


Plug-In Partners http://www.pluginpartners.org

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization http://www.fao.org

United States Department of Agriculture http://www.usda.gov

Copyright 2007 Earth Policy Institute

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