Monday, January 31, 2011


Twenty-eight years ago, on January 28, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. For want of asbestos, the putty did not work. For want of reliable putty, the O rings did not hold. For want of reliable O rings, the Challenger exploded, 73 seconds after lift-off in freezing weather 25 years ago.

Asbestos was used in adhesives for strengthening and fireproofing and many other essential functions. It was used in electric hair driers, which the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) thought unsafe and banned it. The company that was manufacturing O rings for NASA’s space shuttles then went out of business. NASA had to try to find a substitute.

The O rings might have held had the outside temperature been warmer (it was 32 degrees). The freezing temperature, CPSC’s ban on asbestos, and NASA managers’ decision to not postpone takeoff, caused the Challenger’s explosion.

The reason for hurtful regulations like CPSC’s is monopolistic federal regulators acting under the precautionary principle, according to scientist Henry Miller, former FDA official. A further reason is want of effective oversight by Congress.

The public’s dissatisfaction with federal regulatory excesses has long been going on. In late January President Obama, by executive order, informed regulatory agencies to make sure the benefits of their rules exceeded the costs. (EPA’s Administrator Carol Browner always said they do.)

President Obama’s executive order has loopholes so large it is useless. It permits agencies to count as benefits “equity, human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts.” No matter how costly a regulation, no matter if it shuts down all the power plants in the country, its benefit, for fairness or distributive social justice or whatever will be claimed to exceed its cost.

Among the recent pesky regulations is the sale or purchase of an item costing more than $600, which must be reported on form 1099 to the Internal Revenue Service. (It may be that this regulation is void if its deletion has been tacked onto the Continuing Resolution, which Congress passed.)

Retroactive revocation: EPA recently revoked a water permit for the largest mountaintop mine in West Virginia. (Its representatives have introduced a bill in the House to invalidate EPA’s revocation.)

EPA pulled a mining permit for the biggest mine in West Virginia.

EPA is a chronic offender. Here’s last week’s offense: It’s to mitigate oil slicks on dairy farms. EPA added dairy farms to its Spill, Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Program to prevent oil discharges in navigable waters or near shorelines. EPA intended its Program to cover oil and natural gas but then recognized there is fat in milk so included dairy farms and manufacturers of cheese, butter, yoghurt, and ice cream. They must prepare emergency management facilities. They must train first-responders in clean-up protocol. They must build containment facilities to restrict the flow of oil. (For more details see The Wall Street Journal editorial of January 27.)

EPA is forcing retirement of coal plants, which provide half the electricity the country uses.

Irrelevant data: EPA changed the rule for setting the standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2). Following public comment, it rewrote the preamble which had called for sampling and substituted a figure like how many hours a power plant has been running at maximum capacity. The outcome is a change of the SO2 standard in each individual plant. How are the models to be built? How is the analysis to be done? EPA has not explained. EPA does not have to issue permits to operate till that information is available.

EPA has pulled the permits for two oil refineries in Texas, stopping 200 plants from operating.

EPA took control of greenhouse gas permits for Texas power plants & oil refineries after Texas rejected EPA’s CO2 rules for climate change.

EPA has withdraw from the Texas State’s EPA its right to issue permits, holding up industry in the whole of Texas.

EPA has asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to NOT grant permits for new coal-fired refineries or power plants till there is evidence they won’t violate Clean Air standards. (Texas representatives have asked Congress to stop EPA from blocking TCEQ. The Congressional Review Act lets Congress review any regulation signed by thirty representatives.)

Little people EPA puts in prison. Consider the fanatical enforcement of EPA’s wetlands regulations, of which there are many examples. Occie Mills and his son Carey, with the permission of the State of Florida, put sand on a lot and were imprisoned for 21 months for filling in a wetland.

By Natalie Sirkin

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