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The Billion-Dollar Environmental Frauds

The Cleanup of the People’s Pocketbooks

(Excerpts of this article were published in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 17, 1998, page A23, with the title, “MTBE Cleans Up Our Pocketbooks”.)

by Dr. Bill Wattenburg

June 16, 1998

Know what a billion dollars a year represents? It’s $10,000 a year for each and every one of 100,000 students from low-income families who otherwise might not get the college education they deserve in California. Or, a billion dollars a year is five times more than the state’s total yearly financial support for the qualified medical scientists in all of California’s research laboratories. These are the highly trained scientists who are closing in on cures for cancer and other major diseases that eventually kill ninety percent of us. With more money, surely they could find these cures much sooner and extend all of our lives by many years. So, what would you call politicians and bureaucrats who are deliberately wasting three times that amount every year—enough to give every college student in California a free education? I call them official criminals.

Sadly, there is an army of self-serving bureaucrats pretending to be environmental saviors who are wasting over three billion dollars a year in California alone on fraudulent environmental cleanup programs that do nothing more than give billions to their friends in private industry. The worst two of these monumental scams are the MTBE additive in California reformulated gasoline and the Smog II program that will soon be forced on most car owners. These programs are not cleaning up our environment. They are cleaning out the pocketbooks of the small businesses and working families of California. The California Legislature has acknowledged its mistakes by temporarily cutting the budget for Smog II and ordering investigations of MTBE. But they need a real kick in the pants to stop these frauds once and for all.

These frauds have been orchestrated by what I call the eco-fraud lobby. This powerful lobby consists is not only of self-serving bureaucrats, but lawyers hungry for lawsuits and thousands of so-called environmental cleanup contractors and smog equipment suppliers as well. Every day they invent environmental scare stories and promote new laws to force the expenditure of billions of dollars destined to end up in their own pockets (and, of course, the pockets of elected officials who receive gorgeous contributions from the lobby).

There are good scientists and environmentalists who will tell the truth and promote sensible programs. Generally, they are not the ones working for government bureaucracies. Unfortunately, most are in our universities are not able to dictate national policy. Our political leaders seldom seek their counsel—that is, until it’s too late and the eco-frauds have robbed the country blind.

None other than the Sierra Club recently came out of the eco-fraud closet when the Tosco Oil Company decided to remove MTBE from its gasoline. A Sierra Club spokesman quickly announced support for continued use of MTBE! Why? He said that “MTBE was like the canary in the mineshaft because it was an indicator for other bad chemicals.” I believe that all the Sierra Club lawyers really care about is that eliminating MTBE will kill all the Sierra Club plans to sue the oil companies and the hapless service stations which are required to put MTBE in their leaking underground fuel tanks. Interestingly, the Sierra Club expressed no concern for the health of the people.

The eco-fraud lobby smothers any scientific evidence that money is better spent on more productive environmental cleanup programs that do not require the services of the eco-fraud lobby. I’ll tell you below about the most cost-effective energy conservation and pollution reduction program for California. The eco-fraud lobby has long struggled to ignore this one—the way Dracula reels from a silver cross—because this program doesn’t need the eco-fraud lobby. It doesn’t generate lawsuits for their lawyers or lucrative dig-another-hole-in-the-ground jobs for their contractors or sell fifty-thousand-dollar dynamometers (or generate big campaign contributions for the politicians in Sacramento and Washington).

The voters in California who want the MTBE and Smog II frauds stopped must demand that the legislators now in office kill these programs before the November election. I’ll tell you how these massive frauds in the name of the environment came about and what they are costing you. You use your own judgement at the ballot box.

MTBE in Our Gasoline

For the past three years, Californians have been paying at least twenty cents a gallon more for their MTBE-laced California reformulated gasoline than motorists in other states pay for their gasoline. Multiply twenty cents a gallon by forty million gallons per day for three years and you’ll find that Californians have been robbed of about nine billion dollars over the last three years. This is enough money stolen from working families to have given every college student in California free tuition, books, and room and board. How in the hell could this happen? Easy. The California Legislature long ago turned over all of its authority to a bureaucracy of bungling scientific illiterates called the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the same defiant idiots who forced a poison diesel fuel on California a few years ago against the advice of many scientists (as widely reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and many other newspapers). The evidence now clearly shows that CARB bureaucrats, with the full support of their federal EPA idiot cousins, were desperate to force some new program on Californians just to justify their continued existence on the public payroll.

Many other states refused to allow their citizens to be exposed to this man-made chemical, MTBE, that was known to be toxic to laboratory animals. The State Department of Health has recently confirmed that “research has shown that MTBE is toxic to animals and probably to humans.” Some oil companies are now backing away from using MTBE because they can see the lawsuits coming their way. But for three years now, Californians have been forced to breathe and drink this stuff in quantities ten thousand times greater than all the pesticides on their food. Ironically, many of the self-styled environmental saviors such as the Sierra Club who want us to breathe and drink MTBE are the same ones who file lawsuits to force the elimination of pesticides.

So why did the political leaders of California look the other way and disregard the health of our citizens and the economy of our state? I was at the 1995 legislative hearings when CARB bureaucrats and the oil companies told the legislature that MTBE was safe and that increased gas prices would only last a few months in 1995 until the oil companies had recovered their costs for converting to the new gasoline. I told our legislators then that they were being lied to and that high gas prices would continue forever because CARB was giving the oil companies a monopoly. I told them that CARB was forcing Californians to buy only CARB’s special concoction called California reformulated gasoline while the rest of the country could use the standard federal reformulated gasoline available at competitive prices from refineries around the world.

Good scientists long ago told the EPA and CARB how to reformulate gasoline to reduce emissions in the most cost-effective ways, and they advised against using oxygenate additives such as MTBE and ethanol in the gasoline (see the journal Science, 3 July 1993, summary, page 37). These oxygenate additives are self-defeating. They reduce the amount of energy in each gallon of gasoline and thereby force motorists to burn more gallons of fuel to go the same distance-which produces more emissions. Just as predicted, MTBE has not been an essential factor in reducing emissions. Other chemical reformulations of the gasoline suggested by the scientists are what account for reduced emissions. The only purpose of the MTBE has been to generate billions in extra profits for the oil companies.

Indeed, an oil company proposed the use of MTBE in California reformulated gasoline as a sure-fire way to reduce automobile emissions and please the federal EPA. CARB bureaucrats didn’t even question the obvious profit motives on the part of the oil company, nor did CARB make any reasonable investigation of the health consequences of dumping a million pounds of MTBE into our environment every day (unburned fuel evaporating and coming out of exhaust pipes). CARB promised the legislature that everything would be ok. I believe it was all too easy for the legislative leaders and the governor to look the other way. These politicians were well aware that the oil companies would make billions of dollars of new profits selling MTBE. The oil companies just happen to be some of the biggest contributors to the political campaigns of incumbent politicians.

The Smog II Fraud

Budget committees in the California Legislature voted last month to cut all money from the budget for the Smog II program—for good reason. Legislators were facing the primary election and the wrath of the public. But now that the primary election is over, eco-fraud lobby with the full support of big business will surely bring Smog II back by one means or another. A billion dollars a year of business for the eco-fraud lobby and millions in political campaign contributions depend on Smog II. The word in Sacramento is that legislators getting the political payoffs will have the Smog II budget restored behind the scenes by an assembly-senate budget compromise committee. This way, each legislator can say that he or she voted against the Smog II budget but that it was restored by others whom they could not control. Voters who want this program stopped must demand that Smog II be killed, permanently, before the coming November election.

The Smog II is a bureaucratic nightmare that will force millions of California motorists to miss millions of days of work and pay dearly to have their cars tested on expensive dynamometers (treadmills for cars). This will accomplish nothing more than to put money into the pockets of the dynamometer manufacturers and the smog check stations who are forced to buy this horribly expensive equipment. The emission control equipment on newer cars and the smog testing program used in California for the past twenty years have been highly successful in eliminating ninety percent of the emissions that came from older cars. But EPA bureaucrats and their buddies in the smog equipment industry were running out of a job so they had to invent a more complex and expensive dynamometer test program.

High bureaucrats in the federal EPA tried to push this dynamometer program on other states. Those states refused, for good reason: this idiotic program was clearly designed primarily to punish the owners of older cars as if they are the major source of air pollution. But our most knowledgeable scientists reported long ago that older cars are not the biggest polluters because they are driven relatively fewer miles (see the journal Science, 3 July 1993, page 40). And newer cars are virtually emission free. So, newer cars owned by the well-to-do are now excused from Smog II testing by the latest revisions to the original Smog II plan. What are left are the cars five to twenty-five years old that are driven by low income families who can not afford new cars. These are the families who will be socked a billion dollars a year for a meaningless Smog II program.

The political leaders of other states rightfully suspected that the EPA officials pushing dynamometer smog testing on the states would go to work for the dynamometer manufacturers after these EPA bureaucrats had forced the states to sign hundred-million dollar purchase contracts for the dynamometers. Indeed, this has already happened in California—right under the noses of our legislature and Governor. The top California bureaucrat-engineer, who helped write the Smog II regulations that require smog testing stations to buy thousands of expensive dynamometers has already jumped ship and gone to work for a manufacturer of smog testing equipment.

A Compelling Alternative

The biggest reductions in air pollution still obtainable will come from major reductions in overall energy usage by homes and industry in the state, not by small reductions in the minor amount of pollution still coming from older cars or the use of unnecessarily expensive reformulated gasoline. The energy savings that can be easily achieved have been thoroughly documented by the University of California Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

The vulgar nature of the MTBE and Smog II frauds is best demonstrated by describing a thoroughly tested alternative program that can achieve greater air pollution reduction at much less cost. CARB has refused to consider this program that actually rewards low income families instead of punishing them. What is this miraculous program? Simple. It is nothing more than installing energy-saving insulation in at least two hundred thousand older homes per year in California. This is the most cost effective program ever demonstrated for energy conservation and air pollution reduction. It can be done for less than the annual cost of Smog II. The California electric utility companies have been financing such programs on a smaller scale for years.

Utility sponsored home insulation programs have shown that a few thousand dollars of new insulation per older home can produce up to fifteen percent permanent energy savings per home. So we take the billion dollars that will be wasted each year by Smog II and we use that billion dollars instead to insulate two to three hundred thousand homes each year. The reduction in statewide energy usage to heat and air condition these homes will result in three times greater permanent statewide air pollution reduction than will be achieved by the motorist-humiliating Smog II fraud for which working families will have to continue paying every year.

For more than five years I have been telling the California Legislature and the Governor’s office that they should greatly expand the home insulation program and show the federal EPA that this is the way to real air pollution reduction. It actually helps low-income families rather than punishing them Smog II style. It stimulates rather than depresses the California economy by creating thousands of entry-level construction jobs. And it puts billions of dollars of utility bill savings back into the pockets of the working families of California. However, this program contains a politically fatal flaw: carrying out this program does not require tens of thousands of incompetent, scientifically ignorant bureaucrats on the public payroll. This program does not feed a billion dollars a year to the eco-fraud lobby.

Privately, politicians in Sacramento told me that it would be bad for them to increase the gasoline tax to fund a home insulation program to reduce air pollution. The people would consider that to be a new tax. They said it was politically safe, however, to allow millions of California motorists to be robbed of a few hundred dollars each for meaningless Smog II tests and another two hundred dollars a year for outrageously expensive gas. They said that “the legislature could put the blame on the federal EPA idiots for forcing these programs on California.” Such robbery of our citizens is not a tax? Where in the hell are some political leaders with enough guts to protect the working families, students, and the economy of California?

The voters who don’t relish having their money wasted should put this home insulation alternative in the face of every candidate for public office who wants their votes. Demand that the candidates put their promises in writing for the press to publish so that they cannot deny their campaign promises later.

San Francisco Can Rescue California

There is a much quicker way to stop these billion dollar frauds with a bit of poetic justice. All it takes is the initiative of the guy who used to run the state legislature, the mayor of San Francisco. The EPA and CARB lied to San Francisco when they promised in 1995 that San Francisco motorists would be exempt from Smog II because the air in the City is so clean. Then the EPA changed the standards and doublecrossed the San Francisco legislators who voted for Smog II. Its time to give the eco-frauds a dose of their own medicine under the environmental laws they created.

The mayor (or the Board of Supervisors) can justifiably ban MTBE and Smog II in the City for health and safety reasons. MTBE is clearly toxic under Proposition 65. No adequate study of the inherently dangerous Smog II dynamometers in the workplace has been done by the city or state occupational safety agencies. A car can fly through the next building if it slips off of one of these things with its wheels spinning at fifty miles an hour. This would surely ruin somebody’s day.

If San Francisco lights the spark of protest, the Sacramento politicians facing elections in November will quickly throw both of these frauds to the bonfire where they belong. Most of our legislators openly state that they were deceived by CARB bureaucrats. They don’t need much of a push to kill these cancers on California’s health and economy.

And what would the eco-frauds and the feds do? Nothing. They don’t dare go to the courts and face the facts that I’ve given you above or the scientists who would testify to the truth. Both CARB and the EPA lied to the California Legislature and even concealed the scientific report I’ve mentioned several times above, a report by this country’s most knowledgeable scientists at MIT, Cal Tech, U.C. Berkeley, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (the major review article on air pollution reduction in the journal Science, 3 July 93, page 37).

How about it Mr. Mayor?

Dr. Bill Wattenburg is a Research Scientist with The University Foundation, California State University Chico (Chico, CA 95929).

Copyright © 1998 Dr. Bill Wattenburg

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