Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review – What’s The Worst That Can Happen? by Greg Craven (Climate Change/Global Warming)

Subtitled “A Rational Response to The Climate Change Debate,” this book should be read by everyone interested in global warming and man-made climate change.  Craven is a high school physics and chemistry teacher, and he has developed a simple and effective way to help people sift through the heated debates and decide if we need to take action on climate change.  And we don’t even have to decide which side is “right” to do it.

The two sides, of course, are what Craven labels “the warmists” and “the skeptics.”   Warmists are defined as those that believe that the science is strong enough for us to need to take action, while skeptics are those that feel we do not need to take action.  With these two sides defined, Craven introduces a decision grid to aid the process.  In the end he shows us how he filled his decision grid, but also encourages readers to fill in their own grid and make their own decisions.

In between is the crux of the book.  He does a great job of explaining the nature of science and how “we never quite know for sure” (including for things like gravity), but that sometimes the evidence is so overwhelming that it is accepted by virtually everyone (e.g., gravity). He also clues us in to some quirks about our own brains and things like “confirmation bias.”  These set up a chapter on how to assess the credibility of various sources.  After all, unless you spend your life studying the science it’s likely you won’t be able to understand it all, so instead we need to know which sources of information are reliable and which are not so much. Craven then gives us some information on what each side is telling us and who is doing the telling, all fit nicely into his credibility spectrum.

He then demystifies the doomsday claims.

I’ll leave it to all to read the book and draw their own conclusions about the science.  But I definitely recommend that all of us use the tools Craven offers in this book.  And I recommend that all scientists learn how to communicate as easily as does Craven.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Steve Owens, Head of EPA's Toxic Chemical Program, To Resign

The head of EPA's Office that handles toxic chemicals is resigning.  Steve Owens announced his resignation to staff yesterday and will leave as of November 30, 2011.  According to his email, Owens has "made the difficult decision to leave EPA" mainly to rejoin his family in Arizona, where they remained during his entire two plus years working in Washington DC at EPA headquarters.  Owens had previously been the head of Arizona's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

In his departure announcement, Owens thanked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for "her wonderful friendship and the remarkable vision and leadership she provides" to the Agency.  Similarly, in a statement from Jackson, the EPA Administrator thanked Owens for his contributions.  She noted that "his leadership has been vital to our efforts to assure chemical safety for our citizens and revamp our nation's outdated toxic substances standards."

Those standards remain in limbo at this point as the much anticipated TSCA reform legislation - an effort to modernize the 35-year old toxic chemicals law - has stalled in Congress.  Given the current actions of House Republicans to defund EPA and limit the Agency's authority even under the current TSCA law, plus the stalemate caused by the still year-away elections that could give control of the Senate to Republicans, it seems highly unlikely that any reform of TSCA is going to occur for many years.  While he doesn't mention it in his email, perhaps that is one of the reasons Owens has decided to relocate back to Arizona.

No information on possible replacements for Owens has been forthcoming, and any potential nominee would have to be confirmed by Congress, a prospect that is likely to be politically charged given the current climate.

Monday, October 24, 2011

EPA Finalizes Third TSCA Test Rule for HPV Chemicals

The USEPA is finally promulgating a final rule under Section 4 of TSCA "to require manufacturers, importers, and processors to conduct testing to obtain screening level data for health and environmental effects and chemical fate for 15 high production volume (HPV) chemical substances listed in this final rule."  The 15 chemicals represent only half of the 29 HPV chemicals that were listed in the the draft rule, which was originally proposed nearly two years ago on February 25, 2010.  According to EPA, based on comments received on the proposed rule, the remaining chemicals were dropped because they did not" meet the criteria for testing at this time."

For the 15 chemicals listed in this final rule, manufacturers will need to conduct the specified tests and provide the data to EPA prior to the deadline, which is set for the end of 2012.  EPA notes that "this test data is needed in order to help EPA to determine whether these 15 HPV chemical substances pose a risk to human health and/or environmental safety."  Required tests vary by chemical but can include physical-chemical properties, environmental fate and degradation, aquatic toxicity, mammalian acute and reproductive/developmental toxicity, and genotoxicity.

Companies that are effected by the rule must submit test plans for each chemical within 90 days of the effective date (i.e., 90 days from November 21, 2011).

The list of chemicals can be accessed here.

A full hyperlinked version of the Federal Register notice can be accessed here.