Whitman Strategy Group

Assessing the Long-Term Costs of Ignoring the Environment

by Christine Todd Whitman, NJ Spotlight on 12-24-2013

We need to take a longer-term view of the effects that our actions have on our health and our safety.

As NJ Spotlight’s staff takes a holiday break until January, former Gov. Christie Whitman, who served from 1994 to 2001, provides the first in our collection of year-end essays from those who have sat in the governor’s chair. The invitation asked only that they write about any issue they think is important as New Jersey enters 2014.

As former U.S. EPA administrator and now a consultant on environmental issues, Whitman takes on a topic she knows well: the environment and our public health.

Recent studies linking various health and economic impacts of environmental contamination should cause policymakers to reevaluate their priorities when it comes to environmental legislation and regulation. Three key areas of research in this area stand out: the connection between certain pesticides and Parkinson’s, the correlation between elevated lead in gasoline with crime rates, and the link between air pollution and autism.

A study released last year by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center showed the connection between Parkinson’s disease and the use of two pesticides, rotenone and paraquat. People who had used either pesticide developed Parkinson’s disease approximately 2.5 times more often than those who did not use the chemicals. Mercifully, there are no residential uses for either paraquat or rotenone currently registered, but that restriction for rotenone was only put in place, voluntarily by its producers, in 2006. Paraquat use is restricted to certified applicators, and rotenone is now only permitted in the killing of invasive fish species.

A study released early this year revealed that the change in leaded gasoline usage has a high correlation with violent crime rates in America. Tulane University toxicologist Howard W. Mielke found that the exposure of children to high levels of lead in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a significant uptick in crime 20 years later. Every 1 percent increase in the number of tons of lead released into the atmosphere corresponded with a half a percent point increase in the aggravated assault rate 22 years later. Mielke found that once leaded gasoline was no longer available in the 1980s, the corresponding crime rates fell; further research confirmed this correlation in other countries and in six U.S. cities.

While there have been previous studies linking lead with birth defects, lower intellectual aptitude and hearing concerns, this latest study is groundbreaking in its connection between lead and high levels of aggression. Leaded gasoline use declined by the 1980s and was banned for use in vehicles in 1996; it is still in use in a few products, including racecars, certain piston-powered airplanes, and some off-road vehicles. There are still traces of lead in the soil in the U.S., and an estimated 16 million homes still have lead in paint or other areas.

Finally, this summer researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health found that pregnant women who were exposed to high levels of diesel particulates or mercury were twice as likely to have an autistic child when compared with women who were in areas of low pollution. Using data from the Nurse’s Health Study 2, a long-term study that began in 1980 and involves more than 116,000 nurses, the researchers examined 325 women who had a child with autism and 22,000 women who had a child that does not suffer from this disorder. They then used data from the Environmental Protection Agency to approximate the women’s exposure to toxins.

Pundits and politicians tend to present economic development and environmental regulation as opponents in a zero-sum game. Such a view is shortsighted and foolish; we need to take a longer-term view of the affects that our actions toward our surroundings have on our health and our safety –- two resources that once lost cannot simply be repurchased.

Thankfully, we now have research and measurement tools we did not have at our disposal decades ago, and it behooves us to utilize those tools to view environmental protection through the lens of our future and our children’s future. In our benevolent mission to grow the economy, we should not be in too great a rush to ignore environmental testing and results. The price we pay at the end is much greater than we can afford, both in terms of dollars and human lives.

The author was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001-2003 and governor of New Jersey from 1994-2001.

Christine Todd Whitman served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003.  She was the 50th Governor of New Jersey, serving as its first woman governor from 1994 until 2001. Prior to becoming Governor, she was the President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and served on the Somerset County board of Chosen Freeholders. Since leaving the EPA, Governor Whitman has served as President of The Whitman Strategy Group (WSG), a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues. She co-chairs Clean and Safe Energy (CASE) and is a member of the board of directors of the American Security Project. Governor Whitman has a BA in government from Wheaton College in Norton, MA.
Let’s start with an overview of CASE. What are your primary areas of focus?
CASE (Clean and Safe Energy) works to educate people on nuclear energy. We put out information to help communities make informed decisions on the benefits and risks of nuclear energy. We put an extra focus on jobs and helping minority groups understand potential careers in the industry.
We’re funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute, and we are a coalition of about 3,200 members. Our members include current and former elected officials and opinion leaders, and we also have hospitals, associations and labor unions.
Today, there are 438 reactors worldwide. That number is expected to double by 2030, but almost all of that growth outside of the United States. What is driving that environment of growth outside of the United States, and why the decline here?
Today’s generation knows nuclear best from The Simpsons. The US is experiencing a lack of information, as well as a hangover effect from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  Studies have shown that the closer people live to nuclear reactors, the more comfortable they are with nuclear, and the more they appreciate the safety of this energy and the benefits to the community. These studies excluded people who work at the nuclear sites. The farther people live from a reactor, the greater the lack of information.
There are problems, of course. First of all, there’s no question that bringing a reactor online is a big investment,especially compared to the current low price of natural gas. Yet we’ve been here before: natural gas prices go up and down, while uranium for nuclear energy stays affordable and we can lock in long term contracts.
Also, there are legitimate questions about safety, and CASE is about answering those questions and laying out the facts about the record of the US nuclear industry. We work with communities to make them comfortable with nuclear, and the four new reactors being built right now (two in Georgia, two in South Carolina) are examples of that process.
How does CASE answer the concerns of environmentalists?
My co-chair at CASE, Dr. Patrick Moore, is one of the co-founders of Greenpeace. He has emphasized the distinction between nuclear weapons and nuclear power, as well as the significance of climate change and air quality. Those issues are more important now to many environmentalists.
We’ve met with leaders from the big environmental groups, such as NRDC and EDF, and while they may not embrace nuclear, they’re not putting up barriers as in the past, because they are so concerned about climate change and air quality, as they should be.
You mentioned the extensive number of jobs in nuclear energy. Can you delve into that a little more?
We are looking an industry with a lot of aging workers who are relatively close to retirement. In fact, some 39% of the current nuclear industry workforce will be eligible to retire in the next four years. Even considering the fact that more new reactors are being built outside of the US, even if the United States brings on no additional nuclear power, we’ll see an increase in manufacturing here in the United States. For example, 90% of the component parts for the A.P. Westinghouse 1000s are built in the United States. These were used in South Carolina and Georgia, but they’re also building two in China, and that has created some 19,000 jobs here in the United States.
We are talking about a whole pipeline of jobs—not just nuclear scientists and engineers. These plants need electrical wiring, cement, security, cleanup—a whole panoply of jobs. There’s a lot of hiring to be done, and when the decision-makers consider what their energy mix should look like, they need to understand that nuclear brings a lot of good jobs.

 

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