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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Ninth Circuit's eco-forays are unconstitutional says dissenting judge


Gabrial Malor at Ace of Spades pulls some choice excerpts from what he calls an "epic broadside" by Judge Milan Smith. First Smith reviews a number of cases where the Ninth Circuit has upended whole fields of economic activity with rulings that contradict both statutory requirements and executive rulemaking (imposing stormwater runoff regulations on logging roads that had been explicitly exempted from such regulation by the EPA, twisting water use statutes to parch California's central valley in favor of Delta Smelt). Then the last paragraph of Smith's dissent drops the hammer:
No legislature or regulatory agency would enact sweeping rules that create such economic chaos, shutter entire industries, and cause thousands of people to lose their jobs. That is because the legislative and executive branches are directly accountable to the people through elections, and its members know they would be removed swiftly from office were they to enact such rules. In contrast, in order to preserve the vitally important principle of judicial independence, we are not politically accountable. However, because of our lack of public accountability, our job is constitutionally confined to interpreting laws, not creating them out of whole cloth. Unfortunately, I believe the record is clear that our court has strayed with lamentable frequency from its constitutionally limited role (as illustrated supra) when it comes to construing environmental law. When we do so, I fear that we undermine public support for the independence of the judiciary, and cause many to despair of the promise of the rule of law.
Our green-obsessed legislatures are plenty bad but at least their electoral accountability forces them to limit the damage. Green judges are apparently seeing this as a problem that they should correct. After all, isn't the role of the courts to hold the legislative and executive branches to higher principles than their worldly natures incline to?

Yes, but only when the higher principles in question are those laid out in the Constitution. Green principles, found nowhere in the Constitution, are entirely for the "political branches" to embrace or renounce as they see fit, so long as the Constitution is not violated. When judges impose their own political principles they are the ones who are violating the Constitution. Trusted to defend against tyranny, they instead become tyrants themselves.

Willie Soon, Edward Calabrese and the not-so-demon mercury

The case that occasions Judge Smith's dissent involves minute amounts of mercury stirred up by small scale suction dredging for gold. Both elements are heavy so neither is going to be carried far by the current but some increase in water-borne mercury does result, which is claimed to present a risk to drinking water downstream.

The California department of Fish and Game wants to deregulate the industry (originally regulated to protect fish, which can be accomplished by seasonal restrictions). That brought in the eco-activists and the EPA, both demanding suffocation by green tape, and the Ninth Circuit can find a way to do that, regardless of the law.

Now on to the science. As Willie Soon discussed at WUWT on Monday, mercury regulation is highly irrational, with regulators imposing huge costs to reduce human mercury emissions that are dwarfed by natural emissions. Lacking any evidence that natural levels of mercury exposure are harmful, there is no basis for thinking that our small additions are doing any harm.

Actually, we can go further and say that small increases in exposure to mercury are beneficial. This is due to the poorly understood but well documented phenomenon of "hormesis" whereby seemingly any substance that is harmful in higher doses will have a "hormetic range" where small enough doses will typically have a stimulative or prophylactic effect, presumably from the body gearing up to resist the assault.

The expert on this subject is Dr. Edward Calabrese from the University of Massachusetts who has revolutionized toxicology with his vast research on hormetic effects, but the regulators don't want to hear it:
Regulators currently assume that toxins either always pose some risk at any level or that there's a threshold below which toxins won't cause health problems. But while these assumptions are used to regulate everything from mercury to pesticides, Calabrese argues that they just don't reflect the paradoxical and sometimes beneficial effects seen at low doses in the lab. "The central pillar of toxicology is the dose response," he says. "I'm telling them that they got the most fundamental aspect of their field wrong."
Here is a link to one of Dr. Calabrese's papers on the subject. If you are not familiar with the hormesis phenomenon, it is well worth a look. The hormetic effects of mercury are particularly well studied thanks to the Thimerosal scare. This study, for instance, found that low dose exposure to Thimerosal from its use as a vaccine preservative actually lowers autism rates, much to the surprise of its authors. Calabrese's response (linked below the abstract), clues them in to the mother lode they just suction-dredged a nugget from.

Demonization of mercury is one of the main weapons the EPA wields against CO2-producing fossil fuels. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards released by the EPA in December (also called MACT rules for the Maximum Achievable Control Technology criterion that the EPA applies) are right now forcing the retirement of many existing coal-electric plants, even though for the great majority of people current levels of exposure to Mercury are well into the hormetic range, meaning that mercury exposure from coal generation actually has significant net health benefits.

The EPA is unplugging the grid in order to make us less healthy, a lose-lose proposition. It's just what the Bizarro-Earth eco-doctor ordered: "first do harm." Wherever they manage to ensconce themselves the eco-religionists betray the established principles of their professions. In the government bureaucracy and in academia they jettison science fact in favor of eco-presumption, then in the courts they treat their eco-ideals as a higher standard to which the other branches are to be held. It's models all the way down and thuggery all the way up.

(Cross-posted at WUWT.)

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