Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page
With a budget profoundly in the red and an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, one would think that elected officials and citizens’ groups in California would be figuring out how to move forward development of the massive shale “play” shown here to the right — The Monterey Shale. But instead, the same crowd that bestowed such regulatory gems as Proposition 65 on California’s business environment is busily plotting how to kill this golden goose.
Three proposals are currently advancing in the state Assembly to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in California until various studies can be done to definitively establish that the six decade-old gas extraction technique is 100% safe. The proposals eschew the traditional risk-based U.S. regulatory approach and embrace the European style of precaution, which demands ex post proof of safety even where no current evidence reveals environmental or health harms. Not surprisingly, a who’s who of activist groups support the bills, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, which has an ongoing suit against the state regarding hydraulic fracturing regulations. Even California’s state law schools are pitching in, with UC-Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment releasing a well-timed “report” calling for more controls.
“Let’s study the issue” is a non-threatening euphemism activists and government use in place of the scarier actual outcome sought: let’s forestall the activity being studied for as long as possible. New York’s moratorium on natural gas extraction has been dragging on for five years, with no timetable for release of the state health commission’s study of fracking (“I will continue to work on this until I am comfortable” says the Commissioner). While celebrity activists (or fracktivists as California-based think tank The Breakthrough Institute calls them) like Mark Ruffalo applaud the ponderous New York delays, jobs and revenue flow to neighboring states like Pennsylvania. Have any of the California legislators supporting the Assembly bills seen what natural gas development has done to nearby North Dakota’s economy?
The emergence of natural gas as an abundant, more efficient source of domestic energy than coal threatens the environmental activist movement’s utopian vision of alternative fuels. So hydraulic fracturing must be stopped. One supporter of a California moratorium from 350.org was clear on this: “We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas,” calling natural gas “at best a kind of fad diet.” The three organizations listed as “co-sponsors” of one California fracking bill, AB 1301 – Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, and Food & Water Watch – each support outright bans on hydraulic fracturing.
The debate is ongoing in California, and as we learned from last year’s battle over mandatory biotech food labeling, when the public is fully educated about the negative ramifications of feel-good proposals, the best outcome for Californians can be reached. Here’s hoping that the facts can battle their way through the hype and emotion, so reasoned decisions can be made.
Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page
Not even a year after fighting a bruising and costly battle over the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” (Proposition 37), proponents and opponents of mandatory biotech food labeling are poised for a rematch in the state of Washington. In February, the Secretary of State’s office certified ballot initiative I-522, The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, and forwarded it to the legislature.
Under Washington law, the legislature can either enact it into law, reject it or refuse to act on it, or approve an amended initiative. If lawmakers don’t act on, it goes to a public vote in November. If the legislature alters it, then both the altered version and the original version go on the November ballot. The likeliest scenario is no legislative action, which puts I-522 in the voters’ hands.
The similarities between the defeated California initiative and the impending Washington proposal go beyond their titles. The Washington proposal, authored by an advertising executive, embraces the spirit, if not the letter, of many of Prop 37′s provisions. One provision it did not borrow from Prop 37 was that initiative’s prohibition of “Natural” and “All-Natural” on food labels.
Some initial thoughts on I-522: Continue reading
by John Andren*
Once directed at controlling the “social ills” of smoking, alcohol, and gambling abuses, sin taxes have become a favored tool of policy makers in their quest to make consumer’s food and drink choices for them as well. With little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of such taxes and overwhelming economic evidence against them, you would think legislators wouldn’t waste their time with sin taxes.
But with state and national budgets suffering from large short falls, legislators are scrambling to find new ways to raise revenue. It just so happens soda and fast food appear to be on the top of their lists. The popularity of soft drinks and fast food in America has led to a vociferous debate between those who want to defend their freedom to eat and drink what they want and those who wish to engineer the diets of all American’s according to their own personal ideals.
A new working paper from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, Sin Taxes: Size, Growth, and Creation of the Sindustry, provides a thorough overview of the supposed economic logic supporting the “need” for sin taxes, and further economic and public choice arguments against them. Continue reading
by Mary-Christine Sungaila, Snell & Wilmer L.L.P.*
Experts testify in almost every civil case that goes to trial. Indeed, in many types of cases, such as medical malpractice and product liability actions, a plaintiff cannot recover without expert testimony. Despite the importance of this type of testimony, the California Supreme Court had remained silent about the proper standards for admitting it. Until now.
In Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern California, the Court considered whether the trial court erred by excluding expert testimony to substantiate the lost profit damages allegedly stemming from USC’s refusal to clinically test a new implant designed by the plaintiff dental implant company; but for USC’s breach, the implant company claimed, the company would have become a worldwide leader in the implant industry and made millions of dollars in profit each year. The Supreme Court affirmed the expert’s exclusion, concluding that “trial courts have a substantial ‘gatekeeping’ responsibility,” including the duty “to exclude speculative expert testimony.”
The Supreme Court explained that
under Evidence Code section 801, subdivision (b), and 802, the trial court acts as a gatekeeper to exclude expert testimony that is (1) based on matter of a type on which an expert may not reasonably rely, (2) based on reasons unsupported by the material on which the expert relies, or (3) speculative.”
The court further observed that other provisions of law, including case law, “may also provide reasons for excluding expert testimony.” Citing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, the Court warned, however, that the focus of the trial court’s analysis must be on the principles and methodology espoused by the expert, and not on choosing between two competing expert opinions. Continue reading
Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor site
It’s been a rough week for activists and government officials who support tax increases as a way to engineer “better” dietary choices. First, two California towns rejected increases in soda taxes by wide margins on Election Day. And then on November 10, the government of Denmark announced that it was repealing its sin tax on saturated fat and dropping plans for a tax on sugar. The Danish tax had been widely touted as a model for other nations.
The Danish government should be applauded for listening to its consumers and businesses, and for accepting economic realities. The tax on such dietary staples as butter, cream, oil, and cheese not only forced many Danes to purchase lower quality goods from neighboring nations, it also created an administrative nightmare for businesses, reportedly leading to 1,300 lost jobs. The Danish tax ministry conceded that the taxes had not altered citizens’ eating habits and “may be counterproductive at worst.”
We’re not seeing such refreshing candor and acceptance from government officials and their nanny state activists allies in the wake of the votes in California, however. Rather than finding more productive, less intrusive ways to battle obesity, sin tax proponents are busy whining about being outspent in the Richmond and El Monte tax campaigns and plotting ways to introduce soda tax initiatives in more localities and forcing simultaneous votes.
Developments such as those in Denmark, and respected studies showing that sin taxes must be imposed at level of at least 20% to impact obesity, won’t dissuade truly committed food nannies. Activists like The New York Times‘ Mark Bittman will continue to believe: “I can’t think of a better way of reducing sugar consumption than a tax.”
We, on the other hand, can’t think of a better way to turn economically struggling Americans against their self-appointed consumer advocates than an increase in prices of the foods we choose and enjoy by 20% or more.
Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor page
Public relations demonization is an essential part of a healthy anti-business activist’s diet. Demonization is playing a key role in the expanding war on “Big Food” and consumer choice, which is why Washington Legal Foundation included it as a key “food group” in our issue ad, reproduced here. We also devote an entire section of our Eating Away Our Freedoms website to PR demonization.
Such PR tactics work best when reporters and editors suspend disbelief and present activists’ spin with little or no attention to opposing views. We saw a troubling example of this recently in a series of stories about how school districts in several states are trying to ban a snack food. These stories subtly advanced the pipe dream of every trial lawyer and nanny state activist: that some foods are “addictive.” Continue reading
Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor site
A story from the London desk of Reuters last week discussed European scientists’ skeptical response to a new French study claiming to show health risks (to rats) from genetically engineered corn. The story concluded by stating:
The study is also likely to create friction in the United States, where opponents of genetically engineered foods in California are fighting to have all GMOs removed from the food supply.”
Does this reflect a misunderstanding of the mandated biotech food labeling campaign (aka “Proposition 37″) in California, or are these reporters on to something? Is the purportedly benign goal of “informing consumers” veiling Prop 37 supporters’ larger purpose?
When considering this question, you should examine the actions of the Prop 37 campaign and the statements of some its biggest supporters. Prop 37′s supporters need Californians to embrace their perspective that genetically engineered foods are risky or dangerous. From the “Findings and Declarations” in the proposal to the alarming ads the campaign has run, biotech foods have been subjected to heavy doses of demonization. Prop 37 supporters’ latest PR efforts focus around promoting this curiously timed French study, the methodologies and motivations of which have been panned by respected scientists.
The Yes on Prop 37 campaign’s largest financial supporter, an Illinois-based dietary supplements and alternative health company called Mercola Health Resources, offers ”frightening facts” about the “dangerous health effects” of biotech foods on their website. Ronnie Cummins, the associate director of the second largest pro-Prop 37 contributor, the Organic Consumers Association, told the New York Times that a biotech food label is a “kiss of death,” and that with Prop 37, “we will be on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good.” For further clues into why Cummins and his group support Prop 37, read the open letter he penned last month urging the organic community to support the initiative. Continue reading
Cross-posted at Forbes.com at WLF contributor site
In our post last week on California’s Proposition 37, Shoddy Drafting or Part of the Plan?: The “Natural” Problem in California’s Biotech Food Labeling Initiative, we stated that, “Part of this ballot initiative would require all raw and processed foods whose production was impacted in any way by biotechnology to be labeled as such.”
As an astute Legal Pulse post reader pointed out to us, that statement gives the drafters of the initiative far more credit than they deserve. As we’ll explain here, rather than impacting all biotech foods, Proposition 37 exempts quite a significant number of these food products from the labeling requirement. Those exemptions are so broad that they substantially undercut the initiative’s supposed goals and also call into question the motivations of some Prop 37 supporters.
Organic foods. Proposed Prop 37 exempts from labeling food that has been certified as “organic” under federal standards. Pretty obvious exemption, right, since organic = zero contact with genetic engineering? Not necessarily. Continue reading
Cross-posted at Forbes.com’s WLF contributor site
Last weekend, opponents of less expensive, cleaner-burning natural gas (and probably any other fossil fuel) marched on Washington. Among the litany of claims made at Saturday’s Stop the Frack Attack, and against hydraulic fracturing in general, “water pollution” is often first and foremost. Unfortunately for the activists, the facts aren’t on their side with this assertion, an inconvenient truth confirmed last week by their beloved Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”Look what’s happening in Dimock, PA” has been a rallying cry for anti-fracturing forces over the last few years. A scene from the anti-natural gas propaganda film Gasland purported to show a Dimock resident lighting their tap water on fire. Just like scenes of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River burning in 1969 inspired Congress to pass the Clean Water Act, activists hoped that this image would ignite a national movement against fracturing.
But science has gotten in the way. EPA announced June 25 that extensive testing of Dimock wells revealed that “there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.” This confirms earlier EPA and Pennsylvania environmental officials’ tests, whose results were denied and decried by natural gas opponents.
The silence from these activists on EPA’s latest announcement so far has been deafening. No doubt their public media demonization campaign, described so well in a recent Washington Legal Foundation publication (Misinformation Campaign
Targets Hydraulic Fracturing) will march on. We won’t be surprised if natural gas’s critics dismiss EPA’s test results as flawed or politically motivated, or if they simply ignore this development and keep flacking the water pollution claim.
There’s two things we’ve learned here at WLF from 35 years of being a public interest advocate for free enterprise — anti-business activists are relentless, and they never let facts get in their way.
Today an array of interested parties will gather in NYC to attend the Department of Health’s public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on “large sugary beverages.” Mayor Bloomberg has used the past few weeks to harp on the prevalence of and risks associated with obesity–which no one denies. He’s also compiled a list of celebrity supporters, which he likely feels bolster the validity of his cause. Many individuals, however, are not so easily swayed and believe that, as WLF suggested in comments filed yesterday with the Board of Health, the legitimacy of any attempt to curb individual liberty lies in the science behind it and the economic and social effects it has.
In our comments, WLF both questions the Board’s authority to enact the proposed ban and argues that such a measure is not a rational means of addressing obesity. In order to fully evaluate the rationality of this heavy-handed measure–as any law-making body should–the Board must take into consideration the economic and social effects, in addition to the health concerns. Just yesterday the founder of Honest Tea wrote an op-ed describing the burden the ban would put on the company, whose product contains 35 calories per eight-ounce serving (10 calories above the ban’s quota) and comes in 16.9-ounce bottles–just .9 ounces above the board’s arbitrary 16-ounce limit. Continue reading