Times Blinded By Hazy View of Reality

Times Blinded By Hazy View of Reality
Dramatically cleaner air downplayed in a story about threats to Clean Air Act because troubles remain.

By Dan Gainor
August 3, 2005

     Rudyard Kipling once wrote that East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. To Los Angeles readers of The New York Times Aug. 3 story on air pollution, that divide was as clear as a smog-free L.A. afternoon.

     The Times front page article California Air Is Cleaner, but Troubles Remain focused on the downside of efforts to clean the L.A. air. However, even the Times own choice of comparison photos from 1953 and 2005 made it obvious how much the air has improved. (The photos can be found here.)

     The Felicity Barringer article was part of a new series called Beyond The Haze: The Clean Air Struggle. The article mentioned possible changes to the Clean Air Act as perhaps the best place to measure what the Clean Air Act has accomplished - and what remains undone. However, Barringer hid the fact that federal actions have had little impact on Los Angeles until the end of the story.

     Barringer discussed possible changes to the act in a bit more detail at the very end of the 2,700-word article, then included this: The changes are likely to have most impact east of the Mississippi River and a limited effect in California, largely because of the state's regulatory independence.

     Some of the many other problems of the article include:

    Glass half empty: According to the EPA: between 1970 and 2004, gross domestic product increased 187 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 171 percent, energy consumption increased 47 percent, and U.S. population grew by 40 percent. During the same time period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 54 percent. Yet, at the NYT, troubles remain.
    Better or worse?: According to Barringer, the region remains one of the worst three in the nation. That sounds horrible, but ignores the EPA assessment that overall air quality has improved across the nation.
    Only regulation works: Barringer claimed that regulation was the only reason air quality has improved. Much of what Los Angeles has achieved has been accomplished by strict state regulations in tandem with the federal mandates of the Clean Air Act of 1970. That claim ignored any aspect of technological progress that has occurred in 35 years, including cleaner and more efficient use of energy.
    Favored by the left: Barringer did a classic comparison saying the four counties usually visible from the ocean-hugging slopes above Santa Monica have been to the clean air struggle what the Deep South was to the civil rights movement. She also criticized the ravenous American appetite for cheap Asian goods and regaled readers with stories about bureaucracies that were the foot soldiers of the clean air struggle. But who said the Times is left-leaning?
    Who you gonna call?: If a reporter was doing an anti-business environmental story, he or she would cite the Natural Resources Defense Council. The notoriously left-wing group is a media favorite and has cropped up more than 40 times on the pages of The New York Times in just the last six months. In this case, NRDC sued one of the businesses at the L.A. port acting on the homeowners behalf. Barringer didnt explain anything about the NRDC, a group that has a long history of scaremongering and was behind the misreporting of the dangers of Alar in apples, which cost that industry millions in lost sales.
    Labels left behind: Barringer cited numerous scientists, leaving out the sources of their funding. However, she did mention scientists financed by the auto industry. Financing only mattered when the scientists disagreed with the point she had to make.
    Industry doing its job: Buried deep in the article is a quote from T. L. Garrett, the vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association in Long Beach, about the environmental work done by businesses at the Los Angeles port. In the absence of a regulatory framework, he said, the industry has stepped forward to reduce emissions beyond what they are required to.
    Got to love those regulators: The article praised an expanding bureaucracy measuring, monitoring and regulating emissions from nearly every corner of daily life, including backyard incinerators, oil-based paints, street sweepers, dry cleaners and barbecue lighter fluid. That was followed by a quote reminiscent of description of Italian dictator Mussolini, who made the trains run on time. This time, the efficient bureaucrat was the chairman of the South Coast district, William Burke. According to Burke, We've always been pushing the limits to find out where we can go. He added, Does that aggravate people? Yes. Does it get things done? Yes.