ENVIRONMENTALISM'S NEW ENVIRONMENT
REASON has reported that on a surprisingly large range of environmental issues—federally owned forest lands, the Garrison water project in North Dakota, Western water allocation, and others—environmentalists are discovering their common ground with fiscal conservatives. Recently, there's been mounting evidence that the two groups are becoming aware of how extensively their ideals converge.
Water issues are a good example. Although the water industry has traditionally enjoyed huge subsidies from Washington, an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last November observed that it's occasionally being thwarted these days, as environmentalists "have learned to work with conservatives who are truly concerned about runaway costs." Despite early opposition from the Reagan administration, this new coalition was responsible for a provision in the new Colorado River salinity bill requiring local users to pick up at least 30 percent of the tab. And the coalition stopped a proposal for a massive water boondoggle that would have benefited Chevron Corporation's agricultural holdings in California.
Free-market advocates have long favored selling water in an unfettered market. Their ranks are being swelled by environmentalists appalled by the massive waste of subsidized (and underpriced) water under the present system. An interstate water market "would create an incentive for investments to use water more efficiently," Environmental Defense Fund economist Zachariah Willey told the Wall Street Journal.
Privatization of federally owned land, once an exclusively free-market cause, is also gaining respectability among environmentalists. At a conference of the Political Economy Research Center—a Montana think tank that has long promoted free-market environmentalism—Willey last year endorsed the idea of "limited privatization" of government lands.
The Center's free-market views gained wide circulation in a syndicated Washington Post story last December on the Forest Service's ham-handed timber sales to private companies. The article pointed out that the Forest Service probably loses money on these sales and noted that "the deficit sales have added fuel to a new philosophy of environmentalism called 'The New Resource Economics.'" That's the free-market environmentalism pioneered by the Political Economy Research Center and increasingly compelling to more-traditional environmentalists.
MOLECULES AND MALIGNANCY
If every person in the world were to drink throughout his lifetime 2 liters of water per day contaminated with one molecule per liter of the known carcinogen benzene, the odds are that not even one additional case of cancer would occur as a result. That analysis, which recently appeared in a letter to Science magazine, was provided by epidemiologist Norman Gravitz of California's Department of Health.
Gravitz used the example in discussing the "one-hit, no-threshold" model for carcinogens, which holds that a single molecule of a carcinogen "hitting" a cell only once may cause cancer. As Edith Efron detailed in the excerpt from her book The Apocalyptics that appeared as REASON's May 1984 cover story ("Behind the Cancer Terror"), this model is important, because it serves as the basis of much regulatory legislation. For instance, the federal "Delaney clause," which requires the banning of any food additive that has been shown to cause cancer in either animals or humans, is based on this model.
Although the regulators have adopted the one-hit model, there is, Efron noted, a fierce debate in scientific circles over its validity. Gravitz's calculations in Science shed light on that debate.
"Although it is theoretically possible that a single molecule of a carcinogen could induce cancer," Gravitz wrote in his letter to Science, "the probability of this occurrence is vanishingly small." Applying probability analysis to the benzene-laced-water example, Gravitz determined that the excess carcinogenic risk from drinking the contaminated water—"a lifetime consumption of about 51,100 molecules of benzene"—"is more than 16 orders of magnitude smaller than the most stringent state or federal regulatory standards for an allowable risk level." Furthermore, with a world population of 5 billion, "one would not expect even one additional case of cancer from this contaminated water."
"The fact is that both factions in this argument are correct," noted Gravitz. "According to the no-threshold, one-hit model, there is a finite probability that one molecule of a carcinogen could cause cancer; however, the opponents of this theory are also correct in expressing their incredulity at this possibility. For all practical purposes, the probability of this occurring is so slight as to make this skepticism reasonable."
• Revising antitrust. In a recently drafted set of nonbinding guidelines, the Justice Department urged courts to allow manufacturers to place almost any kind of nonprice marketing restraint on wholesalers and retailers who handle the manufacturers' products. Heretofore, judges almost universally construed "vertical constraints"—such as exclusive dealer contracts and strict territorial agreements—as anticompetitive and therefore in violation of the antitrust laws. But according to the department's new guidelines, such restrictions aren't usually anticompetitive.
• Private guerrillas. Huber Matos, a Cuban exile leader and a former guerrilla commander with Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces, is forming a guerrilla company of about 50 Cuban exiles to fight with Nicaragua's anti-Sandinista "Contras." A former guerrilla and a military governor after Castro took power, Matos protested the Castro regime's communism and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. About his joining the Contras, Matos told the New York Times: "This is also our war, since they, like us, are fighting against Castro and the Russians."