Think tanks wrap-up II

May 5, 2003 at 5:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for May 2. Contents: Mendez climate act; bald eagles and clean water; teacher quality vs. class size.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute

(CEI is a conservative, free-market think tank that supports principles of free enterprise and limited government, opposes government regulation, and actively engages in public policy debate.)

Comments on the Menendez Climate Amendment from CEI and the Center for Science and Public Policy Studies

By Bob Ferguson and Marlo Lewis Jr.

WASHINGTON -- On May 7, 2003, the House International Relations Committee will mark up the fiscal year 2004 State Department authorization bill. The Committee will consider an amendment, introduced by Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., that, if enacted, would effectively overturn S. Res. 98, the Byrd-Hagel resolution.

Menendez's amendment, a "Sense of Congress" resolution on global climate change, reflects the Kyoto vision of an impending greenhouse apocalypse and advocates Kyoto-style energy rationing, both as a matter of national policy and international law.

CEI teams up with the Center for Science and Public Policy to offer the following critical comments on the amendment's scientific and economic claims and assumptions.

-- Based on the key temperature measurements of the last several decades, the actual data has shown no significant global warming trend. Therefore, the scientific facts do not support either climate alarmism or mandatory CO2 emission cuts.

-- The available scientific evidence does not support the claim that the climate of the 20th century in many locations around the globe was unusual when compared to the previous 900 years. Claims that man-made emissions are causing "unprecedented" global warming have been seriously undermined by new research that shows much of the Earth was warmer during the early Middle Ages.

-- New research findings on the sun, including records of changes in the sun's magnetism (and therefore its energy output) reaching back some 1,000 years, suggest a major natural influence on surface temperatures of Earth.

-- New research on black carbon (soot) emissions, water vapor feedback effects, and CO2 concentration increases indicate that the climate system does not respond as current climate models predict.

-- During the period from 1895 to 2002, a number of states show an actual declining trend in long-term average surface temperatures, including Texas (-0.3 degree F per century) and Michigan (-0.2 degree F per century).

S. Res 98 (approved by a vote of 95 to zero) provides that developing countries must be included in any future treaties, and that such treaties must not result in serious harm to the U.S. economy. The proposed Menendez amendment (Sec. 627) would effectively overturn S. Res. 98.

Proposals like the Kyoto agreement to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions are estimated in most economic studies to have enormous economic, social and environmental costs. The cost estimates for the United States alone amount to as high as $400 billion per year. Those costs would fall disproportionately on America's and the world's elderly and poor.

Low-cost, coal-fired electric power is vital to the jobs, incomes and health of millions of Americans. Complete elimination of coal-fired power by Kyoto-style regulation could reduce household income by as much as $225 billion in 2010, and induce 14,000 to 25,000 premature adult deaths, particularly among minorities and the poor.

Since the adoption of the Kyoto agreement, many nations have admitted that they will not meet their commitments to emissions reductions.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy

(MCPP is a nonpartisan research and educational organization devoted to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions through the objective analysis of issues. MCPP seeks to broaden the policy past the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution for various issues, and offers a comprehensive approach encompassing voluntary associations, business, community and family, as well as government.)

Eagle sightings signal improved Michigan water quality

By Sharon Herbitter and Diane Katz

Midland, Mich. -- Scores of American bald eagles now glide on the wind, roost in the trees and scavenge Michigan shorelines. Their remarkable recovery from endangered status signals improved water quality throughout the Great Lakes.

The bird is a reliable indicator of water quality because raptors top the food chain and subsist mainly on fish and waterfowl. Thus, their numbers increase or decline, in part, based on contaminant concentrations in lakes and waterways.

Eagle sightings soared in a survey conducted Jan. 1 through 15, totaling 3,461 statewide. The winter survey found eagles in 79 Michigan counties, with about a third of the birds spotted in the Upper Peninsula, a third in the northern Lower Peninsula, and the balance in more southern areas of the state. Cold winters can drive eagles farther south to escape icier conditions. But widespread sightings may also indicate broad environmental improvement.

Sightings alone do not constitute an official census of the eagle population. The winter sighting survey may be skewed by weather conditions and the availability of volunteers. Still, researchers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources say the latest survey does track other evidence of a burgeoning eagle population in Michigan. This resurgence testifies to the resilience of nature.

Recent analyses of blood and feathers collected from eagle nests in all geographic areas examined found a dramatic decrease in PCB concentrations compared to a decade ago. Likewise, trout samples taken from four Great Lakes show an 85 percent drop in PCB concentrations, from a high of more than 20 parts per million in the early 1970s to less than 3 ppm more recently. Mercury levels, too, are lower, while lead accumulations have declined in every sample since the 1980s.

Further improvement still can be made, of course. The United States and Canada have identified 14 areas within Michigan's jurisdiction in which water quality does not support a full range of uses, such as drinking or fish consumption. Management plans are underway to restore beneficial uses in all impaired areas.

But more than aesthetics or political pull should dictate the focus of regulatory attention. The Granholm administration would do well to establish priorities based on the actual threat to public health and environmental degradation.

Michigan began monitoring bald eagle populations in 1961, when as few as 50 occupied nests were observed statewide. Researchers soon established that only 38 percent of nesting pairs were able to raise even a single chick -- half the breeding rate necessary to sustain the beleaguered population. Two decades later, however, a rebound was underway. And by 1999, some 340 nesting pairs were recorded, while breeding productivity reached a robust 96 percent.

Some environmental groups cite the virtual ban in 1972 of the insecticide DDT as the reason for the bird's recovery. Misapplications of the insecticide have long been blamed for thinning eggshells that cause breeding failures, but scientific evidence has proved elusive. In fact, DDT has saved tens of millions of lives by controlling the spread of malaria, typhus and other fatal diseases carried by mosquitoes, lice and vermin.

The bald eagle was officially classified as "endangered" in 1976, and reclassified as "threatened" in 1995. By all accounts, the bird is now fully recovered. Yet in a victory of environmental politics over science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to release the bird and the properties it inhabits from federal control. Even if the agency were to act, federal law would continue to protect the birds from capture.

For all Americans, the bald eagle is a symbol of strength and freedom. Here in Michigan, it is also tangible evidence of improved water quality throughout our beloved Great Lakes.

(Sharon Herbitter is a bird watcher and free-lance writer living in Midland, Mich. Diane Katz is director of science, environment and technology policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.)

The Heartland Institute

(HI is a libertarian think tank that aims to promote social movements in support of ideas such as parental choice in education, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation following the principle that property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies. Supported by private contributions, HI does not accept government funds or conduct "contract" research for special interest groups.)

Florida voters may regret class size vote: Research shows teacher quality is more important

by Robert Holland

CHICAGO, Ill. -- As Florida's governor and legislature grapple with the staggering fiscal implications of implementing a voter mandate to reduce K-12 class sizes, multiple studies are casting grave doubt on the cost-effectiveness of such a change.

Governor Jeb Bush has said the projected $28 billion cost of phasing in the class size amendment could "blot out the sun," forcing the Sunshine State to defund vital programs or endure a massive tax increase. In winning re-election by a landslide last fall, Bush opposed the class size referendum, but it passed by a slim majority.

The constitutional amendment obliges lawmakers to reduce average class size by two students per year until the goals are met. By 2010, no Florida classrooms may have more than 18 pupils in pre-kindergarten through the third grade, 22 pupils in grades 4 through 8, and 25 students in high school.

Bush is urging the Republican-controlled legislature to call a special election allowing voters to reconsider the amendment. However, a three-fourths vote is required and Bush does not appear to have the support of enough Democrats to make it happen. Some Republicans also have balked.

Under former Governor Pete Wilson, California mandated classes no larger than 20 pupils through the third grade. The price tag has mushroomed to $4 billion, and school districts are putting the so-called 20-1 program on the chopping block in a desperate effort to find money to run the schools.

Research has failed to show that reductions in class sizes have yielded improvements in performance. The Class-Size Reduction Consortium found the large number of extra teachers necessitated by the mandate led to a lowering of teacher quality that could have wiped out any benefits of smaller classes.

Policy changes that started in the Golden State about the same time -- including the virtual end of bilingual education and social promotion, and the start of statewide testing and a back-to-basics curriculum -- may have been more responsible for student achievement gains.

A study by Louisiana's Education Department, released in February, concluded that class size has much less impact on student achievement than the quality of teacher preparation.

Research examining class size effects on an international level was conducted under the auspices of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. Researchers Ludger Woessmann and Martin West looked at the effect of class size on student performance in 18 nations.

They found sizeable beneficial effects of smaller classes only in Greece and Ireland, and the total absence of even small effects in Japan and Singapore. In other countries, their analysis ruled out significant class size effects.

In general, they found class size to be more important when teachers are relatively less effective. They concluded, "it may be better policy to devote the limited resources available for education to employing more capable teachers rather than to reducing class sizes -- moving more to the quality side of the quantity/quality tradeoff in the hiring of teachers."

In Australia and New Zealand, controversy has erupted over an academic's study -- the Vinson Report -- that relied largely on the vaunted Tennessee STAR study to argue for class size reductions for 5- to 8-year-old children. Jennifer Buckingham, a policy analyst for The Center for Independent Studies, countered Vinson by observing that reducing classes from 25 to 20 would yield only two extra minutes of individual instruction per day. She said the Tennessee study was flawed in its methodology and the vast majority of other studies show no significant effect of class size on student achievement.

"It is far more valuable, both in educational and economic terms," Buckingham wrote, "to have good teachers than lots of teachers. The first priority is to ensure that the current and incoming teaching force is as good as it can be, by improving teacher education and in-service training and removing ineffective teachers."

If Florida does proceed with the class-size mandate, there may be one way to comply without drastic spending cuts or a tax hike: expanded school choice.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan research organization, has noted that by expanding its corporate income tax credit for donations to private scholarships, Florida could reduce class sizes while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Gov. Bush also has broached the idea of broadening the state's offer of vouchers to students wishing to transfer to private schools.

(Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Va.)

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