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What We Have Here… Is a Failure to Calculate

October 7, 2010

Alternate title: California over-hypes disaster and costs business a pile of money.

California grossly miscalculated pollution levels in a scientific analysis used to toughen the state’s clean air standards, and scientists have spent the past several months revising data and planning a significant weakening of the landmark regulation, The Chronicle has found.

By 340%, mind you… they blamed this on the fact that the calculations were done before the economic downturn.  Um, sure.

AB32, which aims to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, has come under intense political attack this year as the state prepares to elect a new governor. Critics cast the law as a jobs killer because of the expenses to industry and businesses in conforming to new pollution regulations. Supporters say it will reinvigorate the state’s economy and create thousands of new jobs in the emerging green sector.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has promised to suspend the law for at least a year, while Democrat Jerry Brown supports the law. California voters, meanwhile, will vote on Prop. 23, a November initiative to suspend AB32 until the unemployment rate – now at 12.4 percent in California – falls to 5.5 percent or less for a year.

There’s a ton in this article, and I’d suggest you go read it all.  This was a $10B to $12B impact to business, largely construction, mining, and the like.  The board not only messed up the amount of pollutants, but they also overestimated the toxicity by about 2x.  So, at least they were consistent.

Honestly?  I don’t think there was anything nefarious here.  But I do think attitude played a part here.  If you assume that diesel is icky and that it kills people, then you might let the mood take you when making estimates.  I’ve seen it in different areas of business.  Love your product?  Then your estimates on how it sells go up.

Nichols, the air board chairwoman, rejects notions that the air board is avoiding the spotlight, calling the changes in timeline the nature of science and adding that, “In politics people can fudge; in science you can’t. The great benefit of science is it is peer reviewed.”

Well, and it’s a good thing in this case.  I’m sure the already-strained industrial workforce of California thinks the same thing, too.

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