Monday, March 31, 2008

Sprawl Improves Public Health

Will UCLA win the NCAA b-ball tournament? Nobody on the team took my winter class. I'd like to be the guy who advises 353 independent studies with the athletes and they all get As. (

Now, I'm not teaching and I must find something to do with my ample time. Perhaps some research and some blogging. I have been recovering from a bad cold and that's what I want to talk about. At dense UCLA, everybody was sneezing on each other the final week of classes and during exams week. This got me thinking. How much less disease contagion, exposure to second hand smoke, exposure to dog poop and other urban ills are avoided by the "moat effect" of living at lower density? Another urban disamenity is noise. My son is noisy and he bugs the neighbors with his stomping and yelling and jumping. In a single detached house with its own private space, nobody could hear him. Sprawl is type of voluntary quarantine.

While urban economists talk about the fact that suburbia relative to the center city offers larger homes and larger lots and newer houses and a more homogenous set of neighbors, and a better public services/tax ratio, perhaps what suburbanites really want is physical separation from other people's snot, smoke, noise and poop. This strikes me to be a hard bundling problem if you really wanted to disentangle all of these effects.

So, now that I'm not teaching and really not doing anything until January 2009 --- I will have plenty of time to think about such important matters.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What Types of Jobs Should Berkeley, CA Encourage?

Should 100% of Berkeley employment away from the University be at Starbucks and Chez Panisse? If you say no, then what should the economy diversify into? One answer to this question would be to trust free market forces and allocate land to the highest bidder. Berkeley doesn't work this way. I'm in Berkeley this week studying how the invisible hand operates when it is being tickled by multiple interest groups.

This article from my local favorite highlights some of the political fights.

In case you missed my Wall Street Journal thing this week, take a look at this:

Berkeley Daily Planet
West Berkeley Speakers Plead for Industrial Jobs
By Richard Brenneman 2008-03-25

Workers, residents and small business owners gathered Thursday night to hear planners and labor activists offer evidence and arguments for exercising restraint in making any zoning changes in West Berkeley.

Organized by West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC), the meeting challenged proposed zoning changes now before the city’s Planning Commission.

“The (city) staff has put everything on the table ... on an extremely fast-track basis,” said WEBAIC Chair John Curl, a woodworker with his studio in the Sawtooth Building, a West Berkeley landmark.

With their final draft due to the City Council for action in June, Curl said, the process bears little semblance to the process that created the West Berkeley Plan, which involved lengthy deliberations among stakeholders.

Sitting in the back of the room and listening attentively throughout the session was Allan Gatzke, the city planner who drafted the proposals and presentations under attack from Curl and the panelists.

While the push for “zoning flexibility” comes from the City Council, with Mayor Tom Bates taking a prominent lead, one of Thursday night’s cautionary critics was the author of a report the city has been using as justification for its push for changes.

Raquel Pinderhughes said green-collar businesses offer the one sure job category that could provide living wages for those with minimal education and criminal records. Her word should carry some weight with the city since she is the San Francisco State urban studies professor who authored the city’s green-collar jobs report.

While the tour for commissioners sponsored by the city Planning Department which looked at the proposed zoning changes focused on high-tech companies, most of the business categories in Pinderhughes’ report are lower-tech, with college degrees optional for most jobs.

Businesses cited in her report range from landscaping and bicycle repair to energy conservation retrofits, recycling and public transit jobs.

Only one category in her report unequivocally matched the city report’s high-tech criteria, manufacturing jobs related to large-scale production of appropriate technologies.

The mayor and leaders in other East Bay cities have targeted the high-tech jobs that could result from two major “green fuel” projects now under way under the aegis of UC Berkeley and its Department of Energy-sponsored national labs.

Another panelist, Karen Chapple, a UC Berkeley associate professor of city and regional planning, has lived in West Berkeley for the past decade, said that zoning offers the best tool “to preserve the fragile industrial ecology” of the area from the economic pressures of housing, offices and retail uses, all of which command higher values when property is leased or sold than industrial and light manufacturing.

She called for a more focused approached to specific areas within West Berkeley, rather than an implementation of broader measures.

Abby Thorne-Lyman, another speaker, is a planning consultant with Strategic Economics, a consulting firm now working on industrial land policies in several California cities. While there is often a push to change land uses to allow more intense users that command higher prices, some cities are drawing the line because of the role industrial land plays in providing jobs with better pay and benefits than are offered in the commercial sector, she said.

Kate O’Hara of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a workers’ rights advocacy organization, said her organization did some of the basic work that paved the way for Berkeley’s living wage ordinance and advocates for worker rights.

Trade and logistics, a key non-manufacturing use of industrial land, offer a median wage of $19.85 per hour. In the East Bay, 65.9 percent of the positions offer health care benefits, and many are union jobs, she said.

The other major use, food manufacturing and processing, offers lower starting wages but rises at middle levels to a median pay of $20.40 an hour.

These industrial uses provide the main opportunities for workers with no higher education and even past brushes with the law to find work that pays wages adequate to support a family, she said.

All of the speakers urged the city to tread carefully before disrupting policies that offered the chief opportunities for minorities and those who are striving to rise out of poverty.

Shades of green

In his opening remarks, Curl said that one reason for the push for zoning changes in West Berkeley was the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, an alliance of East Bay mayors who hope to attract “green tech” companies to their cities.

“Who could disagree” with the idea of a cooperative effort to lead the world in environmentally friendly technology? Curl asked rhetorically.

However, he said, there are already proposals afoot to have Berkeley industries relocate to Emeryville and Oakland, while West Berkeley would be opened up to offices—which other speakers noted would exert inflationary pressures on property prices.

Bernard Marszelak of the Inkworks cooperative printing firm in West Berkeley addressed the same issue one week earlier during a public forum on fuels derived from farmed crops held by critics of UC Berkeley’s $500 million Energy Bioscience Institute, funded by BP (formerly British Petroleum).

Marszalek said he was concerned how the push of agrofuels “affects all of us in Berkeley.”

He described West Berkeley as a habitat threatened by BP, agroindustrial giant Cargill “and other multinational giants that are trying to take over our zoning regulations in West Berkeley.”

Marszalek said he was concerned that the rush by Mayor Tom Bates and other regional political leaders to transform the East Bay coastline into a green tech corridor may displace the area’s smaller scale artisans and industries.

One company heavily involved in the farmed fuels program is now moving its labs from West Berkeley to Emeryville. Amyris technologies, headed by UC Berkeley professor Jay Keasling, has leased space downstairs in the same building that houses the Joint BioEnergy Institute, funded by the Department of Energy.

Critics of the biofuel programs say that will result in the displacement of small landholders from large areas of the Third World to make way for plantations of genetically engineered crops tailored to produce fuels for the cars and SUVs of the First World.

If critics of the West Berkeley rezoning push are right, the first to be displaced in the rush to synthetic fuels may be much closer to home, in the artists’ studios and small shops of West Berkeley.

Debra Sanderson, the city’s land use planning manager, told critics who spoke to the Planning Commission that there has been no move to change the plan itself.

But West Berkeley critics say that the kinds of changes to the zoning regulations now before the commission would have the same effect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Green Jobs: Hype or the Next U.S Manufacturing Wave?

In California, it has been claimed that AB32 will not only help California to mitigate its greenhouse gases but that it will also create new jobs. I like this optimism but the skeptic inside me would like to see some good research on the role of environmental regulation as job creator. In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers such as myself, Vern Henderson, Michael Greenstone, Arik Levinson were all investigating how footloose manufacturing employment varies as a function of a given geographical location's environmental regulatory intensity. In English, areas that were assigned to low regulation (Attainment status) under the Clean Air Act, did experience more "dirty job" growth than high regulation "non-attainment" areas. One novel study by Linda Bui and Eli Berman compared high regulation California to low regulation texas and I believe looked at oil refineries. They found that regulation actually did "create" jobs but I believe that the effect was small.

I understand the politics here that if climate change regulation actually creates jobs (or if people believe this) then "joe 6-pack" would be more likely to support Al Gore and his friends on their quest. But what is the evidence? Today the New York Times tries to offer some case study evidence.

The truth of the matter is that every job (including working at UCLA) has "green" and "brown" effects. A loose definition of a green job would be one whose output helps to produce or lower the price of products that offer positive environmental externalities. So a wind turbine maker increases the supply of such green things and this in aggregate , lowers their price.

This article highlights the issue of how we classify industry and occupation codes. While labor economists and trade economists have always taken this seriously, I haven't for exactly the reasons that this article highlights.

New York Times
March 26, 2008
Millions of Jobs of a Different Collar

EVERYONE knows what blue-collar and white-collar jobs are, but now a job of another hue — green — has entered the lexicon.

Presidential candidates talk about the promise of “green collar” jobs — an economy with millions of workers installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, brewing biofuels, building hybrid cars and erecting giant wind turbines. Labor unions view these new jobs as replacements for positions lost to overseas manufacturing and outsourcing. Urban groups view training in green jobs as a route out of poverty. And environmentalists say they are crucial to combating climate change.

No doubt that the number of green-collar jobs is growing, as homeowners, business and industry shift toward conservation and renewable energy. And the numbers are expected to increase greatly in the next few decades, because state governments have mandated that even more energy come from alternative sources.

But some skeptics argue that the phrase “green jobs” is little more than a trendy term for politicians and others to bandy about. Some say they are not sure that these jobs will have the staying power to help solve the problems of the nation’s job market, and others note that green jobs often pay less than the old manufacturing jobs they are replacing.

Indeed, such is the novelty of the green-job concept that no one is certain how many such jobs there are, and even advocates don’t always agree on what makes a job green.

“A green-collar job is in essence a blue-collar job that has been upgraded to address the environmental challenges of our country,” said Lucy Blake, chief executive of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, labor unions and politicians seeking to transform the economy into one based on renewable energy.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said: “A green job has to do something useful for people, and it has to be helpful to, or at least not damaging to, the environment.”

It can be difficult to parse the difference between green- and blue-collar jobs. Dave Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, pointed to workers who mine iron ore in Minnesota and ship it to steel mills in Indiana. “Ten years ago, that steel was used for making low-efficiency automobiles, so those jobs were part of the dirty economy,” he said. “But now that steel is being used to build wind turbines. So now you can call them green jobs.”

But to Andrew W. Hannah, chief executive of Plextronics, a start-up in Pittsburgh, green-collar jobs often have little relation to their blue-collar counterparts. His company produces high-tech polymer inks that are used to make electronic circuitry for solar panels. Of the company’s 51 employees, 20 have Ph.D.’s in fields like physics, chemistry and material science.

It is hard to gauge the number of green-collar jobs nationwide. Welders at a wind-turbine factory are viewed as having green jobs, but what about the factory’s accountant or its janitors? Workers with Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit group that plants vegetation to keep the area cooler and reduce air-conditioning demands, would seem to fit the bill. But so would the employees of Tesla Motors, south of San Francisco, who are producing an all-electric Roadster that sells for $98,000.

In the most-often-cited estimate, a report commissioned by the American Solar Energy Society said that the nation had 8.5 million jobs in renewable energy or energy efficient industries. And Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, predicted that the nation could generate three million to five million more green jobs over the next 10 years.

Green jobs are especially good “because they cannot be easily outsourced, say, to Asia,” said Van Jones, president of Green for All, an organization based in Oakland, Calif., whose goal is promoting renewable energy and lifting workers out of poverty. “If we are going to weatherize buildings, they have to be weatherized here,” he said. “If you put up solar panels, you can’t ship a building to Asia and have them put the solar panels on and ship it back. These jobs have to be done in the United States.”

Many advocates of green employment say the jobs should be good for the workers as well as the environment. Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, more than 800 people attended a national green-jobs conference, where much of the talk was about ensuring that green jobs provided living wages. Many speakers anticipated that the jobs would do so, because they often required special skills, like the technical ability to maintain a giant wind turbine (and the physical ability to climb a 20-story ladder to work on it).

“These jobs will be better for the workers’ future, for their job security,” said Ms. Blake of the Apollo Alliance. “These green technologies are making products that the world wants, like energy-efficient buildings and light fixtures.”

Not everyone, however, is enamored with green jobs. Take the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington group that opposes state mandates requiring that a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Myron Ebell, the institute’s director of energy and global warming policy, argues that creating green jobs often does not create jobs on a net basis.

“If you create jobs in wind power or ethanol,” he said, “that will take away jobs in other industries,” like building and operating conventional gas turbine power plants.

Mr. Ebell suggested that green jobs might not prove to be so great. “There will undoubtedly be a lot of jobs created in industries that are considered green or fashionable,” he said. “Some will last a long time, and some will go like the dot-coms.”

Twenty-eight states have mandates generally requiring that 10 to 25 percent of their energy be obtained through renewable sources in a decade or two. In response, many companies have rushed to build wind- and solar-power systems, and some are researching how to transform prairie grass into biofuel.

Joy Clark-Holmes, director of public sector markets for Johnson Controls, which manages heating and cooling systems in buildings nationwide, sees strong job growth in the green economy. Her company’s building efficiency business, she said, expects to hire 60,000 workers worldwide over the next decade.

“We see the market for greening our customers as growing,” Ms. Clark-Holmes said. She talked of demand for technicians who install and maintain heating and cooling systems, managers who oversee those functions and engineers who develop and design such systems.

With scientists voicing increased concern about climate change, some highly talented people have left other fields to help build the green economy. For instance, Lois Quam, who helped create and run a $30 billion division of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurer, has joined the renewable energy cause, becoming managing director for alternative investments at Piper Jaffray, an investment bank based in Minneapolis. She is setting up investment funds that focus on renewable energy and clean energy.

“The development of a green economy creates a broad new set of opportunities,” Ms. Quam said. “When I first started looking at this area, many people commented on how this will be as big as the Internet. But this is so much bigger than the Internet. The only comparable example we can find is the Industrial Revolution. It will affect every business and every industry.”

Mr. Jones, the head of Green for All, joined the green economy after graduating from Yale Law School. He became executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, using that position to start a program that trains low-income workers in how to weatherize homes and install solar panels.

Mr. Jones calls such jobs green pathways out of poverty. “The green economy needs Ph.D.’s and Ph.-do’s,” he said. “We need people who are highly educated at the theoretical level, and we need people who are highly educated at the level of skilled labor.”

He sees green jobs as providing a career ladder. Some workers might start at $10 an hour inspecting homes for energy-efficient light bulbs. Then they might become $18-an-hour workers installing solar panels and eventually $25-an-hour solar-team managers. Eventually they might become $40-an-hour electricians or carpenters who do energy-minded renovations.

“Right now we don’t have the infrastructure to train a sufficient number of green-collar workers,” Mr. Jones said.

As the green economy grows, states are vying for green investments — and green jobs. Pennsylvania has been especially successful, attracting German and Taiwanese companies that are building solar equipment factories, as well as attracting Gamesa, a Spanish wind turbine company. Gamesa has two factories in the state, employing 1,300 workers. Facing pressure from the United Steelworkers, which views the greening of the economy as a way to increase union membership, Gamesa agreed not to fight an organizing drive, and now many workers are unionized.

Pennsylvania’s efforts have been helped by the presence of many skilled manufacturing workers in the state and its commitment to having 18.5 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2020.

“We have gone after this sector first and foremost because the green of the sector is important, because it is the green that goes into the pocketbooks and wallets of workers,” said Kathleen McGinty, the state’s environmental secretary. “They are good-paying jobs, jobs that often require advanced skills.”

Jim Bauer, 55, is delighted to work for Gamesa. There he leads a team that assembles parts for wind turbines, earning slightly less than he did at United States Steel, which laid him off from his crane operator’s job after 25 years. Now he earns $17 an hour in his job, while many assembly workers earn $13.50 an hour.

“It feels good working for a company that is bringing jobs into the country instead of taking jobs out of the country,” Mr. Bauer said.

He admits to feeling noble doing a green job. “We have to get away from fossil fuels and oil so we can tell the Saudis to take a hike,” he said.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Don't Forget the Renters Ben!

I don't know Ben Bernanke but he doesn't seem to care much for guys like me. I'm a renter and taxpayer. I would like to see him and Rick Miskin explain in a press conference why home owners need to bailed out and protected from the loans whose terms they chose to accept. I would like to know how many of my tax dollars will go to this bailout of the Bear Stearns. If they like activism, they should go back to their home universities and attend a university wide faculty meeting. What's the matter with the world that Robert Schiller has predicted? Why can't prices fall? Yes there will be some losers if prices fall but somehow the winners from such an event are being ignored. Why? Are you suffering from a "crisis of confidence"? Are you considering making a "bank run" like back in Jimmy Stewart's "A Wonderful Life"? I see the distributional effects introduced by the Fed's Activist policies these days but I do not understand how it has convinced its self that these policies have "efficiency" benefits. Its actions feed potential panic by introducing extra uncertainty. The Fed's intuitive moves makes the "game theory" more complicated here.

My nasty question for Dr. Bernanke is the following. If he knew that he would be re-appointed as Fed Chair in the next 2 years, would be less of a activist Chairman right now? Put bluntly, is he fighting for his job? or for our jobs? Dr. Bernanke should have to go to the University of Chicago and take the first year of the MACRO PHD sequence again.

If Ben Bernanke wants to helicopter drop some $ then he should consider handing it out to renters in the Westside of Los Angeles who want to buy a modest home in nice areas such as Westwood. Dora and I want to minimize our carbon footprint. We would be able to walk to work from Westwood and we wouldn't drink milk to restore the calories we burn off.

While this has been an angry post, permit me to earn back your sympathy.

Each of these homes is about 1700 square feet on a 6500 square foot lot.

Price Beds Baths

$1,450,000 3 2.00
Ron Wynn
Yes Coldwell Banker-Westwood

Active 04/23/2007 $1,490,000 3 2.00
Jasmen Vartanian
Yes Calstar Realty

Active 01/24/2008 $1,495,000 3 2.50
Tudor Martin
No Coldwell Banker-Brentwood West

Active 03/21/2008 $1,500,000 3 2.00
Donald Plunkett
Yes Congress Realty, Inc.

Active 02/01/2008 $1,545,000 3 3.00
Gail Mintz
Yes Coldwell Banker-BH East

Active 03/17/2008 $1,550,000 3 2.50
Rona Kaufman
Yes Worldwide Real Estate, Inc.

Active 10/25/2007 $1,569,000 4 2.50
Terri Elston
Yes Coldwell Banker-BH

Active 03/20/2008 $1,595,000 4 2.50
Terri Elston
Yes Coldwell Banker-BH

Active 03/05/2008 $1,595,000 3 3.00
Scott Tamkin
Yes Sotheby's Int'l Rlty-Brentwood
Looking for Backup 02/19/2008 $1,599,000 3 2.00
Alex Galuz
Yes Crescent Realty Corp.

Active 03/06/2008 $1,599,000 3 3.00
Laurence Young
Yes Prudential California Realty

Active 11/08/2007 $1,599,000 2 2.50
Kathy Fisher
Yes Coldwell Banker-Brentwood West

Friday, March 21, 2008

Google Searches and Web Page Hits and the Search for "UCLA econ professor grumpy"

Have other bloggers wondered how random websurfers find their webpage? At google, if you type "urban economics" you will pretty quickly get pointed to my webpage. If you type "environmental economics" it takes a little bit more work to find me. Today, somebody searched for "ucla econ professor grumpy" and was directed to my site.

The asymmetry of the web interests me. Our readers know a lot about the bloggers but we know next to nothing about who visits. If you show up from a city or university we know, but I would like to know more about this specific visitor.

Now we all know that UCLA Economics currently has no grumpy professors. The grumpy professors have left the faculty in recent years to move to exotic places where I wouldn't want to live! All of my current colleagues are devoted teachers who seek to share our excitement and interest in economics with all of our students.
Our biorhythms at UCLA are like the local weather ; blue skies and sunny.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Quest to Raise Worker Productivity

Despite Big Ben B's best efforts, we may be slipping into a recession. One way to increase national economic output is to increase the effective time that our workers are working. Assuming the typical worker has a 8 hour work day will these urine bags increase output per hour?

Union: Workers told to use urine bags

Union officials in Colorado say a Qwest supervisor tried to cut down on lengthy bathroom breaks by telling workmen to use disposable urinal bags in the field.

The manager distributed the bags to 25 male field technicians, telling them not to waste time leaving a job site to search for a public bathroom, the Rocky Mountain News reported Thursday.

"We deal with a lot of silliness in corporate America, but you've got to admit, it takes the freakin' cake," Reed Roberts, an administrative director at the Communications Workers of America District 7, told the newspaper.

Roberts did not return a message left by The Associated Press.

Qwest spokeswoman Jennifer Barton said, "There's no policy whatsoever" requiring field technicians to use the bags.

"They are there for convenience, and they are there because employees asked for them," she said.

The union has not filed a grievance, Barton said, and she could not discuss the details of the allegations from the communications company's field worker in the sparsely populated area near Montrose.

Roberts said he had complained to Qwest's corporate labor relations department. He said the company has made an issue of the amount of time wasted by workers returning to the garage or central office for bathroom breaks.

But he said it appears this manager "took it upon himself to cut down on the time technicians spend to go to the bathroom."

Neither Roberts nor Barton gave the name of the supervisor involved.

Qwest and other companies have for years offered portable urinal bags to workers who could find themselves in the field far from a bathroom.

The bag's manufacturer, American Innotek, said it provides the bags to various industrial companies, including electric utilities, municipal public works and telephone companies.

Ryan Hiott, a regional director for Innotek, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered 2.5 million bags after Hurricane Katrina.

New UCLA Evidence on the "Melting Pot"

UCLA researchers in our sociology department have generated a series of interesting facts about Mexican American assimilation. I'm not sure if they have nailed the causal mechanisms here but first steps first.

Apparently, immigration will continue to be a hot policy subject. For you nerds with too much time on your hands, take a look at this new George Borjas paper. Their debate with Ottaviano and Peri is an important one.

Mexican American integration slow, education stalled, study finds

UCLA report charts Chicano experience over four decades

Letisia Marquez

Second-, third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans speak English fluently, and most prefer American music. They are increasingly Protestant, and some may even vote for a Republican candidate.

However, many Mexican Americans in these later generations do not graduate from college, and they continue to live in majority Hispanic neighborhoods. Most marry other Hispanics and think of themselves as "Mexican" or "Mexican American."

Such are the findings from the most comprehensive sociological report ever produced on the integration of Mexican Americans. The UCLA study, released today in a Russell Sage Foundation book titled "Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation, and Race," concludes that, unlike the descendants of European immigrants to the United States, Mexican Americans have not fully integrated by the third and fourth generation. The research spans a period of nearly 40 years.

The study's authors, UCLA sociologists Edward E. Telles and Vilma Ortiz, examined various markers of integration among Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas, including educational attainment, economic advancement, English and Spanish proficiency, residential integration, intermarriage, ethnic identity and political involvement.

"The study contains some encouraging findings, but many more are troubling," said Telles, a UCLA professor of sociology. "Linguistically, Mexican Americans are assimilating into mainstream quite well, and by the second generation, nearly all Mexican Americans achieve English proficiency."

"However," said Ortiz, a UCLA associate professor of sociology, "institutional barriers, persistent discrimination, punitive immigration policies and a reliance on cheap Mexican labor in the Southwestern states have made integration more difficult for Mexican Americans."

"Generations of Exclusions" revisits the 1970 book "The Mexican American People," which was the first in-depth sociological study of Mexican Americans and became a benchmark for future research. It found little assimilation among Mexican Americans, even those who had lived in the United States for several generations.

The earlier study had been conducted at UCLA in the mid-1960s by Leo Grebler, Joan Moore, and Ralph Guzman. In 1992, construction workers retrofitting the UCLA College Library found boxes containing questionnaires from the original study.

Telles and Ortiz pored over the questionnaires and recognized a unique opportunity to examine how the Mexican American experience had evolved in the decades since the first study. The researchers and their team then reinterviewed nearly 700 original respondents and approximately 800 of their children. The vast majority of the original respondents and all the children are U.S. citizens.

In the foreword to "The Mexican American People," researcher Moore had written that she was optimistic that a subsequent study would find much assimilation among Mexican Americans. Telles and Ortiz, like Moore, were surprised to find that the third and fourth generation in this current study had not achieved more gains, particularly in the educational arena.

Key findings from "Generations of Exclusion" include:

· The educational levels of second-generation Mexican Americans improved dramatically. But the third and fourth generations failed to surpass, and to some extent fell behind, the educational level of the second generation. Moreover, the educational levels of all Mexican Americans still lag behind the national average.

· Mexican Americans attained higher levels of education when they knew professionals as children, when their parents were more educated and when their parents were more involved in school and church activities. Those who attended Catholic schools were much better educated than those who attended public schools.

· Economic status improved from the first to second generation but stalled in the third and fourth generation. Earnings, occupational status and homeownership were still alarmingly low for later generations. Low levels of schooling among Mexican Americans were the main reason for lower income, occupational status and other indicators of socioeconomic status.

· All Mexican Americans were English-proficient by the second generation. Spanish proficiency declined from the first to the fourth generation, showing that the loss of Spanish was inevitable. However, Spanish declined only gradually, and approximately 36 percent of the fourth generation spoke Spanish fluently.

· First-generation Mexican Americans were about 90 percent Catholic. By the fourth generation, only 58 percent were Catholic.

· Intermarriage increased with each generation. Only 10 percent of immigrants were intermarried. In the third generation, 17 percent were married to non-Hispanics, as were 38 percent in the fourth generation.

· Adult Mexican Americans in the third and fourth generation lived in more segregated neighborhoods than they did as youths. This was due to the high number of Latinos and immigrants moving into these neighborhoods, the researchers said.

· Most Mexican Americans identified as "Mexican" or "Mexican American," even into the fourth generation. Only about 10 percent identified as "American." Moreover, many Mexican Americans felt their ethnicity was very important and many said they would like to pass it along to their children.

· Third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans supported less restrictive immigration policies than the general population and generally supported bilingual education and affirmative action.

· In the 1996 presidential election, 93 percent of first-generation Mexican Americans voted Democratic. The percentage of Democratic voters declined in each subsequent generation. By the fourth generation, 74 percent voted Democratic.

Telles and Ortiz noted that some Mexican Americans were able to move into the mainstream more easily than other minorities. Mexican immigrants who came to the United States as children and the children of immigrants tended to show the most progress, perhaps spurred by optimism and an untainted view of the American Dream.

"A disproportionate number, though, continue to occupy the lower ranks of the American class structure," the sociologists said. "Certainly, later-generation Mexican Americans and European Americans overlap in their class distributions. The difference is that the bulk of Mexican Americans are in lower class sectors but only a relatively small part of the European American population is similarly positioned."

More than any other factor, Telles and Ortiz said, education accounted for the slow assimilation of Mexican Americans in most social dimensions. The low educational levels of Mexican Americans have impeded most other types of integration.

"Their limited schooling locks many of them into a future of low socioeconomic status," they said. "Low levels of education also predict lower rates of intermarriage, a weaker American identity, and a lower likelihood of registering to vote and voting."

Telles and Ortiz believe that a "Marshall Plan" that invests heavily in public school education will address the issues that disadvantage many Mexican American students.

"For Mexican Americans, the payoff can only come by giving them the same quality and quantity of education as whites receive," they said. "The problem is not the unwillingness of Mexican Americans to adopt Americans values and culture but the failure of societal institutions, particularly public schools, to successfully integrate them as they did the descendants of European immigrants."

The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the Ford, Rockefeller, Russell Sage, and Haynes foundations; the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center; and various UC and UCLA sources.

The book can be ordered by calling the Russell Sage Foundation at (800) 524-6401 or visiting

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Preview of Princeton University Press Books To Be Published in Winter 2008

In December 2008, Princeton University Press will be publishing at least two new good books. In case you slept through your PHD Macro classes the first time, Daron Acemoglu will be offering you 1,400 pages of the opportunity to make your comeback
(for a sneak preview see

For those of you interested in the intersection of economics, history, sociology, and demography, Dora Costa and I have written a pretty good interdisciplinary book. While the New York publishing houses were slow to talk to us, we are very happy that the New Jersey (i.e Princeton) publishing house knew a good manuscript when they saw one. We had a great experience working with the Princeton Press and we believe that it is a stronger Press than other Ivy League rivals.

A PDF of the Costa and Kahn New Book Cover

For copies of some of the technical papers that the book is built from go to:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Unintended Consequences at Harvard Law School: Could Free 3rd Tuition Reduce the Count of Women Law Partners?

Harvard Law School has announced that it will waive the 3rd year of its tuition (a short term savings of $40 grand) for people who promise that they will enter public service for at least 5 years. Some question: who will take this offer? Liberal students will be more likely to accept this deal. Will women at HLS be more likely to take this offer? While I have no evidence for this claim, my intuition is telling me that the answer is yes.

So, suppose that you are smart woman at HLS and you accept this offer. After 5 years in public service, can you join a fancy NYC law firm and 8 years later be promoted to partner? I doubt it. Starting a family and other life considerations would also affect possible transitions here.

If women have a higher probability of accepting this new offer then men, and if once you pick this path you can't return to the private sector and make partner then my proof is complete that an unintended consequence of this new policy will be to reduce the number of women from HLS who get promoted to partner at the fancy NYC law firms. Other law schools are likely to imitate Harvard and so this policy could have "macro" consequences. Is it a big deal if fancy NYC law firms do not have many women partners? Some measure gender progress by whether such convergence does take place.

Now , you may counter that these women weren't at the margin. You might say that the liberal women who want to enter public law were never at risk to go to NYC and join the prestigious firms. You may be right but this subsidy doesn't help.

New Harvard Law School Tuition Waiver

A behavioral economist might also say that the pursuit of saving $40 grand now in waived tuition may lead too many hyperbolic people to choose public law!

It is certainly possible that a subsidy for public service furthers society's goals but it would interest me whether the Harvard Deans thought about whether the new incentive program would have differential effects by gender and political ideology? Who is most responsive to this new incentive? Whose behavior will not be changed by this incentive?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Growing "Greener" and the Venice Canals

Tomorrow's Wall Street Journal OnLine Econoblog will offer some excitement. Before I turn to Tuscaloosa, I want to mention real estate prices at the Venice Canals in Los Angeles. Yesterday, we toured a $2 million home whose entire lot was 2,000 square feet. The home was 2300 square feet (it had 2 floors) and the lot was a mere 2,000. Why is the hedonic gradient demanding $1,000 per square foot of land? The Canals are Very pretty. . NO pollution, no noise, just blue canals and blue sky and cool air from the Ocean less than .5 miles away. The only disamenty is dog and duck poop. All of these dog walkers are out in force marching their wonderful creatures.

Here is my new favorite newspaper until the WSJ is published tomorrow.

Mar 17, 2008

Growing ‘greener’
Experts offer tips for conservation-minded cities

By Meredith Cummings
Community News Editor
TUSCALOOSA | Kermit the Frog was right. It’s not easy being green, though it can be sometimes.

For cities, being “green” — that is, reducing pollution and energy use — encompasses everything from protecting ecosystems to instituting recycling programs to getting people out of cars into public transportation, and that takes time and effort.

“Many groups will say you’re not moving fast enough,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “And they don’t understand the progress that has been made in a short amount of time. Each one of our departments are charged with looking with ways they can be more environmentally friendly and putting those ideas in budget form. There are many things that will take time because there are definitely cost issues … but there are also things we can do pretty easy.”

Maddox is one of more than 650 mayors who have signed the 2005 U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Change Agreement, known as the “Cool Cities” agreement, which pledges to reduce emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. It was created in response to the U.S. government’s refusal to sign an international pollution-reduction accord.

Could Tuscaloosa be greener? Maddox thinks so. “I know there is much more to do,” he said.

The city of Hoover, for instance, was a finalist in a worldwide competition last year for excellence in environmental management in the category for cities with populations of 20,001 to 75,000. Among the city’s achievements were the creation of a facility that converts cooking oil into a fuel and the use of alternative fuels to run city vehicles and equipment.

The Tuscaloosa News asked some experts how Tuscaloosa could go green.

n Plant and protect urban trees. Ed Macie, regional urban forester with the U.S. Forest Service Southern region based in Atlanta warned of “urban deforestation” and said trees planted in medians for aesthetics are vital to the ecosystem, affecting everything from air quality to storm water runoff and energy conservation, even the prevalence of skin cancer.

“Even in a city the size of Tuscaloosa, you’re still getting strip malls and big-box stores,” Macie said. “As soon as there is a human footprint and we start putting in asphalt and concrete and changing drainage patterns, then you need to take action to mitigate that. Trees, by far, are one of the simplest things you can do to offset that.”

Macie said overdevelopment leads to “urban heat islands,” and trees of any size are better than no trees at all.

“When you talk about big box stores, the one thing that they do is put in parking lots that are large and flat and impact large numbers of trees. The single most important thing a city like Tuscaloosa can do is to have very strong standards to bring trees into parking lots. Parking lots are the ugliest things you can build in your communities. Plus, Tuscaloosa is a hot city. Who the heck wants to park their car in a parking lot with no shade?”

n Rethink development. “Start approving new housing without any parking and create and expand a car-free street into a car-free district,” said Richard Register, designer, builder and author in ecological city design and planning, who is organizing the Ecocity World Summit in April. “Go for higher density in the mode of very mixed-use with the sort of architectural features I talk about in my books: Rooftop and terraced gardens and cafes up there, bridges between clustered buildings.”

Register, president of Ecocity Builders in Oakland, Calif., pointed to other cities that work with their universities to create new spaces where there were previously none.

“The University of California at Berkeley has nine bridges linking 18 buildings, or in a couple of cases, the building is a bridge with a large open ground level passageway,” he said. “These features could be emphasized and buildings on campuses brought close enough together to create streetscapes in one part of town, and/or campus while opening up other areas for natural and agricultural activities.”

Move away from sprawl. Register’s group, Ecocity Builders, has a mapping system that helps identify “vitality centers” for more development where people can walk to conduct business.

“Write general plans for both city and campus that help the community find its centers and reinforce them with more development at higher density with what you might call fine-grained mixed-uses,” Register said.

An example of such a center is University Town Center on the Strip near the University of Alabama. Maddox said that while he supported the idea of building more, getting people on board isn’t easy.

Maddox said he would like to see more of that type of growth. “As someone downtown 14 hours a day, I would love to be able to walk to work,” he said, adding that after the city’s downtown revitalization plan is completed in 2010 or 2011, the “condominium market will grow for adults, and if gas is still expensive … it will almost start to have an economic benefit.”

Collaborate. Experts point to the need for a comprehensive “green” plan, both short- and long-term.

While neither the city nor UA have a comprehensive “green” plan for the short- and long-term, both have many facets of environmentally friendly growth in place. Experts suggested that the two work together to create such a plan for long-term growth so that environmentally important items don’t get overlooked.

At UA, Tony Johnson, director of logistics and support services, said he has added recycling areas on campus throughout the year, and the tons of recycled items reflect that. He recently parked a 16-foot moving truck by Coleman Coliseum to collect used cardboard — one of the most valuable recyclable items — from concessions at gymnastics meets and other sporting events. He has also instructed his employees to look for potentially profitable ways to recycle.

“They don’t mind going to a Dumpster and looking to see what’s in it. They don’t mind educating people,” Johnson said. “I think a lot more people are starting to realize that we’ve got to take care of our environment.”

Reduce emissions: In addition to signing the “Cool Cities” emissions-reduction agreement, Maddox has instituted testing on the city’s 700-plus vehicles.

David Willet, national press secretary for the Sierra Club, said the club’s guidelines encourage residents to prod city officials to do more, such as use more hybrids and other clean vehicles and provide better public transportation choices.

In Tuscaloosa, a city that uses half a million gallons of gas or diesel fuel a year, that would make an impact.

Maddox describes himself as a “moderate” environmentalist.

“I think sometimes there is a feeling that you have to be a, quote, tree hugger to protect and promote the environment,” he said. “The mainstream American wants to protect the environment. The things we are doing are a commonsense approach to protecting and enhancing Tuscaloosa’s environment. And many of the things that we do can have an economic benefit.”

n Control pollution. Matthew Kahn, a professor at the UCLA Institute of Environment and author of “Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment,” said cities like Tuscaloosa that have a strong manufacturing base, have a hard time controlling pollution. A lot of older cars on the road doesn’t help either.

Getting older pre-1975 [car] makes off the roads of Los Angeles has significantly reduced smog in this smog capital, despite the fact that Los Angeles’ population has grown and people are driving more than ever.”

If big cities can do it, so can smaller cities like Tuscaloosa, Kahn said.

”Electric utilities are major polluters,” he said. “Substituting electricity generation from dirty coal fired power plants to cleaner power plants that use renewables, such as wind and solar, would have a big impact.”

n Build sustainably. In Tuscaloosa, of the buildings being torn down to make room for new buildings — as well as green space — more than 70 percent of the materials are being recycled.

“One of the misconceptions with environmentally friendly initiatives is that it costs more,” Maddox said. “For the person that’s doing the demolition, there’s an economic incentive for them. There’s a profit to be made in recycling old materials. In many cases doing the environmentally right thing can actually be the economically wise decision as well.”

Tim Leopard, assistant vice president for planning design and construction at UA, said adaptability is the biggest challenge he has to avoid “a disposable building,” one that can’t be updated and must be torn down. The average UA building is over 60 years old, he said, but updates include higher-efficiency mechanical systems and recycled roofing.

The Sierra Club’s guidelines encourage residents to urge their cities to meet energy efficiency standards in appliance purchases and building and renovation projects and to use efficient combined heat and power facilities.

n Work with the system. Bureaucracy can frustrate conservation, as when a government requirement to accept the lowest bid gets in the way of the most environmentally friendly options for a project. Sometimes, like with the recent decision to use Alabama bricks in a UA new building, things work out.

Both Leopard and Maddox said they are beholden the taxpayers. “I’m out there to be a good steward of the university, taxpayer and student dollars,” Leopard said.

Kahn said something can always be done.

“In this age of concern about climate change, the first step should be a greenhouse gas emissions inventory,” Kahn said. “How much GHG is your campus creating? What are the key sources? Could electricity consumption and transportation be greened through public information campaigns or investments in more energy efficient products such as better lights and windows? Could any incentives, like free bus passes, be offered to green behavior?”

n Start early. The city’s best defense against bad environmental stewardship is children, which is why programs like ones promoting recycling in the schools are important.

Experts said children often help their parents learn green behavior. Maddox’s own 5-year-old, he said, recently reprimanded him for throwing an aluminum can into the trash.

Attracting other environmentalists should also be key, experts said.

“Cities that can attract more environmentalists to live there will also be greener,” Kahn said. “Environmentalists live a green life and this entails using public transit, recycling, using green space and demanding green space and voting for politicians who are willing to use the power of the state to green the area.”

Friday, March 14, 2008

China and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Increases

UCLA has a healthy rivalry with UC Berkeley. We can beat them at basketball but can we beat them at economics? In a recent piece, David Warsh seems to think so. He is worried that UC Berkeley may soon be exporting some talent to the rest of the country. I've got other things to worry about such as hair loss but I'm optimistic that Berkeley will always be able to recruit and retain talent. There is something about that hippie place that draws talent.

Let me offer one example, my friend Max. Max keeps making the national news for his environmental research. That's a pretty rare skill. Here is an NPR quote:

"But Maximilian Auffhammer of the University of California, Berkeley, says things have changed radically since then. Since 2000, carbon dioxide emissions have been "off the charts," he says.

For example, in 2004, emissions from China grew by 14 percent — or the equivalent of an additional Germany or England.

Auffhammer and a colleague have used detailed information from within China to estimate what emissions will be like through the end of the decade. His forecast is being published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management."

And apparently, here is a tape of Max Talking (hopefully not in German).

Projections of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in China

Green Cities and the Limits to Growth

If you need some excitement in your life, take a look at tomorrow's Wall Street Journal Online's Econoblog. Hopefully, Jim Brander and I had an engaging enough debate on the "limits to growth" to merit publication. Would Julian Simon be proud of me? I doubt it but you judge. I do crack some funny jokes.

Switching gears, what does the President of Harvard have to say about Green Cities? Let's listen.

Remarks at ‘Green Cities: Lessons from Boston and Beyond’

Boston Public Library

Boston, Mass.
March 5, 2008

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mayor Menino, for that very generous introduction. The Mayor is a tough act to follow as he describes the things that he and Boston are doing in the area of sustainability. I often look to the environmental initiatives that have been enacted under the Mayor’s leadership and those that are planned as well because Boston’s progress in this area, as you know, has won the City many accolades including, of course, the recently announced naming of the city as the third most green in the nation.

I want to say thank you also to the Rappaport Institute and to Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport who are here with us today for their support of this event and for the part the Institute plays in strengthening Harvard’s connections with its surrounding communities.

This conference represents a great opportunity for scholars, practitioners, and policy makers to share information and exchange ideas about sustainability, but it’s also an affirmation of the very important partnership between cities and universities as we explore together how to address these very critical issues. Harvard is proud of its collaborations with the City of Boston, working to develop sustainability strategies both on Harvard’s campuses and on regional and global scales.

Sustainability and climate change are two of the most challenging scientific and political issues of our time. The scientific evidence is clear. Many of the things on which our health, our prosperity, and our future depend – clean air, drinkable water, a dependable food supply – are in jeopardy because of our own impact on the environment.

Harvard has an important responsibility to help control these challenges. Last week, I announced the formation of a new University-wide task force charged with examining Harvard’s greenhouse gas emissions, and recommending a University-wide strategy and goal for reduction. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is an important next step in our effort to create a sustainable campus and will have broad implications for our campuses in the Longwood and Allston sections of Boston as well as in Cambridge. I hope that the work of the task force will yield information and strategies that other organizations and institutions will find useful as they look at their environmental impact.

Given the rapid urbanization of developing countries and the growing consumption in urban areas in developed countries like our own, cities provide a critical arena from which to approach the issues of sustainability and climate change.

First, urban areas are responsible for approximately 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. So reducing energy use and emissions in cities is fundamental to any effort to slow the pace of global warming.

Second, local policies can be effective where broader policies might not be feasible. For example, more than 700 mayors, including Mayor Menino, have signed a pledge – “The Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement” – to reduce their cities’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gasses to levels aspired to in the Kyoto protocol, a treaty that was signed by the United States, but never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

And third, cities, like universities, are learning laboratories. They provide arenas in which to test new policies, new ideas, and new initiatives. The scale is small enough to make adjustments, and large enough to measure real impact. In fact, with the Green Roof Demonstration Project, Boston has turned City Hall into a literal living laboratory. The 8th and 9th floor terraces are now showcases for plants where students can study the effects of greening city rooftops.

Working with Boston, Harvard has done much to promote and encourage environmental stewardship over the last decade. The Greater Boston Breathes Better Program, a collaborative initiative among local governments and private entities, including our community, focuses on promoting strategies and implementing projects to reduce air pollution from transportation and construction sources. It’s a great example of linking research to policy. And the mayor’s Green Building Task Force has led to several green policies that influence the way Harvard develops its campuses.

At Harvard, our Center for the Environment hosts faculty from a variety of fields who are researching and teaching on environmental issues. The Center also serves as an interdisciplinary hub for environmental education by connecting faculty, compiling an environmental course catalog, sponsoring research by faculty and students, and hosting events across the University on environmental issues.

The Harvard Environmental Economics Program at the Kennedy School is researching political and economic strategies for global environmentalism, including global climate change, the use of incentive-based instruments for pollution control, the relationship between globalization and the environment, and the intersection of economic development and environmental protection.

Taking a page from Boston’s playbook on community engagement, Harvard is looking into ways in which we can mobilize our different constituencies in both their working and their home lives.

Recently, more than 8,000 Harvard staff, students, and faculty made a sustainability pledge declaring their personal commitments to undertake a wide range of campus sustainability activities, ranging from biking to the University, to making double-sided copies to save paper, to purchasing Energy Star equipment, to switching off computers and lights every day at the end of the day. Harvard has recently achieved a recycling rate of more than 50 percent, and it has reduced single-occupancy travel to Harvard by more than 18 percent.

Harvard College students have reduced their energy consumption by more than 12 percent over the last four years thanks to a peer-to peer engagement program. I have this image of them all running around the dorm telling each other to turn off the lights. And in large part, due to student lobbying, more than 40 percent of the produce used by Harvard’s Dining Services now comes from local farms. But we need to continue to do better.

When we develop and operate our built environment – our campuses – what lessons are we teaching our constituents and our students? What messages are we sending? We are an educational institution. We must recognize that all we do has an educational dimension.

This question really drives our partnership with the City, especially as Harvard plans and develops its new campus in Allston. Under the proposed master plan, Harvard intends to develop a comprehensive sustainability framework for buildings, transportation systems, utilities, and water management. It intends to take measures to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and storm water runoff. It intends to create more than 30 acres of new open space on land currently covered by asphalt. It intends to aspire to meet LEED Gold certification for all future buildings in Allston and it intends to improve city streets with new pedestrian walkways, bike lanes, and plantings.

As we think about the effects of the changing environment on the world, and how we must best respond, we cannot underestimate the significance of the partnership between cities and universities.

Thank you for helping us realize that we are stronger when we are united on this front. And thank you, Boston, and thank you, Mayor Menino, for being both an inspiration and a partner in this important work. Thank you all.

Cities can help turn the world green

By Corydon Ireland

Harvard News Office

Can green cities save a blue planet?

That question was posed last week by Harvard climatologist Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard’s Center for the Environment. The professor of Earth and planetary sciences and professor of environmental science and engineering was one of three technical experts who spoke at a conference March 5 — co-sponsored by Harvard and the city of Boston — on the regional impacts of global warming.

The short answer: Cities can help. For one, the experts say, they generate 75 percent of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. And cities are the teeming brains of the world — “incredible focal points for innovation,” said Schrag.

Regionally, two cities are doing what they can to save the planet.

Boston is one. This month, Beantown was named the third-greenest city by Popular Science magazine — in part for a 2007 green building requirement for all new construction. And last week Boston released its climate action plan, calling for increased bike traffic, more open space, and expanded requirements for green building standards.

“Urban areas are the economic engines of America,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who opened the conference with remarks to a capacity crowd at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Lecture Hall. “While climate change is a global issue, we can do our part.”

The other “city” going for the green is Harvard, with its thousands of students and its many laboratories and teaching facilities. The centuries-old University, like its host communities, is focused on its environmental footprint. Harvard consumes energy, treats waste, and expands its building stock according to sustainability principles adopted in 2004.

And more dashes of green are being added to crimson. Last month (Feb. 27), Harvard President Drew Faust, who is also Lincoln Professor of History, appointed a task force to identify a goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will report its findings to her by June.

“Harvard has an important responsibility to confront these challenges,” said Faust of regional changes that impact global warming. “Local policies may be effective, where broader policies may not be viable.”

Centers of higher education bear a special responsibility in dealing with environmental issues, she said. First, there is the capacity for scholarship. (Faust praised the Center for the Environment as an “interdisciplinary hub for environmental education.”)

Then there is the capacity for direct action. Faust outlined a few of Harvard’s contributions, including a 50 percent-plus recycling rate, a low incidence of single-occupancy commuter car travel (18 percent), and Harvard Dining Services, which purchases 40 percent of its food from regional producers.

Faust also praised the Boston-Harvard collaboration in planning for the University’s campus in Allston. “Cities, like universities, are learning laboratories,” she said. “We are stronger when we are united on this front.”

Menino and Faust “want real progress, right away,” said moderator David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The two leaders traded praise. Menino called the two-year Allston planning process “an exceptional experience.”

Faust called the town-gown cooperation “an affirmation of the very important partnership between cities and universities.”

The initial phase of the Allston project, she said, will transform 30 acres of paved surfaces into new open space, construct sustainable buildings, and require reduced energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and storm water runoff.

Schrag led off the technical part of the program by imparting a sense of the scale of the global warming problem. In a word: huge.

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere — the chief culprit of climate change — are higher than they have been in 650,000 years, and are likely higher than in the past 35 million years.

Preindustrial levels of the compound hovered around 280 parts per million (ppm), are 385 ppm today — and will be around 500 ppm in as little as 40 years. “This is not a debate,” said Schrag. “We will see huge climate change this century,” including a summertime Artic Ocean that is ice-free within a decade.

He said atmospheric change is driven by fossil fuels, where humans get 85 percent of their energy, and it’s also “a profound geological experiment.” Likely impacts include droughts, heat waves, more violent storms and floods, and rises in sea level.

Schrag showed a bird’s-eye projection of Boston in the event of a 0.6-meter rise in sea level. It looked like Venice.

There are three categories of solutions, said Schrag, “and we need them all”: reduced energy use, new sources of non-carbon energy, and a way to sequester excess CO2 in geological formations.

There are some reasons to be optimistic, he said. Fixing only 1,000 power plants worldwide, for one, would address the source of nearly a third of greenhouse gases. And rebuilding energy infrastructure worldwide would cost only 1 to 2 percent of global revenues. That’s as much as $200 billion in U.S. GDP, said Schrag — a huge investment, but a business opportunity too.

Presenter and urban economist Edward Glaeser, Harvard’s Glimp Professor of Economics and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, likes the idea of “emissions accounting” as a way of knocking down energy use, especially in fast-growing urban centers. Glaeser, who is also director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, is in favor of a carbon tax, too, and steeper taxes for roadways.

“Car-heavy places have grown more quickly” in the past 20 years, he said, pushing roadways deeper into areas of low-density population. Suburbs, in turn, consume more per capita energy, gasoline included, than their urban counterparts.

Land use planning counts, said Glaeser. Living in Boston is a relatively green experience, he said, but “once you hit Waltham, you’re in full suburban-energy use.”

Presenter James W. Hunt III is all in favor of the urban experience as a green experience, but acknowledges a steady flight to the suburbs too. “City living is green,” said Hunt, chief of Boston’s environmental and energy services, and a lifetime Dorchester resident. “But we have to encourage our residents to stay here.”

That means keeping the urban core more livable and inviting, he said, in part through forward-thinking environmental planning. That includes a Boston plan to add 100,000 new trees by 2020, scrubbing the air and reducing the urban “heat island” effect that spikes temperatures by 10 degrees or more.

The city already has an impressive 29 percent of tree cover, said Hunt, but “it’s a tale of two cities.” Most of the trees are in wealthier areas.

Hunt enumerated other ways Boston is planning for a future that will help ward off sea level rise, devastating storms, and a sun-cooked urban core: Boston initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases by 2050 to 80 percent of 1990 levels; a Boston green jobs industry already growing by 20 percent a year; plans for more energy conservation and solar power; and green building requirements “hardwired into the zoning” for new construction, said Hunt — 6 million square feet of new buildings in 2007, and 4 million more square feet in the pipeline.

Ellwood summed up the challenge of making cities an engine for change in global warming: “The really inconvenient truth,” he said, “is that it is hard and not easy — expensive and not cheap.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Priorities of Rich Private Universities: Student Aid or Great Faculty

Like everybody else, universities face tradeoffs and must prioritize their goals. This article below from Columbia University's student newspaper highlights the issue. Columbia wants to be Harvard. To "catch" Harvard, Columbia will continue to hire impressive guys like Jeff Sachs but apparently this costs real money. This money comes from the Endowment. The Endowment is the cumulative "profits" plus interest that Columbia has collected over the years. Now, Columbia has caved into peer pressure from the richer schools to lower tuition to middle class parents. While this redistribution is good for these parents, this isn't a free lunch. Ambitious private schools such as Columbia and Tufts will have a slower endowment growth than in the absence of this financial aid rebate. Slower endowment growth will affect such schools' ability to recruit and retain the best faculty. So, what makes a great university? A great faculty or happy middle class students?

Now there is one story where I am wrong. Suppose that I'm a Columbia Graduate from 1977 and I'm a billionaire. If I read this article in the Columbia newspaper and I'm so proud of my school's commitment to the middle class that I vastly raise my donations to the school to offset the rebates the school is now making; Columbia's endowment could rise because of this financial aid policy. I'm not convinced that I believe in this reverse laffer curve but it is possible.

Aid Reforms Raise Concern for Fiscal Future
By Joy Resmovits

Created 03/12/2008 - 4:02am
In Tuesday’s announcement, Columbia University seems to incorporate aspects of each of the other recent Ivy League financial-aid reforms into its own, charting an ambitious—and expensive—path forward.

The announcement comes on the heels of a slew of similar aid makeovers at peer universities including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown. Among these schools, Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth have plans that aim to ease the burden on middle-class families, while Brown eliminated the tuition burden outright for lower-class families.

Columbia’s reforms touch upon each end of the spectrum. Need-based loans will be substituted with grants for families from all income brackets, and families making below $60,000 per year will not be expected contribute to tuition, room, or board.

“This seems primarily focused on the lowest-income students, but again, what we’re doing at the same time is spreading ... the resources that we’ve made available for this across the full set of incomes that qualify for financial aid,” Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks said in an interview on Monday. “We’re doing this because we recognize, along with all of our peers, that the cost of college education has just been going up so fast.”

The announcement comes soon after statements from key administrators seemed to suggest that Columbia could not afford to make the financial-aid reforms of its peer institutions. Although the value of Columbia’s endowment ranks among the top 10 in the country, it pales in comparison to that of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

At a December University Senate meeting, University President Lee Bollinger noted that Columbia’s endowment trails significantly behind those of its peers, making it difficult to implement similarly large-scale changes. “We don’t have the existing resources ... to maintain the financial aid presently offered,” he said. “At the moment, we are stretched to the limit in doing all the things we do.” Bollinger said that current policy—updated when the University announced September 2006 it would substitute grants with loans for families with incomes below $50,000—stretched Columbia’s spending.

So why is the University making changes now?

Chief Administrative Officer of Arts and Sciences Scott Norum said that the need to increase financial aid now surpasses standard financial barriers. “We’re so behind on our endowment campaign that one of our goals of our Capital Campaign is to raise endowment,” he said. “But this [aid reform] is so important that we’re actually going to eat into principal compared to what our normal spending rule would dictate in order to do this now instead of later.”

Columbia seeks to raise over $400 million for undergraduate financial aid. Last year, John Kluge, CC ’37, pledged $400 million to the University and earmarked more than half of his gift for Columbia College aid specifically. Once Kluge’s gift comes in, the University will use the donation to finance the College’s aid enhancement.

Dirks said the challenge for Columbia is to build a bridge between current financial aid expenditures and Tuesday’s commitments.

The bridge, Norum said, will come from increasing the payout rate on aid endowments by an average of about 1 percent annually. “The 1 percent increase in the payout rate was provided by the funds that will ultimately be John Kluge’s gift,” he said. “By increasing the rate [of expenditure] now, we’re able to fund the enhancement before we actually get that principal into the endowment.”

The spending plan, as approved by Columbia’s trustees, is a setback as Columbia strives to increase its endowment across the board. “It comes at a cost—we’ll be giving up all the investment returns on the extra money they’re spending,” Norum said. “The lost gain on the endowment is a reasonable price to pay in order to do these things now instead of having to wait for the actual gifts to come in, and especially because it’s a solid pledge for a very specific purpose.”

The regular payout rate is about 5 percent. Dirks said such a plan sets a precedent for the way Columbia uses its endowment. As such, it had to be scrutinized by multiple parties, in a process Bollinger said was “more consultative” in a phone interview on Monday.

“Once we did it, we had to figure out how much money it’s going to bring in, that the bridge was adequate to do the things we wanted, and ... be at a place where we can continue what we’re doing, and not having to renege on commitments,” Dirks said.

Norum added that while the School of Engineering and Applied Science cannot benefit from Kluge’s gift, it is employing the same spending techniques to finance the enhancements. Dirks stressed the importance of keeping SEAS and CC financial-aid policies analogous.

Since financial-aid policy at the School of General Studies is “diametrically opposite” to that of CC, as Norum put it, the new plan will affect about half of GS students currently receiving aid. GS financial aid is currently chiefly merit-based, but next year the distribution of the additional $1 million will be determined by demonstrated need, actual loan burden, and academic standing.

More than gifts or annual funds, unrestricted endowments pay for GS financial aid. “GS doesn’t have the same endowment and the annual giving to be able to increase on an unrestricted base the amount of aid they are able to award,” Norum said. “That’s why the endowment component of their Capital Campaign goals is important. If they raise all that money, then they’ll be able to approach the College’s level of fund-raising and financial aid budget.”

“We’re excited about this,” Dirks said. “You do one set of things and there are lots of other groups that are concerned about what we’re doing for them. We’re thinking about the need to increase financial-aid support across the University.”


Source URL:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Economic Development and the Quality of Government: The Case of China

An old "Chicken and Egg" issue is whether economic development leads to higher quality government (measured in public goods provision per dollar of tax receipts) or do nations with higher quality governmental institutions enjoy greater development?

Here is an Andrei Shleifer piece that I've always had in the back of my head

They find that poor nations, french nations and nations close to the Equator have bad governments. While this is both interesting and funny, there is more work that needs to be done on this topic. Are individual country case studies informative? Today the New York Times offers us the case of China. The Chinese are reinventing their government, maybe they have hired Al Gore or Eliot Spitzer as a consultant?

Will this change have any real effects? Did income growth trigger these changes? How will the incentives of government officials be affected by this consolidation? Will any environmental externalities be addressed because of these government changes?

On an unrelated note, did you know that it costs $54 to buy an individual article of the Canadian Journal of Economics. In February 2007, Jim Brander published a piece there on Sustainability. I wanted to read his article but $54 was an incentive not to. For reasons I don't understand, UCLA doesn't subscribe.

Jim and I will be debating in the Wall Street Journal's saturday online version on "limits to growth". I am assigned the "optimist" position.

March 12, 2008
China Retools Its Government in Efficiency Push


BEIJING — China announced Tuesday that it would reorganize the central government by creating five so-called superministries, including one responsible for improving environmental protection. But the plan stopped short of creating a single agency to oversee the contentious issue of energy policy.

The plan, submitted Tuesday during the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the legislature run by the Communist Party, is intended to streamline an overlapping array of government agencies, commissions and ministries around core issues: environmental protection; social services; housing and construction; transportation; and industry and information.

China’s complex bureaucracy is widely regarded as inefficient and often ineffective at carrying out policies that flow from Beijing, in part because agencies become enmeshed in turf battles or are focused on protecting their own entrenched interests.

“The reshuffling is aimed at resolving long-term problems and contradictions as China’s economy grows,” stated an explanation of the plan issued by the State Council, the government’s highest executive body.

Chinese state media quickly framed the plan, expected to be endorsed this week by the legislature, as a major bureaucratic reform that would improve the way national policies were carried out. But the practical impact is far from certain as China’s bureaucracy struggles to manage soaring energy demand, rampant pollution, rising inflation and an economy that some analysts say is perilously close to overheating.

“What does this do?” asked Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Dragonomics, an economic research consultancy in Beijing. “What it will accomplish is some incremental change in a couple of areas. But on the whole, I don’t see that this advances in any substantial way the coordination between different agencies.”

Despite three decades of market reforms, China’s economy is still heavily shaped by the government’s central planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission. Some analysts had contended that the government could become more efficient by stripping away some of the commission’s responsibilities, including energy policy. Speculation had centered on whether an independent energy ministry would be established.

The new plan divides authority over energy. A new “high level” energy commission would develop national energy strategies. But an energy bureau under the central planning agency would control administration and oversight of the energy sector.

Yang Fuqiang, director of the Beijing office of the nonprofit Energy Foundation, said the creation of the two energy agencies represented a political compromise. He predicted that they would eventually be merged into a full ministry, but not for a few more years. “This is a first step,” Mr. Yang said.

The plan also puts the country’s food and drug regulatory agency under the control of the Ministry of Health. China’s regulatory system has come under heavy international criticism because of scandals involving contaminated or counterfeit ingredients in food and drugs. The Chinese state news media said the new arrangement “would make for better food and drug safety.”

Mr. Kroeber said one significant change in the restructuring plan was that the central planning agency would no longer have final approval on major construction projects. But he said that calling the new entities “superministries” overstated their power and that they seemed to represent a “half step.” He said the expanded ministry over transportation would oversee civil aviation and urban road transportation, but would not include the current Ministry of Railways, which lobbied strenuously to remain autonomous.

“They haven’t gotten all the way to a coordinated transportation ministry,” Mr. Kroeber said.

The new environmental ministry would seem further proof of the emphasis placed on fighting pollution by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Environmentalists have complained that the State Environmental Protection Administration was easily steamrolled in bureaucratic turf battles because it did not rank as a full government ministry. The new plan elevates the agency to ministry status, presumably with greater clout inside the bureaucracy.

Yet it is unclear if that new status will also include an expanded budget for a larger staff to carry out regulatory policies. Currently, the agency has only a few hundred employees to coordinate and regulate environmental protection.

China is still failing to meet its targets for improving energy efficiency and reducing pollution. On Tuesday, senior officials said China must make bigger improvements during the next three years or the country would fail to meet its five-year goal of reducing energy use per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent by 2010.

Xie Zhenhua, a vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the country was steadily decreasing its energy use, but still not meeting the target of annual 4 percent reductions.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Don't Drink the Water

What is in your urban water? How many parts per trillion of sex hormones and other people's pep pills is enough to affect you and your kids? The Associate Press has gone undercover to engage in some old fashion muckraking. This article below hints at unknown long run health effects imposed by neighbors' disposal of their own pills. The article hints that we are all poisoning each other. Do you feel guilt here? Where is Pigou?

AP probe finds drugs in drinking water

By JEFF DONN, MARTHA MENDOZA and JUSTIN PRITCHARD, Associated Press Writers2 hours, 19 minutes ago

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

"We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

_Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

_Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

_Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

_The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

_Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system" — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP's questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City's upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.

He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.

Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

Perhaps it's because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.

"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.

Another issue: There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity — sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute.

Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby — director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. — said: "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."

Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.

Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting.

"It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans?" EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. "It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven't gotten far enough along."

With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water.

"I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health," said Snyder. "They need to just accept that these things are everywhere — every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental."

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to "detect and quantify pharmaceuticals" in wastewater. "We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations," he said. "We're going to be able to learn a lot more."

While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it's being considered is its widespread use in making explosives.

So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.

There's growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs — or combinations of drugs — may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day.

Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.

For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants — pesticides, lead, PCBs — which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk.

However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body.

"These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects," says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs.

And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That's why — aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies — pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.

"We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good," says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.


The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate (at)