Yesterday, a state employee (who I won’t name) and myself debated
the question of whether North Carolina’s regulations on mercury
emissions of coal-fired power plants should exceed the federal
standards.  The debate was at a local school, and the event also
involved some time for both of us to discuss the issues with groups of

The teacher that invited us wanted to show students how two experts debate and how it can be done in a collegial manner.

I’m sorry to report to you that this debate experiment failed miserably.  Not that this should come as a surprise.

I give credit to the school (which I also won’t name–at least for now)
and the teacher for trying to seek a real debate on an important issue.

Our brief debate started off well enough.  The state
employee went first and made her case.  I went second and
explained why we didn’t need more regulation (see my Spotlight report for the substantive issues).

then got a chance to make a rebuttal, and this is when things started
to go downhill.  She began to make personal attacks.  I then
made my rebuttal and then she made some snide remarks.

After the
brief debate, the students left since it was the end of the school day,
and the teacher walked out of the room for a little while.

is when it really got bad.  She went into full personal attack
mode making the same tired argument that only a scientist should be
discussing whether we regulate mercury emissions.

I asked her how she thought environmental regulations were
developed–I explained that lawyers, economists, and many other
individuals that aren’t scientists are at the forefront of developing
public policy and review scientific findings and conclusions to help
inform sound policy.  I pointed out that given her logic, she
shouldn’t be discussing regulatory matters as she did, like the merits
of cap and trade programs, since it is not a scientific issue. 

fact, staying with her logic, no scientist should ever discuss policy
issues, especially since policy conclusions involve subjectivity. 
Science by its nature is objective (or at least it is supposed to

For some reason, I doubt she would have personally attacked the Southern Environmental Law Center (basically all attorneys), or environmental groups that issue economic reports without involving any economists.

bigger issue though is why environmental groups and extremists can’t
even have a collegial discussion before a bunch of kids (7th graders).

recognize though that the state employee may have been upset that she
couldn’t give her routine indoctrination presentation, featuring
stuffed animals (I’m not kidding), and actually had to defend what she
said.  This probably did make it a bit more difficult.

I do
want to end my post on a happy note.  I did have an interesting
and informed discussion about mercury regulations when I was at the
school.  It was with the students.  I wonder if they’d debate
each other to show environmental extremists that you can disagree on
issues in a civil manner.