This originally appeared in the February issue of The Standard, the newsletter of the Ohio Pest Management Association.
By Michelle Crawley
Editor’s Note: Over the years, there have only been a handful of courageous people in science that have stood against the government, the green movement and the media. Dr. Jay Lehr is one of those people, placing scientific integrity over advancement. Here is his story.
Jay H. Lehr., Ph.D., earned one of the nation’s first Ph.D.’s in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona. He also holds a degree in Geological Engineering from Princeton. He began his career with the U.S. Geological Survey after serving in the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps in the Far East, rising to the rank of Lt. Commander. He founded and sold two education companies to Fortune 500 Corporations, and has written 19 books and over 900 journal articles in his fields of expertise. On 36 occasions he has testified in Congress to explain the realities of environmental issues as they relate to pending legislation, including having a hand in forming all the environmental legislation of the 1970s.
Dr. Lehr is currently the science director with the Heartland Institute, a Libertarian think tank, where he has worked for the past 14 years. He is also president of Environmental Education Enterprises, which teaches advanced technology short courses for environmental professionals. Dr. Lehr is an avid cyclist, ice hockey defenseman, lacrosse goalie and nine-time Hawaiian Ironman finisher. He is also a serious skydiver, having completed over 1,200 jumps and has not missed a month of diving in 25 years.
I recently got to speak with Dr. Lehr to discuss how the environmental movement has changed over the years and where it is going. Following is that discussion.
Michelle Crawley (MC): Tell me about your past and your contribution to the building of the environmental movement.
Jay Lehr (JL): My Ph.D. is essentially in environmental science, going back to 1962. It was a mix of water resources, agricultural economics, civil engineering, meteorology and other sciences. I created this degree at the University of Arizona, studying in seven different departments – all of which touched on environmental issues. In the late 1960s, I got involved in the formation of the U.S. EPA, and in the ‘70s was instrumental in the establishment of a safety net of environmental regulations. I had my hand in the writing of seven different pieces of legislation: the Water Pollution Control Act (which later became the Clean Water Act), the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which dealt with waste disposal), the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide and Fungicide Act (FIRFA), the Superfund, and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. During this time, several of us had to teach environmental science to the Legislature and get them to pass different bills that would wake the public up to the need to maintain clean air, water, soil and groundwater, and to dispose of our waste in a more reasonable manner. During that decade we did a terrific job. However in the ‘80s that work was complete and then the pendulum swung. Environmental advocacy groups saw the environment as a way to promote big government and liberal ideas that reduced individual freedom, and threw a monkey wrench in the path of progress and capitalism. Quite frankly, U.S. EPA has done nothing useful since 1980, and is, in my opinion, the worst agency today in the federal government and one that could be disbanded with no negative impact on the public. Each state has their own EPA and they do a good enough job that we really don’t need the Feds anymore. I began to realize that everything was being taken to an extreme during the ‘80s and in 1991, I published a book called “Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns,” where I contacted 50 different experts on various environmental issues and asked them if the government was handling their issues correctly or in an overbearing manner. All 50 of the scientists said things had gotten out of hand and there were distortions and mythologies creeping into their areas of environmental science. Each of them wrote a paper on this topic for the book, and it was a huge success. I focused attention in the ‘90s on the overbearing anti-progress that the environmental movement had taken on. Some years later, I began to realize that this concept wasn’t really new, and one of my colleagues and I wrote a book where we actually traced the use of green over centuries. We found threads of green in the conservation movement and in philosophical writings. The idea that the earth and nature is superior to man goes back a very long way, and I’ve been writing about it now for the better part of 25 years.
MC: It takes courage to stand up to the government, green movement and media. Do you ever receive backlash for your views?
JL: Yes, I have in the past, but I keep a low profile working mostly through the Heartland Institute. I was very unpopular decades ago in the halls of government, but am off their radar screen now. The Heartland Institute gets the brunt of any backlash. The Heartland Institute was started 26 years ago by Joseph Bast, who today remains its president. It’s a free market think tank – a Libertarian organization. Essentially, it tries to increase individual freedom and decrease the government’s role in people’s lives. It began by being heavily involved in the environmental area, but now is equally strong in school reform, health care, acts and budget issues, insurance issues and information technology. The organization puts out seven different monthly publications free to all state-elected officials—including 8,000 state representatives and senators, and the mayors and city councils of the 342 largest cities in America. Our objective is to give them objective info to assist them in making good decisions in their votes. We do no lobbying, and we don’t get involved politically; we just present factual info in a newspaper format. We don’t editorialize, but just present the info that will help plain folks make the decisions that govern much of our lives. Everything also gets sent to the federal government (the House and Senate), but has less impact there than at the state level, which is looking for help. We do a survey each year and find that 76 percent of our recipients read one or more of our publications, and that nearly half of them make decisions or votes based on them. We are not as big as The CATO Institute or The Heritage Foundation, but think we are just as effective.
MC: You helped to draft the environmental legislation in the 1970s – how does it make you feel now that, as you say, things have been taken to the extreme?
JL: I spend half my time on the road speaking to groups and open my speeches saying “I’m here doing penance for the things I did back in the ‘70s.” What I did in the ‘70s really was necessary, because people didn’t realize that what they were doing was fouling the environment. It was an education process. I did write a piece shortly after that time, recognizing that the debate over the legislation is generally more useful than the legislation itself. I explained that once the debate is over, we almost don’t need the bill itself because we’ve already awakened the public to the need for voluntary action. But I wasn’t aware of that as I was working on all this legislation in the ‘70s. I joke about doing penance, but I was openly part of the problem – I strengthened the environmental movement. As soon as I realized what was happening, I changed sides. I suppose to a certain extent I do regret helping to form U.S. EPA, but it would’ve likely happened without me. At the time, I was probably one of the six strongest voices in Washington promoting it. Now I spend most of my time trying to thwart it, or at the very least educate the public to what a negative impact it had.
MC: You have said in your speeches that science follows the government money. How does science following government money have an impact?
JL: Yes, science is following the government money, and it’s a problem in all industries. We’ve totally distorted science, not all of it, but certainly at the university level. They know they have to say what the government wants to hear in the grant proposal process in order to get their money. U.S. EPA rules the roost, and if they’re not out to prove or say bad things about chemicals of all kinds, they won’t likely get the money. This is all driven by the environmental advocacy groups that control U.S. EPA today. It’s a horrible thing, and what it has done to science mostly at the academic level is bad. But U.S. EPA’s goal is to remove every useful chemical from the environment. They are driven by environmental advocacy groups, who are basically Socialists wanting to destroy capitalism and progress and make us a weaker nation. It’s hard to understand their motivation but they are an unhappy bunch. Over time, I’m somewhat confident and hope that the new Congressional administration coming in will right the ship somewhat.
MC: Do you see this getting any better in the future, or do you see the green movement getting more out of control. And will the younger generation take action?
JL: I’m a total optimist. I think people are waking up. We’ve tilted the tide on global warming over the past few years, which is a total fraud, and most people on the street are now skeptical of the global warming delusion. The “green fatigue” (as your colleague Rich Kozlovich calls it) is also evidence of that. But we need to be more of an activist, and by being an activist I don’t mean standing on the street corner yelling, but talking to our friends about these things whenever we can. We need to spread the word to people that trust us that they are being hoodwinked by all the fear mongering. I am seeing improvement, and am optimistic that it will get better and not worse. Until I learn differently, I think that the shifting of the Congress will slow U.S. EPA down. Equally important is that we get rid of this President in two years and find someone that is more an advocate for our side. I’m an optimist – I couldn’t get up everyday and fight the battle if I weren’t. And I preach optimism because it pays – both negativism and optimism are self-fulfilling prophecies.
MC: You knew Norman Bourlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution. Could he have done his work today, winning the Nobel Prize for his work developing a strain of disease ridden dwarf wheat and defending the use of DDT to control malaria, with all of the current restrictions from U.S. EPA and FDA?
JL: Yes, he won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for increasing world peace through his work increasing the food supply. We shared many stages together and were involved in many projects together, and he was an outstanding human being. He defended the use of DDT to control malaria. It’s sad – Rachel Carson did more harm that Stalin or Hitler – and it was unintended – she meant well – but her book “Silent Spring” was a horrible piece of journalism, and was a spring board for the environmental activists to spread their lies. I think that today Borlaug could have still done his work, but it would have been slowed down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. EPA are starting to impede more genetically modified crops today than they did a couple years ago. The new head of U.S. Agriculture is the worst we’ve ever had, and we have the worst head of the EPA we’ve ever had. I think both are doing horrible damage. I’m hoping a new administration in two years will change that.
MC: How do we compare to other countries – are we being limited in our producing innovations?
JL: Other countries are as green or greener than us. It’s the worst in the Socialist countries of Europe. “Green” is also smartly used as trade barriers—keeping our grains out of their countries because they are genetically modified. But we’re better than many countries at the energy level. In my opinion, supporting solar and wind energy is stupid. The lack of density means it can never be of any value in supplying the world with a significant percentage of their electric power, but our government is promoting it and giving it subsidies. But this is even worse in other countries. But again, I think we’ll see a slowing there. Biofuel makes more sense than wind and solar, but not a lot of sense. I think the government will one day – maybe in 10 years – stop subsidizing them. You have to realize that these industries would not even exist without the subsidies. A lot of people will get rich at the expense of the public.
MC: What do you think is the best way to fuel our country?
JL: We are the Saudi Arabia of coal and natural gas. We probably have 200 more years of oil left. So there is no energy problem at all – there is a political problem and an imagined environmental problem. We’ll be using fossil fuels for our lifetime, and then I think the world will convert to nuclear energy within 100 years. But there is no energy problem - it is a myth. We’ll wake up to that, too.
MC: Any thoughts for our industry?
JL: I follow your industry and I lecture to many pesticide groups that they must explain that they are in the healthcare business. Because you’re all about healthcare. You’re vilified as the bad guys when, in fact, you are the good guys. I know that the average pesticide applicator won’t tell people at a party what they do for a living; they keep a low profile. I think that the pesticide applicator is one of the most important parts of American healthcare. You need to better explain the hazards of vermin and the importance of eliminating them, and you must explain that you’d never over-use these expensive chemicals. You already have every incentive to use only what is needed to protect public health and destroy the vermin that invade and destroy homes and create health hazards. In the pesticide business the government is taking away your tools and foisting on you this integrated pest management program that basically says you’ll do everything you can before using a chemical. But isn’t there already the incentive to do this? Everything else is cheaper than the chemicals. That’s common sense. But the program of IPM has two sides to it – it is pushed by environmental advocacy groups to eliminate the use of chemicals. And in so doing, has a negative impact on human health. But it’s also promoted by other groups to put the industry on the defensive. So we need to look at IPM as something that is common sense and obvious, but it can never replace the use of chemicals. The industry has to be more proactive, less shy and convince the public that they’re in the healthcare business.
MC: Is there any advice you’d give our readers about pursuing what’s right in this green movement?
JL: I think people have to be more vocal, and need to realize they don’t have to be scientist and don’t have to explain technical things. Just talk plainly to people you trust and tell them not to buy into the fear mongering. When dealing with friends, neighbors and colleagues that trust your judgment, you just have to plant seeds of doubt. Fear mongering sells the news – it’s all people read, hear and see in conventional media – “if it bleeds, it leads.” So if you’re in communication with people you have respect for and if they respect you, tell them not to buy into this fear mongering. Recognize that over the last decades our life expectancy has increased, our general health has improved, and our environment has improved – so we’re obviously doing a lot of things right. Say that you don’t believe in this negative stuff. Doing that has an impact on people.
MC: What are your plans in the future?
JL: I plan to work every day of my life. I love what I do, and have the opportunity to travel North America almost every week and speak to large audiences, and, while I am preaching to choirs, I try to make everyone in the audience a choir master. My goal is to create activists and make everyone in every industry I talk to recognize that part of the rent they pay for being in their own industry is to spend a few minutes every week setting the record straight. Because if they don’t do it, who is going to do it for them? So I plan to continue writing articles and books and giving lectures forever. I love what I do. It’s a very rewarding job and it’s a never-ending battle. And I try to explain to people that this is the way the world has always been. It’s very frustrating when you are in a business like pest management that you can’t apply 100 percent of your time solving real problems – that you have to fight negative, false information. But that is how it has always been – it’s the classic battle of good versus evil. At every level this exists, no matter what the industry – you always have to fight a rear battle to keep moving forward. I like to tell people to be less frustrated about it – do the best you can every day, and go home to an environment where you have more control, and can recharge your batteries and go back and fight the next day. That’s what I do, and find it incredibly rewarding if I can have an impact on people on a weekly basis. I feel I’m doing the best I can, and love what I do.
Michelle Crawley has been working on The Standard for about two years and has done a magnificent job editing the newsletter, providing extremely well done interviews (she has a gift for it) and keeping after us when we get behind. We wouldn’t have done nearly as well without her. Michelle is also a freelance writer who is available for projects. If you would like to discuss a writing project with Michelle please feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org