By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Scott Bundgaard used to believe that chlorofluorocarbons--most commonly known by the trade name Freon--were depleting the Earth's ozone layer and increasing dangerous ultraviolet radiation. He'd nag his sister for using aerosol hair spray.
Then he was elected to the legislature, where he and his colleagues on the House Environment Committee considered a measure that called for Arizona to ignore federal law and an international treaty and allow the manufacture of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) after January 1, 1996, when an international ban goes into effect.
Freon advocates offered both pragmatic and ideological justifications for the law. The ban would force Arizonans to pay for new air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, or swelter without it, they claimed. And, perhaps more important, the legislation offered yet another great way for Arizona to tell the feds--and, for that matter, the world--to buzz off.
Then, there was the small matter of science.
The House Environment Committee was told that the scientific theory behind the hole in the ozone is a hoax, manufactured by NASA scientists who want money to conduct research. The ozone crisis was also being advanced by big companies that stand to make billions by selling replacements for the banned CFCs, the committee was told.
Bundgaard, a Republican from Glendale, was on the edge of his seat, his face rapt, as a witness testified that ocean spray--not CFCs--causes ozone depletion.
The expert witness? Bill Rheinfelder, a retired chemist who once worked for Motorola and Goodyear Aerospace. Rheinfelder has never formally studied stratospheric ozone depletion and never published a paper on the topic. In fact, he has never done anything to distinguish himself as qualified to repudiate theories accepted by the overwhelming majority of the international scientific community.
Rheinfelder concedes that the scientific community does not recognize him as an expert on CFCs, but he adds, "It doesn't really involve a lot to recognize the hoax." He spouts the same rhetoric as Lyndon LaRouche followers and the late Dixie Lee Ray, the former chair of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission who had good things to say about asbestos, Alar and acid rain.
But Rheinfelder was good enough for Arizona legislators like Bundgaard, who was instantly converted. "It was fascinating and seemed convincing enough that I didn't have any problem voting for the Freon bill," Bundgaard says.
The measure--House Bill 2236--was approved by the Environment Committee and both houses of the legislature. But not before it provoked a House vote on whether Arizona should secede from the Union.
When Harvard-educated Governor J. Fife Symington III signed the bill, he said fears about CFCs and ozone depletion were the result of "hokey science."
Which begs the question: Do Arizona's legislators and governor know something other political leaders and scientists don't? Or are they simply nuts?
When it comes to CFCs' effects on the ozone layer, there are enough gray areas and qualifiers to encourage detractors and, incredibly, move an entire legislative body.
But if you compare the credentials of the pro-CFC people with those who support a ban, you'll probably come to the swift scientific conclusion that Arizona's political leaders are wacko.
Fife Symington's pronouncement of the ozone-hole theory as "hokey science" is a fairly bold statement for someone who majored in Dutch art history.
It probably doesn't matter. Nearly everyone agrees that Arizona's CFC bill is moot because the federal ban will supersede state law. Don't expect a Freon theme park to pop up in Gilbert.
Symington is clearly more concerned with political science. When he signed the bill, the governor said, "Just because the federal government passes a law doesn't mean we always have to live with it."
There's a states' rights revolution brewing in this country, and Symington longs to be seen as a master brewer. By pushing in Arizona for measures such as private property rights, school vouchers, the Constitutional Defense Fund and CFC production--and pushing against nettlesome laws like the Endangered Species and Clean Air acts--Symington is making friends among federal-government bashers.
Outside Arizona, he's getting noticed. Newsweek recently devoted a page to Symington's states' rights mantra, and Texas state Representative Jim Horn introduced his own CFC bill after reading about Arizona's. Horn staffer Brent Golemon admits that if it passes, the bill wouldn't have much impact. He and his boss are more concerned with the message.
"We weren't the ones who put those laws into effect. That's the federal government. You know, it's an unfunded mandate," Golemon says of the federal Clean Air Act.
Last week, the Texas bill passed out of the House Environment Committee. It's waiting to be assigned for floor debate or tacked onto another bill.
Symington's not the only Arizonan with states' rights on his mind. Even Representative Sue Gerard--the moderate Phoenix Republican who often opposes ultraconservative legislation--voted for the CFC bill. Gerard says, "I can't argue the science. In fact, none of us can argue the science. It's just the stupidity of the way the feds did it."
Representative Jean McGrath, the Glendale Republican who sponsored the measure, agrees that in the end, her bill became a states' rights symbol.
"But first," she says, "you had to convince people about the science."
Air conditioning didn't come easy.
In the early 1800s, scientists began playing with substances like ether, carbon dioxide, ammonia and sulfur dioxide, seeking ways to cool food without ice--and without poisoning people or causing explosions. It was a slow process. In 1929, the media tried to get refrigerants outlawed after more than 100 people died in a Cleveland hospital from a refrigeration leak.
Even before the Cleveland catastrophe, a subsidiary of General Motors called Frigidaire had assigned a team of chemists to come up with a nontoxic, nonflammable refrigerant. The scientists tested their product for two years before introducing the concoction--a combination of chlorine, fluorine and carbon--to the public.
According to one account, Frigidaire's lead chemist on the project stood before a meeting of the American Chemical Society with a container full of CFCs and inhaled deeply--then exhaled in front of a lighted candle. The candle went out, the chemist wasn't poisoned, and Frigidaire was in business. (Du Pont later patented the product and called it Freon; that patent ran out in the 1950s--not this year, as some Arizona lawmakers believe.)
The New York Times called the 1970 census "The Air Conditioned Census" because of the rapid growth of the Sunbelt. The CFC had revolutionized life on this planet.
But it wasn't long before the fabulous CFC began to fall from favor.
In the early 1970s, scientists began to speculate that human-made substances, including CFCs, were destroying the Earth's ozone layer. Ozone is a fickle compound. When it's close to the Earth's surface, ozone is dangerous, a key component of smog. But six to 30 miles above the Earth's surface, in the stratosphere, ozone is essential. It forms a protective layer, absorbing ultraviolet light, or UV-B.
When chlorine finds its way into the stratosphere, it destroys ozone and increases the amount of UV-B that hits the Earth. UV-B is not the most dangerous form of ultraviolet light, but it has been demonstrated to cause some types of skin cancer, including basal-cell carcinoma. (Ironically, Fife Symington had basal-cell carcinomas removed at least four times during his first term.)
Scientists agree there are some natural sources of ozone-depleting chlorine in the stratosphere. One is methyl chloride, a compound produced during forest fires. And they agree that a small amount of chlorine finds its way into the stratosphere as a result of volcanic explosions.
Ocean spray, however, does not contribute to stratospheric ozone depletion because the chlorine released evaporates and comes back to the Earth as rain or snow long before it reaches the stratosphere, says Curtis Rinsland, a NASA researcher who conducted breakthrough experiments in 1991 at Kitt Peak Observatory outside Tucson. The same is true of chlorine used in swimming pools and even of some of the substances in volcanic plumes.
Scientists have been studying the ozone layer since the 1930s. They thought they found depletion in the ozone over Antarctica in the 1950s, but it was later attributed to a shifting in winds. The first significant depletion was measured in the mid-1970s.
The culprits: CFCs.
CFCs were not the first alleged human-made ozone eaters. In 1971, scientists told Congress that the proposed Supersonic Transport would wipe out the ozone layer with water-vapor emissions. Congress yanked funding for the plane, and the project died. It was later discovered that the theory was incorrect. Atomic energy and fertilizer had also been considered as possible ozone depleters, but it was never proved.
Then, in 1973, a radiochemistry researcher at the University of California-Irvine named F. Sherwood Rowland and his partner, Mario Molina, created models showing that CFCs did not decompose until they reached the stratosphere. Once there, CFCs and related compounds (called halocarbons) decompose and liberate chlorine, which in turn destroys ozone.
(Even today, naysayers dismiss this theory based on the fact that CFCs are many times heavier than air. How, they ask, could CFCs reach the stratosphere? But CFCs have now been measured in the stratosphere in hundreds of experiments. Scientists explain that the air is constantly churning, pushing CFCs into the stratosphere.)
Rowland and Molina published their findings, and it didn't take long for policymakers to react. In 1974, Congress held hearings on CFC-related ozone depletion. By 1978, the U.S. had banned CFCs in nonessential aerosols. Canada, Norway and Sweden soon followed. International meetings convened.
The landmark treaty banning CFCs, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, was hammered out in 1987 and took effect in 1989.
In his 1991 book, Ozone Diplomacy, Richard Benedick, the chief U.S. negotiator of the treaty, noted that the Montreal Protocol was unique in that it didn't end the use of ozone-depleting substances. Instead, it set target dates--even though replacements for the substances to be banned didn't exist.
This was amazing, he observed, because "The science was still speculative, resting on projections from evolving computer models of imperfectly understood stratospheric processes--models that yielded varying, sometimes contradictory, predictions of future ozone losses each time they were further refined. Moreover, existing measurements of the ozone layer showed no depletion, nor was there any evidence of the postulated harmful effects."
But, Benedick concluded, "By the time the evidence on such issues as the ozone layer and climate change is beyond all dispute, the damage may be irreversible, and it may be too late to forestall serious harm to human life and draconian costs to society."
The science was inconclusive in 1987. But hundreds of peer-reviewed papers have been published since Rowland and Molina made their discovery, and every year there's more evidence that CFCs are depleting the ozone.
The latest definitive report on the topic is The Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1994. Almost 300 scientists from the developed and developing world contributed, including 147 scientists who participated in the peer-review process.
The assessment reports that global ozone reached record levels of depletion over the past two years. The most dramatic incidence of ozone depletion is in Antarctica, where every fall a gap in the stratospheric ozone layer opens over the southern ocean. The Antarctic ozone holes of 1992 and '93 were the most severe on record, according to satellite, balloon-borne and ground-based monitoring instruments.
Scientists have made some headway in detecting ozone depletion in other parts of the world, too. Their findings are weighed against sunspot cycles and natural shifts in ozone levels. And still, they find a steady depletion.
They also report that in late October 1993 the UV-B intensity at Palmer Station, Antarctica, was greater than in San Diego any time during that year.
The evidence that CFCs in the stratosphere contribute to at least some ozone depletion is so overwhelming that even some scientists who oppose the Montreal Protocol concede the point.
But there hasn't yet been much proof that ozone depletion is causing UV-B increases that in turn are causing damage on Earth--even though Environmental Protection Agency officials have repeatedly stated that banning CFCs will prevent millions of cases of skin cancer and cataracts.
In a story he wrote for the Washington Post in 1993, veteran science writer Boyce Rensberger observed that while ozone depletion from CFCs is real, the final link has yet to be demonstrated. Ozone-hole theorists criticized the piece, which perturbed Rensberger. "My story said that the threat of ozone depletion has been exaggerated, not that it wasn't happening," he says. "That the health hazards and the environmental hazards have increased ultraviolet radiation have not been demonstrated yet--that remains true."
Not that there haven't been attempts to codify the link.
In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, now-Vice President Al Gore says higher UV-B radiation resulting from ozone depletion has blinded rabbits, salmon and sheep. This was never proved scientifically.
And last year, there was debate over a decline in the world's frog population, possibly because of ozone depletion. It was later revealed the scientist conducting the study knew nothing about the ozone layer, but leapt to conclusions in trying to link ozone levels, radiation and bad frog eggs. The frogs suffered from a fungus, which was at least partially responsible for the high death rate.
In 1993, the Post's Rensberger reported predictions that the ozone hole will begin to thicken again by 2000. Now, he says, predictions show it will happen by 1998.
That fuels the naysayers' fire, but both Rensberger and Rowland say it shouldn't. CFC production has dropped dramatically in recent years. The effect of the ban has been demonstrated before it has even started, they say. CFCs must be banned.
Rowland adds, "If we . . . have caught the chlorofluorocarbons before they've done immense destruction, then that's an argument in favor [of a ban]. We don't have immense destruction, but we have very clear signs of how that could happen."
In February 1992, NASA held a press conference to announce terrifying news. Samplings of air over New England and eastern Canada had revealed record high levels of chlorine monoxide, an ozone-depleting substance. If temperatures dropped over the Arctic, NASA reported, the ozone depletion would be the worst, ever.
The media pounced, announcing that a hole had been found in the ozone layer over then-president George Bush's Maine vacation home. Time magazine intoned in a cover story, "The threat is here and now."
The United States Senate voted 96-0 to expedite the ban on CFCs from 2000 to the end of 1995.
Then Mother Nature intervened. The temperature didn't drop. The hole didn't appear. And public sentiment turned. Critics claimed NASA had fabricated the whole thing, as a ploy to scare the Senate into stepping up the ban and to get more funding.
NASA spokesman Brian Dunbar says, "It is an absolute red herring. The way the federal budget cycle works, it doesn't matter when we do a release--we're in the middle of a budget cycle. We're always in the middle of a budget cycle."
And as for the February 1992 findings, Dunbar says, "We haven't retracted anything we said."
Dunbar's statements fall on the deaf ears of pro-CFCers, who point to the incident as proof that the government is fabricating data to push its ban. Adding to the conspiracy theory is the notion that Du Pont and other companies that produce CFCs and other halocarbons orchestrated the ban so they could make money from selling substitutes.
There is no bigger believer in these theories than Becky Fenger.
Until this spring, Arizona politicos knew Fenger for her unsuccessful primary challenge to Republican legislator Sue Grace. Fenger made headlines when she accosted Grace at a Phoenix restaurant and tried to snap a photo of her for a campaign brochure.
Now she's dubbed herself Becky "Free the Freon" Fenger. She testified at every opportunity in favor of HB 2236, and told one committee that she was "speaking for the soul of Dixie Lee Ray." She hands out business cards advertising her mission, and proudly tells New Times that talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy advertises her post office box over the airwaves.
Fenger is not a scientist, although she says she speaks on behalf of the scientific community. She took on Arizona's CFC bill as a full-time project.
"I call it my bill because I'm so emotionally tied," she says.
"You just don't know what it's like to finally have science get a voice," she says with a giggle.
Fenger is convinced that the ban on CFCs used to refrigerate food will result in global destruction. "There will be stale food and food poisoning and food spoilage that will kill between 20 and 40 million a year," she says.
Fenger gets those figures from Dixie Lee Ray's 1993 book Environmental Overkill. Ray, in turn, attributed that "statistic" to The Holes in the Ozone Scare: The Scientific Evidence That the Sky Isn't Falling, written by Rogelio Maduro and Ralf Schauerhammer and published in 1992 by 21st Century Science Associates, Lyndon LaRouche's organization.
Maduro has a B.S. in geology. Schauerhammer "studied mathematics and physics." And the only reference they give for the 20 million to 40 million death statistic is "international refrigeration experts."
Maduro and Schauerhammer warn, "Behind the actions to ban CFCs--and to cut back on refrigeration--is the Malthusian ideology that the world needs fewer people."
In raising the specter of global famine, Fenger, Ray, Maduro, Schauerhammer, et al., ignore that the Montreal Protocol allows developing countries to produce CFCs until 2010. And developed countries can provide Third World nations with CFCs as long as they can prove they're not being shipped back to another country.
Jean McGrath is no scientist, but she is in the farming business. And farmers use refrigerated trucks. For years she's heard tales of how hard business will be when the CFC ban goes into effect. When the Glendale Republican was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives last fall, she didn't consider introducing a bill legalizing production of CFCs. She wasn't going to introduce any legislation during her first term.
Then she changed her mind. "One day, it just hit me. 'Hey, stupid, introduce a bill on Freon!'"
Eight of her colleagues--including Senate Majority Leader Tom Patterson and Senate President John Greene--signed on as co-sponsors. Representative Robert Blendu was a prime sponsor, along with McGrath.
During the session, McGrath kept a balloon filled with Freon on her desk on the House floor, to demonstrate the gas is too heavy to reach the stratosphere.
"There's not one shred of physical evidence saying we are doing anything to the ozone," McGrath says.
Representative Andy Nichols, a Tucson Democrat and a public health physician by trade, sat through testimony on HB 2236 in both the States' Rights and Mandates and Environment committees.
He was not impressed with the caliber of debate. It's an unpopular view, he says, but Nichols believes, "If something is likely to cause damage or you have reason to suspect that something is a threat to human life and safety, you don't have to prove it--ironclad prove it--before you put it in the mothball heap and go on with living."
Bill Rheinfelder wasn't the only witness in support of HB 2236. Becky Fenger also testified on several occasions. And the coup de grƒce was a visit from Sallie Baliunas.
Baliunas, an astrophysicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and chairman of the Science Advisory Board of the George C. Marshall Institute, agrees CFCs are present in the stratosphere. She dismisses the theory that they're too heavy to get up there. And she points to the lack of a link among ozone depletion, UV-B and cancer rates.
Baliunas has not written a peer-reviewed paper on the topic of ozone depletion, nor is she recognized as an expert in that field (she's a solar astrophysicist). Further, her critics observe, the George C. Marshall Institute was one of the most influential proponents of Ronald Reagan's Star Wars in the 1980s.
Byron Hayes, a chemist from Flagstaff, spoke in opposition to the bill. Hayes has followed the CFC controversy since the 1970s, but he isn't an expert, either.
If Arizona lawmakers had wanted to hear from real experts in the field, they could have called the following Arizona residents:
* Ward Atkinson, a co-author of the Montreal Protocol. He has 40 years' experience in auto air conditioning with General Motors and now runs a firm called Sun Test Engineering.
* Lon Hood, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, analyzes satellite data and interprets ozone trends. Hood is one of the hundreds of scientists who contributed to The Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1994.
* Donald Hunten, a regents professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona, specializes in atmospheres of planets other than Earth. In the early 1970s, he was asked by the National Academy of Sciences to organize a panel to hear the findings of two California scientists: Rowland and Molina.
And what does Hunten think of Arizona's new law? "Well," he says with a chuckle, "it's not really printable."
There's been no word that anyone actually intends to open a CFC plant in Arizona. Privately, Environmental Protection Agency officials say they've been told to enforce federal law, if that does happen. And there's always the chance that some pesky environmental group will file suit against Arizona's CFC law.
But that doesn't bother Becky Fenger. She's got a new motto: "Today, Arizona. Tomorrow, the nation."
Fenger's keeping close tabs on the Texas legislation. She says she's gotten calls from Idaho, California and New York.
Instead of a laughingstock, she says, Arizona is "being the toast of the nation!"
On the federal level, U.S. Representative Tom DeLay of Houston, the House majority whip, has introduced a bill to repeal the section of the Clean Air Act pertaining to stratospheric ozone depletion. DeLay, whose nickname is "Mr. DeReg," is a former exterminator from Houston. He recently told the Washington Post that federal environmental regulations "drove me crazy."
He doesn't believe the Montreal Protocol is "based on good science," according to an aide.
DeLay's bill has been assigned to the House Commerce Committee.
Representative Bob Stump is the only member of Arizona's congressional delegation on record in favor of CFCs. He voted against the Clean Air Act amendments in 1990, and twice has co-sponsored unsuccessful legislation that called for the establishment of a presidential commission to investigate the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol.
Jean McGrath says she's received support from every member of the Arizona congressional delegation, with the exception of representatives Jim Kolbe and Ed Pastor, whom she hasn't had a chance to speak with.
Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl and representatives J.D. Hayworth, Jim Kolbe and John Shadegg didn't respond to inquiries about their positions. Representative Matt Salmon's press secretary says her boss doesn't want to go on the record.
Representative Ed Pastor, the delegation's lone Democrat, does: "I believe that international scientific opinion, international treaties and federal law have already decided the issue. The state legislature should spend its time on issues of more importance to Arizonans, like the education and health of our children.