NRDC Has a Numbers Problem

Yesterday was the last day for public comment on the EPA’s proposed (and flawed, and economically damaging) rule to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) executive director Frances Beinecke chimed in to claim on her blog that Americans have filed 8 million comments in favor of the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon emissions.

8 million? If the EPA asked for comments on Kim Kardashian’s latest attention-grabbing ploy it might evoke 8 million responses. But a rule about power plants? We were skeptical.

And we were right to be suspicious. It turns out the number is nowhere near 8 million. In fact, EPA official Janet McCabe’s blog post, also from yesterday, shows NRDC is exaggerating:

Since June, we’ve met with well over 300 groups and received more than 1.6 million comments; and that’s not counting the hundreds of thousands of comments that came in last week and those that are coming in today.

And a simple trip to view the comments at shows that 1.2 million comments (as of this writing) have been made on the proposed rule. Whether it’s 1.2 million, 1.6 million, or 1.9 million comments, it’s a far cry from 8 million.

It’s also amusing how the NRDC opens its blog post making this seemingly bogus “8 million” claim. The NRDC breathlessly writes, “In the past few months, Detroit got flooded by unusually heavy rains. Washington State wrapped up one of its most destructive fires seasons on record. And California remains in the grip of extreme drought…”

All of these descriptions imply that these recent events are worse than we’ve seen before. But there were other fire seasons in Washington State that were worse—this one is simply “one of” the worst. “Unusually” heavy rains just means higher than normal, which could happen quite often. As for lack of rain, what about California’s Great Drought of 1862-1864?

NRDC presumably can’t blame those other instances using its “the planet is doomed” narrative, so it acts as if the present cherry-picked instances are the evidence that matters most. But the plural of anecdote isn’t data. There have been many severe climate and weather events throughout history. Perhaps the NRDC hopes we’ll ignore them in favor of today’s doomsday prophesies.

If environmentalists have to exaggerate support and their facts, that tells you something about their popularity and credibility.

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