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EDITORIAL: Third World cooking with EPA bureaucrats in kitchen

- - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Liberals are eager to muscle their way into every bedroom, but they're not discriminating. They want to extend the voyeurs into the laundry room, the living room and the garage, too. The Environmental Protection Agency fancies itself the world's leading authority on light bulbs, shower heads, toilets and kitchen appliances, even though no product the agency has redesigned functions as well as it did before redesign.

Bureaucrats have their noses in every room in an American household, and that's still not enough. So EPA regulators are reaching across the sea into the kitchens and cooking pots of the Third World. On Tuesday the agency announced a series of six federal grants to universities to pay for research in "clean" cooking-stove technology. U.S. taxpayers — who cook with clean natural gas, electricity and microwaves — will pick up the tab for the United Nations' quest for a reduction in cooking-related "pollution," which includes carbon dioxide, the gas all humans exhale that is also the byproduct of a simple fire.

Being poor, many in the developing world depend on wood, charcoal or animal dung to cheaply and safely heat their houses and cook their food. Cooking supper with gathered wood and lighting a match costs nearly nothing, but this option fills certain do-gooders with chilly pangs of guilt. They're afraid the planet will take offense and punish the Earth with warm weather unless Third World cooks use expensive stoves approved by wealthy Westerners.

The justification for such interference is naturally couched in terms of enhancing safety. "This research will help to improve air quality, protect public health and slow climate change," says the EPA, citing World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from primitive stoves and open fires "contributes" to 4.3 million premature deaths a year.

"Contributes" is the deliberately fuzzy bureaucratic word that doesn't mean much. It doesn't count the number who would die without the food and heating provided by stoves that don't have the EPA stamp of approval.

This is the same shortsighted alarmism that inspired Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" 50 years ago, which led to the international ban of DDT, the pesticide that made summer nights comfortable for the first time across a large part of America. This ban eliminated DDT at the cost of millions of lives across Africa and Asia, killed by malaria spread by mosquitoes.

EPA chief Gina McCarthy and Radha Muthiah, executive director of the U.N. Foundation's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, co-hosted a reception Tuesday afternoon to announce the grant recipients. They're clearly looking to the day when every mom in an impoverished country uses a solar panel or a windmill to power the latest in "sustainable" ovens.

Even if redesigning cooking implements for the Third World is a good idea, how is that U.S. taxpayers' responsibility? The U.S. government is $17.5 trillion in debt. Such a worthy scheme ought to be the work of private charities, such as Oxfam and Action Aid, or of worthy philanthropies, such as the Heifer or Clinton foundations.

Government bureaucrats in the United States ought to stay out of the kitchen and leave the fire and the cooking to those who know what they're doing.