Al Gore’s Statistical Hocus Pocus On Urban Sprawl: Gobbling Up Numbers, Not Open Space

Washington, DC, December 9, 1999 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute charged that Vice President Al Gore’s claim earlier this week of an alarmingly increased rate of suburban development was flatly contradicted by the Statistical Abstract of the United States. In a press release issued this past Monday, the Vice President released new figures that supposedly showed America’s rate of development “more than doubled.” In fact, our rate of development has remained constant.

According to CEI’s David Riggs, Director of Land and Natural Resource Policy, “The Vice President’s estimate is based on two key statistics. When you compare those figures to the Statistical Abstract, it turns out that one of them has been inexplicably raised and the other inexplicably lowered. As a result, the Vice President’s claim of a doubling in the rate of development is simply false—in fact, there’s been no increase in the rate at all.”

The VP cited the newly released National Resources Inventory, which shows developed land to be 105 million acres in 1997, 89 million acres in 1992, and 82 million in 1987. However, the Statistical Abstract shows developed land to be 92 million acres in 1992 and 77 million acres in 1987.

As a result, the VP’s new estimates inflate the average annual rate of land consumption over the 1992 to 1997 period and lower the rate over the 1987 to 1992 period, permitting him to claim that the development rate has doubled. In contrast, the Statistical Abstract shows an average annual increase of 2.6 million acres per year between 1992 and 1997 and an increase of 3 million acres per year between 1987 and 1992—if anything, a decrease in the rate of development.

Riggs concludes, “Gore’s statistics appear to have changed far more than the rural landscape. No one will deny that the amount of developed land in the U.S. has increased – in 1992 about 4.7 percent of our land was developed and in 1997 we were at 5.4 percent. But Gore’s claim of an increase in our rate of development doesn’t tally with other official data sources. Only if you dig into the NRI report itself do you find an admission that the numbers have been fiddled with. The notion of an accelerating suburban development crisis is, perhaps, the latest addition to a growing list of famous Al Gore ‘inventions.’”

CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209.