FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blackout at the EPA

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

If there were only one agency (and there’s probably not) that has consistently enjoyed the benefits lavished on it by an ignorant president who continuously diminishes its standing in the world of science, it would be the Environmental Protection Agency.  No other agency has so thoroughly given in to the importunings of a president who lives in constant fear of what science might offer if left to its own devices, it being  a branch of knowledge that cannot be controlled by him or Dick Cheney.

A hint of things to come started with Mr. Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. That was an issue he preferred not to address since it addressed something that to Mr. Bush’s way of thinking had no address since it wasn’t the problem others thought it was and, more especially, was a problem he was prepared to address quite differently from the rest of the world.

Then came Christie Whitman’s 2003 departure from the E.P.A. that she headed from the beginning of the Bush administration. Her tenure was marked by criticism from administration critics who thought she did too little to advance regulatory remedies to extant environmental issues, and administration insiders who thought she was doing too much. Irrespective of who was right, her departure marked the beginning of a change at the EPA that continued throughout the rest of the Bush years.

In October 2003 the Agency announced a new set of rules permitting power plants, oil companies and other industries to avoid requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1970 that says, among other things, that industrial plants that upgrade facilities must install modern pollution controls. The 2003 rules provided that so long as the upgrade did not cost more than 20% of the total cost of replacing the entire facility, it would be considered “routine maintenance” rather than an upgrade. In December of that year the EPA announced that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants should not be regulated the same as other toxic air pollutants.  According to the New York Times the proposal would place legally mandated mercury regulation “under a less stringent section of the Clean Air Act that governs pollutants that cause smog and acid rain, which are not toxic to humans.”

In December 2006 we learned of another of the administration’s encounters with science that involved eliminating some of the libraries maintained by the EPA, as effective a way of silencing critics as there is. (Anticipating the departure of George Bush, presumably, on June 17, 2008 the EPA told Congress that the libraries that had been closed were being reopened and books returned whence they’d gone during the Bush sponsored knowledge blackout.)

Concurrent with the library closings the EPA announced a new protocol pertaining to national air-quality standards. Instead of having independent scientists and professional scientists within the EPA set safety standards for various pollutants, staff scientists were instructed to come up with what is called “policy-relevant” science and only after that has been constructed are the professionals permitted to comment.

The most recent skirmish between science and the EPA occurred in December of 2007.  California applied for a waiver from the provisions of the energy bill signed by Mr. Bush in December that established a federal goal to reduce automobile emissions by 40% by 2020.  California wanted to effect a 30 percent reduction by 2016.  EPA staffers believed the waiver should be granted as had other waivers sought by California.  Overruling staff, Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator, said that California’s request did not “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions” and turned down the waiver.

In response to that decision and a decision made in March 2007 to issue smog regulations that were less strict that those recommended by an EPA science advisory board the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began an investigation.  Among other things it wanted to know if the White House had pressured Mr. Johnson.

As part of its investigation the committee subpoenaed more than 10,000 documents.  Twenty-five of the sought after documents were withheld.  It is those that Mr. Waxman and his committee would like to review, believing they may permit the committee to discover the level of involvement, if any, by the White House in the EPA decision.  Mr. Bush refused to turn them over claiming executive privilege. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote a letter to the committee supporting the claim of executive privilege. He said the release of the documents could inhibit the candor of future deliberations among the president and others dealing with political issues. He could have argued that their release would have disclosed George Bush’s ignorance about matters environmental.

That would be a convincing argument since most presidential observers would agree that if anyone were ever to be entitled to claim that ignorance is protected by executive privilege, it would be George Bush.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@postharvard.edu

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail