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

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail