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Bush’s Phony Pollution Accounting

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

This is an appendix.  Not the removable kind.  The kind that adds information to something previously reported.  It is an appendix about George Bush and the EPA.

Last week I told you about some of the things that went on between George Bush, science and the EPA.  In every case George Bush won and science and the EPA lost.  There are two things I didn’t tell you because one of them had not yet been made public and the other is happening as you read this.   Here is what is happening as you read this. George Bush is scampering as fast as he can to make sure coal fired power plants can be built near several national parks.  He isn’t personally scampering.  His EPA is.

According to a recent report, the EPA is proposing a rule change to take effect before George Bush becomes nothing more than a bad memory.  It would alter the way the impact of a new pollution source is calculated when determining if it can be built.  Under the existing rule, peak periods of pollution are used to determine the effect of a new pollution source.  If the pollution source would adversely affect a site at peak period times it could not be built. Under the proposed rule annual averages would instead be used thus making it easier to build polluting power plants near national parks.

Congress has designated 156 national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges as Class-1 areas giving them maximum legal protection.  Senator Lamar Alexander, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate who represents Tennessee, a state that includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says that if the new rule is enacted Congress should promptly enact legislation to overturn it.  In a letter to Stephen Johnson, the EPA Administrator, Mr. Alexander said the proposed rule “provides the lowest possible degree of protection” for those areas.

The EPA disagrees. It says the rules are simply refinements to regulations that measure Class-1 air quality standards.  When the Bush administration, the least refined in United States history, defines something as refined, warning hackles rise.   Mr. Alexander’s hackles are not the only ones that rose.

Federal air-quality experts at both the EPA and the National Park Service describe the proposals as a step backward.  John Bunyak, policy chief at the National Park Service’s planning and permit branch said  the new rule “[C]ould allow additional pollution sources to locate in a particular area, where they wouldn’t have been under the old rule.”  EPA regional staff experts say that the new rule provides “the lowest possible degree of protection” against spikes in pollution.

Echoing the staff experts’ concerns, Mark Wenzler, clean air director of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA),  says the new rule would permit “phony pollution accounting” methods.  The EPA fact sheet, in contrast, says the “proposed rules would provide greater regulatory certainty and reduce complexity without sacrificing the current level of environmental protection.”

According to the NPCA among the threatened national parks are the Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Capitol Reef, Zion Canyon and  Mesa Verde. If the EPA rule takes effect and is not overturned, higher levels of pollution in our national parks will become, together with the war in Iraq, one of the enduring legacies of George W. Bush.  It is, of course, not clear that Mr. Bush is aware of this. Here’s why.

If George Bush gets an email that he doesn’t like he doesn’t open it.  That ‘s what he did with an e-mail report he got from the EPA in December of 2007.  That was the month the EPA responded to a 2007 Supreme Court order that it determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment.  The EPA’s conclusion: greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled.

Someone at the EPA thought such a conclusion should be shared with George “Ignorance is Bliss” Bush.  The EPA could have saved itself the trouble.  When Mr. Bush received the e-mail he hit the reply button on the White House computer and told the EPA its e-mail would  not be opened.  It wasn’t.

As a result the EPA waited six months and then released what the New York Times described as a “watered-down version of the original conclusion contained in the un-opened e-mail that greenhouse gases are a pollutant.”  Instead, according to the NYT,  its recent report simply “reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.”

The paper further says that for five days preceding the report’s release the White House put pressure on the EPA to eliminate large sections of the e-mail it refused to open that supported regulation of greenhouse gases.

Here’s a tip for my readers. Refusing to open e-mails the contents of which you suspect you may not welcome,  may work in George Bush’s White House world.  It’s probably not good practice in the real world of which George Bush is not an inhabitant.

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

 

 

 

 

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