by Greg Method
I must apologize upfront. This will not be one of those laugh-a-minute, loose-with-the-facts kinda columns this month. In fact, unless you like reading about the environment, you might be quite bored. Consider that a fair warning.
This month, I thought I would delve into a topic that isn't usually associated with the Bush administration. In fact, it's something that's rarely brought up in the press...Bush's handling of the environment.
Now, before I start in on that, I want to elaborate on what I just said. Think about it, how often do Bush's environmental policies make the local news, or Yahoo's sidebar, or 24-hour cable networks starved for material for that matter?? Wouldn't one think that if the media was as "liberal" as Republicans claim it to be, then this would be all over the place like that retarded kid from American Idol? Seriously, what liberal organization wouldn't love to highlight a topic that Bush has been noticeably weak on?
Just think about that the next time you feel the urge to parrot the "liberal media" line.
But anyway...Bush. Environment.
I'm sorry. I was busy laughing for about three minutes.
I gotta level with you. It was so deliciously tempting to just have a really big blank page here this month and title it "Bush's Environmental Policy," but it really is a matter that needs to addressed. Granted right now this very second this issue may not be as important as, say, the 718 U.S. soldiers who were killed because Bush wanted revenge, but if anyone is going to seriously consider which road America should head down in November, then we need to bring up all the major issues.
Truth be told, again, I was actually kinda stuck for a topic to go over. I started writing this month's column in late April, at a time when surprisingly nothing new had come up in the deluded little World of Bush. There were no prisoners being abused, no beheadings, no retards crashing their bicycles. It was pretty much the same old news coming up again and again...recycling, if you will.
And then it hit me as I glanced at the calendar. In honor of Earth Day, I'll look into Bush's environmental policy.
Actually, once again I have to be honest. I don't have Earth Day marked on my calendar, nor do I have it ingrained into my memory like it was Christmas or Jewel's birthday. In fact, I, like a lot of people, used to think "Didn't we already celebrate Earth Day back in 1990 with that really lame TV special??"
But no, it was Earth Day 2004. How did I know? Simple, all the search-engine web sites slightly modified the images on their homepages for the day...and well, Google would only do that if it was for something important, right?
"Ah!" I said to myself in my special "other" voice. "Bush's poor environmental record! That sounds like the perfect light topic to tackle for May! I'll research it briefly and then post it on May 1, padding the small amount of hard facts with graphic insults and dry references comparing Bush to Hitler. After all, since he doesn't do anything about the environment, how bad could it possibly be??"
One month and three days later, I had finally finished my research.
I once made the comment to someone that Bush has done nothing in his presidency...that in fact his entire term in office has been a waste of time and energy. How so wrong I was, as I soon discovered that Bush has done more than just nothing...he has done virtually everything in his power to completely ruin the environment! Every fact and figure I came upon just painted a picture of a president who is the very definition of the words "stingy," "crooked," and "evil." President Scrooge, if you will.
While doing my painfully long bit of research, I decided that I should note and make a record of whatever significant environmental and environment-related acts by Bush and his administration I could find. Covering a timespan from the day of his inauguration to April 11, 2004 (hey, I had to stop somewhere!), I had come across 273 unique acts that I personally felt stood out; acts that would have a significant effect on the environment (good or bad). Now, there were of course many more acts I found, but I also felt that these 273 acts I selected were a nice potpourri of various environmental issues, covering everything from logging to toxic waste.
But of course, I also have respect for my seven readers' valuable time, so I needed to do some major shaving here. I took the 273 acts that I had originally selected and whittled them down into a "lean" 154 acts. I then organized those 154 acts and placed them into fifty-eight very general categories (and I use the word "general" strongly; I would come upon one entry and ask myself "Does this affect forest fires or fish more?"). But even that was too wide of a net, so I did a little more chipping away and subjective deciding and finally came up with a list of the top twenty-five areas where the Bush administration has failed the environment. I can't begin to think of how I was able to do that, start at 273 and end up with only twenty-five, but I don't think I could retrace my steps if I wanted to!
Unfortunately, though, the top twenty-five list is a bit biased, based solely on my rather rudimentary understanding of the environment and the various threats surrounding it. I mean, I'm not an ignoramus when it comes to the environment. I try to conserve electricity and gas and I do recycle cans at home (recycling everything else is a waste of time, people), among other activities, so I like to think I have an "average citizen's" understanding of what is and what isn't important when it comes to the environment and natural resources and how they affect us.
And along the way, I thought some choice quotes from the man himself would add some insight into what's going on inside his head...or lack thereof.
In the list below, dates cited in parentheses indicate when said action was first reported. Also, I'm going to try to be accurate here as far as who did what. Although Bush himself may not have personally done something listed below, keep in mind those who did were either acting under his orders or were appointed by him following a juicy campaign contribution.
Ready? Are you sure? You better go get a drink or go to the bathroom now. I'll wait. Back? Okay, here we go....
25. FIRES - Is it just me, or does it seem like more and more forests have caught on fire in the last decade? It certainly seemed that way in 2002, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered an explanation to the frequency of wildfires.
And who did the department blame? Environmentalists! No, really! It suggested that legal actions and petitions by environmentalists resulted in delays in the U.S. Forest Service's wildfire prevention projects (6/25/02). This very much echoed the opinions of a number of governors in the western half of the country, who had previously tried to blame fires on environmental lawsuits. Republicans seem to have a fear of lawsuits...after all, how dare us meager peasants even suggest that incompetent parties be held responsible for their foul-ups?
What kind of lame scapegoating is that, anyway? Lawsuits are delaying the Forest Service's fire prevention projects?? What, is only one person working there??
Despite the Forest Service having a proven plan to decrease the risk of wildfires spreading into communities (it involves removing smaller trees from forests and decreasing the number of trees near homes on forest boundaries), Interior Secretary Gale Norton offered a solution to the problem of wildfires: use taxpayer money to give logging companies access to public forests. So, the administration's answer is nothing more than a favor to a greedy industry? Big surprise, huh?
Oh, if it was only that simple. About a year later, the Bush administration offered what it called the Healthy Forests Initiative, which included a curious provision that would no longer require environmental studies of any kind before trees in national forests could be logged or burned (5/30/03). That means that a logging company could harvest up to one thousand acres of forest without environmental review or consultation with federal wildlife agencies on potential effects to endangered species. A November 2000 report by the Forest Service had already concluded that logging can elevate fire hazards in a number of ways, so if loggers had what is essentially carte blanche to go after whatever trees they want, as a result communities could be at a greater risk in case of a wildfire.
So, the administration wants to put the interests of the logging industry above both public safety and the health of national forests, all the while ignoring scientific research, keeping environmental experts and the public in general out of the decision-making process, and blaming environmentalists for the current incompetency of the Forest Service.
"The federal government has a crucial role to play in conservation, particularly in managing our national forests, our park system, wilderness areas, and national wildlife refuges."
- Sand Harbor speech, 6/1/00
24. PARKS - Bush and his cronies apparently have a problem with responsibility. They seem to feel that they shouldn't be held accountable for things that happen in this country...especially things concerning "nature" (said in an annoyed groan).
Our country's national parks have been one minor headache for Bush in the last year or so, so he has been slowly trying to sever ties with them. Just last year, the administration made a secret deal to turn over the federal water rights in Colorado's Gunnison National Park to the state, which would then sell the water to cities while depriving the park's wildlife of it (4/3/03). This ended seventy years of the Gunnison River falling under the protection of the government. Just for comparison, Bill Clinton's administration actively prevented states from seizing control of water from federal lands. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said this was a part of the administration letting states determine natural resource policies for federal areas.
Jumping ahead about a year, another specific park was at risk when the Environmental Protection Agency relaxed restrictions of air pollution over North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park (2/13/04), just a year after the EPA had complained that the air quality violated the Clean Air Act! The air didn't change during this time, just the conclusion. Now due to this "updated" estimate of the damage, the EPA has now cleared the way to allow new coal-fired power plants to be built nearby...no doubt signaling that dark times may be ahead for our national parks.
But in a more general case, Bush has been wanting to privatize national parks! I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. National Park Service director Fran Mainella said the administration ordered the agency to sponsor competitions for 808 jobs (at a cost of at least $3 million) and outsource another nine hundred jobs to private companies in fiscal year 2004 (4/4/03). The National Park Service faced the biggest outsourcing order than any other division of the Interior Department. Mainella told a worker at the Interior Department that there would be no way to cover the costs of such an endeavor without it having serious effects on operating schedules and visitor services. At the biggest risk of losing their jobs with the Park Service are approximately one hundred archaeologists who work with over nine hundred national parks and landmarks in the United States and its territories (7/15/03). The administration also threatened to do away with the archaeologists' two bases of operations in Lincoln and Tallahassee. The possibility of hiring archaeologists from private sources (and not even for a cheaper price!) led a number of critics to question if they would in fact put the public's interests first. After all, this order did come from a guy who invaded Iraq for revenge and oil!
Just a month later, Bush himself promised to fix the crumbling national park system. Unfortunately, that promise only consisted of Bush reiterating that he would commit about $2.9 billion to the park system (8/15/03)...and most of that $2.9 billion was already being spent on various other programs in the park system. So he essentially promised to reroute money from one park program to another and nothing much more. By the way, the park system would need a lot more than just $2.9 billion for repairs, as its maintenance backlog was already hovering around the $4.9 billion mark! In fact, the only new money the administration spent for the backlog was a "measly" $370 million, just a seventh of the committed $2.9 billion (and not even a thirteenth of the total needed amount!).
The National Park Service is simply in dire straits as it faces a dwindling number of workers at national parks and a decreased budget, much of which it now has to spend on additional "homeland security" and weather damage repairs. Reports by the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of Concerned National Park Retirees indicate that the agency may have to eliminate wildlife-management programs and shorten visitor hours to just five days a week (3/16/04). Not even the granddaddy of national parks, Yellowstone, will be immune to this financial crisis. Yet the Bush administration wants to keep the budget woes and potential cutbacks on the hush-hush in fear of, according to one Park Service memo, "a public or political controversy."
So much for Bush promising to "fix" things.
23. LAND - Land is precious to us mammals. We live on it, and most of us work and play on it as well. Without land, we'll have nothing to stand on before we sink into the ocean. So land preservation is quite important for us. I recall that great quote by Lewis and Clark, "Stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land." Or maybe that was Lex Luthor.
Anyway, I would like to go over just three instances that show how much Bush cares about land and the animals and people on it, and oddly enough the first two take place during the same summer.
There is a 3,800-acre peninsula in Virginia on Chesapeake Bay called the Crow's Nest that in 2000 was selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become a national wildlife refuge, as it was home to nearly sixty species of animals and migratory birds, not to mention the bald eagle. Unfortunately, the Bush administration decided to veto the designation, explaining that the area supposedly lacks enough rare and endangered species to warrant federal protection (6/19/02). Fish and Wildlife officials later revealed that the real reason had nothing to do with the kinds of animals living there but rather the high operating costs, so the state's residents and politicians soon found themselves scrambling to collect the $18 million that would have been needed to buy the land from the owner, who many feared would eventually develop it into housing.
But perhaps the biggest reason the administration decided on the reversal was because the Crow's Nest designation was made at the tail end of Clinton's administration. Yeah, I know, only a rat bastard would put numerous species of animals at risk out of spite...but then again, only a rat bastard would cash in on a massive terrorist attack to launch a war with an unrelated country.
On the other side of the country, in southern Utah, the administration made plans to allow oil drilling on the area's public lands (8/26/02). The area that was targeted, however, was full of local businesses that benefit from tourism (hotels, restaurants, tour groups, etc.), something the business owners feared would decrease drastically if the eyesore that is drilling equipment was to start dotting the landscape. Fifty-two of these local businesses sent a letter to Bush arguing that while oil brings $1 billion into the state every year, tourism generates over four times that amount. Since Bush is now claiming to support smaller businesses (in yet another attempt to leech onto one of John Kerry's ideas), one must wonder why he wasn't supporting these smaller businesses just a year and a half ago.
And just last month, the administration sold 155 acres of federal land near Crested Butte, Colorado to the Phelps Dodge mining company for just $875 (4/2/04), which was the maximum price allowed due to a restriction on patents in the Mining Act of 1872. However, due to a very vague grandfather clause, this deal was made during a time in which there was supposed to be a nationwide moratorium on new mining patents, thus giving Phelps Dodge an unfair advantage. The company is now able to develop the land as a Molybdenum mine (something the locals had been fighting for three decades) or resell it (and just in case you were wondering, land in the area goes for about $100,000 per one-tenth acre).
In short, if you want to use public land for environmentally sound purposes, you're screwed.
"I don't believe in command and control out of Washington, D.C. I believe Washington
ought to set standards...[now asked if the government should pass new regulations] Sure, absolutely, so long as they're based upon science and they're reasonable; so long as people have input."
- Wake Forest University presidential debate, 10/11/00
22. LIMITS AND FACT-BENDING - I'm going to double-up a bit here, focusing both on ways Bush's administration has tried to weaken its environmental responsibility, and ways it has tried to distort science and facts in the name of doing whatever the hell it wants.
As I have already mentioned, Bush and his team don't like to be in charge of things (that is, unless it's war-related), so it was perhaps no surprise when the Interior Department decided to support H.R. Bill 2114, a bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) that would limit a president's authority to create new national monuments on federal land (7/17/01). Under the proposed bill, a president would now have to discuss a proposed monument with a state's governor and members in Congress, then wait sixty days for public comments, then follow the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate a national monument (and even then it can only be designated if it takes up at least 50,000 acres), and then wait for Congress to ratify the monument before a two-year time limit has been reached (everybody got that?). It was so obviously a way to make it all but impossible for Bush to "protect" federal land, thus allowing it to be sold off to various mining or logging companies in sweetheart deals.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, considering what was to come over the next two years. Bush's budget proposed cutting 270 positions from the EPA's enforcement staff in Washington (7/23/01), resulting in two thousand fewer inspections and one hundred fewer investigations per year. Bush's proposed alternative was to give the states $25 million in grants to run their own environment enforcement agencies, something the EPA had reported in the past had been serious overall failures. In early 2002 Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 included plans for something called "charter forests," which would put a number of federal forests currently controlled by the Forest Service under local management (2/6/02). National park franchises, if you will. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey tried to talk up the benefits of "charter forests" by saying that they would simplify environmental reviews and on-the-ground management, but ultimately it just looked like another step in Bush's goal to privatize national parks, thus relieving his administration of the environmental responsibility. Bush would even defy his daddy's wishes in 2003 by letting the Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) program expire (10/1/03). The first, real President Bush started the ESPC in 1992 as a way for private companies to help taxpayers pay the $4 billion annual bill to power the government. The program promoted energy conservation and efficiency and it helped reduce the annual government energy bills by around $300 million. But no doubt because Clinton extended the program into federal agencies in 1999, Bush II probably once again acted out of spite, thus raising the federal energy bills for taxpayers.
But if one was to explain to Bush the benefits of such a program with actual figures and science, all one would probably get back from him is one of his famous "He's talking over my head, so he must be wrong" smirks. Seriously, the Bush administration (including but not limited to the monkey-faced George) has quite the aversion to that little thing we like to call science. One of Bush's more significant environmental cuts came when he ended the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program, an EPA fellowship program that gave $10 million per year to environmental-science students (4/2/02). Since its inception in 1995 (big surprise again...Bush ends another Clinton-era program), the STAR program had donated a total $60 million, funding nearly eight hundred students. These are students who may become the environmental experts of the next decade, so why exactly would Bush want to cut their funding, hmmm?
The administration's hatred of science came under the spotlight again this past January when the White House Office of Management and Budget made plans to exert power over data on emergency situations, instead of letting federal agencies handle them (1/11/04). This means that the OMB, citing the unspecified needs of "national security," could pick and choose which scientific information it wants to release in conjunction with national emergencies or disease outbreaks. This might or might not have been the catalyst for a massive, damning statement in February from sixty scientists (including twenty Nobel laureates and nineteen National Medal of Science recipients) who accused Bush and his administration of "deliberately and systematically" distorting scientific facts to benefit his own political agenda (2/18/04), thus putting the nation's health, environment, and security at risk. The cited examples included censoring government studies and scientists, unwillingness to consult with experts, appointing federal advisors with ties to various industries, and shutting down government panels after offering contradicting opinions, among others.
Sounds like Bush is the one who's really doing some "fuzzy math."
21. MINING - Okay, I admit it. I have no idea what benefits there are nowadays from coal mining. Is there some secret need for coal-powered items that I just haven't heard about? Are there that many old furnaces and trains in the country that have already depleted our current coal supply, or do all these miners think they'll be able to crush the coal they find into diamonds like in Superman II? Whoa, another Superman reference...that's strange. But anyway, whatever the need there is for coal mining, it has been shown that the environment and health of the people who live in the mining area are usually at risk.
Mountains have often been a prime target for coal mining, yet it wasn't until 2002 that something was done about the huge amounts of waste that result from such excursions. In early May Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II ruled that when the Army Corps of Engineers fill valleys with waste from mountaintop removals, they are in direct violation of the Clean Water Act, as the waste often gets into streams (5/8/02). Haden said that coal companies now have to outline a set post-mining development plan before they are even allowed to obtain a mountaintop-removal permit. Well it was soon leaked out that the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) wanted to veto Haden's reforms, not to mention it also wanted to do away with restrictions on waste size (5/10/02). This is odd considering the agency's own Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which required coal companies to attempt after mining to restore mountains to their original shapes for public use (read: clean up after themselves), was often ignored in the last decade due to a loophole in which companies could simply propose to use the site again for future development. Even more disturbing is that the EPA reported that the OSM wanted to remove that requirement outright from the Environmental Impact Statement that was to be released that summer, thus making it easier for coal companies to obtain mountaintop-removal permits. Not only did the Interior Department (which the OSM is a part of) support this idea, but Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles just happened to be a former mining lobbyist! Sure enough, not even a week later, the Bush administration tried to appeal Haden's ruling, citing economic risks to the coal industry (5/13/02). Department of Justice lawyers tried to get Haden to limit his ruling to just non-mountain coal mining or to just the specific area in Kentucky that prompted his ruling.
This wasn't the only time Bush intervened in an OSM-related situation. Later that year, the OSM attempted to investigate a possible link between coal-mining practices and massive floods in West Virginia. The OSM was planning to send inspectors to over one hundred valleys where mining waste had been dumped. The agency had suggested in September that state environmental officials neglected to regulate such damage. Well, after some complaints from those state officials, who feared that the OSM's findings could lead to further mining regulations, the administration decided to quitely end the investigation (10/28/02).
Mountains weren't the only region at risk in 2002. Back in May, the Bush administration helped out another group of miners, gold miners, by ending a two-year ban on new mining claims in Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest (5/21/02). The 1.2 million-acre area is home to fifteen wild rivers and almost three hundred unique species of plantlife.
But back to coal, and back to the wormy Steven Griles. Just last February, Griles spoke with the coal industry at the National Western Mining Conference in Denver, during which he promised that coal will flourish after Bush's Clear Skies plan was passed (2/10/03). Griles said that three coal-fired power-plant pollutants would be reduced: the smog-causing nitrogen oxide, the acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide, and plain old death-causing mercury. Yet Griles failed to mention that Clear Skies would have even less of an effect on pollution than the current Clean Air Act. Griles also promised that a task force would be created to possibly change provisions in the Mining Law of 1872, such as one that would end up giving states more control over mining on federal lands (in other words, privatizing).
Despite these promises from Bush's troupe to remain loyal to the coal industry, just three months later a four-and-a-half-year scientific study finally concluded that mountaintop-removal coal mining is in fact harmful to the environment (5/30/03). The report cited over seven hundred miles of streams in the Appalachian Mountains buried by waste from mountaintop blasts. Yet instead of enacting new mining regulations based on this study, the administration recommended streamlining the permit-approval process and removing restrictions, which would allow even more waste to be dumped into streams. Not even a year later, the Interior Department proposed lifting even more mining restrictions, which would then allow mining near streams (1/7/04). The agency cited coal companies' "inability" to comply with current mountaintop-mining rules and regulations, yet it failed to be clear how allowing them to mine right near streams would better prevent the damage usually done following mountaintop mining. It sounds very much like a "solution" was created for a problem that didn't exist, doesn't it?
So, why is Bush supporting an industry that studies have proven is harmful to the environment? Well, could it be because in 2000 the coal industry donated $108,821 to Bush's first campaign? Or perhaps it was the $197,159 the industry gave him for this year's election? Nahh... Perhaps maybe then it was the $204,196 that the mining industry gave him in 2000? Hm, then you didn't think instead it could have been the $301,059 that mining gave Bush this year, do you? I dunno, but a total of $811,235 from both the coal and the mining industries just may influence how much or little Bush cares about their effects on the environment. I know, I know, it sounds crazy.
"We ought to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with half the money going to states."
- Wake Forest University presidential debate, 10/11/00
20. BUDGET - Well, you can't very well help the environment if there's no money to fund environmental programs. Let's take a look at how President Scrooge McDuck has tried to whittle environmental spending to a bare minimum.
Right off the bat, Bush's budget for fiscal year 2002 included cuts in environmental and natural resource agencies (4/9/01). A sum of $2.3 billion would be cut, a little over 7 percent of the $32.3 billion spent in 2001 on the environment (or, allowing for inflation, 11 percent). From that sum the EPA and the U.S. Forest Service would lose almost $500 million each and the Department of Interior would lose about $400 million, while the Department of Energy would suffer a $450 million cut apart from the $2.3 billion!
Later in the year, the Office of Management and Budget announced that there would be even more cuts in environmental spending in Bush's budget for fiscal year 2003 (11/28/01). OMB Director Mitch Daniels explained that homeland security was now taking preference, although many instead believed the problem was due Bush's depleting the $127 billion national surplus with his $1.5 trillion tax cuts to the rich, which happened long before 9/11.
Bush's 2003 budget contained additional environmental cuts and monetary shifts, referring to environmental education as "ineffective" (2/4/02). The budget included a proposal to end the EPA's Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program that funded graduate students to be able to do environmental research (2/3/02). As you probably read earlier, Bush did end up eliminating this program (4/2/02), which only required one tenth of the EPA's total budget. The 2003 budget would further decrease overall environmental spending, lowering it to $28.3 billion, while the administration's proposed energy policy would rely heavily on fossil fuels and giving billions of dollars in taxpayer money to energy companies.
Budget cuts would affect another EPA program later in the year, as Bush's administration approved of slashing funds going to the Superfund program (6/30/02). Launched in 1980, the Superfund program cleans up toxic waste from sites that had been abandoned by polluting companies by levying taxes on the responsible industries. At this point in time, thirty-three waste sites in eighteen states were posing health and environmental risks to nearby communities. EPA regional offices asked the administration for $450 million to clean up the sites. They received only $228 million. The EPA reported that the program was facing an $82.4 million cut for the rest of the year. The administration's offered alternative, no longer under the "polluter pays" ideology, was to have taxpayers pay the cleanup costs. Yeah, the taxpayers, not the industries that caused it. Under the Bush administration, only forty-seven Superfund sites (of a projected number of sixty-five) were cleaned up in 2001.
Who needs to have well-funded environmental agencies anyway? What's the worst that could happen??
19. POLLUTION - Cutting loose the Superfund program wasn't the only favor Bush has given to polluters. His administration has a long history of helping industries and companies that have been poisoning the air and land.
As you may have read earlier, Bush decided that all we need for clean air are regulations on three power-plant pollutants: mercury, sulfur, and nitrogen oxide. Unfortunately his plan allowed for even more emissions of these three over the next decade (2/14/02). That means that until new cleanup standards are implemented in 2012, there will be three times more mercury emissions, 50 percent more sulfur emissions, and hundreds of thousands more tons of nitrogen oxide.
Another source of pollution is diesel. Actually, diesel-powered off-road equipment, which air-pollution studies conclude emit fine-particle pollutants that can lodge into lungs and cause heart disease and asthma, among other diseases...resulting in over 8,500 premature deaths annually. Off-road equipment produces more of these particles than all of the diesel cars, trucks, and buses combined. To solve this problem, the EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget collaborated on a plan that would not force mandatory reduction regulations for equipment manufacturers, but rather would only reward voluntary reductions (6/7/02). So Bush's environmental policy is nothing more than the "honor system??"
The "honor system" better work, because the EPA is scaling back on its own enforcement staff. The agency had whittled away 7 percent of the staff, or 210 positions, while criminal and civil penalties against industries have dropped significantly (by one third and one half, respectively) (1/29/03), not to mention a plan to shut down numerous criminal-enforcement field offices (7/7/03). Changes like these are already resulting in much fewer on-site inspections by the EPA, as the 21,417 in 2000 dropped to only 17,688 in 2002.
In fact, the EPA had already announced that it will not regulate dioxins from land-applied sewage sludge, the second leading source of dioxin exposure in the United States (10/17/03). Dioxin builds up in the fatty tissues of humans and animals and is a leading cause of cancer, neurological or immune system damage, or even behavioral disorders (hell, Agent Orange was dioxin-based!). Over 5.6 million tons of sewage sludge is disposed of each year, and 85 percent of it is used to grow crops that enter the food chain. In case we didn't have enough specific worries, just a month later the EPA was considering to exempt small businesses from reporting disposal of toxic substances (11/12/03), something that is required under the Toxic Release Inventory program. Instead, the EPA was open to the idea of raising the minimum amount of certain substances and chemicals before a business would have to report it. Nice to know the EPA is really looking out for your health, huh?
18. ENERGY - Yes, yes, many of the other topics covered here can fall under the very general category of "energy"...after all, finding a safe, renewable energy is one of the major goals of the environmental movement. But actually, this part will be singling out one very specific energy-related problem: the incompetency of the Energy Department.
Bush was already dooming energy research just months into his administration. Even though he made a pledge to spend $85.7 million for energy efficiency research in fiscal year 2002 (6/28/01), his proposed budget to Congress had already cut $180 million from such research, about 30 percent of what the current budget allowed. So essentially Bush just lowered his planned cuts from $180 million to $94.3 million. It's obvious Bush was trying to come off as an "environmentally concerned" "president" while not having to spend any new money at all.
Let's jump ahead a year and look at a provision of the Senate energy bill. Under the bill, by 2020 power companies would have to meet a quota of producing 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources. This would result in about 74,000 megawatts of renewable energy being produced, enough to power 53 million homes. According to the federal Energy Information Agency, it would also result in saving consumers over $13 billion in energy bills. Sounds nice, doesn't it?
So why exactly would Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham send a letter to Congress on behalf of the administration to oppose this new energy standard (7/19/02)? Wouldn't the government's energy secretary understand the importance of such reforms?? It couldn't possibly be because the biggest losers in these new regulations would be the coal, oil, and nuclear industries, would it?? Hmmm...
And how ironic that the Energy Department would come under fire on Cinco de Mayo for illegally granting cross-border transmission line permits to two Mexican power plants just south of the California border (5/5/03). A San Diego federal judge ruled that the department did not adequately review the facilities to fully consider the environmental impacts of such an endeavor, which later studies showed would include increased salinity in the Salton Sea and emissions of gases such as ammonia. The Energy Department had originally decided that the power plants would not in fact have an impact on the area's air or water.
And finally, just to show the administration's hypocrisy, last year the aforementioned Energy Secretary Abraham made a number of public appearances to promote energy conservation, consumer products that reflect renewable energy, and tax breaks for energy efficiency programs (7/9/03). This would actually have been something to applaud if not for the fact that just a week before, the EPA cut one third of the funding from the Energy Star program, which was launched in 1992 by the EPA and the Energy Department to provide a federal seal of approval on energy efficient consumer products. These cuts also affected federal grants to numerous energy conservation groups that had helped promote the program.
It's quite curious that such a cut would be made, considering the administration's supposed focus on energy efficient consumer products. How exactly is one supposed to know which ones are which if that same administration makes it harder to distinguish such products??
Ah, the Energy Department...keeping Americans in the, ahem, dark since January 2001.
17. DRILLING - Oil, that tarry, sticky, black goo, is kinda like Charlton Heston. It's been around for years, it's caused nothing but trouble, all it would take to make it obsolete is one or two new laws, everyone knows the day will come when we won't have to worry about it anymore, and yet for the time being people support it and treat it like a deity. Unfortunately for whatever reason, oil is still being used for energy in a number of ways. But instead of trying to create initiatives that would decrease oil use and promote renewable energy, Bush would rather just help out his favorite industry by looking for newer places for companies to drill for even more oil.
In the summer of 2001 Bush would target two specific offshore sites for new drilling, despite the potential negative effects on the areas' environments. The administration wanted to offer new drilling leases that would cover the eastern Gulf of Mexico along Florida's coastline (7/2/01), even though the western and central regions of the gulf are where most of the oil can be found. Drilling off the coastline would cause oil spills, waste disposal, and wetland disruption to threaten Florida's waters and beaches, and therefore weaken the state's economy.
The other area where Bush wanted to drill was off the coast of California. Standing in the way that year was U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, who ruled that the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) did not comply with the Coastal Zone Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which is required under federal environmental laws to allow for public opinion, before extending thirty-six undeveloped oil leases targeting the area (6/22/01). The administration soon vowed to appeal the ruling (8/17/01), thus taking away a state's rights to its own land. The struggle became so great that a year later, the state's then-governor Gray Davis asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to buy back the oil leases in question. Norton rejected the offer (6/7/02), even though just the month before Norton's department did buy back a number of oil leases from Florida...just coincidentally enough right when governor Jeb Bush was funding his own re-election campaign.
In 2002 Bush turned to public lands for potential drilling sites. Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke told Congress that in additional to over fifty other sites in the continental United States, her bureau was focusing on five basins in the Rocky Mountains where both the oil and natural gas industries have expressed interest in drilling (4/18/02), one of which is home to over 100,000 deer, moose, sheep, elk, and other wildlife and was protected from drilling by the Bureau of Land Management during President Clinton's term. Later in the year the National Park Service permitted BNP Petroleum Corp. to drill on Padre Island National Seashore (11/22/02), an island off the southern coast of Texas that is home to eleven endangered species such as the world's smallest sea turtle (which would be at risk due to the transport of machinery). It would be the first national park in Bush's term to be opened for drilling. And just a year ago, citing a fictional shortage of our natural gas supply, the Interior Department announced plans to allow for increased drilling on federal lands (6/24/03).
But wait a minute. Isn't there a long, involved process a drilling company must go through in order to obtain a new permit, a process that requires extensive research on potential effects to a proposed site's environment and wildlife? Well, there won't be any more if Bush has his way! In May 2001, just months after entering office, Bush set up a task force to look into ways to streamline the permit process to allow for increased drilling (4/18/02), which would allow more and more energy companies to go after land without fully considering environmental effects. In 2001 the administration granted 3,800 drilling permits, the most in one year since 1988. Currently it takes forty-six days for the Bureau of Land Management to approve a permit with current environmental laws and regulations. Well, the administration is now forcing the BLM to alter a number of regulations in order to "speed up" the permit process (12/23/03).
Why is Bush's team doing this, putting the environment at risk to help out drilling companies? Well, it's not to increase the already $10 billion the government receives in annual royalties from the energy industry, since ol' Gale Norton outlined a plan to actually reduce the amount drilling companies would have to pay for working on offshore sites (3/26/03). So, what is it?
You don't suppose it's because the energy industry, which includes the oil and natural gas companies that would benefit from such environmental reform, gave Bush $2,937,268 for his 2000 campaign, do you? Hmm, or what about the $3,191,058 the industry has given Bush for this year's campaign? I dunno, but perhaps a sum of $6,128,326 just might influence Bush's environmental decisions.
Nah...because that would only mean that he doesn't care!
"I appoint qualified board members."
- Bush's Texas gubernatorial web site, 12/31/98
16. APPOINTING - As I mentioned at the start of this, Bush isn't acting alone when he rewrites the country's environmental policy, but let's take a brief look at the people he's selected to "help"...and we'll find a group of self-centered, corrupt "experts."
To direct the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Bush nominated a professor named John Graham (3/6/01), a known opponent to health, safety, and environmental standards and laws. John's resume includes a stint as director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, an easily swayed research group that often favored the positions of the industries that funded it. Yeah, an obviously biased guy with connections to industry is the perfect choice to be in charge of federal regulatory policy!
For undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, Bush nominated one Mark Rey (7/10/01). A former employee of two anti-environment Republican senators, Larry Craig of Idaho and Frank Murkowski of Alaska, Rey has helped the timber industry in a number of ways. He had worked as a lobbyist for such groups as the National Forests Products Association, the American Forests Resources Alliance, and the American Forest and Paper Association; supported legislation to allow logging in national forests; and opposed conservation measures that protect natural resources. So, the guy Bush wants to play a major role in the Department of Agriculture is a hero to the industries that want to destroy agriculture?!? What, was Lex Luthor busy??
Yeah, I know, another Superman reference. I'm sorry.
Speaking of friends of the timber industry, Bush appointed industry lawyer Mark Rutzick as senior legal advisor to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (4/7/03), which handles legal matters concerning natural resources in the western half of the country, particularly those affecting twenty-seven species of salmon that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, this Rutzhead used to represent such clients as the American Forest Resource Council, which had Mark file lawsuits against logging limits that protected wildlife! Throughout the 1990s, Rutzick also filed lawsuits challenging the protection of the spotted owl, challenging the inclusion of the marbled murrelet to the Endangered Species Act, and challenging the Northwest Forest Plan. Oh yeah, here's a real wildlife fan!
And what about the new head of the Interior Department's wildfire prevention program, the Healthy Forests Initiative, one Allan Fitzsimmons (8/30/02)? Well, in 1999 Fitzy wrote that ecosystems are just a figment of people's imaginations, so federal policy shouldn't be used to protect them. You think that's bad? He also wrote that threatened and endangered species should be allowed to go extinct so that other, currently thriving species can flourish. This is the person Bush wants in charge of wildfire prevention! He's essentially Allan Fitzbeavis!
Of course, Bush had to get his slimy hands on the EPA, so he nominated Republican Utah governor Mike Leavitt to head it up (8/11/03). Not only did Leavitt share Bush's desires to change mandatory environmental laws to voluntary and to make states in charge of pollution enforcement rather than the federal government, but as governor he also secretly negotiated with Bush's administration to leave over 200 million acres of public land unprotected, and he oversaw the firing of state biologists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
But actually, it would be unfair to say that Bush has only appointed people...he also replaced them, too! In the late summer of 2002, a number of the Department of Health and Services' scientific advisory committees, which were researching such environmental concerns as the effects of chemicals on human health, were coming up with results that didn't jive with either Bush's views or the views of the various industries that had supported him. So, Bush had them either fired or moved them to other department divisions (9/17/02). The changes were putting over 250 different committees in jeopardy...and all because they (gasp!) didn't agree with Bush!
I thought he was supposed to be a "compassionate" conservative?
15. WASTE - Yes, waste. And no, I don't mean "waste" as in "throw that into the waste paper basket" or "Everybody Loves Raymond is such a waste of Peter Boyle's talent." I mean as in waste waste...be it toxic or radioactive. In fact, for this section I would like to reprint the dialogue from Bush, Waste, and You, an animated educational film that was supposed to be produced last month by the Energy Department but has been put on hold....
Hi friends! I'm Clumpy the Toxic Waste Particle! Now, now, I know a lot of you cringe when you hear the words "toxic waste," but you have nothing to fear from your old pal Clumpy! Thanks to President Bush, you'll be seeing lots more of me and all my chemical waste friends!
Why, did you know that President Bush asked the Department of Energy to spend the better part of 2001 and 2002 to find out if nuclear waste could be recycled into everyday consumer products (8/28/01)? 'Tis true, ol' friends! Even though radioactive recycling has been banned, President Bush had a plan to take waste from decommissioned nuclear plants and weapons facilities and recycle it into scrap metal! The scrap metal would then be used to make consumer products such as lawn chairs, zippers, and braces. Wow, just think how close you'd be to all of my nuclear waste friends like Tumor and Hairless!
But that's not all! Folks in Nevada will be even closer to my contaminated friends now that President Bush, citing homeland security, has supported Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's suggestion to dump 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste beneath Yucca Mountain, just one hundred miles northwest of Las Vegas (2/15/02)! Boy, that'll sure make the Strip brighter!
Of course, President Bush is committed to cleaning up waste at old nuclear weapons sites, but gosh darn it, sometimes it's just too much of a mess that some corners will need to be cut! In fact, the Energy Department made plans to spend $1.1 billion in 2003 for a new abbreviated cleanup program (7/19/02), which would involve no longer transporting all the waste elsewhere, allow itself to reclassify 100 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste as "incidental" waste, and bury tanks of radioactive waste in shallow graves near groundwater supplies in Washington, Idaho, and South Carolina! Soon you'll be drinking all my friends, too!
And just in case you're worried that you'll see less and less of me, the EPA has made plans to relax waste disposal requirements by reclassifying certain industrial materials (10/23/03)! Currently, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires that all industrial toxic waste must be recycled, but you know how often rules get in the way! So instead, the EPA will allow much of this waste to be simply tucked away, right near your soil and water supplies. So don't worry...just TRY and get rid of me!
But that's still not all! The EPA recently proposed to allow radioactive waste to be dumped into your local landfill (11/18/03)! This will not only expose you and your family to some of my friends such as cesium, cobalt, and plutonium, but it will also save the nuclear industry all those tedious waste-disposal costs! In fact the EPA has just approved Environmental Disposal Systems to store me and the rest of my toxic waste buddies in wells around Michigan (3/16/04)! Yep, the EPA wants me, Clumpy the Toxic Waste Particle, to start rubbing elbows with one of the ten most populated states in the country!
Boy, what a time to be toxic waste! Thank you, President Bush...thank you!
Oh well, at least it's nice to know that Michael Eisner is trying to keep his animators busy.
14. THE OZONE LAYER - There is a fifth dimension, not only of sight and sound but of mind. There's the signpost up ahead! Your next stop, The Ozone. Yeah, yeah, that was cheesy, but hey after reading and writing all this stuff so far, I'm starting to see imaginary Dustin Hoffmans going through my pantry...so the least you can do is stomach a quick, not unclever Twilight Zone reference.
There are many chemicals and elements that have damaged the ozone layer, the oxygen-based gas blanket that covers the planet and protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, but one that has been particularly focused on in recent years is methyl bromide, a highly toxic pesticide primarily used by tomato and strawberry farmers in California and Florida to kill worms, insects, rodents, and diseases. It proved to be such a threat that in 1987 the United States and 182 other countries signed the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that required a 50 percent reduction in methyl bromide use until January 1, 2003, and then a 70 percent reduction until January 1, 2005, at which point all methyl bromide production was to end except in cases where there are no safer alternatives. Sounds like it's on its way out then, right?
Not even a month after the first deadline date, the administration vowed to seek waivers for a number of industries that want to illegally continue using the chemical (1/30/03). Agriculture industry lobbyists argued that a methyl bromide ban would reduce harvest while farmers looked for proper alternatives (because, you know, they haven't had a whole decade to look for that!). The administration requested fifty-four individual exemptions from the production phase-out (2/7/03), exemptions that would make up a total of 39 percent of the current production level, 9 percent more than the treaty now permits. In fact, they want 21.9 million pounds to be produced in 2005 and another 20.8 million in 2006, after the complete ban was to take place! So essentially Bush wants an increase of methyl bromide use from what the current international treaty allows! And all this time I thought Bush was trying to continue Reagan's legacy!
The United States' backpedaling on the treaty was discussed in an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where the administration refused to decrease its request for the controversial exemptions (11/14/03). Both sides of the argument could not reach a compromise, leading it to a stalemate that isn't currently scheduled to be resolved until this November. And just months ago, the administration added to its 2005 production request, upping it to 23 million pounds (3/3/04)!
So if you should develop skin cancer at some point in 2007, be sure to remember who helped make it happen.
13. RESIGNATIONS - A few minutes ago, we looked at the number of anti-environment people Bush either appointed or endorsed to various environmental posts. Now, let's go over the number of pro-environment federal employees who have resigned over Bush's actions!
The year 2002 saw the most significant resignations, starting with the head of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, Eric Schaeffer (2/27/02). Protesting the administration's efforts to weaken emissions standards for power plants, Schaeffer accused the Energy Department of helping the power industry by obstructing the EPA's enforcement of New Source Review rules, which require power plants and oil refineries to install newer pollution controls with every upgrade. As a favor to the industries, Dickhead Cheney's "energy task force" called for changes to these rules. Schaeffer said the EPA was "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."
The EPA suffered another loss two months later with the resignation of ombudsman Robert Martin (4/22/02), who would act as an independent representative for public citizens on the agency's various cleanup actions...a sort of public liaison, if you will. Unfortunately, the law that Congress passed to create such a position expired in 2001, so Martin was often clashing with EPA Administrator Christine Whitman over plans to weaken his investigative authority.
In the meantime, Martin was investigating two different matters. Remember the Superfund program from earlier in this column, which essentially gave the EPA power to financially charge polluters for not cleaning up sites? Well, one such site in Denver was owned by the Citigroup corporation, and the cleanup costs were estimated to be somewhere between $70 million and $100 million. Oddly enough, though, when Citigroup and the EPA reached a settlement, the company only had to pay $10 million to get off scott free. In the other case Martin was investigating, Manhattan citizens were complaining about breathing problems and other illnesses related to the World Trade Center collapse. Apparently the firm that insured many of the neighboring buildings, Traveler's Insurance, was not responding to any health claims. In his research, Martin found out that Traveler's Insurance was owned by none other than Citigroup. Even more concerning, Martin learned that a former officer of the corporation, and its current multimillion dollar investment manager, just happens to be married to one Christine Whitman! Whitman would later issue an EPA statement that New Yorkers were supposedly under no health risk due to the destruction. Wow...what a coincidence that she would continually stick up for the company her husband works for, eh?
Not only did Whitman transfer Martin to the agency's Inspector General's Office, but while returning from a trip Martin also found that all of his files were removed and his office was locked up. Having finally had enough, Martin left.
That summer, yet another EPA officer resigned in protest, this time its top enforcement deputy. After spending twenty-four years with the agency, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Sylvia Lowrance left following the administration's attempts to obstruct litigation against the utility sector for violating federal air pollution standards (7/25/02). Pointing out the corruption in the administration, Lowrance later stated that companies are no longer settling cleanup cases with the EPA because they think Bush will simply create new rules and regulations that they will be able to slip through (10/16/02). In fact, since Bush took office, the EPA has only initiated two new pollution settlements.
The EPA lost yet another senior official a year later with the resignation of Bruce Buckheit, director of the air enforcement division and a thirty-year veteran of the agency (12/23/03). Echoing the concerns of the other departed EPAers, Buckheit left in protest over the administration's new strategy against utility companies that violate the Clean Air Act's New Source Review rules. Senior enforcement managers were informed in November that the administration was now requiring extensive individual reviews on every single pending and still-unfiled pollution investigation to see if they do in fact fall under the EPA's new Clean Air Act regulations. Of course, as you may remember, Cheney wants there to be New Source Review reform. So why would Bush want there to be extensive reviews when his vice president is set to make major changes to the rules?? Hmm, it almost sounds like a stalling tactic to protect the targeted industries that had contributed to Bush's campaign, doesn't it?
And finally, although not EPA-related (for a change!), this past April saw court-appointed investigator Alan L. Balaran resign (4/6/04). Balaran was investigating a two-decade-old discrepancy in how much money the Interior Department owed Native Americans in land royalties. In one example, the department arranged for a New Mexico gas company to pay only $4.50 a yard for a pipeline on Indian-owned lands, while at the same time having to pay $104 a yard to private landowners. In 2003 the Interior Department destroyed paperwork detailing this practice, and recently they ordered Balaran to stop his investigation outright.
Driving respected government officials out of jobs because they were reporting corruption in the administration...it must be Bush's new way to create jobs.
12. LOGGING - For some reason, logging is one of those issues one would think could be discussed and decided upon very easily, but it isn't. I'm of the belief that yes, we need paper and wood and there is nothing wrong with using trees for that purpose...BUT, that's why we have tree farms. There are trees that are specifically grown to be used for lumber and paper, just like how we raise chickens and cows for food and grow vegetables. The only drives there seem to be now for logging are greed and impatience. So anyway, this next section isn't so much about the pros and cons of logging as it is about the methods and locations of this "activity," and the "president" who has helped it along.
The year 2002 was ripe with Bush's promises and gifts to the timber industry. His proposed budget for the Forest Service for fiscal year 2003 outlined $404 million to be spent to increase timber sales by increasing logging in national forests (2/4/02). The goal for 2003 was to increase sales from 1.4 billion board feet to two billion! Just two months later Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth recommended changes to 1994's landmark Northwest Forest Plan (4/8/02), which banned logging in the region's old-growth federal forests as a way to protect the spotted owl and other endangered forest species. The plan was originally enacted after a century and a half's worth of logging had destroyed 90 percent of the owl's habitat. So pretty much the Forest Service now wants to put one of the country's most endangered species at risk to sell more timber.
Bush targeted national forests again that summer, this time hiding behind the guise of fire safety. While in Oregon, Bush unveiled a new forest management plan that would alter environmental rules to allow companies to increase logging in forests (8/22/02). Bush stated that "extensive thinning" of forests and "streamlining" environmental laws will help reduce the risk of fires. Unfortunately, loggers only want the larger, more fire-resistant trees in the forests. So Bush's plan is to let the timber industry take away the trees that could help contain wildfires. Besides, if you have been reading this column from the start, you know that the Forest Service already uses a number of proven fire prevention methods. So if there is already an effective system in place, why would Bush even need to propose such a new plan? Hmm, 'tis a mystery.
Fortunately, Congress rejected Bush's new forest plan that December, but the administration quickly shot back with a secret proposal to again "streamline" environmental rules on logging (12/11/02), rules that would shut out public opinion and eliminate the reviews that are required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Repeating Bush's previous forest management plan, under the new rules, any kind of logging could now be counted as "reducing fire risk," while public opposition to a logging project can only be voiced during early hearings and administrative appeals would now have strict deadlines.
The topic of the Northwest Forest Plan came back in the fall after the administration settled a lawsuit filed by the timber industry that accused the plan of containing "unnecessary" wildlife protections (9/30/02). The administration agreed to weaken environmental restrictions to allow for more logging on federal land. Those restrictions include such supposedly cumbersome and expensive "survey and manage" rules as researching the effects on all the local wildlife. In fact, the administration even proposed removing the plan's "aquatic conservation strategy" (11/25/02), a requirement that specifically considers the effects logging has on a habitat's salmon population, much of which is considered to be threatened or endangered in the Pacific Northwest.
Wildlife continued to be at risk throughout 2003. Still using "fire safety" as an excuse, in January the Interior and Commerce Departments issued guidelines to increase logging in order to (hold onto your hats) help endangered species (1/14/03). The administration actually went on record to say that in the interest of supposedly reducing risk of fire, the interests of the timber industry should take priority over the well-being of wildlife. And sure enough, that spring the administration caved into pressure from Oregon timber companies to do away with the aforementioned "survey and manage" rules of the Northwest Forest Plan (5/23/03). This pretty much cleared the way (no pun intended) for loggers to have access to the region's old-growth federal forests without any regard to the area's plants or wildlife, thus putting endangered species such as the aforementioned spotted owl at greater risk. In fact, the administration also caved into industry demands to reconsider the federal protection eligibility of such species as the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.
All of these settlements and favors accumulated with Bush signing into law his Healthy Forests Initiative (12/4/03), a more "official" version of the forest management plan he proposed the year before. A pro-industry "forest management" measure that again hides under the veil of fire prevention, the law allows timber companies to essentially log whatever trees they want without factoring in the effects to either wildlife or nearby communities. The law limits both environmental review and public feedback on new logging projects, not to mention allowing legal challenges to be rushed through courts. Healthy Forests also violates the Endangered Species Act by allowing federal land management agencies to no longer have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on potential effects to endangered plants or wildlife.
Not surprisingly, Bush has been paid quite well to help out the timber companies. In 2000 the forestry and forest products industry contributed $298,500 to his first campaign (more than any other politician that year), and this year it has given Bush $481,271. That's a total of $779,771 that he has received from the industry determined to rid the country of every last tree.
How ironic that someone named Bush isn't siding with trees. What a weed.
11. 9/11 - Bush has done a lot of slimy things using September 11 and "homeland security" as an excuse, from the Patriot Act to the Iraq war. But surely he wouldn't stoop to using that to put our health and environment at risk, right? Ho, ho, ho! You don't know him very well then, do ya?
Not even a year after the attacks, the administration was endorsing a proposed House bill that would protect private companies from public discourse and civil liability laws...provided they volunteer information of their infrastructures to the government in the name of "homeland security" (7/26/02). The bill also contained an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act, as it would forbid the government from releasing information to the public on a company's environmental and health hazards, product defects, and even chemical spills! So companies will be immune from environmental, consumer protection, and health and safety laws as long as they submit basic company info to the government. Much of these questionable provisions were adopted by the administration when it later drafted its own antiterrorism bill, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (2/25/03).
The government wasn't even waiting for such a bill to pass before hiding pollution behind "national security." Responding to concerns from the Washington Department of Ecology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to release information on massive oil spills at its hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest (4/8/03). The corps's Northwest Division Commander David Fastebend said that informing the public would "create a national security risk" because the dams "have been identified as potential terrorist targets." The corps had previously said that it had no obligation to report the spills to environmental officials, even though such refusal was in violation of both federal and Washington state water quality laws.
That fear of another terrorist attack would come into play later that month with two conflicting proposed chemical security bills (4/24/03). Although many chemical plants have added security guards and surveillance cameras, and others have started to phase out the use of unnecessary toxic chemicals, most still resort to using large amounts of dangerous chemicals...chemicals that, if a plant is attacked, pose as great of a health risk as a widespread biological attack, according to the U.S. Army.
New Jersey's Democratic senator Jon Corzine introduced a bill requiring chemical companies to reduce such health risks outright, while at the same time holding the government responsible for oversights in the review process. Well, of course that didn't fly, because you know how much the administration hates to be held accountable for anything. The bill that both the Bush administration and the chemical industry did favor, though, was one introduced by Oklahoma's Republican senator James Inhofe. Inhofe's proposed bill not only doesn't require companies to look for safer alternatives to toxic chemical use or government review, but it also forbids the EPA from inspecting the plants! Well, you can see how this would make us all so much safer.
Bush's most recent ass-wiping of September 11, that is from an environmental point of view, came almost two years to the date after the tragedy. An EPA investigation revealed that administration officials ordered the agency to downplay the dangers of air pollution following the collapse of the Twin Towers (9/9/03). Citing an absence of sufficient data and national security concerns, the EPA assured that the air around the World Trade Center site was safe to breathe, even though it contained high levels of benzene, lead, mercury, PCBs, asbestos, fiberglass, and other materials. This new investigation reported that after involvement by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, "guidance for cleaning indoor spaces and information about potential health effects from W.T.C. debris were not included in the EPA's issued press releases."
Well it's a good thing then that we aren't allowed to know about health risks...because then the terrorists have won.
But enough about Bush.
"Prosperity will mean little if we leave to future generations a world of polluted air, toxic lakes and rivers, and vanished forests."
- Washington Post, 4/4/00
10. BALLISTIC: CLEAN AIR VS. CLEAR SKIES - In 1970 Congress passed what is known as the Clean Air Act, a federal law that regulates and reduces air pollution. For three decades, the Clean Air Act has worked to successfully decrease power-plant emissions of lead, sulfur dioxide, and even carbon monoxide by such measures as setting air quality standards and allowing the EPA to prosecute plants that don't comply. Sounds like an effective tool in the fight to help our environment and health, right? Yet, since February 2002 Bush has tried to dismantle the law with his own weaker legislation, the Clear Skies Initiative. I know, I know, it sounds like a bad sequel, but remember who we're talking about here.
Problems in Bush's plan were showing up as early as that April, when an EPA report stated that coal use by electric power companies would increase by 7.3 percent (4/17/02). In fact, the plan would call for a 79 million ton coal increase by 2020, while at the same time supposedly reducing sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions by 73 percent by 2018. So, Bush's big, new plan is to increase smoke??
I should point out that Bush's Clear Skies plan is meant to replace the Clean Air Act, for some unknown reason. Even the EPA couldn't figure out the motives behind it, as the agency offered an alternative anti-pollution proposal that not only would co-exist with the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws, but would also be more effective than Bush's plan and in less time (4/28/02). One notable example is the EPA's proposed plan to limit the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions to two million tons by 2010, versus Bush's goal of three million tons by 2018.
I'm not exactly sure what the point is of the 2018 deadline, especially since current Clean Air Act laws give a 2010 deadline for numerous toxic pollutants. Under Clear Skies, sulfur dioxide use would still be one-and-a-half times higher than Clean Air allows, as also would be nitrogen oxide use, while mercury use would still be five times higher than allowed in Clean Air (2/27/03). And that's just until the 2018 deadline, as allowed levels after that would still be higher under Clear Skies. And just to show how little concrete evidence there is to illustrate the benefits of Clear Skies, when the EPA started backing the plan with figures on levels of the three targeted pollutants in Washington state, the state's regional office responded by saying that the EPA's data was incorrect (3/10/03)! In fact, state air officials predicted that under Clear Skies sulfur dioxide, mercury, and nitrogen oxide pollution would increase significantly (mercury by up to 88 percent)!
Clear Skies support sorta took a backseat as the EPA concentrated on the other half of Bush's evil scheme, weakening the Clean Air Act. After some nitpicking over individual rules, that summer the agency removed the New Source Review provision of the law (8/27/03), which required facilities to install up-to-date pollution-controlling equipment whenever they make other upgrades. It was essentially forcing companies to always consider the environment when adding something new. By removing this, the EPA created a loophole that would exempt 17,000 power plants from complying, regardless of environmental or health risks. It has been suspected that this change was also made because defendants in numerous New Source Review violation cases that the Justice Department was prosecuting just happened to have been major GOP contributors and allies with Dickhead Cheney's "energy task force"...and well, we all know how much Cheney's buddies hate getting caught for doing things.
Not surprisingly, the administration was trying to sabotage the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act by trying to halt the cases that violated it. You read earlier how numerous EPA officials resigned in disgust over the agency's newfound inability to enforce the law. In the meantime, Clear Skies has been stuck in Congress, and there hasn't been any real news on it since last July.
The administration isn't just worried about getting rid of the Clean Air Act when it comes to air pollution issues. Back in late 2002, the Interior Department reversed its findings that air pollution from a proposed coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky would obstruct the view at Mammoth Cave National Park (11/9/02). The Peabody Energy Corp. wanted to build a massive 1,500-megawatt plant just fifty miles away from the park. The Interior Department originally opposed the idea after learning that such a power plant would worsen the already polluted air around the park. Yet it was soon discovered that Peabody was a major contributor to Bush's first presidential campaign, so guess what happened? The power-plant plan was given a thumbs up by Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles...and we all remember him, don't we? You know, the former coal lobbyist??
And in the end, it all goes back to filthy black air, this time smog. The EPA proposed to dilute its 1997 smog standards by weakening and delaying the cleanup requirements for thirty-five metropolitan cities (5/14/03). The agency's plan would give industries and local governments an extra year than current regulations allow to bring their areas up to code, in the meantime putting 47 million citizens at risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
So go ahead and take a deep breath of fresh air now, because in George Bush's America, it may be your last.
"[I] brought industry together and said, 'Get into compliance.'"
- New York Times, 11/9/99
9. CORRUPTION - If you've been reading this column in its entirety up until this point, you may have noticed a certain "quirk" keeps showing up in Bush's environmental policy. It seems that instead of relying on scientific data or looking out for our health, the administration is more worried about protecting the interests of its various contributors. I know, that's a no-brainer when it comes to the Republican Party, but can an effective environmental policy really be based on industry favors and shady deals? Let's find out....
For such an antiquated energy source, coal seems to have the most protection under the Bush administration. In addition to the little saves that have already been mentioned earlier, in January 2002 the Interior Department gave Addington Enterprises, one of the nation's largest coal companies, the go-ahead to continue mining in Kentucky and Tennessee without a reclamation insurance bond (1/3/02), which are required under federal law to ensure that mining companies essentially clean up after themselves. The department had previously given Addington a ninety-day grace period in which time the company had to acquire such a bond. Not only did the administration extend that period by another three months, but it also allowed Addington to skip the bond process altogether and just pony up $1 million to "cover its liabilities." Yeah, the administration allowed a coal company to violate federal environmental law for a measly $1 million kickback. And how did Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, whom we already "love," excuse this deal? He blamed the national insurance troubles that were caused by, you guessed it, 9/11.
Although this isn't necessarily industry-related crookedness here, the misuse of funds is still something to consider. In May 2001, the administration was putting together a national energy plan that favored, of course, fossil fuel use. In order to cover the costs of printing copies of this plan, the Energy Department dipped into its current solar, renewable energy, and energy conservation budgets (3/25/02). According to court-released documents, $135,615 was taken from these budgets to print 10,000 copies of Bush's energy policy, $1,317.39 was taken for materials used by administration officials to present it (what, like crap from Staples? Clear folders like Calvin likes to use?), and $176.40 was used for an official's trip to Alaska to push drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil. That's a total of $137,108.79 that was swiped from other Energy Department budgets to simply produce and distribute copies of a new plan that favored greedy industries. Showing their gratitude, the administration then asked Congress to cut funding from the renewable energy and energy conservation budgets by 50 percent. Apparently our tax dollars are going to a department that is essentially Bush's own personal ATM.
But Bush doesn't manipulate federal departments and laws just for the benefit of his favorite industries, no sir! In the fall of 2002, Bush ordered the "streamlining" of rules (read: line-jumping) under the National Environmental Policy Act's review process. In late October the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that seven federally funded construction projects, mostly highways, would utilize the newly created shortcuts to get through the review process quickly (10/31/02). These projects were located in seven states--California, Indiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont--seven states which coincidentally just happened to have Republicans with poor approval ratings gearing up for a tough election just days later.
Back to monetary favors, though. Fifty years ago, the government was ordered by the courts to promise California farmers that it would drain the water that it provides to the farmers for irrigation. Unfortunately, that never happened, so the poor drainage caused salt and toxic runoff to gather in the soil, resulting in a total of $400 million in damages. Nineteen of the area's farming families slapped a lawsuit on the government, and in December 2002 the administration proposed a settlement plan. After secretly negotiating with both the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California's Westlands Water District, the administration would agree to pay the families a total of $139 million if they gave up the 32,400 acres of farmland in question (2/6/03). But only $32 million of that amount was coming from Westlands, which meant that Bush's group had to cough up $107 million somehow. Well, they would have had the money outright if they didn't give tax cuts to the rich, but the administration instead took the money from the budget of the taxpayer-funded Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which was planning to use the money for various environmental restoration projects. And out of that $139 million, more than half went to just four of the nineteen families. Again, Bush's personal ATM saves his neck from farmers.
"But hang on a minute," you might be saying, "those are farmers...pissed off farmers at that! You said this would be about industry corruption!" Ah, so ya want industry corruption and influence, do ya? How about when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) solicited polluters and their various industries' think tanks in 2001 to come up with lists of the top environmental and public health regulations that they would be most happy to do away with? How about when the OMB did the exact same thing again in 2002?? Based on the resulting "hit lists" from the industries, over three hundred federal safeguards were singled out for review or elimination, with the agency hit the hardest being none other than the EPA (12/19/02).
Or how about the case of Oil-Dri Corp.'s proposed clay mine and cat litter plant in Reno, Nevada? In February 2002, county officials rejected the plan, citing public concerns about potential air, noise, and groundwater pollution, among other natural concerns. In September Oil-Dri wrote to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who was asked to "take whatever steps are necessary" to help the mining company. In November the administration filed a "friend-of-the-court" brief in Reno's U.S. District Court, essentially promising to fight for the prospect of clay mining and cat litter processing (3/3/03). Wow, if only all of the government's decisions were made this quickly and effectively, like on actual important issues such as Medicare or the homeless! Oh wait, that's right, the mining industry contributed considerably more to Bush than poor people did.
How about when Bush spoke at a Michigan power plant to promote his bogus Clear Skies Initiative (9/15/03)? He not only said that the EPA's recent weakening of the power-plant pollution controls under the Clean Air Act were vital to both the environment and the economy, but he also said that Clear Skies would supposedly cut toxic power-plant emissions by 70 percent...even though it would also allow 15,000 plants to increase pollution for the next seventeen years. Well, I guess you can see why a change would be needed then, huh?
Or what about the EPA's proposal to allow giant corporate-run farms to avoid prosecution for air pollution violations if they simply pay a $3,000 fee and let the agency monitor emissions from their feedlots (9/25/03)? Sure, the EPA was already in a position to enforce such monitoring, but why would they? After all, there were only lagoons filled with billions of pounds of hogshit being formed across Minnesota! And let's not forget the EPA's favor to the pesticide industry, which lobbied to have the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act reversed to block farmers from suing manufacturers over ineffective, harmful pesticides and herbicides that kill crops and who knows what else (10/6/03). How ironic that in a timespan of eight months, the administration goes from paying off farmers for damages to protecting the industries that try to swindle them. Gee, I wonder which industry contributed more.
But if you want a crystal clear example of how corrupt the administration is, look no further than Bush's energy policy. The General Accounting Office reported that the various energy corporations--including industry lobbyists from oil and gas, electricity, nuclear, coal, and chemical companies--not only offered detailed major recommendations to the policy, but they also made sure that environmentalists and scientists were kept out of the loop (8/25/03). Meanwhile the White House has refused to voluntarily release any documents between industries and policymakers (hey, I thought Bush supported voluntary surrendering of information!), but more on that a little bit later.
So glad Bush has tried so hard to unite us all...with the slimy industries he's in bed with.
8. GLOBAL WARMING - Despite years of extensive study and research, there still seems to be a debate on the issue of global warming. Many feel that it doesn't even exist and that the planet is just going through a natural warming period, while many others feel that the ice caps will melt and the earth will end up like Waterworld (but hopefully with better acting). Of course, those are just two extremes, as many others fall in the middle. However one feels about it, although the possession of an SUV is usually a strong indication, the issue cannot be ignored. Would you like to guess how Bush, an oilman, feels about it?
Actually, Bush was originally in favor of reversing the effects of global warming, or so he said. One of his 2000 campaign promises was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the primary cause of the problem, along with three other air pollutants from power plants (which have been discussed above in various spots). Yet, just weeks after being inaugurated, Bush sent a letter to Nebraska's Republican senator Chuck Hagel in which he stated that regulating CO2 would be too costly (3/13/01). Bush quoted a faulty report which had already been refuted by numerous other studies that showed that CO2 regulation wouldn't hurt the economy. I guess to offer a back-up excuse, just in case the first one didn't fly, Bush also said that CO2 was not considered to be a pollutant under the Clean Air Act...even though Section 103(g) of the act does include CO2 emissions in a list of air pollutants! His term wasn't even two months old, and he was already backing away from campaign promises.
The year 2001 saw other backpedaling. EPA Administrator Christine Whitman, and we all remember just how scrupulous she is, announced that the administration would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol (3/28/01). Already adopted by the world's eight other largest industrial nations, the international treaty sets guidelines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking of screwing other countries, the administration's Federal Climate Change Expenditures Report to Congress reported that it had cut about 25 percent, or $41 million, from the $165 million it was planning to give to developing nations to help fight global warming (7/12/01). As troubling as this admission was, it was reported elsewhere that administration had actually cut 32 percent from such projects and eliminated others outright.
Why would Bush do this anyway? Well because, despite all the research and data that has been collected in the past decade, he still thinks global warming needs more studying before anything can be done about it (7/13/01). That's his plan? In just a year's time he went from promising to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to calling for more studies??
It wouldn't be until early in the next year that Bush would outline a global warming plan with actual goals (2/14/02). Unfortunately, under his plan, CO2 emission regulations would be at the same levels in ten years as they were ten years ago! From 1990 to 2000 emissions intensity, which is the amount of CO2 pollution in relation to a growing economy, fell 17.4 percent. Bush's plan is to have intensity by 2012 voluntarily reduced to...ahem, 18 percent. Meanwhile, because the economy continues to grow, emissions would increase by 14 percent anyway in that time...the same rate it increased from 1990 to 2000! So...his plan is to do nothing? Actually, factoring all this in, by 2012 CO2 emissions would actually be 30 percent higher than they were in 1990! Bush's global warming plan is to essentially increase air pollution! Not surprisingly, a number of industries such as automakers pledged support for this "initiative" (2/12/03).
But anyway, don't try to explain facts and figures to the administration. No, really...or they'll fire you! Despite evidence from such organizations as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the World Meteorological Organization on the future effects of global warming, scientists still get in trouble for even acknowledging the threat. Dr. Robert Watson, who had been the chairman of the IPCC since 1996 and is generally considered to be the country's top climatologist, has often stated that CO2 emissions are the leading cause of global warming, and the United States has produced 25 percent of the world's CO2 pollution. Well, you can't very well say this when the president is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, so the State Department announced that it would not renominate him for his position (4/2/02). Not surprisingly, oil monster ExxonMobil requested to the administration that Watson be replaced. When the IPCC met in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss its leadership, ExxonMobil and other energy lobbyists coerced members into voting out Watson. India's Dr. Rajendra Pachuari was elected to the chair for a term ending 2007 (4/19/02).
Ironically, just months later, the EPA published a report, the U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, that finally addressed the cause of global warming from man-made emissions (6/3/02). Not only did the report not have an effect on White House environmental policy, but both Bush and Christine Whitman tried to dismiss it (6/12/02). Poo-pooing it at a press conference, Bush said, "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy," even though White House officials later clarified that he had only been briefed on it. Days later, Whitman said that she first "knew about it when I read it in the paper." This is the EPA's administrator, and she didn't even know about her own agency's reports? Quoi??
And even though the EPA released this report, and even though slews of experts and research groups such as the National Academy of Sciences have gone on record for years about the dangers of global warming, and even though a Union of Concerned Scientists survey found that 76 percent of respondents want the government to regulate pollution to reduce global warming, and even though NASA reported that 2002 would be the planet's second warmest year ever in the middle of the warmest decade since archiving of records began in 1867, the Commerce Department told Congress that the administration still needs between two and five years to develop a national global warming strategy (7/10/02). In other words, more studying is needed. Boy, if only Bush actually did this much studying while in school!
A National Academy of Sciences panel would later say that Bush's plan lacks "a guiding vision, executable goals, clear timetables," and an adequate budget to take action with after all the "studying" has concluded (2/25/03). Yet, the administration went ahead to launch the Climate Change Science Program (7/24/03). Over the next decade, the program will take $103 million that was allotted for satellite technology to consult with thirteen federal agencies, gathering data to determine if global warming is a natural occurrence or had been caused by the need to drive highway-wide "penis compensation" vehicles. Yep, Bush wants to make sure once and for all exactly who's to blame for global warming before acting on it.
Speaking of automobiles, in an ironic twist, just a year after the EPA released its damning global warming report which blamed human activity for the climate change, the agency decided that it does not in fact have any authority to require automakers and oil companies to regulate emissions (8/28/03). The EPA was rejecting a 1999 petition filed by numerous environmental organizations, saying that the timing wasn't "appropriate" to set CO2 standards. What could have prompted such an about-face?
Well, The Observer reported that throughout 2002, White House officials conspired with oil lobbyists to discredit and shelf the administration's global warming research (9/21/03). Numerous e-mails were revealed between the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an industry "think tank" sponsored by (wait for it, wait for it) ExxonMobil, including one in which CEI was asked to publicly discredit the EPA's landmark global warming report from the year before. Speaking of which, the EPA isn't the innocent party in this mess either, as a confidential agency memo revealed the administration's plans to withhold and alter research showing the planet's increasing climate.
One would think with all that additional studying that was supposedly done, someone would have learned about the dangers of making corrupt deals through e-mail and memos.
7. LEAD - I'm sure we all remember during our youths the warnings our mothers used to give us concerning lead: Don't stab yourself with pencils, don't drink paint, and don't steal x-ray vests from the dentist's office. Hmm, maybe only I got that warning growing up...I was a weird kid.
Granted this could be classified as more of a "health concern" than an "environmental concern," lead gets the extra attention because it can still get into drinking water. Lead poisoning can cause any number of ailments, particularly in children: learning disabilities, brain damage, seizures, developmental problems, and even death. Federal studies have shown that 90 percent of lead poisoning cases in the country occur in poor children due to substandard housing conditions, and a 1998 General Accounting Office report estimated that 535,000 children on Medicaid have harmful levels of lead in their blood. Since 1989 there has been a federal law requiring children on Medicaid to be tested for lead poisoning, but most states do not practice it effectively if at all. This unfortunately leads to incomplete results. For example, there were almost 435,000 reported cases of children with lead poisoning in 2000, but only 10 percent of poor children were tested both that year and the year before. Lead poisoning cases are on the decline, but it's difficult to get accurate data.
With such a lack of information as there is, perhaps the stupidest thing for an administration to do would be to put at risk the law that provides that little, but vital, information, right? Well in March 2002 the Centers of Medicaid and Medicare told a federal advisory panel that the aforementioned 1989 federal law should be put into the control of the individual states (4/16/02), the same individual states that didn't enforce it anyway! The proposal was to allow states to decide for themselves exactly which children would be in need of lead testing. Considering that the major reason states do not practice the required mandatory screening is the high cost to them, is it really a good idea then to let the states have jurisdiction over its enforcement?? Fortunately, extremely negative feedback from both Congress and public health officials forced the administration to drop this proposed policy (5/14/02), but still, the fact that they even considered it tells a lot, eh?
As mentioned already, lead is still a danger to drinking water, but really, this is 2004! Where in this country would there even be that kind of risk? What kind of one-horse podunk town would still use lead pipes?? Would you believe Washington, D.C.? 'Tis true. Before Bush took office, the EPA often hounded the District of Columbia's Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) to make sure the local drinking water was safe. But since, it had seemingly become less and less of a priority...how ironic. Studies conducted in the summer of 2003 found lead in almost two thirds of the Washington homes that were tested (2/23/04). Instead of issuing fines against the city or forcing WASA to fix the problem immediately, the EPA gave the district until December of that year to remove the water system's lead pipes. That deadline was soon extended to September of this year. Meanwhile, WASA has insufficiently warned Washington residents of the problem, targeting announcements to just pregnant women and children. Why the EPA seems to have no problem with that is unknown.
Finally, Bush has taken steps to make sure lead poisoning will still be a concern as long as he's in office. His proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 includes a $35 million cut, or 20 percent, from the federal lead prevention program (4/11/04), which provides evaluations and repairs for homes to help prevent lead poisoning in children. A real "compassionate conservative" here, don't ya think?
He must've eaten paint chips as a kid.
6. WATER - Lead of course isn't the only threat to our nation's water, but with Bush around there will be many more things to worry about the next time you fill a glass with that clear wet stuff....
This is the twenty-first century and we still need to worry about, of all things, arsenic in our water supply. Since 1942, our legal standard for allowable levels of the cancer-causing toxin in tap water has been 50 parts per billion (ppb). That's a pretty high maximum amount to be allowed, considering in the 1990s the World Health Organization and the European Union set an arsenic standard of 10 ppb. After about a decade of research, review, and public opinion, the EPA was all set to adopt this lower, stricter standard in the United States, but the Bush administration caved into complaints from the mining industry and reversed those plans (3/20/01). Administration officials said that it needed more study, while at the same time offering a new standard twice as high as what the EPA wanted. In fact, a later announcement even left open the possibility of a standard higher than 20 ppb to help out various industries (5/22/01), not to mention troubling news from the EPA that it would not only reconsider 1999's definitive National Academy of Sciences review on the dangers of arsenic, but it would also eliminate an agency measure requiring water companies to tell their customers about arsenic levels.
The year 2002 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the same year the administration made a number of steps to weaken it. The act essentially makes provisions to ensure that all of the country's twenty thousand rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water are safe for swimming, boating, and aquatic life.
The act's most important law is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program, which required states and the EPA to rank polluted waterways based on cleanup priority, clean them up (of course), and then set individual standards to manage future pollution intake. Despite some ineffectiveness in its enforcement, since 1996 states have still set up over 7,800 TMDLs. For "unknown" reasons, in the summer of 2002 the EPA offered a rule that would no longer make the TMDL program mandatory (8/7/02), instead proposing that states make "voluntary efforts" in order to acquire pollution "credits" (whatever the hell those are supposed to be used for). States would also be able to remove waters from their priority lists at their discretion, while at the same time making it harder for new waters to be added. These changes went into effect later in the year (12/21/02), just months before the EPA proposed to end the TMDL program outright (3/13/03).
Perhaps even more troubling, during a House subcommittee hearing, officials with the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed that "waters of the United States," which fall under the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction, should be redefined (9/19/02). One argument provided was that some streams dry up periodically (so to hell with it when it's wet, eh?), but mainly the defense was a January 2001 Supreme Court decision. The ruling of Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County vs. Army Corps of Engineers was that isolated bodies of water used by migratory birds should not fall under the corps's jurisdiction (no, I can't really figure out the connection, either). But anyway, since that ruling, industries have argued that the government should relinquish waters under federal protection back to the states. Not really surprising that industry whining led to this, huh?
That intricately specific Supreme Court ruling would come into play again in early 2003, as the administration would use it as a springboard to remove federal protection for 20 percent of the country's wetlands, amounting to about 20 million acres (1/10/03). The administration ordered the EPA's regional offices to lift protection from various wetlands and to not provide it for small waterways until after federal consultation. These plans are in direct violation with the Clean Water Act, which requires the EPA to protect these lands and waters. Sounds like Bush is slowly trying to push responsibility from the government, eh?
One of the Clean Water Act's major enforcement tools would be at risk that spring, thanks to the EPA's inadequate computer system (5/27/03). An EPA Inspector General investigation discovered that the agency's decades-old computer tracking system, which acts as the agency's database on polluted areas, contained both incomplete and incorrect data, missing information on tens of thousands of polluted waters. Despite half-hearted attempts to get the system up to date, the computer problems are threatening the future of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, the EPA's permit system, which in turn would threaten the very future of the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, the EPA has consistently missed deadlines to fix another water enforcement database, the Permit Compliance System (10/10/03), which tracks data on clean water permits and enforcement and inspection actions for over 64,000 facilities. Since 1999, agency inspector generals have deemed the database to be faulty, while 16,000 permit violations from one fourth of the industry facilities in the database have gone unchecked. But, the EPA isn't entirely at fault for this delay in updating the system...the Bush administration has refused to fund such an endeavor.
Yep, the grand ol' hicks in the Bush administration want to weaken the Clean Water Act, which shouldn't really be a surprise by now, huh? Just a year after Bush's inauguration, a proposal was made to take areas such as intrastate, nonnavigable wetlands out of the act's jurisdiction (9/5/03). An internal EPA memo stated that Bush's plan would have "serious effects on the progress made during the last 30 years to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters." It would also result in subjecting three million people to drinking water unprotected by pollution regulations, not to mention higher water treatment costs.
Not that any of this matters anyway, since throughout Bush's term the EPA has let numerous water treatment facilities violate the Clean Water Act (3/30/04). A U.S. Public Research Interest Group report showed that between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003, two thirds of all facilities violated permitted pollution limits at least once, while 436 facilities violated limits for at least ten months, and thirty-five violated limits throughout the entire span of time! Meanwhile, it was reported that the EPA referred only 105 violations to the Justice Department in 2000, forty-two violations in 2001, and just twenty-six in 2002.
In addition to these apparent attempts to dismantle the Clean Water Act to help out polluting industries, in the last year Bush and the EPA have been putting our country's drinking water, and therefore our health, at risk. The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments requires the EPA to look at new tap water contaminants every five years to decide on regulations, and then to publicly announce its findings one way or the other. Last July, two years behind schedule, then-Acting Administrator Linda Fisher made a number of these decisions (7/12/03). Although the agency finally set regulations on Cryptosporidium, a parasite that caused about one hundred deaths in Milwaukee in 1993, and coliform bacteria, it looked the other way on two other important problems. Even though it was found in drinking water in levels over general EPA standards, the toxin known as perchlorate, used in rocket fuel, was given a free pass until 2010 at the earliest...even though it attacks the thyroid and can cause cancer. Meanwhile, instead of setting a blanket federal standard to limit the chlorination byproducts known as disinfection byproducts, which in high levels can cause birth defects and even miscarriages, the EPA decided to only make case-by-case decisions. The agency reportedly caved into industry pressure, even though these byproducts are found in over 250 million people's water supplies. Fisher also decided that all current water regulations were fine and no other additions or revisions were necessary. It should be noted that Fisher was leaving the agency the next day, so perhaps her schedule rather than health interests affected some of the more questionable decisions? After all, as kids we all hated to do school work on the last day before summer vacation.
Bush himself would block pollution regulations in a mix of spite and corruption. The gasoline additive MTBE often finds its way into groundwater and contaminates it, giving drinking water a turpentine-like taste and causing communities to spend a lot to remove it. Seventeen states have already banned the use of this additive. At the end of his term, President Clinton proposed a complete phase-out of MTBE over a time of four years. Unfortunately, because the MTBE industry donated over $1 million to the Republican Party in 2000, Bush rejected this proposal (2/16/04). Congress has begun to research new regulations for MTBE, but it doesn't look good.
Finally, the EPA buried a report by its inspector general that stated that senior agency officials have been misleading the public on supposed improvements to the country's drinking water (3/11/04). Numerous glaring inaccuracies and omissions of the past couple of years were reviewed, such as EPA claims that 94 percent of the nation's monitored jurisdictions had safe drinking water, even though uncovered EPA data revealed that 81 percent was a more accurate figure...but even then, exact numbers were never actually calculated by the agency. This new report also noted that according to EPA data, 77 percent of known monitoring violations and 35 percent of known health standard violations were never added to the agency's database. In other words, the EPA is hiding and adjusting troubling data to make people feel more secure.
Sounds like business as usual in George W. Bush's America.
"I think we ought to have high standards set by agencies that rely upon science, not by what may feel good or what sounds good."
- Johnston, Iowa GOP debate, 1/16/00
5. HIDING - If you've been paying attention so far, that is if you have actually been reading this column rather than just searching for where your Google keywords turn up, then you hopefully noticed that the very last thing I brought up was the EPA hiding information. Let us now look at the many other ways the administration has shelved, buried, withheld, tampered with, modified, and refused to share important environmental information.
The biggest culprit in the administration has been none other than Dickhead Cheney. I haven't really gone over this in this column (it lost a coin toss), but in 2001 Cheney sketched out a very vague energy plan that essentially relied on increased use of fossil fuels and repealing environmental laws to help out power plants (nothing really new there). Anyway, to collect all the pros and cons and data and research for this energy plan, Cheney formed a secretive energy "task force." Unfortunately, as if often the case with Senor Heartattaque, industry representatives and lobbyists weaseled their way into task force meetings and deals were made. The administration's energy plan was released in May of that year, containing numerous initiatives benefiting the coal, nuclear, and oil and gas industries. Since the May announcement, environmentalists and the press have been asking the Energy Department who exactly were in this task force, whom did they meet with from the various industries, and what was discussed. Congress and the General Accounting Office would echo those same questions to Mr. Big Dick. Well, you know how much Cheney hates to incriminate himself, him being a corporate swindler and a war profiteer and all, but his adamant refusal to share information is not only in violation with the Freedom of Information Act, but it also sets our little stage here....
It wasn't even until the beginning of 2002 that Bush sided with his "vice president," supporting Dick's decision to not release any information (1/28/02). One company that was known to be involved was the crooked energy company Enron, which was a major Bush campaign contributor. While appearing on Larry King Live, Dickface said that Enron was "treated and dealt with just like a lot of other energy companies were that we talked to during this process." In other words, Enron wasn't the only one that got something out of this!
Bush did more than just "support" Cheney, he outright helped him! On April 30, 2002 a subpoena was issued to Andrew Lundquist, the task force's executive director, who was going to be ordered on May 15 to have the Energy Department release records of the task force meetings, records that also included schedules of officials involved among other information. Well, take a wild guess who intervened. Not even a week before Lundquist's questioning, attorneys for the Justice Department filed a motion for protective order (5/9/02), stating that the missing records were in Cheney's office and therefore unavailable for release. In fact, the administration would later seek immunity from public access laws over the task force documents (9/2/02), claiming that anyone employed by the White House is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. Uh...huh.
Fortunately, later that fall a federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Emmitt Sullivan, ordered Cheney to release the task force records (10/17/02), setting a deadline of November 5, 2002 for the administration to comply. The Justice Department continued the administration's argument that the public should not have access to White House documents, even though Sullivan explained that the lawyers could avoid public disclosure if they simply compiled a list that identified each supposedly "confidential" document (this is called executive privilege). Well, the problem with that was the lawyers admitted that not only could they not identify or produce them on the spot, but that the administration had yet to even review all of them (10/30/02)! At the end of October, news reports had indicated that the administration had only fully reviewed two of the twelve boxes of records, which doesn't include approximately ten thousand e-mails to and from various officials.
Two years later, and the fight for task force records continues! This past March, U.S. District Court Judge Paul F. Friedman ordered the Energy Department to release records of both the task force's executive director and other employees who managed the force's day-to-day operations (3/31/04). For the past three years, the department has refused a Freedom of Information Act request to make these records available, even though in March 2002 it released over 15,000 related documents related to task force meetings. The department again argued that since the employees in question worked for Dicksucker Cheney, their records were therefore confidential. Friedman responded by saying that "citizens' right to know 'what their government is up to'...cannot be defeated by detailing an agency employee to a task force operating out of the White House or some other non-agency." Now responsible for the release of these new documents is the National Energy Policy Group, which Dickmouth assigned with writing the original energy policy back in 2001. The group has to release them by June 1.
Info on secret hush-hush task force meetings isn't the only thing the administration has sat on. There are the reports the U.S. Geological Survey accused Bush officials of caving to political pressure and suppressing that showed how buying farms in the Klamath Basin and leaving the irrigation water in the river would boost fishing and recreation (11/1/02), increasing revenue in the area by about $36 billion. There are also the 124 documents a federal court ordered the stubborn EPA to release (2/21/03), which contained data on global warming and the agency's climate change policy. There's also the order from the White House Office of Management and Budget that forbade the EPA from publicly addressing or considering regulation on the aforementioned cancer-causing toxin perchlorate (4/28/03), stating that the agency must wait anywhere from six to eighteen months before the National Academy of Sciences reviews the potential health risks. The Pentagon and defense contractors, who would eventually be responsible for perchlorate pollution, attested that the chemical was harmless...and not surprisingly, the Defense Department refused to release a 2001 report that detailed perchlorate contaminations at military sites since the 1950s (5/16/03).
Last June, the EPA released a seemingly detailed report on the environmental problem the country is facing. However, the Report on the Environment was rather light on information regarding global warming, not to mention risks to humans and wildlife from pesticides and industrial chemicals. It was then learned that the report released by the EPA was edited by the White House (6/23/03)! The key sentence "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment" was removed, as was data on global warming causes and risks. Even more troubling is that EPA Administrator Christine Whitman was absolutely fine with the edited version that omitted threats to the environment and our health.
In 1970 President Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal officials to consider potential environmental effects on any decision and to also allow the public to voice concerns. NEPA would later spawn the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which just last September reported that it was looking to cut the public out of the loop from future environmental review (9/24/03). The Modernizing NEPA Implementation report recommended not only cutting back on full environmental analysis, which wouldn't require public input, but also allowing logging projects to fall under "categorical exclusions," which in the past were only used for activities that would have absolutely no effect on the environment. So pretty much, the administration wants to streamline environmental review by...well, getting rid of it!
Finally, just this spring, the administration again looked to protect its own by again proposing to Congress to suspend environmental laws for the military (4/6/04). The Pentagon wants immunity from hazardous waste, toxic cleanup (it doesn't want to be responsible for contaminating land and water with spent munitions), and air quality regulations. The Pentagon argues that these soft, wussyish environmental laws hinder troop training and military readiness, even though a 2002 congressional investigation proved that theory to be wrong!
So, be it laziness or fear of prosecution, the Bush administration is always looking out for its best interests...itself!
4. WILDLIFE - I've kinda thrown the word "wildlife" around a bit in this column already, but what does that mean exactly? Well, I'm talkin' about animals, those ugly, growling, slippery things that move around in the woods (no, not Ted Nugent). Although wildlife probably deserves its own top twenty-five list, to save space I've lumped together all the various species that Bush's environmental policy has put into harm's way. I know what you're thinking, "Oh, these are all going to be obscure, rare animals like that bird Porky Pig chased after." Well, you're right....
Tortoises - In November 2000, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to suspend livestock grazing in three southern California counties from March 1 to June 15, the time period in which desert tortoises leave their winter burrows to eat and mate, since livestock tends to eat the tortoises' food and trample their burrows. Unfortunately with Gale Norton in as Bush's Interior Secretary, the BLM has more or less backpedaled from the agreement (5/12/01), refusing to remove cattle from the 500,000 acres of the Mojave Desert that were covered under the plan. Even though a federal judge did not find the BLM to be in contempt of court, it was stated that the administration did violate the agreement and that its "defiance would hurt the imperiled species."
Bears - In 1995 and 1997 the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service issued reports expressing how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would not only endanger the lives of the polar bears that live there, but it would also violate a 1973 international treaty to protect the animals...so of course under Bush, the department reversed its position (1/17/02), explaining that the bears are still safe thanks to advances in drilling technology. Just a year later, the administration announced plans to remove grizzly bears from the 2003 endangered species list (1/5/03), a distinction the species has had since 1975, so that the Western states they inhabit can be developed. The only problem is that the administration based its plans on incomplete information, focusing more on the number of cubs born in recent years rather than the condition of the animals' habitat. And just this past March, the Forest Service launched a new management plan for various national forests in Montana to handle the roads that go through grizzly bear habitats (3/25/04)...a plan that would only close off about seventy of the three thousand miles of roads that pose a threat to the habitats.
Butterflies - In February 2001 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a 300,000-acre protective habitat in southern California for the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly, a species common to the San Diego area until agriculture and development disrupted over 95 percent of its natural habitat (it had been considered endangered since 1997). Well, as is often the case when it comes to that gosh darn nature, just a year later Fish and Wildlife cut down the size of habitat by almost 130,000 acres, leaving just 172,000 acres for the butterfly to flourish (4/5/02).
Manatees - 2002 was not a good year for the endangered manatee. The species was already in trouble after Bush's Interior Secretary Gale Norton ignored a deadline set by President Clinton in January 2001 to designate federal manatee sanctuaries in Florida, delaying the decisions until December 2002. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already set up two federal refuges in Brevard County, one of which included the Barge Canal. Unfortunately, the Sea Ray powerboat company uses that canal to conduct high-speed tests of its products. One such test already claimed the life of a manatee. Yet despite such an occurrence, and despite mandates from the Executive Order on Marine Protected Areas that require protection for the animals, Fish and Wildlife proposed creating special "exceptions" that would allow Sea Ray to continue tests in the manatees' protected refuges (4/16/02). In 2002 at least thirty-eight manatees were killed by watercrafts, while twenty-seven were killed in 2001. What exactly is the point of a refuge if the inhabitants aren't protected??? Fish and Wildlife would later seek immunity for the government by proposing revisions to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (11/6/02)...changes that would allow federal watercraft to not fear penalties should it accidentally kill or injure a manatee in a collision.
Frogs - I know, I know, who could possibly hate frogs? Think of Kermit, Michigan J., and Frogger. Frogs already face numerous threats to their health, but one specific species has been put at an ever greater risk. Even though a federal judge ruled in April 2002 that officials could not revoke protection for more than 500,000 acres of habitat protection for two southern Californian endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service caved into pressure from developers and revoked 4.1 million acres protecting California's endangered red-legged frog (7/4/02). The frog had already lost 70 percent of its natural habitat.
Whales - The Gulf of Mexico has been home to both whales and oil and gas companies for decades, but since the mid-80s the companies have been targeting closer and closer to the deep waters where the whales live. You see, the companies use seismic blasts to map out potential mineral reserves (yes, like those things in Attack of the Clones), and as testing moves closer and closer to the whales, scientists have feared more and more for the safety of the mammals. In fact, the Mineral Management Service (MMS) drafted a number of regulations protecting the whales. Well soon after, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors started complaining about the new rules, with association president Chip Gill trying to talk MMS Director Chris Oynes into weakening them...specifically ones concerning the size of regulated areas and the start time for monitoring. Sure enough, oil and gas won, as the MMS decided in favor of the industry (8/22/02).
Wolves - I don't know if there is some kind of symbolism or childhood trauma behind it, but Bush seems to want to kill all of the wolves in this country. I have no idea why. Maybe he's afraid that Howard Dean is really a werewolf (well, that would explain a lot...)? Who really knows. Bush started getting wolves into his sights in late 2002, when the Interior Department announced that it would remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act (9/25/02), which they were added to in 1974 to help boost their dwindling population. Interior Assistant Secretary Craig Manson said that it would cause the government "to be relieved of the burdens" of having to look after the still-endangered animal. Only about seven hundred wolves freely roam Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, only about 10 percent of what used to inhabit that region. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal to downgrade wolves' status from "endangered" to "threatened" would allow ranchers to kill them should they pose a threat to livestock (3/18/03). The Interior Department would later endorse this proposal (3/3/04), but pretty much adding that wolves could be killed in any circumstance. Well, so much for boosting the population!
Fish - In September 2002 34,000 salmon, trout, and sturgeon were killed in California's Klamath River, including a species protected under the Endangered Species Act. It was the largest fish kill in U.S. history. Just a month later, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biologist Michael Kelly said that despite his agency's scientific recommendations, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) lowered the river's water levels, vital to the fish's survival, in order to divert it to Klamath Basin farmers for irrigation (10/28/02). Kelly implied that the White House not only knew about this, it supported the idea. The administration, meanwhile, claimed that it would investigate the matter. A little over two months later, a California Department of Fish and Game investigation confirmed Kelly's accusation, concluding that the Interior Department's reversal of a 2001 decision to limit irrigation water in the interest of endangered fish caused the salmon deaths (1/5/03). Yet in March 2003 the U.S. Office of Special Counsel decided to not investigate the charges. Meanwhile California biologists predicted a "substantial risk" of more deaths should the water diverting continue. The BOR continued to do just that, sending more water to farmers while a predicted dry summer would put even more fish at risk (4/3/03). Finally, finally, over a year after the problem started and after reports and experts already concluded this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that administration policy led to the massive fish kill (11/18/03). Geez, would the administration have been dragging its feet on this if 34,000 people were killed?? No, no, they would just attack the wrong country.
Elephants - This is the twenty-first century, and there are still these dickless slimeballs out there who deal in ivory trade. Unfortunately, one of the supporters of the "industry" is Interior Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, who appeared at an international endangered species conference in Chile in late 2002 to propose a plan that would renew commercial trade in elephant ivory by 2005 (11/11/02). From 2000 to 2002, poaching had claimed the lives of over 3,600 elephants, while some African countries had been sitting on eighty-seven tons of stockpiled ivory. Thankfully, the European Union refused to lift the ban on international ivory trading. Whew, at least there's one continent out there with a good head on its shoulders!
And all this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wildlife and endangered species. Bush wanted to weaken requirements and remove species from the Endangered Species Act (4/9/01), he wanted to lift protection from such Florida Everglades endangered species as the crocodile (2/7/02), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to declassify the "critical habitat" designation of 500,000 acres in Southern California for two years for "analysis" (2/16/02), Fish and Wildlife cancelled four-year-old plans to create the Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge in central Ohio (3/12/02), the administration had been charged by the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition with not acting on about 150 measures from the 2000 Federal Salmon Recovery Plan to protect the fish in the Pacific Northwest (2/26/03), Fish and Wildlife reported that it lacked the $20 million annual budget to meet court-ordered deadlines to protect habitats and endangered species (4/7/03), the Interior Department added a disclaimer to new critical habitat designations that claim that the Endangered Species Act's habitat provisions should not be taken into account for species protection (6/18/03), the EPA refused to regulate ballast water discharge from international ships even though its brings harmful foreign ocean species into our waters (9/2/03), Fish and Wildlife proposed repealing a ban on importing endangered wild animals as trophies or commercial products (10/13/03), the EPA admitted to skipping required scientific review before approving potentially harmful pesticides for sale (1/27/04), and Bush recently proposed a budget that would cut funding for endangered species recovery by about $10 million...his alltime low (2/25/04).
Man, this whole country is endangered with Bush running things!
3. HUMAN LIFE - This next section will feature just one action by the Bush administration, but it is a very important, very scary action.
The White House Office of Management and Budget stated that while evaluating proposed federal environmental and health regulations, some people warrant less protection than others (12/18/02)! If you are seventy or older, you are worth less to the OMB than younger people are. It had been reported that twice in 2002, the OMB ordered the EPA to discount the value of 63 percent of the country's elderly population before deciding on new air pollution restrictions for industries, because supposedly that amount of seniors do not value their lives as much as those blasted youngsters do. But what's even more disturbing is that the 63 percent figure comes from a twenty-year-old British study on bus prices!
The administration is pulling numbers and figures practically out of thin air in order to save industries from having to fully comply with environmental standards. That's how frickin' "compassionate" Bush is.
So just remember that when Bush turns seventy in 2016...I just hope he dies before he gets "old."
2. MERCURY - What could possibly be worse than Bush putting the elderly at a greater risk? How about putting children at a greater risk?? The EPA reports that one in six babies born each year is at risk of contracting developmental problems while in the womb because, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, one in twelve women has a high level of the neurotoxin mercury in her blood (2/9/04). One would think a responsible administration would try to do something about this, right? Well, first we'd need a responsible administration....
Mercury is used to manufacture chlorine, but because it's quite dangerous, its use and amounts are supposed to be regulated and accounted for under EPA laws. However, each year the chlorine industry loses track of one hundred tons of mercury, with plants on average losing 17,000 grams a day (just a teaspoon is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake). Last summer, the EPA imposed new rules that would no longer make production plants accountable for missing mercury (8/27/03). The rules instead suggested new venting standards, even though having plants actually reduce mercury use would cut down emissions by about 90 percent. Plus, the EPA did away with its limits on mercury discharge, essentially allowing plants to pollute as much as they want.
In case such disregard for public health wasn't enough, the administration went one further by planning to reverse mercury's classification as a toxic chemical (12/4/03)! After collaborating with the electric utility industry, the administration formed a plan to reclassify mercury so that the toxin can be qualified for a "cap and trade" program that would allow utility companies to buy emission credits from other companies in order to meet a given industry's cleanup quota. In other words, a power plant doesn't have to do a damn thing to clean up after itself as long as it can make a deal to piggyback onto a cleaner plant within the same industry. This plan will already be in direct conflict with Bush's Clear Skies goal of reducing mercury emissions by 70 percent by 2018. Because of this new proposal, the EPA has predicted that if the 70 percent reduction was ever to be reached, it wouldn't happen until 2025 (3/16/04)...and just for comparison, President Clinton had a mercury plan that would have reduced emissions by 90 percent by 2008.
Finally, this past April it was revealed that the administration intentionally manipulated scientific findings on mercury to appear to be more benign (4/7/04). The White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality worked together to tinker with the EPA's research to mislead the public, such as by crossing out the word "confirmed" from the phrase "confirmed public health risk" and changing "are at an increased health risk" to "may be at an increased health risk." Edits were also made to downplay links between power plants and higher methylmercury levels in fish.
Again, one in six babies is at risk of developmental problems because of mercury poisoning, and all Bush wants to do is deregulate it and hide the dangers of it. I don't have a punchline here, simply because I'm too unbelievably disgusted.
1. FUEL - Yeah, yeah, I know this is kinda the unfair "no brainer" choice for the top spot, but recent events have made this a necessary issue to bring up. Global warming, carbon monoxide poisoning, the god damn war in Iraq...if I may be permitted to sound a bit Ed Begley-ish for a second, these are the results of our dependency on oil. It's caused nothing but problems...always has, always will. What's even more amazing is that some people actually believed things would have gotten better with George W. Bush, a motherpluckin' oil heir, in the Oval Office!
From the start of his administration, Bush has made absolutely no plans to raise fuel efficiency standards. Dickless Cheney met with General Motors executives in June 2001 to assure them that the administration's energy plan would not go after their industry (6/19/01). He said, "I'm one of those who believes very strongly in the market, and I think we have to be very careful not to pass artificial, unfair standards that sound nice." Yeah, you know all that global warming stuff is just made up by those soft, wussy liberals, right? God damn crooked piece of shit.
In fact, the administration butted in to support Daimler-Chrysler and General Motors in a lawsuit against California's tough air pollution standards (10/9/02). Under the Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can set its own air quality standards (makes sense), and measures were taken in 2001 to make its zero-emissions rule to also include hybrid-engine vehicles. For some reason, this is a big problem for the auto industry (how dare they be expected to make all of their products environmentally sound!), so the oil-happy administration stepped in to help them out in court.
None of this is really surprising, since in 2000 Bush received $128,100 from the auto industry (only Michigan Republican Spencer Abraham's senate campaign received more that year!), while for this year's campaign the industry contributed $158,320 (this time more than any other politician received). So, like always, Bush's best interests are with whoever pays the most.
In the spring of 2003 the U.S. Department of Transportation "increased" the gas mileage requirements for gas-guzzling SUVs, pick-up trucks, and vans (4/1/03). Unfortunately, the increase amounted to an average of just 1.5 miles per gallon to 22.2 mpg...to take effect by 2007. Ahem. Anyway, in comparison the current average requirement for a normal passenger car is 27.5 mpg. So you can see how seriously the administration is treating this problem.
Any ignoramus--err, I mean, Bush supporter might tell you that Bush's biggest "achievement" in reducing our dependency on oil is the development of the "Freedom Car," which sounds like a really lame Superman action-figure vehicle. In early 2002 Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (hey, that name sounds familiar!) announced that the government and the country's automakers would team up to create this fuel-cell-powered car (1/9/02), spending $1.5 billion to research the endeavor. The idea is that the Freedom Car would run on hydrogen and oxygen, emitting only a water vapor (yeah, until you plug in your XM satellite radio). Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until 2012 at the earliest that such a vehicle would be available in the mass market. In the meantime, over 150 million more gas-powered cars would be purchased. For some reason, no additional plans were made to utilize technology to actually do something about current fuel standards and the problems they cause. I guess no strategy was announced because they couldn't think of another 9/11 euphemism to name it with.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Bush's long-standing plan has been to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (1/20/01), even though it wouldn't have an effect on dependency or gas prices. The Interior Department's U.S. Geological Survey has reported in the past that drilling there would in fact put the refuge's polar bears at risk (1/17/02), not to mention other species such as caribou, musk oxen, and snow geese (4/7/02). The department would later try to release an "updated" study full of incorrect data, to show "scientific" support for such drilling, but thankfully the administration hasn't able to get its filthy paws on it yet.
In the end, what matters is that since 2001, Bush and his administration have not taken any significant steps to lower our country's obsessive dependency on oil, to noticeably reduce the emissions that cause global warming, or to seriously provide an alternative fuel source (Hello?? Solar power?!?). And all this foot-dragging has resulted in is hundreds of lives being lost, shady deals, and painfully high gas prices for you and me.
Gas prices have been at record highs this past spring, and now as we head toward summer holidays such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day, you can bet the local Sunoco will once again tip the scale past the $2.00 mark (that is, if it isn't already there in some parts of the country!). Why? Because they know they can, and there is an administration in charge whose only answer is "go after Iraq."
Wow, was that a lot of shit!
And there was so much more that I didn't even go over, such as regulations on farming, nuclear testing, national monuments, sewage, and others. Bush is just that filthy!
So what does all this say? That Bush is careless? Lazy? Ignorant? Manipulative? Corrupt? Greedy? Thoughtless? Stubborn?
Yeah, he's all of those things, obviously, but ultimately what I think it all says is that when it comes to the environment, he just doesn't care.
So...if you were patient enough to sit there and read this whole column, I wholeheartedly thank you. You are obviously stronger than I am, since I needed many long breaks before I could finish this piece (there's only so much hair-pulling I can do before it starts to physically show). I think it can be truly said that if you care about the environment, even just a little bit, then it is absolutely necessary to get Bush out of office.
I would like to end this column with a quote by an artist who had a greater love for nature than I ever could, but who unfortunately is no longer with us.
In the words of John Denver....
Life is a very special kind of thing
Not just for a chosen few
But for each and every living, breathing thing,
Not just me and you
...Say a prayer for the wind, and the water, and the wood,
And those who live there, too
Hey, just be glad I didn't use another Superman reference!
Many facts and figures according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Contribution figures according to OpenSecrets.org.
Excerpt from "Alfie: The Christmas Tree" by John Denver and ©1979 Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company Inc.
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