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The Bush administration's environmental record

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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(Between 2001 and 2002)

       Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey's office orders employees of the Forest Service's Content Analysis Team (CAT) to downplay the public's feelings towards the Roadless Rule in a report the team is preparing for policy decision-makers. The office also instructs them not to mention how many people have sent in comments on the issue. A memo is later distributed to the team's employees setting the limits on what they are permitted to say in the report. It instructs them to “avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the ‘ote’ highlighting areas of conflict [because it] serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems.” The memo even provides explicit instructions on what words the CAT team can and cannot use. Among the list of banned terms are: many, most, oppose, support, impacts and clear cuts. Words that the memo suggests using instead include: some, state, comment, effects and even-aged management. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS), Content Analysis Team (CAT), Mark E. Rey
          

July 16, 2001

       A study conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the scientists and experts who sit on the Science Advisory Board panels which advise the EPA often have ties to the affected industries or other conflicts of interest. The study, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), says that EPA officials regularly fail to identify potential conflicts of interest when panel members are chosen and do not adequately disclose the existence of such conflicts to the public. Though it is prohibited for a federal employee to participate in any “particular matter” that could affect their financial interests, there is an exemption that permits special government employees to serve on advisory panels when the topic being studied directly affects the financial interests of their employer—as long as the employer is not “singularly affected.” [The Washington Post, 7/16/01]
People and organizations involved: Henry A. Waxman, General Accounting Office
          

April 2002

       Michael Kelly, a federal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heads a team for the National Marine Fisheries Service which is charged with reviewing the Bureau of Reclamation's 10-year plan for allocating the Klamath River's water. The team completes a report concluding that the Bureau's plan would jeopardize the coho salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The report makes its way to lawyers at the Justice Department who reject Kelly's findings and order him to rewrite his biological opinion. Two weeks later, Kelly submits a new report reaffirming the team's earlier findings, but supported by more scientific and detailed legal analysis. The recommendations are again rejected. Against the team's advice, the Bureau of Land management will approve lower water levels for the Klamath River, based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, which Kelly refuses to endorse. “Obviously someone at a higher level order the service to accept this new plan,” Kelly will observe. The decision will lead to the death of 33,000 salmon and steelhead trout (see September 2002). [Associated Press, 5/20/2004]
People and organizations involved: National Academy of Sciences, Michael Kelly, Bureau of Land Management
          

June 18, 2003

       The EPA inspector-general launches an inquiry seeking to determine “whether the agency is deliberately misleading the public by overstating the purity of the nation's drinking water.” The inspector general is concerned that data collected by states from their utilities—which serves as the basis for EPA assessments on national water quality—is flawed due to significant underreporting of violations. According to EPA officials and internal agency documents, states may be underreporting violations by as much as 50 percent. Notwithstanding these concerns, the EPA will release its unprecedented “Draft Report on the Environment” five days later (see June 23, 2003). The heavily criticized document will claim that in 2002, “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But internal documents dating back to March suggest the figure is closer to the 75 percent to 84 percent range. [The Washington Post, 8/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency
          

June 23, 2003

       The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: 2003 Draft Report on the Environment] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, The Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents ... show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [The Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House. Some time during the spring, administration officials had asked the agency to delete references to a 2001 report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures had risen significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. “In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion,” the New York Times reports. Irritated with the White House's influence on the report, EPA staffers wrote in an April 29 confidential memo that it “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” Unable to reach a compromise with the White House, the EPA elected to drop the entire section. [Associated Press, 6/20/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; New York Times, 6/19/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; The Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA's report also left out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; New York Times, 6/19/2003]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

(August 2003)

       The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the White House's Office of Management and Budget, drafts a proposal that would shift the authority for releasing emergency declarations concerning public health, safety and the environment from federal regulatory agencies to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). [The Washington Post, 1/15/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004; St Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] “Under this proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis,” an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains. [St Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] Additionally, the White House office wants the OMB to reside over a centralized peer review process charged with vetting “any scientific or technical study relevant to regulatory policy” produced by the regulatory agencies. The OMB would have the power to reject or accept the outcome of such peer reviews. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; The Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004; St Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] Commercial permit applications, however, would not be subject to review. Alan Morrison, a lawyer for Public Citizen, commenting on the exception, notes, “If you want to build a dam, or dump a chemical ... you evidently don't need to have peer-reviewed science.” Academic experts who are recipients of grants from an agency whose work is being reviewed would be barred from serving on the review board. But there would be no restrictions against using experts from private industry. [Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Though the administration claims that the proposed change reflects President Bush's commitment to “sound science,” critics say the measure would allow political interests to impede the creation of new regulations by subjecting them to a never-ending process of review and analysis. They also warn that the review process could easily become balanced in favor of industry. Backers of the administration's proposal include the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Ford Motor Co., the American Chemistry Council, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (whose members include regulated mining concerns), and Syngenta, a pesticide company. Opponents of the plan include a number of former regulators from the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton including former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, former EPA administrators Russell Train and Carol M. Browner, heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Carter and the elder Bush; and Neal Lane, who was director of the National Science Foundation under Clinton and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. [Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004; The Washington Post, 1/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Syngenta, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration  Additional Info 
          

January 22, 2004

       Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ] ... spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004 Sources: Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment]
The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.

The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.

The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.

The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches.
It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion ... was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn't listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment's claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey” (see August 6, 2004).
People and organizations involved: Michael Gertsch, Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS)
          

Late January 2004

       The US Forest Service distributes a pamphlet promoting the agency's amendment (see August 6, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan, which calls for more logging. In one section of the pamphlet, put together by a public relations firm, there is a series of six black-and-white photos taken at different times over a span of 80 years. The first picture, taken in 1909, shows a forested area with large trees spaced far apart. Each of the following pictures, taken at the same spot, show how the forest became denser over time. The photo-chronology suggests that the first picture represents how forests should appear in their natural state. But in Spring 2004, it is learned that the first picture had been taken after the area had been logged. Furthermore, the pictures were actually taken in Montana, not the Sierra Nevadas. It also turns out that the photos had similarly been used before by the agency to promote other forest-thinning initiatives. [Associated Press, 4/12/2004 Sources: USFS, Forests with a Future, 1/2004]
People and organizations involved: Matt Mathes, US Forest Service (USFS)
          

February 20, 2004

       Chrysandra Walter, the deputy director of the National Park Service's northeast regional office in Philadelphia, emails a memo to park superintendents working in 12 eastern states, from Virginia to Maine, requesting that they provide the Philadelphia office with a list of the “service level adjustments,” or cut-backs, they plan to make in order to accommodate the 2003 budget cuts. The memo is a summary of instructions that had been given to all regional directors on February 17, by Randy Jones, the deputy director of the National Park Service. The request is made so that the office will not be caught off guard by media inquiries. “I don't want to see on the ‘Today’ show that some superintendent is closing the gate for lack of money without us knowing about it in advance,” National Park Service spokesman David Barna will explain in March 2004 when the memo is obtained and released by the Coalition of Concerned National Park Retirees, the Association of National Park Rangers and the Campaign to Protect America's Lands. “Of course, we don't want to be embarrassed,” he adds. Included in the memo is a list of suggested cut backs: “Close the visitor center on all federal holidays....,” “Eliminate all guided ranger tours,” “Let the manicured grasslands grow all summer,” “Eliminate life guard services at 1 of the park's 3 guarded beaches,” “Close the visitor center for the months of November, January & February,” “Turn one of our four campgrounds over to a concession permittee,” and “Close the park every Sunday and Monday.” The Philadelphia office also instructs the superintendents on how they are supposed to explain the parks' reduced level of service to the media. For example, the memo says that if they need to inform the public on the change in “hours or days of operation for example, that you state what the park's plans are and not to directly indicate that ‘this is a cut’ in comparison to last year's operation. If you are personally pressed by the media in an interview, we all agreed to use the terminology of ‘service level adjustment’ due to fiscal constraints as a means of describing what actions we are taking.” [The Washington Post, 3/16/2004; Fresno Bee, 3/18/2004; Arizona Daily Star, 3/20/2004; National Geographic, 4/19/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: US Park Service Northeast Region Internal Memo, February 20, 2004]
People and organizations involved: Randy Jones, Chrysandra Walter, National Park Service (NPS), Bush administration
          

April 5, 2004

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service releases an economic analysis on bull trout recovery titled, “Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Bull Trout.” The study—written by Bioeconomics Inc. of Missoula, Montana—had been commissioned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the basis for cost-benefit analysis. Once approved, Interior Secretary Gale Norton will use the data from the report to determine whether the costs of bull trout recovery outweigh the benefits. The report estimates that protecting bull trout and its habitat in the Columbia and Klamath river basins would cost between $230 and $300 million over the next ten years. But missing from the published version of the report is a 55-page section demonstrating $215 million in quantifiable economic benefits. The section had concluded that a healthy bull trout fishery would result in increased revenue from fishing fees, reduced drinking water costs and increased water for irrigation farmers. It also included discussion of other benefits not easily quantified in monetary terms. For example, it discussed the positive effects recovery would have on other trout species, in-stream flows and water quality in lakes and streams. Additionally, the missing section noted that there was a “number of published studies have demonstrated that the public holds values for endangered and threatened fish species separate and distinct from any expected direct use of the species.” According to Diane Katzenberger, an information officer in the Fish and Wildlife Service's Denver office, the decision to discard the section was made in Washington. “It did not come out of Denver or Portland,” she explains. But Katzenberger nonetheless defends the decision claiming that it is difficult to assign “a dollar value to a biological benefit.” She further explains that while it is possible to estimate the costs of consultation and of road upgrades and culvert replacements, “We don't know the dollar value of biological benefits. And no matter what, it would be a comparison of apples to oranges.” [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Ravalli Republic, 4/16/2004; The Missoulian, 4/15/2004; The Washington Post, 4/17/2004] Chris Nolin, chief of the division of conservation and classification at the Fish and Wildlife Service, dismissed criticisms that the decision to delete the section was based on politics. “OMB uses very strict methodology” he says, adding that the OMB has “told us repeatedly in the past to remove this kind of analysis” from public reports. But as The Washington Post notes: “The federal government, however, often publicizes analyses of the benefits of Bush administration proposals for environmental clean-up. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, found $113 billion in benefits over 10 years from provisions of the administration's 2003 Clear Skies Act.” [The Washington Post, 4/17/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Office of Management and Budget, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Chris Nolin, Bush administration, Diane Katzenberger, Environmental Protection Agency
          

August 6, 2004

       The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service's amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “At least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey.” The AP's conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service's amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency's policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: Matt Mathes, US Forest Service (USFS)  Additional Info 
          


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