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The Bush administration's environmental record: Air pollution

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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February 27, 2002

       Eric Schaeffer, 47, head of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, sends his letter of resignation to EPA administrator Christine Whitman. In the letter he says that he and his colleagues have been “fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules that [EPA employees] are trying to enforce.” He complains that the administration is crippling the EPA's enforcement divisions with budget cuts and that the White House is working with energy-industry lobbyists to weaken the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act which requires older coal power plants to install pollution controls when upgrading plant equipment (see August 27, 2003). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/1/2002; Washington Monthly, July/August 2002; New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004 Sources: Eric Schaeffer's Letter of Resignation, February 27, 2002]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Eric Schaeffer, Bush administration
          

November 22, 2002

       The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a rule that makes four important changes to the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. Critics say the changes will help polluting industries maintain the status quo.
Plantwide Applicability Limits (PALs) - This change will allow a facility to set a Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) based on its average emissions over the previous ten years. A facility will be exempted from the New Source Review process when it upgrades or expands its operations if those changes do not cause the plant's emissions to exceed its PAL. Critics complain that the change does not require plants to reduce their overall emissions when a facility expands or modifies operations.

Pollution Control and Prevention Projects - Facilities will be permitted to undertake certain environmentally beneficial activities without having to apply for NSR permits.

Clean Unit Provision - Plants that voluntarily install “best available pollution controls” will be afforded “clean unit” status and exempted from NSR provisions for a period of 15 years. The change is retroactive to 1990.

Emissions Calculation Test Methodology - Facilities will be permitted to use a more lenient method when determining if a plant upgrade has increased its emissions. With the exception of power plants, facilities will be permitted to select any 24-month period during the previous decade to serve as its baseline for determining pre-modification emission levels.
The EPA also announces that it intends to revise the “Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement” exemption so that any modifications whose costs do not exceed a certain level would be exempt from the NSR provisions requiring plants to install pollution controls and conduct impact assessments on the ambient air quality when upgrading or replacing equipment. [Environmental Protection Agency, 11/22/2002; EarthVision Environmental News, 11/25/2002; Clean the Air, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; ENSR International, 12/24/2004]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

December 18, 2002

       The Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tells the EPA to use the discounted value of 63 percent for health impacts on senior citizens in calculating cost-benefit analyses when conducting assessments for new air pollution restrictions on polluting industries. [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency
          

December 19, 2002

       The Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget sends a report to Congress announcing that it will conduct a review of more than 300 regulations—including ones pertaining to the environment and public health—which it has slated for overhaul, reform, or elimination. The review will draw on more than 1700 recommendations from private industry and think tanks. Many of the recommendations would weaken food safety standards, energy conservation standards, and natural resources. Sixty-five of the regulations targeted for overhaul are under the jurisdiction of the EPA. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/19/2002; Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 12/20/2002 Sources: Rewriting the rules, Senate Office of Governmental Affairs, 10/24/2002]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget
          

(2003-July 2003)

       EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the President's “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by Senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency's jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Lincoln Chaffee, Joseph Lieberman, Thomas R. Carper, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Jeffrey Holmstead, John McCain
          

January 10, 2003

       Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson writes to the State of Montana and withdraws a December 2002 environmental impact assessment conducted by National Park Service scientists which had concluded that the emissions from a proposed 780-megawatt coal-fired Roundup Power Plant would negatively affect visibility and air quality at Yellowstone National Park, located 112 miles away from the plant's proposed site. Manson, a former Sacramento judge, claims that “weather events” had skewed the results of the study. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 10/31/2003; PEER, 3/16/2003; National Parks Conservation Association, 3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 4/2004, pg 28; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Craig Manson  Additional Info 
          

January 28, 2003

       The President delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration's disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” The President does not mention the issue of clean water. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003 Sources: 2003 State of the Union Address]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush  Additional Info 
          

February 4, 2003

       The President presents his fiscal 2004 budget proposal. In it are billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to energy companies and several anti-environment provisions including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural resources spending, renewable energy programs, and clean water programs including a $492 million, or 37 percent, cut from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/5/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: Environmental Spending Under the Bush FY 2003 Budget [Table]]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

February 7, 2003

       The Bush administration seeks exemptions from the Montreal Protocol on behalf of 54 US companies and trade groups. The international agreement seeks to phase-out the pesticide methyl bromide—a clear, odorless fumigant that is a major ozone depletor and known carcinogen—by 2005. [New York Times, 2/7/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003] The administration's request cites a loophole in the protocol which allows countries to seek exemptions for “critical uses,” as long as they do not represent more than 30 percent of their baseline production level. But the Bush administration's request amounts to 39 percent. [New York Times, 2/7/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003] The businesses applying for the exemptions, primarily farmers and food producers, would be permitted to use up to 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see (February 28, 2004)). [New York Times, 3/4/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

February 20, 2003

       The National Park Service (NPS) releases its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which favors an option to reverse the November 2000 decision to ban all snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by the 2003-2004 winter season (see November 12, 2002). The new EIS—done at a cost of $2.4 million to taxpayers—results from the settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed by the state of Wyoming and the snowmobile industry to reverse the November 2000 ban. The study concludes that the “preferred option” would be to phase in a requirement that all snowmobiles used in the park be four-stroke sleds and that all operators be required to either hire a guide, pass a guide's course or accompany someone who has passed it. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003; Yellowstone National Park, 2/20/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Former NPS leaders condemn the report's recommendation, insisting that the 2000 plan—backed by earlier scientific studies which had determined a strict ban would be the best policy to protect air quality, sound emissions, wildlife and human health, and safety—remains the most popular with the public. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003; Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Critics have warned that reversing the ban would generate significantly more air pollution in the park—twice the carbon monoxide and six times the nitrogen oxide as the November 2000 ban. [Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003 Sources: Testimony Of Hope Sieck Representing The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, March 13, 2002] The decision to halt the phase-out is well-received by industry leaders. “We are grateful that the Bush administration has given this issue a closer look,” Clark Collins, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, tells the Boseman's Daily Chronicle. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003]
People and organizations involved: National Park Service (NPS), Bush administration
          

April 1, 2003

       The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raises the fuel economy standard to a 22.2-mpg fleet average—an increase of only 1.5 miles per gallon—to take effect over the next three years. [US Department of Transportation, 4/1/2003] But loopholes in the regulations will result in a mere overall net increase of .3 miles per gallon. Though the administration cites the new standard as evidence of its commitment to improving air quality, critics note the negligible effect the increase will have and say that it represents only what the automobile industry was intending to do anyway. The auto industry has long complained that increasing fuel economy standards is too expensive and would negatively affect vehicle safety—assertions disputed by the National Academies of Science. [Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d.; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/2003; Alliance to Save Energy, 4/1/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Bush administration
          

May 14, 2003

       The Bush administration sends Congress a $247-billion, six-year spending proposal which would undermine environmental protections, discourage the development of mass transit systems and threaten historical sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges by shifting regulatory authority to the state and local level and undermining public oversight. The proposal, called the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003,” would cut the federal/local funding ratio for new rail projects from 80/20 to 50/50, thus requiring local governments to pay for a larger portion of such transit systems. The bill allocates four times as much funds for roads than for mass transit. [Associated Builders and Contractors, 5/16/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

June 5, 2003

       A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration's “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress' current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan's previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

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. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] 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. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

August 11, 2003

       President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [White House, 8/11/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration's policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation's worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake City Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt's strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America's clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake City Tribune, 8/12/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency
          

August 27, 2003

       The EPA revises the “New Source Review” (NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act. Previously, the NSR required industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls when they made upgrades to their facilities. However, the provision's revised definition of “routine maintenance” will exempt some 17,000 older power plants, oil refineries and factories from being required to install pollution controls when they replace equipment, provided that the cost does not exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of what the EPA broadly defines as the entire “process unit.” This restriction basically allows industries to replace entire plants one-fifth at a time with no concomitant responsibility to controlling its emissions. This applies even to circumstances where the upgrades increase pollution. It is estimated that the revised rule could save billions of dollars for utilities, oil companies and others. Industry has spent the last two years heavily lobbying the White House for this rollback. [Reuters, 8/28/2003; Associated Press, 8/28/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer promises to sue the administration, telling reporters, “This flagrantly illegal rule will ensure that ... Americans will breathe dirtier air, contract more respiratory disease, and suffer more environmental degradation caused by air pollution.” [Reuters, 8/28/2003]
People and organizations involved: Eliot Spitzer, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

October 17, 2003

       The Environmental Protection Agency announces that it will not regulate dioxins in land-applied sewage sludge, which is considered to be the second largest source for dioxin exposure. [The Washington Post, 10/18/2003; Associated Press, 10/18/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/17/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The decision goes against a December 1999 proposed rule calling on the EPA to regulate the application of sludge, which is used for fertilizer on farms, forests, parks, and golf courses. [The Washington Post, 10/18/2003; Associated Press, 10/18/2003] The EPA says that regulation is not necessary because dioxins from sewage sludge do not pose significant health or environmental risks. But according to a National Research Council report completed the year before, the agency had been using outdated methods to assess the risks of sewer sludge. [Associated Press, 10/18/2003] According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dioxins are “among the most toxic substances on Earth” and are responsible for causing cancer and diabetes, as well as nervous system and hormonal problems. The NRDC says that the decision violates the Clean Water Act, which charges the agency with restricting the level of toxic pollutants that harm human health or the environment. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/17/2003]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Ivan L. Frederick II
          

November 4, 2003

       Environmental Protection Agency officials announce during an internal meeting of EPA enforcement officials in Seattle and during a conference call the following day that current cases involving violations of the Clean Air Act will be judged according to the agency's new interpretation of the New Source Review (see August 27, 2003) —to go into effect in December (see December 2003) —instead of the old, more stringent rules that were in use at the time the violations occurred. [Los Angeles Times, 11/6/2003; New York Times, 11/6/2003; Democratic Policy Committee, 2/6/2004] The backroom decision contradicts what EPA air official Jeff Holmstead told a Senate committee in 2002. “It is certainly our intent to make these (rules) prospective only,” he claimed at the time. [USA Today, 11/6/2003] According to lawyers at the EPA, the agency's decision will likely result in the EPA dismissing investigations into 50 coal-burning power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act. According to the lawyers, the changes—based on recommendations from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force—could save the industry up to $20 billion. However in its official statement on November 5, the EPA says that no formal decision has been made to dismiss all the investigations, claiming that it would review each “on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it will be pursued or set aside.” [New York Times, 11/6/2003]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Dick Cheney, Bush administration, Jeffrey Holmstead
          

November 14, 2003

       After 71 days of negotiations, Congressional Republicans announce that they have agreed on an energy bill that would provide some $20 billion in tax breaks for power companies. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] President Bush voices his support for the bill—drafted mostly by Republicans—which he says will make the US “safer and stronger” by helping to “keep the lights on, the furnaces lit, and the factories running.” He also states, “By making America less reliant on foreign sources of energy, we also will make our nation more secure.” [White House, 11/14/2003; New York Times, 11/15/2003] To facilitate the bill's passage through Congress, “negotiators sprinkled in dozens of sweeteners sought by states and congressional districts,” including nearly $1 billion in shoreline restoration projects, tax credits for a company that manufactures fuel from compressed turkey carcasses, and a provision doubling the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. The Republican lawmakers also dropped a section that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as Democrats had made clear that they would vote against any bill containing such a provision. But the Republicans decided against including a Democrat-favored plan to require large utility companies to steadily increase their use of energy from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003] The bill includes:
A provision introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that would provide energy companies and universities with $2 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years for research and development of ultra deep-water oil exploration techniques and “unconventional” natural gas extraction. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003]

A controversial provision granting Gulf Coast refiners of the fuel additive MTBE $2 billion in subsidies to assist them in the phasing out of MTBE production. The phase-out, originally proposed to take 4 years, is extended to 10 by the bill. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which helps decrease smog, is known to contaminate groundwater. The new energy bill would also prevent communities from bringing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of MTBE. Tom Delay was a strong supporter of this provision, as were other legislators from Louisiana and Texas, where MTBE is produced. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003]

A section dealing with the electric grid that would require large power companies to meet new mandatory reliability standards. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; New York Times, 11/16/2003]

Royalty relief to the owners of marginal oil and gas wells. The program would apply to approximately 80 percent of all wells on federal lands. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]

A provision that would allow taxpayer money to fund the clean-up of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (LUST). [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

A provision authorizing Alaska's “Denali Commission” to use over $1 billion on hydroelectric and other energy projects on Alaska Federal Lands. [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

A provision permitting urban areas like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, DC and southwestern Michigan to further delay efforts to reduce air pollution, “an action that will place a significant burden on states and municipalities down-wind of these urban centers.” [Sources: Letter from head of evironmental groups to Congress about the energy bill HR 6]

$100 million/year in production tax credits for the construction of up to four light-water nuclear reactors. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

Loan guarantees for building a $20 billion trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. But officials of ConocoPhillips, a major backer of the project, complain that the bill's incentives are insufficient to get the project moving. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

Tax incentives to encourage wind power generators, energy-efficient homes and hybrid passenger cars running on gasoline and batteries. Additionally, it sets aside funds for equipping government buildings with photovoltaic cells and developing energy-efficient traffic lights. The package also allocates $6.2 million to encourage bicycle use. But according to a preliminary estimate by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these progressive reforms would eliminate only about three months worth of energy use between now and 2020. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]

A repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which limits utility industry mergers. This provision was a top priority for the electric power industry and the White House. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003 [b]]
Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate bills, acknowledge to the New York Times that the bill will likely be criticized. [New York Times, 11/15/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Pete V. Domenici, Tom DeLay  Additional Info 
          

November 26, 2003

       EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [EPA, 12/14/2000; The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003 Sources: Mercury White Paper] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA's current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House's “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [The Washington Post, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

December 2003

       Bruce Buckheit, the director of the EPA's air enforcement office, is ordered to shut down ongoing New Source Review investigations—which he later says were strong cases—at several dozen coal burning power plants. In an April 2004 interview with MSNBC, he will recall: “I had to tell the regional engineers and lawyers, stop. Put your documents in the box, so that hopefully we can get back to it someday.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bruce Buckheit, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

December 27, 2003

       Bruce Buckheit, 56, the director of the EPA's air enforcement office, resigns from his post out of frustration with the Bush administration's changes to the Clean Air Act (see August 27, 2003) (see December 2003). [New York Times, 1/5/2004; Government Executive, 5/15/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004] “I had to defend something I didn't believe in,” he explains. [Government Executive, 5/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bruce Buckheit, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

December 27, 2003

       Rich Biondi, 57, associate director of the EPA's air enforcement division, announces his retirement citing frustration with the Bush administration's changes to the Clean Air Act (see August 27, 2003) (see December 2003). “The rug was pulled out from under us,” he later says to the New York Times. [New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004] And in an interview with Government Executive Magazine, he explains: “I felt I was still on the young side. There were things I wanted to accomplish. I was on the fence. If we could have continued to do some of the work we did, we would have stayed, but we couldn't make the contribution we thought we could make.... We weren't given the latitude we had been, and the Bush administration was interfering more and more with the ability to get the job done. There were indications things were going to be reviewed a lot more carefully, and we needed a lot more justification to bring lawsuits.” [Government Executive, 5/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Bruce Buckheit
          

February 2004

       The Environmental Protection Agency meets its February 27, 2004 deadline to come up with a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions. Ignoring the opinion of experts, the EPA did not take into account the findings of two recent studies that had found that workers who were exposed to formaldehyde were at an elevated risk of leukemia. The EPA said it did not have time to incorporate the two findings before the deadline. Though extensions for such deadlines are often given, the agency did not request one. Instead, the EPA relied on a cancer risk assessment by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, a private, nonprofit research organization, funded primarily by chemical companies. That assessment was about 10,000 times weaker than the level previously used by the EPA in setting standards for formaldehyde exposure. The new federal rule is modeled on a proposal that had been designed by a lobbyist for the wood products industry (see January 14, 2002). It creates a new category of “low-risk” plants, which gives the agency the authority to decide on a plant-by-plant basis which facilities pose a risk to public health. It initially exempts eight wood products plants from having to install pollution controls for formaldehyde and other emissions, but could eventually extend the exemptions to 147 or more of the 223 facilities nationwide. The exemption allows qualifying plants to legally skirt pollution-control requirements that had been mandated by a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requiring all large industrial plants to use “best available” technology in order to reduce emissions of 189 substances. Though backers of the new rule claim that it does not violate the amendment, the lawmakers who wrote the legislation disagree. “I don't have any doubt but that is a way to get around the policy which we worked hard to achieve,” former Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) will tell the Los Angeles Times in May. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) similarly says the exemption is “directly contrary to our intent.” The new rule will save the industry as much as $66 million annually for about 10 years in potential emission control costs. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Henry A. Waxman, David F. Durenberger, Environmental Protection Agency
          

February 13, 2004

       The Environmental Protection Agency announces that it will allow North Dakota to adopt a new method for estimating air pollution. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The decision was made during a meeting between EPA administrator Michael Leavitt and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven the previous weekend. [The Washington Post, 5/19/2004] According to the agency's own specialists in air quality monitoring, the new method will grossly underestimate pollution levels, potentially allowing North Dakota to relieve itself of the stigma of being the only state whose federal preserves—Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge—are in violation of the Clean Air Act. [The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; USA Today, 9/15/2002; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/13/2004] The lower pollution levels could in turn result in the lifting of local development restrictions, allowing power companies to proceed with plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the area. “That sets the stage for new investments in our energy industry and real progress in our rural communities,” Hoeven explains. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; The Washington Post, 5/19/2004; Platts, 2/19/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration, John Hoeven
          

April 6, 2004

       The Pentagon submits a request to Congress asking it to pass legislation exempting the military's 525 live-fire ranges from key provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. For example, it wants exemptions to toxic waste laws requiring the military to clean up pollution from munitions used on training ranges. The Pentagon claims that the exemptions will improve the US military's combat readiness. [American Forces Press Services, 4/6/2004; Government Executive, 4/6/2004; Associated Press, 4/7/2004; CBS News, 4/20/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

April 19, 2004

       The attorneys general of 39 states ask Congress to turn down a Defense Department request for exemptions from environmental laws (see April 6, 2004). Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar argues that there is no evidence that the proposed exemptions would facilitate training or improve military readiness, as the military claims. Salazar notes that existing laws allow the Pentagon to apply for waivers from the laws, adding that if Congress grants the exemptions, it could limit states' ability to conduct investigations and oversee clean-ups of munitions-related contamination on 24 million acres of military lands. [CBS News, 4/20/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Ken Salazar
          


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