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Key Events

Key events

General Topic Areas

Global warming
Wildlife protection
Corporate welfare
Public health
Air pollution
Public land use
National Parks
Corruption
Wetlands
Water pollution
Environmental enforcement
Outsourcing and privatization
Politicization and deception
Superfund sites and clean-up
Toxic waste
Shorelines and oceans
Endangered species
Appointments and resignations

Corporate Interests

Automobile industry
Coal Industry
Timber industry
Agribusiness
Oil and gas industry
Energy industry
Snowmobile Industry
Mining industry
Cattle Industry

Specific Pollutants

Mercury
Methyl Bromide
MTBE
Formaldehyde
Atrazine
Lead

Specific Issues and Cases

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
Clear Skies
Round Up power plant
Outsourcing CAT
New Source Review
Klamath Basin Fish Kill
Formaldehyde Rule
Mining in the Cabinet Mountains
Roadless Rule
Mountaintop Mining
Snowmobile regulation
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The Bush administration's environmental record: Environmental enforcement

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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Early 2002

       Michele Merkel, a staff attorney in the EPA's enforcement division whose specialty is in the area of factory farming, resigns because of the administration's reluctance to enforce federal regulatory laws and because she believes the livestock industry has too much influence on EPA oversight of factory farms. [Chicago Tribune, 5/16/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/3/2002; Grist Magazine, 5/24/2004] “Once the Bush team came in, I was not allowed to pursue any further air lawsuits against CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations],” she tells Muckraker. “We got political cover to continue what was underway, but I was told that new efforts were off-limits. It wasn't just coming from my EPA superiors, it was coming from the White House.” [Grist Magazine, 5/24/2004] “Ultimately what drove me out of the agency was the anti-enforcement philosophy of the current administration,” Merkel tells the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/2002]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Michele Merkel, Bush administration
          

2002

       The Environmental Protection Agency inflates its enforcement record by including counterterrorism and narcotics cases led by other agencies. The padded numbers obscure an actual decline in the EPA's enforcement activity. For example, the agency lumps 190 counterterrorism-related investigations into its annual performance report to Congress, referring to them as EPA-initiated “criminal investigations.” Sometimes an “investigation” involves nothing more than a phone call to an FBI agent who has requested assistance in a case. “I called the FBI and said, ‘If you need us, give us a call.’ That warranted a (criminal) case number. There was no investigation,” one EPA agent will explain to the Sacramento Bee. In another incident, two agents “went out on an interview, and they closed it after the interview.” The EPA counted the visit as a completed investigation. “To me, those are false statistics,” another senior agent tells the newspaper. The resulting numbers, which are reported to Congress and the public, mask “a significant drop-off in the federal government's pursuit of criminal polluters during the past two years.” [Sacramento Bee, 7/16/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

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
          

February 2003

       A 50-page internal EPA report, written by the agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance, finds that the agency has done a poor job enforcing federal water pollution regulations. The study, which looks at about 6,600 industrial installations and wastewater treatment plants between 1999 and 2001, concludes that at any one time a quarter of all large industrial plants and water-treatment facilities are violating federal law. But only a fraction of these are ever held accountable. Furthermore, the office reports, 50 percent of the serious offenders exceed hazardous substance limits by over 100 percent and 13 percent exceed the limits by 1,000 percent. In 2001, the EPA took action against no more than 15 percent of the facilities judged to be out of compliance with water pollution rules. Less than half of these resulted in fines averaging about $6,000. [Washington Post, 6/6/2003; Reuters, 6/10/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency
          

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
          

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

       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
          

(May 2004)

       Sylvia Lowrance, the former deputy administrator for enforcement at the EPA, tells the Chicago Tribune that while at the EPA her office had been instructed not to pursue any more pollution cases against farms without the approval of the senior political appointees in the EPA. “That's unprecedented in EPA,” she says. [Chicago Tribune, 5/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Sylvia Lowrance
          


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