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The Bush administration's environmental record: Public health

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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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
          

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 14, 2003

       The Environmental Protection Agency quietly lifts a 25-year-old restriction on the sale of PCB contaminated land. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are linked to cancer and neurological problems. The rollback, based on an EPA reinterpretation of an existing law, is announced in an internal memo written by EPA general counsel Robert Fabricant. Fabricant claims in the memo that the old interpretation represented “an unnecessary barrier to economic redevelopment.” Because the change is considered a “new interpretation” of existing law, the administration has no legal obligation to make a public announcement. Critics, including some EPA staffers, note that the longstanding ban served as an incentive for landowners to notify the EPA of the contamination and clean up their property. As a result, about 100 sites a year were submitted to the agency for review. They also warn that the new policy will make it hard to track sales of polluted sites and to ensure that buyers properly assess the land prior to development. [USA Today, 9/1/2003; New York Times, 9/3/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: EPA memo, Interpretive Statement on Change in Ownership of Real Property Contaminated with PCBs, August 14, 2003]
People and organizations involved: Robert E. Fabricant, Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency
          

October 8, 2003

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency's previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton's decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,” Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bush administration, Roderick Walston, John Leshy
          

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
          

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 2, 2004

       The Bush administration's proposed 2005 budget would cut $35 million from the budget of the national lead prevention program, which pays for expert home evaluations and repairs in an effort to eliminate the presence of lead-tainted particles, dust, and soil in American homes. The 20 percent budget cut—from $174 to $139 million—could prevent as many as 40,000 homes from being decontaminated in 2005. Children are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning which can cause permanent intellectual, behavioral and psychiatric problems. It is estimated that in Washington D.C. alone, there are 3,700 children younger than 6 who have elevated levels of lead in their blood. [The Washington Post, 4/11/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: 2005 Fiscal Year Budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

April 2, 2004

       The Environmental Protection Agency posts a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it will continue studying the 51 drinking water contaminants included in its 1998 Contaminant Candidate List. [Sources: Federal Register, Vol 69., No. 64] But the announcement seems to suggest that the EPA is continuing to ignore recommendations embodied in three National Research Council reports—Setting Priorities for Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), Identifying Future Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), and Classifying Drinking Water Contaminants for Regulatory Consideration (2001)—which suggested, among other things, that the agency use the latest gene-mapping technology to screen for a more comprehensive list of contaminants, including waterborne pathogens, chemical agents, disinfection byproducts, radioactive substances and biological compounds. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other health and environmental groups have urged the agency to follow the Council's recommendations in order to protect the public against the numerous contaminants that have been shown to be detrimental to human health but which are not currently regulated. [National Research Council, 5/2001; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration, National Research Council (NRC)
          


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