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Context of 'July 26, 2005: Bush Administration Delays Release of EPA Report Showing Decline in Fuel Efficiency among Cars in US'

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An angry and embarrassed Christine Todd Whitman, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storms into a breakfast meeting with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, waving a letter signed by four Republican senators—Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Larry Craig (R-ID), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The letter says that President Bush will soon withdraw the US from the Kyoto Accords (see March 27, 2001), even though Whitman has been telling the press Bush is committed to a “multipollutant” strategy of reducing CO2 and other emissions. Worse, Bush is going to renege on his promise to reduce C02 emissions (see September 29, 2000). O’Neill, who is until now unaware of the backchannel discussions about the administration’s environmental policy, is suspicious of the tone and language of the letter, which was faxed from Hagel’s office two days before. It sounds, he later writes, as if it came “right out of Dick Cheney’s mouth” (see March 1, 2001). O’Neill will later learn that Hagel and Cheney had been working for days to reverse Bush’s course on carbon dioxide caps, and in the process undermine Whitman (see March 8, 2001 and March 13, 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19-20]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Chuck Hagel, Environmental Protection Agency, Larry Craig, Paul O’Neill, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jesse Helms, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Environmental Protection Agency releases its 2003 Fuel Economy guide which shows that only 3.5 percent of 2003 passenger vehicles have fuel-efficiency rating of 30 miles per gallon or more. 2002 vehicles were more fuel efficient, with 5.5 percent of them getting 30 mpg or better. Cars had the highest fuel efficiency in 1988 with an average of 22.4 mpg. Not one of the EPA’s 10 most fuel efficient models are made by an American company, the report also shows. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2003; Environmental Protection Agency, 10/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush 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.” Bush does not mention the issue of clean water. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003; US President, 2/3/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Environmental Protection Agency grants the oil and gas industry a two-year reprieve from regulations aimed at reducing contaminated water run-off from construction sites. The Clinton-era EPA phase II stormwater pollution rule “A” —scheduled to go into effect on this day—requires that companies obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for construction sites between 1 and 5 acres. But the EPA has decided that the Clinton administration had underestimated the rule’s impact on the oil and gas industry. In addition to granting the two-year reprieve, the agency says it will also consider giving the industry a permanent exemption. [Associated Press, 3/10/2003; Business and Legal Reports, 3/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Yellowstone National Park, Environmental Protection Agency, Grand Teton National Park, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [US Department of the Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003] facilitating the timber industry’s access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry’s subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McInnis, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] 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. [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 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 Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/14/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/1/2003; New York Times, 9/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Robert E. Fabricant

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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,L 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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]

Entity Tags: Russell Train, Bruce Buckheit, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Associated Press, 1/22/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher’s status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species’ population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration’s forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Fish and Wildlife Service

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Army Corps of Engineers relaxes water quality and stream protections for mountaintop removal mining without consulting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to internal agency “guidance” obtained by Inside EPA, the Corps has recommended its staff to approve proposed clean water projects that would allow sewers and constructed ditches—rather than newly created streams, wetlands or water habitat—to qualify as mitigation projects replacing streams buried by mining operations. [Inside EPA, 5/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005] Commenting on the policy, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Daniel Rosenberg says, “As if letting coal companies get away with destructive mountaintop removal mining isn’t bad enough; the Bush administration says it’s a fair trade to replace buried pristine natural streams with sewers and ditches.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Russell Train, a former EPA administrator who served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, says during a news conference, organized by Environment2004, that he intends to vote for Democrat John Kerry because he believes the Bush administration’s record on the environment has been “appalling.” “It’s almost as if the motto of the administration in power today in Washington is not environmental protection, but polluter protection,” says Train, who is a Republican. “I find this deeply disturbing.” [Associated Press, 7/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Russell Train

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Rick S. Piltz, who resigned as a senior associate in the US Climate Change Science Program on March 11, sends a memorandum to dozens of top officials explaining his resignation. In the memo, he says that the politicized editing of scientific reports and other interferences by appointees were undermining the government’s effort to determine the causes and effects of global warming. “Each administration has a policy position on climate change,” he writes. “But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program.” [New York Times, 6/8/2005; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 46 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Rick S. Piltz

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

The Environmental Protection Agency decides to delay the release of its annual report on fuel economy. The report—leaked to the New York Times minutes before the decision—shows that automakers have exploited loopholes in US fuel economy regulations to manufacture vehicles that are less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980s. Fuel-efficiency has on average dropped six percent during that period, from 22.1 miles per gallon to 20.8 mpg, the report shows. Critics suggest the administration delayed the report’s release because of its potential to affect Congress’s final vote on the energy bill which mostly ignores fuel economy regulations. [New York Times, 7/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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