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Context of 'August 12, 2004: Environmental Group Report: Bush Administration Policies Are Destroying America’s Wetlands'

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The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) dictates the content of EPA press releases to the EPA’s Public Information Officer in a series of emails. “100 percent of what CEQ added was added: 100 percent of what CEQ deleted was deleted,” an internal EPA investigation will later report. [Jenkins, 7/4/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces that it will not regulate dioxins in land-applied sewage sludge, which is considered to be the second largest source for dioxin exposure. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/17/2003; Washington Post, 10/18/2003; Associated Press, 10/18/2003] 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. [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 But according to a National Research Council report completed the year before, the agency had been using outdated methods to assess the risks of sewer sludge.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]

Entity Tags: Ivan L. Frederick II, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Four leading environmental groups—the NRDC, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the National Wildlife Federation—conduct a joint expert study. The report, largely based on Army Corps of Engineers documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, shows that the Bush administration’s policies have allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands. The loss of wetlands on the Gulf Coast could have a catastophic effect since coastal wetlands weaken hurricanes before they make landfall thereby lessening the impact of such storms on populated inland regions. The report also says the policies have opened America’s waterways to massive amounts of industrial discharge. [Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” one of the report’s authors says. The study is dismissed by the chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, who describes it as “highly questionable,” and claims, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/1/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2012]
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Energy Information Administration, BrightSource Energy, US Department of Energy, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Times, Dennis Schramm, Natural Resources Defense Council, Julie Cart, Larry LaPre, Jeffrey Lovich, Johanna Wald

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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