Profile: Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was a participant or observer in the following events:
In a memo to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol denounces esteemed climate scientist Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as someone “handpicked by Al Gore” who is using the media to get “coverage for his views.” Thus he asks, “Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?” In addition to Watson, Randol names other climate experts who he wants “removed from their positions of influence.” A year later, the Bush administration will block Watson’s reelection as IPCC chairman. [Randol, 2/6/2005 ; Mother Jones, 5/2005]
According to one unnamed EPA scientist, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) requests that the EPA make subtle language changes to a brochure on climate change. The EPA refuses to implement the changes and prints the brochures without CEQ approval. The EPA is reportedly not permitted to distribute the brochures and as a result they remain boxed up in a warehouse. [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 60 ]
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 ]
Smoke from the WTC tower collapses covers lower Manhattan on the day of 9/11, and for days afterward. [Source: ABC News/ Associated Press]The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) release a joint statement asserting that the air in downtown New York City is safe to breathe. “New samples confirm previous reports that ambient air quality meets OSHA standards and consequently is not a cause for public concern,” the agencies claim. [Environmental Protection Agency, 9/16/2001] However, the government’s statements are based on ambient air quality tests using outdated technologies. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/14/2002] Furthermore, it will later be learned that the press release was heavily edited under pressure from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Critical passages in the original draft were either deleted or modified to downplay public health risks posed by contaminants that were released into the air during the collapse of the World Trade Center. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/21/2003 ; Newsday, 8/26/2003] In late October, the New York Daily News will obtain internal EPA documents containing information that had been withheld from the public. One document says that “dioxins, PCBs, benzene, lead, and chromium are among the toxic substances detected… sometimes at levels far exceeding federal levels.” [New York Daily News, 10/26/2001] Later, in October, it will be reported that thousands of rescue workers and residents are experiencing respiratory problems that experts attribute to the toxic smoke flume and ultra fine dust. [CNN, 10/29/2001; New York Post, 10/29/2001; Newsday, 10/30/2001; BBC, 10/31/2001]
The Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the EPA’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) advises the EPA that the report “needs balance” and asserts that “global climate change has beneficial effects as well as adverse impacts.” The office also suggests removing the discussion on global warming completely from the report’s executive summary. “[D]elete climate change or use previously agreed upon material,” writes one staffer at the White House Council of Environmental Quality. Similarly, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy suggests removing a discussion of the potential impacts climate change might have on human health and ecology. The Department of Energy also gets involved, arguing through the White House that EPA should delete any discussion of atmospheric concentrations of carbon because it is not a “good indicator of climate change.” Another official warns, “Take care here and be sure to be consistent with existing administration policy. Let us try to avoid another CAR scenario.” This is a reference to the Climate Action Report (CAR) (see May 2002) that the US submitted to the UN in May 2002. That report concluded that human activities are “causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise.” White House officials also suggest making edits to particular sentences. For example, the OMB asks the EPA to delete the phrases, “alter regional patterns of climate,” and, “potentially affect the balance of radiation.” It also suggests replacing the passage, “changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities,” with, “a causal link between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Several of the edits are made by CEQ chief Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist. According to a congressional investigation, Cooney removes climate change “from a discussion of environmental issues that have global consequences, delete[s] a chart depicting historical temperature reconstruction, and insert[s] the word ‘potentially’ in several places to reduce the certainty of scientific statements regarding the impacts of climate change.” Cooney also advocates the removal of references to a 2001 National Research Council report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures rose significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. Cooney also adds a claim to the draft report that satellite data does not support global warming, and removes a phrase that says “regional patterns may be altered” by climate change. In one memo, Cooney writes, “These changes must be made.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003; US Congress, 1/30/2007 ]
EPA staffers write in a confidential memo that due to White House tinkering (see April 2003) with the agency’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) the report “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003]
In an internal EPA memo, agency staff describe three different courses of action the EPA administrator can take in dealing with the changes that the White House has made to the forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003). Over the last several weeks, White House officials have made so many changes (see April 2003) to the climate change section of the report that scientists no longer believe the section accurately depicts the scientific consensus on the issue (see April 29, 2003). The first option suggested in the memo is that the EPA administrator could accept the edits made by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget. The memo notes that this would be the “easiest” road to take, but warns that the “EPA will take responsibility and severe criticism from the science and environmental community for poorly representing the science.” The altered report “provides specific text to attack,” the memo adds. According to the memo, the White House edits “undercut” the conclusions of the National Research Council (see June 2001) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see October 1, 2001). Alternatively, the memo suggests, the EPA administrator could opt to cut the entire climate change section from the report. The last option discussed in the memo is that the EPA administrator could stand firm against the White House’s “no further changes” edict and attempt to reach a compromise. While EPA staff seem to prefer this approach, believing that this is the “only approach that could produce a credible climate change section,” they caution that confronting the White House could “antagonize” officials and that “it is likely not feasible to negotiate agreeable text.” The EPA will ultimately choose to remove the climate section completely from the report. [US Congress, 1/30/2007 ]
The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) releases its investigative report on the EPA’s response to the environmental consequences resulting from the collapse and burning of the World Trade Center towers. [BNA Daily Environment Report, 3/20/2003; Environmental Protection Agency, 8/21/2003 ] The report, titled, “EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Disaster Collapse: Challenges, Successes, and Areas for Improvement,” concludes:
The agency did not have sufficient data to support its claim that air in Lower Manhattan following September 11 was “safe to breathe” (see January 5, 2006).
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) “heavily influenced” the EPA’s press releases, minimizing the risk to public health. Selected emails analyzed by OIG “indicated that CEQ dictated the content of early press releases” (see (September 12, 2001-December 31, 2001)).
The EPA does not have an adequate system for reviewing and approving the content of EPA press releases.
The EPA misled the public by failing to acknowledge that “health standards do not exist” for the cumulative simultaneous impact of exposure to more than one toxin and that the synergistic effects resulting from these combinations are not well-understood.
The EPA Region 2 incorrectly applied AHERA and NESHAP asbestos standards as safety benchmarks when in fact these referred to the detection limits of certain testing methods (see (September 12, 2001)).
The EPA failed to consider the short-term impacts of acute exposure to various toxins.
The EPA lacked sufficient data on 10 of the 14 “pollutants of concern” identified by scientists as possible components of the WTC dust and debris.
The EPA based its assessments on a risk standard of 1-in-10,000 for only some of carcinogenic pollutants thought to be contained in the clouds instead of the 1-in-1,000,000 acceptable-risk standard. It also ignored the agency’s traditional reliance on the 1-in-100,000 level, which usually triggers corrective action.
The OIG determined there is “no evidence that EPA attempted to conceal data results from the public.” However, EPA scientist Cate Jenkins provides evidence the EPA and the City of New York DEP did in fact alter and in effect, conceal data results (see July 15, 2004).
The OIG finds that the EPA should have implemented the National Contingency Program (see 1972), which would have given EPA jurisdiction over other government agencies and control over the issue of indoor air contamination. Critics of this report will argue that the EPA had in fact implemented the NCP immediately after the attacks (see After November 1, 2001).
The White House Council on Environmental Quality blocks the reprinting of a brochure dealing with climate change. The brochure, put out by the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), contains tips on how farmers can reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases by adopting practices that promote carbon sequestration in the soil. The brochure has already been distributed to some 325,000 farmers. The NRCS also wanted to publish a Spanish version of the pamphlet. “It is not just a case of micromanagement, but really of censorship of government information,” one government official tells the Government Accountability Project. “In nearly 15 years of government service, I can’t remember ever needing clearance from the White House for such a thing.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 52-53 ]
The US Corps of Engineers submits a draft report package and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the proposed Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) wetlands restoration study (see March 2002-October 2003) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Corps is hoping that the report will be released this month, so it can be used to request congressional authorization in fall 2004 for the plan’s basic framework. But its release is held up by questions from the OMB and CEQ. In February 2004 (see February 2, 2004), the Bush administration will provide formal comments about the plan to the Corps in its 2005 proposed budget, directing the Corps to develop a less costly plan that focuses on narrower, shorter term objectives. [Associated Press, 1/29/2004; Associated Press, 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 4/2004 ; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 ]
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 ]
“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]
NOAA public affairs officer Kent Laborde writes in an email to senior public affairs staff that “CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] and OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] have given the green light for the interview with Ram [Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, a senior climate scientist]. They had me call Juliet [Eilperin, Washington Post reporter who requested the interview] to find out more specifics. She will be asking the following: what research are you doing with climate change; what research has been encouraged or discouraged by the administration; what interaction has he had with the administration; [and] does he have free reign to conduct the research her [sic] wants to do? I told Juliette [sic] that he feels comfortable to comment only on science and does not want to loose [sic] his scientific objectivity by addressing policy/potitical [sic] questions. She said since he is not a policy maker, she wouldn’t ask policy questions. Michele [St. Martin of CEQ] wants me to monitor the call and report back to her when it’s done…” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 16 ]
The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) reportedly refuses to comply with a request (see July 20, 2006) from the House Committee on Government Reform for documents related to communications between CEQ and other government agencies and non-governmental parties on the issue of climate change. On January 30, 2007, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) will explain: “When the White House resisted, we narrowed our request. When the White House resisted again, we again scaled back what had already been a reasonable request. And when the White House resisted a third time, we again tried to accommodate the president. In addition to repeatedly narrowing our request, we extended the deadlines we had suggested to the White House. But even after all those courtesies, we have received virtually nothing from this administration.” [US Congress, 1/30/2007 ; US Congress, 1/30/2007 ]
Six months after lawmakers asked (see July 20, 2006) the White House Council on Environmental Quality to provide them with documents related to its internal communications on climate change, the Bush administration releases nine documents. But the following day, Congressman Henry Waxman says the documents “add little to our inquiry. In some cases, they do not even appear to be records we were seeking.” [US Congress, 1/30/2007 ]
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