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US Environmental Record

Agribusiness

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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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. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/2002; Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004; 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]

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

Category Tags: Corruption, Appointments and resignations, Environmental enforcement, Agribusiness

The Bush administration seeks exemptions from the Montreal Protocol on behalf of 54 US companies and trade groups. The international agreement seeks to phase-out the pesticide methyl bromide—an odorless fumigant that is a major ozone depletor—by 2005. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/7/2004] The administration’s request cites a loophole in the protocol which allows countries to seek exemptions for “critical uses,” as long as they do not represent more than 30 percent of their baseline production level. But the Bush administration’s request amounts to 39 percent. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/7/2004] The businesses applying for the exemptions, primarily farmers and food producers, would be permitted to use up to 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see (February 28, 2004)). [New York Times, 2/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Key Events, Air pollution, Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide

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. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2003; New York Times, 6/19/2003] 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. [Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed (see June 2003) from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House (see April 2003). [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; Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA’s report also leaves out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Global Warming

Category Tags: Public land use, Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Wildlife protection, Global warming, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Agribusiness

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Agribusiness, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture announce a decision to approve the unrestricted sale of the pesticide atrazine. Manufacturers of the chemical will be responsible for monitoring atrazine residue levels in only a small percentage of the watersheds vulnerable to atrazine contamination and ensuring that they do not exceed the Clean Water Act’s total maximum daily load (TMDL). Other vulnerable waterways will not be monitored by the manufacturers or the EPA. For example, Syngenta—the major manufacturer of the chemical—agreed in private meetings with the EPA that it would monitor atrazine pollution in 20 of 1,172 watersheds labeled as high risk beginning in 2004. The number would double the following year. Atrazine has been linked to cancer and is potentially harmful to endangered fish, reptiles, amphibians, mussels, and aquatic plant life. [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/31/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Syngenta, George W. Bush, US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Agribusiness, Atrazine, Key Events

A week-long UN meeting ends in a stalemate after objections are raised over the US’s request to use 21.8 million pounds of the pesticide methyl bromide in 2005. The request threatens to reverse an international treaty’s mandated phase-out of the ozone-depleting substance. Signed in 1987 by 183 countries including the United States, the Montreal Protocol calls for the complete phase-out of methyl bromide use by 2005, but allows limited exceptions in cases where the elimination of methyl bromide would be impractical or lead to significant economic disruption. The US delegation, comprised of Bush administration officials and agribusiness interest groups, asks to use 39 percent of baseline usage levels set in 1991. The request would be a significant increase over the 30 percent usage levels currently permitted for the years 2003 and 2004. [Associated Press, 11/15/2003] Arguing that the US’s request is too high, delegations from the European Union and other nations refuse to agree to the exemption. In an unprecedented move, further debate on methyl bromide is deferred to an “Extraordinary Meeting” to be held in March 2004 (see March 24-26, 2004), where the US again will push for the 39 percent figure. [Global Environmental Change Report, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Air pollution, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service accepts the blame for a government policy that resulted in the largest fish kill in history. The US Fish and Wildlife Service admits that its decision (see April 2002) to authorize a water diversion in the Upper Klamath Basin for the benefit of commercial agriculture, trapped migrating Chinook, Coho salmon, and other species in stagnant water, killing some 33,000 fish (see September 2002). [US Fish and Wildlife Service, 11/7/2003 pdf file; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/19/2003]

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

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Agribusiness, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

The Bush administration files a request with the United Nations for additional exemptions from the Montreal Protocol’s phase-out of the pesticide methyl bromide. In February 2003, the US applied for exemptions for 54 businesses, primarily farmers and food producers, to use some 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see February 7, 2003). The new request would add 1.1 million pounds to this figure, to be used by producers of cut flowers, processed meats and tobacco seedlings. Though the signatories of the treaty are permitted exemptions for “critical uses”—as long as the requested exemptions do not represent more than 30 percent of a country’s baseline production level—the US requests both exceed the allowable limit and twice the sum of requests from all other countries. “[T]he exemptions sought by the United States for 2005 and 2006 would cause a surge in American use of methyl bromide after steady declines,” notes the New York Times. [New York Times, 3/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

Signatories to the Montreal Protocol meet in Montreal to negotiate the awarding of “critical use” exemptions for the pesticide methyl bromide (see February 7, 2003) (see (February 28, 2004)). On the last day, an agreement is reached granting 12 industrialized countries exemptions which will allow them to use 13,438 metric tons of methyl bromide for the year 2005. The countries are Australia (145 metric tons), Belgium (47), Canada (56), France (407), Greece (186), Italy (2,133), Japan (284), the Netherlands, Portugal (50), Spain (1,059), the United Kingdom (129) and the United States (8,942). The total tonnage of methyl bromide that will be used by the United States is approximately twice that of all the others. [Environment News Service, 3/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide

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. [Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004]

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

Category Tags: Corruption, Environmental enforcement, Agribusiness

Bush administration officials ask the UN to allow US industries to use an additional 458 tons of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying pesticide that is slated for elimination by an international environmental treaty (see March 24-26, 2004). The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer calls for gradually phasing out methyl bromide use by January 1, 2005, but allows for critical use exemptions in limited cases thereafter. The additional increase request brings the US’s total exemption for the year 2005 to 9,400 metric tons of methyl bromide, more than all other nations’ requests combined, and well over the 7,674 metric tons used by US agribusiness in 2002. [Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, 12/10/2004; Environmental Science & Technology, 1/12/2005] Though the stated goal of the Montreal Protocol is to gradually phase out methyl bromide use, the head of the US delegation to the UN and Bush appointee Claudia McMurray will later tell a reporter, “I can’t say to you that each year the numbers [of pounds used] would automatically go down.” [Seattle Times, 11/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), United Nations

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Air pollution, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

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