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US Environmental Record

Project: US Environmental Issues
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In a memo to James R. Mahoney, head of the US Climate Change Science Program, Dr. Harlan L. Watson, the State Department’s chief climate negotiator, “strongly” recommends removing text referring to the conclusions of a National Academy of Sciences panel on climate and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He argues that the text does “not include an appropriate recognition of the underlying uncertainties and the tentative nature of a number of the assertions.” Though Watson has a doctorate in solid-state physics, he has no background in climate science. [New York Times, 6/8/2005]

Entity Tags: James R. Mahoney, Harlan L. Watson

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming

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

Category Tags: Automobile industry

Emission by type of vehicleEmission by type of vehicle [Source: National Park Service] (click image to enlarge)The National Park Service (NPS) announces a plan to reverse a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The NPS proposal would limit the number of snowmobiles permitted in the parks per day to 1,100 by December 2003. However, beginning with the 2004-2005 winter season, there would be no restrictions on the number of snowmobiles permitted in the parks. [Associated Press, 11/12/2002; Associated Press, 11/12/2002] The proposal is made despite the National Park Service having received some 360,000 emails and letters on the issue, eighty percent of which were in support of the ban. [United Press International, 11/11/2002] Lifting the ban on snowmobiles would have a considerable impact given that according to the EPA’s own figures, the emissions from a single snowmobile can equal that of 100 automobiles. [Blue Water Network, 1999; National Park Service, 5/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 2001] The EPA had recommended in 1999 that snowmobiles be barred from the two parks in order to provide the “best available protection” for air quality, wildlife and the health of people visiting and working in the park. After coming to office, the Bush administration ordered a review of the policy as part of a settlement with snowmobile manufacturers who had challenged the ban. [Associated Press, 11/12/2002]

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

Category Tags: National Parks, Snowmobile regulation, Snowmobile Industry

William Myers, the Interior Department’s solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 11/16/2002] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act… as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill’s our friend. It’s been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor’s office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA), William G. Myers III, John Falen

Category Tags: Public land use, Water pollution, Endangered species, Cattle Industry

Companies charged with violating New Source ReviewCompanies charged with violating New Source Review [Source: Clear the Air]The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a rule that makes four important changes to the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. Critics say the changes will help polluting industries maintain the status quo.
Plant-wide Applicability Limits (PALs) - This change will allow a facility to set a Plant-wide Applicability Limit (PAL) based on its average emissions over the previous ten years. A facility will be exempted from the New Source Review process when it upgrades or expands its operations if those changes do not cause the plant’s emissions to exceed its PAL. Critics complain that the change does not require plants to reduce their overall emissions when a facility expands or modifies operations.
Pollution Control and Prevention Projects - Facilities will be permitted to undertake certain environmentally beneficial activities without having to apply for NSR permits.
Clean Unit Provision - Plants that voluntarily install “best available pollution controls” will be afforded “clean unit” status and exempted from NSR provisions for a period of 15 years. The change is retroactive to 1990.
Emissions Calculation Test Methodology - Facilities will be permitted to use a more lenient method when determining if a plant upgrade has increased its emissions. With the exception of power plants, facilities will be permitted to select any 24-month period during the previous decade to serve as its baseline for determining pre-modification emission levels. The EPA also announces that it intends to revise the “Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement” exemption so that any modifications whose costs do not exceed a certain level would be exempt from the NSR provisions requiring plants to install pollution controls and conduct impact assessments on the ambient air quality when upgrading or replacing equipment. [Clean the Air, n.d. pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency, 11/22/2002; EarthVision Environmental News, 11/25/2002; ENSR International, 12/24/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Coal Industry, New Source Review, Key Events

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)

Category Tags: Public land use, Forest policy, Timber industry

Forest Service officials inform employees working for the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that their jobs are being reviewed for possible outsourcing to the private sector. The employees are assured that the review would make them “a shining example for the rest of the agency of how successful federal employees can be.” Months later, CAT will undergo “direct conversion” instead, and all but the team’s top managers will lose their jobs to private sector outsourcing (see March 2003). [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Outsourcing and privatization, Outsourcing CAT

District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

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)

Category Tags: Public land use, Forest policy, Timber industry

The Environmental Protection Agency announces the final rule on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/12/2003] One of its provisions allows factory farms to dump unlimited amounts of raw animal waste on the land. The resulting runoff will pollute waterways, killing fish and spreading disease. The rule also limits corporate liability for environmental damage and allows factory farms to devise their own permit conditions. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/16/2002]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Factory farms, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Air pollution, Public health, Key Events

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. [US Congress, 10/24/2002 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/19/2002; Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 12/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43), US Congress, Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Energy industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency withdraws a Clinton era rule that imposes total pollution limits for all water bodies and requires federal oversight on the clean-up of nearly 300,000 miles of rivers and 5 million acres of lakes. The move will make it easier for states to remove waterways from the clean-up list and more difficult for other waterways to be added. [Perks and Wetstone, 1/2003, pp. 17-18 pdf file; Environmental Defense Center, 1/13/2003]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Key Events

The Bush administration quietly announces plans to create a federal rule giving state governors increased control over the national forests in their states by allowing them to apply to the federal government for exemptions from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule on a case-by-case basis. The Roadless Rule, introduced by Clinton in January 2001, banned the construction of roads in 58. 5 million acres, or nearly one-third, of the nation’s forests. The federal rule proposal will not be formally announced until July 13, 2004 (see July 12, 2004) [Wilderness Society, n.d.; Sierra Club, 4/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Roadless Rule

The Bush administration outlines a seven-point plan “clarifying” federal guidelines on preventing wetlands loss. This reinterpretation of existing rules weakens protections for wetlands by focusing on the ecological quality of new wetlands that replace destroyed wetlands in developed areas instead of requiring acre-for-acre replacement. [Associated Press, 12/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Wetlands, Key Events

2003: Beach Problems Mount

The number of beach closings and health safety advisories increases 51 percent over the year 2002 at US oceans and Great Lakes, according to an annual survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In fact, 2003 is the worst year ever recorded by the organization since it began monitoring US shorelines fourteen years ago. Eighty-eight percent of the closings are due to high levels of bacteria indicative of human and animal waste. “We know that the high bacteria levels that cause most closings and advisories come from two sources—inadequately treated sewage and contaminated stormwater,” says Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Clean Water Project. “We have a major water system breakdown across the country, and local, state and federal authorities need to wake up and fix it.” [Environmental News Network, 8/6/2004 Sources: NRDC Annual Report - Testing the Waters 2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Natural Resources Defense Council

Category Tags: Shorelines and oceans

Randy Waite of the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning says in an email to representatives of the meat industry, “We need to start getting across the idea that farms are going to continue to be vulnerable to citizen suits and this data will go a long way in helping us, in partnership, to find solutions to some of those issues, making them less vulnerable in the long run.” The Chicago Tribune, which obtained a copy of the email along with several other documents through the Freedom of Information Act, notes that Waite sounds almost as though he considers himself a partner with the industry his agency is supposed to be regulating, “arrayed against, for example, citizens who want to file lawsuits.” [Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004]

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

Category Tags: Corruption, Factory farms

EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the president’s “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency’s jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Thomas R. Carper, Jeffrey Holmstead, Joseph Lieberman, Lincoln Chaffee, Environmental Protection Agency, John McCain

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

The Forest Service proposes a new rule that would create three new categories of timber sales exempt from National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental review and public input. The three new “categorical exclusions”—exemptions meant for activities that do not effect the environment—would apply to (1) “Low-impact silvicultural treatments involving harvest of live trees”; (2) “Harvest of dead/dying trees”; and (3) “Harvest of live, dead, or dying trees necessary to control insect and disease.” Though the Forest Service states that these activities do not have a significant effect on the environment, the rule would allow the constructions of roads through federally protected forests up to half a mile long. It would apply to more than 150 pending logging projects. [Wilderness Society, n.d.; US Forest Service, 1/3/2003 pdf file; Perks, 4/2004, pp. 17-18 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service

Category Tags: Timber industry, Key Events

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Craig Manson writes to the State of Montana and withdraws a December 2002 environmental impact assessment conducted by National Park Service scientists which had concluded that the emissions from a proposed 780-megawatt coal-fired Roundup Power Plant would negatively affect visibility and air quality at Yellowstone National Park, located 112 miles away from the plant’s proposed site. Manson, a former Sacramento judge, claims that “weather events” had skewed the results of the study. [National Parks Magazine, 3/2003; PEER, 3/16/2003; Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 10/31/2003; Perks, 4/2004, pp. 28 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Craig Manson, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: National Parks, Air pollution, Energy industry, Round Up power plant

The Bush administration announces a policy directive and proposed rulemaking that would significantly restrict the scope of the Clean Water Act, removing as much as 20 percent, or 20 million acres, of the country’s wetlands from federal jurisdiction. Officials claim the measures are necessary in order to comply with a 2001 Supreme Court decision that the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have the authority to regulate intrastate, isolated, non-navigable ponds solely on the basis that they are used by migratory birds. But the proposed rule and policy directive ignores a decision by the Department of Justice that the court’s ruling does not necessitate modifying the scope of the Clean Water Act. The administration’s directive and proposed rule interpret the 2001 decision to mean that all “isolated” intrastate, non-navigable waters are outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. [Environmental Protection Agency, 1/10/2003; New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/10/2003; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/28/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] Whereas the proposed rule must go through a lengthy federal process before going into effect, the policy directive is enacted immediately. The directive instructs regional offices of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of wetlands unless (1) the waterway lies adjacent to navigable rivers, streams and their tributaries or (2) the EPA’s headquarters in Washington has granted explicit approval to exercise regulatory authority. No approval however is required for the commencement of activities that could potentially pollute these waters. As a result of this directive, thousands of acres of wetlands, small streams, and other waters instantly lose federal protection. [New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] The proposed rule will generate an immense public outcry. Ninety-nine percent of the 135,000 comments submitted to the EPA and Army Corps on this proposal will be opposed to it. Comments supporting the proposed rule will come from the National Mining Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Association of Home Builders, and other industry groups. Additionally, environmental and natural resource government agencies from 39 states, including 17 with Republican governors, will oppose the plan, while agencies from only three states will support it. Numerous local government entities, scientific groups, as well as a bi-partisan group of 219 representatives and twenty-six senators, will also come out against the proposal. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events, Mining industry

(Show related quotes)

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Forest policy, Energy industry, Timber industry

A 50-page internal EPA report, written by the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, finds that the agency has done a poor job enforcing federal water pollution regulations. The study, which looks at about 6,600 industrial installations and wastewater treatment plants between 1999 and 2001, concludes that at any one time a quarter of all large industrial plants and water-treatment facilities are violating federal law. But only a fraction of these are ever held accountable. Furthermore, the office reports, 50 percent of the serious offenders exceed hazardous substance limits by over 100 percent and 13 percent exceed the limits by 1,000 percent. In 2001, the EPA took action against no more than 15 percent of the facilities judged to be out of compliance with water pollution rules. Less than half of these resulted in fines averaging about $6,000. [Washington Post, 6/6/2003; Reuters, 6/10/2003; Associated Press, 6/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Environmental enforcement

President Bush presents his fiscal 2004 budget proposal. In it are billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to energy companies and several anti-environment provisions including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural resources spending, renewable energy programs, and clean water programs including a $492 million, or 37 percent, cut from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Council, 2/4/2002 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/5/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Shorelines and oceans, Energy industry, Key Events

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 General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2003] It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. [Reuters, 2/25/2003] Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. [Hill, 2/19/2003] The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 113]
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 80-81]
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ted Stevens, Energy Task Force, John Dean, David Walker, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, Congressional Research Service, Brookings Institution, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Mann

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Politicization and deception, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

The National Park Service (NPS) releases its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which favors an option to reverse the November 2000 decision to ban all snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by the 2003-2004 winter season (see November 12, 2002). The new EIS—done at a cost of $2.4 million to taxpayers—results from the settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed by the state of Wyoming and the snowmobile industry to reverse the November 2000 ban. The study concludes that the “preferred option” would be to phase in a requirement that all snowmobiles used in the park be four-stroke sleds and that all operators be required to either hire a guide, pass a guide’s course or accompany someone who has passed it. [Yellowstone National Park, 2/20/2003; Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003] Former NPS leaders condemn the report’s recommendation, insisting that the 2000 plan—backed by earlier scientific studies which had determined a strict ban would be the best policy to protect air quality, sound emissions, wildlife and human health, and safety—remains the most popular with the public. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003; Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003] Critics have warned that reversing the ban would generate significantly more air pollution in the park—twice the carbon monoxide and six times the nitrogen oxide as the November 2000 ban. [US Congress, 3/13/2002; Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003] The decision to halt the phase-out is well-received by industry leaders. “We are grateful that the Bush administration has given this issue a closer look,” Clark Collins, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, tells the Boseman’s Daily Chronicle. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Park Service (NPS)

Category Tags: National Parks, Air pollution, Snowmobile Industry, Snowmobile regulation

A lawyer in the EPA’s general counsel’s office writes a confidential memo warning about the legal vulnerability of the proposed exemption (see January 14, 2002) for wood product plants from formaldehyde emission standards. The lawyer writes that the proposed exemption would result “in a regulatory approach equivalent to the one Congress specifically rejected” in 1990. “EPA would have a difficult time articulating any rational basis to defend such a… scheme.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Formaldehyde Rule

Forest Service officials inform employees of the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that the work they are doing will be outsourced to the private sector. The management team will remain, but the content analysis work will be farmed out to contract consultants. This decision is made despite the department’s reputation for remarkable efficiency. In October 2002, a study commissioned by Yosemite National Park had praised CAT saying it had a “track record… [un]equaled by any other organized process.” (see October 2002). A study three months later will conclude that outsourcing will actually cost the agency more (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Corruption, Outsourcing and privatization, Timber industry, Outsourcing CAT, Roadless Rule

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)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency withdraws a June 2000 rule intended to clean up waters polluted by nonpoint source pollution such as agricultural runoff. The Total Maximum Daily Load was set to take effect under the Clean Water Act. [Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 6/8/2005] The rule was opposed by the construction industry which claimed it would increase building costs by requiring contractors to comply with “costly and burdensome water quality requirements.” [Associated Builders and Contractors, 3/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Key Events

The National Park Service decides to reverse the Clinton administration’s decision to prohibit snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The decision ignores earlier scientific analysis concluding that a snowmobile ban is the preferred policy to protect air quality, sound emissions, wildlife, human health and safety (see February 20, 2003). [USA Today, 4/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Yellowstone National Park, Bush administration (43), Grand Teton National Park, National Park Service (NPS)

Category Tags: National Parks, Snowmobile regulation

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raises the fuel economy standard to a 22.2-mpg fleet average—an increase of only 1.5 miles per gallon—to take effect over the next three years. [US Department of Transportation, 4/1/2003] But loopholes in the regulations will result in a mere overall net increase of .3 miles per gallon. Though the administration cites the new standard as evidence of its commitment to improving air quality, critics note the negligible effect the increase will have and say that it represents only what the automobile industry was intending to do anyway. The auto industry has long complained that increasing fuel economy standards is too expensive and would negatively affect vehicle safety—assertions disputed by the National Academies of Science. [Associated Press, 4/1/2003; Alliance to Save Energy, 4/1/2003; Union of Concerned Scientists, 8/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Category Tags: Air pollution, Automobile industry, Key Events

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

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Timber industry, Key Events

April 14, 2003: Oil and Gas Regulations Eased

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) streamlines its permitting requirements for oil and gas drilling on public lands undermining the integrity of the environmental impact review and public input process. The changes were initiated by BLM Director Kathleen Clarke who instructed the agency’s staff to use new methods for reviewing applications, such as grouping applications together in bundles and performing environmental impact assessments for entire oil or gas fields instead of for individual wells. [Bureau of Land Management, 4/14/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announces that it plans to ease environmental protections for wildlife habitat in the Alaskan Western Arctic Reserve. The Bush administration is looking into opening the Western Arctic Reserve for oil and gas drilling, specifically a 600,000 acre area around and including the state’s largest arctic lake, Teshekpuk Lake. [Petroleum News, 4/20/2003; Bureau of Land Management-Alaska, 4/15/2004; Reuters, 4/17/2004] Peter Ditton, BLM’s associate state director for Alaska, stresses that the area is important for oil resources and also as a development base. A ConocoPhillips (Alaska)-Anadarko Petroleum partnership has its sights on the area which includes the “Barrow Arch East Plays,” estimated to have some 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. [Petroleum News, 4/20/2003] Oil and gas drilling would threaten the habitat of musk oxen, spotted seals, arctic peregrine falcons and beluga whales, among other species. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Ditton, Kathleen Clarke, Bush administration (43), Bureau of Land Management

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) privately meets with factory farmers to negotiate a “safe harbor” agreement. According to one draft of the deal—which bears a remarkable resemblance to a proposal made by industry lawyers (see June 11, 2003) —livestock farms would enroll in a two-year monitoring program during which time they would be exempt from federal air pollution laws and receive amnesty for their past violations as well. In exchange, the farms would pay up to $3,500 to help pay for the program. During the amnesty period, farms below a certain size would be automatically exempted from the laws. After two years, the EPA would use the collected data to establish permanent air emissions standards (see June 11, 2003). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004] But the proposal does not require that farms submit to enforcement or adopt any technologies after the program is finished. Critics of the proposed deal note also that the number of farms participating in the monitoring program would represent less than 1 percent of the total number of US factory farms. [New York Times, 5/6/2003]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Factory farms

The US Fish and Wildlife Service revises a Clinton-era judgment which had concluded that the proposed construction and operation of two mines in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana would likely have an adverse impact on the local population of grizzly bears. In January 2002, twelve months after the Bush administration came into office, the mining companies filed a lawsuit protesting this judgment. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider the case reasoning that it needed to “make sure that it [had been] based on the best available science.” Some time after the decision was made to reconsider the case, one of the mining companies abandoned its permit. The Fish and Wildlife Service, in its new judgment, concludes that the operation of one mine would not threaten the area’s grizzly bears. [Earth Justice, 1/29/2002; Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003] The proposed Rock Creek Mine, a copper and silver mine, would be the first large-scale mining operation to take place in a wilderness area. It would remove up to 10,000 tons of materials each day for up to 35 years. Critics argue that traffic brought by the mine and its accompanying roads would harm the local populations of grizzlies and bull trout and contaminate the surrounding watershed. [Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 5/18/2003; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004] The company that would operate the mine, Sterling Corporation, and its executives have a poor business and environmental record. [Mattera and Khan, 1/2003 pdf file; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Wildlife protection, Mining industry, Mining in the Cabinet Mountains, Key Events

The Bush administration sends Congress a $247-billion, six-year spending proposal which would undermine environmental protections, discourage the development of mass transit systems and threaten historical sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges by shifting regulatory authority to the state and local level and undermining public oversight. The proposal, called the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003,” would cut the federal/local funding ratio for new rail projects from 80/20 to 50/50, thus requiring local governments to pay for a larger portion of such transit systems. The bill allocates four times as much funds for roads than for mass transit. [Associated Builders and Contractors, 5/16/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Automobile industry, Key Events

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)

Category Tags: Forest policy, Timber industry

A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration’s “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress’ current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan’s previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies, Key Events

Mark ReyMark Rey [Source: USDA]Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey, who heads the US Forest Service, announces that the administration still intends to propose a rule giving state governors increased control over the national forests in their states by allowing them to apply to the federal government for exemptions from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule on a case-by-case basis (see December 23, 2002). Though the Roadless Rule would technically remain on the books, the changes would make it easier for commercial interests to obtain exemptions since industry often has considerable influence in state governments. Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, reasons: “We have an obligation to protect them. At the same time, we have always welcomed the cooperative participation of state governments that have the broadest possible support.” The announcement comes as a surprise because only a few days earlier Rey said that a temporary rule allowing some exceptions to the Roadless Rule would not be renewed. The proposed rule will be formally announced more than a year later on July 13, 2004 (see July 12, 2004). [US Department of Agricultural, n.d.; Native Forest Network, 5/30/2002; Associated Press, 6/9/2003; Mail Tribune (Medford), 6/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Mark E. Rey, US Forest Service

Category Tags: Roadless Rule

John Thorne of Capitolink and Richard E. Schwartz, an environmental law attorney, write a memo on behalf of the industrial livestock farm industry to David A. Nielsen and Sally Shaver of the EPA with an “outline for a possible livestock and poultry monitoring and safe harbor agreement.” Under the proposed agreement, the EPA would provide industrial livestock farms with amnesty from federal air quality and toxic waste clean-up laws in exchange for the industry helping to fund an EPA program to monitor air pollution at the farms [Thorne and Schwartz, 6/11/2002 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004; Crowell and Moring, 5/22/2004] EPA officials and industry leaders will meet and discuss the proposed agreement on May 5 (see May 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: John Thorne, Sally Shaver, Richard E. Schwartz, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, David A. Nielsen

Category Tags: Water pollution, Factory farms

President Bush sends Congress the Biennial Report on the Administration of the Coastal Zone Management Act, which proposes new rules that would undermine coastal states’ control over their coastlines by reducing public and state government participation in decisions affecting the coast and its resources. The changes would pave the way for new offshore oil and gas development. [US President, 6/16/2003; Environmental Defense Center, 8/21/2003]

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

Category Tags: Shorelines and oceans, Energy industry, Key Events

The EPA inspector-general launches an inquiry seeking to determine “whether the agency is deliberately misleading the public by overstating the purity of the nation’s drinking water.” The inspector general is concerned that data collected by states from their utilities—which serves as the basis for EPA assessments on national water quality—is flawed due to significant underreporting of violations. According to EPA officials and internal agency documents, states may be underreporting violations by as much as 50 percent. Notwithstanding these concerns, the EPA will release its unprecedented “Draft Report on the Environment” five days later (see June 23, 2003). The heavily criticized document will claim that in 2002, “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But internal documents dating back to March suggest the figure is closer to the 75 percent to 84 percent range. [Washington Post, 8/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Politicization and deception

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

Interior Secretary Gale Norton presents President George Bush with a report detailing the achievements of the National Park Service. The report calls attention to the $2.9 billion that the Bush administration says it has set aside for the park’s maintenance backlog. [National Park Service, 7/2/2003] But the figure is misleading because it actually refers the park’s entire maintenance budget. Only $370 million of that amount represents funds allocated to the maintenance backlog. Moreover, as the National Parks Conservation Association notes, “the president’s budget is [actually] contributing to the backlog by ignoring the annual needs of the national parks, which continue to operate with only two-thirds of the needed funding.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 7/9/2003; CNN, 8/15/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003] According to the General Accounting Office, the Park Service needs upwards of $6.8 billion to complete the deferred maintenance and repairs. Critics of the administration’s record also note that the administration’s lax enforcement of clean air policies and its plan to replace some parks’ staff with private contractors are serious threats to the national park system. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Gale A. Norton, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), National Park Service (NPS)

Category Tags: National Parks, Key Events

Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents.Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce, Lou Dubose, Judicial Watch, Jake Bernstein, National Energy Policy Development Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Fitton, Sierra Club

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

The EPA announces that its budget of $277 million will allow it to begin clean-up work at only 10 of the 20 newly proposed Superfund sites. The agency selected the 10 sites based on their potential for economic redevelopment and their risk to human health. The reason for the funding shortfall is related to the lapsing of a polluter fee in 1995, which shifted the burden of clean-ups away from corporate polluters to taxpayers. The Bush administration has made no effort to push Congress to reinstate the “polluter pays” fee. [Environmental Protection Agency, 7/17/2003; Associated Press, 7/17/2003]

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

Category Tags: Corporate welfare, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

The Bush administration announces its 10-year “Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan” which it says is aimed at reducing the “uncertainties” associated with the issue of global warming. Its goals include identifying “natural variability” in climate change; improving climate forecasting; improving methods for determining the risks of global warming; improving methods of measuring the effects of greenhouse gases; and obtaining a better understanding of the impact global warming might have on humans, wildlife, and plant communities. The task will be a collaborative effort shared among 13 different federal agencies that have been charged with producing no fewer than 21 reports over the next four years. Critics of the plan say it is an attempt to prevent anything meaningful from being done to address the human causes of global warming. They note that scientists and governments from more than 150 countries have already reached a consensus on the issue—that global warming is happening, that human activity is the dominant force behind it, and that action needs to be taken immediately, before it is too late. “We can’t wait until we have perfect knowledge on climate change,” says Michael MacCracken, an atmospheric scientist who led US efforts to determine the potential effects of global warming from 1993 to 2001. McCracken mocks the Bush administration’s presumed respect for certainty, noting that it “appears to have no uncertainty about the safety of genetically modified foods,” a technology that many experts have raised concerns about. [Associated Press, 7/23/2003; Inter Press Service, 7/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Michael MacCracken

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming

During a debate on global warming, Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok) argues that studies attempting to link greenhouse gases to higher global temperatures are not based on sound science. He says that environmentalists—who he describes as “the most powerful, most highly financed lobby in Washington”—have staged the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” He also insists that if the Senate were to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the US economy would suffer “serious harm.” [US Congress, 7/28/2003; BBC, 12/11/2003]

Entity Tags: James M. Inhofe

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming

In a 65-32 vote, the US Senate rejects a proposal that would have required automakers to increase their fleet averages to 40 miles per gallon by 2015. Current regulations require only a 27.5 mpg average. Those voting against the proposal say they are concerned that more stringent requirements would result in a loss of jobs and give consumers less choice. Senators decide instead, by a 66-30 vote, to support an industry- and labor- favored bill which turns the issue over to the Transportation Department. The bill requires that the agency consider how raising fuel efficiency requirements might impact jobs, traffic safety, and US auto manufacturers before making any changes to the current standards. [Associated Press, 7/29/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution

The Forest Service outsources the work of 47 agency employees of the Content Analysis Team (CAT) to private consulting companies, despite an August 2002 independent study praising the team for its efficiency (see October 2002) and a June 2003 internal analysis concluding that outsourcing would increase the Forest Service’s costs (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Outsourcing and privatization, Outsourcing CAT, Key Events

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, drafts a proposal that would shift the authority for releasing emergency declarations concerning public health, safety and the environment from federal regulatory agencies to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] “Under this proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis,” an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] Additionally, the White House office wants the OMB to reside over a centralized peer review process charged with vetting “any scientific or technical study relevant to regulatory policy” produced by the regulatory agencies. The OMB would have the power to reject or accept the outcome of such peer reviews. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Commercial permit applications, however, would not be subject to review. Alan Morrison, a lawyer for Public Citizen, commenting on the exception, notes, “If you want to build a dam, or dump a chemical… you evidently don’t need to have peer-reviewed science.” Academic experts who are recipients of grants from an agency whose work is being reviewed would be barred from serving on the review board. But there would be no restrictions against using experts from private industry. [Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Though the administration claims that the proposed change reflects President Bush’s commitment to “sound science,” critics say the measure would allow political interests to impede the creation of new regulations by subjecting them to a never-ending process of review and analysis. They also warn that the review process could easily become balanced in favor of industry. Backers of the administration’s proposal include the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Ford Motor Co., the American Chemistry Council, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (whose members include regulated mining concerns), and Syngenta, a pesticide company. Opponents of the plan include a number of former regulators from the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton including former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, former EPA administrators Russell Train and Carol M. Browner, heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Carter and the elder Bush; and Neal Lane, who was director of the National Science Foundation under Clinton and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. [Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Syngenta, Bush administration (43), Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Politicization and deception, Key Events

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

Category Tags: Public land use, Air pollution, Water pollution, Appointments and resignations

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

Category Tags: Public health, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a “new interpretation” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which would facilitate the importation of endangered species to the United States and permit hunters, circuses and the pet industry to kill, capture and import them. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004] The current interpretation of Section 10 of the ESA sanctions the importing of an endangered animal only under the condition that its relocation to the US would improve its chances for survival, such as captive breeding programs and similar projects aimed at preserving the species. But the Bush administration’s proposed change would allow the pet industry, circuses, and even hunters to capture and import endangered species. [Defenders of Wildlife, 10/17/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004] The Bush administration claims that its proposed policy—which would help satisfy the huge US demand for live animals, skins, parts and trophies—would be “sustainable” because it would require developing countries that export the endangered animals to use the resulting revenue to fund conservation efforts. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003] The proposed reinterpretation is condemned by environmental and wildlife advocacy groups, newspaper editorial boards, and members of Congress from both parties. Supporters of the change include the zoo, circus, and trophy hunting industries. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004]

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

Category Tags: Endangered species, Key Events

The EPA revises the “New Source Review”(NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act. Previously, the NSR required industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls when they made upgrades to their facilities. However, the provision’s revised definition of “routine maintenance” will exempt some 17,000 older power plants, oil refineries and factories from being required to install pollution controls when they replace equipment, provided that the cost does not exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of what the EPA broadly defines as the entire “process unit.” This restriction basically allows industries to replace entire plants one-fifth at a time with no concomitant responsibility to controlling its emissions. This applies even to circumstances where the upgrades increase pollution. It is estimated that the revised rule could save billions of dollars for utilities, oil companies and others. Industry has spent the last two years heavily lobbying the White House for this rollback. [Reuters, 8/28/2003; Associated Press, 8/28/2003] New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer promises to sue the administration, telling reporters, “This flagrantly illegal rule will ensure that… Americans will breathe dirtier air, contract more respiratory disease, and suffer more environmental degradation caused by air pollution.” [Reuters, 8/28/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Coal Industry, New Source Review, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency rules that carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming, cannot be regulated as a pollutant. EPA General Counsel Robert Fabricant writes in his 12-page decision, “Because the [Clean Air Act] does not authorize regulation to address climate change, it follows that [carbon dioxide] and other [greenhouse gases], as such, are not air pollutants.” His ruling reverses the position taken by the Clinton administration in 1998. Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, is pleased with the decision. “Why would you regulate a pollutant that is an inert gas that is vital to plant photosynthesis and that people exhale when they breathe? That’s not a pollutant,” he says. Melissa Carey, a climate policy specialist for Environmental Defense, disagrees. “Refusing to call greenhouse-gas emissions a pollutant is like refusing to say that smoking causes lung cancer. The Earth is round. Elvis is dead. Climate change is happening.” [Knight Ridder, 8/29/2003]

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

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming, Air pollution

A Pentagon-commissioned analysis on the potential impact of rapid global climate change warns that such an event would likely cause global instability on a massive scale as governments try by any means to defend and secure diminishing food, water, and energy supplies. “Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,” the report suggests. “Once again, warfare would define human life.” Wealthier nations “may build virtual fortresses around their countries”in order to keep out millions of starving and displaced refugees. The report’s authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network, believe the threat is serious and possibly imminent. Randall tells the London Observer that it may already be too late to avert a disaster. “We don’t know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,” he says. In their analysis, the authors say the issue “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern.” It is “plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.” The report recommends additional research on the issue and preparing a contingency plan to deal with the potential impacts of a catastrophic change in the climate. “No-regrets strategies should be identified and implemented to ensure reliable access to food supply and water, and to ensure national security.” [US Department of Defense, 10/2003; Fortune, 2/9/2004; Observer, 2/22/2004] The report was commissioned by Andrew Marshall, an influential Defense adviser who heads the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. According to the Observer, the report is suppressed for months by top officials. [Observer, 2/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Schwartz, US Department of Defense, Doug Randall, Andrew Marshall

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming

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

Category Tags: Public land use, Water pollution, Public health, Wildlife protection, Mining industry, Key Events

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

The National Cancer Institute publishes a study demonstrating that 25,000 workers exposed to formaldehyde had an increased risk of leukemia. The EPA will ignore the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: National Cancer Institute, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

A study of about 14,000 workers in England who have been exposed to formaldehyde fails to demonstrate a link between formaldehyde and leukemia. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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; US Congress, 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]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jeffrey Holmstead, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Air pollution, Public health, Environmental enforcement, New Source Review

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

After 71 days of negotiations, Congressional Republicans announce that they have agreed on an energy bill that would provide some $20 billion in tax breaks for power companies. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] President Bush voices his support for the bill—drafted mostly by Republicans—which he says will make the US “safer and stronger” by helping to “keep the lights on, the furnaces lit, and the factories running.” He also states, “By making America less reliant on foreign sources of energy, we also will make our nation more secure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2003; US President, 11/24/2003] To facilitate the bill’s passage through Congress, “negotiators sprinkled in dozens of sweeteners sought by states and congressional districts,” including nearly $1 billion in shoreline restoration projects, tax credits for a company that manufactures fuel from compressed turkey carcasses, and a provision doubling the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. The Republican lawmakers also dropped a section that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as Democrats had made clear that they would vote against any bill containing such a provision. But the Republicans decided against including a Democrat-favored plan to require large utility companies to steadily increase their use of energy from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] The bill includes:
bullet A provision introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that would provide energy companies and universities with $2 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years for research and development of ultra deep-water oil exploration techniques and “unconventional” natural gas extraction. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A controversial provision granting Gulf Coast refiners of the fuel additive MTBE $2 billion in subsidies to assist them in the phasing out of MTBE production. The phase-out, originally proposed to take 4 years, is extended to 10 by the bill. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which helps decrease smog, is known to contaminate groundwater. The new energy bill would also prevent communities from bringing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of MTBE. Tom Delay was a strong supporter of this provision, as were other legislators from Louisiana and Texas, where MTBE is produced. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A section dealing with the electric grid that would require large power companies to meet new mandatory reliability standards. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; New York Times, 11/16/2003]
bullet Royalty relief to the owners of marginal oil and gas wells. The program would apply to approximately 80 percent of all wells on federal lands. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A provision that would allow taxpayer money to fund the clean-up of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (LUST). [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet A provision authorizing Alaska’s “Denali Commission” to use over $1 billion on hydroelectric and other energy projects on Alaska Federal Lands. [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet A provision permitting urban areas like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, DC and southwestern Michigan to further delay efforts to reduce air pollution, “an action that will place a significant burden on states and municipalities down-wind of these urban centers.” [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet $100 million/year in production tax credits for the construction of up to four light-water nuclear reactors. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet Loan guarantees for building a $20 billion trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. But officials of ConocoPhillips, a major backer of the project, complain that the bill’s incentives are insufficient to get the project moving. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
bullet Tax incentives to encourage wind power generators, energy-efficient homes and hybrid passenger cars running on gasoline and batteries. Additionally, it sets aside funds for equipping government buildings with photovoltaic cells and developing energy-efficient traffic lights. The package also allocates $6.2 million to encourage bicycle use. But according to a preliminary estimate by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these progressive reforms would eliminate only about three months worth of energy use between now and 2020. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
bullet A repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which limits utility industry mergers. This provision was a top priority for the electric power industry and the White House. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003] Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate bills, acknowledge to the New York Times that the bill will likely be criticized. [New York Times, 11/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, US Congress, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay

Category Tags: Air pollution, Corporate welfare, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, MTBE, 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 Bureau of Land Management grants Questar Exploration and Development Corporation a special exemption to drill four gas wells on Wyoming’s Pinedale Mesa throughout the winter season for the second year in a row. The company will drill the wells from a single pad using directional drilling technology instead of from multiple pads which would require the use of more space and the construction of more roads. Normally companies are barred from drilling between November 15 and April 30 in order to protect the region’s wildlife population. [Associated Press, 11/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004] For at least 6,000 years, the area has served as a crucial winter range and migration corridor between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges for more than 100,000 mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Biologists fear that winter drilling in the region could disrupt this annual migration, causing significant losses to the wildlife population. For example, the corridor is critical to the survival of a herd of pronghorn antelope because it receives a lesser amount of snow than the surrounding areas. Pronghorn antelope cannot survive in the deep snow because it makes it impossible for them to evade their predators. [National Geographic, 3/28/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Questar Exploration and Development, Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Energy industry, Key Events

President Bush signs into law the defense authorization bill, which contains a controversial rider allowing the Pentagon to circumvent the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The MMPA prohibits government and commercial interests from engaging in activities harmful to the declining populations of whales, dolphins and seals. The act, passed in 1972, has been credited with halting the decline of some of those populations. The bill also exempts the military from certain provisions of the ESA. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003] For example, the bill:
bullet Permits the secretary of defense to exempt any military activity from the MMPA, without regard to its impact on whales, seals and dolphins. The Navy claims the MMPA puts American lives at risk because it makes it more difficult for the Navy to detect enemy submarines. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Loosens the MMPA definition of “harassment” of marine mammals, making it almost impossible to enforce the MMPA. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Extends the Pentagon’s exemptions to scientists who conduct research sponsored by the Navy or other federal agencies. [Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Eliminates language in the MMPA that prohibits the Navy from doing sonars, invasive research, bomb testing and other activities that threaten the habitat of whales, seals and dolphins. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Exempts US military bases and lands from ESA habitat-protection provisions. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that the new exemption will “improve… military readiness” even though a General Accounting Office study found that “very few units reported being unable to achieve combat-ready status due to inadequate training areas.” [General Accounting Office, 6/2002 pdf file; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004] Encouraged by their success at weakening the MMPA and ESA, defense officials say that next year they will attempt to modify a court agreement the Pentagon accepted the month before requiring the Navy to limit where it can use its new low-frequency sonar system that has the ability to track quiet diesel submarines. Critics argue the sonar’s frequency is so loud that it could kill noise-sensitive whales and dolphins. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003] The military is also planning to seek exemptions to the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Superfund Act (see April 6, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Shorelines and oceans, Endangered species, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/14/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 6/7/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA’s current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House’s “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

US Forest Service officials remove Michael Gertsch, a Forest Service wildlife biologist since 1976, from a team of scientists working on an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan after he repeatedly complains that the agency is misrepresenting the impact of forest fires on owl populations, which are dependent on old stands of trees. “I fought and fought and fought and fought and finally they used some excuse and removed me from the team,” he later tells the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Michael Gertsch

Category Tags: Forest policy, Timber industry, Key Events

Bruce Buckheit, the director of the EPA’s air enforcement office, is ordered to shut down ongoing New Source Review investigations—which he later says were strong cases—at several dozen coal burning power plants. In an April 2004 interview with MSNBC, he will recall: “I had to tell the regional engineers and lawyers, stop. Put your documents in the box, so that hopefully we can get back to it someday.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Environmental enforcement, Key Events

The Bush administration announces that it will abandon its January proposed rule (see January 10, 2003) to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act. However, the administration does not retract the policy directive that was announced the same day instructing regional EPA offices and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of certain wetlands. [Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events

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)

Category Tags: Forest policy, Endangered species, Timber industry, Key Events

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl—“recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Associated Press, 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archaeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Category Tags: Public land use, Cattle Industry

The National Park Service issues a final rule announcing that the number of snowmobiles permitted in Yellowstone Park will be restricted to 950 per day when parks open for the winter season on December 17. Eighty percent of the sleds must be commercially guided and meet “best available technology” (BAT) requirements. The remaining twenty percent will not have to be BAT. For the 2004-2005 winter, regulations on the maximum daily number of snowmobiles will remain the same, except that all snowmobiles will be required to meet BAT standards. Similar rules will be imposed on the use of snowmobiles in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway. [National Park Service, 12/11/2003] The decision is made in spite of the fact that independent federal studies had previously determined that reversing the Clinton-era phase-out would result in a significant increase of carbon monoxide pollution and nitrogen oxide emissions. [Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Park Service (NPS), Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park

Category Tags: National Parks, Snowmobile Industry, Snowmobile regulation, Key Events

The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. [Reuters, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Agency, Emmet Sullivan, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Superfund sites and clean-up, Cheney Energy Task Force

The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It’s a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that’s going to stay that way. We’re very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska’s governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), US Department of Agriculture

Category Tags: Timber industry, Roadless Rule, Key Events

Bruce Buckheit, 56, the director of the EPA’s air enforcement office, resigns from his post out of frustration with the Bush administration’s changes to the Clean Air Act (see August 27, 2003) (see December 2003). [New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004; Government Executive, 5/15/2004] “I had to defend something I didn’t believe in,” he explains. [Government Executive, 5/15/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Appointments and resignations

Rich Biondi, 57, associate director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, announces his retirement citing frustration with the Bush administration’s changes to the Clean Air Act (see August 27, 2003) (see December 2003). “The rug was pulled out from under us,” he later says to the New York Times. [New York Times, 1/5/2004; MSNBC, 4/20/2004] And in an interview with Government Executive Magazine, he explains: “I felt I was still on the young side. There were things I wanted to accomplish. I was on the fence. If we could have continued to do some of the work we did, we would have stayed, but we couldn’t make the contribution we thought we could make…. We weren’t given the latitude we had been, and the Bush administration was interfering more and more with the ability to get the job done. There were indications things were going to be reviewed a lot more carefully, and we needed a lot more justification to bring lawsuits.” [Government Executive, 5/15/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Environmental enforcement

NASA announces in an email sent to the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and possibly other science centers as well, that “there is a new review process.… The White House [is] now reviewing all climate related press releases.” [CBS News, 3/19/2006]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming, Politicization and deception

An anonymous NOAA public affairs officer interviewed by the Government Accountability Project will later recall being told by his boss to silence a scientist. “You make him be quiet,” the scientist says he was told, “Get that guy to stop speaking to the public… It’s your job… I cannot believe you cannot control that person.” He also says that his superiors told him that any communications on sensitive issues should not be in writing. Rather, “I was usually summoned to XXX’s office, usually with XXX [both top officials] there and the door closed.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 89 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Anonymous Public Affairs Officer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Global warming

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health completes a study of 10,000 workers who have been exposed to formaldehyde and find that they have an increased risk of leukemia. Though not published until March, it is posted on the institute’s website in early 2004. The EPA does not consider the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule for regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

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: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Air pollution, Coal Industry, Mercury

The Bureau of Land Management issues a draft environmental impact study on its plan for managing livestock grazing on 160 million acres of public lands (see December 5, 2003). The study reports that wildlife and grazing lands could suffer short-term damage as a result of the plan’s provision that would extend the time allowed for the BLM to recommend and implement changes when the agency identifies an occurrence of harmful grazing practices. The impact assessment also predicts that the new rules would do little to repair damaged streamside vegetation or protect endangered plants and animals. [Denver Post, 12/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Cattle Industry

The US Office of Surface Mining (OSM) announces that it intends to “clarify” the buffer zone rule of the Surface Mining Act of 1977, which governs permits for coal strip mines that are located within 100 feet of a stream. The Bush administration disagrees with the current interpretation of the rule which prohibits mining near streams unless it can be shown that the activities will not “adversely affect the water quantity and quality or other environmental resources of the stream.” The White House claims that the buffer zone rule is confusing and its current application too restrictive on the coal mining industry. Instead, the administration proposes a policy that would call on coal operators to minimize the impact on streams “to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available.” Critics warn that the proposed “clarification” would encourage a method of surface mining known as “mountaintop mining,” which involves the removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams. The method is extremely destructive to the environment because the resulting debris is bulldozed into nearby valleys, often completely burying streams in a practice known as “valley fill.” [Associated Press, 1/7/2004; Department of the Interior, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Charleston Gazette, 1/8/2004; Environmental News Network, 1/8/2004; New York Times, 1/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/18/2004]

Entity Tags: US Office of Surface Mining (OSM), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Mountaintop Mining, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in a report to Congress that for the second year in a row, “limited funding prevented EPA from beginning construction at all sites or providing additional funds needed to address sites in a manner believed necessary by regional officials, and caused projects to be segmented into phases and/or scaled back to accommodate available funding.” The report explains that for 2003 (see July 17, 2003), the funding shortfall amounted to $174.9 million. As a result, clean-up work at 11 Superfund sites was put off and work at 29 other locations was slowed down. [Environmental Protections Agency, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Government Executive, 1/8/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004] The 11 sites where work was postponed include Jennison-Wright Corp. in Granite City, Ill.; Continental Steel Corp. in Kokomo, Ind.; Marion Pressure Treating in Marion, La.; Atlas Tack Corp. in Fairhaven, Mass.; and Mohawk Tannery in Nashua, N.H. In 2003, the EPA completed 40 clean-ups, compared to 42 in FY 2002, and 47 in 2001. Under the Clinton administration, an average of 76 clean-ups had been completed each year. [Associated Press, 1/9/2004] The report was requested in July by US Senator Barbara Boxer, House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, Rep. Hilda Solis, and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords. [Government Executive, 1/8/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004]

Entity Tags: US Congress, John Dingell, James Jeffords, Environmental Protection Agency, Hilda Solis, Barbara Boxer, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

According to a memo authored by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, an “Intermountain Region Director’s Round Table Discussion” takes place on this date to consider plans to eliminate outside agency reviews of US Forest Service activities that are unrelated to what Bosworth has described as the “four threats”—fire risk, invasive species, un-managed recreation and loss of open space. The measure would end the practices of (1) consulting the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries on the effects of land management activities on inland aquatic species; (2) conducting environmental analyses of herbicide applications that are ostensibly done to control invasive plants; and (3) allowing state agencies to review US Forest Service activities that may affect historical and cultural artifacts as required by the Historic Preservation Act. [USDA Forest Service, 1/14/2004 pdf file; PEER, 3/18/2004]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Endangered species

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

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry

Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ]… spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004; US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004]
bullet The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.
bullet The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.
bullet The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.
bullet The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches. It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion… was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn’t listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment’s claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey” (see August 6, 2004).

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

Category Tags: Forest policy, Politicization and deception, Timber industry, Key Events

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announces that the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will provide an estimated $1 billion in subsidies to promote deep drilling for natural gas in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Companies that drill wells deeper than 15,000 feet will be exempt from having to pay royalties on the first 15 billion cubic feet of gas produced. For wells deeper than 18,000 feet, royalties will be waived on the first 25 billion cubic feet. The royalty waiver will be discontinued if natural gas prices exceed $9.34 per thousand cubic feet. Without the subsidy, it would be too costly for companies to drill such wells. Norton claims that the program will save consumers money and create an estimated 26,000 new jobs. [Associated Press, 1/23/2003; Petroleum News, 2/1/2004]

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

Category Tags: Corporate welfare, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

[pictures rearranged for display purposes] Series of photo shots included in the US Forest Services’ “Forests with a Future Brochure” brochure[pictures rearranged for display purposes] Series of photo shots included in the US Forest Services’ “Forests with a Future Brochure” brochure [Source: US Forest Service]The US Forest Service distributes a pamphlet promoting the agency’s amendment (see August 6, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan, which calls for more logging. In one section of the pamphlet, put together by a public relations firm, there is a series of six black-and-white photos taken at different times over a span of 80 years. The first picture, taken in 1909, shows a forested area with large trees spaced far apart. Each of the following pictures, taken at the same spot, show how the forest became denser over time. The photo-chronology suggests that the first picture represents how forests should appear in their natural state. But in Spring 2004, it is learned that the first picture had been taken after the area had been logged. Furthermore, the pictures were actually taken in Montana, not the Sierra Nevadas. It also turns out that the photos had similarly been used before by the agency to promote other forest-thinning initiatives. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 4/12/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Matt Mathes

Category Tags: Forest policy, Timber industry, Politicization and deception

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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 (see November 2003) (see Early 2004) 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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), David F. Durenberger, Environmental Protection Agency, Henry A. Waxman

Category Tags: Air pollution, Public health, Timber industry, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule, Key Events

The Department of Energy (DOE) says it will not request $350 million that the agency is supposed to use for the disposal of more than 85 million gallons of “high-level” radioactive waste unless Congress and state governments agree to downgrade the classification for some of the waste to “low-level” so that it can be disposed of using a less costly method that it estimates will save $29 billion. The DOE claims that some of the waste has a low enough level of radioactivity that the waste can simply be covered with concrete and left in place. But in July 2003, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the Energy Department’s plan was illegal and that the agency was bound to the nuclear waste law, which states that liquid nuclear fuel reprocessing waste is “high-level” and needs to be buried in a permanent geological storage facility. The waste, left over from Cold War armament projects, includes 53 million gallons at the DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington; 34 million gallons at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina; and 900,000 gallons at its INEEL facility in Idaho. Additionally, there are 600,000 gallons of waste from a short-lived civilian reprocessing program near West Valley, New York. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004; Associated Press, 4/8/2004; New York Times, 5/30/2004] A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey Fettus, warns that the Energy Department’s plan would in effect create “nuclear cesspools” at the weapons plants and the Savannah River plant would become the most polluted nuclear site on the planet. [New York Times, 5/30/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, US Congress, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Toxic waste, Key Events

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. [Office of Management and Budget, 2004; Washington Post, 4/11/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Public health, Lead, Key Events

The Bush administration announces its proposed 2005 budget for the EPA, which cuts the agency’s funds by more than 7 percent. While the budget does increase the Superfund by ten percent so the program can complete cleanup at 40 sites—well below Clinton’s average of 87 sites/year—the budget substantially reduces funds for clean water programs. For example, the budget cuts $492 million, or 37 percent, from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Reuters, 2/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Shorelines and oceans, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

An email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressional representatives offers advice on how to deal with questions about the environment. It recommends telling constituents that “global warming is not a fact”, air quality is “getting better,” the planet’s forests are “spreading, not deadening,” reported “links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,” the “world’s water is cleaner and reaching more people,” and that the Environmental Protection Agency was exaggerating when it warned that at least 40 percent of streams, rivers, and lakes are unsafe for drinking, fishing, or swimming. The memo insists that “the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.” Sources cited in the memo include a report from the Pacific Research Institute, which since 1998 has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil; the book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg; and scientist Richard Lindzen, whose work has been partially funded by the fossil fuel industry. [Guardian, 4/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Bjorn Lomborg, Pacific Research Institute, Richard Lindzen, Republican National Committee

Category Tags: Politicization and deception, Global warming

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

Category Tags: Corruption, Oil and gas industry

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