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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]
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).
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]
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]
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]
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 ; Charleston Gazette, 1/8/2004; Environmental News Network, 1/8/2004; New York Times, 1/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/18/2004]
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]
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]
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.
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.
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.
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).
[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 ; Associated Press, 4/12/2004]
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]
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces that it will allow North Dakota to adopt a new method for estimating air pollution. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004] The decision was made during a meeting between EPA administrator Michael Leavitt and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven the previous weekend. [Washington Post, 5/19/2004] According to the agency’s own specialists in air quality monitoring, the new method will grossly underestimate pollution levels, potentially allowing North Dakota to relieve itself of the stigma of being the only state whose federal preserves—Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge—are in violation of the Clean Air Act. [USA Today, 9/15/2002; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/13/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004] The lower pollution levels could in turn result in the lifting of local development restrictions, allowing power companies to proceed with plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the area. “That sets the stage for new investments in our energy industry and real progress in our rural communities,” Hoeven explains. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; Platts, 2/19/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004]
Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signs a final rule permitting power plants to continue using the “once-through” method to cool their turbines. The practice—condemned by critics as the most environmentally-damaging method of cooling available—relies upon water continually drawn from lakes, rivers and reservoirs for the power plants’ cooling systems. [Associated Press, 1/9/2004; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] Every year, some 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms are killed when they are trapped in the intake screens or forced through the water intake structures of these power plants. The new rule requires large power plants to reduce the number of fish and shellfish drawn into the cooling systems by 80 to 95 percent. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] However, the rule also provides large power plants with several “compliance alternatives,” such as using existing technologies, implementing additional fish protection technologies, restocking fish populations and creating wildlife habitat. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] Leavitt’s decision to sanction the continued use of the “once-through” method goes against the advice of his own staff which recommended requiring power plants to upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems which use 95 percent less water and which pose far less of a risk to aquatic ecosystems. But the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which works under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, reportedly opposed requiring plants to switch to the newer more expensive closed-cycle system. [Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] The new rule applies to 550 power plants that withdraw 222 billion gallons of water daily from American waterways. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004]
Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]
The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment’s grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [Greenwire, 2/10/2004; US Forest Service, 2/20/2004]
The Bush administration files a request with the United Nations for additional exemptions from the Montreal Protocol’s phase-out of the pesticide methyl bromide. In February 2003, the US applied for exemptions for 54 businesses, primarily farmers and food producers, to use some 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see February 7, 2003). The new request would add 1.1 million pounds to this figure, to be used by producers of cut flowers, processed meats and tobacco seedlings. Though the signatories of the treaty are permitted exemptions for “critical uses”—as long as the requested exemptions do not represent more than 30 percent of a country’s baseline production level—the US requests both exceed the allowable limit and twice the sum of requests from all other countries. “[T]he exemptions sought by the United States for 2005 and 2006 would cause a surge in American use of methyl bromide after steady declines,” notes the New York Times. [New York Times, 3/4/2004]
The Oregon and California State Offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regional Offices of the Forest Service jointly announce two changes to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that will reduce federal wildlife protections and lead to increased logging on public lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The first change drops the “survey and manage” rule, which requires forest managers to search forests for about 300 rare plants and animals not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act prior to the logging of old-growth forests. The Forest Service says that the process is time-consuming and expensive, thus making it difficult for timber companies to meet the maximum, allowable, annual timber harvest level of 800 million board feet a year that is permitted under the Northwest Forest Plan. The US Forest Service estimates that this change will allow the timber industry to log an additional 70 million board feet a year. The second change concerns the plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), which was created to restore and maintain the ecological health of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in order to ensure that logging and roadbuilding does not damage salmon bearing watersheds. Instead of requiring that individual logging projects meet all ACS requirements, forest managers will only have to see that the standards are met at the “fifth-field watershed scale,” which usually represents an area of about 20,000 to 100,000 acres. [Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, 3/23/2004; Oregonian, 3/24/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2004]
Signatories to the Montreal Protocol meet in Montreal to negotiate the awarding of “critical use” exemptions for the pesticide methyl bromide (see February 7, 2003)
(see (February 28, 2004)). On the last day, an agreement is reached granting 12 industrialized countries exemptions which will allow them to use 13,438 metric tons of methyl bromide for the year 2005. The countries are Australia (145 metric tons), Belgium (47), Canada (56), France (407), Greece (186), Italy (2,133), Japan (284), the Netherlands, Portugal (50), Spain (1,059), the United Kingdom (129) and the United States (8,942). The total tonnage of methyl bromide that will be used by the United States is approximately twice that of all the others. [Environment News Service, 3/29/2004]
The Pentagon submits a request to Congress asking it to pass legislation exempting the military’s 525 live-fire ranges from key provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. For example, it wants exemptions to toxic waste laws requiring the military to clean up pollution from munitions used on training ranges. The Pentagon claims that the exemptions will improve the US military’s combat readiness. [American Forces Press Service, 4/6/2004; Government Executive, 4/6/2004; Associated Press, 4/7/2004; CBS News, 4/20/2004]
Sylvia Lowrance, the former deputy administrator for enforcement at the EPA, tells the Chicago Tribune that while at the EPA her office had been instructed not to pursue any more pollution cases against farms without the approval of the senior political appointees in the EPA. “That’s unprecedented in EPA,” she says. [Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004]
The US Army Corps of Engineers relaxes water quality and stream protections for mountaintop removal mining without consulting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to internal agency “guidance” obtained by Inside EPA, the Corps has recommended its staff to approve proposed clean water projects that would allow sewers and constructed ditches—rather than newly created streams, wetlands or water habitat—to qualify as mitigation projects replacing streams buried by mining operations. [Inside EPA, 5/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005] Commenting on the policy, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Daniel Rosenberg says, “As if letting coal companies get away with destructive mountaintop removal mining isn’t bad enough; the Bush administration says it’s a fair trade to replace buried pristine natural streams with sewers and ditches.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005]
The US Court of Appeals rules on a lawsuit brought against the EPA by two environmental groups who argued that a 2002 EPA rule requiring snowmobile manufactures to cut tailpipe emissions by 50 percent by 2012 was too lenient. The snowmobile industry argued that the EPA did not even have the authority to impose pollution limits on new snowmobiles. The court disagrees with the industry’s argument and rules on the side of the environmentalists. The three-judge panel questions the logic behind the EPA decision that 30 percent of new snowmobiles should be exempt from clean engine requirements and tells the agency that it needs to provide additional information. The industry claimed that 100 percent compliance would cost the industry too much and force manufacturers to stop making certain models. But the court sees nothing wrong with requiring manufactures to discontinue older models equipped with dirty engines. [Associated Press, 6/1/2004]
The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service’s amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “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.” The AP’s conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service’s amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency’s policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) warns colleagues in Senate that US must invest in flood control projects in Louisiana in order to avert a major natural disaster in the event of a hurricane making landfall in Southern Louisiana. “I want to speak this morning about what we can do here in Washington a little better, with a little more energy, with a little more focus to help the people in Louisiana and throughout the gulf coast area. Not only do they deserve our help, but because of the energy industry and the economic benefits they bring to the whole country, they not only need our help, they deserve our help. They deserve our attention…. We are talking about severe devastation when a Category 3 or Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane pushes that water out of the gulf, out of Lake Pontchartrain into the tremendously populated areas around the gulf coast.… We are in Iraq, in an important battle, but part of our objective there is to secure an oil supply for the region and for the Nation and to use that for the betterment of the people of Iraq, for their growth and development and the security and stability of the world, as well as to fight for other issues. We are fighting to get 1 to 3 million barrels out of Iraq, and right here in the Gulf of Mexico, today, we have a facility that has virtually been shut down because of a hurricane. Nearly a million barrels is being imported in this country, and exported, a year.… My point is, I hope we will again use this opportunity to focus on the critical infrastructure needs necessary for Louisiana and the gulf coast of Mississippi and Alabama primarily to protect itself not just from homeland security threats from terrorists but real threats of weather.… Yet time and time again, when Louisiana comes to ask, ‘Could we please have just a portion of the revenue that we send?’—we are not asking for charity; we are asking for something we earned; we are happy to share with the rest of the country to help invest in infrastructure—we are told: We cannot do it this year. We do not have enough money. It is not a high enough priority.… Well, I do not know when it is going to get to be a high enough priority. I hate to say maybe it is going to take the loss thousands of lives on the Gulf Coast to make this country wake up and realize in what we are under-investing.… We also have a bill through the WRDA legislation, which is the traditional funding for the Corps of Engineers, the federal agency primarily responsible to keep the waterways dredged, to keep the levees up as high as possible, to work with our local flood control folks, particularly our levee boards in Louisiana, which are some of the most important public entities we have, that literally keep people dry from heavy rains and from floods and storms of this nature.… We need our federal government to understand that we are happy to share our resources and riches with the world, but we do deserve a greater portion of these revenues to keep our people safe, to keep our infrastructure intact, and, most certainly, to be respectful of what the people of Louisiana and the entire gulf coast contribute to our national well-being and security. .. [A]s a Senator representing the State of Louisiana, the chances of it happening sometime are pretty good. If we do not improve our transportation evacuation routes, invest in protecting this infrastructure, and focusing on reinvesting some of the tremendous wealth that has been taken from this area, and reinvesting it back, we will only have ourselves to blame.” [US Congress, 9/15/2004, pp. S9257-S9260]
Bush administration officials ask the UN to allow US industries to use an additional 458 tons of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying pesticide that is slated for elimination by an international environmental treaty (see March 24-26, 2004). The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer calls for gradually phasing out methyl bromide use by January 1, 2005, but allows for critical use exemptions in limited cases thereafter. The additional increase request brings the US’s total exemption for the year 2005 to 9,400 metric tons of methyl bromide, more than all other nations’ requests combined, and well over the 7,674 metric tons used by US agribusiness in 2002. [Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, 12/10/2004; Environmental Science & Technology, 1/12/2005] Though the stated goal of the Montreal Protocol is to gradually phase out methyl bromide use, the head of the US delegation to the UN and Bush appointee Claudia McMurray will later tell a reporter, “I can’t say to you that each year the numbers [of pounds used] would automatically go down.” [Seattle Times, 11/28/2005]
Criminal and civil environmental violations fall off sharply during the Bush administration’s first term. A study of internal Justice Department records obtained by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that federal prosecutions of environmental crimes decline by 23 percent after President Bush takes office. Convictions for environmental violations are also fewer than in President Clinton’s second term, as are referrals to prosecutors by regulatory agencies. [Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, 9/19/2004] A separate study shows that civil lawsuits brought against polluters also fall dramatically during this period. In the first three years of the Bush administration, only nine suits to enforce the Clean Air Act are filed by the EPA, compared to 61 in the three years prior to Bush taking office. EPA litigation to enforce the Clean Water Act declines by over 39 percent over the same period. [Environmental Integrity Project, 10/12/2004] The study is compiled by Eric Schaeffer, the former director of the EPA Office of Regulatory Enforcement who resigns from his post in 2002 (see February 27, 2002)
Dr. Harlan L. Watson, the State Department’s chief climate negotiator, tells BBC Radio, “We are still not convinced of the need to move forward quite so quickly. There is general agreement that there is a lot known, but also there is a lot to be known.” [Reuters, 5/16/2005; New York Times, 6/8/2005]
Rick S. Piltz, who resigned as a senior associate in the US Climate Change Science Program on March 11, sends a memorandum to dozens of top officials explaining his resignation. In the memo, he says that the politicized editing of scientific reports and other interferences by appointees were undermining the government’s effort to determine the causes and effects of global warming. “Each administration has a policy position on climate change,” he writes. “But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program.” [New York Times, 6/8/2005; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 46 ]
Several prominent former Louisiana politicians sign a letter urging President Bush to support the 2005 Energy Policy Act (HR 6)‘s provisions for revenue sharing (see April 21, 2005)
(see June 28, 2005). Endorsed by former Governors Mike Foster (R-LA), Buddy Roemer (R-LA), David Treen (R-LA) and former Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), the letter states: “Louisiana puts an average of $5 billion each year into the Federal treasury from revenues produced off its shore. Energy Bill provisions that would give a meaningful share of those revenues through direct payments to Louisiana and other coastal states that host so much of the nation’s energy production are critical.” [Associated Press, 7/22/2005; Louisiana, 7/22/2005]
The Environmental Protection Agency decides to delay the release of its annual report on fuel economy. The report—leaked to the New York Times minutes before the decision—shows that automakers have exploited loopholes in US fuel economy regulations to manufacture vehicles that are less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980s. Fuel-efficiency has on average dropped six percent during that period, from 22.1 miles per gallon to 20.8 mpg, the report shows. Critics suggest the administration delayed the report’s release because of its potential to affect Congress’s final vote on the energy bill which mostly ignores fuel economy regulations. [New York Times, 7/28/2005]
A veteran FEMA official tells the Washington Post, “It’s such an irony I hate to say it, but we have less capability today than we did on September 11.” Another official tells the newspaper: “We are so much less than what we were in 2000. We’ve lost a lot of what we were able to do then.” Reprentative David E. Price (D-NC) says, “What we were afraid of, and what is coming to pass, is that FEMA has basically been destroyed as a coherent, fast-on-its-feet, independent agency.” [Washington Post, 9/4/2005] Similarly, Bill Waugh, an academic expert on emergency management at Georgia State University, tells the Wall Street Journal, “The events of the last week have shown is that over the last few years since 9/11 we have slowly disassembled our national emergency response system and put in its place something far inferior. We reinvented the wheel when we didn’t need to and now have something that doesn’t roll very well at all.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2005]
NASA quietly terminates the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a program that would have provided scientists with a way to continuously monitor Earth’s energy balance. According to Robert L. Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, data obtained by the observatory would have helped scientists develop a better understanding of global warming. The observatory, named Triana, was the brainchild of former Vice President Al Gore. Its launch, scheduled for 2001, was put on hold by the Bush administration, which ridiculed the project as “Gore’s screen saver.” Gore had suggested that the program could stream video footage of the earth into classrooms so students could watch the earth’s weather systems live from space. NASA says it decided to terminate the project because of “competing priorities.” Launching the satellite would have cost only $100 million. [New York Times, 1/15/2006] In 2004, President Bush announced that one of his administration’s space priorities would be to begin a program that would send manned space flights to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars.
(see January 11, 2004)
Dr. James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top climate scientist, reveals that the Bush administration ordered NASA’s public affairs staff to review his lectures, papers, Web site postings, and interview requests after he gave a lecture calling for the reduction of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. “They feel their job is to be the censor of information going out to the public,” Hansen says, and he promises to ignore the restrictions. NASA denies trying to silence Hansen, saying the restrictions apply to all NASA officials, and adds that it is inappropriate for government scientists to make policy statements (see Between June 2003 and October 2003, (January 2006), and (Late January 2006)). [Savage, 2007, pp. 106] This is not the first time Hansen has gone public about government attempts to censor and muzzle him and his fellows (see October 2004, October 26, 2004, and February 10, 2006).
A National Public Radio producer calls NASA to request an interview with climate scientist James Hansen. The call is taken by George C. Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer. Deutsch rejects the request reportedly telling the producer that NPR is “the most liberal” media outlet in the US and that his job is “to make the president look good.” Deutsch denies making the remarks. [New York Times, 1/29/2006] Deutch, 24, was appointed to NASA’s public affairs office in Washington in 2005 after working on the president’s re-election campaign and inaugural committee. He will be fired from him job on February 8 after it emerges that his resume on file wrongly states that he had graduated from Texas A&M University in 2003. [New York Times, 2/8/2006]
The Bush administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2007 proposes an 80 percent cut to the EPA’s library budget. The White House wants to trim it down from $2.5 million to half a million dollars. To meet this lean budget, the EPA intends to eliminate its electronic catalog, which tracks some 50,000 documents and studies that are available nowhere else, and shut down its headquarters library and several of its regional libraries. The EPA manages a network of 28 libraries from its Washington headquarters and has 10 regional offices nationwide. The libraries are used primarily by EPA scientists, regulators, and attorneys to enforce existing environmental regulations, develop new regulations, track the business histories of regulated industries, and research the safety of chemicals and the potential environmental effects of new technologies. [PEER, 2/10/2006] Though the EPA insists the closures are necessary to trim costs, internal studies have reportedly shown that providing full library access to its researchers saves an estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5 million annually. [PEER, 6/29/2006] Patrice McDermott, deputy director of the Office of Government Relations, says the proposed cuts would put “at risk important environmental information and the public’s ability to access the information they need to protect their health and safety.” [Federal Computer Week, 3/13/2006]
After critics complain that the EPA’s plan to eliminate its electronic catalog would make it impossible for researchers to locate any of the libraries’ holdings within the network, the EPA announces that it will restore the $500,000 that Bush’s proposed 2007 budget wants to cut for this service. But to offset this amount, the agency says it will have to make even deeper cuts elsewhere in its library budget. [PEER, 3/16/2006] In February, the Bush administration’s 2007 budget request proposed cutting the EPA’s library budget 80 percent by closing many of its libraries (see Early February 2006).
EPA Midwestern Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner writes in an email to employees that the EPA library at Chicago regional headquarters “will close in the near future” in order “to allow time for an orderly relocation of our library collection.” The memo explains that the Bush administration’s 2007 budget request, which has not been approved by Congress, has proposed reducing funding for the Chicago library by 90 percent (see Early February 2006). [PEER, 3/16/2006] The agency does not publish any notice in the Federal Register about the closure of this library, despite a federal requirement (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130) that the public be notified whenever “terminating significant information dissemination products.” [PEER, 8/21/2006] The library serves the six-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. [PEER, 3/16/2006]
A study completed by Canada’s Round Table on the Environment and the Economy concludes that Canada is capable of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent by 2050 using existing technologies. Achieving this goal would require designing all cars, trucks, appliances, and buildings for greater efficiency. Coal power-plants would use clean technology and carbon sequestration systems would be installed across the country. It would also require expanding nuclear power by more than 50 percent, something that would be met with resistance by environmentalists because of the dangers posed by the disposal of nuclear waste. The study’s predictions are based on the assumption of a growing economy (100 percent increase), a national population of 45 million (100 percent increase), continued use of cars and trucks, and the expansion of Canada’s east-west electricity grid. The study also says that implementing a plan for the drastic reduction of energy use would create new market opportunities. “We’re saying that if these things are done intelligently, there is likely to be some substantial market opportunities,” says Alex Wood, an analyst with the round table. [Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 6/2006 ; Canadian Press, 6/21/2006; Toronto Star, 6/22/2006]
Representatives for 10,000 EPA scientists write a letter to Congress protesting the Bush administration’s plan to close the agency’s research libraries. The letter’s authors, representing more than half of the EPA’s total workforce, say that about 50,000 original research documents will become completely unavailable because the agency has no plan to digitize them. Nor does the agency have plans to maintain the inter-library loan process. The letter warns that the closures would make thousands of scientific studies inaccessible, making it more difficult to prepare for emergencies and enforce environmental laws. As an example of the impact that these measures will have, Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, notes that “important research on the Chesapeake Bay is locked away in boxes since EPA closed its Ft. Meade library in February, yet EPA still maintains that restoring the Chesapeake is a top priority.” The letter describes the library closures as another “example of the Bush administration’s effort to suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics.” [PEER, 6/29/2006; Saracco et al., 6/29/2006 ]
An internal EPA document reveals that the agency plans to immediately implement the Bush administration’s proposed budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, without waiting for congressional approval. The memo, titled “EPA FY 2007 Library Plan,” describes “deaccessioning procedures” for the “the removal of library materials from the physical collection.” The document says that regional libraries located in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City will be closed by September 30 while library hours and services at other regional facilities will be gradually reduced. As many as 80,000 original documents, which are not electronically available, will be boxed up and shipped to a new location until they are eventually digitized. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/15/2006 ; PEER, 8/21/2006]
The EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance warns in an internal memo that the administration’s plan to close several of the agency’s technical libraries will “compromise” its effort to prosecute polluters. EPA enforcement staff use the libraries to obtain technical information needed to prosecute businesses that violate environmental regulations. The memo explains: “If OECA is involved in a civil or criminal litigation and the judge asks for documentation, we can currently rely upon a library to locate the information and have it produced to a court house in a timely manner. Under the cuts called for in the plan, timeliness for such services is not addressed.” [PEER, 8/28/2006]
The AFGE National Council of EPA Locals files a formal grievance demanding that the EPA put on hold all scheduled library closures until the affected scientists can negotiate the matter as required in their collective bargaining agreement. The grievance states that while EPA management “has been insisting that it can effectively ‘do more with less,’ and continue to provide the same level of library services to all of EPA’s staff members despite the reduction in the number of library contractor staff, the council is not convinced that this is the case.” [Locals, 8/16/2006 ; PEER, 8/21/2006]
The ranking members of the House Government Reform Committee and the Committee on Science, Energy, and Commerce ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact that Bush’s proposed budget cuts (see Early February 2006) and the EPA library closures (see, e.g., August 15, 2006 and October 20, 2006 and After) will have on scientific research, regulatory quality, and enforcement capability. The letter cites the concerns of EPA scientists that the changes will “harm the agency’s ability to carry out its mission and will be especially damaging to EPA’s ability to enforce environmental laws.” It adds that EPA employees fear the library reorganization scheme may result in the “permanent” loss of access to many documents. [PEER, 8/21/2006; Gordon, Waxman, and Dingall, 9/19/2006 ]
The EPA publishes a notice in the Federal Register that it will be closing its headquarter library on October 1. The library contains 380,000 documents on microfiche, a microforms collection of abstracts and indexes, 5,500 hard copy agency documents, and more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by other government agencies. The EPA has already quietly closed several regional libraries, whose collections are currently not available to anyone, even the agency’s own scientists (see August 15, 2006). Though agency officials insist that the collections from these libraries will be digitized and made available via the Internet, no funds have yet been allocated for this purpose. [PEER, 8/21/2006; Environmental Protection Agency, 9/20/2006 ] Unlike today’s notice about the closing of the headquarter library, no public notice was given for the closures of the agency’s regional libraries (see August 15, 2006).
Citing proposed cuts in its 2007 fiscal year budget, the EPA begins ordering its regional offices to cancel subscriptions to several of the technical journals and environmental publications that are used by its scientists. One internal email reveals that the agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region is being asked “to cut its journal renewals about in half.” According to the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the subscription cancellations mean that “agency scientists and other technical specialists will no longer have ready access to materials that keep them abreast of developments within their fields. Moreover, enforcement staff, investigators, and other professionals will have a harder time tracking new developments affecting their cases and projects.” The cancellations come on top of the closures of several EPA libraries that have already cut employees’ access off from tens of thousands of documents (see, e.g., September 20, 2006 and August 15, 2006). When news of the library closures sparked protest from EPA scientists over the summer (see June 29, 2006), agency officials attempted to assuage their concerns with promises that the EPA would implement a “new library plan to make environmental information more accessible to employees.” But critics say the subscription cancellations contradict this claim and are a clear sign that the agency does not intend to improve its staff’s access to the information. [PEER, 10/9/2006]
The EPA quietly closes its Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, packing its paper-only collection of documents into boxes and storing them in a basement cafeteria. The uncataloged collection is now completely unaccessible to government scientists. The library was used by EPA scientists who review applications from chemical companies who want to market new chemicals. Critics say the closure will make it more difficult for EPA scientists to determine the safety of new chemicals. In violation of federal policy (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130), the agency issued no public notice about dismantlement of the library. [PEER, 10/30/2006] Not even the scientists who use the library were given prior notice. [PEER, 11/20/2006] Nor was the library included in the “EPA FY 2007 Framework” listing libraries slated to be shut down. [PEER, 10/30/2006] The library’s collections is supposed to be distributed to other EPA libraries, but some of the documents will be tossed into garbage bins (see October 20, 2006 and After).
On October 20, the EPA quietly closed its Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, which housed thousands of one-of-a-kind documents relating to the safety of chemicals (see October 20, 2006). Material from the library had been used by government scientists to review industry applications for new chemicals. Since the closure, the agency has asked other EPA libraries to take possession of the documents. But documents that have not been claimed by other libraries are being tossed into garbage bins. Jeff Ruch, of the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has been an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures. According to him, it appears as if “the appointed management at EPA is determined to actually reduce the sum total of human knowledge. EPA is not an agency renowned for its speed, so its undue haste in dumping library holdings suggests a political agenda rather than anything resembling a rational information management plan.” [PEER, 11/20/2006]
Four incoming House Democratic committee chairs write a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson demanding that the agency immediately cease the “destruction or disposition of all [EPA] library holdings… and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials” be kept safe. On October 1, the EPA closed several regional libraries and has since boxed up or destroyed collections from these libraries as part of a library reorganization plan. The closures were prompted by Bush’s 2007 budget request which slashed funding for the EPA’s network of technical libraries (see Early February 2006). However, neither the budget request nor the reorganization plan has been approved by Congress. [Gordon et al., 11/30/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] The next day, on December 1, the EPA, apparently ignoring the senators’ request, removes thousands of documents from the website of the Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library [Stoss, 12/4/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] , which was quietly shut down about six weeks ago (see October 20, 2006).
The EPA releases a staff paper evaluating the policy implications of recent studies on the health and environmental impacts of lead pollutants in an effort to determine whether it may be appropriate to abolish the national standard for lead. It states that “given the significantly changed circumstances since Pb [lead] was listed in 1976, we will evaluate the status of Pb as a criteria.” [US Environmental Protection Agency, 12/2006, pp. 1-1 ; US Congress, 12/6/2006 ] The EPA’s current hazard summary for lead compounds states that “[l]ead is a very toxic element, causing a variety of effects at low dose levels. Brain damage, kidney damage, and gastrointestinal distress are seen from acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of lead in humans.” [US Environmental Protection Agency, 1/2000] Earlier in the year, a lobbying group named Battery Council International wrote to a top EPA air quality official asking him to remove lead from the EPA’s list of air pollutants. The organization also spent $220,000 lobbying public officials from 1998-2002. [Associated Press, 12/7/2006; Center for Responsive Politics, 12/16/2006, pp. 1998-2002]
As part of a library reorganization plan that was proposed in Bush’s 2007 budget request (see Early February 2006), but not approved by Congress, the EPA begins hurriedly selling library assets off for less than a penny on the dollar. Acting on orders from EPA headquarters, the agency auctions off over $40,000 worth of furniture and equipment from the recently closed Chicago regional library for a mere $350. The woman who purchases the merchandise says she expects to resell the goods for about $80,000. [GSA Auctions, 10/23/2006 ; Partee, 10/28/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] Critics suggest that the motivation behind the rushed liquidation sale is to prevent a re-opening of the libraries should Congress vote down Bush’s budget cuts. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures, notes, “One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors.” [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006]
The US Geological Survey establishes new rules requiring the screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The rules say that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.” Such “products” include all public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks. P. Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director, insists the new requirements are being implemented to improve scientists’ accountability, maintain their neutrality, and “harmonize” the review process. Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif, disagrees. “I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do,” he says, adding that he thinks the motivation behind the new rules is “to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.” [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]
Jeremy Grantham, chairman of a Boston-based fund management company, in his quarterly letter to clients includes a commentary on the United States’ policy toward climate change, particularly that of the current administration. One of Grantham’s clients happens to be Vice President Dick Cheney. In his piece, titled “While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data,” Grantham writes, “Successive US administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain.” Grantham embraces the conclusions of the latest IPCC report (see February 2, 2007), saying, “There is now nearly universal scientific agreement that fossil fuel use is causing a rise in global temperatures. The US is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation (funded mainly by one large oil company)” (see Between 1998 and 2005). If anyone is still sitting on the fence, he suggests considering Pascal’s Paradox—in other words, comparing the consequences of action vs. inaction if the IPCC’s conclusions are correct. Grantham, whose company manages $127 billion in assets, disputes the notion that going green would harm the US economy, noting that industrialized countries with better fuel efficiency have on average seen better economic growth than the US over the last 50 years. Instead of implementing a policy that would have increased fuel efficiency, the country’s “auto fleet fuel efficiency went backwards over 26 years by ingeniously offsetting substantial technological advances with equally substantial increases in weight,” he notes. “In contrast, the average Western European and Japanese cars increased efficiency by almost 50 percent.” He also writes that the US might have eliminated its oil dependency on the Middle East years ago had it simply implemented a “reasonable set of increased efficiencies.” If there were just 10 percent less cars on the road than there are today, and each one drove 10 percent fewer miles using vehicles that were 50 percent more efficient, US demand for oil would be 28 percent lower, he explains. If similar efficiency had been attained in other modes of transportation, the US would have been able to reduce its reliance on foreign oil by 38 percent completely eliminating its reliance on oil from Middle East, which currently accounts for only 28 percent of US oil imports. He also notes in his letter, which apparently was leaked to President Bush before publication, “Needless to say, our whole attitude and behavior in the Middle East would have been far different, and far less painful and costly. (Oil was clearly not the only issue, or perhaps even the biggest one in Iraq, but it is unlikely that US troops would have fought two wars had it been a non-oil country in, say, Africa or the Far East that was equally badly behaved.)” [Street, 2/5/2007; Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo, 2/5/2007]
Some of the tens of thousands of salmon killed due to the artificial water lowering by the Department of the Interior. [Source: Environmental News Service]The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), decides to investigate the role of Vice President Dick Cheney in a 2002 salmon kill (see April 2002) on Northern California’s Klamath River, the largest fish kill in modern Western history (see September 2002). “We know where the smoking gun lays,” says Chris Lawson, a fisherman and president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association. No one in Northern California or Oregon (another state affected by the fish kill) knew of Cheney’s role until a recent story in the Washington Post uncovered Cheney’s successful attempt to subvert both scientific evidence and the Endangered Species Act to allow a water release that drastically lowered the water level in the Klamath. The day the article appears, Thompson and 35 other Democrats call for a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, saying in a letter that “[t]he ramifications of that salmon kill are still being felt today as returns to the Klamath River are so low that commercial, sport and tribal fishing seasons have been curtailed for the past three years.” A day later, Rahall agrees. The hearing will be held a month later (see August 1, 2007). In October 2002, Thompson piled 500 pounds of dead coho salmon in front of the Interior Department, accusing that agency of “gross mismanagement” in the wildlife disaster. Now Thompson asks, “We know that science was manipulated and the law was violated. Did in fact the vice president of the United States put pressure on mid-level bureaucrats to alter the science and circumvent the law in order to gain political votes for his re-election or the election of other people in Oregon?” Cheney’s office responds to the hearings by saying it is “disappointing the Democrats would rather investigate than legislate,” and that the Post story is nothing more than “a repackaging of old accusations.” Cheney’s office refuses to say whether Cheney will agree to testify before the committee. The reduced river flow in 2002, says Thompson, “wasn’t about salmon or water, it was about electoral votes in Oregon.” Since the fish kill, the courts have prohibited the diversion of Klamath water for agricultural use once the water levels drop below a critical point. But in the years after the fish kill, the salmon catch has been gravely reduced. Commercial fishing in California and Oregon has suffered a more than 90% drop as recently as 2006; Congressional Democrats say the result has been over $60 million in damage to coastal economies. Only in 2007 have the number of young salmon in the Klamath shown indications that salmon numbers may once again be increasing. [Associated Press, 6/28/2007; Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/9/2007] However, the Klamath salmon are still gravely threatened by rampant fish diseases infesting tens of thousands of juvenile salmon, as well as abnormally high water temperatures and low water levels. [CounterPunch, 7/16/2007]
Representative Nick Rahall. [Source: Nick Rahall]The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to investigate the role that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials played in the decision that led to the largest fish kill in modern Western United States history (see Mid-2001 - Early 2002 and June 27-28, 2007). The committee is unable to find conclusive proof that Cheney directly gave the orders that led to the fish kill. A former Interior Department official, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, testifies that Cheney pressured the department to release water in the Klamath River in Northern California, even though the water release would threaten the life cycle of tens of thousands of salmon who live and breed in the river. The water release was to benefit drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in the area. The decision went against the provisions of the Endangered Species Act as well as an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion and the tribal water rights of local Native Americans. Former fisheries biologist Michael Kelly, who worked on the Klamath issue, testifies that he cannot be sure whether Cheney interfered in the situation. “I was aware that President Bush had declared he’d do everything he could to get water to the farms,” Kelly says, and adds that he knew his own superiors were being pressured to speed up assessments and tilt the science to favor the farmers. “I was essentially asked to support a conclusion that made as much sense as 1+1=3,” Kelly says. The biological opinion underlying the plan was “completely bogus and illegal,” he adds. Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) calls the Klamath fish kill “a fiasco” and lambasts Cheney and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for refusing to testify before the committee. “I will not pretend to be surprised [Cheney] declined our invitation,” Rahall says. “But I am obliged to express disappointment at the difficulty we have had in trying to learn the truth and conduct basic oversight over an agency and an administration that have made secrecy and lack of accountability hallmarks of their tenure.” Rahall notes that “[w]hen it comes to political interference and ethical lapses at the department, the Klamath River is just the tip of the iceberg.… I find it difficult to see how we can trust any decision made in an agency that has, time and again, betrayed its own career scientists, repeatedly failed to hold its appointees to ethical standards and so callously disregarded its mission for the sake of political gain.” [Environmental News Service, 8/1/2007]
The annual summit of the G-8 nations, an informal association of the Northern Hemisphere’s eight largest industrialized nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, and the United States—concludes with what Vanity Fair will call “a tepid pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 50 percent by the year 2050.” President Bush lets his feelings about global warming and the US’s role in dealing with the issue show when, bidding farewell to his fellow heads of state, he says, “Goodbye from the world’s greatest polluter.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduces the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2009, which would withdraw the United States from the United Nations. The bill is referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it is expected to languish without coming up for a full House vote. The bill specifically claims it is designed “[t]o end membership of the United States in the United Nations.” It would repeal the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 and the United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act of 1947, and order the president to “terminate all participation by the United States in the United Nations, and any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations.” The bill would remove the UN Mission from New York City to somewhere outside US borders. The US would terminate all funding it provides to the UN and terminate any participation in UN peacekeeping operations. It would also withdraw the US from the World Health Organization (WHO) and repeal the United Nations Environment Program Participation Act of 1973. Any treaties, conventions, agreements, and other such interactions between the US and UN would be terminated. [US Fed News Service, 2/27/2009] Paul will reintroduce the bill two years later (see March 17, 2011).
President Obama signs legislation expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, a dramatic reversal of Bush-era policy. The omnibus Public Land Management Act is described as the largest US conservation measure in 15 years. [CNN, 3/30/2009; Fox Business, 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Over 150 Measures - The bill is composed of over 150 individual measures passed by Congress. Among other initiatives, it creates 10 new National Heritage Areas, designates two million acres of federal lands in nine states as wilderness areas, sets out water conservation measures through the Bureau of Reclamation, alters several national park boundaries, and takes steps to drastically improve the quality of California’s San Joaquin River, potentially restoring salmon to that river and improving the quality of drinking water throughout the Bay Area. Scientist Monty Schmitt says of the San Joaquin reclamation project, “This is taking what many have said is a dead river, and bringing it back to life for over 150 miles.” Because of the bill, Obama says, the Navajo nation—over 80,000 Native Americans living in Arizona and New Mexico—will have “access to clean, running water for the very first time.” The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, named after the late Hollywood actor who was paralyzed from a riding accident, providing for paralysis research, rehabilitation, and care. Obama says that bill is “specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis” and will work to improve their quality of life “no matter what the costs.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Bill Passed over Republican Opposition - The bill passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but some Republicans oppose it, complaining that the bill imposed undue restrictions on oil drilling in rural areas. Some of the bill’s components had been blocked in recent years under the Bush administration. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009]
Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009] The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” [Politico, 9/7/2009] One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/2009; Washington Independent, 9/4/2009; New York Times, 9/6/2009] In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bush administration (43), Howard Dean, New York Times, Mike Pence, WorldNetDaily, Obama administration, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Politico, Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers to slant their coverage of climate change stories in favor of questioning the validity of climate change claims. Sammon’s order is given during a series of global climate change talks, and less than 15 minutes after Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email says in part: “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data… we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.” The email also comes amidst a steady promotion by the network of the so-called “Climategate” scandal, which hinges on misrepresentations of emails sent between climate scientists and supposedly casts critical doubts on the science behind the claims of climate change and global warming. Ultimately, all independent inquiries will clear the accused scientists of misconduct and manipulation, though these reports will receive less attention from Fox. And, though Sammon portrays his directive as an attempt to be fair and balanced, the “debate” is largely in the media, and fueled by conservative politics and by corporations and investors that would be impacted by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. No national or international scientific body disputes that global warming is caused by human activities, and it is the consensus view of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the rise in the Earth’s average temperature since the 19th century. Goler had noted during his broadcast that in spite of “Climategate” claims, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that the climate is indeed heating up due to a man-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Despite the facts, minutes after Goler’s report, Sammon sends his email to the staffs of Fox News’s “straight” news shows and others, ordering them to report that claims of human-caused climate change are controversial. That evening, news anchor Bret Baier introduces another report by Goler by saying in part that as “Climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet.” After Goler’s evening report, Baier tells viewers that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle,” and runs a clip by American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green impugning the credibility of climate change science. And a few minutes later, correspondent James Rosen falsely claims that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data” in order to promote the theory of climate change. [Media Matters, 12/15/2010]
Sammon Previously Manipulated Fox News Reporting - Less than two months ago, Sammon ordered journalists and producers to use the term “government option” instead of “public option” to describe a specific health care proposal by Senate Democrats, as his preferred term had been shown to be less favorable to that proposal (see October 27, 2009 and After).
Entity Tags: Kenneth Green, Bill Sammon, Ben Dimiero, Bret Baier, James Rosen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fox News, World Meteorological Organization, Wendell Goler, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda
Protesters in Los Angeles demonstrate against Proposition 23 outside a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, California. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The liberal news Web site AlterNet shows that a very small number of wealthy, influential donors are driving campaign efforts to pass Proposition 23, a California ballot initiative that would suspend state legislation designed to help reduce carbon emissions and hold polluters accountable. The legislation, AB 32, is already in effect, and requires California to decrease global warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, beginning in 2012. Prop 23, as it is called, would suspend AB 32 until the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. Currently unemployment in California is around 12 percent. AlterNet provides data showing that AB 32 will actually create jobs developing “clean” technologies and energies, an industry sometimes called “green tech.” Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla recently said: “AB 32 created markets. Prop. 23 will kill the market and the single largest source of job growth in California in the last two years.” The funding for the advertising and other political activities pushing Prop 23 comes from two primary sources: Texas oil giant Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro Corporation. Both companies have refineries in California that make them two of the state’s biggest polluters. The two oil companies are aided by large donations from the Koch brothers, who own oil conglomerate Koch Industries (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010). Valero has spent $5 million to bolster Prop 23 and Tesoro has spent $2 million. Flint Hill Resources, a Koch Industries subsidiary, has spent $1 million. Marathon Petroleum has spent $500,000, as has the conservative Adam Smith Foundation of Missouri. Occidental Petroleum has spent $300,000; Tower Energy Group, $200,000; CVR Energy, $150,000; and about $100,000 each has been spent by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, and World Oil Corporation. Of the $10.6 million raised so far to push Proposition 23, only 30 percent of it comes from inside California. In contrast, opponents to Proposition 23 have raised $30.6 million to defeat it, with 70 percent of that money coming from inside California. Jorge Madrid of Climate Progress recently warned: “If we allow Prop 23 to succeed, big oil refineries in the state could continue to spew greenhouse gases without strict regulation. Even worse, a victory for big oil in California could mean certain death for greenhouse gas regulation for the rest of the nation.” [AlterNet, 10/30/2010; Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2010] Prop 23 will lose by a 61-39 margin, with analysts noting that the anti-proposition forces gained ground by pointing out the support for the proposition coming primarily from Texas oil interests. Even many of California’s largest oil companies either stayed neutral or opposed the initiative. The anti-proposition forces were fueled primarily by financiers such as San Francisco hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, the National Wildlife Federation and the ClimateWorks Foundation, and green-tech moguls such as Khosla and John Doerr. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) stumped in opposition to the initiative, attacking the “self-serving greed” of Valero and Tesoro. The Environmental Defense Fund’s Fred Krupp says of the defeat: “It is the largest public referendum in history on climate and clean energy policy. Almost 10 million Californians got a chance to vote and sent a clear message that they want a clean energy future. And this was in an economic downturn. There has never been anything this big. It is going to send a signal to other parts of the country and beyond.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/2/2010]
Entity Tags: Fred Krupp, David Koch, World Oil Corporation, Charles Koch, CVR Energy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Valero Energy Corporation, Adam Smith Foundation, AlterNet (.org), Tower Energy Group, Vinod Khosla, Tesoro Corporation, Marathon Petroleum, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Koch Industries, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Jorge Madrid, National Wildlife Federation, Proposition 23 (California), ClimateWorks Foundation, Tom Steyer, Occidental Petroleum
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Michael Beard. [Source: MinnPost]Michael Beard, a Republican state representative from Minnesota and an eight-year veteran of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, advocates resuming coal mining in his state. His reasoning: God has created a planet that provides unlimited natural resources. “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable,” he tells a reporter. “We are not going to run out of anything.” Beard is drafting legislation that would overturn Minnesota’s moratorium on coal-fired power plants. He says that God will not allow humans to destroy the planet, no matter what they do. He recalls working on his family farm in Pennsylvania, which he says was mined three times for coal and now produces barley, wheat, and pine trees. “Did we temporarily disrupt the face of the earth? Yes, but when we were done, we put it all back together again.” He continues: “It is the height of hubris to think we could [destroy the earth].… How did Hiroshima and Nagasaki work out?” he asks, referring to the two Japanese cities destroyed by atomic bombs in World War II. “We destroyed that, but here we are, 60 years later and they are tremendously effective and livable cities. Yes, it was pretty horrible. But, can we recover? Of course we can.” Beard’s thesis is at odds with most climate scientists, who say that burning coal results in severe and perhaps irreparable harm to the planet, and contributes to widespread human suffering. According to columnist Dan Shelby, “Most of them are convinced that there is a point at which we will never be able to put it all back together again.” John Abraham, a professor of thermal sciences, writes a response to Beard’s statements noting the flaws in Beard’s reasoning. Beard tells Shelby that he reads a lot about science, and cites a number of conservative blogs as his sources. His primary source is Dr. Patrick Michaels, who has admitted that he receives the bulk of his funding for research from fossil fuel producers. Shelby writes: “It is understandable. Mike Beard is a free-market conservative and pro-business. No one who calls himself those things can afford global warming to be true. There is a political belief that solving global warming will destroy American business. American business deplores government interference. Global warming regulation and legislation requires governments to act.” Both Abraham and Beard have expressed a desire to open a dialogue on the subject. [MinnPost, 2/15/2011; Huffington Post, 2/16/2011]
Grist reports new data that shows America is using substantially less energy than in previous years, because of gains in energy efficiency as well as shifting market conditions and pollution regulations. CO2 emissions have dropped from 1.6 billion tons in 2007 (a record peak) to 1.4 billion tons in 2011, an 11 percent drop. Emily E. Adams of Earth Policy writes that both vehicle fuel efficiency and the number of miles driven by vehicles are improving, adding: “Average fuel efficiency, which had been deteriorating for years in the United States, started to increase in 2005 and keeps getting better. Americans are traveling farther on each gallon of gas than ever before. Furthermore, people are driving less. For many years Americans as a group drove billions more miles each year than the previous one. But in 2007 this changed. Now more cars stay parked because more people live in urban areas, opt for public transit, work remotely, or retire and thus no longer commute to work.” Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is shrinking in usage, though it continues to dominate conventional energy generation structures. Utilities are steadily shifting from coal to natural gas, and some are retiring old, inefficient coal plants instead of paying for expensive retrofits to bring them in line with current pollution regulations. US carbon emissions from coal have fallen 20 percent from their peak in 2005. Natural gas usage has risen sharply, and even though it produces only half the CO2 emissions that coal produces, natural gas added 373 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere in 2012. Solar and wind energy have no carbon emissions whatsoever; solar usage has increased 1,400 percent since 2007, and wind usage over 300 percent. Adams writes, “This is just the beginning of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as the explosive growth of wind and solar power cuts down the use of dirty fossil fuels.” President Obama has set a goal for the nation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and the decrease in energy usage and improvements in fuel efficiency are helping to reach that goal. [Grist Magazine, 10/2/2013; Grist Magazine, 10/11/2013]
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