Environmental Protection

Commentary

Rollbacks Overshadow Bush's Environmental Record

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) prepared remarks for a Sept. 24 hearing on the Bush Administration's environmental record. She chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Here are some excerpts:

Time and again, the White House has interfered in EPA decisions that should be based on science and the law. Time and again, EPA has ignored the law and the advice of its own scientific experts.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of this disturbing record:

In one of its first official acts, the Bush EPA announced that it was suspending the newly strengthened standard for arsenic in tap water. After a public outcry and legislation blocking it, EPA finally retreated.

EPA proposed to do what it called the "CHEERS study" jointly with the chemical industry, in which low-income families were offered gifts and other incentives if they agreed to enroll their newborn children in pesticides studies in their homes over a two- year period. After a great outcry, EPA canceled the study. EPA recently tried to revive a study much like CHEERS, but retreated after our Committee’s staff asked detailed ethical questions about it, which EPA could not answer.

EPA set a weaker clean air standard for toxic soot than its independent scientific advisers, children’s health advisers, and its own scientists recommended. Soot kills thousands of Americans every year, especially children and the elderly.

EPA also rejected the advice of its own scientists, scientific advisers and children’s health experts, and set a weaker health standard for smog than the scientists recommended. Smog poses a serious health risk to millions of people, killing thousands of people every year.

EPA set a weaker standard for lead pollution in air and for lead paint cleanup than its independent scientific advisers recommended. As we all know, lead is highly toxic to children and can reduce IQ, cause learning and behavior problems, and damage children’s developing brains.

The courts, including Bush-appointed judges, have repeatedly struck down EPA rules that weakened public health protections. Judges have used strong language to express their frustration with EPA’s failure to comply with the law, saying for example "only in a Humpty Dumpty world" would EPA’s explanations make sense, or that EPA "employs the logic of the Queen of Hearts" in Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, in two EPA clean air cases.

EPA’s record on global warming could hardly be worse.

Despite the President’s campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the White House reversed course and rejected actions to control global warming pollution.

It literally took an order from the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA to force EPA to begin to address the problem. Even then, the White House blocked EPA from issuing its proposed "endangerment finding" under the Clean Air Act, which would have given the green light to action on global warming.

The Bush Administration denied the California waiver, which would have allowed California and other states to set limits on global warming emissions from vehicles. EPA management, after meetings at the White House, reversed the agency’s plans and ignored unanimous career staff recommendations for the first time in 40 years under the Clean Air Act.

EPA has slowed down its Superfund program to practically a crawl. Over the last seven years, the pace of Superfund cleanups has dropped by about 50 percent compared to the last seven years of the prior administration, from about 80 cleanups per year to 40 or less.

We just learned that EPA has decided that it will not set a health standard for the toxic rocket fuel perchlorate in our drinking water, even though EPA data show that up to 16.6 million people are exposed to unsafe levels. Perchlorate is especially risky for infants and children, because it interferes with their thyroid, which controls normal development.

On occasion, EPA has taken a positive step, including the issuance of cleanup orders to the Department of Defense, though more work is needed to ensure DOD follows through. Unfortunately, the Bush record of rollbacks overshadows these efforts.

The Department of Interior record is causing concern as well. The Bush administration has also proposed to dramatically weaken the rules under the Endangered Species Act—another 11th hour attempt to undermine environmental protections in a manner that is not authorized by law.

The Endangered Species Act is one of America’s most successful environmental laws. Indeed, just last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Bald Eagle—the very symbol of our country—from the Endangered Species List.

The Bush Administration has proposed to rewrite the rules so that the most expert agencies in protecting endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service, can be largely cut out of the process when agencies that want to build roads or big projects and must make a decision about whether their actions "may affect" a listed species. These two agencies are America’s primary wildlife agencies and have extensive expertise in assessing, protecting, and recovering threatened and endangered species.

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