NEW YORK (IPS)–The Bush administration is intensifying its assault on key environmental protection, according to a new analysis by natural resource activists.
The report, released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), cites changes to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and the end to requirements for environmental review and public feedback when considering logging, mining, drilling, and other projects in national forests.
Federal agencies have cited more than 100 actions harmful to the environment and public health in the past year.
It also says the administration has tried to downplay the significance of major policy changes by announcing them late on Friday evenings or around major holidays. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed the media of revisions to the Clean Air Act shortly after Thanksgiving and on New Year’s Eve.
“America’s environmental protections have been challenged before, but never have they faced a threat as far-reaching, insidious and destructive as one posed by the Bush administration and the new Congress,” said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC’s advocacy director.
Other critics charge that the administration’s aggressive strategy has extended to interfering with appointments to the hundreds of panels that advise the federal government on science and public health policies.
At a recent press conference in Washington, several prominent scientists accused the administration of stacking the panels with candidates willing to further its political agenda.
For example, 15 of the 18 members of the advisory committee to the director of the National Health Center for Environmental Health were ousted last year. The committee assesses the health impact of exposure to environmental chemicals. Among the new members is the former president of the Chemical Industry Institute for Toxicology.
“The Clinton administration did not do this,” said Lynn Goldman of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and a former EPA assistant administrator. “They did not exclude people based on some sort of litmus test.
“Lead in your blood is 10 times lower because the work of federal science advisory panels contributed to elimination of lead from gasoline,” Ms. Goldman added, citing limits on arsenic in drinking water and asbestos safeguards as other examples of how science panels affect public health policy.
“What the administration wants to do is throw up its hands and say there is uncertainty [on the science underpinning public health decisions], and stall progress by then saying we cannot move forward without certainty,” said David Michaels of the George Washington University School of Public Health. “That process of manufacturing uncertainty is really what’s going on here.”
Mr. Michaels compared the ploy to strategies employed by the tobacco industry.
“We’ve seen a consistent pattern of putting people in who will ensure that the administration hears what it wants to hear,” he said. “That doesn’t help science, and it doesn’t help the country.”
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration was accused of packing an advisory committee on childhood lead poisoning with friends of the lead industry. At a panel that works with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a qualified candidate was said to have been weeded out for supporting ergonomics rules rejected by the administration.
The NRDC says the government grew bolder in pushing its pro-business agenda after Republicans swept the November mid-term congressional elections.
“It’s no accident some of the Bush administration’s biggest handouts to corporate interests happened after election day,” said Gregory Wetstone. “Americans voted for many things in November, but they didn’t vote for a sweeping attack on the environment.”
One of the most contentious policy moves by the administration is its bid to roll back key provisions of the Clean Air Act known as the New Source Review, which require aging power plants and factories to install modern pollution control technology when they increase their output or make other major changes.
The EPA estimates that as many as 50 percent fewer facilities would be required to install modern air pollution controls under the new rules.
A recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts said that some 30,000 people die prematurely in the United States every year because of pollution from coal-fired power plants alone.
Since the proposed New Source Review changes were announced last November, more than 130,000 citizens, 1,000 doctors, 100 members of Congress and 44 senators have denounced the revisions. Nine state attorneys-general filed suit to block the changes from taking effect.
Environmentalists and some Democrats have also condemned new guidelines issued in January that could result in the loss of federal protection for up to 20 million acres of wetlands.
“The Bush administration’s announcement today signals the beginning of what could become one of the biggest rollbacks of the Clean Water Act since the law’s passage 30 years ago,” said Richard Caplan of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
“By opening the discussion on whether to remove certain wetlands, lakes and streams from protection, the White House once again is offering polluters the opportunity to rewrite America’s environmental laws,” he added.