Issue Date: May 26, 2008
Bush And The Environment
What's with the Bush Administration and environmental regulation? What is it about President George W. Bush and his closest advisers that has led to an almost complete rejection of the 30-plus-year consensus in the U.S. that legislative and regulatory means are required to ensure a healthy environment for us and for future generations?
I'm not talking here about efforts to prevent global climate change. We now know that President Bush's 2000 campaign promise to regulate greenhouse gases was as bogus as his claim to be a "uniter, not a divider."
No, I'm talking about the more mundane, but still vitally important, control of mercury from coal-fired power plants, ozone in urban environments, air quality in national parks, and reporting toxic releases from industrial plants, to name just a few examples. In every one of these cases, and in many others, the Bush Administration has worked for seven years to undermine coherent regulation on these issues and the agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for that regulation.
C&EN Senior Editor Cheryl Hogue has written about EPA's string of losses in court cases concerning the Clean Air Act (May 5, page 34). Hogue noted that losing court cases is nothing new for EPA, but she observed that recent losses have a different, disturbing character to them.
For a regulation under challenge, a 1984 Supreme Court analysis instructs judges to determine, first, whether the meaning of the law under which the regulation was established, as written by Congress, is clear. Second, if the judge determines that the meaning of the statute is ambiguous, then the court must accept any reasonable interpretation of it by the agency, in this case EPA.
In many earlier cases, Hogue wrote, "the legal wrangling focused on whether EPA's interpretation of the law ...was reasonable." That is, it focused on the second part of the analysis. In six recent cases, however, "the courts have stopped at the first step of the analysis. ... They have determined that EPA's actions were counter to clear statutory mandates." In one such case, EPA's interpretation of a Clean Air Act mandate was compared by the court to "a Humpty Dumpty world" where words meant just what Humpty Dumpty, or EPA, wanted them to mean.
There is ample evidence that the Bush Administration's fingerprints are on EPA's apparent inability to accurately interpret clearly written congressional mandates. Hogue reported in the April 28 issue of C&EN (page 15) that "Hundreds of [EPA] scientists have personally experienced political interference in their work during the past five years, according to a survey released last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists."
On May 16, the Washington Post reported that Clean Air Act rules designed to protect the quality of air in national parks and wilderness areas are being relaxed over the objections of agency scientists and park managers to make it easier to build power plants near the borders of such areas.
After a five-month investigation, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee found on May 19 that EPA officials unanimously endorsed California's request for a waiver to regulate greenhouse gases at the state level and that EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson initially favored granting the waiver, until he consulted with the White House on the matter. After that consultation, Johnson declined to issue the waiver.
Look, I believe that protecting Earth's environment is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity. I also know many industry executives who, while agreeing that sustainability and environmental protection are important, think people like me go overboard in our zeal on issues like endangered species protection and climate stability. However, I don't know many industry executives who, publicly at least, adopt an attitude that is utterly dismissive of environmental considerations.
Seven years of the Bush Administration's policies reveal just such an attitude. I hope our next President brings a different perspective to the fate of our planet.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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