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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

EPA Protects Industry from Regulation

Go to the Environmental Protection Agency's website and you'll find this; "The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people."

Turns out, under the Bush administration, this is no longer true. Let me go ahead and fix that statement to make it more honest; "The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect industry from regulation. Since 2004, EPA has been working for a less restrictive business environment for the American and international corporate world."

Under the Bush administration, the EPA has been a non-enforcement entity, existing solely to pretend that some environmental protections are in force. The EPA doesn't waste a lot of time enforcing the law or regulating industry -- despite the fact that that's the agency's entire purpose.

The latest scandal (or what would be a scandal if the media focused on things that actually matter) is that the EPA is covering for industries that not only harm the environment, but harm people who happen to live in that environment. For the record, that's everybody.

The Bush administration is undermining the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to determine health dangers of toxic chemicals by letting nonscientists have a bigger -- often secret -- role, congressional investigators say in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The administration's decision to give the Defense Department and other agencies an early role in the process adds to years of delay in acting on harmful chemicals and jeopardizes the program's credibility, the Government Accountability Office concluded.

At issue is the EPA's screening of chemicals used in everything from household products to rocket fuel to determine if they pose serious risk of cancer or other illnesses.

A new review process begun by the White House in 2004 is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report, which will be the subject of a Senate Environment Committee hearing Tuesday. A formal policy effectively doubling the number of steps was adopted two weeks ago.

Anyone who's shocked or even surprised by this hasn't been paying attention. This is the same administration who's Consumer Protection Agency barely lifted a finger about China selling you poison. You think they care if you get cancer?

And that's the concern; the other c-word. "Cancer risk assessments for nearly a dozen major chemicals are now years overdue, the GAO said, blaming the new multiagency reviews for some of the delay," the report tells us. "The EPA, for example, had promised to prepare assessments on 10 major toxic chemicals for external peer review by the end of 2007, but only two reached that stage."

In April, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported:

An investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency released today found that 889 of nearly 1,600 staff scientists reported that they experienced political interference in their work over the last five years. The study, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), follows previous UCS investigations of the Food and Drug Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and climate scientists at seven federal agencies, which also found significant administration manipulation of federal science.

"Our investigation found an agency in crisis," said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program. "Nearly 900 EPA scientists reported political interference in their scientific work. That's 900 too many. Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health, and our democracy itself."

A PDF copy of the UCS study is here. That "narrow political agenda" is a pretty simple one -- regulation is bad in all cases. You can argue whether or not that's true and you've probably got a good idea where I stand on it, but what you can't do is say that this philosophy is anything other than a hypothesis or an opinion. Meanwhile, scientific facts are proven facts. Known carcinogens are known carcinogens.

So, when the facts don't line up with your opinions, then your opinions are poorly formed. You can be of the opinion that the world is flat, but once someone sails around the globe, that opinion ain't worth squat. If you continue to hold that opinion, you're a stubborn ass.

Free market types would argue that the market will reject dangerous products, but there's a big hole in that argument -- you have to find out the products are dangerous somehow. And, without testing and monitoring, the only way to do that is for enough people to get sick first. The market can only react, it can't prevent. Regulation prevents. People will stop buying the poisonous crap, but a fat lot of good that does the people who've already been poisoned. And, as in the case of the EPA's blind-eyed regulation, it's not the product that's poisonous, but the production process. Cause and effect isn't immediately apparent here -- it's hard to see how the market could react to it.

Of course, local governments could take up the slack for the EPA and regulate on their own. Conservatives are all about local control and states' rights, after all. If a state wants to monitor and regulate, then conservative ideology should applaud that.

Except that Republicans are conservative until they're not. Consistency isn't their strong suit. States' rights and local control are just a fig leaf. States have the right to do what Republicans want and if they want to do anything else, they can just shut up about it. It's not going to happen. California learned this lesson recently when they tried to put stricter emissions standards on cars.

The story again was that of the opinionated putting their ideology above the facts. California's standards were struck down by an EPA more concerned with protecting industry from regulation than protecting consumers and the environment.

L.A. Times:

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored his staff's written findings in denying California's request for a waiver to implement its landmark law to slash greenhouse gases from vehicles, sources inside and outside the agency told The Times on Thursday.

"California met every criteria . . . on the merits. The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years on all the other waivers," said an EPA staffer. "We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts."

EPA chief Stephen L. Johnson rejected the waiver because Bush had just signed an energy bill raising average fuel economy. Because of this, Johnson ruled that the new regulation was unjustified. EPA staffers disagreed.

"[Johnson's] staff, which had worked for months on the waiver decision, concluded just the opposite..." L.A. Times reported. "The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the media or because they feared reprisals."

So, once again, the regulatory agency ran roughshod over scientists and staffers to avoid regulating. "The results of [our] investigations show an agency under siege from political pressures," UCS tells us. "On numerous issues -- ranging from mercury pollution to groundwater contamination to climate change -- political appointees have edited scientific documents, manipulated scientific assessments, and generally sought to undermine the science behind dozens of EPA regulations."

I guess my biggest problem here is that this is all just so damned typical of the Bush administration. When the established facts and modern Republican ideology bump heads, established facts lose. When you really have to, you can cook up your own set of "facts" to support your preconceptions. Never mind that this sort of magical thinking brought us to disaster in Iraq. Never mind that this kind of head-in-the-clouds willful ignorance has never panned out for this administration or for the current crop of Republican robots. Never mind that this line of reasoning isn't any sort of reasoning at all.

When the facts don't support your ideology, you are wrong. There's no way around that. And continuing to put your ideology before reality is as irresponsible as it is plain stupid. One plus one will always equal two and your opinion of that equation has jack to do with anything. But the Bush administration seems incapable of using actual logic, which explains why their record is a long string of failures, disasters, crimes, and scandals. They are incapable of accepting reality.

So the EPA will continue to try to skew reality by ignoring it. Facts, as they say, are stubborn things. If the facts won't play along, the Bush administration's standing policy is to ignore them entirely.


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