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Context of '2002: EPA Exaggerates Enforcement Record'

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The Bush administration blocks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from making any announcement about vermiculite and related problems in towns where it was mined. Vermiculite is dangerous because one of the substances it contains, tremolite, itself contains lethal levels of asbestos fiber and has killed or seriously sickened thousands of inhabitants of Libby, Montana, one of the towns where it was mined. EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman visits Libby at this time, although the vermiculite mine there was shut down in 1990. However, the problem is not confined to Libby; according to EPA records, over 16 billion tons of vermiculite have been shipped to 750 fertilizer and insulation manufacturers throughout the US, and the EPA estimates that between 15 million and 35 million US homes have been insulated with this toxic material. The EPA is thus confronted with an enormously grave problem. After the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks the story in late 2002 based on a leak from an unnamed whistleblower, former EPA chief William Ruckelshaus calls the actions of the White House “wrong, unconscionable.” The story becomes even more important when the reason for the White House block becomes known. Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, is pressuring Congress to pass legislation that would absolve companies of any legal liability for claims arising from asbestos exposure. Halliburton itself is facing a tremendous number of asbestos liability claims. [Dean, 2004, pp. 162-163]

Entity Tags: William Ruckelshaus, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Christine Todd Whitman, Halliburton, Inc., Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

2002: EPA Exaggerates Enforcement Record

The Environmental Protection Agency inflates its enforcement record by including counterterrorism and narcotics cases led by other agencies. The padded numbers obscure an actual decline in the EPA’s enforcement activity. For example, the agency lumps 190 counterterrorism-related investigations into its annual performance report to Congress, referring to them as EPA-initiated “criminal investigations.” Sometimes an “investigation” involves nothing more than a phone call to an FBI agent who has requested assistance in a case. “I called the FBI and said, ‘If you need us, give us a call.’ That warranted a (criminal) case number. There was no investigation,” one EPA agent will explain to the Sacramento Bee. In another incident, two agents “went out on an interview, and they closed it after the interview.” The EPA counted the visit as a completed investigation. “To me, those are false statistics,” another senior agent tells the newspaper. The resulting numbers, which are reported to Congress and the public, mask “a significant drop-off in the federal government’s pursuit of criminal polluters during the past two years.” [Sacramento Bee, 7/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration’s policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation’s worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt’s strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America’s clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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