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Context of 'September 2001: White House Blocks EPA from Warning Citizens of Dire Toxin Threat; Block Benefits Halliburton'

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An angry and embarrassed Christine Todd Whitman, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storms into a breakfast meeting with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, waving a letter signed by four Republican senators—Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Larry Craig (R-ID), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The letter says that President Bush will soon withdraw the US from the Kyoto Accords (see March 27, 2001), even though Whitman has been telling the press Bush is committed to a “multipollutant” strategy of reducing CO2 and other emissions. Worse, Bush is going to renege on his promise to reduce C02 emissions (see September 29, 2000). O’Neill, who is until now unaware of the backchannel discussions about the administration’s environmental policy, is suspicious of the tone and language of the letter, which was faxed from Hagel’s office two days before. It sounds, he later writes, as if it came “right out of Dick Cheney’s mouth” (see March 1, 2001). O’Neill will later learn that Hagel and Cheney had been working for days to reverse Bush’s course on carbon dioxide caps, and in the process undermine Whitman (see March 8, 2001 and March 13, 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 19-20]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Chuck Hagel, Environmental Protection Agency, Larry Craig, Paul O’Neill, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jesse Helms, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Disturbed by President Bush’s impending reversal of his pledge to cap carbon dioxide emissions (see September 29, 2000), Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman meets with Bush to attempt to change his mind. But Bush cuts her off: “Christine, I’ve already made my decision.” He says he has written a letter to Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE—see March 13, 2001). Notably, as Whitman is leaving the Oval Office, she sees Vice President Cheney pick up the letter to Hagel from a secretary (see March 8, 2001). That same day, Cheney meets with Hagel and then addresses the Senate Republican Conference, announcing to that body that the administration no longer supports carbon dioxide caps. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill later calls Cheney’s actions “a clean kill,” reminiscent of the bureaucratic manipulations Cheney had become so good at during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein sum up Cheney’s modus operandi: “No fingerprints. No accountability. Cheney collaborated with four senators who were working against White House policy, then persuaded the president to join them.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, Chuck Hagel, Jake Bernstein, Environmental Protection Agency, Paul O’Neill, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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

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