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US Environmental Record

Specific Pollutants

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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EPA staffers meet with the agency’s top pollution regulator, Jeffrey Holmstead, in his fifth-floor conference room to discuss a February 2004 deadline for creating a rule governing formaldehyde emissions at wood products plants. Holmstead, a lawyer, formerly worked at Latham & Watkins representing one of the nation’s largest plywood producers. Also present at the meeting is William Wehrum, the EPA air office’s general counsel, who had also represented timber interests as a partner of the same law firm. They meet with Timothy Hunt, a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association who is an old acquaintance of Holmstead, and with Claudia M. O’Brien, the association’s lawyer. O’Brien had previously been a law partner of Holmstead’s and Wehrum’s at Latham & Watkins. During the meeting she proposes to exempt “low-risk” plywood, particleboard and other plants from strict emission controls, arguing that such facilities are often located in isolated areas where their emissions pose a relatively small risk to public health. She also contends that the expense of adding new controls to the plants, which the industry complains could cost as much as $1 billion, would make them vulnerable to foreign competition. Holmstead likes the idea and decides that the agency should push the proposal, despite opinions from EPA career attorneys that the exemption would violate the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments (see March 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Timothy Hunt, William Wehrum, Jeffrey Holmstead, Claudia M. O’Brien, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Timber industry, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the president’s “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency’s jurisdiction.” [New York Times, 7/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Thomas R. Carper, Jeffrey Holmstead, Joseph Lieberman, Lincoln Chaffee, Environmental Protection Agency, John McCain

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

The Bush administration seeks exemptions from the Montreal Protocol on behalf of 54 US companies and trade groups. The international agreement seeks to phase-out the pesticide methyl bromide—an odorless fumigant that is a major ozone depletor—by 2005. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/7/2004] The administration’s request cites a loophole in the protocol which allows countries to seek exemptions for “critical uses,” as long as they do not represent more than 30 percent of their baseline production level. But the Bush administration’s request amounts to 39 percent. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/7/2003; Panna, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/7/2004] The businesses applying for the exemptions, primarily farmers and food producers, would be permitted to use up to 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see (February 28, 2004)). [New York Times, 2/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Key Events, Air pollution, Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide

A White House aide tells Congress that the administration overestimated the expected reduction in mercury emissions that would result from the implementation of its “Clear Skies” plan. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003] The EPA is under court orders to finalize a mercury reduction plan, which would update the Clean Air Act, by December 15, 2003. The current version of the Clean Air Act has no provisions covering mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. [New York Times, 7/14/2003] The administration’s “Clear Skies” plan had predicted that if sulfur and nitrogen compound emissions were reduced by 70 percent in 2010 as the plan proposes, there would be a concomitant reduction in mercury pollution from coal power plants to about 26 tons a year nationally. But a revised estimate put the expected reduction between 2 and 14 tons. Since Congress’ current draft of the Clean Air Act had set a reduction target of 22 tons by 2010 based on the plan’s previous figures, energy industry lobbyists and some pro-industry senators are now arguing that the mercury reduction goal should likewise be set to a smaller amount. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture announce a decision to approve the unrestricted sale of the pesticide atrazine. Manufacturers of the chemical will be responsible for monitoring atrazine residue levels in only a small percentage of the watersheds vulnerable to atrazine contamination and ensuring that they do not exceed the Clean Water Act’s total maximum daily load (TMDL). Other vulnerable waterways will not be monitored by the manufacturers or the EPA. For example, Syngenta—the major manufacturer of the chemical—agreed in private meetings with the EPA that it would monitor atrazine pollution in 20 of 1,172 watersheds labeled as high risk beginning in 2004. The number would double the following year. Atrazine has been linked to cancer and is potentially harmful to endangered fish, reptiles, amphibians, mussels, and aquatic plant life. [Environmental Protection Agency, 10/31/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Syngenta, George W. Bush, US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Agribusiness, Atrazine, Key Events

A study of about 14,000 workers in England who have been exposed to formaldehyde fails to demonstrate a link between formaldehyde and leukemia. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

The National Cancer Institute publishes a study demonstrating that 25,000 workers exposed to formaldehyde had an increased risk of leukemia. The EPA will ignore the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: National Cancer Institute, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

A week-long UN meeting ends in a stalemate after objections are raised over the US’s request to use 21.8 million pounds of the pesticide methyl bromide in 2005. The request threatens to reverse an international treaty’s mandated phase-out of the ozone-depleting substance. Signed in 1987 by 183 countries including the United States, the Montreal Protocol calls for the complete phase-out of methyl bromide use by 2005, but allows limited exceptions in cases where the elimination of methyl bromide would be impractical or lead to significant economic disruption. The US delegation, comprised of Bush administration officials and agribusiness interest groups, asks to use 39 percent of baseline usage levels set in 1991. The request would be a significant increase over the 30 percent usage levels currently permitted for the years 2003 and 2004. [Associated Press, 11/15/2003] Arguing that the US’s request is too high, delegations from the European Union and other nations refuse to agree to the exemption. In an unprecedented move, further debate on methyl bromide is deferred to an “Extraordinary Meeting” to be held in March 2004 (see March 24-26, 2004), where the US again will push for the 39 percent figure. [Global Environmental Change Report, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Air pollution, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

After 71 days of negotiations, Congressional Republicans announce that they have agreed on an energy bill that would provide some $20 billion in tax breaks for power companies. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] President Bush voices his support for the bill—drafted mostly by Republicans—which he says will make the US “safer and stronger” by helping to “keep the lights on, the furnaces lit, and the factories running.” He also states, “By making America less reliant on foreign sources of energy, we also will make our nation more secure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2003; US President, 11/24/2003] To facilitate the bill’s passage through Congress, “negotiators sprinkled in dozens of sweeteners sought by states and congressional districts,” including nearly $1 billion in shoreline restoration projects, tax credits for a company that manufactures fuel from compressed turkey carcasses, and a provision doubling the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. The Republican lawmakers also dropped a section that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as Democrats had made clear that they would vote against any bill containing such a provision. But the Republicans decided against including a Democrat-favored plan to require large utility companies to steadily increase their use of energy from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] The bill includes:
bullet A provision introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that would provide energy companies and universities with $2 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years for research and development of ultra deep-water oil exploration techniques and “unconventional” natural gas extraction. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A controversial provision granting Gulf Coast refiners of the fuel additive MTBE $2 billion in subsidies to assist them in the phasing out of MTBE production. The phase-out, originally proposed to take 4 years, is extended to 10 by the bill. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which helps decrease smog, is known to contaminate groundwater. The new energy bill would also prevent communities from bringing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of MTBE. Tom Delay was a strong supporter of this provision, as were other legislators from Louisiana and Texas, where MTBE is produced. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A section dealing with the electric grid that would require large power companies to meet new mandatory reliability standards. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; New York Times, 11/16/2003]
bullet Royalty relief to the owners of marginal oil and gas wells. The program would apply to approximately 80 percent of all wells on federal lands. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet A provision that would allow taxpayer money to fund the clean-up of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (LUST). [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet A provision authorizing Alaska’s “Denali Commission” to use over $1 billion on hydroelectric and other energy projects on Alaska Federal Lands. [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet A provision permitting urban areas like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, DC and southwestern Michigan to further delay efforts to reduce air pollution, “an action that will place a significant burden on states and municipalities down-wind of these urban centers.” [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
bullet $100 million/year in production tax credits for the construction of up to four light-water nuclear reactors. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
bullet Loan guarantees for building a $20 billion trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. But officials of ConocoPhillips, a major backer of the project, complain that the bill’s incentives are insufficient to get the project moving. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
bullet Tax incentives to encourage wind power generators, energy-efficient homes and hybrid passenger cars running on gasoline and batteries. Additionally, it sets aside funds for equipping government buildings with photovoltaic cells and developing energy-efficient traffic lights. The package also allocates $6.2 million to encourage bicycle use. But according to a preliminary estimate by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these progressive reforms would eliminate only about three months worth of energy use between now and 2020. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
bullet A repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which limits utility industry mergers. This provision was a top priority for the electric power industry and the White House. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003] Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate bills, acknowledge to the New York Times that the bill will likely be criticized. [New York Times, 11/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, US Congress, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay

Category Tags: Air pollution, Corporate welfare, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, MTBE, Key Events

EPA officials complete a draft proposal outlining plans to revise the conclusion of a court-ordered December 2000 EPA study which had determined that mercury emissions “pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced.” As a result of the 2000 study, the agency had been ordered to propose a “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) standard for all coal-burning power plants by December 15, 2003. [Environmental Protection Agency, 12/14/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 6/7/2003; Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003] But instead of complying with this mandate, the EPA’s current draft proposal on the regulation of mercury emissions attempts to modify the December 2000 conclusion claiming that it had been based on a misreading of the Clean Air Act. Citing a different provision in the Clean Air Act, the draft proposal recommends a flexible regulatory approach that is more acceptable to industry. It suggests a market-based mandatory “cap and trade” program permitting utility companies to purchase emissions “credits” from cleaner-operating utilities to meet an industry-wide standard. It is estimated that their plan would reduce mercury emissions to 34 tons a year by 2010, or about 30 percent below current levels. But this is a much higher cap than the 26-ton limit initially specified in the White House’s “Clear Skies” initiative (see June 5, 2003). The White House claims that by 2018 their “cap and trade” plan would result in a mercury emissions reduction of 70 percent, which is significantly less than the 90 percent reduction that would otherwise be achieved within 3 or 4 years, if the EPA were to keep to the original December 2000 ruling. [Associated Press, 12/2/2003; Washington Post, 12/3/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Mercury, Clear Skies

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health completes a study of 10,000 workers who have been exposed to formaldehyde and find that they have an increased risk of leukemia. Though not published until March, it is posted on the institute’s website in early 2004. The EPA does not consider the results of this study when it creates a new federal rule for regulating formaldehyde emissions in February 2004 (see September 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Category Tags: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]

Entity Tags: Russell Train, Bruce Buckheit, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Air pollution, Coal Industry, Mercury

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meets its February 27, 2004 deadline to come up with a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions. Ignoring the opinion of experts, the EPA did not take into account the findings of two recent studies (see November 2003) (see Early 2004) that had found that workers who were exposed to formaldehyde were at an elevated risk of leukemia. The EPA said it did not have time to incorporate the two findings before the deadline. Though extensions for such deadlines are often given, the agency did not request one. Instead, the EPA relied on a cancer risk assessment by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, a private, nonprofit research organization, funded primarily by chemical companies. That assessment was about 10,000 times weaker than the level previously used by the EPA in setting standards for formaldehyde exposure. The new federal rule is modeled on a proposal that had been designed by a lobbyist for the wood products industry (see January 14, 2002). It creates a new category of “low-risk” plants, which gives the agency the authority to decide on a plant-by-plant basis which facilities pose a risk to public health. It initially exempts eight wood products plants from having to install pollution controls for formaldehyde and other emissions, but could eventually extend the exemptions to 147 or more of the 223 facilities nationwide. The exemption allows qualifying plants to legally skirt pollution-control requirements that had been mandated by a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requiring all large industrial plants to use “best available” technology in order to reduce emissions of 189 substances. Though backers of the new rule claim that it does not violate the amendment, the lawmakers who wrote the legislation disagree. “I don’t have any doubt but that is a way to get around the policy which we worked hard to achieve,” former Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) will tell the Los Angeles Times in May. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) similarly says the exemption is “directly contrary to our intent.” The new rule will save the industry as much as $66 million annually for about 10 years in potential emission control costs. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), David F. Durenberger, Environmental Protection Agency, Henry A. Waxman

Category Tags: Air pollution, Public health, Timber industry, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Rule, Key Events

The Bush administration’s proposed 2005 budget would cut $35 million from the budget of the national lead prevention program, which pays for expert home evaluations and repairs in an effort to eliminate the presence of lead-tainted particles, dust, and soil in American homes. The 20 percent budget cut—from $174 to $139 million—could prevent as many as 40,000 homes from being decontaminated in 2005. Children are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning which can cause permanent intellectual, behavioral and psychiatric problems. It is estimated that in Washington D.C. alone, there are 3,700 children younger than 6 who have elevated levels of lead in their blood. [Office of Management and Budget, 2004; Washington Post, 4/11/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Public health, Lead, Key Events

The Bush administration files a request with the United Nations for additional exemptions from the Montreal Protocol’s phase-out of the pesticide methyl bromide. In February 2003, the US applied for exemptions for 54 businesses, primarily farmers and food producers, to use some 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide for the year 2005 (see February 7, 2003). The new request would add 1.1 million pounds to this figure, to be used by producers of cut flowers, processed meats and tobacco seedlings. Though the signatories of the treaty are permitted exemptions for “critical uses”—as long as the requested exemptions do not represent more than 30 percent of a country’s baseline production level—the US requests both exceed the allowable limit and twice the sum of requests from all other countries. “[T]he exemptions sought by the United States for 2005 and 2006 would cause a surge in American use of methyl bromide after steady declines,” notes the New York Times. [New York Times, 3/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

Signatories to the Montreal Protocol meet in Montreal to negotiate the awarding of “critical use” exemptions for the pesticide methyl bromide (see February 7, 2003) (see (February 28, 2004)). On the last day, an agreement is reached granting 12 industrialized countries exemptions which will allow them to use 13,438 metric tons of methyl bromide for the year 2005. The countries are Australia (145 metric tons), Belgium (47), Canada (56), France (407), Greece (186), Italy (2,133), Japan (284), the Netherlands, Portugal (50), Spain (1,059), the United Kingdom (129) and the United States (8,942). The total tonnage of methyl bromide that will be used by the United States is approximately twice that of all the others. [Environment News Service, 3/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Methyl Bromide

Bush administration officials ask the UN to allow US industries to use an additional 458 tons of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying pesticide that is slated for elimination by an international environmental treaty (see March 24-26, 2004). The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer calls for gradually phasing out methyl bromide use by January 1, 2005, but allows for critical use exemptions in limited cases thereafter. The additional increase request brings the US’s total exemption for the year 2005 to 9,400 metric tons of methyl bromide, more than all other nations’ requests combined, and well over the 7,674 metric tons used by US agribusiness in 2002. [Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, 12/10/2004; Environmental Science & Technology, 1/12/2005] Though the stated goal of the Montreal Protocol is to gradually phase out methyl bromide use, the head of the US delegation to the UN and Bush appointee Claudia McMurray will later tell a reporter, “I can’t say to you that each year the numbers [of pounds used] would automatically go down.” [Seattle Times, 11/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), United Nations

Category Tags: Agribusiness, Air pollution, Methyl Bromide, Key Events

The EPA releases a staff paper evaluating the policy implications of recent studies on the health and environmental impacts of lead pollutants in an effort to determine whether it may be appropriate to abolish the national standard for lead. It states that “given the significantly changed circumstances since Pb [lead] was listed in 1976, we will evaluate the status of Pb as a criteria.” [US Environmental Protection Agency, 12/2006, pp. 1-1 pdf file; US Congress, 12/6/2006 pdf file] The EPA’s current hazard summary for lead compounds states that “[l]ead is a very toxic element, causing a variety of effects at low dose levels. Brain damage, kidney damage, and gastrointestinal distress are seen from acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of lead in humans.” [US Environmental Protection Agency, 1/2000] Earlier in the year, a lobbying group named Battery Council International wrote to a top EPA air quality official asking him to remove lead from the EPA’s list of air pollutants. The organization also spent $220,000 lobbying public officials from 1998-2002. [Associated Press, 12/7/2006; Center for Responsive Politics, 12/16/2006, pp. 1998-2002]

Entity Tags: Battery Council International, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Public health, Lead, Air pollution, Public health, Lead

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