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US Environmental Record

Key Events

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

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President Bush informs a small group of reporters that he is forming an “energy task force” to draw up a new national energy policy. It will be the first major policy initiative of his presidency. The administration is driven by its concern for “the people who work for a living… who struggle every day to get ahead.” The task force will find ways to meet the rising demand for energy and to avoid the shortfalls causing major power blackouts in California and other areas (see January 23, 2001). He has chosen Vice President Cheney to chair the task force. “Can’t think of a better man to run it than the vice president,” he says. He refuses to take questions, turning aside queries with jokes about the recent Super Bowl. The short press briefing will be virtually the only time the White House tells reporters anything about Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. [Savage, 2007, pp. 85-86] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that the task force “held a series of meetings with outside interests whose identities were withheld from the public. This created an early impression of an administration prone to secrecy and reinforced the image of the Bush White House as in thrall to corporate interests.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 96]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Category Tags: Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force, Key Events

More than 33,000 spawning salmon and steelhead trout die in the lower Klamath River due to the rivers abnormally low water level (see November 18, 2003). The fish succumb to “gill rot” which spreads rampantly among the fish as a result of warm water temperatures caused by the river’s shallow waters. The lower water-level is a result of the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to cut the river’s flow to 750 cubic-feet per second and divert the remaining water to farmers for irrigation. The decision was made against the recommendations of two reports by a team of government biologists (see April 2002). [High Country News, 6/23/2003; Associated Press, 5/20/2004]

Category Tags: Wetlands, Endangered species, Klamath Basin Fish Kill, Key Events

Companies charged with violating New Source ReviewCompanies charged with violating New Source Review [Source: Clear the Air]The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a rule that makes four important changes to the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. Critics say the changes will help polluting industries maintain the status quo.
Plant-wide Applicability Limits (PALs) - This change will allow a facility to set a Plant-wide Applicability Limit (PAL) based on its average emissions over the previous ten years. A facility will be exempted from the New Source Review process when it upgrades or expands its operations if those changes do not cause the plant’s emissions to exceed its PAL. Critics complain that the change does not require plants to reduce their overall emissions when a facility expands or modifies operations.
Pollution Control and Prevention Projects - Facilities will be permitted to undertake certain environmentally beneficial activities without having to apply for NSR permits.
Clean Unit Provision - Plants that voluntarily install “best available pollution controls” will be afforded “clean unit” status and exempted from NSR provisions for a period of 15 years. The change is retroactive to 1990.
Emissions Calculation Test Methodology - Facilities will be permitted to use a more lenient method when determining if a plant upgrade has increased its emissions. With the exception of power plants, facilities will be permitted to select any 24-month period during the previous decade to serve as its baseline for determining pre-modification emission levels. The EPA also announces that it intends to revise the “Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement” exemption so that any modifications whose costs do not exceed a certain level would be exempt from the NSR provisions requiring plants to install pollution controls and conduct impact assessments on the ambient air quality when upgrading or replacing equipment. [Clean the Air, n.d. pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency, 11/22/2002; EarthVision Environmental News, 11/25/2002; ENSR International, 12/24/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Coal Industry, New Source Review, Key Events

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tells the EPA to use the discounted value of 63 percent for health impacts on senior citizens in calculating cost-benefit analyses when conducting assessments for new air pollution restrictions on polluting industries. [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Air pollution, Public health, Key Events

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget sends a report to Congress announcing that it will conduct a review of more than 300 regulations—including ones pertaining to the environment and public health—which it has slated for overhaul, reform, or elimination. The review will draw on more than 1700 recommendations from private industry and think tanks. Many of the recommendations would weaken food safety standards, energy conservation standards, and natural resources. Sixty-five of the regulations targeted for overhaul are under the jurisdiction of the EPA. [US Congress, 10/24/2002 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/19/2002; Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 12/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43), US Congress, Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Energy industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency withdraws a Clinton era rule that imposes total pollution limits for all water bodies and requires federal oversight on the clean-up of nearly 300,000 miles of rivers and 5 million acres of lakes. The move will make it easier for states to remove waterways from the clean-up list and more difficult for other waterways to be added. [Perks and Wetstone, 1/2003, pp. 17-18 pdf file; Environmental Defense Center, 1/13/2003]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Key Events

The Bush administration outlines a seven-point plan “clarifying” federal guidelines on preventing wetlands loss. This reinterpretation of existing rules weakens protections for wetlands by focusing on the ecological quality of new wetlands that replace destroyed wetlands in developed areas instead of requiring acre-for-acre replacement. [Associated Press, 12/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Wetlands, Key Events

The Forest Service proposes a new rule that would create three new categories of timber sales exempt from National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental review and public input. The three new “categorical exclusions”—exemptions meant for activities that do not effect the environment—would apply to (1) “Low-impact silvicultural treatments involving harvest of live trees”; (2) “Harvest of dead/dying trees”; and (3) “Harvest of live, dead, or dying trees necessary to control insect and disease.” Though the Forest Service states that these activities do not have a significant effect on the environment, the rule would allow the constructions of roads through federally protected forests up to half a mile long. It would apply to more than 150 pending logging projects. [Wilderness Society, n.d.; US Forest Service, 1/3/2003 pdf file; Perks, 4/2004, pp. 17-18 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service

Category Tags: Timber industry, Key Events

The Bush administration announces a policy directive and proposed rulemaking that would significantly restrict the scope of the Clean Water Act, removing as much as 20 percent, or 20 million acres, of the country’s wetlands from federal jurisdiction. Officials claim the measures are necessary in order to comply with a 2001 Supreme Court decision that the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have the authority to regulate intrastate, isolated, non-navigable ponds solely on the basis that they are used by migratory birds. But the proposed rule and policy directive ignores a decision by the Department of Justice that the court’s ruling does not necessitate modifying the scope of the Clean Water Act. The administration’s directive and proposed rule interpret the 2001 decision to mean that all “isolated” intrastate, non-navigable waters are outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. [Environmental Protection Agency, 1/10/2003; New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/10/2003; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/28/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] Whereas the proposed rule must go through a lengthy federal process before going into effect, the policy directive is enacted immediately. The directive instructs regional offices of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of wetlands unless (1) the waterway lies adjacent to navigable rivers, streams and their tributaries or (2) the EPA’s headquarters in Washington has granted explicit approval to exercise regulatory authority. No approval however is required for the commencement of activities that could potentially pollute these waters. As a result of this directive, thousands of acres of wetlands, small streams, and other waters instantly lose federal protection. [New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] The proposed rule will generate an immense public outcry. Ninety-nine percent of the 135,000 comments submitted to the EPA and Army Corps on this proposal will be opposed to it. Comments supporting the proposed rule will come from the National Mining Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Association of Home Builders, and other industry groups. Additionally, environmental and natural resource government agencies from 39 states, including 17 with Republican governors, will oppose the plan, while agencies from only three states will support it. Numerous local government entities, scientific groups, as well as a bi-partisan group of 219 representatives and twenty-six senators, will also come out against the proposal. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events, Mining industry

(Show related quotes)

President Bush presents his fiscal 2004 budget proposal. In it are billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to energy companies and several anti-environment provisions including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural resources spending, renewable energy programs, and clean water programs including a $492 million, or 37 percent, cut from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Council, 2/4/2002 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 2/5/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Shorelines and oceans, Energy industry, Key Events

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

The Environmental Protection Agency grants the oil and gas industry a two-year reprieve from regulations aimed at reducing contaminated water run-off from construction sites. The Clinton-era EPA phase II stormwater pollution rule “A” —scheduled to go into effect on this day—requires that companies obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for construction sites between 1 and 5 acres. But the EPA has decided that the Clinton administration had underestimated the rule’s impact on the oil and gas industry. In addition to granting the two-year reprieve, the agency says it will also consider giving the industry a permanent exemption. [Associated Press, 3/10/2003; Business and Legal Reports, 3/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Yellowstone National Park, Environmental Protection Agency, Grand Teton National Park, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency withdraws a June 2000 rule intended to clean up waters polluted by nonpoint source pollution such as agricultural runoff. The Total Maximum Daily Load was set to take effect under the Clean Water Act. [Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 6/8/2005] The rule was opposed by the construction industry which claimed it would increase building costs by requiring contractors to comply with “costly and burdensome water quality requirements.” [Associated Builders and Contractors, 3/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Key Events

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raises the fuel economy standard to a 22.2-mpg fleet average—an increase of only 1.5 miles per gallon—to take effect over the next three years. [US Department of Transportation, 4/1/2003] But loopholes in the regulations will result in a mere overall net increase of .3 miles per gallon. Though the administration cites the new standard as evidence of its commitment to improving air quality, critics note the negligible effect the increase will have and say that it represents only what the automobile industry was intending to do anyway. The auto industry has long complained that increasing fuel economy standards is too expensive and would negatively affect vehicle safety—assertions disputed by the National Academies of Science. [Associated Press, 4/1/2003; Alliance to Save Energy, 4/1/2003; Union of Concerned Scientists, 8/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Category Tags: Air pollution, Automobile industry, Key Events

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Timber industry, Key Events

April 14, 2003: Oil and Gas Regulations Eased

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) streamlines its permitting requirements for oil and gas drilling on public lands undermining the integrity of the environmental impact review and public input process. The changes were initiated by BLM Director Kathleen Clarke who instructed the agency’s staff to use new methods for reviewing applications, such as grouping applications together in bundles and performing environmental impact assessments for entire oil or gas fields instead of for individual wells. [Bureau of Land Management, 4/14/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Category Tags: Public land use, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announces that it plans to ease environmental protections for wildlife habitat in the Alaskan Western Arctic Reserve. The Bush administration is looking into opening the Western Arctic Reserve for oil and gas drilling, specifically a 600,000 acre area around and including the state’s largest arctic lake, Teshekpuk Lake. [Petroleum News, 4/20/2003; Bureau of Land Management-Alaska, 4/15/2004; Reuters, 4/17/2004] Peter Ditton, BLM’s associate state director for Alaska, stresses that the area is important for oil resources and also as a development base. A ConocoPhillips (Alaska)-Anadarko Petroleum partnership has its sights on the area which includes the “Barrow Arch East Plays,” estimated to have some 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. [Petroleum News, 4/20/2003] Oil and gas drilling would threaten the habitat of musk oxen, spotted seals, arctic peregrine falcons and beluga whales, among other species. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Ditton, Kathleen Clarke, Bush administration (43), Bureau of Land Management

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service revises a Clinton-era judgment which had concluded that the proposed construction and operation of two mines in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana would likely have an adverse impact on the local population of grizzly bears. In January 2002, twelve months after the Bush administration came into office, the mining companies filed a lawsuit protesting this judgment. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider the case reasoning that it needed to “make sure that it [had been] based on the best available science.” Some time after the decision was made to reconsider the case, one of the mining companies abandoned its permit. The Fish and Wildlife Service, in its new judgment, concludes that the operation of one mine would not threaten the area’s grizzly bears. [Earth Justice, 1/29/2002; Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003] The proposed Rock Creek Mine, a copper and silver mine, would be the first large-scale mining operation to take place in a wilderness area. It would remove up to 10,000 tons of materials each day for up to 35 years. Critics argue that traffic brought by the mine and its accompanying roads would harm the local populations of grizzlies and bull trout and contaminate the surrounding watershed. [Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 5/18/2003; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004] The company that would operate the mine, Sterling Corporation, and its executives have a poor business and environmental record. [Mattera and Khan, 1/2003 pdf file; Clark Fork Coalition, 7/30/2004]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Sterling Corporation, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Wildlife protection, Mining industry, Mining in the Cabinet Mountains, Key Events

The Bush administration sends Congress a $247-billion, six-year spending proposal which would undermine environmental protections, discourage the development of mass transit systems and threaten historical sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges by shifting regulatory authority to the state and local level and undermining public oversight. The proposal, called the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003,” would cut the federal/local funding ratio for new rail projects from 80/20 to 50/50, thus requiring local governments to pay for a larger portion of such transit systems. The bill allocates four times as much funds for roads than for mass transit. [Associated Builders and Contractors, 5/16/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Air pollution, Automobile industry, Key Events

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

President Bush sends Congress the Biennial Report on the Administration of the Coastal Zone Management Act, which proposes new rules that would undermine coastal states’ control over their coastlines by reducing public and state government participation in decisions affecting the coast and its resources. The changes would pave the way for new offshore oil and gas development. [US President, 6/16/2003; Environmental Defense Center, 8/21/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), US Congress

Category Tags: Shorelines and oceans, Energy industry, Key Events

Interior Secretary Gale Norton presents President George Bush with a report detailing the achievements of the National Park Service. The report calls attention to the $2.9 billion that the Bush administration says it has set aside for the park’s maintenance backlog. [National Park Service, 7/2/2003] But the figure is misleading because it actually refers the park’s entire maintenance budget. Only $370 million of that amount represents funds allocated to the maintenance backlog. Moreover, as the National Parks Conservation Association notes, “the president’s budget is [actually] contributing to the backlog by ignoring the annual needs of the national parks, which continue to operate with only two-thirds of the needed funding.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 7/9/2003; CNN, 8/15/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003] According to the General Accounting Office, the Park Service needs upwards of $6.8 billion to complete the deferred maintenance and repairs. Critics of the administration’s record also note that the administration’s lax enforcement of clean air policies and its plan to replace some parks’ staff with private contractors are serious threats to the national park system. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Gale A. Norton, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), National Park Service (NPS)

Category Tags: National Parks, Key Events

The EPA announces that its budget of $277 million will allow it to begin clean-up work at only 10 of the 20 newly proposed Superfund sites. The agency selected the 10 sites based on their potential for economic redevelopment and their risk to human health. The reason for the funding shortfall is related to the lapsing of a polluter fee in 1995, which shifted the burden of clean-ups away from corporate polluters to taxpayers. The Bush administration has made no effort to push Congress to reinstate the “polluter pays” fee. [Environmental Protection Agency, 7/17/2003; Associated Press, 7/17/2003]

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

Category Tags: Corporate welfare, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

The Forest Service outsources the work of 47 agency employees of the Content Analysis Team (CAT) to private consulting companies, despite an August 2002 independent study praising the team for its efficiency (see October 2002) and a June 2003 internal analysis concluding that outsourcing would increase the Forest Service’s costs (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Outsourcing and privatization, Outsourcing CAT, Key Events

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, drafts a proposal that would shift the authority for releasing emergency declarations concerning public health, safety and the environment from federal regulatory agencies to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] “Under this proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis,” an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] Additionally, the White House office wants the OMB to reside over a centralized peer review process charged with vetting “any scientific or technical study relevant to regulatory policy” produced by the regulatory agencies. The OMB would have the power to reject or accept the outcome of such peer reviews. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Commercial permit applications, however, would not be subject to review. Alan Morrison, a lawyer for Public Citizen, commenting on the exception, notes, “If you want to build a dam, or dump a chemical… you evidently don’t need to have peer-reviewed science.” Academic experts who are recipients of grants from an agency whose work is being reviewed would be barred from serving on the review board. But there would be no restrictions against using experts from private industry. [Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Though the administration claims that the proposed change reflects President Bush’s commitment to “sound science,” critics say the measure would allow political interests to impede the creation of new regulations by subjecting them to a never-ending process of review and analysis. They also warn that the review process could easily become balanced in favor of industry. Backers of the administration’s proposal include the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Ford Motor Co., the American Chemistry Council, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (whose members include regulated mining concerns), and Syngenta, a pesticide company. Opponents of the plan include a number of former regulators from the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton including former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, former EPA administrators Russell Train and Carol M. Browner, heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Carter and the elder Bush; and Neal Lane, who was director of the National Science Foundation under Clinton and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. [Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Syngenta, Bush administration (43), Office of Management and Budget

Category Tags: Politicization and deception, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly lifts a 25-year-old restriction on the sale of PCB-contaminated land. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are linked to cancer and neurological problems. The rollback, based on an EPA reinterpretation of an existing law, is announced in an internal memo written by EPA general counsel Robert Fabricant. Fabricant claims in the memo that the old interpretation represented “an unnecessary barrier to economic redevelopment.” Because the change is considered a “new interpretation” of existing law, the administration has no legal obligation to make a public announcement. Critics, including some EPA staffers, note that the longstanding ban served as an incentive for landowners to notify the EPA of the contamination and clean up their property. As a result, about 100 sites a year were submitted to the agency for review. They also warn that the new policy will make it hard to track sales of polluted sites and to ensure that buyers properly assess the land prior to development. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/14/2003 pdf file; USA Today, 9/1/2003; New York Times, 9/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Robert E. Fabricant

Category Tags: Public health, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a “new interpretation” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which would facilitate the importation of endangered species to the United States and permit hunters, circuses and the pet industry to kill, capture and import them. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004] The current interpretation of Section 10 of the ESA sanctions the importing of an endangered animal only under the condition that its relocation to the US would improve its chances for survival, such as captive breeding programs and similar projects aimed at preserving the species. But the Bush administration’s proposed change would allow the pet industry, circuses, and even hunters to capture and import endangered species. [Defenders of Wildlife, 10/17/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004] The Bush administration claims that its proposed policy—which would help satisfy the huge US demand for live animals, skins, parts and trophies—would be “sustainable” because it would require developing countries that export the endangered animals to use the resulting revenue to fund conservation efforts. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003] The proposed reinterpretation is condemned by environmental and wildlife advocacy groups, newspaper editorial boards, and members of Congress from both parties. Supporters of the change include the zoo, circus, and trophy hunting industries. [Washington Post, 10/11/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, 6/25/2004]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Endangered species, Key Events

The EPA revises the “New Source Review”(NSR) provision of the Clean Air Act. Previously, the NSR required industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls when they made upgrades to their facilities. However, the provision’s revised definition of “routine maintenance” will exempt some 17,000 older power plants, oil refineries and factories from being required to install pollution controls when they replace equipment, provided that the cost does not exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of what the EPA broadly defines as the entire “process unit.” This restriction basically allows industries to replace entire plants one-fifth at a time with no concomitant responsibility to controlling its emissions. This applies even to circumstances where the upgrades increase pollution. It is estimated that the revised rule could save billions of dollars for utilities, oil companies and others. Industry has spent the last two years heavily lobbying the White House for this rollback. [Reuters, 8/28/2003; Associated Press, 8/28/2003] New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer promises to sue the administration, telling reporters, “This flagrantly illegal rule will ensure that… Americans will breathe dirtier air, contract more respiratory disease, and suffer more environmental degradation caused by air pollution.” [Reuters, 8/28/2003]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Coal Industry, New Source Review, Key Events

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Category Tags: Public land use, Water pollution, Public health, Wildlife protection, Mining industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces that it will not regulate dioxins in land-applied sewage sludge, which is considered to be the second largest source for dioxin exposure. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/17/2003; Washington Post, 10/18/2003; Associated Press, 10/18/2003] The decision goes against a December 1999 proposed rule calling on the EPA to regulate the application of sludge, which is used for fertilizer on farms, forests, parks, and golf courses. [Washington Post, 10/18/2003; Associated Press, 10/18/2003] The EPA says that regulation is not necessary because dioxins from sewage sludge do not pose significant health or environmental risks. But according to a National Research Council report completed the year before, the agency had been using outdated methods to assess the risks of sewer sludge. [Associated Press, 10/18/2003] According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dioxins are “among the most toxic substances on Earth” and are responsible for causing cancer and diabetes, as well as nervous system and hormonal problems. The NRDC says that the decision violates the Clean Water Act, which charges the agency with restricting the level of toxic pollutants that harm human health or the environment. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Ivan L. Frederick II, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Air pollution, Water pollution, Public health, Agribusiness, 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 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

The Bureau of Land Management grants Questar Exploration and Development Corporation a special exemption to drill four gas wells on Wyoming’s Pinedale Mesa throughout the winter season for the second year in a row. The company will drill the wells from a single pad using directional drilling technology instead of from multiple pads which would require the use of more space and the construction of more roads. Normally companies are barred from drilling between November 15 and April 30 in order to protect the region’s wildlife population. [Associated Press, 11/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004] For at least 6,000 years, the area has served as a crucial winter range and migration corridor between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges for more than 100,000 mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Biologists fear that winter drilling in the region could disrupt this annual migration, causing significant losses to the wildlife population. For example, the corridor is critical to the survival of a herd of pronghorn antelope because it receives a lesser amount of snow than the surrounding areas. Pronghorn antelope cannot survive in the deep snow because it makes it impossible for them to evade their predators. [National Geographic, 3/28/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Questar Exploration and Development, Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Energy industry, Key Events

President Bush signs into law the defense authorization bill, which contains a controversial rider allowing the Pentagon to circumvent the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The MMPA prohibits government and commercial interests from engaging in activities harmful to the declining populations of whales, dolphins and seals. The act, passed in 1972, has been credited with halting the decline of some of those populations. The bill also exempts the military from certain provisions of the ESA. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003] For example, the bill:
bullet Permits the secretary of defense to exempt any military activity from the MMPA, without regard to its impact on whales, seals and dolphins. The Navy claims the MMPA puts American lives at risk because it makes it more difficult for the Navy to detect enemy submarines. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Loosens the MMPA definition of “harassment” of marine mammals, making it almost impossible to enforce the MMPA. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Extends the Pentagon’s exemptions to scientists who conduct research sponsored by the Navy or other federal agencies. [Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Eliminates language in the MMPA that prohibits the Navy from doing sonars, invasive research, bomb testing and other activities that threaten the habitat of whales, seals and dolphins. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]
bullet Exempts US military bases and lands from ESA habitat-protection provisions. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that the new exemption will “improve… military readiness” even though a General Accounting Office study found that “very few units reported being unable to achieve combat-ready status due to inadequate training areas.” [General Accounting Office, 6/2002 pdf file; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004] Encouraged by their success at weakening the MMPA and ESA, defense officials say that next year they will attempt to modify a court agreement the Pentagon accepted the month before requiring the Navy to limit where it can use its new low-frequency sonar system that has the ability to track quiet diesel submarines. Critics argue the sonar’s frequency is so loud that it could kill noise-sensitive whales and dolphins. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003] The military is also planning to seek exemptions to the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Superfund Act (see April 6, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Shorelines and oceans, Endangered species, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

US Forest Service officials remove Michael Gertsch, a Forest Service wildlife biologist since 1976, from a team of scientists working on an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan after he repeatedly complains that the agency is misrepresenting the impact of forest fires on owl populations, which are dependent on old stands of trees. “I fought and fought and fought and fought and finally they used some excuse and removed me from the team,” he later tells the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Michael Gertsch

Category Tags: Forest policy, Timber industry, Key Events

The Bush administration announces that it will abandon its January proposed rule (see January 10, 2003) to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act. However, the administration does not retract the policy directive that was announced the same day instructing regional EPA offices and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of certain wetlands. [Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

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

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events

Bruce Buckheit, the director of the EPA’s air enforcement office, is ordered to shut down ongoing New Source Review investigations—which he later says were strong cases—at several dozen coal burning power plants. In an April 2004 interview with MSNBC, he will recall: “I had to tell the regional engineers and lawyers, stop. Put your documents in the box, so that hopefully we can get back to it someday.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2004]

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

Category Tags: Air pollution, Environmental enforcement, Key Events

President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Forest policy, Endangered species, Timber industry, Key Events

The National Park Service issues a final rule announcing that the number of snowmobiles permitted in Yellowstone Park will be restricted to 950 per day when parks open for the winter season on December 17. Eighty percent of the sleds must be commercially guided and meet “best available technology” (BAT) requirements. The remaining twenty percent will not have to be BAT. For the 2004-2005 winter, regulations on the maximum daily number of snowmobiles will remain the same, except that all snowmobiles will be required to meet BAT standards. Similar rules will be imposed on the use of snowmobiles in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway. [National Park Service, 12/11/2003] The decision is made in spite of the fact that independent federal studies had previously determined that reversing the Clinton-era phase-out would result in a significant increase of carbon monoxide pollution and nitrogen oxide emissions. [Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), National Park Service (NPS), Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park

Category Tags: National Parks, Snowmobile Industry, Snowmobile regulation, Key Events

The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It’s a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that’s going to stay that way. We’re very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska’s governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), US Department of Agriculture

Category Tags: Timber industry, Roadless Rule, Key Events

The US Office of Surface Mining (OSM) announces that it intends to “clarify” the buffer zone rule of the Surface Mining Act of 1977, which governs permits for coal strip mines that are located within 100 feet of a stream. The Bush administration disagrees with the current interpretation of the rule which prohibits mining near streams unless it can be shown that the activities will not “adversely affect the water quantity and quality or other environmental resources of the stream.” The White House claims that the buffer zone rule is confusing and its current application too restrictive on the coal mining industry. Instead, the administration proposes a policy that would call on coal operators to minimize the impact on streams “to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available.” Critics warn that the proposed “clarification” would encourage a method of surface mining known as “mountaintop mining,” which involves the removal of mountaintops to expose coal seams. The method is extremely destructive to the environment because the resulting debris is bulldozed into nearby valleys, often completely burying streams in a practice known as “valley fill.” [Associated Press, 1/7/2004; Department of the Interior, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Charleston Gazette, 1/8/2004; Environmental News Network, 1/8/2004; New York Times, 1/13/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/18/2004]

Entity Tags: US Office of Surface Mining (OSM), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Mountaintop Mining, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in a report to Congress that for the second year in a row, “limited funding prevented EPA from beginning construction at all sites or providing additional funds needed to address sites in a manner believed necessary by regional officials, and caused projects to be segmented into phases and/or scaled back to accommodate available funding.” The report explains that for 2003 (see July 17, 2003), the funding shortfall amounted to $174.9 million. As a result, clean-up work at 11 Superfund sites was put off and work at 29 other locations was slowed down. [Environmental Protections Agency, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Government Executive, 1/8/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004] The 11 sites where work was postponed include Jennison-Wright Corp. in Granite City, Ill.; Continental Steel Corp. in Kokomo, Ind.; Marion Pressure Treating in Marion, La.; Atlas Tack Corp. in Fairhaven, Mass.; and Mohawk Tannery in Nashua, N.H. In 2003, the EPA completed 40 clean-ups, compared to 42 in FY 2002, and 47 in 2001. Under the Clinton administration, an average of 76 clean-ups had been completed each year. [Associated Press, 1/9/2004] The report was requested in July by US Senator Barbara Boxer, House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, Rep. Hilda Solis, and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords. [Government Executive, 1/8/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004]

Entity Tags: US Congress, John Dingell, James Jeffords, Environmental Protection Agency, Hilda Solis, Barbara Boxer, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ]… spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004; US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004]
bullet The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.
bullet The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.
bullet The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.
bullet The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches. It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion… was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn’t listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment’s claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey” (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Forest Service, Michael Gertsch

Category Tags: Forest policy, Politicization and deception, Timber industry, Key Events

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announces that the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will provide an estimated $1 billion in subsidies to promote deep drilling for natural gas in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Companies that drill wells deeper than 15,000 feet will be exempt from having to pay royalties on the first 15 billion cubic feet of gas produced. For wells deeper than 18,000 feet, royalties will be waived on the first 25 billion cubic feet. The royalty waiver will be discontinued if natural gas prices exceed $9.34 per thousand cubic feet. Without the subsidy, it would be too costly for companies to drill such wells. Norton claims that the program will save consumers money and create an estimated 26,000 new jobs. [Associated Press, 1/23/2003; Petroleum News, 2/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, US Department of Interior

Category Tags: Corporate welfare, Oil and gas industry, Key Events

The Department of Energy (DOE) says it will not request $350 million that the agency is supposed to use for the disposal of more than 85 million gallons of “high-level” radioactive waste unless Congress and state governments agree to downgrade the classification for some of the waste to “low-level” so that it can be disposed of using a less costly method that it estimates will save $29 billion. The DOE claims that some of the waste has a low enough level of radioactivity that the waste can simply be covered with concrete and left in place. But in July 2003, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the Energy Department’s plan was illegal and that the agency was bound to the nuclear waste law, which states that liquid nuclear fuel reprocessing waste is “high-level” and needs to be buried in a permanent geological storage facility. The waste, left over from Cold War armament projects, includes 53 million gallons at the DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington; 34 million gallons at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina; and 900,000 gallons at its INEEL facility in Idaho. Additionally, there are 600,000 gallons of waste from a short-lived civilian reprocessing program near West Valley, New York. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004; Associated Press, 4/8/2004; New York Times, 5/30/2004] A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey Fettus, warns that the Energy Department’s plan would in effect create “nuclear cesspools” at the weapons plants and the Savannah River plant would become the most polluted nuclear site on the planet. [New York Times, 5/30/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, US Congress, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Toxic waste, Key Events

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 announces its proposed 2005 budget for the EPA, which cuts the agency’s funds by more than 7 percent. While the budget does increase the Superfund by ten percent so the program can complete cleanup at 40 sites—well below Clinton’s average of 87 sites/year—the budget substantially reduces funds for clean water programs. For example, the budget cuts $492 million, or 37 percent, from a revolving fund used by states to upgrade sewage and septic systems and storm-water run-off projects. [Reuters, 2/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Shorelines and oceans, Superfund sites and clean-up, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces that it will allow North Dakota to adopt a new method for estimating air pollution. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004] The decision was made during a meeting between EPA administrator Michael Leavitt and North Dakota Governor John Hoeven the previous weekend. [Washington Post, 5/19/2004] According to the agency’s own specialists in air quality monitoring, the new method will grossly underestimate pollution levels, potentially allowing North Dakota to relieve itself of the stigma of being the only state whose federal preserves—Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge—are in violation of the Clean Air Act. [USA Today, 9/15/2002; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/13/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004] The lower pollution levels could in turn result in the lifting of local development restrictions, allowing power companies to proceed with plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the area. “That sets the stage for new investments in our energy industry and real progress in our rural communities,” Hoeven explains. [Los Angeles Times, 2/14/2004; Platts, 2/19/2004; Washington Post, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: John Hoeven, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Air pollution, Energy industry, Key Events

The US Forest Service reverses its ban on poisoning prairie dogs on five national grasslands in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The measure is a response to complaints from the livestock industry that prairie dog populations are spreading from federal lands onto private property, ruining grazing land, causing erosion and damaging roads. Critics of the decision to lift the ban note that in 2000, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had concluded that prairie dogs should be listed as a threatened species. [Associated Press, 2/14/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Cattle Industry, Key Events

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signs a final rule permitting power plants to continue using the “once-through” method to cool their turbines. The practice—condemned by critics as the most environmentally-damaging method of cooling available—relies upon water continually drawn from lakes, rivers and reservoirs for the power plants’ cooling systems. [Associated Press, 1/9/2004; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] Every year, some 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms are killed when they are trapped in the intake screens or forced through the water intake structures of these power plants. The new rule requires large power plants to reduce the number of fish and shellfish drawn into the cooling systems by 80 to 95 percent. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] However, the rule also provides large power plants with several “compliance alternatives,” such as using existing technologies, implementing additional fish protection technologies, restocking fish populations and creating wildlife habitat. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] Leavitt’s decision to sanction the continued use of the “once-through” method goes against the advice of his own staff which recommended requiring power plants to upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems which use 95 percent less water and which pose far less of a risk to aquatic ecosystems. But the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which works under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, reportedly opposed requiring plants to switch to the newer more expensive closed-cycle system. [Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] The new rule applies to 550 power plants that withdraw 222 billion gallons of water daily from American waterways. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004]

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

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Energy industry, Key Events

Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Key Events, Corruption

The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment’s grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [Greenwire, 2/10/2004; US Forest Service, 2/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Forest Service

Category Tags: Public land use, Cattle Industry, 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

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) an exemption from federal restrictions on land disposal of hazardous waste for two commercial Class 1 injection wells in Romulus, Michigan. It is estimated that each year, the wells will inject roughly 100 million gallons of liquid industrial waste—including chemicals like methanol, acetone and ammonia—into sponge-like rock located thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. EPA officials claim that “the waste will stay confined to a layer of rock deep underground and will not threaten human health or the environment.” Local residents and state officials strongly oppose the plan, against which they have been fighting for more than a decade. [Ecology Center News, 12/1999; Environmental Protection Agency, 3/17/2004; Detroit Free Press, 3/17/2004; Capitol Reports, 3/19/2004]

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Toxic waste, Key Events

The Oregon and California State Offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regional Offices of the Forest Service jointly announce two changes to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that will reduce federal wildlife protections and lead to increased logging on public lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The first change drops the “survey and manage” rule, which requires forest managers to search forests for about 300 rare plants and animals not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act prior to the logging of old-growth forests. The Forest Service says that the process is time-consuming and expensive, thus making it difficult for timber companies to meet the maximum, allowable, annual timber harvest level of 800 million board feet a year that is permitted under the Northwest Forest Plan. The US Forest Service estimates that this change will allow the timber industry to log an additional 70 million board feet a year. The second change concerns the plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), which was created to restore and maintain the ecological health of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in order to ensure that logging and roadbuilding does not damage salmon bearing watersheds. Instead of requiring that individual logging projects meet all ACS requirements, forest managers will only have to see that the standards are met at the “fifth-field watershed scale,” which usually represents an area of about 20,000 to 100,000 acres. [Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, 3/23/2004; Oregonian, 3/24/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Forest policy, Timber industry, Key Events

The Environmental Protection Agency posts a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it will continue studying the 51 drinking water contaminants included in its 1998 Contaminant Candidate List. [Environmental Protection Agency, 4/2/2004] But the announcement seems to suggest that the EPA is continuing to ignore recommendations embodied in three National Research Council reports—Setting Priorities for Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), Identifying Future Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), and Classifying Drinking Water Contaminants for Regulatory Consideration (2001)—which suggested, among other things, that the agency use the latest gene-mapping technology to screen for a more comprehensive list of contaminants, including waterborne pathogens, chemical agents, disinfection byproducts, radioactive substances and biological compounds. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other health and environmental groups have urged the agency to follow the Council’s recommendations in order to protect the public against the numerous contaminants that have been shown to be detrimental to human health but which are not currently regulated. [Water Science and Technology Board Newsletter, 5/2001 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: National Research Council (NRC), Natural Resources Defense Council, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Water pollution, Public health, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service releases an economic analysis on bull trout recovery titled, “Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Bull Trout.” The study—written by Bioeconomics Inc. of Missoula, Montana—had been commissioned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the basis for cost-benefit analysis. Once approved, Interior Secretary Gale Norton will use the data from the report to determine whether the costs of bull trout recovery outweigh the benefits. The report estimates that protecting bull trout and its habitat in the Columbia and Klamath river basins would cost between $230 and $300 million over the next ten years. But missing from the published version of the report is a 55-page section demonstrating $215 million in quantifiable economic benefits. The section had concluded that a healthy bull trout fishery would result in increased revenue from fishing fees, reduced drinking water costs and increased water for irrigation farmers. It also included discussion of other benefits not easily quantified in monetary terms. For example, it discussed the positive effects recovery would have on other trout species, in-stream flows and water quality in lakes and streams. Additionally, the missing section noted that there was a “number of published studies have demonstrated that the public holds values for endangered and threatened fish species separate and distinct from any expected direct use of the species.” According to Diane Katzenberger, an information officer in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Denver office, the decision to discard the section was made in Washington. “It did not come out of Denver or Portland,” she explains. But Katzenberger nonetheless defends the decision claiming that it is difficult to assign “a dollar value to a biological benefit.” She further explains that while it is possible to estimate the costs of consultation and of road upgrades and culvert replacements, “We don’t know the dollar value of biological benefits. And no matter what, it would be a comparison of apples to oranges.” [Missoulian, 4/15/2004; Ravalli Republic, 4/16/2004; Washington Post, 4/17/2004] Chris Nolin, chief of the division of conservation and classification at the Fish and Wildlife Service, dismissed criticisms that the decision to delete the section was based on politics. “OMB uses very strict methodology” he says, adding that the OMB has “told us repeatedly in the past to remove this kind of analysis” from public reports. But as The Washington Post notes: “The federal government, however, often publicizes analyses of the benefits of Bush administration proposals for environmental clean-up. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, found $113 billion in benefits over 10 years from provisions of the administration’s 2003 Clear Skies Act.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bush administration (43), Chris Nolin, Diane Katzenberger

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Politicization and deception, Key Events

The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher’s status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species’ population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration’s forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Fish and Wildlife Service

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Key Events

Federal officials confirm that the Bush administration plans to begin using the population statistics of hatchery-bred fish when considering whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new policy rests on five major points: (1) The genetic resources for protecting salmon populations are present in both hatchery-bred and wild fish; (2) Hatchery-bred fish that are “no more than moderately divergent” genetically from wild fish will be included in the same group known as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit, or ESU; (3) Decisions on whether to protect a specific ESU will be based on the entire population; and (4) ESA protection will be based on abundance, productivity, geographic distribution and genetic diversity. [Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Washington Post, 4/29/2004] This proposal ignores warnings from six of the world’s leading experts on salmon ecology who recently argued in the journal Science that hatchery-bred fish are not as fit as those hatched in the wild and should not be relied upon to protect wild salmon populations. [Science Magazine, 3/26/2004, pp. 1980; Washington Post, 4/29/2004] The scientists had been part of a panel formed at the request of the administration to determine whether or not there are significant differences between hatchery-bred and wild fish. When the panel concluded that hatchery fish are larger and genetically inferior to wild fish and that they should not be counted upon to help wild salmon populations, the scientists were told that their conclusions were inappropriate for official government reports. [Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; News Tribune, 5/4/2004] One of the panel’s scientists, biologist Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says of the administration’s response to their work, “Any science that contradicted them was not welcome.” Justifying the panel’s conclusions, he explains, “[Y]ou can’t replace wild salmon with hatchery salmon. It’s like saying Chihuahuas and wolves are the same.” Robert Paine, a biologist at the University of Washington, who also served on the panel, notes: “The current political and legal wrangling is a sideshow to the real issues. The science is clear and unambiguous—as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks.” [Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004] The agricultural, timber and energy industries strongly support the new policy plan, having long complained about the costs of ecosystem-wide modifications that the ESA requires businesses to make to roads, farms and dams to protect the salmon habitats. [Washington Post, 4/29/2004] Salmon protection policies—described as the most expensive and complex of all the endangered species programs—cost roughly $700 million per year. [Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; News Tribune, 5/4/2004] Two weeks later, on May 14, the administration will back away from its proposal. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; Columbian, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Endangered species, Timber industry, Key Events

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

Category Tags: Water pollution, Mountaintop Mining, Key Events

Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemana announces the proposal of a new federal rule that would overturn the Roadless Rule introduced by Clinton in January 2001. The Roadless Rule banned the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres, or nearly one-third, of the nation’s forests. The administration claims that the motivation behind the new rule is to give states a say in the management of their lands. Under the new rule, state governors would presumably help decide whether areas in their own states should be opened to commercial activity like logging or oil and gas drilling. But for the first 18 months the rule is in effect, the US Forest Service would have the final authority on all decisions. After that, local Forest Service plans, which typically would allow road building and logging on the areas currently designated as roadless, would be reinstated. Governors opposed to any of these plans would have to petition the Agriculture Department in a complicated, two-step process. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004; Washington Post, 7/13/2004; Juneau Empire State News, 7/13/2004; Salt Lake Tribune, 7/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Ann Venemana, US Department of Agriculture, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Energy industry, Timber industry, Roadless Rule, Key Events

Russell Train, a former EPA administrator who served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, says during a news conference, organized by Environment2004, that he intends to vote for Democrat John Kerry because he believes the Bush administration’s record on the environment has been “appalling.” “It’s almost as if the motto of the administration in power today in Washington is not environmental protection, but polluter protection,” says Train, who is a Republican. “I find this deeply disturbing.” [Associated Press, 7/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Russell Train

Category Tags: Corruption, Key Events

The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service’s amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “At least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey.” The AP’s conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service’s amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency’s policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Matt Mathes, US Forest Service

Category Tags: Forest policy, Politicization and deception, Timber industry, Key Events

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

President Obama signs legislation expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, a dramatic reversal of Bush-era policy. The omnibus Public Land Management Act is described as the largest US conservation measure in 15 years. [CNN, 3/30/2009; Fox Business, 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Over 150 Measures - The bill is composed of over 150 individual measures passed by Congress. Among other initiatives, it creates 10 new National Heritage Areas, designates two million acres of federal lands in nine states as wilderness areas, sets out water conservation measures through the Bureau of Reclamation, alters several national park boundaries, and takes steps to drastically improve the quality of California’s San Joaquin River, potentially restoring salmon to that river and improving the quality of drinking water throughout the Bay Area. Scientist Monty Schmitt says of the San Joaquin reclamation project, “This is taking what many have said is a dead river, and bringing it back to life for over 150 miles.” Because of the bill, Obama says, the Navajo nation—over 80,000 Native Americans living in Arizona and New Mexico—will have “access to clean, running water for the very first time.” The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, named after the late Hollywood actor who was paralyzed from a riding accident, providing for paralysis research, rehabilitation, and care. Obama says that bill is “specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis” and will work to improve their quality of life “no matter what the costs.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Bill Passed over Republican Opposition - The bill passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but some Republicans oppose it, complaining that the bill imposed undue restrictions on oil drilling in rural areas. Some of the bill’s components had been blocked in recent years under the Bush administration. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Monty Schmitt, Public Land Management Act, US Bureau of Reclamation, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wetlands, Key Events

Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon.Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon. [Source: Intercontinental Cry (.com)]The Obama administration bans hard-rock mining on more than a million acres in and around the Grand Canyon, an area rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves. The ban is for 20 years. Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers have worked for years to limit mining near the Grand Canyon National Park. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder, and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has twice imposed temporary bans on mining claims, says: “A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape. People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water [and] irrigation.” The basin is already considered one of the nation’s most endangered waterways, and mining operations could use vast amounts of the area’s water and taint much more. The ban reverses a Bush administration decision to open the area to new mining claims; environmentalists have long pointed to the damage wrought to the area by uranium, oil, and gas mining under the Bush administration’s policies.
Mining Poses High Risks to Environment, Tourism - One in 12 Americans gets some or all of their water from the Colorado River Basin, including the residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and the area generates about $3.5 billion in annual income, largely from tourism. In contrast, the mining ban will mean that 465 prospective jobs will not materialize, and the area will lose some $16.6 million in annual tax revenue from mining. Supporters of the ban say that the jobs that would come from mining in the area would not be worth the risk to the river basin and the canyon, and a mining mishap would be potentially devastating for tourism. Many of the area’s lands are considered sacred by Native American tribes, and the lands support a vast number of wildlife habitats. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that uranium mining in the area would critically despoil the area, ruin millions of Americans’ access to fresh water, and cut, not increase, job revenues. McKinnon says: “The real economic engine in northern Arizona is not uranium mining. It’s tourism. To jeopardize our economic engine with more toxic uranium mining is unacceptable.” In 2008, former Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca said flatly: “Without [the Colorado], there is no Western United States. If it becomes unusable, you move the entire Western United States out of any sort of economic position for growth.” [ProPublica, 12/21/2008; Associated Press, 1/9/2012]
Republicans Criticize Ban - Some Congressional Republicans and mining industry groups call the decision indefensible, saying it will cost hundreds of jobs and deprive the nation of a much-needed energy resource. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the ban a “devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona,” and says the ban was “fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the canyon walls.” He says that modern mining techniques will not add toxins to water drawn from the river basin. Other Republicans cite a mining industry study that claims even a severe mining accident would increase uranium levels in the Colorado River by an undetectable amount. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) says: “It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people. Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.” Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) calls the ban part of the Obama administration’s “war on western jobs.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party supporter, says: “This administration has proven incapable of using even the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to lands policy. The American people are desperate for jobs, and our domestic energy industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the western states. However, the president and Interior Secretary Salazar are intent on appeasing their friends in the extreme left wing of the environmentalist movement during an election year by locking up as much land as possible, regardless of the negative effects on our economy. For energy production that has long been safe and responsible, the announcement represents a needless overreaction to a fictitious problem.” [Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012; Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012] In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that mining had contaminated 40 percent of the streams and rivers in the western United States, and mining was considered the single most polluting industry in the nation. [ProPublica, 12/21/2008] Many of the claims now blocked from development belong to foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, and South Korea’s state-owned utility. [PR Newswire, 6/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Jim Baca, Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Markey, John Barrasso, Ken Salazar, Rosatom, Rob Bishop, Obama administration, Taylor McKinnon, John McCain

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wildlife protection, Toxic waste, Oil and gas industry, Mining industry, Key Events

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