26
Apr
2004

New Report Reveals Bush Environmental Damage State by State

US PIRG: "In a country that takes great pride in its entrepreneurial spirit, [environmental problems] should inspire our leaders to look for immediate solutions. Instead, the Bush administration has taken the opposite course-looking for opportunities to weaken, not strengthen, our environmental laws and please its allies in the oil, chemical, timber, electric utility, mining and other polluting industries. Each state in the Union will share the burden of the Bush administration's policies to weaken environmental protections; this report, by no means exhaustive, details some of the administration's harmful proposals and reveals how states will experience the very real, very local effects of these actions."

//mailhost.groundspring.org/cgi-bin/t.pl?id=80812:740526


Executive Summary

On April 22, 1970, America celebrated its first Earth Day, demonstrating a national and truly bipartisan outpouring of concern for cleaning up the environment. According to some recollections of that day, "So many politicians were on the stump on Earth Day that Congress was forced to close down. The oratory, one of the wire services observed, was 'as thick as smog at rush hour.'" 1 In the decade that followed, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other laws that form the cornerstone of our country's commitment to protect the environment and public health.

While we have seen measurable progress in environmental quality since 1970, we are far from achieving the original vision laid out by the authors of these landmarks laws. Too many Americans still breathe dirty air, and too many of our waterways remain polluted. Logging, drilling, mining, road-building and other development continue to take their toll on our forests, fragile coastlines and last wild places.

In a country that takes great pride in its entrepreneurial spirit, these problems should inspire our leaders to look for immediate solutions. Instead, the Bush administration has taken the opposite course-looking for opportunities to weaken, not strengthen, our environmental laws and please its allies in the oil, chemical, timber, electric utility, mining and other polluting industries.

Over the last three years, the Bush administration has proposed numerous policies to allow more pollution in our air and water, more logging in our national forests, and more drilling on sensitive public lands, while ignoring the pressing need to address global warming pollution, rapidly clean up toxic waste sites, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Although many of these proposals have been finalized, several remain pending-offering the administration another chance to reinforce, rather than undermine, the foundation of America's environmental laws.

These national policies have a profound effect on residents of every state of the union.

Air pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized two rules that eliminate the teeth of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program and the primary enforcement mechanism for cutting soot and smog pollution from the nation's dirtiest power plants. In December 2003, EPA also proposed a new plan to weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from the nation's 1,100 coal-fired power plants; this proposal is still pending. These policies will only exacerbate air quality problems across the country. Approximately 146 million Americans - or half of the population - live in areas where the air is unhealthy to breathe. Currently, 43 states have fish consumption advisories in effect because of mercury pollution in local waterways.

On a different note, in April 2004 EPA plans to finalize a promising proposal to clean up dirty diesel construction, farm, and industrial equipment. The rule would reduce pollution from these engines by more than 90 percent, preventing an estimated 9,600 premature deaths, 16,000 heart attacks, and nearly a million work days lost due to illness each year.

Global warming

EPA has taken no meaningful action to address global warming emissions from the nation's power plants, disavowing its authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant in August 2003. The agency has supported only voluntary measures to slow the rate of increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Global warming could have profound effects on the country's environment and public health, including more frequent heat waves and extreme weather events. In 2002, the U.S. recorded almost $20 billion in losses due to weather-related disasters.

Water pollution

The Bush administration has proposed or enacted several policies to allow more pollution to enter our waterways. In January 2003, EPA signaled its intention to remove Clean Water Act protections for so-called "isolated" waterways; EPA rescinded this proposed rule in December 2003, but has yet to recall a guidance issued to EPA and Army Corps staff directing them to immediately stop protecting these waters. The administration also has weakened enforcement of the Clean Water Act; drafted plans to allow states to delay cleaning up polluted waters; and proposed new rules to allow inadequately treated sewage to enter our waterways. Already, more than 40 percent of our nation's waterways are too polluted for safe fishing or swimming.

Logging in national forests

Under the guise of fighting forest fires, the Bush administration signed its so-called Healthy Forests Initiative into law in December 2003. This new law makes it easier for the timber industry to cut down large, fire resistant trees while doing little to protect at-risk communities. The Forest Service also has announced plans to weaken the popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule by allowing governors to opt out of the rule altogether. The Roadless Rule would protect 58.5 million acres of the most pristine forest lands in the country from most logging and road-building.

Drilling on public lands

The Department of Interior is working to provide the oil and gas industry with easy access to our public lands, including wilderness areas and delicate ecosystems. The Interior Department has removed protections for millions of acres of wilderness, leaving them vulnerable to logging, road-building and development, and expedited the permitting process for oil and gas drilling projects in the west, especially Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

America's fragile coastlines

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is quietly rewriting the federal rules that grant states the authority to protect their coastlines from harmful federal activities. In July 2003, NOAA proposed changes to the Coastal Zone Management Act that would weaken the voice of state agencies in determining the environmental impacts of offshore federal operations and give greater weight to the opinions of federal agencies. These changes could undercut the right of California, Florida, and other states to protect their valuable coastlines from harmful activities, including oil and gas development.

Dependence on foreign oil

In December 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard that could make it easier for auto companies to qualify gas-guzzling SUVs and other light trucks for weaker fuel economy standards. The best way to cut our dependence on oil is to make vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas. With a 40-mpg fleetwide fuel economy standard, the U.S. could save up to $88 billion at the gas pump and conserve more than 50 billion gallons of oil annually by 2020.

Toxic waste cleanups

Superfund is the nation's preeminent law for making polluters clean up the country's most contaminated toxic waste sites. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has failed to support reinstating the "polluter pays" fees that help fund cleanup of abandoned sites, slowed the pace of cleanups, and forced taxpayers to pick up more of the bill for the cleanups that are happening. In 1995, the year Superfund's polluter pays fees expired, taxpayers paid for only 18 percent of abandoned Superfund cleanups, or $303 million. In 2004, American taxpayers are paying all costs for abandoned Superfund cleanups, or about $1.257 billion, an increase of 315 percent.

Exempting the Department of Defense

The Department of Defense (DoD) is one of the most prolific polluters in the United States. The Pentagon, capitalizing on increased public sympathy for the military and desire for homeland security, has requested blanket exemptions from several environmental laws. Having already won exemption from the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, the DoD now wants amnesty from cornerstone laws designed to protect people living on and near military sites from exposure to toxic waste and air pollution. The DoD is responsible for 130 Superfund toxic waste sites in the U.S.-more than any other party.

Each state in the Union will share the burden of the Bush administration's policies to weaken environmental protections; this report, by no means exhaustive, details some of the administration's harmful proposals and reveals how states will experience the very real, very local effects of these actions.

Notes

1 John C. Whitaker, "Earth Day Recollections: What It Was Like When The Movement Took Off." EPA Journal. July/August 1988.

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