Fouling Our Own Nestgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread
uly 4, 2002
Fouling Our Own Nest
By BOB HERBERT
Do you remember the character Pig-Pen in the "Peanuts" cartoons? He was always covered with dirt and grime. He was cute, but he was a walking sludge heap, filthy and proud of it. He once told Charlie Brown, "I have affixed to me the dirt and dust of countless ages. Who am I to disturb history?"
For me, Pig-Pen's attitude embodies President Bush's approach to the environment. We've been trashing, soiling, even destroying the wonders of nature for countless ages. Why stop now? Who is Mr. Bush to step in and curb this venerable orgy of pollution, this grand tradition of fouling our own nest?
Oh, the skies may once have been clear and the waters sparkling and clean. But you can't have that and progress, too. Can you?
This week we learned that the Bush administration plans to cut funding for the cleanup of 33 toxic waste sites in 18 states. As The Times's Katharine Seelye reported, this means "that work is likely to grind to a halt on some of the most seriously polluted sites in the country."
The cuts were ordered because the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program is running out of money. Rather than showing the leadership necessary to replenish the fund, the president plans to reduce its payouts by cleaning up fewer sites. Pig-Pen would have been proud.
This is not a minor matter. The sites targeted by the Superfund program are horribly polluted, in many cases with cancer-causing substances. Millions of Americans live within a few miles of these sites.
The Superfund decision is the kind of environmental move we've come to expect from the Bush administration. Mother Nature has been known to tremble at the sound of the president's approaching footsteps. He's an environmental disaster zone.
In February a top enforcement official at the Environmental Protection Agency, Eric Schaeffer, quit because of Bush administration policies that he said undermined the agency's efforts to crack down on industrial polluters. Mr. Schaeffer said he felt he was "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."
That, of course, is exactly what this White House is doing. Within weeks of Mr. Schaeffer's resignation came official word that the administration was relaxing the air quality regulations that applied to older coal-fired power plants, a step backward that delighted the administration's industrial pals.
During this same period, the president broke his campaign promise to regulate the industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, a move that, among other things, would have helped in the fight to slow the increase in global warming. Mr. Bush has also turned his back on the Kyoto Protocol, which would require industrial nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The president was even disdainful of his own administration's report on global warming, which acknowledged that the U.S. would experience far-reaching and, in some cases, devastating environmental consequences as a result of the climate change.
The president's views on global warming seem aligned with those of the muddle-headed conservative groups in Texas that have been forcing rewrites in textbooks to fit their political and spiritual agendas. In one environmental science textbook, the following was added:
"In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is now, and fossils of sea creatures show us that the sea level was much higher than it is today. So does it really matter if the world gets warmer?"
Senator Joseph Lieberman, not exactly a left-winger on the environment or anything else, gave a speech in California in February in which he assailed the president's lack of leadership on global warming and other environmental issues. He characterized the president's energy policy as "mired in crude oil" and said Mr. Bush had been "AWOL in the war against environmental pollution."
Several states, fed up with Mr. Bush's capitulation to industry on these matters, have moved on their own to protect the environment and develop more progressive energy policies.
Simply stated, the president has behaved irresponsibly toward the environment and shows no sign of changing his ways. You could laugh at Pig-Pen. He was just a comic strip character. But Mr. Bush is no joke. His trashing of the environment is a deadly serious matter.
-- Cherri (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 05, 2002
slate.com July 3
Toxic Smear Job
The Times "Slashes" Bush with its bogus Superfund budget-cuts story.
By Jack Shafer
The terrifying headline, "Bush Slashing Aid for E.P.A. Cleanup at 33 Toxic Sites," which fronted the New York Times on Monday, July 1, was enough to make you zip your hazmat suit. Quoting a report by the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency, Times scribe Katharine Q. Seelye found that some of the nation's "most seriously polluted" Superfund cleanup sites in 18 states would go wanting for dollars this year because of Bush administration stinginess. Seelye writes:
Among the sites that for now would receive less money—in some cases, none—are a manufacturing plant in Edison, N.J., where the herbicide Agent Orange was produced, several chemical plants in Florida and two old mines in Montana.
As the American media's news-agenda dictator, the Times inspired dozens of pieces by newspapers, wire services, and broadcasters across the country. Many papers, such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Bergen County Record, localized their stories by mentioning Superfund site cutbacks in their backyards.
Although the Times story spewed Superfund hysteria, it never went as far as the Record, which reported (erroneously) that the administration planned "to reduce spending for the nation's Superfund program." That's not the case. The "slashing" cuts of the Times headline, delineated in the seventh paragraph of the story, were merely the difference between what EPA regional offices had requested from the EPA's Washington headquarters ($450 million) and what headquarters had deigned to allocate ($228 million) to clean up 33 specific sites in FY 2002. It's as if you asked Santa for a BMW and accused him of dealing you a cutback when he only gave you a Honda.
In fact, spending on Superfund has remained steady in recent years, with $1.4 billion budgeted in FY 2000, $1.27 billion in 2001, $1.27 billion in FY 2002 (not counting homeland security add-ins), and a projected $1.3 billion for FY 2003, if the Bushies get their way. (Among other things, the Superfund budget covers legal enforcement, engineering, office overhead, and direct cleanup of sites.) Seelye notes the current budget in her piece but doesn't put it in the context of previous years' spending or the Bush administration's 2003 intentions. Based on these numbers, Seelye could have just as easily written a story titled, "Bush Superfund Budget Grows Slightly."
Neither the next day's (July 2) Wall Street Journal or Washington Post bought the Times line. Both got a comment from the EPA, something Seelye didn't do. Agency spokesperson Joe Martyak told both papers that the numbers in the inspector general's report were only a "snapshot in time" and not accurate. Martyak added that some of the 33 Superfund sites didn't need more money and that 11 would win more funds in a later quarter.
Why, then, all the horror show about the Superfund-slashing Bush? One can, in good conscience, criticize Bush as less aggressive than Clinton in his Superfund cleanup strategy, as National Journal did in its June 1 issue. Or one can argue that the program should be bumped up to $1.5 billion and $1.6 billion in this decade to complete the various projects, as Superfund maven Kathryn Probst at Resources for the Future holds.
But that's not what's driving this story. Hill Democrats want to reinstitute the "Superfund tax," which ran from 1980 to 1995. The tax dunned chemical and oil companies, among other industries, for money to clean up "orphan" Superfund sites—sites whose owners have absconded or have gone bankrupt. The sites affected by Bush "cutbacks" are orphans and constitute 30 percent of all Superfund cleanups. (Culpable corporate parties, snared by EPA cops, pay for the remaining 70 percent of Superfund-designated sites.)
The Superfund tax trust fund, which ballooned to $3.8 billion in 1996, is now nearly empty, and that's reignited the Hill debate about how to pay for the orphans' hygiene. Since 1995, Republicans have resolutely opposed a new Superfund tax and have largely agreed with industry that general tax revenues should cover the orphans (or that the feds should defer the matter to the states). The Democrats, led by Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, want the tax back, and they have been campaigning in the press since the beginning of the year for its return. In April, Dingell and Pallone commissioned the EPA inspector general—who is not an EPA employee—to investigate which Superfund cleanups the Bush administration was postponing or scaling back on. When they got the report, they delivered it to Seelye, apparently giving her one of the media's first peeks.
To her credit, Seelye acknowledges the provenance of the report, discloses who gave it to her, and describes her benefactors as "opposing the cuts." But after doing so, she carries the Democrats' water for them, essaying at great length about their desire for the Superfund tax. One of the piece's subheads, "Superfund Is Drying Up," should be its headline (but that's been true for the last six years). And she echoes the enviros' and Democrats' point of view, accepting their dubious rhetoric that under the Superfund tax, "the polluter pays." Actually, the Superfund tax conscripts many companies that have never polluted and had no role in creating the orphan sites. And in describing the "cuts," she compares what the EPA regional offices requested—which, given bureaucratic imperatives, is likely to be more than they planned to get—with what the Bush administration allocated. The fair way to compute budget "cuts," of course, would be to compare what EPA spent last year against this year. But she doesn't get that number.
Besides including no response by the EPA—not even a "no comment"—Seelye declines to talk to an industry flack or a think-tanker who might take issue with their Superfund alarmism. (Spokespersons from the Edison Wetlands and the League of Conservation Voters get their say.) Do any of the affected 33 sites pose immediate, grave danger to the public health? Are some better candidates for containment rather than immediate cleanup? Is the Bush administration actually doing the environment a favor by performing budget triage, funneling the most money to the neediest sites?
I'm prepared to believe that the Bush administration's Superfund strategy poses serious health risks to hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions. Or that George W. Bush personally poisons my tap water. But Seelye's rewrite of the inspector general's report hypes a legitimate debate about who should pay to clean up orphan Superfund sites by falsely suggesting that Bush is gutting the program.
-- (glove is thrown @ copy n paste.duel), July 05, 2002.
-- (email@example.com), July 05, 2002.
Uh-oh, looks like the spamming is starting. This new troll, "glove is thrown" is beginning to show the same kind of destructive behavior as the one who annihilated the Wild West. Better nip this in the bud Unk before it gets out of hand.
-- (ban the little bastard @ methinks. it's rolo), July 05, 2002.
Not to worry. Noone here reads lenghty C&P stuff. We've boiled to the core crowd who read before we get here. Commentary is worthwhile but most C&P I skip too. We be good.
-- Carlos (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 05, 2002.
Trollboy can dish it out but he can't take it. What a wuss. LOL.
-- (email@example.com), July 06, 2002.