Friday :: May 2, 2008

The Prerogatives of Protection


by Turkana

The next president is going to have so much garbage to clean up that it's a wonder either Democrat wants the job. John McCain, of course, doesn't believe there is any garbage, and that it'll just be four years of riding Air Force One rather than his wife's corporate jet, while being fawned over by the media sycophants, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama know better. Which is proof enough that they both have tremendous courage. Some recent articles about the Bush Environmental "Protection" Agency demonstrate how literal that garbage clean-up will be.

The Chicago Tribune reports from Saginaw, Michigan:

The battle over dioxin contamination in this economically stressed region had been raging for years when a top Bush administration official turned up the pressure on Dow Chemical to clean it up.

On Thursday, following months of internal bickering over Mary Gade's interactions with Dow, the administration forced her to quit as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Midwest office, based in Chicago.

Gade told the Tribune she resigned after two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson took away her powers as regional administrator and told her to quit or be fired by June 1.

The woman had the gall to actually do her job!

Gade has been locked in a heated dispute with Dow about long-delayed plans to clean up dioxin-saturated soil and sediment that extends 50 miles beyond its Midland, Mich., plant into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. The company dumped the highly toxic and persistent chemical into local rivers for most of the last century.

Many local residents see Dow as a lifeline in region plagued by plant closings and layoffs. But all along the two wide streams that cut through this old industrial town, signs warn people to keep off dioxin-contaminated riverbanks and to avoid eating fish pulled from the fast-moving waters. Officials have taken the swings down in one riverside park to discourage kids from playing there. Men in rubber boots and thick gloves occasionally knock on doors, asking residents whether they can dig up a little soil in the yard.

Last summer, Gade used emergency powers to order Dow to clean up three particularly toxic sites.

She demanded more dredging in November, when it was revealed that dioxin levels along a park in Saginaw were 1.6 million parts per trillion, the highest amount ever found in the U.S.

Dow then sought to cut a deal on a more comprehensive cleanup. But Gade ended the negotiations in January, saying Dow was refusing to take action necessary to protect public health and wildlife. Dow responded by appealing to officials in Washington, according to heavily redacted letters the Tribune obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Which is always the story, with this administration: if a conscientious federal employee tries to place the public good over a large corporation's profits, that corporation can always go over her or his head, appealing directly to Washington. After all, the chief business of the American people is business.

In a similar but not unexpected story, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Tuesday:

A Senate committee is looking into a report that says the Bush administration is hampering the ability of Environmental Protection Agency scientists to assess the health dangers of toxic chemicals.

The head of the EPA's pesticide and toxic chemical office was to testify Tuesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with an official of the Government Accounting Office that has just concluded an investigation of the EPA's chemical risk assessment program.

The GAO report, obtained by The Associated Press, said the EPA's ability to conduct timely, science-based risks assessments was being undermined by allowing greater involvement in the process by nonscientists, often in secret.

Scientists have this nasty habit of basing their conclusions on science, so when assessing science-based risks, it's important to get more and more input from people who don't care about the whole science thing.

A review process begun by the White House in 2004 and imposed formally by the EPA earlier this month is adding more speed bumps for EPA scientists, the GAO said in its report.

GAO investigators said extensive involvement by EPA managers, White House budget officials and other agencies has eroded the independence of EPA scientists charged with determining the health risks posed by chemicals.

Many of the deliberations over risks posed by specific chemicals "occur in what amounts to a black box" of secrecy because the White House claims they are private executive branch deliberations, the report said.

Private executive branch deliberations? In other words, corporate lobbyists are invited into the parlor and allowed to rewrite the risk assessments, to suit their needs. And if there are problematic EPA officials, like Gade, who try to do their jobs honestly, well, they can be dealt with. So, it will come as no surprise to read this, from Think Progress, a couple weeks ago:

In a remarkable show of contempt, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has flatly refused a House Global Warming Committee subpoena. The subpoena for documents relating to the EPA’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases was issued by a unanimous, bipartisan vote on April 2, a year after the Supreme Court decision. On April 11, the EPA requested and received an extension to respond, but today the agency has decided not to turn over the documents...

Executive branch. Above the law. Ignore subpoenas. As the Warming Law link explained:

UPDATE, 3 PM: EPA has refused to turn over the documents, still calling them "pre-decisional" in a letter today, and fearing that they might create an "erroneous impression of the agency's thinking" and potentially be "injurious to important Executive Branch institutional prerogatives." Rep. Markey plans to consult with fellow Committee members before announcing his next steps, which may ultimately include going to the U.S. Attorney.

Erroneous impression? Actually, what's potentially injurious to "important Executive Branch prerogatives" is exposing them. Because we know that this particular Executive Branch considers it its prerogative to ignore laws, ignore subpoenas, ignore the common good, and serve the best interests of the nefarious special interests that this Executive branch considers it its prerogative to obediently protect.

Turkana :: 12:47 PM :: Comments (4) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!