TO: Editors and Reporters Covering the Environment
DATE: March 4, 2002
EPA'S CREDIBILITY CRISIS
A Backgrounder on the Selling of the "Clear Lies Initiative"
Last week's widely publicized resignation by top Environmental Protection Agency enforcement official Eric Schaeffer dramatically underscored what one state environmental official has called the EPA's "credibility crisis."
This is a crisis of EPA's own making, as it tries to "sell" President Bush's so-called "Clear Skies Initiative," which some on Capitol Hill have branded the "Clear Lies Initiative."
This is not the first time the Bush Administration's EPA has distorted the truth to seek a political outcome. (Readers may recall last year that we pointed out that EPA had distorted an air quality analysis to appease the farm lobby and bar California from selling cleaner-burning gasoline that did not contain smog-forming ethanol.) 1
But since the Bush Administration is talking about a fundamental gutting of the Clean Air Act, we think it is worth taking a moment to separate the facts from the blatantly political propaganda and "spin."
Fact Number 1: The Clean Air Act is working to improve air quality. Even the most recalcitrant business lobbies have had to concede that the Clean Air Act has led to improved air quality even as the economy has grown and energy supplies have increased. 2
Fact Number 2: If it's enforced, the Clean Air Act will continue to produce dramatic improvements in air quality. At EPA's instigation, the U.S. Department of Justice has brought lawsuits against numerous electric power companies and other industries for violating the Clean Air Act. EPA's enforcement division has noted that settling these electric power cases alone would bring about at least as much pollution reduction as the President's "Clear Skies" Initiative -- and more quickly. As Eric Schaeffer put it yesterday on ABC's This Week, "We can do better under current law than what they're [the Bush Administration] putting on the table."
Fact Number 3: Big polluters want to evade pollution control requirements related to these lawsuits -- and have gone to Vice President Cheney and the Department of Energy in an effort to block them. The most dramatic evidence of this polluter lobbying blitz was made public last Friday by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who revealed that DOE Deputy Secretary Frank Blake -- perhaps the Bush Administration's most influential policymaker for the electric utility industry -- met with 64 industry representatives and only one environmentalist to discuss rollbacks of Clean Air Act enforcement.
Fact Number 4: Blake, Cheney and other White House figures have pushed EPA to weaken enforcement of the law by gutting the so-called "new source review" rules on which the enforcement actions are based.
Fact Number 5: Faced with a tidal wave of White House and DOE opposition to clean air, political appointees at EPA tried a different approach: be willing to go along with industry's desire to shred the current Clean Air Act, but try to replace it with a weaker substitute, the so-called "cap and trade" approach. Then try to sell "cap and trade" to industry as less onerous than the current Clean Air Act -- while claiming to the American public that it's better for clean air. That's exactly what happened. In September, EPA politicos met the leaders of the electric power industry and tried to get them to support EPA's approach by arguing -- and giving them an analysis to support the argument -- that the "cap and trade" plan would be cheaper for industry and not require as much pollution reduction as enforcement of current law. (EPA did not, of course, expect the general public would ever learn of this analysis, which was made public by the Clean Air Trust and the Texas-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition.)
Fact Number 6: The heavy hitters of the electric power industry -- Southern Company and American Electric Power -- figured they could do better. Armed with their arguments, DOE opposed the "cap" limits sought by EPA, though the energy agency was more than willing to gut current clean air requirements.
Fact Number 7: In the internal Bush Administration debate, DOE won, EPA lost. President Bush announced his "Clear Skies" plan with great fanfare, even though EPA career officials knew he was talking about a rollback of the Clean Air Act. Moreover it was yet another episode that showed just how little clout Christie Whitman has in the Bush Administration. We still wonder why she didn't resign along with Eric Schaeffer.
Fact Number 8: EPA political appointees are now trying to re-write history. Having been exposed for promoting a plan that is weaker than the current Clean Air Act, EPA's political appointees are distributing cynically crafted materials purporting to show that the "Clear Skies" initiative would produce better pollution results than the current Clean Air Act. The new EPA materials omit one crucial fact: They assume EPA will not enforce the current law! No wonder EPA has a credibility crisis. And no wonder their plan is being called the "Clear Lies Initiative."
As always, please don't hesitate to call (202) 785-9625 if you'd like to discuss these or related issues.
1 See our "Villain of the Month" award for June 2001, in which we noted that EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was willing to harm California's air quality to expand ethanol markets.
2 The one thing the current Clean Air Act doesn't require is mandatory reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. That's why many environmentalists had urged Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) to introduce his legislation aimed at reducing those emissions in tandem with other electric power emissions.