Rachel's Democracy & Health News #872, September 14, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The President is relentlessly dismantling the scientific capabilities of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- a plan with "long-term consequences," says the agency's chief financial officer.]

By Peter Montague

At an airport the other day, every six minutes like clockwork an authoritative voice emanated from on high, reminding us that the global terror threat stands at "orange alert." As we waited like sheep to be searched for hair gel and lanolin, some of us were led away and body-searched behind the screen while the rest of us averted our eyes and packed closer together, trying to blend in.

It was near the anniversary of Sept. 11, so the Commander-in-Chief was making the rounds to lay wreaths and provide reassurances, and the total-immersion airport TV offered up a cavalcade of frightening images suggesting that we may never be safe again until we track down every last enemy of freedom and interrogate them creatively. We particularly marvel at the newest unauthorized U.S. practice of locking suspects in cages measuring four feet by four feet by 20 inches so they can neither sit nor stand for a week at a time, as reported by the New York Times June 17. And we were amazed to learn recently that Guantanamo is now 25% powered by wind energy, so that if we poke electric cables into the eyes of Muslim prisoners, as has been recently alleged, perhaps some of us can at least feel good about ourselves for doing it with alternative energy.

These reported interrogation techniques, if true, seem certain to prolong the Global War on Terror -- which the President some time ago had already declared to be a war without end -- by creating the next generation of implacable foes who will then need to be resisted with mighty swords, restrained, and themselves creatively interrogated far into the future. Perhaps it's best to look at it as a sustained jobs program, not really different from the Cold War but with a creative Texas twist.

From our airport experience you could only conclude that we've got a big job ahead -- the CIA has now identified people who hate freedom in 80 countries, and no doubt some of these will become good candidates for creative interrogation -- so we'd best get to it and stay focused, was the message. Mr. Bush wants to be remembered as a wartime President, and there's little doubt he'll get his wish. Extraordinary renditions of this President's creative innovations will no doubt be recounted forever-after to wide-eyed children in Texas Sunday schools.

Meanwhile all across the country, out of sight of the TV monitors, the Commander-in-Chief has a second crusade under way, striking a blow against godless science. He is working hard to go down in history as the President who finally had the guts to eliminate -- or at least cripple -- science within the federal agency that President Nixon set up to protect God's creation, our U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In a series of decisions during his two terms in office, the Commander has steadily diminished and discredited the scientific bona fides of EPA. This can only mean that the agency is growing less able to do its job of protecting us and the rest of Creation from corporate marauders. As anyone knows who has read the two-part series we ran last month, destruction of the natural environment has reached full orange alert -- the loss of species alone has now reached apocalyptic proportions -- so diminishing government's scientific capability can only accelerate us toward ecological collapse. Clearly, many of the President's supporters relish the thought because to them it foretells the Second Coming of Christ. And who knows? They may be right. In some versions of the Good Book it is written that "Blood will flow like mighty rivers" when Jesus returns to Earth to personally exterminate vast hordes of humanity. This would include the 1.6 billion Christians who have not been "born again" and have not taken Jesus as their personal savior; 1.3 billion Muslims; 900 million Hindus; 850 million secularists, atheists and agnostics; 360 million Buddhists; 245 million indigenous people; 225 million believers in various traditional Chinese religions; 23 million Sikhs; 14 million Jews; 6 million Bahais; 5 million Jainists; 4 million Shintos; 3 million followers of Cao Dai; 2.4 million Tenrikyos; 1 million neopagans; 800,000 Unitarian Universalists; 700,000 Rastafarians; 600,000 Scientologists; and 150,000 Zoroastrians.

It is written that, on the day He returns to Earth, the Prince of Peace is planning to personally slaughter every one of these 5.5 billion infidels and then dispatch their souls to hell where they will suffer unspeakable tortures for the rest of eternity -- this according to the President's most faithful followers and ardent supporters who are working hard to impose these religious values on the rest of us. Among some of these plain folk, perhaps, the torture of a few luckless Muslims at Guantanamo or high in the heavens aboard a CIA-chartered jet pales to insignificance when compared to Jesus's glorious final solution for cleansing the Earth. But I digress.

Just a few days ago, the whistle-blower group representing federal scientists, managers and workers, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), leaked a memo from Lyons Gray, chief financial officer (CFO) of EPA. The memo tells all EPA higher-ups that the 2008 budget will include substantial new "disinvestments" in EPA's scientific capabilities -- disinvestments that are expected to have "long-term consequences" for the agency, Mr. Gray's memo said. Those consequences will be Mr. Bush's second legacy.

Here are a few of the changes that the agency has undergone while the Global War on Terror has deflected our attention:

** Closure of scientific laboratories and research centers. By 2011, the agency's staff of 2000 scientists will have been cut 20%. During that same 5-year period, 9000 new chemicals will have entered commercial channels,[1] almost entirely untested for health or environmental effects.

** The executive director of PEER, Jeff Ruch, summarized the plan this way: "The Bush administration is trying to spin this lobotomy as a diet plan for a trimmer, shapelier EPA," Ruch added. "In fact, it is a plan to cut and run from historic standards of environmental protection under the guise of deficit management."

PEER is not the only group aware of the destruction of scientific capacity at EPA.

** In April, EPA's own Science Advisory Board -- a panel of outside reviewers of EPA's scientific work -- concluded that EPA is no longer funding a credible public health research program.

** A Government Accountability Office study also released in April concluded that EPA lacks safeguards to "evaluate or manage potential conflicts of interest" in corporate research agreements.

** PEER noted in October, 2005 that the American Chemistry Council (ACC, formerly the Chemical Manufacturer's Association) is now EPA's main research partner. PEER noted that, "A classic example of recent EPA/corporate joint ventures is the 2004 agreement reached with the ACC to fund the now-canceled CHEERS experiment in which parents would have received payments and gifts in return for spraying pesticides and other chemicals in the rooms primarily occupied by their infant children." EPA and ACC were surprised at public opposition to testing pesticides on children, since testing drugs on children without informed consent is a booming business.

PEER also noted that, "In internal agency surveys, EPA scientists maintain that corporations are influencing the agency's research agenda through financial inducements. As one EPA scientist wrote, 'Many of us in the labs feel like we work for contracts.'"

In March of this year PEER executive director Jeff Ruch testified before Congress that, "There appears to be a deliberate policy of marginalizing EPA science on issue after issue, so that the agency is becoming increasingly irrelevant to emerging environmental threats," Ruch testified, pointing to internal surveys showing a growing pessimism by agency scientists about the direction of EPA. "EPA's public health research agenda has been neutered," he testified.

Unfortunately, EPA has placed its own scientists under a gag order, so they cannot tell their own story.

Last month, PEER pointed out that EPA's own Office of Inspector General -- an internal investigative arm within EPA itself -- recently reported that:

** "EPA does not have the data to support its positions on the state of the environment or to measure the success of its programs";

** "EPA's information systems have incomplete and untimely data"; and

** EPA lacks a "clear identification and prioritization of the most important scientific questions to be addressed."

"Right now, EPA is flying blind," concluded PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency is spending millions on a public relations campaign to burnish the "corporate image" of its science program even as it cuts research support. "EPA scientists describe a deliberate attempt by its current leaders to 'dumb down' the agency and marginalize research so it cannot be applied to any topic of controversy," he said.

Ruch pointed out that

** Investment in EPA science has steadily decreased to the point where the chair of EPA's Scientific Advisory Board believes that the agency no longer fields a coherent scientific research program;

** Suppression of politically inconvenient scientific findings and rewrites of technical reports for non-scientific reasons have become commonplace.

** EPA is slashing its network of technical research libraries.

This last point is important because it undercuts EPA's ability to enforce the laws Congress has told it to enforce.

Late last month, PEER leaked an internal EPA memo saying,

** Prosecution of polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "will be compromised" due to the loss of "timely, correct and accessible" information from the agency's closure of its network of technical libraries. EPA enforcement staff currently rely upon the libraries to obtain technical information to support pollution prosecutions and to track the business histories of regulated industries.

The memo, prepared in mid-August by the enforcement arm of EPA, called the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA), agency staff detailed concerns about the effects of EPA's plans to close many of its libraries, box up the collections and eliminate or sharply reduce library services. Each year, EPA's libraries handle more than 134,000 research requests from its own scientific and enforcement staff. The memo states:

"If OECA is involved in a civil or criminal litigation and the judge asks for documentation, we can currently rely upon a library to locate the information and have it produced to a court house in a timely manner. Under the cuts called for in the plan, timeliness for such services is not addressed."

"Cutting $2 million in library services in an EPA budget totaling nearly $8 billion is the epitome of a penny wise-pound foolish economy," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "From research to regulation to enforcement, EPA is an information-dependent operation which needs libraries and librarians to function properly," he said.

But who needs EPA anyway? The states and tribes do.

According to the memo by EPA CFO Lyons Gray, leaked by PEER just a few days ago, the EPA's 2008 budget preparations include reducing the "regulatory burden" on state and tribes and reducing federal oversight of state and tribal regulatory agencies.

The assumption is that state environmental agencies can run their own show better without EPA setting basic standards of performance. But it plainly isn't so.

Take New Jersey. New Jersey is the wealthiest state in the Union. It has a well-educated population who regularly tell pollsters they care about the environment only slightly less than they care about jobs. If any state should be able to field a group of environmental professionals to clamp down on -- or at the very least, keep track of -- the corporate polluters, it would be New Jersey. Yet after 35 years of effort, this remains the most polluted state in the Union and the state Department of Environmental Protection was revealed last month to be near total paralysis, if not complete collapse. More next week.


[1] Marianne Lavelle, "EPA's Amnesty Has Become a Mixed Blessing," The National Law Journal February 24, 1997, pgs. A1, A18. And see David Roe and others, Toxic Ignorance; The Continuing Absence of Basic Health Testing for Top-Selling Chemicals in the United States (New York: Environmental Defense Fund, 1997).