Rachel's Democracy & Health News #872  [Printer-friendly version]
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

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

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

** 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

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


[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).