The EPA should be contributing to public health, sustainability, education on complex environmental concerns, and related issues. I know that its members work hard to do so, but they are often thwarted by management. Bob Grant of The Scientist.com wrote about criticism from Congress over the EPA shutting down or limiting access to important libraries (note, free registration may be necessary to view this and other articles linked to below below that are found on The Scientist.com) .

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) closure of several of its research libraries is flawed, unjustified and is depriving academics, government employees, and the public of crucial environmental data, according to a Congressional report released yesterday (Mar. 13).

Of the EPA’s 26 libraries, six libraries have changed their hours of operation, and four others have been shut since 2006. These include its Office of Environmental Information headquarters library and the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Chemical library, both in Washington, DC.

The report, issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO),…

Since I know EPA staff and scientists who are dedicated to making information available to researchers, State and Local governments, and the public, I can only speculate that these unfortunate plans must come from a combination of EPA’s politically-appointed “leadership” and budget cuts imposed by the will of the Bush White House.

In what may be a closely related story, Christopher Lee of the Washington Post reported that:

Unions at the Environmental Protection Agency have pulled out of a long-standing partnership with management, saying Administrator Stephen L. Johnson has failed to deal in good faith on issues such as scientific integrity and job evaluations.

In a Feb. 29 letter to Johnson, 19 union leaders, who represent 10,000 EPA employees, complained that he and other top managers have ignored the advice of unionized workers and the agency’s own principles of scientific integrity. They cited issues that include fluoride drinking-water standards, a California bid to limit greenhouse gases, and mercury emissions from power plants.

It is important to note what Mr. Lee reports about the scientific integrity agreements between EPA management and employees:

The agency’s scientific-integrity principles, jointly developed by unions and managers during the Clinton administration, call for employees to ensure that their scientific work is of the highest integrity, and to represent it fairly, acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others and avoid financial conflicts.

We see yet more examples of how the Bush White House has weakened the EPA in times of great environmental turmoil, when data and public understanding of data are critically important. At a time when the US needs public trust in the EPA, the actions of political appointees involved with environmental decision-making continue to erode that trust. Specific examples include denial of the requested changes to California automotive CO2 emissions standards, registration of toxic and highly carcinogenic methyl iodide as a fumigant, refusal of the Federal government to obey court orders to uphold the Endangered Species Act and related denial of scientific data that was later overturned by the courts.

From NPR:

The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to set the air quality standards to protect public health and the environment. But the White House is now interfering with new efforts by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn’t impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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  1. Kate Keeley

    I am sometimes left with a feeling of despair when I read what we are doing to our planet. Where are we to go from here?

  2. I understand, Kate, but there are many positive things to think about, also. For one, the individual people at EPA are working hard and courageously to overcome their barriers. Also, the articles I wrote about the Tesla and Volt and other electric cars, and those about new solar inks and paints, were meant to be very encouraging, as are Sam Carana’s articles at Gather.com on different approaches to solving practical transportation and energy problems.

    I don’t want to dwell on the negative here, but I don’t want people to forget the President’s role, either. Until now, I considered Stephen L. Johnson to be a yes-man for the White House, but apparently he didn’t say yes enough!

    Nevertheless, solar energy advances are going strong, battery technology keeps improving, and we just need to start implementing more changes in how we generate and use energy. We can come out ahead with a new administration and a committed country. The recession does make it tough for people to by hybrid or electric cars or install solar panels, but State and the Federal tax systems have to give more credit for those activities, as well as giving credit to people who add energy into the grid with their solar panels. I suggest you read the solar panel articles here and Sam’s articles for good news (though not exclusively). Sam’s articles are at http://www.gather.com/viewArticles.jsp?memberId=217467&nav=Namespace
    or vis http://samcarana.gather.com/ , which is a shorter url and may show up better.

    Best wishes, Jim

  3. Hi Kate,

    I think the tide will turn around. Have you noticed that the word “Sustainability” is gaining popularity?

    This November is very important. We need to put the people who care about the future generations into the offices.




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