Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
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THE ENVIRONMENTAL FIRE SALE

Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

 

From Big Bush Lies, edited by Jerry "Politex" Barrett
(RiverWood Books, 2004).
Web and Hard-Copy Publication only with
Permission of the Author and Publisher

 

If there is a unifying theme to Bush's environmental policy, it is this: "What my corporate sponsors want, my corporate sponsors get." And in fact, it is difficult to find a single environmental proposal, executive order, or draft legislation from Bush's White House that deviates from the wish list of his corporate contributors. “Every administration rewards its friends,” wrote Vanity Fair, “but never has there been a wholesale giveaway of government agencies to the very industries they’re meant to oversee.”

This sellout is painfully apparent as we enumerate the array of foxes that the Bush Administration has appointed to guard the environmental henhouse:

  • Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior. (Lobbyist, mining industry).
     

  • James Connaughton, Chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. (Lawyer representing asbestos and toxic polluters).
     

  • Stephen Griles, Deputy Administrator of the EPA. (Lobbyist for mining and energy industry).
     

  • Jeffrey Holmstead, Director of the Air Division of the EPA. (Lawyer for utility industry).
     

  • Mark Rey, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Dept. of Agriculture (Twenty years employment with various timber trade associations).
     

  • Mike Leavitt, Bush’s nominee for EPA Administrator, is noteworthy for his struggles, as Governor of Utah, with the agency that he has been designated to lead. Leavitt has championed deregulation and has resisted enforcement of clean air standards against Utah industries.

And presumably in appreciation of his government “service” to industry, in September, John Pemberton, formerly the chief of staff of the EPA’s air and radiation office, joined Southern Co., a power utility with the second worst pollution record in the nation.

Because of this allegiance to the interests of his sponsors, Bush's environmental policies diverge radically from the interests and preferences of the general public. This immediately raises a huge problem for the Bush Administration; namely, how to sugar-coat this bitter pill of environmental sell-out so that the public will swallow it.

From the Bush Administration's encounter with this problem follows all its deceptions, evasions and lies regarding the environment.

The most formidable roadblock in the Bushevik sell-out of the environment is, science. for it is the scientists who first brought the environmental crisis to public attention and continue to validate its urgency today. Evading the challenge of scientifically confirmed facts requires all the virtuouso skills in sophistry and public relations in use by the Bushista apologists.

“Epistemology” is the philosopher’s high-fallutin’ word for “theory of knowledge.” While scientists and philosophers delve deeply into this issue, in fact everybody has an epistemology, albeit the theory of knowledge of the vast majority of human beings is unconscious, implicit and primitive.

Ask anybody, “why do you believe such-and-such to be true,” and you will discover their epistemology – most often, some kind of conventionalism or authoritarianism: e.g., “why? -- because everybody believes that!,” or “I heard it on FOX,” or “‘cause the Bible tells me so,” and so on.

Similarly, George Bush, who evidently hasn’t entertained a philosophical thought since his student days at Yale (if then), betrays his epistemology and his metaphysics in his policies and public pronouncements in general, and in particular in his attitude toward science.

With regard to the natural environment, Bush displays a kind of “subjectivism gone mad.” – an unwavering faith in the “feeling” of his fabled “gut.” According to the Bushevik subjective metaphysic, the physical world is also just what he (or his corporate sponsors) want it to be: scientific expertise and proof be damned. Bush’s thought-world is uncomplicated and free of unintended consequences. This world need not be studied in order to be understood –– the opinions of “experts” are of no interest to Bush. Rather, the state of the world is best apprehended by “gut feeling.”

In short: “If I don’t want to believe what the scientists tell me, then it ain’t so.”

Of course, this confounds and enrages the scientists. But because relatively few voters are aware of or concerned with what the scientists think, and because scientists tend to be apolitical, this attitude is of little political consequence to the Bushistas.

Even so, the general public is concerned with the condition of their natural environment – the climate, the air, the water, fellow species, natural ecosystems, wild places, etc. So Bush’s essential task remains that of appearing “environmentally friendly” to the public, all the while he is giving the environmental store away to his corporate friends.

To accomplish this, of course, he must lie. And so he does.


LIE #1: Global Warming Has Not Been Proven and Needs Further Study.

When Al Gore brought up the issue of global warming in the 2000 presidential debates, Bush’s immediate response was that there is still a great deal of scientific dispute about the causes of and appropriate responses to climate change. As further scientific evidence has accumulated, it has been met with an unvarying litany of “not proven” and “more study needed,” reminiscent of the decades of denial from the tobacco industry.

Eventually, the tobacco industry caved in under the weight of scientific evidence. The Bushista response to the challenge of climate science has been to ignore it, and to hope that no one will notice.

Not proven? Consider the evidence.

In January, 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations consortium of more than two thousand scientists, published its third report. The IPCC report concluded, with 90% confidence, that by 2100, average global temperatures will rise between 2.3 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Commenting on this report, seventeen of the world's scientific academies stated:

The work of the IGCC represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognize the IPCC as the world's most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes, and we endorse its method of achieving this consensus... The balance of the scientific evidence demands effective steps now to avert damaging changes to Earth's climate. (Science, 18 May 2001, p. 1261).

Responding to the IPCC report, Donald Kennedy, editor of Science (the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) wrote: “[Scientific] consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic [of global warming] is rare in science... [T]here is little room for doubt about the seriousness of the problem the world faces... (Science, 30 March 2001). Not content with the findings of the IPCC, Bush asked the National Academy of Sciences to prepare a report which "summed up science's current understanding of global climate change." That report confirmed that "the conclusion of the IPCC that the global warming that has occurred in the last 50 years is likely the result of increases in greenhouse gases accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community." (National Academy of Sciences, June 6, 2001).

Bush’s response was to “shoot the messenger.” Specifically, the Bush Administration proceeded, at the behest of his Exxon-Mobil sponsors, to orchestrate the ouster of the IPCC Chair, Robert Watson, and replacing this eminent atmospheric scientists with an Indian economist, Rejandra Pachauri.

More denial was to follow.

For the annual EPA report of 2003, the EPA staff prepared an accurate account of scientific consensus on global warming. The White House returned a demand that key sections of the account be deleted, and other parts be revised to convey a sense of uncertainty not shared by the scientists. In an internal memo, the EPA warned that the White House revision “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” The end result was that the entire section on global warming was cut from the report.

The IPCC chair ousted, the EPA report on global warming deleted, perpetual calls for “further study” – all this has had no effect whatever on the physical and chemical laws that apply to the earth’s climate.

And so, the atmosphere continues to heat up.

As the industrial nations struggle to deal cooperatively with the urgent global problem of climate change, the government of George Bush has opted out – to the exasperation and consternation of scientists throughout the world.

And yet, in June, 2001, Bush declared “My administration is committed to a leadership role in the issue of climate change.”

In light of the events and pronouncements that were to follow, this was a bald-face lie.


LIE #2: The “Clear Skies Initiative” Will Reduce Air Pollution.

Bush’s “Clear Skies Initiative” display’s the Administration’s flair for doublespeak. (Cf. “Healthy Forests,” below). And how will this “initiative” improve our air quality? Through the kindness of industrial polluters – i.e., through “voluntary compliance,” the same sort of “honor system” that gave Texas the worst air quality in the nation.

In fact, “Clear Skies” is a transparent hoax. When the Bush administration took office, the so-called “New Source Review” (NSR) was in place, requiring that plants that install new equipment or significantly increase their emissions must, install modern pollution control devices. Bush’s “improvements” significantly weaken NSRs, allowing old “grandfathered” plants to continue to pollute, unabated. Of this decision, John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “the Bush administration decided to allow corporate polluters to spew even more toxic chemicals into our air, regardless of the fact that ti will harm millions of Americans... Under this administration, the cop is not only off the beat, the EPA is proposing to legalize harmful pollution that today is illegal.” (NRDC, November 22, 2002).

In a September 15 visit to the Detroit Edison power plant in Monroe, Michigan, Bush praised the operators of the facility as “good stewards of the quality of the air.” In fact, the plant is the eighth largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the United States (over 100,000 tons). With the relaxation of the “new source reviews,” the Monroe plant will be permitted to continue to dump out its nasties into the common air, in increasing amounts, far into the future. (White House, September 15, 2003).

The man has no shame.


Lie #3: The Air in Downtown Manhattan, Immediately after 9/11, was Safe.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the EPA professionals dutifully prepared a report warning the New Yorkers of the health dangers posed by the dust and airborne particles generated by the collapse of the buildings.

A not-so-funny thing happened to the report on its way to New York: it was intercepted by Bush’s White House and “sanitized,” as cautionary statements fell out and were replaced by unfounded reassurances. Consequently, as the EPA Inspector General belatedly revealed to the consternation of the Busheviks, the New Yorkers were not fairly warned of the hazards they faced.

For example, a week after the attacks, EPA Administrator, Christy Whitman, announced that the air in lower Manhattan was “safe” to breathe. In fact, there was no scientific basis for this reassurance since, at the time, the labs were still at work testing for toxics and had not released its findings.

In the original, pre-White-House draft, the EPA stated that “even at low levels, EPA considers asbestos hazardous in this situation.”

The “improvement” by Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality (headed by an ex-asbestos industry attorney) stated: “Short-term, low-level exposure [to asbestos] of the type that might have been produced by the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is unlikely to cause significant health effects.” (New York Daily News, August 26, 2003)

As a result of these false reassurances, the Wall Street securities industry was up and running again at the earliest opportunity.

First things first.


Lie #4: “Significant Progress in Protecting Water Resources.”

Shortly before she left the EPA, Christy Whitman issued a report that stated: “pristine waterways [and] safe drinking waters are treasured resources... The nation has made significant progress in protecting these resources in the last 30 years.” (Davidson)

This is an example of what I call a “grey lie:” a literal truth intended to convey a falsehood. (Example: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Clinton meant intercourse, and thus was plausibly telling the truth. But that’s not at all he wanted us to believe by the remark).

Whitman’s report was quite true: “...in the last 30 years.” And that is a great tribute to Bush’s predecessors. She did not elaborate on what has happened to the nation’s water supply and wetlands in the last two years, or what we are to expect in the future. In fact, the Bush administration is proposing to remove 20% of the nation’s wetlands from federal protection. And the aforementioned easing of air pollution standards, with the resulting increase in sulfur dioxide emissions, can only reverse the recent reductions in acid deposition in the northeastern states and the eastern Canadian provinces.


Lie: #5: Oil Development Will Not Harm the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In the Spring of 2002, the US Geological Survey submitted the results of a twelve year study which concluded that oil exploration in ANWR would adversely affect the habitat of the wildlife of the region. True to the Bushistic spirit of "don't come to me unless you have the ‘facts' I want," Interior Secretary Gail Norton ordered a reassessment and, sure enough, in just a week got the desired result: arctic wildlife just will love oil rigs. (Seattle Post Intelligencer, March 30, 2002) [“Lies” (e)]


Lie #6: Bush will protect our forests with his “Healthy Forests” Initiative.”

When given the chance this year to match words with deeds, Bush failed miserably and spectacularly.

In April 16, 2003, Gov. Gray Davis of California sent a letter to George Bush requesting $430 million to remove dead and diseased trees from 415,000 acres of southern California forests. Forestry experts and the California congressional delegation, recognizing a potential catastrophe, begged prompt action from the White House. On October 24, they received their reply: the request was denied. (San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2003)

The very next day, the “Old Fire” north of San Bernardino broke out – then a dozen more, claiming twenty lives, 3,500 homes, 750,000 acres, and costing more than $2 billion dollars.

As the Southern California forests burned, some Bush defenders were heard to say “we told you so. Those fires only serve to validate the need to adopt the President’s ‘safe forest’ policy.”

However, professional foresters insist that “Healthy Forests” is little more than an invitation to the logging industry to plunder the national forests. Paraphrasing the infamous remark by an officer in Viet-Nam, “we must destroy the forest in order to save it.”

As renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson observes:

The best way to avoid these catastrophic fires is by trimming undergrowth and clearing debris, combined with natural burns of the kind that have sustained healthy forests in past millennia. Those procedures, guided by science and surgically precise forestry, can return forests to near their equilibrium condition, in which only minimal further intervention would be needed.

On the other hand, the worst way to create healthy forests is to thin trees via increased logging, as proposed by the Bush administration. (Newsday, Aug. 29, 2003)


Lie: #7: Environmental Regulations Damage the Economy and Cost Jobs.

We’ve all heard it, time and again: “Environmental quality is a luxury that the nation’s economy can ill-afford. The costs of pollution control, toxic cleanups and the preservation of wild areas are more than the public can or should bear.”

However, Bush’s own Office of Management and Budget came to a radically different conclusion. As the Washington Post’s Eric Pianin reports, the OMB concluded “that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules.” (September 27, 2003).

Will these compelling facts overturn cherished Bushista/corporate dogma? Previous outcomes of the encounter of Bushistic doctrine with hard facts offer little cause for hope.


Etcetera, ad nauseum.

We could go on and on with Bush’s lies and deceptions regarding the environment, but we have come to the end of our allowable space. Let the following summaries suffice:

  • Bush’s plan to protect endangered species? Lift international band against killing, capturing and importing endangered animals. Allegedly, the fees collected by the host countries for these activities can then be used to protect the remaining rare animals. How do we know that the impoverished governments will do their part? We trust them. Yea, sure!
     

  • In the meantime, the Bush administration has not added a single species to the list of endangered species.
     

  • Bush has opened up millions of acres of previously protected wilderness areas to mining, logging, and oil and gas development.

Small wonder that the League of Conservation Voters gave Bush an “F” on their presidential environmental report card. LCV President Deb Callahan sums it up: “Bush is well on his way to compiling the worst environmental record of any president in the history of our nation.”

But Bush tells us: “[our] way of life depends, and always will depend, on the wise protection of the natural environment. It's been a part of your past; it's going to be an important part of the future.” (White House, August 22, 2003)

Does he really believe it? Do his policies confirm this pious pronouncement?

We report, you decide.
 



REFERENCES

Cocco, Marie: “White House Deceit Covered Up 9/11 Truths,” Newsday, August 28, 2003

Davidson, Osha Gray: “Dirty Secrets,” Mother Jones, September/October 2003 Issue

Gonzales, Juan: "It's public be damned at the EPA,"  New York Daily News, August 26, 2003

Harris, Paul: “Bush Covers Up Climate Research,” The Observer (UK), September 21, 2003

Helvarg, David: “Unwise Use: Gale Norton’s New Environmentalism,” The Progressive, June, 2003

League of Conservation Voters, “Bush Receives ‘F’ for Environmental Issues on LCF 2003"   Presidential Report Card, Press Release, June 24, 2003.

Lee, Christopher: "Effort to ease air rules decried,”  Washington Post,  October 19, 2004.

National Academy of Sciences: “Leading Climate Scientists Advise White House on Global Warming,”  Press Release, June 6, 2001.

Natural Resources Defense Council, “Bush Weakening of Clean Air Act Threatens Public Health, Says NRDC,"  Press Release, November 22, 2002

Perks, Robert: “How Bush Spent his Summer Vacation – Undermining Environmental Protections,”  Natural Resources Defense Council, September 6, 2003 (Truthout, September 7, 2003).

Pianin, Eric: Study Finds Net Gain From Pollution Rules," Washington Post, September 27, 2003]

Salladay , Robert and Zachary Coile: "Bush ignored pleas for funds that could have prevented California fires,"  San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2003

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "US Rejects Study by its Own Arctic Scientists, " Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 2002

Trenberth, Kevin E.: (National Center of Atmospheric Research), "The IPCC Assessment of Global Warming 2001,"  Failsafe, Spring, 2001

U.S. Geological Survey Biological Science Report: Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain Terrestrial Wildlife Research Summaries.

White House Press Release: “President's Remarks on Salmon Restoration,”  August 22, 2003

White House Press Release: “President Visits Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant in Monroe, Michigan ,”  September 15, 2003.

Williams, Ted: "Down Upon the Suwannee River,"  Mother Jones, September, October 2003

Wilson, Edward O.: "Bush's Forest Plan Worse than Fire, Long Island (NY) Newsday, August 29, 2003].

 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .