It was outrageous that during the George W. Bush administration the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shut down its libraries and labs, undermining its mission and sending the unmistakable message to the American people that they and the environment were on their own.
However, a look at the history of EPA explains the decline and fall of America’s toothless environmental protector.
The trouble started with the birth of EPA.
From the moment of its inception in December 1970, EPA was caught in a trap. It could not honestly protect “human health and the environment” from the perpetual onslaught of toxins and outright pollution of the industrial behemoth of the United States.
However, EPA could and did “regulate” pollution, allowing factories a quota of pollution while prohibiting the most life-threatening practices of those making poisons and other dangerous products.
Under these conditions, rivers no longer catch fire and the air is free of dark pollution, but not free of very small toxic particles, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases coming out of the pipes of cars, trucks, airplanes, incinerators, large farms and factories.
EPA rarely takes action against power companies violating the Clean Air Act by renovating their factories without adding the latest pollution controls. Every year, the coal-fired smokestacks of these companies emit into the air about 30 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
This massive pollution has a corresponding massive effect on public health. EPA reported in 2001 that just seven million tons of SO2 and NO2 would be responsible for more than 10,800 premature deaths, about 5,400 cases of chronic bronchitis and thousands of hospital emergency visits, including severe damage to nature.
Eric Schaeffer, head of EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement, resigned in 2002 because he could no longer stand the perpetual intervention of the White House on behalf of the power companies.
Schaeffer was an exception, however.
Most of the more than 18,000 experts of EPA, stationed in Washington, DC, spend a lot of their time remaining invisible. They act like emergency doctors in a hospital that does not practice medicine or lawyers preparing for a trial that never takes place.
They are always pretending they are busy, playing dumb and dead, rushing into emailing each other acronym-loaded messages, having endless meetings to arrange for more meetings, having meetings with the polluters, compiling incomprehensive cost-benefit assessments, useless risk evaluations and cut-and-paste reviews, lifting wholesale the conclusions of polluters and making them conclusions of the government.
In addition, EPA experts figure out triage scenarios, funding studies no one reads, funding travel for political appointees, accepting travel money from lobbyists, and reinventing themselves and their organizations often enough to be timely and in accord with the political demands of the party in power.
The reason for this obscene work is money.
The president’s agents running EPA are primarily agents of corporations. They dictate the fate of the faceless bureaucrats who are smart to know where power comes from.
For instance, each pesticide “registered” by EPA would probably earn $50 million to $100 million per year for 10 to 20 years. This kind of money fuels all kinds of invisible crimes in the testing, licensing, application and effects of each spray. And the few corporations manufacturing these sprays make more than $30 billion per year.
EPA operates a “farm workers program” to hide its own discoveries that the nerve sprays of the farmers have been crippling farm workers, taking at least 20 years away from their lives.
In 1962, Rachel Carson painted a picture of ecocide in America, her “Silent Spring” warning of the possible end of nature. Thirty-four years later, in 1996, another woman, Theo Colborn, wrote her own version of Carson’s story, “Our Stolen Future,” which extended Carson’s ecocide to include humans.
In this new science narrative, farm sprays and other toxins mimicking natural hormones threaten the fertility and intelligence of both wildlife and people.
EPA did not exist in 1962, though “Silent Spring” helped the country to bring it about. But, in 1996, Carol Browner, EPA administrator, and the Bill Clinton administration ignored the warning of Theo Colborn that synthetic chemicals are wreaking havoc on the endocrine, reproductive and developmental systems of both humans and wild animals, putting at risk the very survival of nature and society. Not only that, but, in 1996, EPA celebrated with Congress the abolition of the Delaney clause, which prohibited carcinogens in processed food.
The George W. Bush administration continued and intensified the bad policies of the Clinton EPA with the result that EPA became an outright subsidiary of polluters, its risk assessors ignoring not merely silent spring but global warming for the benefit of corporations.
The Obama administration has not ignored global warming, but essentially its policy of trading pollution does nothing for the climate and everything for the corporations that sell or burn oil, coal and natural gas. Obama even resurrected Carol Browner as his adviser on energy.
The Obama EPA, not much different from its predecessors, is strong in deceptive policies; its spin zeroes on “public health” while the biocides it “registers” poison our food and cause havoc in the natural world, even killing endangered species, which are protected by law.
I hope that Americans return to their senses, rescuing EPA from corporations and their agents in the White House and the federal government.
EPA needs more than a facelift: We must make it a Supreme Court-like agency, protected from money peddlers and political appointees while returning to its public health and environmental protection mission.
Nature is us.