E.P.-Eh?

The Environmental Protection Agency just isn't like it was in the good old (Nixon) days


| October 1, 2003


The nomination of Utah Governor Michael Leavitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has caused an uproar among environmentalists. But we should be less concerned about Leavitt's spotty environmental record than the Bush administration's penchant for politicizing EPA findings.

'From the beginning of the Bush administration, the White House has constantly injected itself into the way the EPA approaches and decides the critical issues before it,' writes Russell Train in an essay on the Grist Magazine web site.

Train, author of the forthcoming Politics, Pollutions, and Pandas, oversaw the formation of the EPA in 1970 under President Richard Nixon and served as EPA administrator under Nixon and his successor, President Gerald Ford. The agency, he notes, was created as an independent regulatory committee within the executive branch so that the environmental decisions and regulations produced would not be unduly influenced by anti-environmental industries and/or politics. This is not to say that folks in the White House weren't concerned about what the EPA was doing -- they were -- but they never tried to meddle with the agency's findings.

That's hardly been the case under George W. Bush. In June, for instance, Bush and his oil industry cronies so thoroughly butchered an EPA report on climate change that EPA staff opted to leave their findings on global warming unpublished rather than publish scientifically inaccurate information. There are also questions about the Bush administration's role in softening EPA reports about post-9/11 air quality in Manhattan.

Congress is currently moving to make the EPA a cabinet-level agency, a move Train argues will no doubt be hailed by Bush as a victory for the environment. But such a move will most likely only make it easier for the White House to meddle with EPA decisions.
-- Erica Wetter

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