Dirty Politics, Dirty Air

Mike Leavitt might want to rethink his plans.




Having been tapped by President Bush to lead the post-Whitman Environmental Protection Agency, Leavitt is working hard to reinforce his reputation as a paragon of moderate Republican environmentalism (a claim green groups are already challenging). But does Leavitt’s record even matter? After all, he’s preparing to join an administration seemingly intent on dismantling three decades of environmental laws (as documented in the new Mother Jones Special Report, ‘The Ungreening of America‘). And the bad news just keeps coming.

A recent report from the EPA’s own inspector general revealed that the agency kowtowed to the White House’s national security directives in the days after the September 11 attacks. Under pressure from the Bush administration, EPA officials downplayed the potential health risks posed by pollutants released in the Twin Towers collapse.

The story goes like this: In the 10 days following the attack, the EPA issued a series of reassuring press releases and, on September 18, declared that the air was safe. Those advisories, Inspector General Nikki Tinsley’s report declares, were made even though the agency lacked sufficient data to verify such sweeping claims. The report states that the White House, “convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones” by having the National Security Council control EPA communications.

Clearly, the report should be disturbing to New Yorkers — the people most direcly affected by the executive branch meddling. And Manhattan Congressmen Jerrold Nadler is demanding a congressional investigation. Nadler’s furious take on Tinsley’s report: “The White House and the EPA chose to increase the threat to the health and lives of New Yorkers by lying about the environmental conditions.”

Nadler isn’t the only New Yorker getting worked up. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman lashes out at the Bush gang for misleading the city — and speculates about the reasons behind such ugly deception. Krugman’s conclusion: budget politics.

    “Immediately after 9/11 there was a great national outpouring of sympathy for New York, and a natural inclination to provide generous help. President Bush quickly promised $20 billion, and everyone expected the federal government to assume the burden of additional security. Yet hard-line Republicans never wanted to help the stricken city. Indeed, according to an article by Michael Tomasky in New York magazine, Senators Phil Gramm and Don Nickles attempted to slash aid to New York within hours of Mr. Bush’s promise.

    Why this stinginess? A source told Mr. Tomasky that ‘Gramm just doesn’t like spending money. And Nickles . . . he’s just anti-New York.’ That sums it up: even after 9/11, hard-line conservatives opposed any spending, no matter how justified, that wasn’t on weapons or farm subsidies, while some people from America’s ‘red states’ just hate big-city folk.

    What does all this have to do with toxic dust? Think how much harder it would have been to stiff New York if the public had understood the extent to which Lower Manhattan had become a hazardous waste site.”

Interestingly, while Krugman, Nadler, and others are fuming about the air-fouling political games the Bush gang played, at least one New Yorker seems totally unconcerned. The Daily News reports that Mayor Mike Bloomberg (a Republican, in case you didn’t know) says his faith in the president has not been shaken in the least.

    “‘I know the President and I think he’s a very honest guy — it would never occur to me not to trust him,’ Bloomberg said.

    ‘I think most of the tests say that the air in New York City is a lot better than it used to be; that is true throughout the city,’ the mayor said.”

(Of course, as any New York smoker can tell you, Bloomberg’s interest in the city’s air is no passing fancy).

Still, Bloomberg’s partisan faith can’t obscure the fact that the administration seems to be making a habit of making air quality decisions without bothering with real data. Just this week, congressional investigators declared that the EPA relied on anecdotes from industries it regulates, not comprehensive data in justifying a decision to weaken air quality rules for industrial polluters.

    “‘Because it lacked comprehensive data, EPA relied on anecdotes from the four industries it believes are most affected,’ the [General Accounting Office] said. ‘Because the information is anecdotal, EPA’s findings do not necessarily represent the program’s effects across the industries subject to the program.'”

So, does anything occur to you now, Mister Mayor?Ê